John 10:11-18 (Fourth Sunday of Easter—Series B)
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
April 29, 2012
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is the Gospel lesson recorded in John 10:
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. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 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 charge I have received from my Father.”
Among the plethora of books my children have you will find books of opposites. You know the kind. They are usually board books. On one page is a picture and a word and on the next page is its opposite. There is a bunny hopping up a hill. There is a bunny rolling down the hill. Up and down are opposites. There is a cup full of milk. There is a cup that is empty. Full and empty are opposites. In John 10, we also have a pair of opposites. There is the Good Shepherd and there is the bad shepherd, called the hired hand. What do these opposites teach us today about Jesus?
Let’s start with the bad shepherd. To begin with, the bad shepherd doesn’t know the sheep. He’s a hired hand. He doesn’t know the names of the sheep. He doesn’t know their habits. He doesn’t know their special needs. Nor does he want to know them. The hired hand gets paid to watch the flock and watch the flock he will, but no more. He’s not going to go out of his way to get involved with the life of these sheep. So he will never learn the Wooly likes to be scratched above her right ear. He’ll never know the joy of having little Baa-Baa fall asleep on his lap. He won’t know that old Ram-a-lama-ding-dong needs to be helped down the river bank for a drink. A hired hand makes for a bad shepherd.
But Jesus identifies Himself as the Good Shepherd. He says, “I know my own and my own know me.” Jesus knows us by name. He knows our habits, our quirks, all the things that make us unique. Jesus knows how many hairs are on our heads. He knows every one of our special needs even before we ask. As Psalm 139:4 tells us, “Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” Jesus also knows the desires of our hearts—good and bad—so that He can rightly give us that which is best for us and turn us away from that which is dangerous to our bodies and souls.
The Good Shepherd really cares for His sheep. He wants to give us everything that we need to live in this world—food, drink, clothes, a place to live. As we prayed in Psalm 23, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” The hired hand wouldn’t do this for you. The bad shepherd doesn’t care. He gets paid to watch and nothing more. He doesn’t know you and so doesn’t care about you. He’s going to let you chew on any old grass he can find and lap from any old stream that’s available. The hired hand isn’t going to bring you to rest in lush pastures by calm streams of fresh water. With him, you get what you get. But with Jesus, you get the best and always the best because He cares for you. (1 Peter 5:7)
Jesus not only cares about your physical needs, but your greatest needs as well—those of your soul. “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6) Going off on your own way isn’t a good idea. Pretend you are a bleating sheep. You wander off from the flock, from the shepherd, you are in serious trouble. You don’t have the ability to remember which way to go to get back. You don’t have the ability to find food and water unless it is right under your nose. And you certainly can’t defend yourself from the wolf.
You and I are spiritual sheep. By our sinfulness we have wandered far from the Lord, our Good Shepherd. We’ve turned to our own ways instead of God’s Ways. And has the bad shepherd done anything about it? Has the hired hand tried to help or to come look for us? Not at all! In fact, the bad shepherd encourages us to do whatever we want. He simply doesn’t care about you in body or soul. He says you are welcome to live your life however you please, as long as it makes you happy. He says that because the hired hand is a bad shepherd who cares nothing for the sheep. Now I hate getting caught doing the things I shouldn’t do. I don’t know of anyone who likes to be told that what they are doing is wrong and that it is contrary to God’s Word. I don’t like it because I then have to confront my own sin and what God actually says about sin in my life—that it leads to eternal destruction. Think of sin in your life as the wolf who wants to devour you and destroy you. Think about the hired hand and compare this bad shepherd to the devil, the world, or our sinful flesh. Either way you slice it, this unholy trinity doesn’t care one iota about you or me. They would just as soon see us wander from God and His Word and be eaten up by the wolves of sin and our own stupidity for going after the world’s pleasures. In the name of happiness and freedom to do as we please, we walk right off the edge of the cliff and fall to our eternal death. And will the hired hand help us? Will he save us from the ravenous wolves of lust and greed? Will he rescue us from the threatening perils of our sins and save us from death? No. He flees because he is the hired hand and doesn’t care about you at all.
But the Good Shepherd cares. He cares so much about you spiritually that when you wander away from God’s Word, He comes after you. Jesus searches for you when you are lost in your sins, when you are trapped in lust and greed and hatred and envy. He comes looking for you and me, not to give us a beating or a punishment for wandering away from God’s Word, but to save us from our own stupidity and sin which traps us and seeks to destroy us. What says “I care about you” more than that? If Jesus didn’t care, he would let us do whatever we want, wander as far away from the Lord as we could, and let us suffer eternal death and damnation. But because He does care, He confronts us with our sins in His Law and then releases us from them in His Gospel.
Oh how much Jesus cares for you and me that He was willing to die in our place so that we would live forever! Jesus is truly the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep.
Jesus let the wolves of sin devour Him and kill Him on the cross. He let the bad shepherds—the devil, the world, and our sinful flesh—beat Him, mock Him, and kill Him so that you and I, His precious lambs, would be safe and secure eternally. In the words of the Lenten hymn,
“What punishment so strange is suffered yonder!
The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander;
The Master pays the debt His servants owe Him,
Who would not know Him.
The sinless Son of God must die in sadness;
The sinful child of man may live in gladness;
Man forfeited his life and is acquitted;
God is committed. (LSB 439: O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken)
Jesus said, “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.” And so the Good Shepherd who gave up His life into death on a cross to win our forgiveness and eternal salvation is risen from the dead. He is our living Good Shepherd who is with us always, to the very end of the age with His forgiveness, peace, life, and salvation. He constantly comes to us in His Word and in His holy Sacrament strengthening and sustaining us in the true faith so that we might ever remain steadfast and faithful unto death and so receive the crown of life. Jesus continues to seek us with His Word and Spirit when we wander from Him and His truth, bringing us again and again to repentance and faith because He alone is the Good Shepherd.
The hired hand doesn’t do these things for us. The bad shepherds don’t know us. They don’t care about us. They aren’t willing to do a thing for you in this life or in the life to come. But thanks be to God that Jesus is more than willing. Jesus knows you and loves you. He cares for you here and now with the gifts and blessings of this life. And He laid down His life and took it up again for you so that He might continue to care for you when you are in His presence eternally in the kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world! Amen.