4th Sunday of Easter- Good Shepherd Sunday
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, families, relatives, parents, spouses, brothers, sisters, children, co-workers, classmates, teammates, friends, acquaintances, clients, even facebook friends, etc. etc. And yet there’s even those people waiting in line with us at the grocery store, people watching a sporting event with us, the waitress at the restaurant. You see, each one of us has this complex web of relationships interconnecting us with so many different people in our lives. We tend to often times subconsciously assign a value to our relationships with other people based on our connection with them.
Our text this morning tells us of the most important relationship we will ever have. Finally, it’s your relationship with the Good Shepherd, Jesus, that is the most vital and important relationship that you’ll ever have from now on and into eternity.
This well-known portion of Scripture takes place about six months prior to Jesus’ suffering and death. It’s during Jesus’ final ministry when the Pharisees and Jewish leaders were mounting their opposition against Him and looking for ways to get rid of Him. Jesus just healed a man who was born blind. The Pharisees don’t know what to make of this situation. Jesus made the blind man see and in so doing showed how spiritually blind His enemies were that they couldn’t see the ultimate Good Shepherd whom God had foretold when He was standing right in front of them. And yet it’s in this context of hostility and opposition when Jesus gives us some of the most comforting truths.
He says, “I am the good shepherd.” “I, I as opposed to everyone else who have come and will come.” Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The original Greek makes this clearer, but He is the good shepherd. He is not simply “a good shepherd” as if He is one of a great many options. Rather, He is the only option. He is the only Shepherd who can give true safety and care and protection and peace. And He is the “good” Shepherd. Our word “good” doesn’t mean a whole lot today. A B on some homework could be considered “good” as well as a movie or dinner. This “good” is a word to describe beauty or well-qualified for some work or excellence.
But why is it that we call Him the “Good Shepherd”? “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Not only does the Shepherd own the sheep and love the sheep, but He even does so to the extent of giving up His own life for their safety! He puts His own self-interest aside and seeks the greatest good of His sheep. But in seeking the best interests of the sheep His actions seem almost irrational- I mean- after all, isn’t a Shepherd worth a lot more than every one of his sheep combined? Yet, He’s the one who lays His life down? It doesn’t make sense.
But the hired hand, he acts rationally. We can understand him. At the moment of danger when he sees the wolf coming, he runs, he flees, he abandons the flock. Certainly he’s worth much more than all those ignorant, helpless sheep. They aren’t his sheep, why should he care for them? What sheep would want such a hired hand? Who would want a relationship with such a one? But unfortunately so many do, don’t they? Who do many follow and listen to and pattern their lives after? No doubt Jesus first had in mind the Pharisees and religious leaders, but finally anyone or thing that leads away from Jesus is such a hired hand. They are still around today. Think of the “wise” and “learned” thinkers of today who have no regard for that religious stuff, think of the idolized immoral actor or actress or singer, or the power hungry and fame loving politician, or the rough and tough gang leader, all of whom are worse than hired hands who care nothing about the people who are watching them and following them. Think about it. Even though they lure people with their seductive words, where are they to calm the pangs of an accusing conscience? Where are they when your sins condemn you and the devil, that hellish wolf, attacks? Where are they when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death? Where are they when fears trouble, when disaster strikes, when danger looms? Where are they? Nowhere near you. Even if they were, what would be their answer? “Oh, just buck up, get over it, forget about it, take this drug, pop this pill, drink some more of this, then you’ll feel better.” Is that a shepherd you want? Is that a hired hand you’d be glad to follow? Glad to have looking out for you?
In complete opposition to these “hired hands,” is the Good Shepherd whose voice is so close at hand and readily available for anyone to hear and to read. Even though you do not see Him, the Good Shepherd is so close at hand. He says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me- just as the Father knows me and I know the Father- and I lay down my life for the sheep.” The Good Shepherd knows His sheep so intimately, so closely, so profoundly that Jesus passes by all earthly illustrations and reaches into heaven- He knows us as the Father knows Him and He knows the Father- can there possibly be anything closer than that??
