“We Are Safe in the Arms of Jesus”

(John 10:11-18 – Easter 4 – April 22, 2018)

John 10:11-18 – “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. 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. 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. Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

Dear Redeemed in the name of Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd:

We have become familiar with artistic images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Many of us have in our homes pictures of Jesus with a shepherd’s staff in His hand, carrying a little lamb in His arms, surrounded by His flock of sheep. One of the stained-glass windows in our church depicts this scene. On the cover of your bulletin this morning, you see the famous 1946 painting by Warner Sallmon.

Such images of the Good Shepherd are very comforting. They remind us of beloved Bible passages like Psalm 23:1-2: “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.” Isaiah 40:11 pictures Jesus as the Good Shepherd: He will feed His flock like a shepherd; He will gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and gently lead those who are with young.”

Such Scriptural images of Jesus remind us just how closely and lovingly He watches over us, guiding us and caring for us, day by day. He who gave His life to save us holds us close to His heart. Let us see that “We Are Safe in the Arms of Jesus”: 1) Because He is the Good Shepherd, and 2) Because we are the sheep of His flock.

1) Because He is the Good Shepherd

Jesus assures us of our safety as He says: “I am the good shepherd.” He emphasizes this in the Greek, literally saying: “I am the shepherd, the good one.” He is in a class by Himself; there is no other shepherd like Him.

Just how different is Jesus than all others? He explains:“The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” How many shepherds would be willing to give their lives for the sheep? Are sheep that valuable? Would they deserve such self-sacrificial care, if it came to it?

Surely, sheep need a dedicated shepherd. For on their own, sheep are notorious for being helpless, defenseless, and senseless. They need a shepherd to guide them to good pastures and provide the right food; lest in their foolish lack of discernment, they eat what is harmful for themselves. Then too, sheep need a shepherd to guide them in the safe and right way; lest they run off after green grass dreams of better pastures and find themselves lost, or fallen in a ravine – or even worse, fallen into the jaws of a wolf or some predator.

Yes, at times shepherds need to be dedicated enough to go after sheep and save them from themselves. And sometimes, exceptionally devoted shepherds have even put their lives in danger. As the young David told King Saul before he fought Goliath: “Your servant used to keep his father’s sheep, and when a lion or a bear came and took a lamb out of the flock, I went out after it and struck it, and delivered the lamb from its mouth; and when it arose against me, I caught it by its beard, and struck and killed it” (1 Samuel 17:34-35). How many shepherds would be that devoted? You would actually have to love your sheep!

Jesus is that shepherd, the good one. But how different are the many, as He here describes: “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.”

Among sinful mankind, such self-serving selfishness is the common way. How many employees, who do not own the company, could care less if it suffers loss or goes under; as long as they get their regular paycheck? How many owners, who are not related to the employees, could care less if the latter are lost; as long as their personal interests thrive? How many times have we served those whom God puts in our care with a lazy, grudging, self-serving attitude; unless the right people were watching, or it was in our personal interests? We understand the hireling, who does not serve in love of God and man but in love of self.

If it is all too common in the world, it is all too common in the visible church. Jesus warns of those who are supposed to be His undershepherds; but as hirelings, they do not care for His sheep properly. He says in Matthew 7:15: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves.” On the outside, they may appear good with people. They may know how to say all the right sounding religious things at the right time. They may be popular leaders and respected in town. But they are ravenous wolves, because they do not bring the saving Word of Christ to His people. They forsake His truth and teach falsely to save their own image, to save their own skin, to save their own income.

Instead of preaching God’s Law rightly, they leave people feeling secure in their own way. A sheep has strayed into sinful path? Oh well, says the hireling, it is easier to look the other way. Going after those straying in sin, and calling them to repent and return to Christ, may incur danger. Perhaps friends or family of the lost will take offense at the truth. A church may lose members. The pastor may be accused of no longer being the friendly good guy; he may lose worldly respect. Or maybe he will even lose his paycheck.

