“The Good Shepherd Lays Down His Life for the Sheep” (John 10:11-18)

Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 25, 2021

“The Good Shepherd Lays Down His Life for the Sheep” (John 10:11-18)

Are you feeling a little sheepish today? Well, if you are, that’s good! Because it’s good to be a sheep when Jesus is your shepherd. Today the message is that Jesus is our good shepherd, and “The Good Shepherd Lays Down His Life for the Sheep.”

Today is the Sunday in the church year known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Every year on this Sunday in the Easter season, the Psalm is always the 23rd Psalm, the Holy Gospel is always a portion of John chapter 10, and the other readings and the hymns always have something to do with this “Good Shepherd” theme.

Today’s Gospel from John 10 has Jesus twice saying the words, “I am the good shepherd,” and several times saying that he “lays down his life” for the sheep. Our text begins with both of those thoughts in verse 11. There Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” What is it about sheep, and what is it about a shepherd, that Jesus should choose this language?

First, let’s talk about sheep. And let’s say it straight out: Sheep are very vulnerable. They cannot defend themselves. They cannot protect themselves against predators. Sheep are not very fast. They cannot outrun the wolf that’s chasing them. Sheep are not very strong. They do not have sharp teeth or claws. They cannot outfight a wolf. Sheep are pretty much defenseless and vulnerable. On their own, they do not stand a chance against the wolves.

Friends, that’s how we are on our own. We are weak and defenseless against our spiritual predators. The devil, the old evil foe, is out to get us. He has been a murderer from the beginning. The world around us, with its vain values and misguided messages, would lead us down the wrong path. False teachers, who twist and distort the word of God, would deceive us. Our own sinful nature would be of no help; it would only reinforce the wrong. These are the predators, these are the wolves, who would rip us sheep to shreds, if we’re out there on our own.

We need help. We need a shepherd. We need a shepherd who will defend us and protect us against the predators. We need a shepherd who cares about us sheep, who won’t run away when things get risky or dangerous. We need a shepherd who cares about us so much that he is willing to lay his life on the line in order to rescue us from the wolves.

And Jesus declares that he is that shepherd! “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Now think about that for moment. It’s kind of ridiculous, really. What shepherd in his right mind would actually be willing to die in order to save some sheep? I mean, sheep are just property. So you lose a few sheep. Big deal. Is that worth dying for? Well, in Jesus’ mind, it is! Jesus goes above and beyond the call of duty, way beyond.

Friends, Jesus laid down his life for the sheep. He laid it down by being lifted up on the cross. This was how Jesus defeated all our foes. At first it may have seemed that Jesus was losing the battle. But in reality, he destroyed death and gained the victory for life.

How so? Jesus willingly laid down his life for our sake. Nobody took it from him. He laid it down of his own accord. This was God’s plan all along, to rescue sinful mankind. What condemned us to death was our sins. So the answer, the rescue plan, had to be to remove our sins, to pay the price for them, which we were unable to do. But Jesus, God’s Son in the flesh, has done that rescue job for us. He paid the price we could not pay. His holy blood gained our forgiveness. The debt has been paid, in full. For you. And for the whole world.

Now the devil, the wolf, the accuser–now he has nothing with which to accuse you. Black sheep though you may be–you may have wandered from the flock and got caught in a thicket–now your wool is as white as snow. Your good shepherd has pulled you up and put you on his shoulders and brought you back home. Welcome back to the flock!

“By his dying he has destroyed death, and by his rising again he has restored to us everlasting life.” You see, Jesus has authority to lay down his life, and he has authority to take it up again. This is the resurrection we’re talking about here! Jesus didn’t just die; he rose again! Death could not hold him! The victory remains with life!

And Jesus shares his victory with us! Have you been baptized? Then you belong to Jesus’ flock! This is good! You get to live as long as your shepherd does–which is forever! This is God’s great good plan: To rescue you from your foes, to forgive your sins, and to give you life with Christ forever. This is pretty sweet!

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Now up to this point, I have been saying that “we” are the sheep that Jesus laid down his life for. Well, yes and no. No, in that none of us here are the children of Israel. Because those were the sheep that Jesus came for in the first place. As Jesus says elsewhere, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” So those are the sheep that Jesus is talking about here when he says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”

But notice what he says right after that: “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also.” Hey, that’s us! We are those “other sheep.” Our ancestors were off in Germany or Sweden or England or Ireland, and they were really lost sheep! They were worshiping sacred oak trees or stars in the sky. Gentiles, pagans, groping around in the dark, not knowing who the true God is. But God in his mercy sent the saving gospel out to them. And this is how we “other sheep” have been brought into the fold. “I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”

Now you and I are part of that one flock, the worldwide church of God–the one flock following the one shepherd. Dear fellow sheep, let us listen to our shepherd’s voice! Let us follow where he leads! How do you hear your shepherd’s voice? One way: through God’s Word. Our good shepherd speaks to us through his word. This is why it is so important for every one of us to be within earshot of where the shepherd speaks. And this place, right here, is where that happens: in the church. Every week. This is where Jesus speaks to us.

The good shepherd speaks to us through preaching and teaching, as his undershepherd, the pastor, leads you into the green pastures of God’s Word. God’s Word will tell you the way to go in your life. “These are the paths of righteousness. Walk ye in them.” In the Blessed Sacrament, Jesus speaks to us. He says, “This is my body, this is my blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.” Our Lord prepares a table before us, a feast that our enemies cannot spoil. Here in the house of the Lord–this is where we hear our shepherd’s voice. Are you listening?

Are you feeling a little sheepish today? I sure hope so! Because being part of the good shepherd’s flock is the best, the safest, and the most secure place to be! And full of adventure and good grazing too! And even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil, for our shepherd will be right there with us, to guard and to guide us and lead us through to the other side. And in this life, as we follow our good shepherd, his goodness and mercy will follow us, all the days of our life, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Published in: on April 24, 2021 at 11:01 pm  Leave a Comment  
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