Greeting: The Lord is our Shepherd, we shall lack nothing.
Text: 11) “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12) The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. 13) Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14) I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me - 15) just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16) I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17) The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. 18) I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Introduction: All over the world Christians often set aside one week of the year to focus on Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd. In our Christian Church year, we designate the Fourth Sunday of the Easter season as Good Shepherd Sunday. The name of the Sunday is drawn from the Gospel of John, chapter 10, the chapter from which our Gospel lesson is taken.
I, for one, am not so sure that we should be observing a Good Shepherd Sunday. I think this way, not because there is anything wrong with Jesus Christ or with recognizing Him as the Shepherd of our lives. My objection is with the word “good” in “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The New International translation speaks about Jesus as the “Good Shepherd.” This phrase is mentioned in both verse 11 and verse 14 of our text. The Greek word used to describe the shepherd is the word “kalos.” Kalos is used 102 times in the Bible. It is generally translated in English as “beautiful, worthy or good.” But to use the word “good” to describe Jesus as a spiritual Shepherd doesn’t quite capture the idea of the Greek word or convey just how good a Shepherd He is.
We often use the word “good” to describe the quality of something as above average. We speak about watching a “good movie” or eating a “good piece of pie” or having a “good time.” In this context, “good is good” but it falls short of “very good” or “excellent.” When we think of Jesus, He is more than just a good Shepherd. He is far more than that. He is the best, the only one of His kind. If Jesus is a good Shepherd, then every other shepherd is bad because no one can compare to Him. That’s why I contend that we should be calling Jesus “the Excellent Shepherd” or the “Ultimate Shepherd.” This Sunday should properly be referred to as “Superb Shepherd Sunday” or “Supreme Shepherd Sunday.”
Jesus is the Excellent Shepherd. Several things He says in John 10 point out how excellent He is and point us to follow Him with believing hearts and serving lives. Let’s take notice of them today as we are encouraged to “Come, Follow This Excellent Shepherd.”
1. Who Has Lovingly Sacrificed Himself For Us
Perhaps the most prominent way we behold our Savior’s excellence is in the loving, sacrificial way that Jesus has given Himself for us. Jesus Himself explains: 11) “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12) The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. 13) Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14) I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me - 15) just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.
To explain His sacrificial love for us and other sinners, Jesus draws a contrast between the loving, Shepherd owner of the sheep and the uncaring hired hand. The Shepherd and the hired helper have different attitudes toward the sheep. The hired hand in Jesus’ illustration has relatively little interest in the sheep. To him or her, watching the sheep is what he or she does to get paid. He wants to do a good enough job so he doesn’t get fired, but his main focus is how he personally benefits from it. So if a wolf or other dangerous animal appears to attack the flock, the hired man will run away and leave the sheep unprotected. His health and life mean more to him than the welfare of the sheep or the job. So the hired man is out of there as quickly as he can.
The Shepherd, on the other hand, has a great interest in the welfare of the sheep. For him the sheep are not just a job. They are the focus of his life. He owns these sheep. They are his. He spends much time with them knows them intimately. He gives them names and lives among them. He thinks about their welfare and orients his whole day about the needs of the flock. When danger comes, He will not run and abandon the sheep. No, he steps out in front to guard and defend his sheep. He will confront that wolf or lion so it cannot harm one of his animals. He will, if necessary, give up his life in defense of his sheep. This is what the excellent shepherd will do. He will loving sacrifice himself for the sheep.
That is what our excellent Shepherd has done for us. Looking after us is not just a job to Jesus. We are the focus of his life. He has created us and recreated us through Baptism. We are His. He loves us and knows us intimately – our personalities, our abilities, our weaknesses, our needs. He bears with our shortcomings and cherishes each of us individually. He lives among us, always thinking about our welfare and our needs. When danger comes, He does not abandon us, but stands with us and supports us. When it counted the most, when it was absolutely necessary that He pay the bitter penalty of our sin, He offered Himself in death for us. Because of that sacrifice, we are forever safe and assured of living with Him in the heavenly house of the Lord. No other person loves us this way or would look after us so well. He is our excellent Shepherd. Let us rejoice in that loving sacrifice and pledge again to be faithful followers of this Superb Shepherd.
2. Who Continues To Gather The Rest Of His Flock
We notice an important second way in which our Shepherd reveals His excellence to us. We see it in His ongoing concern for other people to join His flock. Jesus explains: 16) “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” The Ultimate Shepherd tells us that He cares, not for a small flock, but for a very large one. In my travels in western
The flock of the Excellent Shepherd numbers hundreds of millions. His flock comprises people in all parts of the world, who come from different nationalities and who speak different languages. These people have come to know the supreme worth and saving love of the Shepherd and follow Him. As long as this world stands, the Shepherd continues to call and gather His flock. He is untiring in His zeal and efforts to find and gather everyone He can find to belong to Him and be under His care. His outreaching love for those without the care of the truly Good Shepherd is marvelous - and inspiring to us.
Once the Shepherd gathered the members of His flock directly through His preaching and teaching in
Now we are commissioned and encouraged by our Excellent Shepherd to continue His work of reaching out with the Shepherd’s message to those near and far from us around the world. We do so in a very challenging time as members of the
What can we do in response to this challenge? We can continue to be faithful in our support of God’s work. We can also reevaluate the way we allocate the money God allows us to manage and see if we can divert more of it support the grand cause of our Great Shepherd. Along with that, we can also reevaluate the way we allocate the time God has given us and see if we can use more of it in support of the work of the church, especially its outreach work to those whose souls do not know the love and care of the true Shepherd. Our Savior’s deep love for us and the rest of the other sheep move us to join Him in caring for this cause so that we too must find them. He promises that people will hear His voice and will follow Him.
Good Shepherd Sunday. Superb Shepherd Sunday. Whatever you prefer to call this day. Let us follow this excellent Shepherd who has lovingly sacrificed Himself for us and who continues, through us, to gather the rest of His flock. Amen.