A shepherd knows his sheep. You know, even though this picture of shepherd and sheep is likely far removed from many of our experiences it still speaks to us today. I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen a shepherd out in a pasture tending a flock. But from what I’ve heard, sheep are some of the hardest livestock to raise. They’re just about some of the helpless animals around. They aren’t very smart, they have practically no defense against enemies, they don’t have much sense of direction, if they wander off they can’t find their way back, they are notorious creatures of habit- they’ll eat off the same pasture until its desolate, they’ll use the bathroom is the same place until its infested with diseases, the littlest thing can spook them with fear, they often selfishly butt each other in order to get good grass, they are quite helpless animals who desperately need a shepherd, they need a relationship with a good shepherd. It takes a good shepherd to lead them, care for them, provide for them, feed them, protect them, watch out for them, defend them, seek them when lost or straying, etc.
The fact that God compares us to sheep isn’t a very flattering picture. We are the ones who when it comes to God and His world are really not that smart, when it comes to fending off the devil and his wolves we are helpless on our own, we so often ignorantly wander away from the flock and into the devil’s trap or some sin. In our own relationships we act like selfish sheep: at the first instance of being hurt we scream and fight back with words meant to cut and tear down, when we are upset we cut off communication, perform the silent treatment, make them pay for how they wronged us. You see, I desperately need the Good Shepherd, you desperately need the Good Shepherd.
Now you would think that the relationship God the Father has with God the Son would be a far more intimate and vital relationship than God could ever have or want to have with stinking, rotten, filthy, sinful people like you and me, who by nature only rebel against and run away from and hate the only true God who is perfect and holy and totally unlike us! We were born in this world dead in sins and we still have this old, sinful nature, this old Adam, this part of us that wants nothing to do with God. Now just try to think about this set up from God’s perspective: on one side you have the Good Shepherd, your own Son, who has perfectly and totally and completely done everything you’ve ever asked or wanted, when met with opposition He never once complained. Then on the other side here you have the sheep, people you created, who love to wander far away, who rely on you for every aspect of their existence, who not only complain about or against you, but also grumble and complain about each other. So which one would you pick to inherit your kingdom, your paradise, your heaven? Who would you pick to save and who would you pick to suffer?
God’s answer is absolutely shocking, astounding, jaw-dropping. “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life.” The sheep are spared, the Good Shepherd dies! The Good Shepherd suffers hell, so the sheep may inherit heaven! The Good Shepherd, Jesus, who is worth infinitely more than every sheep combined lays down His life, so the sheep might live! It boggles the mind! But this is exactly what God the Father wanted. The Good Shepherd lays down His life, only to take it up again. He lays down His life to save the sheep and then proves His victory by rising from the dead on Easter! He is the ultimate Good Shepherd. There is none, nor will there ever be any so gracious and loving! He laid down His life and took it back again with the sole purpose of having the closest relationship with you! You see, today He is and remains the Good Shepherd you need! Not only did He save you, but He still today provides all that you need. He protects you from your enemies. He watches over you. He cares for you. He knows you by name. He finds you when you are lost or straying. He makes you lie down in green pastures. He leads you beside quiet waters. He restores your soul. He carries you in His arms to your heavenly home! This is absolutely extraordinary love! We would be lifeless stones if this love of our Savior did not motivate us in our lives!
We see this awesome relationship our Good Shepherd has created with us and it moves us to respond in our relationships with other people. As our relationship with our Good Shepherd grows and we hear His voice in His Word He fosters and nurtures our own relationship with other people. In the home it motivates us to set aside our self-serving interest and seek to serve our spouse, our children, our parents, our siblings. At work it motivates us to hold our tongues and speak kindly to and about coworkers. At school it motivates us to speak well of and help classmates who struggle. At the grocery store it motivates us to lend a helping hand, a kind smile, a self-less attitude. It motivates us to live our lives in a way that shows we are members of the Good Shepherd’s flock; it motivates us to use the opportunities in our lives to share the Shepherd’s voice with others so more sheep may be gathered in the fold.
All this is natural to us. Why? Just look at your Good Shepherd! See how he laid down his life on the cross for your sins! See how He rose from the dead to prove that victory! See how He graciously and continuously cares, provides, protects, watches over, feeds, nourishes, defends, and uplifts you day by day! Yes, Jesus is the Good Shepherd you need! Amen. May the God of peace, who … brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will.