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“Wounds — Healed and Honoured” on John 10:11-18 by Joe Ellis — April 21, 2024

How Jesus loves you! You and I are the sheep from the other fold that Jesus spoke of in John 10:16 — we’re a handful of the countless number of sheep who have come to know the Shepherd throughout the world. And how Jesus loves His flock! He loves so much, so deeply. We are His sheep, and He is our Shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd, the one who lays down His life for His sheep. He lays down His life for you, and for me.

Of course, sheep are not animals with a lot of attributes treasured and valued by humans. I’ve never seen my kids pretend to be sheep, you don’t see a lot of sheep tattoos, but amazingly, there is a sheep football team. Sheep are vulnerable, especially domesticated sheep. That’s Jesus’ point. When Jesus tells a story about His people being sheep, His story highlights our vulnerability. He tells of thieves coming to steal the sheep. He invites us to imagine ourselves in the care of a cowardly hired hand, someone hired to take care of the sheep but who has no real interest in their survival. These sheep are so vulnerable and dependent as the hired hand leads them into rocky, desolate, exposed places. The sheep need the hired hand’s protection, but can he be trusted?

The world is a hostile place for sheep. What defenses do sheep have, really? No teeth and no claws. The sheep’s life is totally in the hands of the one charged to protect the sheep, watch over the sheep, and provide care for the sheep. It’s a hostile place for us, too. As you think about the reality that it is very vulnerable to be alive, what does that stirs up for you? What do you notice you want to say? What do you want to do?

The hired hand sees the wolf coming, off in the distance. He hears the wolf’s cry, the howl. His heart quakes. As a sheep in the flock, you might see fear in the face of the one entrusted to care for you. Fear is a difficult thing to see in the eyes of your caregiver, the one charged to protect you. You might see desperation consume the one called to sacrifice herself or himself for you. The wolf howls in the distance, the predator draws closer. You look at the servant, the hired hand, the one who holds your well-being in their hands. In the story Jesus tells, this hired hand leaves. Jesus is not naive about this life. The hired hand abandons her sheep. The flock scatters.

There you are, alone.... the wolf drawing closer. You see the back of the hired servant disappear over the hill. The one charged to protect you, care for you, sacrifice themselves for you is in hiding. In this parable, Jesus may have had in mind the religious leaders as the hired hands who ran away, who did not show proper care for the children of Israel — but who do you think of? Who comes to mind as you listen to a story about someone charged to care for your well-being but that person runs away in a moment of your deep need? Did someone run away when you were so vulnerable? Breathe through that memory, deeply, slowly. What happened when they ran away when you were so vulnerable?

In Jewish literature, sometimes the enemies of God’s people were depicted as wolves, the wolf of Babylon or the wolf of Rome. Other times in Jewish literature the hired servants themselves were seen as wolves, gorging themselves on the flock — here the wolves would be seen as the religious leaders, the ones charged to care for the sheep’s well-being. Sometimes the wolf has been seen as sin; or the wolf is death come prowling. Sometimes the wolf is more personal.

In Jesus’ story, the wolf comes. Keep breathing if this is bringing up difficult memories. The wolf murders and scatters. Perhaps the wolf is sickness. Perhaps the wolf is depression. Perhaps the wolf is something or someone difficult for you to mention or remember. Have you encountered a wolf? Has the one entrusted to care for you ever turned and run — leaving you to the wolf? The wolf who murders and scatters? The wolf who injures? The wolf who hurts? The wolf who attacks?

Within these painful, difficult memories, can you hear these words from the Lord Jesus Christ?:  “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own sheep, and my own know me.”  The Good Shepherd sees you. The Good Shepherd knows you. The Good Shepherd is with you and is there for you. He will not abandon those in His care. No matter what sort of wolf you’ve faced or are facing. No matter who has turned and run before —the Good Shepherd is for you. He knows you. He loves you.

As Jesus speaks of the wolf attacking the sheep, Jesus says that the relationship His Father has with Him is the same as His relationship with us. The Heavenly Father’s infinite, overflowing love for His Son, a love without beginning nor end, is the divine love poured out for you, for us. In our vulnerability, we are fiercely loved.

The Apostle Paul prays that we “might have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)  This is God’s love for us — He sent His one and only Son to lay down His life for His sheep. That is the command the Son received from the Father. The Son came to lay down His life for you, for me.

