Your Shepherd, Your Lord
Third Sunday of Easter
April 30, 2017
What does it mean to believe in God? Who is God? The fact that there are many different religions shows that many people believe differently about God—who God is, what God does. I was recently at a gathering of clergy where not only many different Christian denominations were present but several different religions. The prayer that was offered by a Christian pastor was prayed to God. The prayer was to God, not God the Father, or Jesus Christ, or the Triune God; just God. I couldn’t help but think that anyone could have prayed that prayer and believe they were praying to the true God, except for atheists, of course, because they don’t believe in God.
But what is it, specifically, we believe about God, who God is? In the Creed we confess that He is the Maker of heaven and earth. And we also confess that we believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord. And we further confess that we believe in the Holy Spirit. The Christian confession of faith in God is the God who is Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; not just God.
And it’s worth noting that in the Creed, the Second Article, the second part of the Creed, goes to greater effort to confess who Jesus Christ is, namely, that He is God’s only Son, our Lord. The apostle Paul says in 1Corinthians 12 that no one can say “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit. In Romans 10 he says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” When Jesus asked the disciples who they believed that He was, Peter declared, “You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God.” And perhaps in an even more fitting confession of faith, when Peter really needed help, when he was drowning he cried out to Jesus, “Lord, save me!”
There is something so specific here that it cannot be underestimated. And if we ignore it we lose the true God. The specific thing being taught in the Bible and that we confess in the Creed is that Jesus is Lord. In the Catechism in the meaning of the Second Article of the Creed we confess, “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord.” And then we go on to confess what that means, what it means that Jesus, Son of God, begotten of the Father, and Son of Man, born of the Virgin Mary, is our Lord: “who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”
There is no God apart from the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the Lord. This means two things for you. Who He is for you and who He is for others. Who He is for you is that He is your Lord. Who He is for others is that He either is their Lord or desires that He be their Lord.
What does it mean for you that Jesus is your Lord? In the Gospel reading Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” This is who your Lord is. He has brought you into His fold. He cares for you and protects you. You are His. But notice what Jesus says about Himself as the Good Shepherd. It is very specific. “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” He has a personal stake in you and your life and your welfare. He lays down His life for you. This is what we confess in the Creed, as we said in the meaning of the Second Article, “who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death.”
He says that the hired hand is not the shepherd. He does not own the sheep. When he sees the wolf coming he leaves the sheep and flees. He leaves the door wide open for the wolf to come in and snatch up the sheep. Jesus says that he’s just a hired hand and so cares nothing for the sheep.
So He states again, as if to emphasize the point, “I am the Good Shepherd.” This is who Jesus is, He is your Lord, the Good Shepherd. And to distinguish Himself from the hired hand, He says, “I know My own and My own know Me.” He knows His own, He is their Lord, their Good Shepherd; not a mere hired hand.
But notice also, who He is. He is the true God. He says He knows His own and His own know Him, “just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father.” This is the intimate union of the true God—He, as He says elsewhere in the Bible, and the Father are one. It is a mystery how God the Father and God the Son can be in perfect unity, but we simply marvel at it being so. The true God, the Lord, is the one who knows His Father just as His Father knows Him. And look at the point Jesus is making about this, He knows us and we know Him in the same way!
And since He is the true Lord, the Good Shepherd, He can’t help but repeat what it means that He is Lord and so He says again, “and I lay down My life for the sheep.” This is the great difference between the true God and the gods of every other religion. The God of the Bible, the God of Christianity, is the God who gave His Son who in turn gave His life. He lays down His life for the sheep.
To show, though, that He did not lay down His life only for some, He goes on to say that He has “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.” Jesus laid down His life for the sin of the world. He died on the cross not just for some but for all. Though many people believe in many different gods, He desires to bring them all into His fold so that they can know what it means to have a shepherd, the Good Shepherd. So that they can know who the true God is, that He is Lord, who laid down His life for them.
The apostle John is the one who recorded these words of Jesus. Listen to his beautiful statement of what it means to know true love, in 1John 3: “By this we know love, that He laid down his life for us.” Love is known in the true God, the Good Shepherd, the one who laid down His life for us. He is the Lord.
In the book of Hebrews this blessing is given: “May the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do His will.” This beautiful blessing is not a generic sentiment, but a glorious statement that the true God blesses you in His Son, the great Shepherd of the sheep, and He does so by the blood of the eternal covenant! He saves you by His laying down His life for you!
In the New Testament the apostles go back time and again to this central truth: Jesus is Lord, He laid down His life. In the Epistle reading the apostle Peter says, “He 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. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
The passage from 1John quoted earlier continues: “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” John is not saying that we do what Christ has done. He alone is Lord, He alone is the Good Shepherd. We can, because Jesus laid down His life for us, lay down our lives for others, helping them in their needs. We do not act as a hired hand, but genuinely love others. When our Lord has loved us by laying down His life for us, we lay down our lives for others, loving them selflessly.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He is the Lord. He laid down His life for you so that you may be in His fold forever. Amen.