“Jesus Is Our Good Shepherd”

(John 10:11-18 – Easter 4 – April 25, 2021)

John 10:11-18 – 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12But 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. 13The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16And 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. 17Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18No 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 blessed sheep of the Good Shepherd, who live in His eternal salvation and His daily care,

Can you think of someone you can trust absolutely, someone you can always confide in and share your deepest concerns with, someone who will always do what is best for you? Maybe you think of your spouse, parent, grandparent, or good friend. It is someone who has always been there for you, through good times and bad times. This person has seen you at your worst, and through it all has still loved you the same, unconditionally.

If we were to take all the best qualities of such a spouse, parent, grandparent, or friend and put them all into one person, we would begin to see a dim reflection of the perfect trustworthiness and all-giving love of our dear Savior, Jesus Christ. This is the assurance Jesus wants to give our hearts when He tells us: “I am the good shepherd” (vs. 11).

When we think of the relationship between sheep and their shepherd, it is one of total dependence. On their own, sheep are helpless and vulnerable. If left to themselves, they cannot always find the best food and will even eat poisonous plants to their harm. On their own, they may foolishly wander into dangerous paths and get lost and hurt. Since sheep cannot defend themselves, they easily fall prey to predators. They depend on their shepherd to be there for them, to understand their needs, to provide for them and protect them. A good shepherd will stay with his sheep through good and bad times, doing what is best for them even when it hurts. He will be there to pick them up in his arms and carry them. If there is anyone sheep can trust, it is a good shepherd.

“Jesus Is Our Good Shepherd.” Above anyone else, we can entrust our lives to Him who loves us – knowing 1) He laid down His life for us, and 2) He knows us and cares for us.

1) He laid down his life for us

As the first proof of His perfect love for us and absolute trustworthiness as our Savior, Jesus says: “The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (vs. 11). He gives His life to save us.

As a shepherd leads his sheep into open pasture, at times wild animals attack the flock. The good shepherd intervenes to save them. We remember that one well-known shepherd of the Old Testament, David. Before God anointed David as King of Israel, he used to tend sheep. Once David recalled: “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). As a good shepherd, David did not flee from danger, but risked his life to save his sheep from the jaws of such ferocious animals.

The ferocious predator Jesus saw overtaking us was the devil. That father of lies deceived our first parents, tempting them to fall into his trap of sin and its resulting death. With Adam and Eve, we all inherited the nature of foolish and lost sheep. Isaiah 53:6 pictures us in our fallen state: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way.”

How often as fallen humans, we show our straying, sinful nature. There we go again, leaving the straight and narrow path of God’s righteousness – foolishly following after crooked thoughts, evil lusts, discontented greed, and hateful grudges. There we go again, leaving the green pastures and refreshing waters of God’s Word – foolishly seeking greener pastures in the weed patches of deceitful pleasures, misleading friendships, harmful addictions, and whatever else in the world we might try to fill our hearts with in place of God.

As straying and lost sheep by nature, Jesus saw how we all had become prey to the wolf, the devil. For the sinful nature is enticed by his lies. James 1:14-15 says: But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death.” Jesus saw that the devil had sunk his fangs into our souls, dragging us away from God by his lies, dragging us down to hell with himself.

No one could save us but Jesus. He is the greater David, the ultimate Good Shepherd. Jesus did not flee from the wolf. He ran into danger to save us from Satan’s jaws. In David’s case, God delivered him from the paw of the lion and the bear (1 Samuel 17:37). David risked his life, but he did not give his life. But in Jesus’ case, God did not spare His Son from the fangs of Satan and death. The Good Shepherd gave His life in the fullest sense for us. While we all, like sheep, had gone astray in our sinful ways, Isaiah goes on to say of Jesus: And the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all…. He was led as a lamb to the slaughter” (Isaiah 53:6, 7).

Now, even if a shepherd was so good and committed to his duty that he gave his life for his sheep, what good would a dead shepherd be? With their shepherd dead, the sheep would be left as defenseless prey for the predator. But our Good Shepherd willingly laid down His life for us, knowing He would rise to life again to save us. As Jesus says here ahead of time: “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” (vs. 17-18).

Jesus let Himself be arrested and crucified, as the sacrifice for the sheep. He lovingly gave His life on the cross in place of us straying sinners, who deserved to die. As God the Father laid on His Son the punishment for our sins, Satan sunk his fangs into Jesus’ heel (Genesis 3:15). Jesus committed His spirit into His Father’s hands and breathed His last. But in sinking his teeth into the Good Shepherd, Satan lost his grasp on us. For his only hold on us was through sin. But now that all our sins have been paid for and taken away by the sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Satan has no more hold on us. As our Good Shepherd, Jesus did not stay dead to leave us prey to the wolf. He rose up as the one who had crushed Satan’s head, and saved us from the power of sin, Satan, and death. He rose to give us His gift of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life.

