Who is the Good Shepherd?
May 5, 2019
Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” But what does it mean that Jesus is the Good shepherd? Well, first, it means that Jesus is the Lord God. We heard from Ezekiel chapter 34, “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep.” (vss. 11-12) And God finishes this chapter saying, “And you are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.” (vs. 31) And King David writes in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd.”
Second, the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. St. Peter writes, “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. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25)
The Good Shepherd is truly God, the same Lord for whom David sang, the same God who pledged that he would gather his human sheep together into one pasture. The Good Shepherd is truly a human being, a sinless human being without blemish, who laid down his own life for the sake of his sheep. Had God not told us this, we never would have believed it. Our vision of a good shepherd is much different than this. Yes, good shepherds feed and tend their sheep, but they also sheer and butcher them. No shepherd would die for his sheep, but this is what Jesus does.
Jesus speaks of his sheep. Who are Jesus' sheep? Well, Scripture tells us that his sheep are people, who have strayed every one to his own way. Jesus' sheep are sinners, whom he calls together into one flock. He says that he has other sheep that are not of this fold, whom he must bring also, so that there is one flock. These other sheep are those outside of Israel. Jesus' flock is not made only of Jews, but of sheep from every nation on earth. And he calls them and unites them together into one flock. This one flock is the holy Christian Church. Martin Luther writes, “Thank God, today a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd.” The Church is made up of sinners. Yet, the Church is made up of saints. Jesus' sheep are sinners by nature. They deserve to die. Yet, Jesus has laid down his life for them, he has forgiven them, and led them out of their sin and into righteousness. Jesus' sheep are saints, because Christ Jesus has maid them holy with his innocent suffering and death.
How do Jesus' sheep recognize their Good Shepherd? His voice. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27) The Church is the flock of Jesus' sheep. But you will not find the Church by looking for sheep. You will find the Church by listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd.
Jesus' sheep will not listen to the voice of another shepherd. They will only listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. “A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers,” Jesus says. (John 10:5) The voice of the Good Shepherd is his pure teaching and Sacraments. You know you are hearing the voice of your Shepherd when you hear the true teaching of Scripture that teaches that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Do not listen to the voice of a shepherd, who does not lay down his life for his sheep, or who does not have authority to take his life up again, or who is not one with the Father, or who does not rebuke sin and forgive the sinner. But where you hear the Word of God taught purely, where the law calls sinners to repentance, and the Gospel comforts sinners with forgiveness won by Christ alone and is given as a gift to be received by faith, that is the voice of your Good Shepherd. Where Jesus washes away sins in the waters of Baptism and feeds his flock his own body and blood for forgiveness and strengthening of faith and love, there is your Good Shepherd.
Our Lutheran Confessions say in the introduction to the Formula of Concord (SD), “It is not only necessary that the pure wholesome doctrine be rightly presented for the preservation of pure doctrine and for thorough, permanent, godly unity in the Church, but it is also necessary that the opponents who teach otherwise be reproved (1 Tim 3; [2 Timothy 3:16[; Titus 1:9). Faithful shepherds, as Luther says, should do both things: (a) feed or nourish the lambs and (b) resist the wolves. Then the sheep may flee from strange voices (John 10:5-12) and may separate the precious from the worthless (Jeremiah 15:19).”
Wolves in sheep's clothing exist, so do false shepherds and hirelings. Jesus does not only call us to listen to his voice, but to watch out for the wolves and to run away from the voice of a stranger. Strangers teach contrary to Jesus. You can tell a stranger's voice when they contradict what your Good Shepherd tells you.
