The Good Shepherd

Text: John 10:11-18

Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep…I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”[1]

Let us pray: Lord Jesus, who alone is the Good Shepherd, thank You for all Your good benefits. Let the word of Your salvation dwell among us richly, and do not allow Your trusty staff, the Word of Your Promise, to be taken from us. When the shadow of death spreads over us, lead us safely to the fold of Your perfected saints in heaven. Amen.

In our text today Jesus makes a distinction between two types of shepherd: Himself, the Good Shepherd, and the hired hand. The Good Shepherd knows His sheep and gets out in front to lay down His life for them. The hired hand, sees the wolf coming and gets behind the sheep. He allows the wolf to scatter and devour the sheep while he runs away. Instead of going before them, he allows the sheep to face death alone. Jesus our Good Shepherd is always with us. He is with us to protect you and comfort you at all times. In order to save us from the wolf, He laid down His own being on our behalf. He sacrificed Himself to the powers of death and hell and then rose from the dead. Therefore, He is now always before us. Our Good Shepherd has died and lives for the sheep so that we may die and live with Him.

I.

To teach people about Himself and His work, Jesus uses the imagery of a shepherd. The first way Jesus describes Himself is as the door of the sheep. The shepherd would take care of the sheep during the day and then at night lead them back into the fold. This would be either a fenced-in area or maybe a cave – somewhere with only one entrance. Like a good shepherd Jesus leads His sheep into the fold, He Himself being the door.

But there are those who do not enter through the door, who instead climb in by another way. That person is a thief and a robber, someone who has no right to the sheep. In the context of John 10 these thieves and robbers are the Pharisees and other Jewish authorities. Thieves and robbers try to break-in any way they can to steal the sheep. The Pharisees were thieves and robbers because they tried to get into the fold without going through the Door: Jesus. Instead of pointing people to faith in God’s Son, they tried to get into the fold in other ways, which don’t work. Jesus prophesied against them, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.”[2]

They were continuing a long line of false shepherds, which God prophesied against in Ezekiel 34. Surely Jesus had this text in mind which says, “Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep…but you do not feed the sheep.”[3] Therefore, God promises, “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep.”[4]

Not only do thieves and robbers try to steal the sheep, but there is also a wolf seeking to devour them. The wolf is the devil. At best, the Jewish authorities were hired hands. They cared nothing for the sheep, they were only a means to an end. Therefore, when they saw the wolf coming, instead of getting out in front to protect the sheep, they fled and let the wolf have its way. But lest we become hypocrites, we also are like the hired hand. All sinners are. Instead of sacrificing ourselves, our own wants and desires, to care for those whom the Lord has given us to watch out for, we sacrifice them. We flee our responsibilities and leave God’s sheep to fend for themselves against the jaws of the devil.

Left to themselves, the sheep die. False teachers come and rob them of God’s grace in Christ, pointing them to their own works and worthiness instead. The devil comes and convinces them that diligent study of God’s Word in worship and Bible study is not necessary. Pastors who behave like hired hands look out only for themselves and leave Satan to sift their congregations like wheat through all sorts of trials and temptations. All of this is meant to kill and destroy the sheep.

II.

In response to the thieves and robbers who come to destroy, the raging wolf seeking to devour, and the hired hand who doesn’t care, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”[5] Jesus sees the wolf coming, He knows it’s coming, and as the Good Shepherd He lays down His life for the sheep. Instead of letting the wolf come and devour the sheep while He hides, He Himself takes on the wolf. He willingly goes to slaughter, to death, so that the sheep would live. Jesus laid down His life because He is the Paschal Lamb whose blood takes away the sin of the world. His blood satisfies the demands of the Law which say that the soul that sins shall die, that we should die for our sins. His holy, innocent, suffering and death redeems us from the powers of sin, death, and the devil.

Jesus also said, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”[6] Our Good Shepherd who laid down His life to save the sheep rose again. He passed through death and the grave to take up His life again in resurrection. Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we need not fear. We have a Good Shepherd who walked that same path. He has already been through it all, and just as He went before us in death, so does He go before us through this life and our own deaths, unto our resurrection to eternal life.

Now because Jesus is alive, the truth that we celebrate during this Easter season, He gathers His flock. Jesus is not just the Good Shepherd in His death, but in His life as well. He said, “I am the Good Shepherd, I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”[7] Jesus, who knows His sheep, gathers them all into one flock. He gathers them so that they may be united with Him in death and life.