And thus, the self-serving hireling cannot preach God’s Gospel properly, either. His gospel says you are safe in your own way because God overlooks sin, and doesn’t treat it seriously. His gospel says you are saved because at least you try to be a good person. His gospel says you are saved because you are a member of such and such church.

Such a pastor may be praised by men, but he has fled his duty. The ravenous wolf comes in and divides the flock by false doctrine. The smiling predator devours souls by false security.

The hireling does not care for the spiritual and eternal welfare of the sheep. But Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He cared for us when we did not care for Him. He saw us in our fallen, sinful condition, as Isaiah 53:6 describes: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way.” He saw us turning away from His Word, turning away from His guiding commands, turning to our own self-centered way. He saw us running along with the bleating black sheep of the world, chasing false green grass dreams. He found us foolishly eating the noxious weeds of sin and rebellion, poisoning our souls to death. He saw the devil slinking by, devouring the unsuspecting and defenseless, just waiting to drag our souls down the throat of hell, lost forever.

Our Good Shepherd did not flee; He ran to our rescue. The Son of God from heaven became the Son of Man; He came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). He followed the will of His Father, as He explained here: “Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.”

Not only did our Good Shepherd risk His life to save foolish and wandering sheep; He gave His life to save us from our own foolish way, to save us from ourselves. “He was led as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:7). He was arrested, condemned, crucified. On the cross, Jesus took all our sin and guilt that was killing us on Himself. The Good Shepherd felt the fangs of the evil one clamp down to kill Him, in hopes of possessing the sheep forever. He felt the jaws of death close in around Him, as he took all our sin and condemnation to hell.

And then, it was finished! By His divine power, our Good Shepherd took up His life again. He rose from the dead to declare His Gospel of truly good news to us. No matter how far we have strayed from Him, no matter how shameful our paths have been, He says: “I forgive you.” He cleanses us by His blood, saying: “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall be as wool” (Isaiah 1:18). We were black sheep, lost in our way. But He sought and found us by His call to repentance and faith. He named us as His own in Baptism, cleansing and clothing in His own pure white coat of holiness. Now He holds us close to His heart, saying: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:28).

2) Because we are the sheep of His flock

We are safe in the arms of Jesus because He is our truly Good Shepherd; and because by His grace we are the sheep of His flock. He who laid down His life in love for us, continues to care for us with that same loving devotion, day by day.

Here Jesus expresses this loving relationship between Him and us in the closest possible terms: “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.” The Son is begotten and beloved of His Father from eternity. The Father and the Son, together with the Holy Spirit, know each other as one God, one indivisible Being. And now, the Son knows and loves us just as personally, as He holds us close to His heart, calling us as His own sheep.

We also know Him personally by faith. We know Him by His voice, who called us by His Gospel. We hear His voice daily in His Word of Scripture. As the sheep of His hand, safe in His arms, we want to listen to His voice alone. We flee from false shepherds, false teachers (John 10:4-5). We say: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).

It is always by His voice in the Gospel that Jesus gathers His sheep to Himself. Foreseeing all who would be gathered to Him through faith, 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.” Thus Jesus included not only believing Jews, but also believing Gentiles.

By the voice of His Word, our Good Shepherd continues to guide and care for His flock, day by day. He ministers to our souls by His Word and Sacraments. This is pictured in Psalm 23. As we deal with weaknesses and troubles, He restores our weary souls in the green pastures and life-giving waters of His Word. As we deal with sin and its effects in our lives, He restores our burdened souls by His forgiving Word. He comforts us with His rod and staff, His promise always to love, protect, and care for us. Even in the presence of our enemies, He prepares His rich table of salvation, anointing our heads by His grace, filling our cup of salvation to overflowing. At His Holy Table, He even gives His body and blood to eat and drink for our forgiveness and strength of faith. Thus as the sheep of His flock, even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear evil. For He has passed through death ahead of us and obtained the victory by His resurrection. And He will not fail to bring us home with Himself, through the heavenly gates, into the greenest pastures and life-giving waters forever.

We are safe in the arms of Jesus, because He truly is our Good Shepherd. Because we are the sheep of His flock we can say: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.” Glory be to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. Amen.