The Second Sunday after Easter
May 4, 2014
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
In the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Especially among Lutherans, the image of Christ as Good Shepherd is one of the most beloved images. You will likely find a stained glass window, or painting, or statue in virtually every Lutheran church you walk into. There are many Lutheran churches that are named Good Shepherd (including the one I did my vicarage at).
It’s interesting that Jesus’ statement, I AM the Good Shepherd has such preeminence over the other I AM statements of John. You don’t often see Jesus portrayed as the living embodiment of a door, even though He says,I AM the Door of the sheep (John 10:7). And I’m not aware of many True Vine Lutheran Churches (in fact, a Google search only returns one True Vine Lutheran Church located in Minnesota).
Often, Jesus as Good Shepherd is portrayed as quaint, serene, or cute—holding a fluffy little lamb on His shoulders. But He does not call Himself the Good Shepherd because He is quaint, serene, or cute. He says, I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep (v 11). The Good Shepherd distinguishes Himself because of what He is willing to do with His own life on behalf of others.
Jesus Is Your Good Shepherd Who Lays Down His Life for You
Prepositions are small words that pack a powerful punch. They indicate a relation between two things—sometimes simple, sometimes more complex. In Jesus’ statement, The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep, the words, “for you,” indicate two things about Jesus laying down His life and you. The first thing that your Good Shepherd does is to lay down His life for you, that is, in your place.
A man may call himself a shepherd, but without a flock of sheep, it doesn’t make much sense for him to do so. Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd because He has a flock of sheep, though they are not the wooly kind, who go about on four legs. The sheep of this Shepherd are His people. And they have been scattered.We have all gone astray like sheep. Every one of us has turned to go his own way, Isaiah prophesies (Is 53:6a AAT). You are a sheep because of your wandering, because of your straying from God and His holy law. But unlike sheep, you don’t do it out of ignorance; you willfully fight against the One who desires your greatest good.
Your natural proclivity for wandering away from your Shepherd is only exacerbated by the devil. He is the wolf who stalks his prey, looking for any weakness that he can exploit. He is the one who sneaks up on the flock and viciously attacks them, scatters them, and snatches them away.
The hireling, and not the shepherd, to whom the sheep do not belong, he sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees—and the wolf snatches and scatters them—because a hireling doesn’t concern himself about the sheep (vv 12-13). A hireling is only in this spiritual game for what he can gain from it. His only interest is in his wage or his reward. But when it comes down to his life, he flees danger to earn a wage another day.
But not Jesus. He is the stark counterpoint to the hireling. He is not in this spiritual game for what He can gain, but for what He can give. His interest isn’t in the wage or the reward; the sheep are His reward. And so when the devil comes looking for a weakness to exploit, the Shepherd becomes the weakness and puts Himself directly in the path of the enemy.
When the hireling sees the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep and fleas. But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, does something that no other shepherd could do. He becomes one of the sheep. Jesus is the eternal Divine Shepherd in sheep’s clothing, the Son of God wrapped in human flesh. He puts Himself in between you and all of the attacks of the devil. His self-interest cannot be exploited because He did not love His own life, even unto death.
I AM the Good Shepherd and I know those that are Mine, and those that are Mine know Me. Just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life on behalf of the sheep (vv 14-15). Jesus laid down His life in place of the sheep. Your rebellion, your willful wandering from God and His holy Law exposed you to a brutal death. But Jesus came searching for you, found you in your peril, and took the brutality into His own flesh.
The Good Shepherd lays down His life for you, that is, He lays down His life in your place. He is the good, beautiful, noble, self-sacrificing Shepherd who dies a sheep’s death.
That preposition—for the sheep—also means something else. If the Good Shepherd were simply the Dead Shepherd, then His death would be in vain and of no lasting benefit for you. But He is the Good Shepherd who willingly lays down His life, and willingly takes it back up again. There is not a Dead Shepherd laying lifeless between you and the devil, but a living Shepherd, who stands on His own two feet, ready to do battle on your behalf, to still guard and protect you against the spiritual dangers that pursue you. You Good Shepherd lays down His life for you, that is, on your behalf and for your benefit; and He takes it back up again.
The death of the Good Shepherd was two millennia ago, but Scripture assures us that the devil still prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. The flock of the Divine Shepherd is not free from all spiritual trials or the attacks and assaults of the devil. In fact, he seems to have intensified his struggle against the flock of God, separating, dividing, scattering, and snatching wandering souls.
What good is this Shepherd if we still must endure these spiritual assaults? His goodness is that He shepherds you through them. The Lord is your Shepherd, therefore there is nothing more that you could want. He causes you to lie down in pleasant, green pastures, and leads you beside still waters. He guides you to the Church—the place where you can rest unmolested by spiritual antagonists. Here, among the flock of the great Shepherd of the sheep, you find your peace.
He restores your soul with a word of forgiveness. He creates in you a clean heart and a right spirit; He leads you down a path of righteousness, even though you are beset by the adversary. He does this for His name’s sake, which He gave you when He admitted you to His sheepfold. He baptized you into the name shared by Father, Son, and Spirit.
Even though death encroaches on this valley of sorrow, there is no evil to fear. Your Good Shepherd has a rod and a staff that beats back the forces of darkness. His Word is a weapon that turns even the fiercest wolf into a whimpering, cowardly pup. Take comfort in this.
He prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies. For as often as you eat the bread and drink the cup, you proclaim that this Shepherd died in your place. Think about that next time you’re at the communion rail, think about the proclamation that you make to all your spiritual enemies with a little nibble of bread and a sip of wine. This is the body that was crucified for me, the blood that was shed for me.
Your head He anoints with the oil, that is, with the Spirit. He absolves your sin again and again. Seven times seven times seventy times seventy—He continues to pour His forgiveness upon you until it runs over in your forgiveness for others.
Surely it is His goodness and mercy that follow you all the days of your life—not the threats and assaults and the pains and the troubles of the evil one. For He has been defeated, no matter how he struts about and makes himself look fierce and terrible. You have a Good Shepherd who laid down His life, who took it back up again, and who stands between you and evil throughout your entire life. Until that day when you enter the eternal mansions that are prepared for you.
In + Jesus’ name. Amen.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
Rev. Jacob Ehrhard