Monday, April 15, 2013

Sermon for 4/14/03--Easter 3



The Shepherd Knows the Sheep

Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen. 

What is the difference between a hireling and the Good Shepherd? For the hireling, the sheep are expendable, while the Good Shepherd makes Himself expendable for the sheep. The hireling has no attachment to the sheep except that they are a source of income. If the sheep have to be sacrificed to save his life, so be it. Not so for the Good Shepherd, for He is willing to lay down His life for the sheep. When the hireling sees the bare teeth of the wolf and hears its hungry growl, he deserts the flock. Sheep are replaceable and human life is not; so goes the pragmatic logic of the hireling. After all, the sheep don't belong to him. So when the wolf encircles the flock, the hireling retreats. The sheep are left without defense and become easy prey for the wolf. They cannot save themselves; the wolf enjoys a mutton dinner.

The Good Shepherd is different. He is not merely a shepherd who does the good things shepherds are expected to do—like grazing the sheep, making sure that they have fresh water, tending their wounds, and protecting them from rustlers and wild animals. Jesus is our Good Shepherd in the way of Good Friday. He lays down His life for the sheep. Our Good Shepherd puts Himself in between His sheep and the open jaws of that very hound of hell, Satan himself. But when Satan sinks his teeth into the Lamb of God, he bites into the One who will break his jaw. He bites into the flesh of the Good Shepherd who came to destroy the work of the devil. By His death our Good Shepherd defeats death and the devil. Jesus is that Good Shepherd. He is God in the flesh, who has come to seek and to save the lost.

In Ezekiel, God promises that He will depose the false shepherds of Israel who scattered the flock and fed off the sheep. God says: "Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so I will seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day." King David, himself a shepherd, confesses, "The Lord is my shepherd." Jesus is that shepherd. He is the shepherd who comes to be with His sheep, to feed them, to lead them, to comfort them. Yes, He does all of this. He feeds us with His own body and blood at the table He prepares for us in the presence of all our enemies: sin, death, and the devil himself. He leads us with His words that are spirit and life. He comforts us with His presence as He gives us His name in Holy Baptism. And ultimately, the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.

Jesus was no wimpy hireling. He was no whining coward who ran away when that old evil wolf came seeking to condemn and destroy you with your sin. Our Good Shepherd died, as one of our hymns puts it, "for sheep who love to wander." He did not wait for us to find our way out of the wilderness and back to the sheep pen. He came to us in this world of sin and death and He redeemed us by dying on the cross in our place. Such is the love of the Good Shepherd for His sheep.

The Good Shepherd still calls and gathers a flock by His Word. He says, "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me." The Church is where the Good Shepherd is.  Where His voice is sounding in the pure preaching of His Word and in the still waters of Holy Baptism and the green pastures of His Supper, there you will find the sheep that belong to Jesus. Keep your ears attuned to the voice of the Good Shepherd, for He alone has the words of eternal life.  In the name of the Father and of the Son (+) and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen. 

The peace of God which passes all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus always.  Amen.  

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