The Good Shepherd
By Tracy Jessup
“My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.” — John 10:27-28
It is a fear of every parent who has ever sent a child to college. It is the concern of anyone who works in higher education. And while safety and security are a priority for every campus, unfortunately, tragic events still happen. On Tuesday evening in May 2019, it happened close to home at the University of North Carolina – Charlotte (UNCC). A leader from Charlotte’s Intervarsity campus ministry was speaking at the student-led worship service at Gardner-Webb University that same night and two UNCC students came with him. As details related to the shooting continued to unfold, Neal Payne, associate minister to the university, as well as students who gathered to worship, prayed over these new friends from UNCC on behalf of our nearby sister institution of higher education.
We later learned that two students were killed, including 21-year-old Riley Howell. Police on Wednesday saluted Howell as a hero for having the courage to fight the gunman. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Chief of Police Kerr Putney said at a news conference, Howell “took the fight to the assailant” and “took the assailant off his feet.” If Howell had not done what he did, Putney said the assailant “may not have been disarmed. Unfortunately, he gave his life in the process, but his sacrifice saved lives.”
Family and friends spoke of Howell as one who always put others before himself. His mother told NBC’s Today show, “While kids were running one way, our son turned and ran toward the shooter. If he was in the room when something like that was happening, and he had turned away, he wouldn’t have been able to live with himself.”
The context for today’s passage includes the Parable of the Good Shepherd in which Jesus makes the statement, “I am the good shepherd…and I lay down my life for the sheep…No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (John 10:14, 18). The sacrifice of Christ offers eternal life to all who believe. We hear His voice, we are known by Christ, and we follow Him.
Then Jesus makes this wonderful promise – “And no one will snatch them out of my hand” (v. 28). No greater safety or security is imaginable for the follower of Christ. This assurance is reinforced again when Jesus says, “What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand” (v. 29).
Theologian Elisabeth Johnson writes, “The abundant life of which Jesus speaks is not necessarily about abundance in years, or in wealth, or status, or accomplishments. It is a life that is abundant in the love of God made known in Jesus Christ, love that overflows to others…It is eternal life because its source is in God who is eternal…and in Jesus, who is the resurrection and the life.
Amidst all the other voices that evoke fear, make demands, or give advice, the voice of the good shepherd is a voice of promise — a voice that calls us by name and claims us as God’s own” (workingpreacher.org 4/17/16).
Prayer: Lord, thank you that in your embrace we find not only safety and security, but also comfort, healing, justice, mercy, and peace.
Dr. Tracy Jessup serves as vice president for Christian Life and Service and senior minister to the University. He is a graduate of Gardner-Webb with a B.A. in Music and earned his M. Div. degree at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He also teaches in the undergraduate department of religious studies and enjoys the opportunity to serve the local church through interim pastorates, pulpit supply, and preaching revival services. he and his wife, Teresa, have two children, Christian and Anna.