Oh, we sheep, we are such interesting sheep. We were created to live with the Shepherd in a beautiful and lush garden where there was no death. We were created to be immortal sheep, living under the most loving Shepherd that could ever exist, enjoying His steadfast kindness forever and ever. He would protect us as sheep are protected behind a strong wall.
But then a lion came and whispered to us over that wall. “Hey, why are you content to be sheep? You don’t need any shepherd. You are wise and strong. You could make it on your own, no problem! But if you stay behind that wall of protection forever, you will never be your own person. You will just be sheep. Climb on out here, and you will be like the Shepherd.”
So our first parents listened to the lion and climbed outside of the wall. They rejected the Shepherd and went out into the world. They found out that the prowling lion really wanted to devour them. They also met the wolves that helped the lion: sin and death and hell, as well as human forces that persecute the church and false teachers in the Church who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. Together these wolves preyed upon the human race.
Neither our parents nor their descendants could escape the trespass of leaving the Shepherd’s care. Every sheep is born with a desire to be his own person, his own shepherd. We all were like sheep that had gone astray.
Today is about the Shepherd winning back the sheep and making them His again. To do that, He had to leave the perfect protection of heaven and go out into the savage world where the lion and its wolves lived.
Even then, the Shepherd was invulnerable. He is the Son of God, after all. No one could take His life from Him. Therefore He had to lay down His life, and then take it up again. In other words, the eternal Shepherd became the Lamb whose Blood was shed for the sins of the world.
When the time came, Christ did not run from the fearful crisis. For that purpose He came. So He stood firm and made the good confession in the face of the wolves, knowing it would lead to His death. He confessed before Pontius Pilate, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I have come into the world – to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to My voice.” Of course, Pilate threw our Lord’s words back into His face by saying, “What is truth?” - not realizing that the Man standing before Him is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. But the quality of the Lord’s confession is in its own truthfulness, not in whether it is received. Christ could have denied everything. He could have gotten Himself released by Pilate in any number of ways. But He did not. He stood His ground and made the good confession.
Christ did not deny that He was the Son of God before Caiaphas, the high priest. He could have simply not answered Caiaphas. Humanly speaking, there was no point casting the truth before those wolves. But Christ confessed, even though it cost Him His life. He made the good confession and died for it.
The good Shepherd defends His sheep. After He laid down His life and took it up again, Christ sent many shepherds through whom He continues to defend His sheep from the lion and his wolves. How does He do this? The same way: Through the good confession.
A hireling flees when he sees the wolves coming. But the good shepherd stands his ground.
So we shepherds, that is, pastors, stand our ground and make the good confession. We confess Christ as the Son of God. We confess that He is the Truth. We confess Him, although we may have our confession thrown in our face. We may suffer for it or even die. But if we are good shepherds, we will not back down, though all the world full of wolves threaten us.
God help us.
A German monk five hundred years ago stood his ground. He was challenged to make his confession a few days after this same Sunday in the Church year. He was surely thinking of this Holy Gospel read in the House of God days before. Luther appeared before the Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, who represented the power of nations and the power of the established Roman Church. When Martin Luther was asked to recant his writings, behind the request was the implied threat of death.
Martin Luther surely thought, “What kind of shepherd will I be if I see these wolves gather around me, and I back down on my confession of Christ? What if I bend and compromise my confession? I might preserve my life in this world, but I would betray both Christ and His sheep.”
So instead of backing down before the wolves, Luther said, “Unless I am convinced by sacred Scripture, or by evident reason, I cannot recant, for my conscience is held captive by the word of God, and to act against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand. I can do no other. So help me God. Amen.”
It is not pride that should make a man stand by his words. Instead, the confession must be made and held because it is the confession of Christ and His merits and benefits for us. To abandon that is most perilous.
God help us all make the good confession. All Christians, not only shepherds, must be ready to confess Christ before men. When the wolves come for us, we must not count our life more valuable than having Christ and all the treasures He has given us. In truth, Christ is our life. To deny Him is to throw away life. If they take this, our present life, we will rise again, never to die. Why should we fear the wolves? A good shepherd as well as good sheep trust that our Shepherd will keep us safe forever.
God help us to be willing to lay down our lives in the image of the Good Shepherd. He will take up our lives again on the Last Day. In His Name. Amen.
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