Sermon: The Good Shepherd

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, open our eyes to see you, open our ears to hear your word, set our feet on the way we should walk, and grant us faith to trust you in all things. Amen.

I invite you to open your Bibles with me to John, chapter 10, beginning in verse 11. John 10:11-18. John is in the New Testament – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. As always, you are invite to leave your Bibles open as we read and study God’s word together.

Listen closely and listen well, for these are the very words of God.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, see the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own 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 do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason, the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Once a rabbi was walking through Israel, lost in thought. Without realizing it, he made a wrong turn and found himself walking up to the front of a Roman garrison. He was jostled from his thoughts by a voice which said, “Who are you? What are you doing here?” The rabbi paused, then asked, “How much are they paying you to stand there and ask those questions?” The solider, puzzled, responded with his wage. The rabbi said, “I will pay you double to stand outside my door every day and ask me the same questions, “Who are you? What are you doing here?”

Who are you? What are you doing here? These are the two key questions of life and these are the two questions we will be listen for the answer to this morning: Who is Jesus? What is he doing here? While we will spend time in the whole passage, I believe the answer to both our question are found in one verse. Verse 11: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

First, who is Jesus? What if I told you that in this short statement, “I am the good shepherd,” Jesus is proclaiming to all who have ears to hear, that he is God?

Most often, Jesus tells us he is God by doing what only God can do or taking a title that Scripture tells us should only be claimed by God. We might expect that, if Jesus is God, he would just come out and say, “Hey everyone, I am God.” That is how we would do it, but that is not the way the Bible records it, because that is not the way Jesus does it. Instead, Jesus tells us he is God by doing what only God can do. Also, Jesus tells us he is God by taking titles or names that should only apply to God. Let me give two quick examples before we see how this works in John 10:11.

Early in the gospels, when the paralyzed man is lowered down through the roof, Jesus looks at the man and says, “Your sins are forgiven.” Throughout the Bible, this is something only God can do. Only God can forgive sins, yet Jesus stands there and proclaims that this man’s sins are forgiven. If only God can do it and then Jesus does it, he is saying he is God. The teachers of the law get what Jesus is saying here, because they accuse him of blasphemy – of dishonoring God by what he is saying. Of course, they would be right, except Jesus is God. But they understood that by claiming to do what only God can do, Jesus is claiming to be God.

One more example: Jesus sends his disciples across the Sea of Galilee and a storm kicks up. Then they see Jesus walking upon the water. At this point they are terrified, because they see Jesus walking on the water. Job 9:8 says that it is the LORD “who alone stretched out the heavens and trampled the waves of the sea.” The LORD is the one who walks upon the waves of the sea and the disciples see Jesus walking upon the waves of the sea. No wonder they were terrified. By his actions, Jesus is telling them that he is the LORD, so when he finally gets in the boat, they worshipped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

Jesus tells us that he is God by doing what only God can do and taking titles that should only be given to God. In John 10:11, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” Both halves of this statement are echoes that reveal that Jesus is God.

Back when the people of Israel were enslaved in Egypt, there was an Israelite named Moses who was tending flocks in the wilderness. He came upon a bush that was burning, but was not burned up. And the LORD spoke to Moses from the burning bush and called him to go back to Egypt and lead the people out of bondage. But Moses wasn’t sure he was qualified. Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.’” (Exodus 3:13-14)

When God gives his name to Moses, he says he is I AM. We have not touched on it yet in looking at these ‘I AM’ statements of Jesus, but every time Jesus says ‘I AM,’ he is telling us that he is God. “Tell them that ‘I AM’ has sent me to you.” Jesus says, “I AM the bread of life.” “I AM the light of the world.” “I AM the gate for the sheep.” “I AM the good shepherd.” The ‘I AM’ is emphasized in the Greek, pointing us to the significance of the phrase. Jesus is telling us that he is the I AM, that he is the same one who called out to Moses from the burning bush, saying, “Tell them I AM has sent you to me.” The LORD who brought the people out of Egypt with a mighty hand, the great I AM, has now come in the flesh as the man Jesus Christ to bring his people out of a greater bondage to sin, death, and the devil. The LORD who appeared to Moses and spoke to him face to face, the great I AM, has now come as the man Jesus.

Who is Jesus? Jesus is God, he is the great I AM and every time he says ‘I AM,’ he is proclaiming his identity as God – the only Son of God, begotten from the Father before all ages, God from God, light from light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of the same essence as the Father.

But Jesus also reveals himself to be God by telling us he is the good shepherd. In this, Jesus is taking a title that only applies to God. Who is the good shepherd in scripture? Psalm 23: The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pasture, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. Who is the good shepherd? The LORD. In the Old Testament, the Lord denounces the bad shepherds of Israel, their wicked leaders, and proclaims that he himself will become their good shepherd. So when Jesus says, “I AM the good shepherd,” he is claiming a title that belongs tot he Lord. He is identifying himself with God, revealing himself to be one with the Father, the LORD who is the shepherd of Israel. To say “I AM the good shepherd” is Jesus’ way of saying to us that he is God.

Who is Jesus? He is God himself come for us.

This makes what comes next all the more stunning. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The fullness of what it means for Jesus to be the good shepherd is that he will lay down his life for the sheep. He is God and he will lay down his life for us.

