The Good Shepherd

We tend to not take care of things that we didn’t pay for.  We just don’t give them the same standard of care that we give to things that we’ve had to sacrifice something for.  We see this type of behavior in children when they break toys we give them, or in neighbors when we loan them tools and sometimes get them back looking as if they’ve been through a war zone.  This dynamic is similar also in the difference between the owner of a business and its employees.  The owner is much more personally invested in the success of the business; it’s part of who he or she is.

Jesus says something similar in John 10:11-18.  He discusses the difference between hired hands and shepherds.  A shepherd owns the sheep, whereas a hired hand simply tends someone else’s sheep.  So, Jesus says, “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.”  

Jesus is not like this with his people, though.  He is the Good Shepherd who always takes care of the sheep of his flock, and cannot be corrupted or deterred from his task.  Jesus takes care of His sheep, because he paid a lot for you.  You sacrificed himself for you.  He purchased you from eternal death through his own death.

So, you are precious to Jesus, precious enough to be redeemed from sin and death at the cost of his own blood, and so you can be sure that he will take care of you and the rest of the flock of which you are a part.  He calls all people, both folds of Jews and Gentiles, into his flock that is tended by him.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd to whom his sheep look for care and protection as he provides for you.

David understood this when he wrote Psalm 23.  Listen to his words as he tells of the love of the Good Shepherd:

“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures.  He leads me beside still waters.”

Here’s that Shepherd talk again.  As the Good Shepherd, the Lord provides all that we need, so that we do not want for anything.  Now, our idea of “need” tends to be a little fuzzy.  We think we need a new car, a large house, designer clothing, and the latest phone.  But, what we actually need is Christ, and God gives him to us freely.  

So, Christ, our Good Shepherd feeds us and waters us through Word and Sacrament.  He baptizes us with His Word and water, and He feeds us in the pastures of His Word.  We may not necessarily have much money or worldly glory in this life, but the Lord gives us what we need; he provides us with living waters and food that sustains us for eternal life.  He provides us with the waters of Baptism and his body and blood with the bread and wine in the Lord’s Supper.

“He restores my soul.  He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”

Through these means of His grace, the Lord restores us to himself.  He makes us righteous in his sight for his name’s sake and then sanctifies us, that is to his glory and honor.  And since we have been saved by him, we now bear his name before the world so that all people may know that “… there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”

The threat of death, and death itself, will not conquer us.  We need not fear evil, because the Lord is with us and he has conquered death and evil, and he comforts us with the promise of the bodily resurrection and the life everlasting.  So, we need not fear, because the Lord is with us.  Jesus promised his disciples, you: “In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).  He also promised, “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).  So, we need not fear, because Christ has overcome all our enemies and he is with us, as he has promised to be.  

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”

Does the Lord not do this for us even today?  In the midst of a wicked world, in the presence of our enemies, in the presence of wolves, the Lord prepares a table for us.  Within his Church gathered in a certain time and place – a congregation – the Lord gives us His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper for our salvation.  He sends us away from His table overflowing with His blessings.

”Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”

Yes, all the days of your life in the Church – in the house of the Lord – you continually receive the Lord’s goodness and mercy.  He continually pours this out upon you as you receive His Word in its many forms: spoken, proclaimed, written, Sacramental.  The Lord gives you His blessings through Christ in so many ways so that you may always have His goodness and mercy all the days of your life. 

And then, when your life is over, you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Your soul will find rest with the Lord and then He will raise you up from the valley of the shadow of death to lead you to green pastures and still waters where you will dwell with Him forever, drinking freely from the river of life and eating freely from the tree of life.  

So, Jesus cares for you as the Good Shepherd, not as one who is hired or a servant.  He loves you as his own flock, because he laid down his life for you and took it up again for you.  There is one flock, and one shepherd.  And within this flock are people from all nations, tribes, and languages, united around this one shepherd, Jesus Christ.  The Church is spread throughout the world and throughout the generations, but it is united in Jesus Christ.  

So, as one flock, we should love each other as Christ has loved us.  We have received his love, and so we are to show this love to others, both to those outside the Church – so that they receive the love of Christ through us – and most especially within the Church, since we are all living in the same flock under the same Shepherd.  People outside the Church will know Christ through you and people within the Church will be strengthened in faith in Christ through you as well.  This is because you are as little-Christs, since you have Jesus Christ as your Shepherd.  

This is the Shepherd who died for you that you may live eternally not only with him, but with each other as well.  So, in the Church today we have a foretaste of what is coming as we live with Christ in our midst.  

And this is an article of faith, that there is only one holy, Christian Church united with Christ.  We take God’s Word for it that there is one catholic church; that is, that there is one universal church spread across time and geography.  And it’s an act of faith, because, as is obvious, there is still tension in the Church, the visible Church as a whole is unfortunately not united here on earth, and sometimes we even get annoyed with our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ.  

But, when Christ returns for us, his flock, and gathers us to himself, all the divisions in the Church on earth that we see in this life will cease, because the Good Shepherd will fully unite his flock around himself in eternity.  

So, our hopes rest in the return of Christ when he, as the Good Shepherd, comes again to bring His flock to Himself.  Once Christ returns, our faith is, in a sense, over, because it will be completed.  We have in this life faith, hope, and love, but when Christ returns faith and hope will be fulfilled, while love remains (1 Corinthians 13:13ff).  So, we show this love to each other here as we hold fast to our faith and our hope that Christ will return for us and that when he returns all things will be completed, all things will be restored, all divisions will cease, and the flock of Christ will truly be united and whole, led by the Shepherd for eternity.  

Until that day comes, we continue to be witnesses before the world to God’s free grace given for the sake of Christ and received by faith, because “…there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”  And God has saved you freely through this name, this name given to you in Baptism, this name given to you through the Word and the Supper, this name of Jesus Christ, who laid down his life for you and picked it up again for you, just as he will pick your body up at the resurrection to be with him forever.  Amen.

 

(Image: Jesus as the Good Shepherd from the early Christian catacomb of Domitilla/Domatilla (Crypt of Lucina, 200-300 AD).  Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=508911 ).