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.

Second Sunday after Easter (Misericordias domini)(John 10:11-16)

Bethlehem Lutheran & Bethel Lutheran Church, Lebanon & Sweet Home, OR
Second Sunday after Easter (Misericordias domini) + April 15, 2018
Text: John 10:11-16

“A Psalm of David. 1The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 3He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. 5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Psalm 23)
But what does that look like here on earth, and day to day?  To care for His flock, Jesus appoints shepherds (that’s what the title pastor means).  He said to Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?…Feed my lambs…Tend my sheep…Feed my sheep.” (John 21:15-17)
Jesus does not hire employees; He calls men to shepherd His flock.  That’s why the language and practice of trying to compare a pastor’s work to that of another job doesn’t fit.  Pastors do not work 40-hour weeks.  If he does, you’re out of luck if your husband dies on Friday, or if you’re in the hospital at 11pm on a Sunday night.  A hired hand will leave the office, and you will not be able to get ahold of him because he will shut his phone off.
Why?  Because there is no bond of love.  The hireling is in it for the paycheck and not much more.  The Lord requires love of His pastors, and you can’t put that on a job description or measure it in a quarterly review the way you can other workers.
The Good Shepherd calls pastors to shepherd His flock, to tend to them whenever and wherever they may be—whether they are in the hospital in Portland or having a family crisis on what most people get off as a holiday.  It’s an earthly reflection of how the Chief Shepherd Himself is with us.
This is what is so significant at those points in the service when the pastor faces the congregation—the absolution, the readings, the sermon, the pax domini, and the benediction.  These are all sacred points in the divine service where it is not just the man who speaks, but the pastor speaks in the stead and by the command of the Good Shepherd.
Because the pastor isn’t an employee, it is unnatural for the flock to become an executive board to manage their pastor.  At times they will, and they have in many places—but this isn’t the way it’s supposed to be.  The Gentiles lord it over each other and exercise authority, but it shall not be so among you.[1]  It’s quite unnatural for a congregation to talk in terms of “getting their money’s worth” out of their pastor.  If a congregation has a faithful pastor who loves them, those Christians are blessed beyond anything that money can buy.
But it can’t be ignored that the men the Lord appoints, starting with St. Peter, are sinners.  Although they are called to “Shepherd the flock of God which is among them” (1 Peter 5:1), they just as much are in need of daily forgiveness.  They themselves struggle with weak faith, pride, they hurt people with their words and actions.  Their sinful failings bring shame upon the Office of pastor which the Lord has entrusted to them.  Their words and actions can do real, sometimes irreparable damage to the faith the Lord’s little lambs.  To put it plainly, pastors are just as bad as the people they are called to lead.  The only difference, perhaps, is that they have the devil’s target on their back, and experience more frequent spiritual attack.  They need the Good Shepherd just as much as anyone.
11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12He 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. 13He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (John 10:11–15)
The Lord arranges things this way because He knows that His flock needs this.  Christians are people who need congregations, who need shepherds.  They need someone to love them with a steadfast love, both when things are good and when they get ugly.  The sheep need someone who feeds them, even when some of the louder ones complain about doctrine as “worthless manna.”  God’s flock needs a shepherd who will stick with them, even when they deal low blows and make the complaints personal.
The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep—all Christians, both pastors and laity.  24He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. 25For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24–25)  Again, He did it because we need it.  We often find ourselves wandering from our Shepherd.  His Word becomes burdensome and we instead lean on our own understanding.  We stay away from church after disappointments and hurts. Even within the church, fights break out among believers because of jealousy, fear, and greed.  The human limitations and failings of this divine relationship cloud our vision of what the Lord is doing among us.
Even in the valley of the shadow of death, our Good Shepherd tends us.  He sends His Word of grace and peace from heaven to purify our hearts.  He feeds us with His very own Body and Blood in the Sacrament for our forgiveness, restoration, and strength of body and soul.   We can thank Him that He has continued steadfast among His flock in this place, and He continues His work: “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.”
Let us pray,
Faithful Shepherd, You are ever with us.  In divine love, You laid down your life for us. We thank you evermore that You cause this life-giving Word to be preached among us.  Support our shepherd and bless his service in among us. Guide us with your Word and move us by Your Spirit to receive your tending gladly and follow where you lead, in the way that leads to eternal life.  In Your precious, saving Name we pray. Amen.
Note which didn’t fit in the sermon:
It’s true that in Matthew 9, when the Lord sees the crowds harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, He does call those He sends “laborers.”  But that’s an incomplete picture because those he sends are called to do so much more than a simple wage-earner.  Most of the Apostles He sent gave up their lives in the service of the harvest.
[1] Mark 10:42-45