11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 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 them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Good Shepherd Sunday
Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
April 23, 2023
In the Smalcald Articles, a confession of the Lutheran Church, Martin Luther writes, “Thank God, [to-day] a child seven years old knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd. For the children pray thus: I believe in one holy Christian Church.” (SA 3:XII) And this is exactly how Christ describes His Church in John 10. Church means assembly. A flock is an assembly of sheep. Jesus’ Church is His flock of human sheep, who hear His voice and follow Him.
There is only one Good Shepherd even as there is only one Lord. “The Lord is my shepherd,” the faithful have confessed ever since David wrote those words. For Jesus to call Himself the Good Shepherd is to call Himself God. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. If he does not lay down his life for the sheep, he is not the Good Shepherd. Jesus laid down His life for His sheep. He suffered and died on the cross for their sins. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—to his own way. And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) Jesus died for our sins and He took His life back again, because He is innocent, and He is God. Only the Good Shepherd does this. Only Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
And there is only one flock. This is why we confess one Holy Christian and Apostolic Church. There is only one Church of Christ. It is made up of those who listen to the voice of their Shepherd. It doesn’t appear that there is only one Church. The Church looks scattered to kingdom come, with different sects teaching different doctrines. Yet, Scripture is clear that as there is only one Lord, one faith, one Baptism, and one Father over all, so there is only one holy Christian Church, a community of saints, Jesus’ precious sheep. The Church is united in Christ. That the Church is one is an article of faith. We don’t see it. We confess it, because Scripture tells us it is true.
How can we confess something that appears not to be true? Because the Church is invisible. The Church is invisible, because membership in the Church depends on faith. You may be able to see some of the fruits of faith, but you cannot see faith. Faith is in the heart. And the entire Christian Church is united in one faith in their one Lord and Shepherd, Jesus Christ. He has one voice, and they recognize that voice and listen to it and follow Him.
Jesus is the Shepherd and Bishop of your soul. But Jesus has ascended into heaven! How can you recognize Jesus’ voice today? Christ has appointed under-shepherds and under-bishops, who are to preach His Word and administer His Sacraments. In John 21, after Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to Simon Peter and six other disciples by the Sea of Tiberias, and St. John records the following:
Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.’ He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was grieved that Jesus said to him the third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him,” Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
Jesus did not only give Peter the responsibility to tend His flock on earth. Jesus instituted the Office of the Ministry, so that His Church on earth would always have pastors to preach the Gospel, so that His precious lambs may hear the voice of their Good Shepherd. Jesus said to the seventy-two, whom He sent out to preach the Gospel in Luke 10, “The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” (vs. 16) So, Jesus’ sheep have confidence that when they hear the preaching of the Gospel, they are hearing the voice of their Good Shepherd. St. Peter instructs pastors in his first Epistle, “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight.” (1 Peter 5:2) And St. Paul instructed the pastors of Ephesus in Acts 20, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood.” (vs. 28) The Holy Spirit Himself makes pastors overseers or bishops, so that they care for the Good Shepherd’s flock, which He purchased with His own blood!
St. Paul instructed Pastor Timothy in chapter 4 of his first letter to him, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Did you hear that? The preacher saves himself and his hearers. The Gospel is so powerful, that those who hear it from the mouth of a poor miserable sinner, who himself needs to be saved, are hearing the very saving voice of their Good Shepherd!
A Christian cannot assume that since the Church is invisible, he doesn’t need to go to church to worship God or hear His voice. The Church is invisible, not because we cannot recognize where the Church is. We know where the Church is. The Church is where the Gospel is preached in its truth and purity and where the Sacraments are rightly administered. The Church is invisible, because faith is invisible. But those who have faith listen to the voice of their Shepherd. Jesus says that He knows His own and His own know Him. How can they know Him if they do not listen to His teaching? How can they know Him if they reject His Baptism? How can they know Him if they reject His body and blood? No, Christians do not have the freedom to ignore God’s preaching and Word and to reject the Sacraments.
For this reason, the Apostle in Hebrews 13 instructs all Jesus’ sheep, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.” (vs. 13) Pastors must give an account for what they teach and preach, to whom they give the Lord’s Supper, and how they conduct themselves as pastors. They do not have freedom to preach whatever they want. They must preach according to Holy Scripture, the Bible.
This is important to recognize, because you are called to judge your pastor. Jesus says, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matthew 7:15) And Jesus warns us against hirelings, who only serve their own bellies, but care nothing for the sheep. Yet, how are you to judge your pastor? Certainly not by your own opinions, but according to God’s Word! You can’t tell whether your pastor speaks the voice of your Good Shepherd by whether you like what he says or how he says it. You can only tell that your pastor speaks the voice of your Good Shepherd if his preaching agrees with the teaching of Jesus in the Bible.
St. Paul warned Pastor Timothy, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wonder off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” (2 Timothy 4:2-5)
As many rejected the teaching of Jesus, so many will reject the preaching of His under-shepherds. These words of St. Paul are being fulfilled in our sight. People will not endure sound teaching, but will accumulate teachers to suit their own passions, to scratch their itching ears. And so, we have preachers who teach everything under the sun. Clear biblical truths are rejected, because people don’t want to hear them! Sexual immorality is now taught as good by churches. Human pride is praised while Holy Scripture is abased. People go to hear what they want to hear, even if what they want is wrong and sinful.
And what is important for you to realize is that it is not just other people who have itching ears. You have itching ears. You want to hear what you want to hear. Your sinful flesh wants to stoke your pride. And so, you need to curb your sinful flesh by submitting to the teachings of Holy Scripture. Then you know that you are hearing the voice of your Good Shepherd.
Yet, an under-shepherd is not faithful to the Good Shepherd simply if he condemns the things the Bible condemns. He must preach the Gospel. At the Great Commission, Jesus commanded His disciples, “Go into all the world and proclaim the Gospel to the whole creation. Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:15-16) St. Paul declares, “For if I preach the Gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16)
The Gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died on the cross for sinners and rose again from the dead. He died for His sheep, so that He might give them abundant life. Jesus gathers His sheep into His fold through the preaching of the Gospel. Whoever believes in Christ Jesus receives everlasting life.
Jesus said “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one Shepherd.” The fold Jesus was speaking of is the faithful of Israel. Jesus calls sheep outside of Israel. He calls Gentiles to join His flock. And Jesus is still calling today. He searches out lost sheep, so that He might bandage their wounds, heal them, and save them.
Every one of Jesus’ sheep in His fold is a sinner, who strayed. Jesus needed to die for the sins of every one of His sheep. (Isaiah 53:6) His sheep are holy, not because they deserve to be holy, but because Christ Jesus has shed His blood to wash them of their sins. Do not think that because you are a sinner that you do not belong in Jesus’ flock. Do not think that because you have strayed that Jesus does not want you back. No matter how grievous your sin is, no matter how wicked your heart has become, no matter what evil you have done, Christ searches and calls out His sheep. He separates the sin from the sinner. He loves you despite your sin.
The Good Shepherd searches out His sheep. He strengthens the weak. He heals the sick. He binds up the injured. He brings back the lost, who have strayed. He rules over His sheep with tenderness, patience, and forgiveness. (Ezekiel 34:16) If you are weak, sick, injured, or lost, listen to Jesus’ voice. He calls you. Return to the Shepherd and Bishop of your soul. He laid down His life for you. He forgives all your sins. And He promises you abundant life. Jesus is not yet done gathering sheep into His fold. And every sheep He gathers receives mercy, forgiveness, and everlasting life. Amen.