Apr 14, 2017 – I Am the Good Shepherd
John 10:11-18. 11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 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. This charge I have received from my Father.”
In the midst of this most somber of days we take time to hear Jesus say, ‘I Am the Good Shepherd’. As we close out our look at the scandalous “I Am” statements that Jesus makes in the gospel of John, Jesus’ ‘I Am’ statement today, as much as anything else, leads to this most somber of days. This day, on which Jesus was crucified for the life of the world as we spoke of last night, comes about in no small part because Jesus says, ‘I am the Good Shepherd’. It’s the seeming arrogance of Jesus saying, “I Am, ego emi, Yahweh”, that, in the eyes of the Jewish leadership, deserves death.
They thought that by simply putting Jesus to death they would destroy Him and that His followers, like sheep without a shepherd, would scatter and so solve their problem of keeping the status quo intact. But they were wrong. They were wrong because this was not arrogance on Jesus’ part, it was simply fact. Jesus is God. Jesus is the ‘I Am’ that spoke to Moses out of the burning bush. He is the manna sent down to feed the world.
In the reading from John 10 today Jesus says, “I Am the Good Shepherd”. And He says it not once but twice. If you recall a few Wednesdays ago, we said we’d come back to this role of Jesus as the Good Shepherd when we heard Him say, ‘I Am the gate to the sheepfold’. And at a later Wednesday we spoke about Jesus saying, ‘I am the true vine’ and that He had added that distinction of ‘true’ to His ‘I Am’ statement. And He does that same sort of thing again tonight. And this time, like then, this distinction is aimed clearly at the leadership of the Jews. Tonight, Jesus is making it clear that He is the one and only ‘Good Shepherd’.
Let’s take the context of the second ‘I Am the Good Shepherd’ into account first. Jesus says, 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. This second ‘I Am’ tells us the Good Shepherd has sheep from another sheep pens.
This strikes at the Jewish understanding of salvation being only for Jews. This would have angered not only the leaders, but all good Jews. The sheep not of this Jewish flock that Jesus speaks of are the hated Gentiles. Because of their understanding of the Jewish imagery of sheep and the sheepfold being under the chief shepherd, Yahweh, they would have heard Jesus words as clearly outside the box of who they understood salvation to be for.
In fact, this Jewish misunderstanding of who salvation is for, has been a problem all along in God’s relationship with the Jewish nation. They thought it was for them exclusively, when in Genesis 12, God makes clear that He always wanted to the show the world through, through the Jewish nation, that He loved all people. He had chosen the Jewish nation for this very reason.
Because they were weak, small, and insignificant, God chose them; gave them land that wasn’t theirs, put them into a relationship with Him that they did not deserve – all this to show the world that God’s loved is not earned, merited, or acquired by bribe or barter or any work of man on his own behalf. Rather, salvation rests on God’s grace alone. It was God in His grace that chose the Jews, not the Jews that chose God. And their relationship as the chosen people was so that they could lead others to understand, that God loves them also.
So, when Jesus says today, ‘ego emi the Good Shepherd’ and ‘I have sheep not of this fold’ He was opening their eyes to this true understanding of God’s love. That God’s love was to be for all people of the world. And that it was by the messiah of the Jews through whom that salvation was to be paid in full. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, bore our sins on that tree of crucifixion so that we, the sheep of this ‘other sheep pen’ might be protected by the Good Shepherd.
But let’s go back to the first ‘I Am the Good Shepherd’ in tonight’s reading. It says: “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. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
Here we see Jesus setting up as we said earlier, Himself as the singular or one unique shepherd who is not a mere hired hand. A hired hand, Jesus is saying, such as the Pharisees and the other leaders are, they see the sheep only as a means to selfish gain. The Good Shepherd on the other hand will not run from danger but rather protects and guards His sheep in the face of any and all threats.
The Good Shepherd will even go to death rather than let the sheep be harmed. And that is what Jesus is doing on this day. On this Good Friday Jesus hangs dying between the wrath of God and the sinful people who deserve that wrath. And He, the Good Shepherd, takes that punishment, that injury, that terrible and all consuming anger on Himself. All this He does so that the sheep, those who trust in Him, may be spared, protected, and set free from the punishment we deserved for our sin.
In John 19:30, at His crucifixion, we’re told, When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. When Jesus said, ‘it is finished’ this punishment for sin is what He was talking about. The wrath of God was poured out on Him so that that wrath would have an ending – in death. On Jesus that ending, that death, took place.
Also in John’s gospel, we read the account of the soldiers piercing the side of Jesus to discover if indeed He was dead or if they needed to break His legs. If He wasn’t dead then they would have broken His legs and so forced Him to die quicker through not being able to push Himself up to breathe.
While they weren’t doctors, they knew their craft of torture well enough to know that when you pierced a man’s side in the correct place and blood and water flowed you knew that person was dead. Otherwise the lungs, still working in a live person would have held in the pericardial fluid that looked like water. The point is that Jesus, true God and true man, was dead.
Jesus had to die there on that cross, as my Good Shepherd, because I am not sufficient to lay down my own life. Rather He has chosen to do so in my place. Only the Good Shepherd chooses to lay down His life for His flock.
As He says in today’s reading: The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 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.
Jesus the Good Shepherd, has been faithful in His protecting His flock, faithful unto death, even death on the cross. And as we heard He has authority to take up His life again. And that is our gospel hope. For while our sins are washed away in His blood, His coming resurrection is what guarantees that we have life eternal in Him.
Tonight, we leave here under the protection of His blood. And that is what makes this Friday “good”. And we know that it is by that blood which flowed from His head, His feet, His hands, and His side, that we, and the world, have been given life. “‘I AM’ the Good Shepherd” has seen to that. Amen.
Sermon #885 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO