The Good ShEpherd
Grace, peace and mercy from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
The Psalm of David says: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: He leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul.
David, the shepherd who became king, wrote those wonderful words of the 23rd Psalm. “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Just moments ago we sang that as sheep of the Good Shepherd. The 23rd Psalm is probably the most memorized and remembered Old Testament passage in Scripture. I’ve visited shut-ins who have become affected by Alzheimer’s or dementia; who are challenged to remember the smallest day to day events, some even forget the names of their loved ones. But when I begin to read the 23rd Psalm they begin to speak it with me. I’ve seen the same thing at funeral services where people in the sanctuary actually lip the words of the 23rd Psalm while tears are streaming down their faces. The 23rd Psalm is such a comforting passage.
In our Gospel today Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11-18)
Of all the images of Jesus in the Scriptures, the most gentle and most comforting is today’s text of the Good Shepherd. The old Latin name for Good Shepherd Sunday is Misercordias Domini, the merciful heart of the Lord.
The Good Shepherd literally lays down His life for the sheep. Why, because they are His life! He brings them out to green pasture. He leads them to fresh pools of water. He sets them upright when they’ve fallen down and can’t pick themselves up. He leads them along solid paths, through places sheep don’t naturally want to go, the dark valleys where predators abound. Where the good shepherd leads, the sheep will follow. Why, because He feeds them, He anoints their wounds and sores and cares for them. He even pampers them. At night, after the flock is safely tucked in their pen, the good shepherd lays down at the entrance to become like a door. If anyone wants to get to the sheep, they’ll have to get through the Him first.
I suppose that one of the things we ought to note about our text is this, the word good. At first glance, this certainly is a common word. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is the one who cares for His sheep, even to the point of giving His own life. But if Jesus is the Good Shepherd that means that there are also bad shepherds out there, who seek not to feed and care for the sheep, but to fleece them and turn them into mutton.
That’s why a true shepherd is not some hired hand, who runs off in fear at the first sign of danger. For a hired hand, it’s only about the paycheck. But the shepherd lives for the sheep. They are His own, like a family. He defends them. He calls each of his sheep by their name, just like we do with our pets. And the sheep hear His voice and follow only His voice and no one else’s. That’s what Jesus is for us. The Good Shepherd who laid down His life in order to save us.
Of course, the great bad shepherd is none other than Satan himself. Satan would like nothing more than to lead you away from quiet waters and give you the poison of false doctrine instead of the fresh waters of the font and the green grass of God’s Word. The so-called shepherds of this world would love to see you leave God’s presence and go off foraging on your own in the world. For without the protecting care of the Good Shepherd, you are a lamb led to the slaughter.
This is why it is so dangerous for us to abandon hearing God’s Word and receiving His body and His blood here in His Church. There’s always a part of us that honestly believes that we don’t need God’s Word or His means of grace. We even look to ourselves for salvation. We have the false notion that that we are saved by what we believe. We believe and therefore we receive. We might wrongly believe that we sin and therefore that makes us a sinner rather than correctly understand that we are born sinners and therefore we sin. In other words we think that there is still something good in us. And by that good we can receive the God’s gift of salvation in Jesus. Some may even think, Jesus’ death and resurrection is all fine and good, but when it comes to my salvation, well, that’s my own problem. I’ll work out with my own faith and life, thank you very much. But this view completely misses point of our text, and really the whole point of the resurrection. Let me remind you, we were spiritually dead. There was nothing good in us. Dead people don’t have faith, or life, or the ability to make a decision to believe and receive. Faith that starts with man ends with man. But faith that is God breathed, starting with God ends with God who is eternal. Only something extra nos as the Latin puts it, completely outside of us can save us.
Let me explain. Our Lord promises He Himself will feed His flock and care for them. He will not delegate His responsibility to another. God Himself will feed and take care of you. So where does God feed you? He feeds you here, at His altar, with His own body and blood. This isn’t simply some rite we do because we’ve always done it. The Lord’s Supper is the very heartbeat of the Christian faith. All of God’s work on the cross and in the empty tomb goes into your mouth and soul in Holy Communion. This isn’t like an option on a car, where you can get the electronic windows if you want them. Jesus is what shapes and defines your faith, for He is the one who gives you faith. Did you get that? He alone is the one who gives you faith. And the way Jesus shapes your faith is by coming to you in His Word and in His Sacraments. Without Him, you are a lost sheep, hopeless and alone, even worse you are dead. But with Jesus, you are a part of God’s flock, and He Himself takes care of you.
Hear again the deep connection between the Father and Jesus and you. Jesus said in our Gospel lesson: “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15). What our Lord is saying is that the connection between you and Jesus is as close as the connection between Jesus and the Father. As Jesus says just verses later in John 10:30, “I and the Father are one”
We live in a day and an age when it is so easy to feel alone or to be alone. T.S. Eliot once wrote: “The remarkable thing about television is that it permits several million people to laugh at the same joke and still feel lonely”. This is not only true of television. Our lives have become so compartmentalized and categorized that we can easily be disconnected from our family, from friends, from church, and even from God Himself. This loneliness is an extension of the separation and loss that we all experience because of sin. Sin drives a wedge between you and God, and between you and others. It creates gaps and holes of loneliness that we all may feel.
This is where Jesus’ words in our text bring such comfort to the lonely and downtrodden. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. Jesus is not simply the God who died and rose again from the dead three days later. He is the God who has come into your midst, who binds up your wounds, and who leads you beside the still waters of Holy Baptism. Jesus is the good shepherd. He is the one who can restore your soul. He is the bridge that reconnects you to God Himself. He is the link between you and all eternity. He is the door to the heavenly mansions, and the one who will walk with you through the valley of the shadow of death. For “By His stripes you are healed” (1 Peter 2:24).
So where does this put you this morning, as we reflect on the tender mercies of God? It puts you in His care. It means you are not alone. Indeed, it means that when you eat His body and drink His blood here today in the Holy Supper, that you are connected to God in a way that is more profound and deeper than any kind of emotional high or feeling could ever be. God’s tender mercy toward you means He cares for you so much that He sent His Son to die for you. It means that this same risen Son is now given you faith through Holy Baptism, and that when you hear His Word you are connected to eternity itself. Now that may sound kind of pie-in-the-sky or unrealistic. And I suppose it is to the world. To the world there is nothing happening here. But to you, God Himself is giving you everything.
God calls you and gathers you together into His holy flock. You are not alone. You are now a part of God’s family. So rejoice in His Easter mercy! For this is what Christ won for you at the cross and in the empty tomb. The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. And that goodness comes to you now in His risen Son, Jesus Christ, for because of what He has done; you can know beyond any doubt that all your sins are forgiven, in the name of the Father (T) and the Son and the Holy Ghost, for Jesus sake and in Jesus name, Amen and amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.