This past Holy Week the New York Times published an interview with the president of Union Theological Seminary in New York, Serene Jones, an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and alum of Yale Divinity School. In the interview, Jones said that the Crucifixion of Jesus “is not something that God is orchestrating from upstairs. The pervasive idea of an abusive God-father who sends his own kid to the cross so God could forgive people is nuts.”, she says. Of course, Scripture told us that the world would find the idea that God sent his Son to die for our sins as foolishness. “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) Jones, calls the atoning Sacrifice of Christ “nuts.” She thinks that Jesus' crucifixion was not part of God's plan, but rather an accident that just happened. Yet, our Good Shepherd says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” (John 10:17)
Jones also denies that we can have certainty that Christ Jesus rose from the dead. She says, “Those who claim to know whether or not [the resurrection] happened are kidding themselves. But that empty tomb symbolizes that the ultimate love in our lives cannot be crucified and killed.” So, for her, Easter is just a symbol without any grounding in historical fact. No one knows what really happened on that first Easter morning. Yet, St. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 15, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins.” (vs. 17) And our Good Shepherd says, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This command I have received from my Father.” (John 10: 17-18)
Scripture teaches us that because Christ has risen from the dead, we too will rise from the dead. Well, since Jones seems unconvinced that Jesus rose from the dead, what does she think will happen when we die? The interviewer asked her that very question and she answered, “I don't know! There may be something, there may be nothing. My faith is not tied to some divine promise about the afterlife.” Yet, what does our Good Shepherd teach us, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” (vss. 27-28) Jesus promises to give his sheep eternal life.
Now, I share this information from this interview with the president of Union Theological Seminary to show you that someone, who self identifies as a Christian minister and who educates future Christian ministers for a living, denies that Jesus died for your sins, or that he rose from the dead, or that you have certainty of eternal life. Yet, she calls herself a Christian minister. And there are others like her, who preach and teach in church buildings, who tell people how to be Christians, and yet, they deny what our Good Shepherd teaches us. If you know the voice of your Good Shepherd you will recognize that these voices are not his. And as a sheep of Jesus' fold, you should mark and avoid such false teachers.
Yet, such teaching is growing in popularity. People don't want to be bound to a particular teaching like the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. They want to be more free. People don't want to admit that their desires and behavior are sinful. It is much more appealing to say, “God made me this way!” and indeed many so-called Christian ministers teach people just that, what God calls a sin in Scripture couldn't possibly be a sin, because God made you that way. Logic and emotion trump the clear word of God. Progressive Christianity teaches you to find your Good Shepherd in your own heart, not in the stale, outdated pages of the Bible. Yet, your Good Shepherd tells us that out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, and slander. (Matthew 15:19)
Those who promote progressive Christianity don't like our Good Shepherd. They don't like that he calls sin, sin. They don't like that he says that he is the only way to eternal life. They don't like that he calls us to repent of our sins and believe in forgiveness won on the cross. So, they follow other voices. Yet, when the devil comes, that wolf, who devours the sheep, what will these other voices do for the sheep who follow them? When death and judgment come, what will these strangers do? They won't be anywhere in sight. They won't be able to fend off Satan. They won't be able to give comfort and courage when death draws near and judgment is at the door.
Only the Good Shepherd can rescue you from the devil. Only the Good Shepherd, who laid down his own life for you will be able to carry you through death into eternal life. Only the Good Shepherd, who took his life back from the grave will be able to make you stand on the day of judgment with no fear of condemnation.
One other thing Serene Jones said in that interview; she said that she did not worship an “all-powerful, all-controlling omnipotent, omniscient being.” She doesn't believe that God is all-knowing. Well, our Good Shepherd certainly is all knowing. Not only does he know all things, from the most distant galaxies to the functions of the genomes in each cell, he knows you. Yes, he knows everything you've done. He knows all your hopes and dreams and fears. He knows your most secret sins. But even more, he knows you by name, even as he called you by name in your Baptism. He knows you as his own. He knows your sins and he bore them for you willingly. He knows you as his own little lamb whom his Father has given to him. And he loves you. And no one will be able to snatch you out of his hand, because his Father has given you to him. You know this, because your Good Shepherd told you this. And when you hear the voice of your Good Shepherd, you believe it. Amen.