The crucified and risen Lord Jesus continues to call His flock by name through the preaching of the Gospel. He feeds them the good food of the Sacraments in order that they may gathered into one flock through the washing of Holy Baptism and the forgiveness we receive in the Lord’s Supper. Through these things the flock are made hear the voice of the true shepherd, He who knows each of us by name and calls us into His fold. Jesus our Good Shepherd is not a thief or robber who comes to kill and destroy, but He is the Door by which we enter the fold of heaven. Neither is Jesus like a hired hand who cares nothing for the sheep. Jesus saw the wolf coming and laid down His life on the cross for us. For us, the sheep, the Shepherd died so that He might take up His life again to go before us all our days.


[1]The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), John 10:11-13.

[2] Matt. 23:13.

[3] Ezek. 34:2–3.

[4] Ezek. 34:11–12.

[5] Jn. 10:11.

[6] Jn. 10:17-18.

[7] Jn. 10:14-15.

Opened to Understand

Text: Luke 24:36-49

Today we continue our celebration of the Good News of Easter. The Good News is that Jesus Christ has risen from the dead. By His death and resurrection He has defeated the powers of sin, death, and the devil forever. By His suffering He won for us the free forgiveness of all our sins, and rising from the dead He has justified us. This week we hear the Good News from St. Luke’s account of the Resurrection and the events following it. Though it is similar to St. John’s account, St. Luke’s focus is a little different. From John we learned of the peace that comes through the Resurrection of Christ which is the forgiveness of our sins. This week we look at how the minds of the Disciples were opened through the words of Christ.

Even though the Disciples heard from Mary Magdalene and the other women Jesus had risen from the dead, they didn’t believe. Instead, they locked themselves away in fear for their lives and in disbelief. Peter had even seen the empty tomb, but he didn’t believe. Earlier in Luke 24 it says, “Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.”[1] Peter saw the empty grave, the open tomb, and he didn’t believe. He didn’t believe because, though the tomb was open, his mind was closed. In our reading Jesus appeared to open minds to the Scriptures by showing it is all about Him. Jesus opened their eyes and minds of the Disciples, because His work is of no use to those with closed minds.

II.

The kind of open-mindedness that Jesus gave is very different from what our world thinks today when it values open-mindedness. The world thinks it knows all about what it means to be open-minded. If open-mindedness is what we need, then the world has it. To be open-minded is to be open to all kinds of thinking, all opinions, and all views. There is no one truth, just different interpretations and judgments that we should be open to. To be open-minded is to open your mind and let things fill it – all kinds of worldly wisdom and enlightened thinking; newly-discovered truth. You only need to turn on the TV or radio to discover what it means to be open-minded. It means to accept and affirm adulterous relationships, saying that marriage is not a pre-requisite for sexual activity. But then again, marriage itself is to be redefined. To be open-minded is to accept and encourage alternative definitions of marriage than what has been understood by all of human history until recent times.

It’s funny how almost all of the definitions of “open-minded,” that the world has to offer paint the Scriptural teaching as “close-minded.” That notion has led no small number of Christians into confusion and doubt. Instead of our minds being opened, they become a cesspool of ideas all mixing and fermenting together. Enticed by the world that offers to open minds, many are led into confusion over what the true teaching of Scripture is. And eventually, this leads to doubt and contempt for God’s Word. This should sound familiar, for it was Satan who first asked, “Did God really say?” in the Garden of Eden.[2]

III.

And so, instead of opening minds the world closes them. Jesus’ open tomb is folly to minds closed by the world, closed to the forgiveness of sins through faith in Jesus. Not content to leave His Disciples with minds closed by the world, minds callous to His word, Jesus appears to open their minds. This He does by removing all the junk put in there by the world and replacing it with His Word. The text says, “Jesus himself stood among them, and said to them, ‘Peace to you!’ But they were startled and frightened and thought they saw a spirit.  And he said to them, ‘Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? See my hands and my feet, that it is I myself. Touch me, and see. For a spirit does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.’”[3]

Jesus appeared among them and their first thoughts weren’t to rejoice, but to wonder if they were seeing a spirit. Their minds were still full of junk. Jesus asked them why they were troubled and why doubts arise in their hearts, for it is He Himself. This is the Jesus who was with them for three years, who was betrayed, suffered, died, and now who has risen from the dead. He has hands and feet that they can touch, which a spirit doesn’t. Moreover, Jesus asked for something to eat. They gave Him a piece of fish, and He ate. But the cobwebs weren’t cleared yet.

