Our local church just celebrated "Good Shepherd" Sunday. This yearly observance reminds us how Jesus is "good" and how Jesus is our "shepherd".
It's around this time of year that our young people (8th graders for us) are invited to make a public profession of faith and take the Lord's Supper for the first time. This is after they have been instructed for several years in the bare minimum teachings that every Christian needs to know to have a faith that will mature throughout their entire life. These young people continue the rest of their walk with Jesus through the troubles and joys of this life with the reminder of their Good Shepherd's personal, never-wavering interest in them.
But, it is possible that many of us have had various doubts recently that Jesus is our "Good Shepherd".
It has calmed my heart to reflect on the stories of Peter, Stephen, and Paul these last few weeks. Their stories played out shortly after the resurrection and remind us that Jesus is our Good Shepherd even when life goes very, very badly.
You could say Peter had instant success in doing what Jesus wanted him to do. 3000 people started to follow Jesus along with him after one heart-wrenching speech!
But fast-forward to the end of his life when he faced a similar kind of death to what Jesus faced. Jesus even told him this would happen. Jesus foreshadowed his friend's death! He said Peter's death would "glorify God!" (See John 21:19) Death glorifies God? Jesus knew about this and told Peter about this, but didn't prevent it? Jesus was still Peter's Good Shepherd after all this?
Now, we come to Stephen. The leaders of the early Christian church tapped Stephen on the shoulder to step into a leadership position. He was tasked with caring for widows, along with 6 others. The leadership recognized without a doubt that Stephen was full of the Holy Spirit, grace and power. In other words, Stephen was God's man.
But before long, jealous rivals rise up and drag him to court unfairly. They take him outside the city and they pelt him to death with stones. And yet, as he looks up, he sees heaven opened. He sees his Good Shepherd waiting for him. And he is able to say, "do not hold this against them." Jesus sees it all, but doesn't stop it, but he's still Stephen's Good Shepherd?
And finally, we come to Paul, who stood approvingly at Stephen's execution. He held the cloaks of the guys who did the deed. But then, Jesus' path and Paul's collided and Jesus greatly humbled Paul. Paul learned how "good" Jesus was to turn him from his bullheaded ways, leave his past stupidity behind, and put him on a new track. Paul worked tirelessly to spread the grace of Jesus that he had personally experienced.
But now, fast-forward to the end of his life. Notice the shipwrecks, hunger, opposition, and disrespect he gets along the way. And now you see him rotting away in a prison cell awaiting execution in Rome, writing his dear mentee Timothy about how to keep following and serving the Good Shepherd after he (Paul) is gone.
So what was so "good" about following the Good Shepherd? All three of these men did what Jesus wanted them to do, and yet they were rewarded with death and some stories that got written into a best-selling book because of it.
Only Peter, Stephen and Paul can tell you all their reasons for following the Good Shepherd when we dwell in His house forever together. But for now, we will consider what they've already told us.
Peter followed the Good Shepherd because even though Jesus knew how horrible of a man he was, Jesus told him not to be afraid. Jesus told him to set his heart on the work Jesus had in store for him. This was right after Peter got his entire boat filled with fish by the God-man. (Luke 5)
Later on, Peter may have had a reason to fear Jesus after his resurrection, since Peter had pretended he didn't know Jesus during his trial. And yet, after another unbelievable catch of fish, Jesus cooks Peter breakfast, pulls him in, and re-emphasizes Peter's leading role in caring for Jesus' sheep. (John 21)
Stephen followed the Good Shepherd because his spirit was at rest in His care, even when his flesh was failing with each stone throw he endured. The Holy Spirit of God energized him to care for others (widows) with his entire heart when things were relatively peaceful. The Holy Spirit of God gave him peace even when things were terribly violent. Stephen had enough peace in his heart to even ask God not to hold this incident against his murders.
Paul followed the Good Shepherd because the Shepherd hooked him in with his staff, preventing him from plunging off the cliff into an entire life of hot-headed anger, hatred, and superiority. He healed Paul by showing Paul through his lifetime that He, Jesus, was all Paul needed, even when Paul was hungry and lacked income and safety and friends.
Life is going badly for a lot of people. The Good Shepherd is still good. Take another look at him through Peter, Stephen and Paul's stories. Jesus has not turned his eyes from you and never will. He will do whatever it takes through good times and bad to bring you back where you belong...with him.