The Third Sunday After Easter May 3, 2009
1 Peter 2:21-25
207(1-5), 436, 783 [TLH alt. 648], 207(6)
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
[Jesus said], “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is 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. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”
Dear fellow sheep of the Good Shepherd:
On the night Jesus was born there were shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem keeping watch over their flocks by night. When we think of shepherds, we think of guardians and protectors—those who stand by so that no harm comes to the flock of sheep under their care. It is no surprise then that Jesus too is often described as a shepherd, because He also watches over a “flock.” His sheep are not animals in wool, but they are people. He is the Shepherd and we are the sheep of His hand. Guarded by Him day and night, we are safe and secure.
In Hebrews 13 Jesus is called the “great Shepherd of the sheep,” and here in John 10 the Lord says several times, “I am the Good Shepherd.” He is good, never-failing, never quitting the job, always there, always faithful.
Shepherds were to stand by their sheep and that’s the picture many of us have in our minds when we think of the shepherds of old—bringing the sheep into the pen for the night, closing the gate, keeping watch. The shepherd goes after the sheep who are in trouble and generally maintains these animals which have little or no sense of their own.
The flock of sheep needs its shepherd or the sheep would wander, be attacked by wild animals, and scattered. So it is important that the shepherd never leave his post. “Woe to the worthless shepherd, who deserts the flock!” (Zechariah 11:17 NIV).
Jesus teaches us that He, the Good Shepherd of the sheep, never leaves His flock…no matter what. His people need His constant attention or they will fall into great dangers and troubles.
What dangers does the flock of God face? The danger of false and misleading shepherds who are not “good.” In the Old Testament, Israel had experienced such “shepherds.” Isaiah said once, “Israel’s watchmen are blind…they are shepherds who lack understanding…each seeks his own gain” (Isaiah 56:10f NIV). Years later, Jesus said to His disciples, “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves” (Matthew 7:15).
False and misleading shepherds of God’s flock are dangerous because they can look so harmless on the outside, yet they can do so much damage. False teaching comes in many different forms. It can be a preacher in a pulpit. It can be a book on the best-seller list. It can be a movie that claims to teach spiritual “truth.” It can be a newspaper article in the religion section or a persuasive program on television. Sometimes, the false teachers are not intentionally trying to oppose God’s Word, yet every time they do not teach what is in the Bible they are a danger to the flock. They can lead people astray and ultimately undermine their trust in the Lord Jesus Himself. Even large, beautiful churches don’t mean very much when what is taught inside the walls is not from the Lord.
Even more dangerous are those who knowingly and purposefully teach falsely in order to gain something for themselves. There was a group called “Greater Ministries International” which as recently as 2001 was prosecuted for fraud and swindling. They claimed that money invested with them would be “protected by the Lord” and they collected more than $580 million before they were caught.
The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were also more interested in serving themselves than the flock. They wanted honor and glory for themselves, but when the true Son of God came among them, they ran the other way, despising Him.
There are many dangers out there for Jesus’ sheep, and the false prophets who claim to be “shepherds” can cause much havoc and confusion. These so-called shepherds who don’t really have an interest in Jesus’ sheep, but are only interested in the church for their own gain—these will abandon the sheep when the sheep need them most. They are like the “hired hands” Jesus talked about when He said “The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away.” [v.12 NIV] When the great wolf, the Devil, comes to tempt and to try the flock, the false-shepherds will scatter because they aren’t really interested in the sheep. “The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” [v.13 NIV]
But Jesus isn’t like this. Jesus is the good shepherd of the sheep. He stands by them. He has a concern and a care for His flock. You are safe with Him. Jesus stands by His people. He did it even to the death!
Jesus did what no human shepherd ever could or would do. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. That’s really striking. What shepherd out in the field would give his life to save one of his sheep? The animal just wouldn’t be worth it, would it? Would a shepherd really sacrifice his own, far more valuable life, in order to protect one of the flock? More likely the shepherd would give up a lamb if a pack of wolves were after it—no sense in risking his own life.
But Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He stood by His sheep even to the death. He laid down His own life rather than give up one of His flock. Jesus did this, of course, on the cross. The “wolf” was the Devil, coming after each and every one of us. Satan, that great accuser, pointed the finger at our sins. Every evil thought, every evil word, every evil action, everything we had done which was not perfectly in line with God’s holy will threatened us with eternal destruction in Hell —separation from God and everything good forever.
But the Good Shepherd laid down His own life for the sheep. He took the punishment. He took the separation from God that we deserved for all our sins. He experienced all the torment in our place. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He didn’t run away like a hired hand, but He stayed on to the end—until it was finished. The sheep were His, after all, given to Him by the Father in Heaven to care for and protect. He was faithful to His flock even to the point of death.
Now a Shepherd who took this kind of an interest in you isn’t going to leave you now, is He? A Shepherd who went to such extremes to guard you that He laid down His life for you to spare you from God’s wrath, such a shepherd is going to make sure He can go on being your Shepherd!
Just as surely as Jesus laid down His life for the sheep, He also took it up again for those same sheep! He said “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” [vv.17-18]
In order to be the Good Shepherd Jesus couldn’t just lay down His life for the sheep and be done! He wouldn’t just give up His life and then disappear forever. He who cared so much as to endure a cross would not allow death to separate Him from those He loved. What about the other times when the little flock would need Jesus? What about us today? He couldn’t guide us, comfort us, and be our Shepherd now if He were dead! No, Jesus the Good Shepherd of the sheep now lives in order to continue His care for the flock! Jesus laid down His life to save the sheep from everlasting destruction, but He also took His life up again—came back from the dead so He could keep on shepherding His sheep all the way to heaven. He lives to care for His sheep.
Jesus knows the sheep of His flock down to the last detail. He knows your likes and dislikes, your fears and cares, your frustrations and temptations. “I know my sheep,” He says. [v.14] He does know. He knows how to heal your sorrows. He knows everything you need even before you ask it. He knows what it best for you and at what time it is best for you. He knows what you do, what you think, and what you say, and He uses this to care for you.
Sometimes we may think that Jesus doesn’t understand us. We complain, thinking that He must not know what we’re going through, that He must not be thinking about us or caring about us, that He must have turned in His shepherd’s staff for good. Put such faithless thoughts behind you because He knows His sheep. He lives to know them—to know every detail, to be aware so that He can guard, guide, help, and protect so that all things can work out for your ultimate good.
By His word Jesus leads His sheep. Jesus lives to care for the flock, increasing it by His gracious voice. He laid down His life for the sheep and now He lives to bring more sheep to Himself so that they too can enjoy His tender care. “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen,” Jesus said. “I must bring them in also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” [v.16 NIV]
With the words of His mouth Jesus shepherds. He doesn’t lead His sheep by beating them with the rod or by scaring them into following Him, but by saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29 NIV). He gathers sheep into His fold with the message “Repent and believe the good news!” The good news that the Good Shepherd is here, living and active to save you from your sins and bring you through the troubles of this life to His heavenly kingdom.
Jesus’ sheep know His voice, for He has won their hearts. In this way He has brought us into His flock, and so He brings others. Wherever His Word spreads, there He is carrying out His care for the flock, living as their Shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd of the sheep.
Day by day, at home, away,
Jesus is my Staff and Stay.
When I hunger, Jesus feeds me,
Into pleasant pastures leads me;
When I thirst, He bids me go
Where the quiet waters flow. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (NIV) are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright© 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.