Easter 3 – May 8th, 2011 – John 10:11-16
Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed)
The image of Christ, the Good Shepherd, is one of the most popular images we have in Christianity. How many pictures of Jesus have Him holding a sheep, or out in a pasture? Even our own stain glass windows – one of them is about the Good Shepherd – and of course, I heard of quite a few Good Shepherd Lutheran Churches getting pastors this week at call night. Think about that. Of all the things that Jesus does – of all the images he gives, the image of the Good Shepherd rises to the fore so often. Now, there are two places where we really get the idea of Christ as a Shepherd. One is the parable of the lost sheep in Luke, the other is our Gospel this morning. Let us, then, spend some time this morning seeing what we learn from Christ describing Himself as our Good Shepherd.
I am the Good Shepherd. This is a profound statement, and part of it we miss in English. In Greek, you don’t need the word “I” there. . . you would only add it for emphasis. This isn’t just (i) am the Good Shepherd. . . this is I!!! AM the Good Shepherd. Do you want to know how this would sound to the person listening? Let’s jump back to Exodus 3. Then Moses said to God, “If I come to the people of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is His Name?’ what shall I say to them?” Then God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM.” And He said, “Say this to the people of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” If you were a Jew, you never used the construction “I Am” – that was reserved for God. In modern Hebrew, they don’t even have a phrase to say “I Am”, that’s how serious of a phrase this is. I Am the Good Shepherd. When Jesus speaks this simple, short sentence, He is openly claiming and announcing His Divinity, He is saying in neon, bold letters that He is God, that He is the LORD. That’s really what John 10 is all about. The next section, in verse 22 is where Jesus says bluntly I and the Father are One.
So what does this mean – what does it imply that God Himself claims to be the Good Shepherd? This teaches us about our relationship to God. I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. What a fantastic picture of God’s care for us. Let’s look at this from God’s point of view. Think of how this describes His care for us. We can understand this. Farmers, think of some of the conditions you go out into to feed your cattle. You have responsibility towards your cattle, and you must care for them. This is God’s attitude towards you. . . He must care for you. If God is going to be God, He must care for you, He must provide for you. This is what we mean when we say “I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.” This is fundamentally who God is, the One who made you, and it is part of who He is to take care of you. And this imagery of the Good Shepherd also describes your relationship to God. You know Him. Part of what it is to be a Christian is to look at the world differently – we see the workings of our God, we know His hand. When we look at the blessings we have in our life, we don’t say “Wow, look at everything I have earned – see how wonderful I am, see all my stuff!” No, we say, “Look at how God has blessed me, see what He has given to me.” We are sheep who receive our Lord’s care, we know and see that care, and we give thanks for it. This is what it means when Jesus says I Am the Good Shepherd – it means that when we see Christ in Scripture we are seeing the God who made and cares for us – this is the perspective we have to keep whenever we look at what Christ does. In His own Word, in His Scriptures we hear His voice, we learn to know Him and know what He does for us. And what is the highest thing He does for us?
I AM the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Because we are so familiar with this statement, we can forget how astounding it is. Why in the world would a shepherd die for sheep? They are just sheep, after all. Would any of you trade your life for a sheep’s life – it seems like such a strange idea. But Jesus goes on to explain the distinction that He is making. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. The key there, the key to understanding this passage, is the phrase “who does not own the sheep”. We can be very tenacious in defending our own, in protecting that which belongs to us. We understand this. If you want to watch a mother become upset, threaten her children. A soldier, he isn’t just out in the desert for fun, what’s he doing. He’s defending his family, his home, his country.
But even these images that we can understand don’t quite fully explain the Shepherd’s attitude towards us. It gives us a picture, but to really get the full impact, we need to pause and thing about something. Anything that we have, our stuff – it’s not really ours. All that we have is simply gift, simply God providing for me – family and friends, house and home, everything that I need to preserve this body and life. My mom – she isn’t mine as though I own her, she’s the mother God has provided me with. She belongs to God. If you have kids, they are a gift to you from God. If you have a dog, God has blessed you by letting you have the company of a dog which is His creature. We don’t really own anything – all that we have belongs to God.
And we are His sheep. Think on this – think on the care that we will give to things and stuff that can be here today and gone tomorrow, the whole Lord giveth and taketh away idea. This is the care we who are sinful give even to things that aren’t ours – now imagine and think about the care that our Holy and Righteous God gives to His sheep. We are God’s, literally. We have our existence simply because God wants us to exist. Why is God willing to lay down His life for us, why does Jesus go through all the things He does? Because we are His, and He will defend us tirelessly from any and all who would scatter us. No one has a bigger stake in us, no one has more involvement in our lives than God. And He will care for us, He will lay down His life for us so that we will be His forever, that like Him we too will rise.
And do you see the contrast that is formed? The hired hand flees. That’s talking about us, you realize. We are all hired hands, we have been given things to take care of by God. God is the one who owns stuff, we are simply stewards and caretakers – and we flee and fail. How often, just this past week, have you abused the charges you have been given by God. How many times this past week have you treated poorly your spouse, or your kids, or your neighbor – any of the people God places into your life simply so that you can serve and provide for them? Has your time been rightly used? We so often forget that these are gifts, and rather than treating them appropriately, we abuse them for our own enjoyment. We live that the expense of our neighbor instead of giving ourselves to them.
Thankfully Christ Jesus doesn’t have our attitude. He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for His sheep. What a wonderful example of love. I mean, here you Christ looking at us, and we exist simply because He has created us, and you can see the depths of His love for us by what He is willing to endure for our sake. And it’s not a matter of practicality, it’s not a matter of Jesus will wash our back and we’ll wash His. . . we are in a position where we don’t have anything to give Him of ourselves – we can only reflect back His love, use the gifts which He has given to us for His pleasure. And yet, He will lay down His life for us. That is love. That is God Almighty saying that He values you and your well being more than He values His own.
And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. One thing to remember about this passage is that this talk comes when Jesus is conversing and arguing with some of the Jews. He’s dealing with people who had that, sadly familiar, attitude of misplaced pride and self worth. And Jesus says, “You know what guys, I’m not here just for you, I want all my sheep, I want all my creation. I will speak my word, and from all over the world my sheep will hear and follow me.” You don’t have to be living in Israel to be one of God’s people today – indeed all over the world Christ’s Church heeds the Word of the Shepherd and follows His lead. All over the world, Christians gather around Christ the crucified being preached, Christ the Crucified being given to eat and to drink in His supper. Did you catch that in the Old Testament lesson today? So I will seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all the places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and will bring them into their own land. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel. When are we rescued? On a day of clouds and thick darkness. And lo, from the 6th hour until the 9th hour there was darkness over all the land. God is speaking about the Crucifixion here. That’s where it happens, that’s where we who were scattered and scampering about in our sin were won by Christ. Today, what are we gathered around? We are at our home, at our Father’s house – we are here to hear Christ Crucified preached. This is where our Good Shepherd calls us to feed us with His own Body and Blood from this very altar. This is how our Resurrected Lord rules today, this is where He gathers us and cares for us. This is our Israel, our Holy Land, our Zion, because this is where God has chosen to give us His blessings.
I AM the Good Shepherd. Thanks be to God our Father, that He has sent His Son Christ Jesus into the world to gather us unto Himself. Christ did not flee the wolf that came, but fought, suffered, died, and rose again to victory – and because of His Victory, we have life eternal in the pastures of the Lord. Christ is Risen (He is Risen Indeed, Alleluia) Amen.