The Good Shepherd
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. John 10:11 [Jesus said] “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… Many of you may remember the TV show E.R. In 2009, the last year of that show’s run, there was an episode entitled “Atonement.” In this episode a man who was once a prison doctor, whose job it was to administer lethal injections to inmates, is in the Emergency Room with cancer. He is afraid of what waits in death for him as he found out he had put an innocent prisoner to death by his own hand.
He says to the woman acting as a chaplain that he can’t even hope for forgiveness. She suggests he just needs a new reason to live and to just let go of the guilt and feel forgiven. But this man wants to know what God wants from him as he has cancer and is preparing to die. She answers, “What do you think He wants?” The dying man answers her, “what do you say?” She responds by telling him her thoughts that it is up to each one of us to find the answer by looking inside ourselves for what God wants from us.
Upon hearing this answer the cancer patient is enraged. He starts yelling at this woman that he wants a real chaplain, one who believes in a real God and a real hell. He needs real answers, and all the woman’s questions and uncertainty are making things worse for him. He wants someone to look him in the eye and tell him where to find forgiveness because he is running out of time. The scene ends with the man screaming at her to get out of his room.
This TV episode depicts what is being told about God to too many people in our world today. And this horrible advice is not just given by those outside the church, but by some pastors and spiritual leaders as well. And what are people told? They are told to look inside themselves for answers; they are told that the truth of God is inside you, waiting to be discovered.
Well, friends, there are no words strong enough or vulgar enough to describe how deadly and damnable that advice is. It is a lie of the wolf, Satan – the lie that you can discover what God wants by looking inside yourself, that there is a truth of God just waiting to be discovered if you just look hard enough or ask yourselves the right questions, or live the right way.
OK, let’s just play the game for a minute… What absolute, for-sure truth do you find by looking inside of yourself? What does God find inside of you? After all, Jesus says in today’s Gospel that He knows His own. And being God, there is no hiding or covering up your truth from Him. Let’s look into that dumpster, shall we?
Jesus knows the truth of what you are and what you have done: the truth of how you perk up your ears at the sound of gossip about others and strain to hear it… The truth of how easy it is to fix your eyes on images on computers and magazines promising you a connection with excitement and young life… The truth of how you are not happy or satisfied with where God has placed you in life and what He has given you to do, and the resentment that burns in your hearts toward those who seem to have an easier life than yours. Jesus even knows the truth of when you have killed others, if not literally then just in your angry thoughts that come out of your hearts.
Need I go on? That is the truth that lies within us. That is how we are born, with all the selfish desires living inside. That is what we carry around and try to keep under the various masks and coats and fleeces so that others can’t see the real truth of who we are. And this is all sin – damnable sin deserving of absolute and forever hell; sin that should bring guilt and shame and disgrace; sin that God hates.
All of us are conceived and born full of sin, and our Holy God has every right to be rid of us forever from His sight. That is the truth of God’s law.
And yet, God Himself seeks out sinners such as you and me. In today’s Old Testament reading God speaks through Ezekiel that He Himself will seek the lost and bring back those who have strayed, and He will bind up the injured and He will strengthen the weak. That is the greater truth of God’s good news for us.
And in today’s Gospel Jesus declares Himself to be the Good Shepherd – God’s Shepherd – God’s pasturing One. He is the one who, for us men and for our salvation from sin, death, and the devil came down from heaven. He is the only One who has words of eternal life to speak to sinful mortals.
And those words today which come from His mouth are that He is the One who lays down His life for you, His sheep. He is the One who lays down His life before the wrath of heaven in place of the sheep. He is the One who takes the real truth of who we are into Himself and bears it all before God and the world to see without any masks or coats or fleeces, and hangs it on the cross in His body. He lays down our sins in His body on the cross and dies as the Lamb of God, taking away the sins of the world, suffering the eternal hell and separation from heaven that we deserve.
This absolute forgiveness and salvation from the punishment of our sins before heaven is not found by looking inside yourself, or by examining your heart. The certainty of God truly forgiving you is not discovered by asking yourself the right questions or living the right way. The certainty of God’s forgiveness always comes from outside of you; it comes from Jesus’ own life that He laid down for sinners upon the cross and the absolute certainty that His Father accepted the payment of that life when the obedient Jesus took His life up again on Easter morning.
But all of that doesn’t do anyone any good unless it is heard and believed and delivered. So the Good Shepherd still has His Words proclaimed so that sheep will hear His voice: His voice from the cross where He says “it is finished;” His voice of Easter with His breath and wounds giving the disciples absolute certainty that what sins are forgiven on earth are forgiven in heaven; His Words that gather His sheep together that Jesus may brand them upon their own heads and hearts as sheep redeemed by Christ the crucified, and lead them to the waters of baptism for the remission of their sins.
Jesus also speaks words in the hearing of His sheep that He prepares a table from which to feed His forgiveness into them even in the presence of their enemies. He not only speaks but delivers a real food of forgiveness of sins in His wounds of flesh and blood placed into your mouths, given for you.
Your Good Shepherd gives you His forgiveness, life, and salvation so that you would hear His voice and know Him and follow in His steps. You follow Him wherever He leads. And He leads you to springs of living water which are nothing other than His preached Word and His Gospel-and-forgiveness-filled sacramental gifts.
You follow Him to this place to hear how He has given His life for you, His sheep, and then took up that life again in the resurrection thereby giving you the sure and certain hope of life everlasting. You follow Him to the daily remembrance of your Baptism by which He has given you His name and rescued you from death and the devil. You follow him to Holy Absolution where He gives you a pastor and uses that pastor’s ears to hear your confession, and his mouth to speak His words of absolution into your ears.
And you follow Him to His table where He gives you Himself – His own real and true body and blood under the bread and wine – for the forgiveness of your sins. Only by hearing Jesus’ words and constantly receiving His gifts will you know His voice for certain and listen to it.
Do not look inside yourself; in fact, run as fast as you can away from anyone who tells you to look inside yourself, for that is the voice of the wolf that only wants you dead in hell. Hear Jesus. Receive His gifts. And you shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.