“Jesus the Good Shepherd” by Rev. Steven Sommerer
April 25, 2021 Fourth Sunday of Easter
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
The sermon text for this morning is from the 10th chapter of John: Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
I would guess that in the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry, even as it is today, there was no more familiar and beloved Psalm than Psalm 23. Think about your favorite passages in Scripture, and so often Psalm 23 rises to the top. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”
When Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd, He’s not just playing around with a well-known theme. He’s making a claim to be God in the flesh. He’s the Good Shepherd who “restores the soul; leads in righteous paths; is with us through death’s dark valley.” He’s the Lord, the true Shepherd. Jesus leads His people to good food and green pastures, and God’s sheep can trust His voice and follow Him.
In Ezekiel 34, Yahweh the Lord condemns the lying false shepherds of Israel that were misleading God’s sheep, and God promised that “I Myself will search for My sheep and look after them. I Myself will be their Shepherd. I will tend their lost and bring back their strays… I will save My flock… and will place over them one shepherd, My servant David, and He will tend them.” That’s such a powerful prophecy because it says God will be the Shepherd, and then His servant David is the Shepherd. But King David had been dead 400 years. Jesus is God the Good Shepherd, the true and final Davidic King, born in the City of David Bethlehem, born from the Tribe of David.
Jesus is no hired hand. He doesn’t run away when times are bad. When our lives are crumbling around us the Good Shepherd promises, “He will fold you to His breast, there within His arms to rest.” When the wolves attack and our dearest friends turn away or are too weak to help, Luther wrote: “For us fights the Valiant One whom God Himself elected. He holds the field forever.” You are His sheep, His flock. He created you. He put His Name on you in Holy Baptism. In the midst of a world with a million false shepherds, lying voices that don’t care for God’s sheep… you Little Lambs of Christ the Savior must learn your Shepherd’s voice. “I know My own and My own know Me,” Jesus said, “My sheep will listen to My voice. So, there will be one flock, one Shepherd.”
That means you aren’t dumbstruck followers. Your ears are attuned to Christ. As sheep in God’s flock, you are to learn God’s Word and have Godly courage to analyze the lie and turn from it. Modern Christians sometimes think, “All roads lead to heaven.” That’s not so. God doesn’t give His sheep the right to decide it’s close enough or to skip from one shepherd to the next. You are to speak with Peter’s courage in our Acts 4 reading: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Jesus said, “You will never follow a stranger; in fact, you will run away from him because you do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”
Sheep get a lot of flack for being followers, easily led, if you can get one going, you get them all. Which is true and good – if your leader is the right leader. You are to be so single-mindedly devoted to Jesus’ voice you won’t drift after every clever, well-marketed imposter. 2 Timothy says, “Hold fast the pattern of sound teaching entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit.”
As God’s people, the sheep of His pasture, learn again to love the voice of the Good Shepherd, who speaks words of life and salvation for the sheep. Our children and grandchildren need to hear words of life from the Good Shepherd in Sunday school and midweek, or they’ll never learn to recognize the Shepherd’s voice. Make Bible class your priority where you share God’s Word together. Invite to church and Bible class your neighbors and friends who don’t hear Christ the Shepherd’s voice. Center your home around the family altar where you hear God’s Word.
Jesus tells us this is all the more necessary because “the wolf attacks God’s flock and scatters it.” Peter wrote, “The devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” The devil, his lusts and his lies, practically seep, like sludge, from our televisions and computers. Satan devours careless sheep through pornography, profanity, by glorifying sinful lifestyles and making us live for stuff. Until we have buried in our heart the voice of the Good Shepherd, we’ll chase after every temptation and treat the world holds out to us. Again, today, your Good Shepherd is calling you and me, “Repent! My sheep listen to My voice.”
As God’s own sheep, you heard His voice and His heavenly call, when you were baptized into God’s flock. Through His precious call, your Good Shepherd adopted you into His flock and family. Even as we wander, the Good Shepherd searches you out and finds you, lifts you to His shoulders and carries you home. In Luke 12, Jesus said, “Have no fear, little flock, the Father has chosen to give you His Kingdom.”
In this Easter season, rejoice and remember your Good Shepherd saved you. The Good Shepherd became the Lamb of God with fault or blemish, and John the Baptist pointed us to Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” God the Father sent His Son to restore you to life through Jesus’ resurrection from the grave. Our Living and Risen Christ, in the words of Isaiah 40, “The Lord gathers His lambs and carries them close to His heart.”
As we’ve now reached the middle of the Easter season, rejoicing in the empty tomb, we sheep hear the voice of the Shepherd in the angels’ promise, “Christ is not here, He has risen just as He told you!” Like a brave shepherd caving in the skull of a fierce wolf, Christ the Shepherd crushed the devil’s head, leaving death itself powerless to hold God’s baptized people. Through faith in your Mighty Shepherd you are eternally safe in God’s heavenly flock.
Today, God uses His Word to feed you and strengthen you. As God’s Word rings in your ears, is read, marked, learned and taken to heart, your spiritual lives become strong, daily returning to the pure fountains of forgiveness in the Gospel. 1 Peter 1 says, “You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and enduring Word of God.”
The Good Shepherd never promises the road you travel will be an easy one. That’s a lie from the devil who always wants us to seek ease and comfort and then splits us from the Shepherd when the road gets rough. And we are our own worst enemy, always nibbling and craving the luscious grass that leads us away from Jesus and His flock. Romans 8 says, “The sinful mind is hostile to God.”
Yet, our Epistle reminds us, “God is greater than our hearts.” Our Shepherd lives and reigns to all eternity. He promises to be with you always, “even to the end of the age.” He strengthens you for the journey by the indwelling of His Holy Spirit. Even as you travel life’s rocky paths, the Shepherd never stumbles. He holds you in His strong hands. His Word gives you courage that heaven is your future: “Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me; Thy rod and they staff they comfort me.”
Through treatments or testing, good health or ill, it isn’t always easy to feel the presence of our Good Shepherd, but Isaiah tells you, “Fear not, for I have redeemed you. I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you. When you pass through the rivers; they will not sweep over you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”
Jesus went on to tell the Jews, “My sheep hear my voice and follow me, and no one can snatch them from my hand.” I love that. Jesus is true God and man. The devil is not stronger than Christ. “Neither death nor life, angel nor demons… nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” He is stronger than the devil, this sinful world, and our sinful flesh, and “we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.” Nestled in the nurturing presence of the Shepherd’s voice you are eternally safe. Trusting in your Shepherd: “Surely goodness and mercy will follow you all the days of your life and, in Jesus, you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Amen.
And now may the peace of God which surpasses human understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.