Good Shepherd Sunday (5th Sunday of Easter) May 2, 2021
1 Peter 2:19-25
431, 436, Worhsip Supplement 2000 #783 (TLH alternate 428), 648
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ Christ Is Risen! He is Risen, Indeed! +
Dear fellow sheep of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who have come to hear His voice and who by His Word have found good pasture to nourish your souls, dear fellow redeemed,
The story is told of a sheep fold that had one young ewe (a female lamb), that was particularly assertive. So assertive that the other sheep in the pen though she knew something they didn’t. As sheep are prone to do, they began following this assertive little lamb. They followed her right through an opening in the fence and out of the safety of the farm yard. They followed this little lamb certain that she knew where she was going and that she was leading them to green pastures and still waters. Though this little lamb acted like she knew what she was doing, she had no idea where she was going. She didn’t know where safe pasture could be found. She didn’t know what water was safe to drink or what plants were safe to eat. She didn’t know where the pack of hungry coyotes could be found or which path lead to danger.
How foolish, right?! How foolish that sheep would follow a young ewe, just because it seemed like it knew something, that it really didn’t. Foolish, yes, but here again we find another reason why the Lord often refers to us as sheep. How many times aren’t we prone to follow someone or listen to someone’s advice just because it SOUNDS like they know what they’re talking about? How many different counseling and self-help books regularly appear in the “new releases” section of the book store? They are written by authors who claim that they know the way to a “better life.” How many different shows can be found on TV that claim they are there to help you with your problems and improve your life? How many religious leaders like Joel Olsteen or Pat Robertson come along with their television shows and book tours claiming to have all the answers to your problems?
In our text for this Good Shepherd Sunday, THE Good Shepherd Jesus, reminds us that not all voices should be followed. Some are illegitimate voices. Some are like the ewe we talked about, who don’t really know where they are going but act like they do. But the sheep of God will only follow one voice. One voice that can be trusted because it KNOWS the way. The sheep of God will pass through only one door. One door that IS the way. Beloved in the Lord, it will come to you as no surprise that truly Jesus is the Shepherd who KNOWS the Way of life and He is the Door that IS the Way of life. Listen to the voice of your Good Shepherd in John chapter 10:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd.” (ESV)
In Palestine where Jesus lived, the sheep were largely “free-range” sheep, as we would call them today. They typically were not kept on large farms, but shepherds would roam the countryside with them. This was great for feeding the sheep as pastureland was abundantly available. However, having free-range sheep could also cause problems. Sheep like to wander. And if the shepherd had to sleep or run to town for supplies, the sheep could carelessly wander away, or be free game for predators or thieves. Thankfully, Palestine also has an abundance of stones. Sheep pens were constructed using the stones as an enclosure to keep the sheep in and most of the predators out. These stone sheep pens would have one gate or door, which could be guarded, letting the right shepherd in or letting the sheep out at the proper time.
This is what Jesus is referring to in our text. He speaks of a shepherd, whom the gatekeeper allows access to the sheep. The sheep know the voice of the shepherd. It is familiar to them. It is trusted by them. They are willing to follow this shepherd wherever he goes. But if a stranger were to call out to them, they would not follow. They do not trust the voice of the stranger. In fact, Jesus says that they flee from that voice.
Jesus says that the shepherd knows each of his sheep by name. That is, he is personally familiar with each and every one of them—their weaknesses, their needs, and their tendencies. The shepherd personally cares about each and every one of them. Furthermore, the shepherd leads them. He knows the way and leads the way.
Jesus is the shepherd being spoken of here and the sheep are all His believers. He did not sneak into the world. The gatekeeper let Him in. The Father sent His Son into the world to purchase and redeem His flock. The Old Testament prophets all pointed to Jesus. John the Baptist prepared the way for Him.
Note well how comforting, then, it is to hear Jesus say of Himself in verse 3, “He calls His own sheep by name.” The LORD said the same thing in Isaiah, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine.” (Isaiah 43:1) You are not just some nameless individual. Jesus calls to each of you personally, individually. He personally cares for each one of you. He Himself laid down His life on the cross to purchase each one of you for Himself. You belong to Him.
