The Sheepening

A Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

During our complicated relationships with the nations of the Middle East, we occasionally come across examples of brutal forms of justice. We read stories about people having their hands amputated for theft, a princess being stoned for adultery, etc. However, we must remember that horrific deeds have occurred throughout Christian history. Modern advancements include the humane treatment of wrongdoers and the just administration of justice. Still developing is the morality of rehabilitation as opposed to retaliation.

Take, for instance, a remarkable instance in American history where our country almost acted out of retaliation rather than justice.

Following the end of the Revolutionary War, a handful of small groups of colonists still loyal to England remained in America. These Loyalists and the other colonists had a very hostile relationship. Loyalists from Manhattan attacked and burnt Toms River, New Jersey. Soon after, a loyalist named Philip White returned to New Jersey to see his wife. He was shot while attempting to flee after the New Jersey militia seized him. Rumors spread after this incident.
By rowing to the British prison ship Brittania, Manhattan Loyalists led by Richard Lippincott persuaded the captain to release Joshua Huddy, one of the colonists, in exchange for other prisoners. However, in retaliation for what they claimed to be Philip White’s murder, the Loyalists brought Huddy outside and hanged him.

The American populace was indignant! George Washington received a letter from a sizable contingent at Huddy’s funeral pleading with him to take action or they would. Washington understood that mob justice was imminent and that immediate action was required.

Washington first requested the local British commander turn over the guilty party in a letter. However, the British general dragged his feet.

Washington’s uncomfortable backup plan was then discussed with Congress. It involves hanging one British prisoner chosen randomly to make amends with the public and pay for Huddy’s hanging. Congress approved the idea, and a prisoner was chosen randomly to die. Captain Charles Asgill was his name.

It appeared as though Charles Asgill would be put to death since the British continued to refuse to hand up the guilty perpetrator. However, the Americans hesitated to end this charming young man’s life for a crime he had not committed. On the other hand, the public called for Huddy to receive justice. If he were released, there would probably be a resurgence of mob justice against the Loyalists.

The French intervened and pleaded for Asgill’s life as Congress debated the matter, reminding the colonists of the obligation they owed for French support in the most recent conflict. By using this simple workaround, the Americans freed Asgill.

Even putting the question of populist appeasement aside, the justice issues remained challenging. There had been a murder of Joshua Huddy. However, it would not be appropriate for the American government to execute just anyone for the crime. Regardless of the parties, the murderer should only receive punishment. Making an unwilling man the sacrifice for the missing killer would not be just. It is a fascinating historical case. To atone for another man’s sins, another must be sacrificed.

However, there is a case in history where an innocent man voluntarily gave his life for a criminal. I am the good shepherd, Jesus declared. For his flock, a good shepherd gives his life. Charles Asgill came close to being an unwilling stand-in for Charles Lippincott’s transgressions. The source of all life voluntarily gave his life for each of us.

WHEN A MAN OR WOMAN LAYS DOWN HIS OR HER LIFE FOR ANOTHER, WE APPLAUD. Unfortunately, such situations do occasionally occur. Tennessee’s Murfreesboro. May 28, 1989. According to the media report, “Former NFL football player Jerry Anderson” passed away on Saturday after saving two young boys from a rain-swollen river 40 miles southeast of Nashville. Witnesses claimed Anderson spotted two boys who appeared to be between the ages of 11 and 12 attempting to cross a dam over a river. Either one of the boys fell into the river, or both did.

“Mr. Anderson jumped in the water and managed to get the little boys out,” Officer Bill Todd said. “But witnesses said he went under two or three times, and about the fourth time, he didn’t come back up.” He sacrificed his life to save two young youngsters.

Of course, such heroic deeds don’t require you to be an American or a football player. For example, On March 11, 2011, one of the largest earthquakes ever recorded severely rocked eastern Japan. The subsequent tsunami from Tohoku, a natural result of underwater earthquakes, caused the Fukushima meltdown and a significant portion of the 20,000 fatality toll.

In the village of Otsuchi, which had a tsunami warning system, Fujio Koshita worked as a firefighter. A loud alert was on top of the fire station, warning everyone to reach higher ground before the wave arrived. Koshita rushed into the station building to activate the alarm but could not because the earthquake had knocked out the electricity. So he took a massive bell out of storage, carried it to the roof, and rang it. Those who heard fled.

Kinoshita was aged 57. A younger firefighter arrived at the station, but Koshita told him to leave and save himself. Unfortunately, the building was shattered to splinters when the water entered. Koshita had spoken to the station a few days prior about the importance of not sacrificing oneself, but his perspective appeared to shift when his life was in danger. However, since his corpse was never discovered, he may just suddenly reappear when Tohoku II strikes, the bell in one hand and a triumphant middle finger to nature in the other.

