The Good Shepherd and His shepherds

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Sermon for Misericordias Domini – Easter 2

1 Peter 2:21-25  +  John 10:11-16

Just as April 22nd—a week ago yesterday—marked the tenth anniversary of my installation as Emmanuel’s pastor, yesterday marked the tenth anniversary of the first sermon I preached here, and, like today, it also happened to be “Good Shepherd” Sunday. That’s appropriate, don’t you think?, since the word “pastor” means “shepherd.” In fact, the pastoral office, the ministry of pastors, is a key part of the shepherding that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was referring to in our Gospel from John 10. He is the Good Shepherd. But much of the shepherding that the Good Shepherd does is done through shepherds, through pastors, whom He has called to represent Him in the world.

Jesus says, I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. The Old Testament was full of such hirelings—wicked shepherds who led God’s people astray with false doctrine. And there were plenty of them around, too, at the time of Jesus—the unbelieving priests, Scribes, Pharisees and Sadducees.

That’s why so many of the Old Testament prophets pointed the people ahead to the coming of the Christ, the Son of David, who would be a faithful shepherd, a good shepherd, a shepherd who truly loved God’s people and cared for them, a shepherd who is the LORD and who is here on earth, actually, physically leading, guiding, feeding and protecting God’s people. That’s exactly what Jesus spent His ministry doing: leading people in the way of the truth, guiding them away from sin, toward repentance and faith in Him, feeding the people with the true Word of God and with the forgiveness of sins, and protecting them from the devil by coming between the sheep and the wolf, by laying down His life for the sheep as the atoning sacrifice for their sins.

Now, think about that. This was more than just a willingness to sacrifice Himself for the sheep. It was a determination to sacrifice Himself. A soldier, for example, may be willing to give his life for his country, but he doesn’t join the military for the purpose of knowingly laying down his life. He hopes he never has to. A fireman may be willing to sacrifice himself to save someone in a burning home. But he hopes he never has to make that sacrifice, and, thankfully, most don’t. But Jesus is the good shepherd, because He was not only willing to die, but knew for sure, from the beginning, even from eternity, that He would be laying down His life for the sheep. It’s why He became a shepherd in the first place. That’s love! That’s devotion!

And that love and devotion, that once-for-all sacrifice for sin belong to Jesus alone; the shepherds of Jesus are not the Good Shepherd and don’t ever pretend to be. But the love of Christ, the death of Christ must still be preached and applied by faith to those who hear. Without that preaching and the faith that comes by it, the sheep are still in danger. The wolf can still enter and scatter and destroy. So the Good Shepherd, risen from the dead, now “gives some to be pastors and teachers,” as Paul writes to the Ephesians. Now He comes through the preaching of His shepherds, and still stands against the wolf. He teaches His sheep through the Gospel, He converts sinners by His Spirit, and, through His shepherds, He warns His sheep of the danger of the wolf: of the danger of the countless false doctrines that surround them, of the devil’s tricks and temptations, of the insidious nature of their own sinful flesh. That’s Jesus, leading, guiding, feeding and protecting His people through the pastors who faithfully carry out their God-given ministry.

Jesus says, I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. When Jesus says that He “knows” His sheep, the word here isn’t the word for simply knowing who someone is, as an acquaintance. It’s much deeper than that, more intimate than that. I know My sheep, Jesus says. I know everything about them. I know who they are, how they are, how they think, how they sin, what they want, and, much more importantly, what they need. As perfectly as the Father knows His beloved Son and the Son knows the Father, Jesus knows all His sheep.

And “I lay down My life for the sheep.” Even knowing you perfectly, with all your faults, your weaknesses, your open or your secret idolatries, your public offenses against your neighbor and your private sins, Jesus, who knew you, laid down His life for you, because He still loved you and wanted you to be saved from your sins and to spend eternity with Him.

But how is the Good Shepherd known by His sheep? You didn’t know Him automatically when you were born, nor did He ever speak directly to your heart from heaven. You know Him only because He has taught you who He is, what His voice sounds like. He has taught you that through the Word. He has taught you to recognize Him as your good and gracious Lord who laid down His life for you and who is always merciful to those who seek mercy from Him and through Him. And so the shepherds of Jesus have spoken and continue to speak, but it’s the voice of Jesus that is heard.

But if shepherds are to speak for Jesus, so that you hear His voice, that means, they must be called by Jesus to speak for Him, and once called, they must actually speak like Jesus, faithfully proclaiming His truth from the Holy Scriptures and faithfully caring for those entrusted to their care.

Now, as St. Paul writes, For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? Who is sufficient to proclaim Christ rightly, to shepherd His flock faithfully, as genuine representatives of the Good Shepherd? Paul also answers that question: Not that we are sufficient of ourselves to think of anything as being from ourselves, but our sufficiency is from God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. So, in all the shepherding done by the shepherds of Jesus, it’s still Jesus doing the shepherding, making His ministers adequate for the tasks He wants to accomplish among His sheep, serving His sheep, exactly when and where He knows they need to be served, because He knows them and sends His shepherds to tend to their needs, so that, even though they see their pastor standing there, they should hear the voice of their Good Shepherd.

Finally in our Gospel, Jesus says, 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. As Paul writes to Pastor Timothy, God our Savior desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all. He wants all men to be saved. He died for all, so that all might come to the knowledge of the truth, so that all might repent of their sins and believe in Him and be eternally saved.

Of course, He knows that not all will believe; some will stubbornly resist His Spirit, to their own destruction. But He also knows each and every person, each and every soul whom His Spirit will bring to faith and preserve in faith until the end. He knows who they are, where they are, when they have been born or when they will be. Even before they’re born, He knows them. They were chosen in Him in eternity. And He Himself, the Good Shepherd, must go out to bring them in, to convert them from unbelief to faith and to bring them safely into the fold of His Church.

But as you know, Jesus is not walking around out there preaching and teaching and calling out to the world, bringing in His sheep without means. The verse I quoted above from 1 Timothy goes on, For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time, for which I (Paul) was appointed a preacher and an apostle. This is how the Good Shepherd goes out seeking and bringing in His sheep. He goes around the world, He stays in this city or in that, sometimes for a matter of days, sometimes for ten years, sometimes for longer, through this apostle and through that one, through this pastor, through this bishop, and then through that one, calling out through His shepherds, sending out His voice into the world, teaching, tending, preaching, mending, baptizing, giving to eat of His body and to drink of His blood, that His sheep may be brought in and led to good pasture, tended and mended through Word and Sacrament until the Good Shepherd comes again to raise His sheep from the dead and to lead His holy Christian Church into the pastures of eternal life.

Whether it’s through me for another ten years or through someone else, whether it’s through Bishop Heiser or another bishop in the future, know for certain that Christ, the Good Shepherd, will continue to speak, to lead, to guide, to feed and to protect His precious flock, purchased with His own blood. As I told a member recently, any good and right and useful ministry that you’ve received from me, whether here from the pulpit or in your home or at the deathbed of a loved one—that was really Jesus ministering to you, taking care of His sheep, seeing to it that you had His Word applied and His love expressed to you as needed. Anything false, anything foolish or useless, well, that was me getting in the way. May God prevent all such offenses in all His shepherds, and may you hear clearly the voice of your Good Shepherd whenever any of His pastors speaks in His name. Amen.

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