Easter 4 Good Shepherd Sunday
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
April 22, 2018
Acts 4:1-12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24, John 10:11-18

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            Every once in a while when I am out at a fancier restaurant I will order lamb chops.  Lamb has a distinctive, slightly gamey, delicate taste and the meat is soft and juicy; different from beef and chicken.  I like nice, medium rare lamb chops. 

            I like lamb.   Wolves love lamb.  Love it.  Lamb chops, lamb shoulder, lamb shank, lamb loin, lamb ribs.  Wolves love lamb. 

            Now when I eat lamb and enjoy it the shepherd is happy because his lamb has been sold at market and ended up on a plate just as the shepherd intended.  The shepherd raised the lamb and made money selling the lamb. 

            When the wolf eats lamb and enjoys it the shepherd is angry and sad.  One of his little lambs was stolen from him by the wolf and brutally killed.  The lamb did not get to do what the shepherd intended.  The lamb was taken from its intended destiny and destroyed by the wolf.  Shepherds hate wolves because the wolves want to hurt sheep.

            Shepherds will do what they need to do to protect their sheep from wolves.  In the United States wolves were pretty much eliminated from the lower 48 states by the mid 1900s.  Wolves were then put on the endangered species list, bred in captivity and released into the wild and their numbers have been increasing.  This has been good for the ecosystems in Yellowstone National Park and elsewhere as the wolves help control the deer and elk populations.  Good news for the wolves, bad news for the sheep and the shepherds.  Shepherds still want to protect their sheep, but face legal trouble if they hurt a wolf.  There are people who want to protect the wolves and people that want to protect the sheep and there is tension about how to best do both.  Now sheep are just sheep and wolves are just wolves and we can discuss how many sheep we are willing to allow to be killed in order to protect the wolves. 

            In our Bible texts for today the sheep are not just sheep and the wolf is not just a wolf.  The sheep are precious souls bought by the blood of Jesus.  The sheep are you and me and our families and loved ones, our acquaintances and enemies, people we know and people we don’t know.  Sheep are the beloved ones Jesus has died for.  The wolf is the devil; the father of evil and lies.  The wolf wants to destroy the sheep.  The wolf wants to tear you up and kill you and consume you so that you are apart from God forever.  So many lambs are taken from their intended destiny and destroyed by the wolf. 

            Jesus is the good shepherd.  Jesus declares in John 10:11, “I am the good shepherd.”  The Good Shepherd protects the sheep from the wolf.  Jesus is the good shepherd of Psalm 23.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd who leads, restores, comforts, protects, anoints, feeds, provides.

            Jesus is the Good Shepherd like David who defended his sheep from lions and bears. 

            Jesus is the Good Shepherd as opposed to the bad shepherds of Ezekiel 34:80 “… because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep…

            Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  Jesus loves His sheep.  Jesus puts his life on the line to fight the wolf.  Jesus lays down his life in battle with the wolf.

The devil wants to tear you apart.  The devil wants to take you from your intended destiny and destroy you.  The devil wants you to wander away from the Good Shepherd and fully indulge in sin so that your sin separates you from God, eats you alive and destroys you from within. 

            Now, it takes a brave, committed shepherd to engage a wolf in battle, especially in David’s or Jesus’ time.  This isn’t shooting the wolf from 100 yards with a scoped rifle.  This is going up one on one against the wolf with a long stick with a big knot on one end.  Now, when confronted by a wolf a shepherd has choices.  Run away.  Stand by and watch as the wolf takes a sheep.  Or confront the wolf and drive it away.  The first two choices have no risk for the shepherd but are risky for the sheep.  The third option could get the shepherd hurt or killed.  But it is the option that protects the sheep. 

            Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  Jesus gives all to protect the sheep.  And the wolf he battles is no ordinary wolf.  You are no ordinary sheep.  Jesus does not run away, Jesus does not just let the wolf take a few sheep.  There are no acceptable losses.  You are too precious.  Jesus lays down His life to pay the price for the sin of the whole world so that the devil loses his authority to accuse you of your sin. 

The devil wants to tear you apart.  The devil wants to take you from your intended destiny and destroy you.  The devil wants you to wander away from the Good Shepherd and fully indulge in sin so that your sin separates you from God, eats you alive and destroys you from within. 

If that doesn’t work, the devil will use your sin against you.  The devil loves to hold your sin up in front of you and shame you with it.  “Look at what you have done.”  He uses old sins, new sins, big sins, little sins; whatever works best on you.  The devil is the master accuser.  The devil knows how to dig up old iniquities to bring up fresh shame and guilt.  “Look at that sin.  What if the people sitting around you at church could see what you have done?  How could God ever forgive someone who has done that?  Shame on you.  Guilt on you.  Disgrace on you.”

            The devil is so good at accusing that you can forget.  Satan is so good at making you feel guilty that you can forget.  You can forget that Jesus is your Good Shepherd.  You can forget that the Lord is your Shepherd, you shall not want. You can forget that Jesus laid down His life to pay the price for your sins.  You can forget that Jesus marked you as His own through water and the Word of God in Holy Baptism.  You can forget that Jesus calls you by name.  You can forget…but God does not forget.  God knows your name.  God remembers His promise to you that your sins are forgiven and you belong to Him.  You have been marked in baptism as a sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd.  Stay with the shepherd.  The shepherd will protect you.  The shepherd stays with His sheep to keep the wolves away.  Sheep together in the flock with the shepherd are safe; they are loved and forgiven.  Jesus’ flock is not an exclusive group.  Jesus wants all the sheep to be in His flock.  He calls all sheep to follow Him but sheep like to wander and sheep can be led astray.  The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander.  Jesus dies for sheep that seem always to believe that the grass is greener in the next pasture over. 

            Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is the sacrificial Lamb of God and allows Himself to be torn apart by the wolf and His minions.  Fists and sticks and thorns and whip and nails and spear tear apart the spotless Lamb of God.  The Lamb sheds His blood for you.  Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 

            Jesus paid your debt.  Jesus paid the price for your sin.  Jesus paid the price for you even though you are not a good sheep.  Despite that you do not love enough, you do not struggle against sin enough, and you love to wander away from God and hang out in the devil’s playground.  Jesus still loves you.  Jesus loves you despite who you are; despite what you have done.  Jesus lays down His life for you.  Jesus takes up His life for you.

            You see what Jesus has done for you and what He calls you to do for each other.  16 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. 

            This is what we do as sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd.  Not in order to get into the flock.  You were baptized into the flock.  You are already in the flock.  This is how you act when you are in the flock, because you are in the flock.  You believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and you love one another, just as He has commanded.  As a sheep in the flock of the Good Shepherd you listen to the voice of the Shepherd and you follow Him.  With the shepherd you are safe.  Alone you are wolf food.

            Beware of false teachers; false under shepherds; false pastors.  There are so many around who pretend to be under shepherds of the Good Shepherd but they do not speak for the Good Shepherd.  15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  Matthew 7:15

            Beware of the devil and his minions.  The devil prowls like a roaring lion.  The devil stalks you like a wolf hungry for lamb chops.  Stay with the Good Shepherd; do not wander off by yourself.  Stay with the Good Shepherd in the green pastures of the rich forgiveness of the bread of life.  Stay with the Good Shepherd by the refreshing living waters of His Word.  Stay with the Good Shepherd through this valley of the shadow of death.  Stay safe from the wolf and dwell in the house of the Lord forever.