Anyone can display such bravery. Men are not required. A blizzard once caught up with a mother who was carrying a child across the hills of South Wales, England. Later, she was discovered dead in the snow, frozen to death. They continued looking, perplexed because she had no outerwear, and eventually discovered her infant. They encircled the infant, who was still alive and well. He eventually became David Lloyd George, who led Great Britain during World War I as Prime Minister.

There is no greater love than this, where a brother will give his life for another. Such bravery, selflessness, and willingness to give one’s life to save another are admirable.

However, this passage from John’s Gospel does not instruct us in that way. I am the good shepherd, declares Jesus. For his flock, a good shepherd gives his life.
Don’t get it wrong A transaction between equals was not what occurred on Calvary. A guy gave his life for some stupid sheep, not for other men.

By the way, I hope you don’t mind me calling you a dumb sheep. The ones who should be insulted are the sheep. After all, a sheep never murdered a neighbor or spread the hottest rumors. A sheep would never intentionally harm itself or steal from its master. Sheep are reasonably upright animals as measured by their criteria. However, I doubt we would risk our lives to save a stinky sheep.

I have heard of a man who took extreme measures to protect his dog. He was traveling back from a Caribbean cruise aboard a boat. A youngster was playing with the man’s dog on the deck by tossing sticks for the dog to catch. One throw flew too far and landed in the water over the rail—the dog dove into the water after it. The dog’s owner urged the captain to turn the ship around and save the distressed animal. A dog needs the ship to stop. The captain remarked, “I can’t do that. The dog’s owner said, “Then you will stop it for a man!” and leaped overboard. Naturally, the ship came to a stop, and the man and dog were saved.
I want us to realize how ridiculous everything is in the eyes of God. The Creator of the universe gave their lives in sacrifice for people like you and me. They removed their princely robes to bear the cross of suffering and death. They traded their glorious crown for a torturous crown of thorns and did it for people like you and me. Can you comprehend such an incredible truth? Are you deserving of that shit? I’m not. You?

I recently read about Guam, an island nation. Snakes are currently Guam’s most difficult-to-solve problem. Between 6,000 and 12,000 of them per square mile! The slithering issues (frequently 8 feet long or longer) have also wiped out 70% of Guam’s native bird species.

But the issue is human-made. During World War II, Guam was snake-free, but brown tree snakes were smuggled into military shipments from Australia, New Guinea, and The Solomon Islands. Currently, Guam has no means of eradicating the snakes.

According to the bible, man has always had a snake problem. We carry disease wherever we go. We find a way to use the atom’s fantastic energy and start making bombs. We create the internal combustion engine, which contaminates the atmosphere. As a result of our ability to harvest natural remedies from the environment, we produce addictive medications. The Lord of Life sacrificed his life for beings that act in such a way—creatures like you and me. How could he possibly have done it? I have no clue, but I know how it all came out in the end.

HOWEVER, HE FOUND A WAY TO TRANSFORM SHEEP INTO GOD’S SONS AND DAUGHTERS. Because of this, he gave his life. Although I don’t know why it had to be done that way, the outcome is still astounding. According to the great preacher and theologian Helmut Thielicke:
I see myself at the Last Judgment, and, as at an earthly trial, my identity has to be established before the proceedings begin. But there is an interruption. The Supreme Judge has hardly put to me the question, “Who are you?” before my satanic accuser breaks in and answers for me, “Who is he, you ask? I will tell you. He is the one who has done such and such, and failed to do such and such. He has ignored the plight of his neighbors because he himself was always the neighbor. He has been silent when he ought to have confessed. The gifts you have given him have not made him humble but proud.” He goes on for a long time in this strain. But then the counsel for the defense interrupts; he is the exalted Son of God. “O Father and Judge,” he says, “the prosecutor has spoken the truth. This man has all these things behind him. But the accusation is without substance. For he no longer is what he has behind him.” And although he who sits on the bench knows very well what Christ is saying, for the sake of the audience, he asks, “Who is he then if he is no longer what he has behind him?” To this, Christ replies, “He has become my disciple and believed me that you have met him in me and want to be his father, as you are mine. Hence I have canceled his past and nailed the accusation to my cross [Colossians 2:14]. Who is he then, you ask? He is the one who has accepted me and thus gained the right of sonship that you have promised. Look upon him, then, as you look upon me; he is my brother and your son.” This is the story, says Thielicke, of our identity.

I am the good shepherd, Jesus declared. For his flock, a good shepherd gives his life. I object to being grouped with sheep. But I know I’m an idiot, and I know I smell a little funny. I know I am not worthy of Jesus’ sacrifice for me. Instead, I ought to be giving my life for him. It’s still possible to begin today. I shall devote the remainder of my life to him by his grace and his teaching. I’m hoping you’ll agree and join me.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: