Psalm 23/Isaiah 40:11/Matthew 11:28-29; John 10:11-18
Text: King James Version of the English Bible. Tune: George Fredrich Handel
He shall feed His flock like a shepherd;
and He shall gather the lambs
With His arm, and carry them in His bosom,
and gently lead those that are with young. (Isaiah 40:11)
Come unto Him, all ye that labour,
come unto Him that are heavy laden,
and He will give you rest.
Take His yoke upon you, and learn of Him,
for He Is meek and lowly of heart,
and ye shall find rest unto your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29)
I am the Good Shepherd/John 10:11-18
Not surprisingly one of the very first sketches of Jesus in the catacombs is of him as a shepherd. Scripture is filled with references to shepherds and how God is like one. Jesus calls himself The Good Shepherd. I had a colleague, Gerhard Forde, who made much of Jesus’ saying he was THE good shepherd. Not A good shepherd. Jesus is the one against whom all other shepherds are to be measured. In the John passage, he elaborates on what a good shepherd does for the sheep: he lays his life down for them. He knows his own and his own know him.
That may be why the disciples being called by Jesus follow so promptly. They understand somehow that this is their shepherd calling them. There is no other one to follow. As they are listening to him speak, throughout the gospels, they are clearly mystified, and confused, and downright unable to understand, something in them obviously knows this is their shepherd and they need to be with him to live.
People today are in need of that voice. They seem to be sheep without a shepherd and follow many voices with passion and conviction but have no way to discern the voice of the true shepherd because they have not heard it speaking clearly through us to them. There is no life without the shepherd.
In the Isaiah passage set so incomparably by Handel the Savior is LIKE a shepherd, and one who feeds the lambs he carries. Eating and feeding are central to life. It is the job of the shepherd to feed the lambs, to see they are nourished and given safety.
Today because of our inventions and industrial ability to farm, we are not so conscious of how vulnerable we are when it comes to food and clothing. One of the authors I have been reading remarks on how little people understand that today. If one were to go back not even 200 years, one would find that most people spent almost all of their time making sure that there would be food enough to eat through the year. People did not have to look for work. If they did not work on the farm, there would be no food. Not only that, they also knew that while they had to work hard to tend the crops and animals that would feed them, they also knew that if God did not give the growth with good weather and the like, their work would be for naught. It made them look to the Lord for everything in life.
Scripture knows this and uses images of food and clothing to talk about what God does for us. Not only sustenance, but he gives rest. The exhaustion of the normal farmer and farm family every day is something we have forgotten. The physical weariness that Jesus promises to relieve with rest is a great solace for the desire of every heart. Physically, and spiritually, we need to be fed, tended, watched over and given rest.
When people cannot get rest because of worry about anything—their physical needs being met, their ability to meet the needs of the families, their children, their community—they need a place to go to find it. The promises of God are running over with all this.
It is not exactly a compliment to be thought of as a sheep. They are rather stupid and desperately in need of a shepherd. They wander—“All we like Sheep have gone astray“—and cannot protect themselves from the wolf and other predators. And when they are in danger, all they can do is look up for their shepherd—pray. I worry about too many things, many of which I can do nothing to fix, except pray. Jesus has understood that and knows how to tend us gently, with food and safety. And with rest. Handel’s putting together these two lessons from Scripture is exactly right. That may also be why we especially love Psalm 23. It comforts us with promises of food, drink, safety in the midst of danger and our enemies and rest, all good things. Our cup runneth over. Amen.
This aria from the Messiah is from the Christmas part. It ends the account of the birth of Jesus, describing what he will do for his people—after the shepherds who were to hear the good news have run to the stable and worshiped the Christ child who will be their shepherd. Handel’s librettist Charles Jennens used nothing but Scripture for the language of the classic. Much of our interest in the words of Part One especially is how he combined the Old and New Testament to speak of the birth of Jesus as fulfillment of the prophecies of the Old Testament. It is a great sermon for.us. Handel quickly understood that as he wrote the entire oratorio in three weeks of intense and fevered work. The theme of the Good Shepherd is widespread in our hymns as well. See others below.
Favorite hymns on the Good Shepherd from Hymnsfortoday.com
The King of Love my Shepherd is
Savior Like a Shepherd lead us