Jesus said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”[4] Then their minds were opened to understand the Scriptures. Jesus continued to show them that it has always been written in the Scripture that Jesus would suffer and on the third day rise from the dead. Then, because of His suffering and death for the sins of the world, repentance and forgiveness should be proclaimed in His name to all nations. This is what it has all been about, the forgiveness of sins. It’s not about anything else, and to center on anything else is to be close-minded. To be open-minded is to be centered on the grace that we receive through the work of Christ on our behalf. JUST AS JESUS OPENED THE TOMB, SO ALSO HE OPENS NOW OUR MINDS.

IV.

Even today He does this. Through the washing of Holy Baptism the risen Christ opens the tombs of our minds. Tombs are ordinarily filled with death, but instead He fills us with His life. He fills us with His truth by making us children of God as we heard in the Epistle reading. The Holy Spirit works through the washing of Baptism to wash away our sins and give us the gift of faith. By faith the Scriptures are opened to us so that we understand that it is all about Jesus. In Baptism God shows His incredible love for us by welcoming us into His arms.

Through the preaching of God’s Word, Jesus continues to beat back all the cobwebs of the world that threaten to close our minds to the truth of Scripture. These cobwebs want us to deny that His Word is true, that it is without any error whatsoever, that sin exists and we are dead in it, and that we cannot do anything to save ourselves. But Christ, who rose triumphant from the grave by His power and left the tomb open will continue to work through His Means of Grace to open our minds to His love.

V.

This isn’t to say that all worldly wisdom is bad. God has blessed many people in our world all across time with great minds and intelligence, and through their work and vocations, we have received many great things from God – advances in medicine, technology, and communication. We thank God for all of that. But, with the good has also come the bad. There’s all sorts of false wisdom and truth in this world.

We have a different wisdom that fills our minds. After Christ spoke peace to the Disciples, forgiving their sins and opening their minds, He sent them out to proclaim to the world the forgiveness of sins that is in Him. He breathed on them the Holy Spirit to preach His Word which shows our sinfulness and need for a Savior. As Christ forgave the Disciples, so He forgives you and gives you peace. He fills you here with His Body and Blood and with the Holy Spirit. With His forgiveness, His Life, and His Word, the Holy Spirit works now through you to speak and share that Word, so that hearts and minds may be opened in those around you until the open gates of heaven.


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk 24:12.

[2] Gen. 3:1.

[3] Lk. 24:36–39.

[4] Lk. 24:44–45.

Peace Be With You

Text: John 20:19-31

Peace be with you,” Jesus spoke to the Disciples. These were the first words they would hear from the mouth of their teacher since He rose from the grave. They were so important that He repeated them three times. “Peace be with you,” Jesus said. This peace is the new reality that is in play since Christ has suffered, died, and risen triumphant from the grave. Peace here means that the enmity, the separation, between God and us since the Fall into is now removed. Through Christ all things have now been made as they should be.

After the crucifixion Jesus no longer limited the use of His divine powers. Before, men taunted Him to come down from the cross – if He really were the Son of God. But, it’s a good thing He didn’t. Now, Jesus does use all of His power all the time. Today we see this happening. Twice the Disciples were behind locked doors, and twice Jesus immediately appears in their midst. They had all fallen away and were in hiding. Jesus could’ve angrily grabbed an axe and broken down the door; He could’ve turned them all to ash for betraying Him. Instead, appearing in their midst, He said to them, “Peace be with you.” Amidst their fear, doubt, and unbelief Jesus appeared to preach peace to the Disciples – the peace we share through His resurrection from the dead.

I.

We find the Disciples on Sunday evening, the same day Jesus rose from the dead. The Gospel says, “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you.’”[1] Usually how the flow of the Easter season goes is that we celebrate the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. That’s a great day: we have choirs and brass, and then everyone goes home and puts on their comfortable eating clothes. The next week we come back to church fresh from that celebration and we begin scolding St. Thomas for His doubting. It happens every year on the Sunday after Easter.

