Sermon for Misericordias Domini – Easter 2
1 Peter 2:21-25 + John 10:11-16
I am the good Shepherd, says the Lord Christ. Let’s spend a little time this morning exploring that simple but profound saying, word for word. I am the good Shepherd. What does this mean?
I. Without getting into the technical details of how languages work, that word “I” in this passage is emphatic. I am the good Shepherd, in contrast to all others. I, Jesus, whose name means “Savior.” I, Jesus, whose coming was prophesied from ancient times, the Son of the virgin, born in Bethlehem, baptized by John, the Son of God, sent from the Father’s bosom; I, Jesus, who have lived among you for these 30 years, but whose origins are from of old; I, Jesus, who have healed your sick and cast out demons and fed the 5,000; I, Jesus, who have welcomed sinners into My company, calling them to repentance and to faith in the Good News; I, Jesus, the Christ, who came from God and am returning to God, am the good Shepherd.
I am the good Shepherd. Not, I was, or I will be, or I could be, or I want to be. I am. You know the Old Testament significance of this emphatic phrase: I AM. And throughout the Gospel of John, all eight times that Jesus uses this phrase, He means it with all of its Old Testament force: I AM WHO I AM. Before Abraham was, I AM. I am the Bread of Life. I am the Light of the world. I am the resurrection and the life. I am the way, the truth, and the life. I am the true vine. I am the door of the sheep. I am the Good Shepherd. I am, and nothing can change it. Believe it or don’t believe it, trust in Me, or don’t trust in Me. It doesn’t change the fact that I am. This one word of Jesus stands immovable against the whole world, especially today’s world that thinks it can make up its own truth, its own god, its own right and wrong, its own path to salvation. But there is no other God. There is no other LORD. There is no other Savior, no other truth, no other reality. Only Jesus. I am.
In the Greek language, the word order is a little different. Literally Jesus says, “I am the Shepherd, the good one.” I am the Shepherd. Not “a” shepherd, but “the” Shepherd, as in “The LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” Here Jesus identifies Himself as none other than the LORD, Yahweh Himself, who promised in the Old Testament, David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. And again, Behold, the Lord GOD shall come with a strong hand, And His arm shall rule for Him; Behold, His reward is with Him, And His work before Him. He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, And carry them in His bosom, And gently lead those who are with young.
The title “Shepherd” implies that Jesus has sheep to tend—human “sheep,” sinners, descended from sinners, who don’t deserve His help, who, like sheep, have gone astray, each one turning to his own way; sheep who, on their own, would be lost forever, who cannot well survive without a shepherd but need to be led and guided and tended, not smart creatures, not wise, not especially beautiful or even useful; sheep that don’t matter to anyone in the world, except to their Shepherd. To Him they are precious, worth rescuing, worth redeeming, even worth dying for.
I am the Shepherd, the good one. Not the bad one, who lies, who leads them astray, who fails to provide for them, who abandons them in times of danger. Not the bad one, like the hireling, who cares nothing for the sheep. Not the bad one, like most of the greedy priests and false prophets and self-righteous Pharisees who had gone before Him. Already in the Old Testament, God complained about the shepherds, the bad ones: Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture!” says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the shepherds who feed My people: “You have scattered My flock, driven them away, and not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for the evil of your doings,” says the LORD.
I am the Shepherd, the good one, Jesus says, the one who has good in mind for His sheep, not bad, the one who always does what is right for them, what is good, what is helpful, who always tells them the truth, who always leads them on the right path.
But most of all, Jesus is the good Shepherd, because The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. Literally, “He lays down” His life for the sheep. He places His life, His very soul, in between the sheep and the danger that threatens them. And the danger that threatens them is the righteous judgment of God against sinners. Not that God Himself is the enemy of sinners, out to get them, bent on destroying them. It was God the Father who sent Jesus into the world to save the world. But we were all subject to condemnation in God’s divine courtroom, guilty before God’s holy Law, and rightfully accused by it. We were all going to die for our sins, and die eternally. And so the good Shepherd placed Himself on the altar of sacrifice as the once-for-all offering for sin, so that the sheep could go free.
But now, sin, death, and the devil cannot harm the good Shepherd or His sheep any longer. He is risen from the dead and His words are just as true today as they were when Jesus first spoke them, I am the good Shepherd.
And as the good Shepherd, Jesus says, I know My sheep. These are sheep who have been given to Him by His Father from eternity, the elect who will hear the Gospel, repent and believe in Christ, be justified by faith, sanctified in love, whom He will preserve in the faith through their use of the means of grace, who will pray, struggle, bear the cross, and reach their heavenly goal with Him as their Shepherd, their Savior. He knows who they are, because He foreknew them in eternity, and it was His own Holy Spirit who called them by the Gospel and brought them into the sheepfold of the good Shepherd. He knows who they are, because He Himself, in unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, made a commitment to them at their Baptism, to be their God, to forgive them their sins, to give them eternal life.
But more than that, He knows His sheep. He knows what each one is like. He knows the story of each one, the good and the bad. He knows just what they need, and He knows the plans He has for them.
And, He says, I am known by My own. You see, you don’t have to wonder, “Am I one of Jesus’ sheep or not?” He is known by His own. Do you know Jesus, as the Holy Scriptures have revealed Him to you? Do you hear His voice in the preaching of the Gospel and trust in Him as the good Shepherd? Have you been baptized in His name? Do you receive His body and blood in the Sacrament with a believing heart? That’s what it is to know Jesus.
But, as He says, there are some who have not yet heard His voice who will hear His voice, some who do not yet know Him who will yet know Him. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. Jesus is looking into the future with these words, all that would happen from that day to the end of the world. He sees Himself, the good Shepherd, going out and speaking to His sheep and gathering them into His flock.
But how would He do this? He would do it through the ministry of the Word, through preaching and teaching. As the prophet Ezekiel had said long ago, But I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries where I have driven them, and bring them back to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. I will set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor shall they be lacking,” says the Lord.
I will set up shepherds over them. You know that the word “pastor” means “shepherd,” and it is Christ who has given some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints, for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. The good Shepherd continues to gather His flock and shepherd His flock through the ministry of the Word, and we have His promise that this work cannot fail. His flock will be gathered. His Church will be built. And there will be one flock, one Shepherd, one holy, Christian, apostolic Church, with Christ Himself as the Head, as the good Shepherd who comforts and counsels and corrects His sheep through the preaching of the Word, until He comes again in glory to gather His flock safely out of this world and to guide it into the new heavens and the new earth, the home of righteousness.
I am the good Shepherd, says the Lord Christ. So center your life around Christ, the good Shepherd. Continue to hear His Word and to receive His Sacrament and to support this ministry of the Word with your prayers and offerings, so that the flock of our good Shepherd may grow, both internally and externally, according to His good will and purpose. Amen.