“The Good Shepherd Cares for His Sheep” (John 10:14-15, 22-30; Acts 20:17-35; Revelation 7:9-17)

Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 21, 2013

“The Good Shepherd Cares for His Sheep” (John 10:14-15, 22-30; Acts 20:17-35; Revelation 7:9-17)

Today is what is usually called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Every year on this Sunday in the Easter season, the theme of all the parts of the service is Jesus as the Good Shepherd of the sheep, his flock, the church. He lays down his life for the sheep and takes it up again–that’s the Easter connection. On Good Shepherd Sunday, the Holy Gospel is always a portion of John 10, in which Jesus identifies himself as that shepherd several times. The other two readings also fit the theme of Christ as shepherd. The Introit and Collect of the Day, likewise. The appointed psalm, of course, is always Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.” And the Hymn of the Day is a musical setting of the 23rd Psalm, “The King of Love My Shepherd Is,” which we just sang. So we always have a very clear theme to work with on this Fourth Sunday of Easter, which is why we call it “Good Shepherd Sunday.”

Take, for example, our readings for today. In the first reading, from Acts 20, the Apostle Paul uses shepherding language when he instructs the elders of Ephesus on their task as pastors: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock,” Paul says. “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock,” and so on. In the reading from Revelation, we see the multitude arrayed in white, and we’re told that “the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water.” And in the Holy Gospel, from John 10, Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” So we have shepherd imagery throughout.

Now what does this have to do with us? Well, “we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand,” as Psalm 95 says. We are those sheep for whom the Good Shepherd lays down his life and takes it up again. We are members of Christ’s flock, the church. We are being led to those heavenly springs of water. We hear our shepherd’s voice, and we follow him. All this by God’s grace, of course, since we sheep would be lost forever without our Good Shepherd.

Today I want you to see yourself, to see your identity, as part of Christ’s flock, his church, and to appreciate all the more all that your Good Shepherd does for you. For truly, “The Good Shepherd Cares for His Sheep.”

The Good Shepherd cares for his sheep. How so? First of all, by laying down his life for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says, “and I lay down my life for the sheep.” That is what he did. Like a faithful shepherd who protects his flock from their enemies, even at the cost of his own life, so Jesus laid down his life for us.

You see, we sheep had ferocious predators coming after us: Death and the devil, looking to take us down. Snarling, ravenous predators, with their fangs bared. You and I were no match for death and the devil. Our own sins left us all too vulnerable to their attack. The devil saw us as easy prey. And we were. We fell for his lies in the first place, and we stupid sheep keep falling for the same lies ever since: “Go ahead, be your own god! You can do it. That mean old God, who gives you all those commandments to follow–he’s just trying to spoil your fun! So you–you can be your own god and make your own decisions. Go off on your own! Don’t let yourself be cooped up in a cramped sheepfold, boxed in, with all sorts of rules. Come on! Life is short. Live it up!”

These are the lies of Satan, and we fall for them. Case in point: Marriage. God’s good gift of marriage, the intimate, exclusive relationship of a man and a woman within the bonds of holy matrimony. But we think God is a lousy giver. That’s not enough. No, we grow tired of the spouse God has given us, so we dump that person and move on to someone else. Or maybe we just sneak a little peek of pornography on the side–nobody will know, and God will forgive us anyway, we tell ourselves. We grow impatient and rush into the physical relationship of a man and a woman, but before marriage. And now, increasingly, people are just bypassing marriage altogether, ignoring the fact this is our Creator’s good design and it does not change, no matter what our society may say. These are the deceptions and delusions we fall for. And let’s call it for what it is–sin.

Our sin gives the devil a foothold in our lives, and he seeks to enslave us. Our sin gives death the entrée to leap on us and take us down, like a wolf taking down a sheep. These are the predators that would attack us, and we have made ourselves vulnerable, easy targets for death and the devil by our rebellion against God.

This is where Jesus our Good Shepherd comes in. He would not see us die. He came to seek and to save the lost–the lost sheep that we were, caught in the brambles, unable to free ourselves. What would it take to free us? Our Good Shepherd would yield his own life to set us free. He let the devil strike his heel, so to speak, by being nailed to the cross. But in the process, Christ was really dealing the death blow to the devil’s head, taking away from him the accusation lodged against us, which was our sin. Christ, the holy Son of God, by his blood shed on the cross, made atonement for our sins; he paid the price in full. Christ suffered death, so that we would not die eternally, but rather live. “I lay down my life for the sheep,” Jesus says. And, dear ones, you and I are those sheep for whom the Savior died.

