“Our Good Shepherd”
“Sheep of the Shepherd”
It’s Good Shepherd Sunday today. The fourth Sunday of Easter is annually observed as Good Shepherd Sunday. We love to hear about Jesus, our gentle, caring Shepherd. But if He’s my Shepherd, then I must be His sheep. Have you ever thought of what we are admitting about ourselves today? Time to play a little game. Finish the following animal phrases: “Strong as an … (ox)”; “Graceful as a … (swan)”; “Ferocious as a … (lion)”; “(Blank) as a sheep!” How did you fill in that blank? Dumb as a sheep. Helpless. Weak. And when it comes to wandering sheep, or lost sheep, they usually end up…well…dead!
Life for sheep can be dangerous, difficult and short. There are those who want to lead sheep astray, steal them, and even kill and destroy them. Sheep must find pasture, or they die. But for sheep of the Good Shepherd life is good. Under the care of this Shepherd, we will experience life to the full, abundant life, life now and life forever. We are Sheep of THE Shepherd.
First let’s take a look at the problem that arises when we think of our text this morning. Jesus reminds us in His words here today that sheep face physical dangers on a daily basis. Jesus points out in verse 1 that thieves and robbers don’t use the gate but try to reach the sheep “by some other way.” Sometimes sheep were kept in a stone wall pen that was u-shaped. The wall would be high enough that sheep could not jump out, and high enough that it would be difficult for a thief to crawl over and get in. At the opening in the u-shaped wall one would either find a gate or the shepherd would sleep/be in the opening himself. That is how a shepherd could take care of his flock at night.
But what about when the sheep were out? At those times when the sheep were out of the pen, thieves would try and attract them by using alluring/tempting voices. At our home, when we want to get the cats to come to us (Statler likes to hide under our bed and then when I am asleep, he’ll jump up on the bed and stick his nose in my ear), we can either shake the carton of cat treats, or we call out to them with the classic “Kitty–Kitty–Kitty” call. If you wanted to try to steal your neighbor’s sheep, you could try stuff like that, too.
Jesus has something to tell us today here when He refers to us as sheep. As Christian sheep, as His children, we face spiritual dangers all around us. Jesus tells us that the thief would try to get to the sheep by going around the gate and staying away from the door where the shepherd would be guarding his sheep. In the same way, there are those who try to tell us and our brothers and sisters in the faith that there are other ways to get to heaven besides faith in Jesus. I do not know if you listen to a lot of talk radio (I used to, but not so much now), but I wish I had a dime for every time religion was the topic and someone called in and said, “There’s something good in all religions” or “All religions are just different roads to the same place.” Jesus is the way to heaven; a Buddhist, or a Muslim is not on that road. We live in a country and culture that says whatever any of us believes is ok, that we all determine our own version of The Truth. NOT TRUE.
Similarly, there are strange and misleading voices that would lead us away from Christ, just like folks who would call out to someone else’s sheep. Those voices include, using a phrase from our catechism, “the devil, the world and our sinful flesh.” The sad truth is that left on our own, our inclination is always, ALWAYS, to do the opposite of what God wants us to do. There are also the voices calling out to us culturally that include the voices of materialism, secularism, humanism, and hedonism, to name a few. In other words, Satan tempts us to love money, stuff and pleasure more than God. Satan tries to convince us that we do not need God, that we can be our own gods and do whatever we want to do. There are people and pressures that try to keep us away from the security of God’s sheep pen, the church, and away from the green pastures which are the means of His grace (His Word, Baptism, The Lord’s Supper).
So that’s the problem we as God’s sheep face: the dangers of the devil and his temptations. The solution to our problems is that God has sent a Shepherd to take care of us. Back in Jesus’ day, the work of the shepherd was to care for and protect His sheep. The shepherd entered by the gate or by the door and was recognized as the right guy. He would bring his sheep out, calling them by name, and lead them out to the place of pasture. As an aside, Middle Eastern shepherds often had pet names for their sheep and would call them by those names. What pet name do you think Jesus has for you? Sleepy? Dopey? Grumpy? Rebel? Bored? Bingey? Or is your pet name Rocky (like Peter), Happy? Steady? Maverick?
The Good Shepherd, Jesus, is not only the one who opens the door and the gate for us, He IS the gate and the door. Jesus is the one and only way to the Father, to heaven. Like I said before, there are not many roads here, just one. Jesus is the Way and the Truth and the Life. Jesus knows each of His sheep, each of us, intimately. He knows each of us by name. Isaiah 43, “But now, this is what the Lord says…, `Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you.’” Jesus, as our Shepherd, also leads us to pastures so that we may be fed. Jesus leads us to His Word and to the Sacraments, just as a shepherd would lead his sheep to grass and water. “He makes me to lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still waters.” But ultimately, what makes Jesus the Good Shepherd, the BEST Shepherd, is that He died for us, to “(lay) down His life for the sheep (John 10:11), the “Lamb who was slain” is also the “great Shepherd of the sheep.” (Heb. 13:20) Our Good Shepherd died, and rose, for us.
Being a sheep of the Good Shepherd, turns out, is a good deal. Who would not want to experience such love, such caring, and such self-sacrifice? This is the best kind of life: life lived in security and freedom (even during a quarantine), life with a purpose and a goal, life with a capital “L,” life “to the full.” Jesus is our Shepherd. We are His sheep. And that my friends, is “Not Baaaaad.” Really. You “herd” it here first. I’m not “fleecing” you. I would never pull the wool over your eyes. (Sorry)
In Jesus’ Name.