Grace, Mercy and peace to you from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior, our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. AMEN.
One of the most beloved sections of Scripture is the 23rd Psalm. It’s such a beloved section of Scripture in part because it is also wonderful confession of faith.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures.”
What a beautiful confession. It’s a recognition of who the Lord is and what He does. It speaks of His providing all that we need to support us in this body and life. What a wonderful image. A loving shepherd carrying lambs in His arms – tending His flock.
But if He’s the shepherd, what does that make us? Our Gospel text clearly tells us what we are. We are sheep. Sheep of the shepherd.
We are unruly – prone to wander away from His tender care. We are helpless and vulnerable. In our Gospel text we hear about the wolf that comes to destroy the sheep. How the wolf scatters the sheep or catches and devours them. In this way we are reminded how much we need a Good Shepherd to guard and protect us, to lead us and guide us.
But, We don’t like to think of ourselves as what we truly are – foolish – helpless – wandering sheep. We prefer to think of ourselves as shepherds in our own right. Self sufficient and independent. Able to stand on our own – even possessing the wisdom and knowledge to shepherd others. Though we love the sentiment of the 23rd psalm, we don’t really think we need to be led to green pastures and still water – we prefer to think we can find those things on our own and even lead others down the path to get there. Inasmuch as we think we need a Shepherd, we prefer to consider Him as someone who’s there for us to ask directions from.
Rather than only and always listening to His voice, following always and only where He guides, we stubbornly get into our heads the way we want to go. Oh, sure, we may pray for wisdom and guidance – especially when we feel unsure or when the unexpected happens in life. But if we’re honest, rather than being led, we simply want to go where we want and we are asking Him to put good pasture and still waters in our path.
We like marching to the beat of our own drummer. Rather than humbly submitting ourselves to His guidance and following where He leads us through His Word, we find ourselves wandering hither, thither and yon. It is, indeed, as Isaiah said, “We all like sheep have gone astray, every one to his own way.”
Our lack of sense makes us self-destructive and even destructive of our fellow sheep. We are not strong – nor are we independent, except in our own minds.
Yet we are loved – we are loved by the Good Shepherd. He did not decide to be our Shepherd – He always has been our shepherd. He created us and He has sustained us always. Even though by our actions and our disobedience – because of our wanderings and stubbornness we deserve to be devoured by wolves, our Good Shepherd would have nothing of it. He comes to us to seek us out. He nurtures us and tenderly cares for us. By this we know love, because He has laid down His life for us.
This is what the Good Shepherd did. He gave up all that He had in order to come and be our Shepherd. St. John’s gospel begins by telling us, “In the beginning was the Word and the word was with God and the word was God.” He then goes on to say, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Setting aside the glory that He had in the beginning with the Father, He came down to dwell with us sheep.
This is what offended the Jews so much at His coming. They, too, knew the words of Psalm 23, probably better than we. They confessed that they were the Lord’s sheep. Yahweh had chosen Israel out of all the nations of the world to be His flock. When Jesus said, “I AM the Good Shepherd,” He claimed to be the Lord God Jehovah. He was claiming to be the shepherd of the 23rd Psalm and the fulfillment of all the scriptures. This is why He was so hated and reviled. Then, to add insult to injury, He told them, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold.”
The good Shepherd came not only for the chosen people of Israel, but for others as well. The Jewish people had worked hard at being a pure, spotless sheep that would be acceptable to God by their works and their obedience so that God could not help but love them. But they proved themselves to be the same wayward sheep as the rest of us when they put their Shepherd to death.
He was the pure, spotless lamb of God. Holy and sinless – who came into the world to be the Good Shepherd.
We who are sickly sheep, steeped in sin and covered by the shadow of death – are counted pure and holy because of what our Good Shepherd has done. Coming down to be one of us, He took upon himself our disease and our sickness. He has shared our life in every way – living among us under the shadow of death, the eternal Son of God became man and dwelt on earth as one of us.
A shepherd smells like his sheep. He walks through mud and dirt and even worse with the sheep. And our Good Shepherd has done the same. Living as one of us in every way, except without sin, Though He experienced our struggles and our pain – our heartache and our trials – even suffering death in our place. Yet through it all, He kept himself pure and spotless.
This is where the greatest test of His shepherding skills came: in His death. It is easy to be a shepherd when there are no wolves. But a cowardly shepherd – a hired hand who cares nothing for the sheep – runs at the first sign of danger – leaving the sheep to fend for themselves. He will not stay and risk his life for mere sheep. They’re not worth dying for.
But our Lord is not a cowardly shepherd. He is no hired hand. He is the Good Shepherd. When the wolves came, He stood His ground. When they circled Him and closed in for the Kill, He did not abandon us. Even though we are unruly – disobedient – stubborn sheep, He loved us to the bitter end. Therefore, when you think of the Good Shepherd, there is no greater or truer picture than of our Lord dying on the cross. The crucifix – not an empty cross – is the image of Christ’s love for us.
Yet, a dead shepherd is of no help to the sheep. In fact, a dead shepherd leaves His sheep abandoned and defenseless. So our Good Shepherd not only laid down his life, but took it up again. Rising on the 3rd day, He lives and reigns as our Good Shepherd to all eternity. And He has promised that He shall never abandon us. He has sent forth His Word and His Holy Spirit so that we may continue to hear His voice – even today. Though nearly 2,000 years ago, we hear of His ascension into heaven – we have His promise that He is here – with us – truly himself in our midst to bind our wounds and give us strength. Forgiving our sins, cleansing us from unrightousness, and going before us as our Good Shepherd.
Through His Word He continues to lead us as His flock. Whether Jew or Gentile, all who hear His voice and listen to His word are made part of His flock. This is why He came to us, this is why He died for us, and this is why He called to us to be His sheep. So that we would be one flock living under one shepherd.
It is the living and reigning Jesus Christ who is our Lord and Shepherd – and therefore we shall never be in want of protection or love or care. Through His Word as it is preached and proclaimed, He causes us to lie down in green pastures so that we may be fed and nourished. He leads us time and time again to the peaceful waters of our baptism – where we were washed clean and clothed with the spotless robe of His righteousness. In that water, He restores our soul – giving us His Holy Spirit – making us complete and assuring us that we have peace with God because of what our Good Shepherd has accomplished for us through His death.
As we listen to His voice, we are led in the well-worn ruts of righteousness bearing His name which was placed upon us in our baptism. As we live as His sheep – listening to His voice, we show forth His mercy and grace to the world and bring honor and glory to Him as we carry His name to all the world. And though we walk in a world still covered in the shadow of death, we need fear no evil because our Good Shepherd, risen from the dead is with us. By the Word of His Law he corrects and chastises us when we seek to stray, and by the staff of His Gospel, He guides us and leads us to receive His goodness and mercy.
In the presence of our enemies, He prepares His table before us – feeding us with His very own body and blood – anointing us with joy and causing our cup of blessing to overflow. Therefore, because our Good Shepherd has died and rose again, because He lives and reigns to all eternity, we can be certain that goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
In the Holy Name of Jesus. AMEN.
Now, may the peace of God which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and keep your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. AMEN.
Thanks to Rev. Andrew Eckert for the influence and contributions made to the preparation of this sermon (http://lcmssermons.com/index.php?sn=2207)