So that’s the first way the Good Shepherd cares for his sheep, namely, by laying down his life for us. Secondly, having risen from the dead, Jesus now calls us to faith in him. “My sheep hear my voice,” he says, “and I know them, and they follow me.” That’s what faith is: to hear the voice of Jesus and to follow him. Dear Christian, Jesus knows you. He knows you by name. He calls you by name. Your name and his name were linked in Holy Baptism, when God baptized you and made you his child. God gave you the gift of faith by the power of the Holy Spirit. Now you believe in Jesus. You trust in him as your Savior. Christ’s living voice calls out to you, calling you to repentance and faith, and you hear his voice and respond. The voice of your shepherd rings true in your ears. You recognize it. He calls you to turn from your selfish, rebellious ways, and to come back home to the flock, and to receive forgiveness for your sins. This is the voice of your shepherd.

To follow the Good Shepherd means to continue to listen to his voice, throughout your lifetime. This is not a one-and-done kind of thing. Following the shepherd and hearing his voice is a lifelong activity. There is no point at which we sheep can turn off or tune out our shepherd’s voice. To hear his voice means listening to God’s Word, taking it in, receiving strength for our faith and direction for our life. This happens through the ministry of the church, the ministry of Word and Sacrament. These are the pleasant pastures in which we graze as God’s flock, and so we are blessed to be here today in God’s house.

That brings us to our third point. The Good Shepherd cares for his sheep by sending you shepherds, pastors, in his name. Paul brings this out in his address to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20. By the way, the term “elders” there would be equivalent to our term “pastors,” that is, men set apart for the ministry of the gospel.

Notice how Paul himself had cared for the church at Ephesus. He did not shrink from declaring to them anything that was profitable. He taught them, both publicly and privately. He testified of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. He testified to the gospel of God’s grace. Paul did not shrink from declaring to them the whole counsel of God.

And what Paul declared and taught and testified, that he expected the Ephesian elders likewise to declare and teach and testify. That is their duty as shepherds of God’s flock: “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” So here we see how Christ cares for his flock through the pastors he provides. Your pastor is here to protect you from those who would twist God’s Word and draw you away from the truth. There are plenty of false teachers around, and so you need to learn how to distinguish truth from error. Christ cares for you enough to send you a pastor who will help you to do just that.

And to help build you up in the true faith. As Paul tells those Ephesian elders: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” God’s Word will build you up. And my task as your pastor is to lead you into God’s Word, so that you will grow strong in the faith. Please let me do that for you. It happens especially when you come regularly to our worship services and Bible classes.

The Good Shepherd cares for his sheep, laying down his life for us, calling us to faith, giving us pastors. And now fourth and finally, the Good Shepherd cares for his sheep by leading us to the eternal springs of water in heaven. That is what Revelation is pointing us toward: “They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Eternal life. This is where our Good Shepherd is taking us. He will lead us through the valley of the shadow of death, and we will come through with him safe and sound and whole on the other side. Jesus leads the way. His resurrection guarantees our resurrection. Follow him where he leads, and you will come out all right–literally, all, right. Everything made whole and complete, better than ever, to last forever. No more death. No more tears. No more sorrow. No more terrorist bombings that blow off limbs. No more ammonium nitrate explosions that wipe out towns. None of that. Everything whole and complete and made new again, including our bodies and including a restored creation. This is where our shepherd is leading us. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Dear friends, today on this Good Shepherd Sunday, we have seen what our shepherd Jesus has done, is doing, and will do for us his sheep. He laid down his life for us, to redeem us from our sins. He has taken up his life again, in his Easter resurrection, and now his voice is calling us to repentance and to faith, to receive God’s forgiveness. Christ cares for us enough that he sends his church pastors, so that we will not be led astray by error but instead grow strong in truth, the truth of God’s Word. And finally, Christ will lead us through death and on into the life everlasting. These, fellow members of God’s flock, the church–these are the ways in which Christ the Good Shepherd cares for his sheep.

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Published in: on April 20, 2013 at 10:14 pm  Leave a Comment  
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