The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly' (John 10: 10-11)
Here Jesus compares his relationship to believers to that between a shepherd and his sheep. Shepherds spend their lives in the wilderness, leading the sheep in high places, watching over them, caring for them. The herd of sheep needs a shepherd, they need leadership; they need guarding.
Psalm 23 describes God and God's people as a shepherd and the sheep. This psalm is a favorite among Christians. It brings us strength and comfort in whatever circumstances we face.
Through his life of shepherding and leading the sheep, the shepherd builds up an intimate relationship with them. The sheep know his voice, so they draw near and obey him. And the shepherd knows his sheep, he calls them, he can nearly call them all by name.
In the parable of the lost sheep in Luke 15: 3-7, Jesus movingly describes how worried the shepherd is over the sheep that is lost; and how great his joy is when that sheep is found.
We are the sons and daughters of God. Because the Lord is our good shepherd, we receive the Lord's own care in our lives, and we should thank the Lord always.
But though the lord is indeed a good shepherd, he is not like other shepherds. The Lord says: 'I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.'
The shepherd wants the sheep to have life. All his shepherding, guiding, and guarding are done with this goal in mind. But Jesus goes further: he wants us to have more abundant life. This is to say that more than hoping for peace, joy, and blessings in our lives, we should understand the spiritual meaning and goal of life.
And then Jesus says: 'I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.' There are instances where the shepherd gives up his life for the sheep, such as in a storm, or when thieves come, etc. The Little Heroine of the Grasslands didn't give up her life, yet she lost her feet protecting the sheep. The Lord sacrificed his life for the sheep; even more, he shed his blood for us on the cross, fulfilling God's plan of redemption, enabling us to escape sin through faith and become sons and daughters of God. The good shepherd gives up his life for the sheep. We who follow the good shepherd must also follow the path of self-sacrifice for others. Do we follow the Lord only for personal peace and happiness, individual material and spiritual enjoyment? Then our lives are too narrow, too poor, because we have not yet cast off our self-centeredness.
But when we discover that the Lord leads and blesses us because he wants us to live for him and for others, including others' concerns and a responsibility for serving others in our love, then we do not live in a narrow circle. Our lives greatly expand, and become extremely abundant, showing forth the full and rich meaning of human life.
A visitor came into a church, and seeing the cross, could not understand. What did that big plus sign mean? But that question inadvertently pointed to a truth - the cross is not a minus, but a huge plus.
In following the Lord, we must leave sin behind, this is certain and basic. But following the Lord really does not mean we must lead lives of suffering and denial.
Some people think that belief in the Lord means not eating this or that; not wearing certain things; avoiding this or that entertainment. Not, not, not. In the past some people didn't dare even to look at the things in shop windows, afraid they would commit a 'sin of sight.' This is wrong. We are against excess and waste, but we should have beauty, health, peace, and joy in our lives in this world. This is God's will and blessing. The cross asks us to increase, and to understand the spiritual meaning of human life.
But the Lord not only wants us to have life, he wants us to have it abundantly, to free our lives from narrowness, to enter into the realms of abundance.
This is also what 2 Peter 1: 4-11 teaches us.
Under the guidance of the good shepherd, we will make great progress in our lives, and we will be able to enter abundantly into the eternal kingdom of our savior Lord.
Collected Sermons of Bishop Shen Yifan (Shanghai: CCC, 1995).
A sermon preached on Sunday, September 13, 1981 at the Community Church, Shanghai.