And whose voice is the only one we want to listen to? Jesus, Jesus, ONLY Jesus. We know His voice as He calls out to us from the Scriptures. We recognize it. It is familiar and trusted by His sheep. We follow the voice of our Good Shepherd because He knows the way of life. He’s not like the eweling which didn’t have a clue where she was going. Jesus knows the way. He was tempted in every way that we are yet without sin. He saw the effects of death and wept. He Himself tasted death and died. Yet death was not the master of Him, it did not own Him, it could not hold Him. Our Good Shepherd took up His life again. On the third day after His death He rose. Our Good Shepherd Himself passed through the Valley of the Shadow of Death and emerged alive! Therefore only by following Jesus can we too walk through the valley of the shadow of death and fear now evil, because He is with us!
In verse 10 He says of His sheep, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” That word “abundantly” is the same word used after Jesus fed the 5,000. When Jesus fed the 5,000 with only two fish and five loaves of bread, we are told that everyone had their fill, and when they were full the disciples collected twelve baskets full—or 12 abundant baskets—of left overs.
So it is with all that Jesus does. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more! Though we have plenty of sin to repent of, Jesus has even more undeserved love for us. He didn’t shed His holy precious blood on the cross for just SOME sins, He died for the sins of the WHOLE world! So too, with the life Jesus came to give us. It wasn’t just a little bit of life, but an ABUNDANT life. Life full of leftovers of Jesus love, grace, and forgiveness. Life that sustains us not only in this world but spills over into eternal life in heaven. With Jesus, our Good Shepherd, our cup runneth over with life! Truly Jesus is the Shepherd who knows the way to heaven and the sheep of God will only follow His voice.
But not only does Jesus KNOW the way, Jesus IS the way. Take a look at the beginning of verse 7 and 9, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. …I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” Remember the image of the sheep pen? There is only one gate or one door in and out of the sheep pen. Entering the sheep pen by that door, the sheep were safe and protected within the confines of that pen. Through that door, the sheep were called out by the shepherd to pasture safely. Not only is Jesus our Good Shepherd who leads us to heaven, He is the Door by which we are saved!
In John 14, we read Jesus told His disciples that He was going to prepare a place for them and that they knew the way to that life. When Thomas said he didn’t know the way Jesus was going and wondered how he could follow Him, Jesus replied, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” (John 14:6) Jesus is the ONLY way to the Father. Jesus is the ONLY Door whereby we are saved. When the Apostle Peter was told to no longer preach the name of Jesus, Peter boldly and clearly replied, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) There is NO other name and NO other door of salvation—only Jesus.
In our text, Jesus says that anyone—ANYONE—who enters by Him will be saved. Is that not exactly what He said in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that WHOEVER believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” And Jesus states the same in that familiar passage from Mark 16 we regularly hear in our liturgy, “He who believes and is baptized SHALL be saved.” (Mark 16:15) Jesus is the door of salvation! Only through this Door are all our sins forgiven, atoned for, and washed away by His sacrifice. Only by the Door of Jesus is there righteousness and holiness to be found. Through this Door we have abundant life which springs up into eternal life in heaven.
Jesus is not only the Door to heaven when we die, He is the Door of safe pasture right now. In verse 9 Jesus talked about His sheep “going in and out and finding pasture.” Sheep that can go in and out and find pasture, are safe and provided for. Going about everyday by Jesus the Door we can go in and out and find pasture, we are safe and provided for. Jesus promises of His sheep, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.” (John 10:29) We are safe in Jesus as through His Word and Sacrament He daily nourishes our souls. Jesus IS the Way to life in heaven and THE Way day by day in this world.
Back to that ewe we talked about earlier—she didn’t know where it was going, yet those sheep were willing to “follow the leader” because they didn’t know where to go and it seemed like she did. Let us learn to listen to ONLY the voice of our Good Shepherd Jesus. He knows the way to green pastures, still waters, and paths of righteousness. He knows the way of life because He came from heaven and has returned to heaven to give us abundant life. Furthermore, by His life, death, and resurrection, He IS the way of abundant life. By Him we are saved! All praise be to our Good Shepherd Jesus, by whom we will dwell in the house of the LORD forever! Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.