Easter 4 – The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep
Sunday, April 25, 2021
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The Good Shepherd Cares
Adead bird. Many years ago our family visited our aunt Leoma and Uncle Ferd. And the topic of discussion was the cat. Aunt Leoma had this big beautiful long-haired cat named, “Georgie.” And Georgie would, on a regular basis, kill birds and deposit them on the doorstep to the house. And this was even more fascinating because he was not small and agile. Let’ just say that he had had a little too many snacks over the years. And even more amazing than this, the cat had been declawed. But, week after week, he would kill one bird after another and put it there on the door step. And, as a child, I thought it was fascinating that the cat could kill all these bird. But even more interesting was the why. All the grown ups got into this big discussion, saying that you couldn’t be too mean to the cat. And the reason why was that this was how the cat shows that he cares for you. He could kill the bird and leave it there in the back yard. Instead, he gives the bird to Aunt Leoma, showing how much he cares. I thought the conversation was strange simply because it seemed like the cat deposited the bird there simply because he liked to kill birds. But this cat, and what he did, does makes us ask a good question. If a cat shows he cares by killing a bird and putting it on a doorstep, how do humans show they care? And, today, even more to the point, how does Jesus, the Good Shepherd show that he cares? In John 10 we find answers to this question. We read: “11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (John 10:11–13 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus, your Good Shepherd, cares. But how do you know? Notice how Jesus answers the question. He says that he is not like other shepherds. He is not like the mercenary, hired hand.1 The thoughts that Jesus lays out for us are simple. But they are important. Jesus owns us. We are his sheep. False shepherds care for the sheep. But they have limits. When danger comes they run away. And Jesus tells us their motivation. They run away because they are just hired hands and they do not care at all for the sheep.2
We see this in the church. Jesus places shepherds, pastors, over churches. And their role is to lead the sheep continually and constantly to the voice of Jesus in his word. But this places the sheep in a strange situation. The sheep have temptations to not keep the pastor’s role in the proper perspective. On the one hand, they might have the temptation to think too little of their pastor’s role and work. The pastor works hard to share specific sins from specific parts of the bible so that each of Christ’s sheep can diagnose their own hearts and see and say, “yes, I sin in that way.” And then, after that the pastor, in a specific way shows them how Jesus, their Good Shepherd, took away their sin. The problem though, is that it’s all too easy for the sheep to either ignore or reject the shepherd. They think too little of him.
On the other hand, there is the temptation is to think too much of the pastor. One pastor might seem to preach better than another. One pastor might seem to get you more or better than another. And there is this huge temptation to put the personality of the pastor over the voice of Jesus that the pastor shares.
And that’s why what Jesus says here is so important. He starts out by saying that he is the Good Shepherd. He lays down his life for his sheep. There are bad shepherds out there. They run away from the flock when danger comes. But, my dear friends, one of the lessons I’ve learned as I’ve moved here to Gibbon, is that even when you have a faithful pastor and shepherd, that pastor is not Jesus. At my best, I can lead you to Jesus. But I cannot be Jesus for you. There have been times in the months I’ve been here when I’ve had to say, “no” because I could not be in two places at once. And I had a hard time with that until I realized that it’s not my role to be everywhere at once. It’s my call to share with you the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
So, there are these temptations we have as sheep. We can think too little of a pastor’s preaching and teaching, editing out the parts of what he shares that we do not like. On the other hand, we can think too much of our pastor, thinking he can do for us only what Jesus, the Good Shepherd can do. And that’s why what Jesus says next is so meaningful for us: “14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to 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 authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”” (John 10:14–18 NIV11-GKE)
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. And how do we know? He shows it in the fact that he knows his sheep. And they know him. Think of what happens in a person’s life. A person comes into this world as an unbeliever. He or she does not know God and does not want to know God. But then, through either God’s word by itself or by God’s word connected to water in baptism all that changes. That little child knows Jesus. And Jesus knows that child. And what’s so amazing to think about is that, even though the child cannot express that relationship in complex paragraphs and poetry, it’s there. It’s real.
Jesus knows his sheep. But we can say the same not just at the beginning of a person’s life. We can also say the same at the end of a person’s life. One of the fears we have about growing older is that, as we grow older, we forget. Can we grow older and forget not just the names of our friends, our loved ones, and even the name of our Savior? Jesus says, “I know my sheep.” And when he says those words, he means it. I have seen many examples of men and women who have forgotten. They have forgotten the names of their family. They have forgotten their own names. But whose name could they not forget? They could not forget the name of their Good Shepherd. When I’d ask them to say the creed with me or the Lord’s Prayer, they remembered.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd knows his sheep. And so, we see that he cares. But we also see one final way that he cares. He lays down his life for his sheep. We used to have a few sheep growing up. And there were coyotes and bears around. And not once did it ever occur to lay down our own lives to save one of those sheep.
But the situation gets even more important and impressive when we think of your shepherd and pastor here in the pulpit. I might lay down my life for you. You might imagine a scenario where I might lay down my life to preserve your life—at least physically. But there’s nothing I can do to preserve your life—spiritually. I cannot save you from your sins. I cannot even save myself from my own sins. That’s where, when Jesus says that he his the Good Shepherd, what he says means so much. Jesus laid down his life. And, on Easter, he picked it back up. This shows and proves that he cares for you. And what it means for each of us is that, for the times we thought too little of our pastors and did not listen to them when they shared with us the voice of the Good Shepherd, those sins are forgiven. On the other hand, when we faced the temptation to make our pastors into little messiahs, thinking they can do more than they can, and gave into those temptations—those sins are forgiven. They are forgiven because our Good Shepherd laid down his life for us, his sheep. Our sins are forgiven.
And so, Jesus, your Good Shepherd cares for you. And he does not show this by bringing dead birds to your doorstep. Instead, he shows he cares for you by knowing each of you so that you know him. He shows he cares for you by laying down his life for you. Amen.
1 “ⲙⲓⲥⲑⲱⲧⲟⲥ” (John 10:12 GNT-ALEX)
2 “ⲟⲩⲙⲉⲗⲉⲓⲁⲩⲧⲱ” (John 10:13 GNT-ALEX)