Our Good Shepherd
4th Sunday in Easter
Grace, Mercy and Peace to you from God our Father and His only Son, Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.
It is Good Shepherd Sunday, the day we celebrate our Risen Lord and Savior as our Shepherd, our protector, and our God. God is great and God is good as we pray, so why do we need to have the adjective of ‘Good’ in ‘Good Shepherd’?
Jesus tells his disciples he is the Good Shepherd following the allegory of the thief who tries to steal sheep from the fold of the shepherd. Jesus explains to his disciples what a good shepherd does for his flock.
The good shepherd protects the sheep from harm. Harm in the form of wolves and lions and bears. Harm in the form of dangerous terrain or bad pastures that could make the flock sick. And harm in the form of thieves who pretend to be shepherds. The ‘good’ shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. [John 10:11b] The hired hand does not own the sheep so protecting the flock is not his priority.
My grandfather had dairy cattle and that is the closest I have ever come to animal husbandry. I know nothing about farming or ranching, but I do know what it is like to have a bad boss. I have experienced those in authority, over me and others, who did not seem to care about the workers.
My first captain of the ship to which I was assigned was a very likable person. He would have picnics on the flight deck every Sunday while at sea. He would pull into every port along the way to our final duty station for at least two days of liberty. He had ice cream socials once a month and birthday celebrations. He worked us hard, but always gave us time off. The crew loved him, but I thought he was trying too hard to be liked.
The second captain to come to our ship was not like the first at all. He worked us hard but he did not give us liberty like the first captain. We were at sea for longer periods of time without relief or even a Sunday barbeque to break the monotony. He volunteered our crew and ship for every mission that came down the chain of command. He fired the great cannons on the ship as if the ammunition had an expiration date and would go bad if not used immediately.
We knew the voice of our leaders, but one was pleasant to hear while the other caused worry. One voice instilled confidence the other concern. The voice of our good shepherd brought hope of a sunny beach where we could relax and play. When we heard the voice of our not-so-good shepherd, we thought, ‘What has he gotten us into this time?’ Thankfully, both protected their crew and brought almost all of them safely back to the fold.
Your battleground may not be as clear cut. You may have trouble separating the good from the bad, and I understand because I am standing right next to you in this matter. It is not so easy to be sure of our shepherd’s voice when it is constantly being drowned out by the voice of the greatest thief, Satan.
Yes, the Devil is alive and doing quite well. He strives to snatch us from the hand of our Good Shepherd. Like stubborn sheep, we like to run away from our shepherd thinking that we know better than he.
We can see the green grass on the other side. Sometimes a fence blocks us and sometimes it is a deep crevasse. We think we can overcome the obstacle with our sheep wisdom. We think we can out-trick the trickster. We tell ourselves, “I can make it across the chasm… I can fit through the fence.”
Without our Good Shepherd, Jesus, we are caught in the fence where we cannot free ourselves. Without Christ watching over us, we try to leap across the rocky expanse only to fall to our deaths on the crag.
We have all seen this in others and in ourselves. We lie, cheat and steal. We covet our neighbor’s house, job, and toys. We commit adultery with our eyes, minds and bodies. All the time we think, “It’s not that bad. I can squeeze through to the other side.” or, “I can make it across if I can just get a good running start.”
Christians, when we think this way, when we deny we are sinful, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. Thank God, we have a Good Shepherd. Thank God, he is merciful and just. Thank God, he has called you to be his own and to serve under him in his kingdom.
We know his voice. We know our Good Shepherd because he first knew us. All people are conceived in sin. This is not to say the act itself is done outside the blessing of our Father in heaven when it is within the marriage bed, but that both man and woman are sinful by inheritance.
We cannot by our own reason or strength save ourselves from our sin. We begin our lives with our necks already in the noose. We are born to die and if the Devil had his way, the sooner the better.
This is why Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd, stepped into our world. He humbled himself to be born in our flesh. He lowered himself from all glory and majesty to be made man. Jesus was not conceived in sin, but in holy righteousness. This is difference between God and man. We were born to sin; he was born to save us from our sin.
Jesus Christ promised us his protection as one of his flock through our baptism. Through our baptism our Good Shepherd marked us as his own. He takes us in his hand and leads us beside still waters. He makes us to lie down in green pastures. [Psalm 23:2]
With him, we no longer need to struggle only to become ensnared in the fence of our sin. He leads us in the paths of righteousness and we do not want for anything. [Psalm 23:3]We are reborn through the water and the Word of our Good Shepherd. He comforts us in times of trouble and protects us as we walk through this valley of the shadow of death. [Psalm 23:4]
This valley is our lives. We walk under the shadow of our sin and we will eventually die. Without Christ, this would be the end of us; death would take our bodies and Satan would take our souls before we ever made it out of the valley.
Thanks be to God that we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. [Psalm 95:7] By his hand, we come through the great tribulation complete and made holy. Our Good Shepherd sits on the throne to shelter us with his presence. [Rev. 7:18b] He guides us to springs of living water where we will no longer hunger, or thirst. [Rev. 7:16,17] No sun will strike us nor any scorching heat, and God will wipe away ever tear from our eyes. [Rev. 7:16b, 17b]
We will no longer hunger for the greener grass on the other side of the fence because there will be no fence and no greener grass than that of our Lord’s house. We will no longer be prey to the wolves of this world. We will belong to him, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally. This is most certainly true. [Luther’s Small Catechism, meaning of the Second Article]
Today is a good day to be a sheep. We hear our master’s voice and we follow him. He gives us eternal life and we will never perish. [John 10:26a] Yet there are other sheep in the valley who do not have a Good Shepherd. They walk in the shadow of death ignorant of their certain and eternal demise. They fall prey to the lions and wolves of this world, devoured by the promise of salvation through their very sin.
This is the foolishness of the wisdom of human kind. Until the truth of God is proclaimed, the sheep will not hear the Good Shepherd’s voice. We are to carry the news of salvation through the body and blood of Christ Jesus. The Word of our Lord is to be spoken to everyone we meet.
The Holy Spirit calls the sheep through the gospel. The same Holy Spirit who came to us in our baptism, to dwell in our hearts as a living temple, makes us holy and keeps us in the true faith. This Holy Spirit calls, gathers and makes holy all the little lambs of God.
Through the body and blood of our Good Shepherd, the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins of all believers. This is the foretaste of the feast prepared for us in our Father’s kingdom. It is through the bread and wine we remain in the hand of Christ.
It is Good Shepherd Sunday, the day we celebrate our Risen Lord and Savior as our provider, our protector, and our God. Today is a good day to be a sheep. We hear our master’s voice and we follow him. He gives us eternal life and we will never perish. [John 10:26a] God is great. The Lord is my Good Shepherd.