Part of it is because a name like, “Doubting Thomas,” is such a catchy name that you can’t not use it in a sermon. But when we spend all the time focusing on Thomas, we don’t do justice to the fact that all the Disciples were doubting at this point. It’s the first day of the week, three days after Jesus’ death. He had told them explicitly that He would rise from the dead after three days. Instead of looking for and expecting that, all of them are hiding behind locked doors. Of course the persecution that the Jewish authorities were threating against Jesus’ followers was now becoming real, but instead of trusting in God for the strength in that situation and the words to speak, they hid.

They were not just fearful in their hiding. After Jesus rose from the dead He appeared to Mary Magdalene. Having seen the Lord she went and told His Disciples. Mark says that they were mourning and weeping. When they heard from her that He was alive, instead of rejoicing, “they would not believe it.”[2] Luke says that the words of the women seemed to them, “an idle tale, and they did not believe them.”[3] They weren’t just hiding for fear of the Jews, they weren’t just doubting, but they were actually not believing.

Suddenly, Jesus appeared among them and stood in their midst. “’Peace be with you.’ When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.’ And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.’”[4] Before there was a vast chasm of sin and death separating the Disciples and God. When Jesus was crucified, they forsook their faith and feared death. Instead of appearing to them to judge and condemn them, Jesus appeared to speak peace. Christ stood in their midst to forgive their sin and call them out of darkness. Because of His resurrection they are now at peace with God.

II.

We said earlier that it’s bad to pile on Thomas when all the Disciples were equally doubting and unbelieving, but we will return to him. By doing so, we also see ourselves. The Gospel says, “Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.’”[5] I think maybe a better name for Thomas is “Thomas the Scientist,” or “Thomas the Enlightened,” or “Thomas the Intelligent.” I mean, Thomas wasn’t there when Jesus appeared, and so like the other Disciples he didn’t believe. Unless He saw it for himself, unless there was verifiable empirical evidence, by default he would not believe it.

By the world’s standards Thomas is completely in the right. Unless there is evidence that you can measure with your five senses, there is absolutely no grounds to believe in anything. This line of thinking came as result of the Enlightenment and has infected even the church and has further robbed us of our innocence in this matter. We are all now little Thomases. Now, despite the fact that Thomas didn’t believe it, Jesus was alive. The Gospel could’ve ended with the words of Thomas. It could’ve ended with Jesus smacking him upside the head. But instead, “Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’”[6]

Though it was sinful for Thomas to demand evidence, Jesus didn’t destroy him. Jesus saw that he demanded proof, and in His grace, gave more than Thomas could ever need. The very body and blood of Jesus given for the sins of the world stood before him, alive. Rightly, Thomas was humbled, “My Lord and my God!” he exclaimed. Here Jesus pulls Thomas and us into the same boat, “Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’”[7] This gets us on both accounts. First, not all people have been privileged to see Jesus. And so, our temptation is, like Thomas to demand signs and proof from God before we believe. The answer to Thomas and us is the same: Jesus the crucified and risen one.

As with the Disciples and Thomas who doubted and were unbelieving, Jesus the Risen One comes into our midst, into our doubt and despair, not to condemn us, but to forgive us and give us the peace that He won by His resurrection from the dead. This peace comes not from within us, but from outside ourselves. This peace He gives through the pastoral office, whereby He sends men to stand in His stead and forgive our sins. Christ stands in our midst in the words of Holy Absolution and in the feast of His own body and blood. In the words of the Benediction we hear His words, “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious unto you. The Lord lift His countenance upon you and give you peace.”

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That’s us. None of us has seen Jesus in the flesh yet, and yet we believe. For that purpose that Gospel was written, so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing we have life in His name. By His resurrection Jesus has destroyed the powers of sin, death and hell. Though we are often times caught in doubt and despair, in impatience and fear, Jesus comes to us with His peace. This peace is that the guilt of our sin is removed from us by His death. May the Lord continue to send us His Holy Spirit to speak peace to us, that even without seeing, we may believe and have life in His name.


 

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Jn 20:19.

[2] Mk. 16:11.

[3] Lk. 24:11.

[4] Jn. 20:19–23.

[5] Jn. 20:24–25.

[6] Jn. 20:26–27.

[7] Jn. 20:29.