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Fourth Sunday of Easter

John 10:11–18

James T. Batchelor

Easter 4, series B
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church  
Hoopeston, IL

view DOC file

Sun, Apr 26, 2015 

When Jesus uses word pictures like parables, metaphors, or other figures of speech, He often represents God as someone who is eccentric.  In the parable of the sower, the sower throws seed everywhere, not just on the good soil.  In the parable of the unforgiving servant, the king forgives a debt of 10,000 talents which is just an unimaginable amount of money.  In the parable of the vineyard, the owner pays everyone the same wage regardless of how long they worked.  In the Parable of the Wicked Tenants, the Land Owner sent His own Son to collect the rent from tenants who had already killed His servants.  These are just a few of the eccentric characters who represent God in Jesus parables.

Today, we heard Jesus describe Himself as the Good Shepherd.  We are so used to hearing about Jesus as the Good shepherd that we dont truly examine what Good Shepherd Jesus said about Himself or about us.  When we listen more closely we discover that Good Shepherd Jesus is a very eccentric shepherd.

Greek has more than one word that translates as good in English.  One word is ἀγαθός.  It means competent, professional, skilled, and so forth.  The other word is καλὸς.  This word means noble, heroic, excellent, and so forth.  When Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd, He means that He is the excellent, noble, and heroic shepherd.  He is not merely competent, professional, or skilled.  This kind of shepherd would seem very eccentric to the average shepherd in first century Israel.

Shepherds in first century Israel were not raising flocks full of beloved pets.  They exploited the sheep.  They used the sheep primarily for wool, mutton, and sacrifices.  The reason they watched over the sheep was not because they loved the sheep, but because sheep were the source of their income.  They had families that needed food, clothing, and shelter.  The sheep were the source of those things.  When a predator began stalking the flock, the shepherd was NOT really concerned for the sheep directly.  He was concerned because the predator was taking food off his childrens table and the clothes off their backs.  That predator was affecting his income which was affecting his familys standard of living.  When a shepherd was good or competent, his sheep were healthy so that they produced plenty of wool or so that they gained plenty of weight when it was time to sell them to the butcher.

Shepherds have always defended their flocks from predators, but they dont do it because they love the sheep.  They kill or drive off the predators because they want to provide for their families.  A shepherd might get killed by a predator, but it is an accident, and he does not go down without a fight.  He most certainly DOES NOT willingly lay down his life for the sheep.

We recently heard Jesus describe Himself as the Good Shepherd that is the noble, heroic shepherd.  He said, I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (John 10:11) Jesus described Himself as the shepherd who loves his sheep by willingly surrendering His life for them.  This sets Good Shepherd Jesus apart from all other shepherds.

Indeed, we can place all religions into one of two categories.  All of the false religions teach self-salvation you must do something in order to provide all or part of your own salvation.  There are a wide variety of activities in these religions meditations, quests, self-punishment, fasting, right thinking, right talking, self-improvement, moral character, and on and on and on, but they all boil down to you saving yourself.  The true religion, Christianity, is the only religion where God takes on human flesh and then declares that He will surrender His life in order to save His creation.

Furthermore, the shepherd who is merely a competent shepherd cares for his sheep because of what he can get from the sheep food and clothing, but Good Shepherd Jesus does not need anything from the sheep.  He defends the sheep with His life simply because He loves the sheep.

It is good that Good Shepherd Jesus loves His sheep and surrendered His life for them.  For we are the sheep that He speaks of in His figure of speech, and we have powerful enemies.

We just heard Good Shepherd Jesus speak of the wolf.  Now I dont care how much time the sheep spends in the weight room and at the martial arts dojo, he is not going to be able to take on the wolf.  If the sheep has to defend itself, the wolf will have an easy lunch.  The wolves that come after us are sin, death, and the devil.

Sin, death, and the devil are allies.  Death is the result of our sin; for the wages of sin is death. (Romans 6:23) That is one of the many sad facts of death.  It is our sin that opened the door to let death into our world.  Every time we make ourselves more important than God anytime our feelings are more important than Gods Word anytime we exploit our neighbor instead of loving him anytime we refuse to forgive anytime we listen to gossip anytime we murder with thoughts of hate anytime we want our way instead of Gods way anytime we rationalize our sin these are all ways that we open the door to this world and allow death and the devil to rule.  It is as the Apostle Paul told the church in Rome: Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned (Romans 5:12) Death is one thing that we have in common with everyone.  Everyone dies.

Good Shepherd Jesus said, 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. 13He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (John 10:1213) With these words, He illustrates the value of false religions.  As far as the false religions are concerned, when death comes, you are on your own.  If the religion has an afterlife, then it teaches that you are judged by your own merit and worthiness who you are and what you have done.  If you have failed in this life, well then, too bad, so sad! Some false religions are so deceptive that they try to teach us that the wolf is our friend.  Our current culture wants us to believe that the wolf of death is our friend and presents elective abortion, euthanasia, and assisted suicide as valid solutions to the problems of life.

Good Shepherd Jesus, on the other hand, fought with sin, death, and the devil, and He did it in a most unusual way.  First of all, the Heroic Good Shepherd Jesus became one of the sheep.  That is what Christmas is all about.  The Son of God took on human flesh Good Shepherd Jesus in a manger, wrapped in swaddling clothes.  Who ever heard of a shepherd becoming one of the sheep in order to save the sheep?  Never the less, Good Shepherd Jesus became one of us in order to battle sin, death, and the devil.

When the time came for Good Shepherd Jesus to battle death, He gave death the home field advantage!  He suffered and died on a cross.  As He hung on the cross, Good Shepherd Jesus endured the eternal punishment that our sins deserved.  Instead of leaving us to face the wolf of death by ourselves, He faced death for us.  He faced the death of this world and the eternal death of hell.  Good Shepherd Jesus faced all this so that we can be sheep in His eternal flock.

Good Shepherd Jesus has a special message for us in the Gospel we just heard.  He said, 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. (John 10:16) Since Jesus told these words to the Jews who were listening to Him at the time, these words inform them that Jesus has sheep that are not part of the Jewish flock.  That means that we gentiles are also sheep in His flock.  The entire flock of Good Shepherd Jesus is the Holy Christian church that has both Jews and Gentiles in it.  This means that Good Shepherd Jesus laid down His life for all people in all times and in all places.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd for everyone.  He laid down His life for you.

Good Shepherd Jesus proclaimed that He will lay down His life for the sheep.  In the Gospel we just heard, He said this many times.  As we work through the Gospel, we hear Him say even more.  He said, I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18No 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. (John 10:1718) With these words Good Shepherd Jesus promised not only to lay His life down for the sheep, but He also promised to take it up again.  It means we know He defeated our sin with His death because death could not hold Him.  He rose from the dead.  He said, I lay down my life that I may take it up again, and He kept His promise.  Good Shepherd Jesus rose from the dead and the disciples saw the holes of the nails in His hands and feet.

The resurrection of Good Shepherd Jesus is the promise for our last days on this earth.  The day will come when the wolf of death will eat you and me, but we will not stay dead.  Instead, Good Shepherd Jesus will come on the Last Day and bring us all back to life.  On that day the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved. (2 Peter 3:10) Then there will be new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:13) All of us who believe will come together as one flock.  We will share in the joy of eternal bliss.  We will share in all the blessings that Good Shepherd Jesus earned for us when He laid down His life for us.  Then we will live forever with Him where there will be one flock and one shepherd.  Amen



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