Easter 3 2022 Misericordias Domini
May 1, 2022
Zion Lutheran Church + Nampa, ID
What do you think of when you think of a shepherd? We often see the nice, warm shepherd looking Jesus who cuddles the sheep. Maybe we have the picture in our mind of Jesus with the little lamb slung over His shoulders carrying them around. And so He does. But is this really the full picture we have here in our Gospel reading? Is this really how Jesus is describing Himself to the Pharisees who are questioning Jesus’ teaching and His actions? Let’s take a closer look.
When we consider Jesus’ words in John 10 and look at what He says He does, it becomes a little more clear. Five times Jesus mentions that He lays down His life for His sheep. Twice He mentions He takes it up. And twice He mentions knowing His sheep and His sheep knowing His voice. And once He mentions bringing in sheep from another fold. There you have it. This is not just a description of what it means that Jesus is a Shepherd, but also what it means that Jesus is good. It’s not just that Jesus is competent, or good at His job, but also that He is describing His intimate relationship with His followers and the love that moved Him to lay down His life. A shepherd who is truly “good.”
CS Lewis’ quote in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is quite appropriate. The children have stepped through the wardrobe into Narnia and are hearing the details about Aslan, who represents Jesus, for the first time: “Aslan is a lion- the Lion, the great Lion." "Ooh" said Susan. "I'd thought he was a man. Is he-quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion"..."Safe?" said Mr. Beaver ..." Who said anything about safe? 'Course he isn't safe. But he's good. He's the King, I tell you.”
Jesus, is not safe. He is the very Son of God, the King and the Judge over the world. He does not tolerate nor condone sin, of any kind or of any degree. His judgement will come upon the earth and woe to those to whom it comes. This is something that we often overlook, or downplay. Our God, our Savior, is not safe in the least. He speaks a condemning word of the Law to each of us here today. We are sinners. We are not good. Our sin drove Jesus to the cross as surely as the sin of the High Priest, the Sadducees and all others involved with Jesus’ crucifixion.
But do not fear, for Jesus is good. Not just in a moral sense, but in the sense that He does what a shepherd is supposed to do. He does not run away when trouble comes. He does not flee because wolves are on the prowl. No, He cares for those who belong to Him. He loves deeply. He is the shepherd who gives His life up, who sacrifices Himself for His sheep. St. Peter writes, “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed (1 Peter 2:22-23).
In this way, the voice of our Good Shepherd calls, gathers, and enlightens the whole Christian Church and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith and declares the sheep of His flock to be good as He is good. We literally got to witness this today in the Baptism of Sophie, who is a beloved little lamb laid in the lap of the Lord, who is known by her Good Shepherd and who knows and follows Him now by faith, and who listens to His voice.
This, then, is a basic definition of the Church: sheep who are known by and who listen to the voice of Good Shepherd, believe in Him, and is ruled by Him through the Holy Spirit. We must be good sheep, made good by the atoning death and resurrection of the Good Shepherd, and grateful followers of Christ. The devil is constantly sowing his seeds among the true flock with the help of false teachers and false saints. Sheep do not attempt to fight the wolf. Nothing you can do, no matter how good it is, can help you stand against the wolf. We can’t outwit him and we can’t out fight him. He’s been around a lot longer than us. The only thing we can do as sheep is to run away and hide behind our Shepherd because that is His purpose and mission. Apart from the Good Shepherd there is no deliverance or help.
When you are attacked by your sin, by the world, and by the devil, if you try to stand and fight alone you will be devoured. Rather, run to Jesus, to His voice calling for you, to His Word guiding you. Insist on only eating in the Lord’s pastures. That is to say, don’t go chasing off after the world, trying to get what others have. The grass is not greener on the other side. Live only by His Word and by His Sacraments. It gives us life and directs our path. It teaches us the right way to go to find good living and to stay living! When you are faced with a moral decision at work, or at school, hide in Jesus’ Word. There He gives you direction for your life, forgiveness for your sins, protection against the wolves. When you feel like the world is overwhelming you, the pressure is on, the stress is about to break you, hide behind Jesus, for He leads His people to good pastures. Do not conform to the ways of the world, do not be a sheep that follows the voice of the hireling or the howls of the wolf, but one that only listens to the voice of Jesus.
Living in the wild of this world, facing wolves and dangers untold, is hard. But it is even more difficult when Christ Himself from His Church and acts as if He’s forgotten it. He leaves it oppressed under the cross, subjected to the cruelty of the world, while the enemies of Christ and His Church gloat and rail against it. It is at these times that we are driven by the wolves of the world, abandoned by the hirelings looking only to their selfish needs, to recognize our own sin, our own failures, our own need for the Shepherd. Whatever you have not kept, He has kept. Whatever you have sinned, He has paid for with His blood. Whenever you wander off and find yourself alone, He goes in search of you to bring you back into His flock and rescue you from the wolf of hell.
Christ does not let the sheep be slain by the wolf, but He stands against him, gathers us to Himself, and protects us against the devilish hound even when we don’t feel it, don’t see it, don’t understand it. For the Word and promise of the Good Shepherd declares, “I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father…” There is no question here. The true knowledge of Christ is that He knows us and we are known to Him. There is a way of knowing Him with the very fibers of our being, it is the intimate union of our soul with Him. This bond with Christ is brought about by Holy Communion. Here, we make the matter of knowing Him in the most intimate and enduring bond. Through the Sacrament, more than in any other way, are we should feel and know that we are sheep of His pasture. For the life that the Good Shepherd that He laid down, He has taken up again, and He lives and reigns and shepherds His sheep throughout eternity.