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  • Writer's pictureRev. Gerald (Jerry) Reiter, Emeritus

The Shepherd And His Sheep

Fourth Sunday of Easter


Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.


“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own 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. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.


“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for the sheep. 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. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life - only to 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 authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

John 10:7-18

 

I think that Jesus liked sheep. He probably liked to eat them, and I suppose He had some woolen clothes. I don’t know for sure. But I do know that He liked to talk about them and He liked to use them as examples. He called us sheep that have gone astray – but also as sheep that will be separated from the goats. He even had himself called the Lamb of God.

 

            Jesus used a lot of picture-words to describe himself. The “Good Shepherd” is a well-known one. But in our Gospel lesson today, He also described himself in a less-familiar way when He said, “I am the gate for the sheep.” The Good Shepherd is also the gate to the sheep pen. And He’s also the Lamb of God. I told you He likes sheep! And He’s the only gate to the pen. If someone tries to get into the Heavenly pasture by any other way, Jesus says that person is a thief and a robber. Do you know why Jesus is the only gate into God’s sheep pen?

 

            First of all, He went out through a gate, the gate of His Heavenly Father’s mansion. He left His Father’s house to be born as one of us in a stable, and to live, die, and rise again for our sake, and for our salvation.

 

            Secondly, He had a gate slammed shut in His face, on the cross. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He cried out. The Father slammed Heaven’s gate right in Jesus’ face! Jesus pounded on the gate until His knuckles were bloody red and raw. But there was no answer! Jesus was alone in the fire and God-forsakenness of Hell for us – for you, and for me. He endured that torture while hanging on the cross so that you and I might look forward to the blessing of Heaven – God’s sheep pen.

 

            Thirdly, Jesus went through a gate, the gate of death, on that Good Friday. And the original Dr. Death – Satan – must have thought he’d won the victory over the Son of God.

 

            And fourth, Jesus came back out of the gate of death on Easter. And by going through that gate, and coming back out again, He has become our gate to the Heavenly pasture.

 

            A sheep pen in Israel was a yard surrounded by a high stone wall to keep out wolves and thieves. Several shepherds would put their herds of sheep in a sheep pen overnight to keep them safe. In the morning, the shepherds would call to their sheep by name and lead them out to pasture. The sheep knew their shepherd’s voice and followed him.

 

            Notice that when Jesus used this figure of speech, He said He calls His own sheep by name – and not by number! We’re not just an anonymous digit to the Good Shepherd – not just a number like we are with Social Security, or our VISA or MasterCard account. Jesus said, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.”!

 

            Jesus knows each one of us just as the Father knows Him! That passes all understanding! And He calls us by name! He calls us in Baptism; He calls us through His Word; and He calls us in the Sacrament of the Altar.

 

            And why does He call us? To give us a lecture on how we should live? Or a spanking for being naughty? No – He calls us, He says, to lead us out – out of bondage to the Devil, sin, death, and Hell – to lead us to good and safe grazing in His pasture. Jesus calls His sheep out for pardon and life, not for condemnation and death.

 

            And, “When He has brought out all His own, He goes on ahead of them.” This means we don’t have to be afraid of the future. The Good Shepherd is going ahead of us, making the way good and safe for us. As David wrote in the 23rd Psalm, He makes us lie down in green pastures; He leads us beside quiet waters; He guides us in paths of righteousness; He even prepares a table for us right under the noses of our enemies!

 

            And we don’t have to fear death, either. He goes before us, even in that experience. He knows the way, every inch of it. He walked through the darkness of Gethsemane and Calvary, and He’ll walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death, too!

 

            The Good Shepherd came to give, not to get. Thieves and robbers come to get – to get possessions from people, to con them, to take them for all they’re worth. But not so with the Good Shepherd. If He had come to get obedience from us, for example, His take would be pretty small, wouldn’t it? It really wouldn’t pay Him to rob us!

 

            But he came to give – to give His life as the purchase price for our pardon. Instead of beating His sheep for their strayings, the Good Shepherd beats himself – on the cross!

 

            And now to His sheep He says, “Because I live, you will live also.” No other shepherd can make that promise. Only Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, can say, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

 

            We can never say enough about our shepherd – but what about the sheep? What does the shepherd say about you and me?

 

1)      He says “The sheep listen to His voice.” We hear the shepherd’s voice in His words, “I died for you, and for you I rose again. Believe in me and you won’t perish, but you’ll have everlasting life – with me and my Father.” The shepherd’s voice is heard in His supper, too: “This is my body; this is my blood; do this in remembrance of me.” God has forgiven and forgotten. His meal proves it.

 

2)      The shepherd also says “His sheep follow Him.” This means we go where He has gone. He went to a cross. So must we. Not literally, but with a daily death to sin. Remember your Baptism. The “old man” is under water. It’s hard to hold him there, but with God’s help, we can have a daily death to sin.

 

3)      He came out of His grave. So must we. Every day is Easter day. Peter wrote, “He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness… for you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the shepherd… of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:24-25)

 

There was a rich man who loved to ride his horse through his vast estate to congratulate himself on his wealth. One day, while riding, he came upon Hans, and old tenant farmer who had sat down to eat his lunch in the shade of a great oak tree. Hans’ head was bowed in prayer. When he looked up, he said, “Oh, excuse me sir, I didn’t see you. I was giving thanks for my food.”

 

            “Hmph!” snorted the rich man. Looking at the coarse dark bread and cheese that made up the old man’s lunch, he said, “If that was all I had to eat, I don’t think I’d feel like giving thanks.”

 

            “Oh, it’s all I need,” said Hans, “but it’s remarkable that you should come by today, sir. I, well I feel I should tell you, I had a strange dream just before I woke up this morning.”

 

            “And what did you dream?” asked the rich man with an amused smile.

 

            The old man answered, “There was beauty and peace all around, and yet I heard a voice say, ‘The richest man in the valley will die tonight.’”

 

            “Dreams!” cried the rich man. “Nonsense!” And he galloped away.

 

            Hans prayed as he watched horse and rider disappear.

 

            “Die tonight,” thought the rich man. It was ridiculous, of course! No use going into a panic. The best thing to do about the old man’s dream was to forget it. But he couldn’t forget it. He’d felt fine, at least until Hans had told him about his stupid dream.

 

            That evening he called his doctor, who was also a personal friend. “Could you come over?” he asked, “I need to talk to you.” When the doctor arrived, he told him of the old man’s dream – how the richest man in the valley would die that night.

 

            “Sounds like poppycock to me,” the doctor said, “but for your peace of mind, let’s examine you.” A little later, his examination complete the doctor said, “You’re a strong and healthy as that horse of yours. There’s no way you’re going to die tonight.” The rich man thanked his friend and told him how foolish he felt for being upset by an old man’s dream…

 

            At about 9 o’clock the next morning a messenger arrived at the rich man’s door. “It’s old Hans,” the messenger said. “He died in his sleep last night.”

 

            The Good Shepherd said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.”

 

            This is Jesus’ lesson on “The Shepherd and His Sheep.” May we diligently and faithfully listen to the voice of our Good Shepherd, and follow Him in our lives.

 

            Amen

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