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The Shepherd and Overseer of Your Souls
Third Sunday of Easter
April 15, 2018
Good Shepherd Sunday! There are few things in the Bible Christians receive greater comfort from than Jesus being our Shepherd. Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd. One of the most well-known and most beloved passages of Scripture, the Twenty-Third Psalm, declares, The Lord is my Shepherd. In the Old Testament reading God Himself declares, I Myself will be the Shepherd of My sheep. Peter says in the Epistle reading that Jesus is the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
God Himself gives this comfort, He is our Shepherd. What does it mean that He is the Good Shepherd? Jesus says in the Gospel reading, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” You are the sheep and He lays down His life for you. The beautiful image of Jesus being the Good Shepherd we often think of as comforting because we know He takes care of us. We are His sheep, He is our Shepherd. But the true comfort is that He gives His life for us. He saves us by giving of His very life.
There’s another person Jesus brings into the picture. It is the hired hand. The hired hand is brought on to take care of the sheep. But we know what that means. It means he needs a job but he’s not going to lose his life over a bunch of dumb sheep. As Jesus says, they are not his own. He just works there. When he sees the wolf coming he leaves the sheep and flees. So, yeah, the hired hand takes care of the sheep, that’s what he’s been hired to do. But not really. When they are threatened by their mortal enemy the hired hand is out of there. The sheep are exposed. They are defenseless. The wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them.
Jesus has now given you the true and great comfort of being your Good Shepherd. It’s not so much that He takes care of you. A hired hand can do that. He is the Good Shepherd. He will not leave you. He will not flee. Jesus is showing you what it means that He is the Good Shepherd. He protects you. He doesn’t just take care of you, He lays down His for you. He doesn’t flee the enemy, He comes between you and him.
Your mortal enemy is Satan. He seeks to attack you and scatter you. He doesn’t want you to remain in the fold of the Church. He wants you to be destroyed. Sheep who are scattered are quickly left to the dangers of wolves and other attackers. When Satan attacks you you are left to mortal danger. This is what we prayed in the Collect of the Day, that we need to be “rescued from the peril of everlasting death.”
Satan has already been damned to hell. He continues to assault the sheep of God’s flock so that they end up in hell for eternity. This is what Jesus, your Good Shepherd is protecting you from. If you are left out on your own you will be defenseless against Satan and will suffer in hell forever. A hired hand has no care whether you end up in hell. In Matthew 25 Jesus says that on Judgment Day He will say to those who do not believe in Him, “Depart from Me to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Jesus says the hired hand flees from the wolf because he cares nothing for the sheep. But in direct contrast to him is Jesus Himself. He says, “I am the Good Shepherd and I know My own and My own know Me.” Satan hates you. He is your mortal enemy. Any pastor who will not tell you of your mortal peril is a hired hand and does not care about your soul. Jesus is your Good Shepherd. He knows you. He gives His life for you.
Now Jesus speaks of your relationship with Him in a stunning way. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father.Jesus says in the Scriptures that He and the Father are one. The Father and the Son are so intimately connected that they are in perfect unity. He is your Good Shepherd. He doesn’t just take care of you. He knows you as if you are as intimately united with Him as His Father is with Him.
He brings His teaching of what it means that He is your Good Shepherd back to where He began: He lays down His life for His sheep. This is the ultimate expression of His love for you. He protects you by giving His life to save yours. It is in doing so that He has defeated your enemy, the devil. In suffering eternal damnation on the cross Jesus rescued you from it. His life for yours.
This is what it means for you. But is that all it means? Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. It is necessary for me to bring them also and they will hear My voice, and there will be on flock, one Shepherd.” The true comfort of Jesus being the Good Shepherd is not just for you. Jesus died on the cross for everyone. He wants all to be in His fold. He wants to protect everyone from Satan and rescue them from eternal death.
What this means for you is that you can tell others who do not know Jesus. They are defenseless against Satan and don’t even know it. The Church has recognized this throughout the ages and has engaged in missions around the world and evangelism in its own communities. Often it has been against great odds. At times the Church has been persecuted for proclaiming the Gospel. Even though we have freedom in our country society is more and more opposed to Christianity and the truth of the Gospel. When you tell others who Jesus is or you stand up for Christian morality you may be condemned as judgmental or hateful.
Remember who your Good Shepherd is. He will protect you. As we hear in the Twenty-Third Psalm, He prepares a table before you in the presence of your enemies. Even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you will fear no evil. He lays down His life for you. He places before you at His Table His very life He gave for you on the cross. In the bread and wine of His Table He gives you His body and blood. In His life, His body broken, His blood shed, He gives you strength and protection from the assaults of the devil. With His life you have life. You are forgiven.
Peter speaks of Christ in the Epistle reading of Jesus’ saving work for you. He speaks of how you like sheep have gone astray. It is so hard for you to keep from sinning. It is so hard for you to trust in your Good Shepherd in all things. So he says, “Now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” You continue to come here where He prepares His Table for you. Where you are given the strength to go out into each week to endure temptation and the assaults of the devil. You are given strength to speak the Gospel to those you know even when it causes suffering.
Yesterday I was at the Catechism Convocation and with about fifteen minutes left for the second speaker I got up and stood in the back after sitting for two hours. A woman got up from her seat and came over near me and taking her folder reached down to slowly slide a bee on the floor toward the door. I thought I should help and so I looked down at the table next to me with Concordia University materials thinking I should offer to place a paper on the bee and smash it. Then I thought I could just step on the bee and crush it. But then I saw what she was really doing. She was sliding the folder gently to the bee and it crawled onto it and she carried the bee outside and let it go. I realized that I was trying to solve the problem of the bee by crushing it. She went up to the bee much in the same way your Lord, your Good Shepherd, comes to you. Gently, guiding you, even carrying you. He does not wish to crush you but to protect you. The staff a shepherd carries isn’t to beat the sheep but to guide them. And if necessary, to pull them from danger using the curved part of the end.
He is your Good Shepherd. He is your Overseer. He protects you. He keeps you from harm. And ultimately, when your last hour comes, you will speak with the Psalmist, “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Amen.