EASTER 4, B – April 26, 2015 (Holy Cross, Trumbull)

 SCRIPTURES – Acts 4:1-12; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18

 

One of the most beloved and comforting portrayals of Jesus is of Him as a shepherd. And, some of Christ’s most memorable and most comforting words are His words from John 10: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” What did Jesus mean by these words?

 

First of all, to call Himself a shepherd was startling. True, shepherding was a common profession in Israel, and one of Israel’s greatest leaders, King David, had himself been a shepherd in his youth. But, by Jesus’ day shepherds were not well thought of. They were distrusted and often looked upon as thieves, and the rabbi’s discouraged young men from becoming shepherds because their work made it difficult for them to attend the synagogue or keep the Jewish ritual laws. In fact, the religious leaders of the people so despised shepherding that they shunned the title, “pastor,” which means, shepherd. They were to be addressed as rabbi (teacher) or as synagogue ruler, but never as pastor. That would be lowly and demeaning.

 

Then, here comes Jesus, a worker of miracles and acknowledged teacher of the faith, and He calls Himself not rabbi but shepherd. He will not be ashamed to get down into the grass and rocks and dirt with His sheep. He will live with them; be stained with their blood as He tends their wounds and delivers their lambs; He will confront wolves and other enemies to defend them. Day and night He will guide them and care for them.

 

What does this mean for you? Jesus is certainly a great teacher. For instance, the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is but one of His great teachings. People look to His teachings for solid morality in our increasingly changing and immoral world, and that’s all well and good. But, Jesus doesn’t call Himself Rabbi. He is the Good Shepherd. You must be sheep who listen to His voice and follow it as if your life depends upon it – for it does! The sheep that ignores its shepherd’s voice wanders off, becomes easy prey for its enemies, and dies alone. You must listen to Jesus, believe what He says, and follow Him as your life. He must not be an occasional companion; you must live with Him and He with you if you wish to live forever in the good pasture of heaven! Jesus cannot be at arm’s length: a scholar to be considered when you need wisdom; a psychologist to be consulted when you need guidance; an aspirin to be taken when you have a headache. “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” You must know Him. He must be your Shepherd, your life.

 

Can He be your life? Can He give you life? Yes! For, He is not like any other shepherd. What Jesus literally says is, “I am the shepherd, the Good One.” Now, there is only One who is truly good, and that is God. With these words Jesus proclaims Himself to be God.

 

We live in a very diverse society, and in a day in which tolerance is the main focus. If Jesus works for you, brings you peace and comfort: good! Follow Him. If Buddha gives you what you need, then follow him. Whatever works for you is ok! That’s the advice of our society.

 

“I am the shepherd, the Good One,” Jesus says. He claims to be the only shepherd, the only God and Savior, not one among many. “There is none other like Me, for I am the true and only God and Savior” is in essence what He is proclaiming about Himself. His disciple Peter believed this, and so boldly confessed before the leaders of Israel, there is salvation in no one else [than Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” If you don’t believe this about Jesus, then He is not your shepherd. If you know and believe that He is the Good Shepherd, the true God and your ever-present help and salvation, then you are blessed forever! The words of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want” will be true in your life. Goodness and mercy shall surely follow you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever!

 

But, all of this rests upon the next thing Jesus says about Himself, something that the very essence of His life and being as a Shepherd: “and I lay down my life for the sheep.” It is not enough, you see, to know and believe that Jesus is the true and only God. The devil himself knows this, but he is God’s enemy, and banishment from God’s presence to eternal punishment in hell is his end! “I lay down my life for the sheep.” This is what you must know above all, that Jesus gave His life for you. He offered Himself to death on the cross to be a sacrifice for you, the payment for all the wrongs and disobediences and wanderings of your life, the sins for which you deserve God’s punishment. He took your sins on Himself. He made Himself responsible for them, and died in your place. “I lay down my life for the sheep,” and His death is the complete forgiveness of every one of your sins. “He” – not me – “restores my soul.”

 

“I lay down my life for the sheep.” You must hear these words of your Good Shepherd constantly, and never let them go. They are the focus of our life together. They make this place, this church, not simply a house of instruction but the good pasture where we are nourished and kept safe forever. For here our lives truly begin, with Holy Baptism: not a mere ceremony celebrating one’s birth, but the immersion into our Good Shepherd’s blood and death. “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” says Romans 6:3. Baptism is not death, however, but the beginning of eternal life with God, for “We were buried with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.” Here our lives are sustained, for we are fed and nourished with the body and blood of our Good Shepherd. “Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise Him up at the last day,” Jesus promises (John 6:54). Here we are given peace with God, for after we sinners confess our sins we are shown the wounds of Christ and hear our Good Shepherd speak through our pastors, our shepherds, and say, “Peace be with you. Your sins are forgiven.” And so, our Good Shepherd’s voice transforms this place into His good pasture where we are safe.

 

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Rejoice in these words of your Good Shepherd! May they bring joy to your heart, and be the focus of our lives together as His sheep, until we dwell in the house of the Lord forever!