April 29, 2012 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“I am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 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.”
A shepherd owns his sheep; the sheep belong to him. That fact forms the basis for Jesus’ statements about Himself that you heard in today’s Gospel Reading. Jesus says that He is a shepherd, One who has a flock. This identity differentiates Jesus from other leaders in Israel. Jesus says about Himself: “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” But then He adds a statement about His audience—the elders, scribes, and priests in the Temple Grounds of Jerusalem: “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. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”
Ownership is the key issue that Jesus raises. Having it or not having it affects the actions of individuals. The hired hand does not own the sheep, so his concern is not for them. The sheep are put under his watch, but that is all. The sheep are not his assets. They do not define his identity. So when the flock is attacked and the hired hand’s life is endangered, his concern is for himself and his own preservation. But Jesus points out the different relationship that the shepherd who owns the sheep has for his flock. The shepherd is connected to them. The sheep are almost part of who he is. They are his substance. Having the flock under his possession makes him a shepherd. That is a bond that drives him even to protect and defend his sheep.
This is what Jesus wants His audience to know about Him. He is taking the people of Israel back to what the Lord had said in ancient days: that He owns a people and is bound to them. That connection which He has with them drives His actions to work for their benefit. And that action will be culminated in what the Messiah does, what the Promised One will perform for the life of the people. What the Messiah does will stand in great contrast to what the other “hired hands”—the rulers, scribes, and priests of the people—had done through the centuries.
So what would the Messiah do? Jesus declares it: “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” The act is sacrifice. That is what the Messiah will do in fulfillment of the Lord’s promise. It is the act that brings salvation by enduring the assaults of the sheep’s enemies, but overcoming it. It is a willful act that the Good Shepherd does in order to keep His sheep alive. Jesus reveals the nature of His work: “For this reason the Father loves Me, because 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. This charge I have received from My Father.”
Jesus’ words are critical to hear. He explains what He is present in the world to do. His sacrificial act is done of His own volition. His choice is to lay down His life, even to suffer humiliation and death that would come from the hired hands that want nothing to do with the Good Shepherd who is fulfilling the charge of the Father. Jesus gives of Himself, so that His flock may live. Not only does He lay down His life; He takes it up again. The wolf attacks and devours the Good Shepherd, yet He rises from death to put down the wolf for eternity. And the hired hands that fled or who themselves had turned on the flock are dismissed and replaced. That is what Jesus is present in the world to do. And as you have heard from Palm Sunday to last week, He has fulfilled that task.
There is another important statement that Jesus makes in the Gospel Reading that you must hear. The matter of Jesus’ fulfilling the Father’s charge in laying down His life for the sheep and taking it up again was what He accomplished for the descendants of Abraham who had the great promise given to them. The people of Israel had been the Lord’s flock, the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. The Messiah’s work was done for them. The sheep who had the Good Shepherd lay down His life for them were all the people in Galilee and Judea and scattered who had Jesus in their midst.
But Jesus also includes an interesting statement in His description about the Good Shepherd: “I am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” Now here comes the statement: “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.” Jesus’ words indicate another group of people who will be brought into His ownership. His flock is not limited to a particular breed of sheep. No, it will have all types of sheep in it, others who will know Him and listen to His voice. That statement is made concerning you who were not in Israel. The declaration is given that you will have Jesus as your Good Shepherd.
Jesus’ statement about other sheep that would be brought into His flock forms the basis for Peter’s statement before the Sanhedrin. The apostle was “proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead.” When questioned by what authority he was doing so, Peter answers: “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by Him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.” And then Peter makes clear the universal nature of Jesus’ work and authority in bringing salvation to the world: “And 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’ laying down of His life and taking it up again was to bring salvation to people of Israel, though most of that people reject their Messiah. But Jesus’ action was done for other nations, too. Gentile sheep are meant to become part of the fold that has Jesus as their shepherd, so that there will be one flock.
This is where Jesus’ statements about Himself begin truly to apply to you. You are called to be part of the fellowship with Jesus. Jesus’ declaration about the relationship that He has with His sheep reflecting the unity He has with the Father is made about you: “I am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep.” You are united with Jesus. You know Jesus. You hear Jesus. You belong to Jesus. You are in His flock, the group that has only one Good Shepherd.
Jesus’ laying down His life and taking it up again was done for you. That is why you can rightly say about Jesus in the words of the Small Catechism: “[He] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.” It is why the words of today’s collect were validly prayed: “Almighty God, merciful Father, since You have wakened from death the Shepherd of Your sheep, grant us Your Holy Spirit that when we hear the voice of our Shepherd we may know Him who calls us each by name and follow where He leads.” Your belonging to Jesus’ flock is affirmed in such words—an affirmation that comes from belief that through Jesus’ name you are saved.
So as you belong to Jesus’ flock, as He is your Good Shepherd who laid down His life for you, a knowledge is made yours, as the apostle John points out: “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Your identity as one of Jesus’ sheep comes with a charge, just as Jesus’ identity as the Good Shepherd did: “And whatever we ask we receive from [God], because we keep His commandments and do what pleases Him. And this is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us. Whoever keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in them.”
Your being a sheep in the fold brings responsibilities to you. The first is to follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, believing in Jesus’ identity and work. You are not a shepherd; you are a sheep. Sheep do not lead themselves; they go as the shepherd directs them. So wherever you are wandering away from Jesus’ leading or following voices other than His, you must stop. Repent and turn back and be led again. The second responsibility is to recognize that there are other sheep in the fold who also belong to Jesus, who are bound to Him. You are all united with Jesus and with each other. That means you cannot tell other sheep to find another flock. It means that you can’t be biting other sheep or taking your dirty hooves and muddying up their water or eating all the grass and leaving none for them. No, you are called to love them, just as your Good Shepherd commands and as He demonstrates by His actions. But when all this is happening, then the flock moves in the direction where the Good Shepherd leads them in this life and to life everlasting.
So from what you have heard this day, you can come to the confession of faith that a shepherd owns sheep. It is not just a statement about sheep husbandry, but also a profound statement about Jesus: He has a flock that He has purchased and won for Himself. You are in it. You are part of that fold. Jesus’ bond with you is sealed by His laying down His life and taking it up again, so that you may live. That is the expression of His divine love for you. Receiving it, then you can rightly say: “The Lord is my Good Shepherd. I know Him and He knows me.”
+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.