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Maybe you have seen this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_4S5yBkSpU
What does this video make you think about? Many who commented thought about themselves. They said things like “that’s me. Jesus rescues me. He sets me free. He saves me from death. I jump for joy. But then I get myself in trouble again. I fall right back into sin.” I wonder how many times those young shepherds had to rescue that sheep?
The point is, we all need a good shepherd. We need someone who is willing to watch over us. We need someone who is willing to rescue us, not just once, but as many times as it takes. We need a shepherd who won’t ever give up on us, who never slumbers or sleeps, who is always there for us when we need him. We need a good shepherd because we love to wander, and if we are left on our own, we will get ourselves into a situation that will cost us more than just our physical life, it will cost us our eternal life.
Jesus says to you and to me, I am that shepherd, I AM the Good Shepherd. “No other shepherd is willing to do what I do. Every other shepherd is merely a hired hand.” That means the sheep don’t belong to them, so they care more about themselves than they do for the sheep. If they see a wolf coming to attack the sheep, they put themselves first. They run away. They are willing to sacrifice a few sheep in order to save themselves. The sheep don’t belong to them so losing a few doesn’t bother them. It doesn’t cost them anything.
The other shepherds that Jesus was picturing were the Jewish leaders of the Old Testament as well as the Jewish leaders of his day. These shepherds who were more interested in power and money than they were the spiritual welfare of the people. They were the ones who had turned the temple courts into a den of robbers and had allowed the people to be scattered like sheep without a shepherd. He is picturing religious leaders today who are more interested in fitting in with society and the latest trend than they are in feeding the sheep with the truth of God’s word. He is picturing you and me when we aren’t concerned enough about the souls of our children or of our fellow sheep in the congregation to warn them that they are in danger because they are wandering from the fold, or walking toward the cliff of destruction that comes from ignoring God and his word.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is not a hired hand. He owns the sheep. Each one is precious to him. In fact, he knows each and every one of his sheep by name. He knows you by name. He says that he knows his sheep and his sheep know him, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. Think about that! It’s not like when someone mentions a name to us and we say, “yes, I’ve heard that name, but I don’t really know them.” He knows us just as the Father knows him. He knows everything about us. He has a very personal, firsthand knowledge of us. In fact, as God, as the one who says I AM the Good Shepherd, he knows us better than we know ourselves.
The good news about this is that he knows better than we do what we truly need. The bad news about this is that he also knows all our weaknesses, all our sins, and how prone we are to wander.
But he is the Good Shepherd. He never gives up on us. And here is how we know that he will never give up on us. He gave up his life for us, literally “in our place.” We were lambs set aside for the slaughter. Satan, the roaring lion, had separated us from God. We were ready to be devoured, not by Satan, but by the eternal fires of Hell as a just punishment for our sins. But Jesus did not run from the lion. He didn’t act like a hired hand who cares nothing for the sheep. He didn’t sacrifice a few sheep to save himself. No, he sacrificed himself to save the sheep. He allowed himself to suffer hell in our place. He offered himself as a sacrifice of atonement to God. The reason that we are so precious to him is that he purchased us with his own blood. Through Isaiah he says to us, I have redeemed you, I have called you by name, you are mine. That’s why he is willing to go after the one lost sheep and search until he finds him. That’s why we need have no doubt about how he feels about us. If he is willing to sacrifice himself for us, it ought to be obvious that no one loves us more that he does and that there isn’t anything he wouldn’t do for us.
Sheep have a tendency to stick to their own. It’s part of our sinful nature to be suspicious of, or to look down on those who aren’t a part of our flock. Maybe they have a different cultural background, maybe they like a different style of music, maybe they have a different skin color or speak a different language. The disciples lived at a time when the Samaritans were hated, and all non-Jews were considered unclean dogs. We have plenty of our own foibles and prejudices today. But the Bible reminds us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought. Yes, we are special because Jesus purchased us to be his own by his blood. We are blessed that he called us to faith in Baptism and made us a part of his fold. But we aren’t his only sheep. He has other sheep in other places around the world, sheep of all different colors and cultures, people from every tribe, nation and language. He laid down his life for them too. Because he is God, he is able to love and provide for all his sheep equally. When more sheep are added to the fold no one suffers. In fact, they end up being blessed by the spiritual gifts and talents that the others bring to the fold with them.
Throughout the Bible we are reminded that there is only one race, the human race. We are all descendant of Adam and Eve, and then of Noah and his family. It was sinful human pride that caused the separation of peoples at Babel and that causes separation and strife still today. As we realize that in Christ, there is neither Jew or Gentile, that no matter who we are, where we came from or what we look like we are all equally sinful, equally deserving of God’s judgment, and then equally saved by the Good Shepherd who gave his life in our place and then took it up again, we begin to overcome our pride and prejudices. We long to see a glimpse on earth, especially in the church of God, of what it will be like in heaven where there will be only one flock made up of believers in Jesus from every tribe, people, nation and language, all gathered around the throne and giving eternal praise to the lamb who was slain and rose again, the one and only Good Shepherd.
Our Good Shepherd was commissioned by the Father to come to earth and rescue us wandering sheep. He came with the authority to do everything he needed to do in order to rescue us. He had the willingness and the authority to give up his life in our place. As he told the disciples, if he had chosen to do so he could have summoned thousands of angels to come and rescue him. As the one who healed every sickness and disease, calmed the storm, walked on water, cast out demons and raised the dead, he could have escaped at any time, and even come down from the cross. But he chose to give up his life in our place. No one took his life from him. He said from the cross, Father into your hands I commit my spirit. And he had authority to take up his life again as we just celebrated on Easter. He rose from the dead in victory on the third day.
Think about what it means that your Good Shepherd has that kind of authority! He told his disciples that all authority in heaven on earth had been given to him.
Are you concerned about the future? Are you worried about what to eat or drink? Are you worried about housing or clothing? Are you worried about the evil in the world, about the attacks of Satan? Whatever it is that troubles you, Jesus, your Good Shepherd has authority over it. He can provide mana from heaven and water from a rock if necessary. He can make sure your shoes don’t wear out. He’s already defeated Satan and has given you the power to resist him and make him flee by calling on the name of your Good Shepherd. He promises to provide you with green pastures and lead you beside quiet waters, to be with you all the way through the valley of the shadow of death itself so that you can dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Trust him to do what he promises no matter what!
Yes, the video of the sheep who is freed from the ditch only to fall back in a few seconds later reminds us of ourselves. How thankful we are that we have a Good Shepherd who doesn’t ever give up on us, who has the power and authority to provide for us and to protect us from any trouble until he guides us all the way to heaven. How wonderful to know that he will do this because he gave his life in our place and has taken his life up again so that we can know that we will dwell with him in the house of the Lord forever.