Third Sunday of Easter (John 10:11-16)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Third Sunday of Easter (Misericordias Domini) + May 5, 2019

Baptism of Lincoln Thomas Vorderstrasse

Text: John 10:11-16

Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” But what is meant by “good”?  When you want to find out more in Holy Scripture, you go to the original languages—Greek in the New Testament and Hebrew in the Old.[1]  In His wisdom, God chose these languages to record His Holy Word for generations.[2]  So, to learn what is meant by “Good Shepherd,” we go to the Greek.

In Greek, the Holy Spirit directed John to use kalos in this passage.  Kalos means noble or virtuous.  There’s another word for good, agathos, which is more descriptive of qualities or moral convictions a person has.[3]

But kalos—noble or virtuous—is used here.  It’s also what describes the wine at the Wedding in Cana (2:10), and later in chapter 10 of Jesus’ good works.  Kalos is about meeting an objective standard, a code of conduct, of someone fulfilling the highest and best he can be.

It may seem pretty rudimentary to be analyzing what “good” means, but we live in an environment where anyone is free to make his or her mind about what is good.  Good could mean pleasurable, helping me meet my own personal goals, or having qualities that are popular at moment.

As a result, people can’t agree on what is good or evil, virtuous or base.  The argument goes that pleasure is good, so you should pursue whatever is pleasurable to you as long as it doesn’t immediately impact other people.  Whether its to use drugs or not, who to pair up with and how long, whether to provide for yourself or mooch off others—all such things are left up to individuals and no authority dares to call their bluff.

It sounds much like what the Lord said through Isaiah about the people of his day: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (5:20). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were an objective, unchangeable standard for good, an ideal to which we strive and model our life?  From God there is a template of what is noble and virtuous versus what is depraved and gross.

Today, into this foggy human mess of selfish ambition, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.”  He first establishes who He is, the I Am.[4]  He is God who made all that exists—visible and invisible—including us as creatures.  “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” (Psalm 95:6-7)  He is our Maker, and He has every right to determine what those made in His image ought to be like.  It’s sad proof of our wretched hearts and minds that we question and ignore the very Word by which we exist and have life.

Good Shepherd”—We must learn from Him what good is, because our fathers and us have believed the Serpent’s lie—“you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).  It’s not just the corrupting influence of unbelievers; the evil lies within.  We say we have “good common sense” but all too often our Creator finds us fighting for and making excuses for seems right to us, but is evil in His eyes.

The very reason you are here, gathered into the place where God and His Good are known is by the powerful working of His Spirit.  “Where shall I go from your Spirit?” the psalmist wonders, but truly, “Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.” (Psalm 139:7, 12).  God shines through the darkness of your heart.

So if we are to learn anew from our Creator what truly is good, let us look to Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  This is the perfect act of devotion that it took to bring us back to God.  This is what we just meditated on in the death of Jesus—from His agony in the garden, betrayal, cruel mockery, pain, to His death—for Him it was all intentional, done for our sake.  This is the cause for great joy, the alleluias, the hymns of praise, because Jesus our Shepherd has done this for us and gathered us into His fold!

Remember how kalos is the word for virtuous?  In contrast to this virtue is the self-serving cowardice of the hired hand.  He has no dedication because he has nothing to lose.  But the Good Shepherd holds nothing back and places everything on the line, becomes one with us.  He refuses to let His creation be debased by Satan, sin, and death.  He counts them enemies for the sake of saving His creatures and He tackles them head on.

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”  Not only does He sacrifice all for the sake of gaining life for us, but He knows us.  Here again, the original languages are helpful.  Know in Scripture means more than head knowledge of facts.[5]  It means to have an intimate, shared bond.

“Adam knew his wife, and she conceived a son.” (Gen. 4:1)  Husbands know their wives (or they should), and wives know their husbands.  Sure it includes what to get her for mother’s day or her birthday, but it’s really about thinking of and acting in the way that best serves the other’s needs, setting aside what would serve your needs for the sake of theirs.

When our Good Shepherd says knows His own, our human knowing only gives us a faint glimpse.  He knows us intimately, incarnationally—“Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” (All of Psalm 139 is a beautiful meditation on this knowing.)  He has intimate knowledge of each of us—our joys and pains, how we think, what our strengths and weaknesses are, our past and our future.  Nothing escapes His notice. What an incredible wonder that this doesn’t make Him forsake us!  Instead, because He laid down His life for the sake of His sheep—for you—He draws all the closer because He earnestly desires for you to have life eternally.

He also says, “My own know me.”  His Spirit has enlightened your minds and hearts to know Him with that same intimate bond.  It’s not too much or blasphemous to say you know what God thinks of you.  Yes, He sees all your sins which make you unworthy to stand before Him, but you also know His extraordinary, divine love which atoned for your sins and sought you out!  You know how God thinks, what God delights in, and what is pleasing in His sight.  Pore over His Word, leave behind the laziness of your weak flesh, so that you can know Him better each day of this life!  Look forward to the Day when God’s enemies and yours—sin, death, and Satan—lie in ruins. “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)

This morning, we witnessed a beautiful thing in God’s sight.  Before it, we sang, “Dearest Jesus, we are here, Gladly your command obeying; With this child we now draw near In response to Your own saying That to You it shall be given As a child and heir of heaven.” (LSB 592:1)  This is truly a good thing—a noble and virtuous thing—for parents to bring their child to Jesus in faith, trusting the Word He has spoken: “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15 NKJV)  It is also a noble thing for parents to raise their children in the faith—what the world calls brainwashing and empty tradition, Jesus calls good.  It is a noble thing to sacrifice time and love to drag oneself out of bed on the weekend, because however good sleep seems, the faith that is created and strengthened here is better.  It’s the easier thing to stay home, but it turns out that’s the basest thing, because it results in your children being swept away by the Devil and the unbelieving world.

So repent and bear noble fruits.  Let the good shepherd gather you into His fold.  Hear His voice of forgiveness, and be made new for noble and good things in the sight of your Creator.  Amen.


[1] Portions of Daniel and Ezra are in Aramaic.

[2] Hebrew was the language of Eber and his descendants (Genesis 10:24, 11:14-15)

[3] Agathos is used in Nathanael’s snarky comment about Nazareth (1:46), the judgment (5:29), and human opinion of Jesus (7:12).

[4] Exodus 3:14

[5] Hebrew is YDA (yadá). This was brought into Yiddish as “yadda” and the phrase “Yadda, yadda!” means “You know the rest.”  Ironically, this phrase is usually used to brush off insignificant details.

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