John 10:11-18 (4/19/15)
John 10:11 “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep.”
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… We find in our text this morning that our Lord Jesus gets right to the point, as He always does. In fact, He makes some shocking, even radical statements about the differences between Himself, the Good Shepherd, and any other shepherd or even wolf.
Here is the shocking news. Jesus is not the Good Shepherd because He feeds us. He is not the Good Shepherd because He protects us. He is not the Good Shepherd because He fights off the wolf or even cares for us. Indeed, Jesus our Good Shepherd does all those things, but so does the hireling.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He behaves UN-like the hireling. What does the hireling do? Well, the hireling raises sheep for his own income. He cares for the sheep, feeds them, protects them, and so forth, but he does so only that he may fleece them occasionally and ultimately slaughter them. If the wolf can be bought off at the price of a sheep, so be it. It is better than dying for the sheep. The hireling fights off the wolf only that he himself might slaughter the sheep. And so the wolf and the hireling see the sheep in the same way. And so it is in this fallen world that sheep give up their life for the shepherd much the same way cattle give up their life for the rancher. It is all about eating and profit.
And therein lies the point of the comparison. The difference is not in the care-giving, but in unexpected, foolish (in the eyes of the world) sacrifice. The Good Shepherd, as Jesus said, “gives His life for the sheep.” It is like a police officer taking a bullet for a terrorist – a police officer who volunteers to serve the criminal’s sentence and even suffer the criminal’s execution.
Admittedly, we expect our law enforcement agents to put their life on the line. But what will a good, courageous police officer die for? His comrades or for the innocent, yes. But die for a criminal? No. Or even worse, will a police officer give up the life of one of his own children in order to spare the terrorist, the enemy, who would gladly kill him? No. That is not the way police officers act.
But it IS the way of the One who brings us peace. “Greater love has no one than this, that He lay down His life for His friends.” (John 15:13). And when the police demonstrate that kind of love, we rightly and profusely thank them and thank God for them, for this is not a common love. But God’s love greatly exceeds that great love. As our text says, He lays down His life for His enemies, for the sheep that didn’t even know they needed Him, or wanted Him. He takes the bullet meant for His enemies in order that we are spared and reconciled to God the Father. And by that great act of love, we are His enemies no more.
And so, this is what our Lord Jesus Christ means when He says that He is “the Good Shepherd.” He acts in a completely unexpected way, not like our human ideas about shepherds. Thanks be to God our Good Shepherd does not act like we would expect Him to act; thanks be to God that His ways are not our ways. Instead of using the sheep for His own benefit, He lays down His life for the sheep. And in this we see what makes Him truly good. He is good because He fulfills His Father’s will.
Jesus, our Good Shepherd, is the ram caught in the thicket who provides His own blood for our doorposts in order that the angel of death may pass over us. He is the One who stands between us and our judgement; He is the One who has taken our place in hell so that we go free. He is our Mediator, our Intercessor, our Champion, our Captain. He is our true Brother; He is flesh of our flesh and bone of our bones.
Christ, our Good Shepherd is the One descended from David and Abraham, and yet, mysteriously, incomprehensible at the same time. He is true God who is without beginning and without end; He is the One through whom all things were made. He is our salvation; He is our peace; He is our hope and our joy. He is our Good Shepherd, the One who feeds us with His own body and blood in order that we, His sheep, may live.
The word “Good” in the title Good Shepherd reminds us of the “Good” of Good Friday. For there we see exactly how and to what extent our Good Shepherd gave up His life for us His sheep. There the suffering and death and sacrifice was the cruelest and most harsh. There we see the full extent of the horror of our sins such that this true God and Man was literally abandoned and damned for all the sheep. It is exactly what had to happen, yes it is the only possible way that our sins could be paid for in full, that Jesus our Good Shepherd was literally thrown to the wolves in our place. He was beaten, mauled, and killed in order to save us, His sheep, from certain eternal death.
Of course, the good Shepherd did not only lay down His life for the sheep, but He also took up His life again. And because He has taken up His life, death is dead. Life lives.
And the voice of our Good Shepherd continues to be heard and received in His holy Word and Sacraments, the very things by and through which He continues even today to feed and sustain His sheep. His voice still calls to us in the waters of Holy Baptism wherein we receive His name and Spirit and salvation and forgiveness and life. His voice still calls to us through His real, yes, even physical body and blood in the Sacrament of the Altar through which He delivers not just assurance of sins forgiven, but actual forgiveness of sins – the real thing through the real body and blood of Christ. It is the same real forgiveness which is delivered to Christ’s sheep in the word of Absolution. Through these things our Good Shepherd continues to feed and care for His sheep, sheep which need all the care and nurture the Good Shepherd has to give.
There are, of course, competing voices among the sheep. There are the voices that would unite us again to cry with one voice, “Crucify Him.” These are the voices that tempt us to turn away from the voice of our Good Shepherd and toward our own ways, to seek shepherds who will act like shepherds should, in predictable and reasonable ways. There is the voice that echoes across time from the Garden suggesting, “Did God really say…?” And there is the voice of our fallen nature which would not fear, love, and trust in God above all things. That is the rebel voice inside of us who would still decide for himself what is pleasing to the eye and good for food.
And, not surprisingly, all those voices claim to be THE Voice. Even though we know they are not the voice of our Good Shepherd, again and again we find ourselves following them, listening to them, even seeking them out. Again and again we have followed like tired, dirty, hungry sheep and have walked right past the cleansing waters and the good food the Good Shepherd gives us and has laid out for us and have settled for that which does not and can not satisfy. We have stood in judgment over God and have condemned Him with our words and actions. We have declared to Him what we believe is wise and what we will put up with. We have declared to Him what He must do and how He must be if we would honor Him with our worship and love. All of which proves even more profoundly that sheep need a shepherd, for they cannot lead, feed, or save themselves.
Hear the voice of your Good Shepherd. “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But he who is a hireling and not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 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.”
That is the true voice and work and love of your Good Shepherd. Christ is the Good Shepherd. He has already laid down His life for you. He has already delivered you from all wolves, even other false voices and false shepherds.
And here today He has provided the green pastures and still waters of His love and forgiveness in His Holy Supper. Here today He continues to feed you with His Word of forgiveness, and His real and actual body and blood for forgiveness, life, and salvation. Here in His Supper is His life, His love, His care, His heavenly nourishment. Here the true benefits of His love are delivered for sure. Here is where what we pray for when we pray “Give us this day our daily bread…and forgive us our trespasses” is delivered for sure.
Dear sheep of the Good Shepherd, His life and love are yours for eternity. To Him be all glory, honor, and praise.
In the name of the Father and of the † Son and of the Holy Spirit.