Updated: Apr 27
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.
In this uncertain time, what a relief to be under the knowing care of Jesus, Whose illustration in our text gives much needed assurance.
What He’s really doing here, is distinguishing Himself from anyone who might claim to provide another way of salvation. In this illustration of Him as the shepherd and his followers as the sheep - in the portion just prior to our text - He says, I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture (9). We might wonder why He would even need to distinguish Himself from others in this way. Isn’t it obvious with Whom our faith is securely entrusted? A closer look at the illustration will help us to answer that question.
Sheep need to be protected. That’s why there is a shepherd. Sheep are protected in knowing their protector. They know His voice. They know his manner. It wouldn’t be unusual to see a shepherd hugging a lamb, and speaking to it in a gentle, reassuring way. It wouldn’t be unusual for it to be evident that he places great value on this creature that he might even have named. A shepherd protects his sheep. He knows them, and is known by them.
So, when Jesus talks in our text about a good shepherd knowing the sheep, and
caring for them, and laying down His life for them, and it is an effective picture of the relationship between Himself and the believers who are the sheep of His flock.
As sheep know their shepherd, you, the believer know the Good Shepherd, Jesus.
And you know that knowing Jesus isn’t just knowing about Him. You don’t merely know that there was someone in history named Jesus. You don’t merely know that the Bible says things about Him, including things He did, statements He made. You don’t merely know that a lot of people hold Him in high esteem. It’s more than that. Knowing Jesus is more than just knowing about Him.
You know Jesus through the Means of God’s grace. Either in Baptism, or perhaps in hearing the message about Jesus (so, by means of these things), the Holy Spirit came into your heart. He enabled you to believe something that you couldn’t ever have believed otherwise. He convinced you to put your trust in Jesus, to cling to Him. He convinced you that your guilt has separated you from God, but that God has provided a merciful solution. And He convinced you to believe that Jesus is that solution.
Part of really knowing Jesus is knowing what’s at stake. In His illustration, Jesus talks about the wolf that seeks to snatch and scatter the flock. In our Old Testament lesson, through the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord talks about rescuing the flock from the places to which they have been scattered. In this state of having been scattered He describes them using words like lost, strayed, injured, weak. It’s a bad thing that they are apart from their shepherd who protects them, and strengthens them, and binds up their wounds.
Again, all of this is a picture Jesus is using to talk about your spiritual situation. There is something monumental at stake. St. Peter describes it in our epistle lesson: [Jesus] bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. Bore our sins in his body on the tree - So, it was necessary that someone’s death remove your guilt (that a Good Shepherd lay down [His] life for the sheep). The alternative was that the sheep be allowed to be snatched and scattered, a vulnerable flock at the mercy of its enemy.
The devil is this enemy that is like an attacking wolf among sheep. It seemed that He had brought the flock to its demise in the Garden of Eden, when he convinced our first parents to revolt against the Creator. Their rebellion would pass on to every subsequent generation. You and I have the sinful nature that we have inherited from them. We are sinners like they were. So, it was necessary that Jesus bear our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.
God’s purpose in enabling you to know Him is a gracious purpose. He wants you to be with Him in His kingdom. He has enabled you to know that He so loved you along with the world, that He gave His only-begotten Son to die in order to make payment for your sins, and to present you holy and blameless before God.
But again, Jesus, in this text, is distinguishing Himself from anyone who might claim to provide another way of salvation.
Jesus was saying the words of our text within a larger discussion. He referred to others who had come before Him, trying to lead the sheep - thieves and robbers, He called them (John 10:8). The Jewish leaders were the ones He was talking about in the immediate context (though His comments could apply to anyone claiming to provide a way of salvation other than Him). These Jewish leaders were intimidating the parents of a blind man Jesus had healed. Were they to admit that Jesus had been the one to heal him, they were afraid these Jews would make good on their threat to put out of the synagogue anyone confessing Jesus to be the Christ (John 9:22-23). In place of Jesus, these Jewish leaders were claiming a salvation to be attained in keeping God’s Laws (and many laws of their own).
A more modern alternative to salvation in Jesus is when people say, you can be close to God by just trying to be a good person. That’s a very popular and a very tempting thing to just embrace in this time, isn’t it? A lot of latitude in that. Not much of anyone looking over your shoulder or anything, because being a good person is open to whatever you think it means. Many who fall away from the Christian faith, fall away to that sort of thinking. They would be likely to say to people who ask, that they have simply discovered that they are godly people (whatever that might mean) by just being the best them that they can be.
It’s important that you see that that’s the opposite of what it means to know Jesus, though. You can’t think that way and also truly know Jesus, because that way of thinking is an alternative salvation that is being offered in place of Jesus.
If you truly know Jesus, you know that the payment He made for you is necessary. It was foreshadowed in the Passover. The perfect Lamb of God shed His blood in your place in order to make you righteous before God. Truly knowing Jesus, you know that your sins cannot be put aside through your trying to be a good person. They were paid for by the perfect Christ (You were bought at a price, St. Paul writes (1 Cor. 6:20). The key to no longer being held accountable for sins, and subject to just punishment, is to cling to Him as the door for the sheep, as the only salvation for sinners.
But that alternative message of just being your best you has been a tempting message. This alternative salvation message has been the wolf’s (the devil’s) vicious attack on the flock of the Good Shepherd. You might even have leaned so far over in the direction of this message that you’ve come to think that your sins aren’t all that important, that your trying to be a good person is what’s really important.
Flee from that thinking if it is the case. Flee from any sort of alternative to the Atonement, the payment for sins that is offered in Christ. Remember Christ’s words to St. Peter: Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat (Luke 2:31). Perhaps he was reflecting on Jesus’ words years later, when he wrote the words we’ve mentioned from our epistle lesson: 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. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (2:24-25).
With the One Who calls Himself The Good Shepherd, your faith is securely entrusted. You don’t merely know about Him; you know Him. The Holy Spirit has enabled you to know him through the means of Baptism, and of His Word. He convinced you to put your trust in Jesus, to cling to Him as God’s merciful solution to guilt that has separated you from Him. He is the One Whose perfection covers your sins, Whose blood makes payment for them. He is the door for the sheep. He is sin’s solution that has no alternative. And He knows you as His very own. And you know Him. In this uncertain time, what a relief to be under the knowing care of Jesus. Amen.
Other Texts For Easter 3:
“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
1 Peter 2:21-25
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 22 He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. 24 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. 25 For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.