And so Jesus, the Good Shepherd came to lay His life down for His sheep before the wolf. And so the Shepherd has come. He is with us. He is our Warrior, our Saviour, our Defender, our Redeemer. The Shepherd stands before the wolf. The Good Shepherd lays his life down for the sheep, consumed by the mouth of the wolf. And so, the unthinkable happens, the Wolf leaps upon the Good Shepherd — the embodiment of God — the royal heir of King David. The Messiah, the Good Shepherd comes between us and the Wolf. The wolf attacks and devours. The Father loves the Son so much for standing in to protect you, redeem you, and care for you.

So Jesus willingly lays down His life for His sheep. He was not forced, coerced, or victimized. With full power and authority, our royal, divine Shepherd lays His life down. Jesus says in John 10: 18, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.”  

Listen to that part “Authority to take it back up again.”  On Easter, we celebrate this authority as Jesus received His life again. It's as though the bite of the wolf is undone, totally reversed. In this one body, this one human, death becomes undone. Death is healed as the Shepherd’s whole body becomes whole. The Spirit returns to the Shepherd. Light returns to His eyes. Breath fills His lungs. Blood courses through His veins — the Shepherd lives. Yet He still wears the Wolf’s wounds in His hands, in His feet, in His side — these are wounds of honour. The Wolf bore down on Him, devoured Him, and the Shepherd rose, whole, complete, and healed — with wounds of honour.

No doubt we also have wounds. We have been touched, at times severely, by the wolf. Hear this mystery. What is true of the Shepherd is true for the sheep. What is true of the Messiah is true for His people. The rising of the Shepherd from the dead is, of course, good news for the sheep who would otherwise be without a shepherd, but there is a further mystery in the Shepherd’s resurrection.

Paul talks about the Shepherd’s resurrection as a first fruit. What is true of the Messiah, is true of His people. As the Shepherd rose from the dead and was raised to new life, so will His flock. One day He shall shepherd us from the grave into new life to be with Him forevermore. One day He shall shepherd us from the grave to be with Him in peace, for eternity — where no thief will break in or wolf shall bite.

What is true for the Shepherd is true for the flock. The Shepherd was savaged from the mouth of the wolf, and the resurrection is the reversal of this savagery. The resurrection is the undoing of the wolf’s bite. Although, still wearing the marks of the bite, Jesus became whole, a new creation. The bite of the wolf became undone.

No doubt each of us has felt savaged by the wolf, each in our own way. We’ve been bit, attacked, harmed and hurt. We each carry our own story in our bodies, in our wounds — the story of the wolves we’ve encountered. Carrying these stories in our bodies and in our soul can be so painful. What is true of the shepherd is true of the flock. The Good Shepherd was attacked by the same wolf, He received in His body your wounds.

Can you picture Him, wounded with Your wounds? Can you close your eyes and see the Shepherd bearing your wounds? The royal, divine Shepherd carrying your wounds in His body? Can you see this? What does that look like? What of yours is the Good Shepherd wearing in His body? What is true of the Shepherd is true for you and me. Resurrection reverses the wound. Resurrection heals the injury. Can you picture that as well? Can you picture the wounds you carry in your body and soul — can you picture those wounds reversing? Can you picture them healing so completely?

In the resurrection of the Good Shepherd, in His full rising from the wolf’s attack, we see a guarantee, a promise that your wounds, your injuries will also one day be healed, reversed, made whole. What is true of the Shepherd is true for the flock. And His healing, His reversal of His wounds, is complete. So He shepherds us into healing in our very lifetime. Resurrection healing begins here and now, as we draw close to our Shepherd, as we receive His Spirit. Yet our healing will not be complete until the day that Jesus shepherds us out from the grave — one day we will truly rise from this wolf’s attack, and we will find that we are wholly and completely healed.

If you look at icons of saints who have been martyred — killed for the Shepherd, attacked by the wolf, the icons are created to show these saints in glory, in heaven, but they still carry their wounds. They carry their wolf bites with them in honour. In the Sistine chapel, St. Bartholomew carries his skin which was flayed under torture. In another icon, St. John the Baptist appears with his head fully intact, but he also holds his head on a platter. The wounds received from the wolf are both healed and honoured. I wonder, if in some way, when Jesus finally shepherds us from the grave and we stand before Him — I wonder if we will stand before him bearing our wounds, which have been both healed and honoured. What will it be like to stand before the Shepherd with your wounds healed, and honoured?


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