2) He knows us and cares for us

With the enemy defeated, our Good Shepherd has called us to Himself by the voice of His Gospel. He has baptized us and washed our sins away by virtue of His blood sacrifice. He has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to give us saving faith. As 1 Peter 2:25 says: For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Truly, we can entrust our lives to the Good Shepherd, who has proven His love by laying down His life for us; the Good Shepherd who personally knows us and cares for us as His own.

Think of how close our relationship is to the Good Shepherd. Jesus says: “I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father” (vs. 14-15). The word for “know” is more than just having knowledge about someone; it is having a close and personal relationship of mutual love. In this regard, Jesus actually compares our relationship with Him, to His relationship with His Father. The Father and the Son know each other eternally and perfectly, as one undivided God, together with the Holy Spirit. Likewise, Jesus also knows us perfectly as “the sheep of His hand” (Psalm 95:7). He knows everything about us – all our needs and wants, pains and weaknesses – so He can care for us in every way. And since He has called us to faith and revealed Himself to us in His Word, we can say in turn: I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (2 Timothy 1:12).

The Good Shepherd continues to gather His sheep into His loving care. 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” (vs. 16). All who are His own will hear His voice in Scripture; and by the power of His Word, they will repent of their sins and believe in Him for eternal life. Jesus’ one flock is His Church of all believers throughout the world, from the time of Adam and Eve to the end. It includes the lost sheep among Israel and the Gentiles – all who were straying in sin, whom Jesus graciously calls to faith by His Gospel.

So the Good Shepherd calls His sheep to Himself and cares for us as His own. However, what a contrast we hear in His warning against false shepherds: “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” (vs. 12-13).

By the hireling, Jesus pictures false teachers who pose as His undershepherds. They claim to speak His truth and gather sheep in His Church, but the Good Shepherd has not sent them. They are only in the outward form of the ministry for selfish gain – using their position for money, power, ease of life, and worldly glory. They care nothing for feeding souls by God’s truth.

So when the wolf threatens with persecution for the sake of Jesus and His truth, they flee. They save themselves from the threat of unpopularity by twisting God’s Word and preaching a message the world will accept. They satisfy the itching ears of straying sheep with a message that suits their sinful desires (2 Timothy 4:3-4), that says you can live however you want and God will accept you just as you are. They remove the offense of the Gospel by telling sheep, who by nature are sinful and foolish, that they are basically good and can earn a place in heaven by their own efforts. These hirelings preach something different than the true Gospel of Jesus, who laid down His life on the cross to pay for our sins and rose from the dead as the sinner’s only hope of salvation. No matter how much hirelings speak about love in Jesus’ name, they really do not care for His sheep. They help the wolf devour and scatter sheep by falsehood.

How we need the Good Shepherd to care for us constantly! Jesus sees us surrounded by tempting voices that call us to follow sinful desires and stray in unholy paths. He sees wolves in sheep’s clothing calling us to believe falsely, or just not to care so much for His truth (Matthew 7:15). So Jesus sends His true undershepherds. These faithful ministers of His Word guide His sheep by His truth, even when it is not popular. These seek to win straying sheep by speaking the truth in love as Jesus would, even when it hurts, so that eternal souls may be saved.

What marks us as sheep who truly know the Good Shepherd and belong to Him? It is not that we have walked a perfect path. But as Jesus says: “they will hear My voice” (vs. 16). As our Good Shepherd calls us to repentance, we show ourselves to be true sheep by listening to His Word, confessing our sins, and returning daily to His Baptism of cleansing forgiveness. Again and again, our Good Shepherd is here to pick us up in His forgiveness, to hold us close to His heart, and to restore our souls. Later in this chapter, Jesus repeats this thought with a promise: My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27-28).

To very the end, the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us is committed to our care. Of all people, who is it who has been there for us from the beginning, through thick and thin, as our soul’s best Friend? Who is it who has seen us at our worst, and through it all has loved us just the same? Who is it that can we confide in, knowing He will always do what is best for us? To whom can we entrust every part of our life and our eternal soul? Who else but Jesus Christ?

Knowing Him, we say with David in Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” As we entrust our lives to our Him who loves us so much that He laid down His life for us, our Good Shepherd who knows us and cares for us day by day, we can say with all confidence: “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.