Sheep are vulnerable. If a wolf comes hunting for them, the sheep cannot fight back. They need the shepherd to fight for them. The hired hand, as we heard, won’t do that. The sheep are not his and he does not care for them, certainly not enough to risk himself in a confrontation with a wolf. But the good shepherd will not only fight for the sheep, but sacrifice for the sheep. Jesus tells us that, as the good shepherd, he will lay down his life for the sheep, for us.

He cares for his sheep. He cares for you. The hired hand does not care. Not my sheep, not my problem. Literally, verse 13 says that it is ‘of no concern to them.’ For the hired hand, it is just a job. When it gets tough, when the wolves come out, they leave the sheep and run away. They are concerned with preserving themselves, saving their own skin.  But not the good shepherd.

We all know those people who see us in our pain, in our difficulty, in our struggles and say, “not my problem.” We all know people who see us in deep distress and say, ‘It is none of my concern.” We have all had people ghost on us when we need them most, bail on us when we need their care, or simply leave us to our problems while they take care of themselves.

But that is not the good shepherd. Jesus, God himself come in the flesh for us, has come for us. “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” Jesus has concern for you. Jesus never looks at you and says, “That is none of my concern.” Instead, he knows you and cares for you. You, who are struggling to find a job, Jesus says, “I know my own and my own know me.” You, whose body is riddled with aches and pains, Jesus says, “I know my own and my own know me.” You, who never seem to fit, never seem to find a place, never feel comfortable in your own skin, Jesus says, “I know my own and my own know me.” And when Jesus, the good shepherd, says this, it is the voice of God.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

The more clearly we see who Jesus truly is, the more profoundly we will be struck by exactly what he has come to do. This is why it was so important that we got clear that Jesus is God in the flesh. The LORD of the universe, the one who set the stars in the sky and formed us from the dust, the one who parted the red sea and made the sun stop in its flight, the one who broke the power of Pharaoh by plagues and led his people back out of exile, this God has come in the flesh for us, for you. And Jesus Christ, the good shepherd, has come to die for you. He not only set aside his glory in order to be born humbly and laid in a manger, but he has come to lay down his life, enduring the shameful and excruciating death of the cross, for you.

The love of the good shepherd for his sheep is shaped like a cross. It looks like dying so that they might live. The love and care of the good shepherd looks like humiliation and suffering.

However, the good shepherd laying down his life is not only a demonstration of love, but it is the way of salvation for the sheep. The shepherd lays down his life because the sheep are in danger, the sheep will perish without his sacrifice. The shepherd dies so that the sheep will live. Jesus lays down his life on the cross for sinners because without him we will perish. Jesus dies so that we will live.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” When Jesus says this in John 10, he already knows where the story is going. He already knows that the life he has lived in completely obedience to the Father must go through the cross of Golgotha. He already knows that to be God for us will mean to die for us, in our place, for our sins.

Jesus tells us he does all this for us willingly. Verse 18: “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” As Jesus walks toward the cursed death of the cross, he walks willingly. He does this freely and intentionally. Jesus’ life is not taken, it is given, given for us.

In laying down his life, he gathers the sheep. Verse 16: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Jesus is talking about the Gentiles here. He will lay down his life not only to rescue the sheep of Israel, but to bring in all the sheep of God – Jews and Gentiles – into one flock with one shepherd, Jesus Christ. He hints here at the mission that will be given to the church to proclaim his death and resurrection to the world, so that all the sheep might be gathered in. 

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” But this is not the end. Verse 17: “For this reason the Father loves me, because I law down my life in order to take it up again.” Jesus anticipates that he will be raised from the dead. He knows that the mission he has undertaken with the Father will not involve laying down his life, but taking it up again. It was involve both a wooden cross and an empty tomb.

This morning, I promised that we would hear the answer to two specific questions: Who is Jesus? and What did Jesus come to do? Let’s see if I kept my promise. 

Who is Jesus? Jesus is God himself comes for us. When he says, “I Am the good shepherd,” he reveals his divine nature by taking on names that only belong to God. Jesus is the great I AM, which he tells us in each of the ‘I AM’ statements in the gospel. Jesus is also the good shepherd, which was a title for the LORD in his relationship to Israel. He is the good shepherd who knows his sheep and cares for them. In all these ways, Jesus tells us he is God.

What did Jesus come to do? He came to lay down his life for the sheep. He came willingly to die so that all who belong to Christ might live and be gathered into the one flock of God, the church. He came to die in the place of his sheep, laying down his life so that they might live. Yet, we also heard that this is not the end of the story. Jesus will be raised from the dead, the life he laid down taken up again.

I think I kept my promise about answering those questions, but what are we do with this? I want to suggest two possibilities. First, be captivated by the heights of who Christ is. Scripture teaches us that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully human. Whenever we read in Scripture about the divinity of Jesus Christ or it is impressed upon our hearts or brought to our minds, awe and worship are the proper response. The one who came in the flesh for us is God himself, the second person of the Trinity.

Second, be captivated by the depths of what he did for you. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The Son humbled himself to take on human flesh, humbled himself to be born in a manger, lived an entire life pouring out himself for others, and crowned his life by laying down his life for the sheep. Both the heights of Christ and the depth of the cross are contained in those two short sentences: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” May we respond with awe and worship. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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