St. Paul's Lutheran Church
APRIL 22, 2018 4TH SUNDAY AFTER EASTER
“Danger in the Meadow”
I N I
Jesus teaching about Himself as the Good Shepherd may be one of the best known of all His teachings. Together with Psalm 23 it sticks in our minds as an unforgettable picture of our relationship with Jesus: He the Shepherd and we the sheep. Today, as we think about John 10 with the theme “Danger in the Meadow”, we will focus on these three things:
1. our helpless and vulnerable condition as sheep.
2. Satan, the wolf who attacks the sheep.
3. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, laying down His life for the sheep.
In Psalm 23 we hear David writing from the viewpoint of the sheep, relying on the love and care of the Shepherd, who is the LORD God. In John 10 we hear from the Shepherd's point of view. It's interesting to me that Jesus speaks these words in response to what happened in John chapter 9. There Jesus had given sight to a man who had been blind since birth. When the man was questioned by a group of Pharisees, they refused to believe that Jesus' power was from God As a result, they tried to discredit the miracle and bully the man into denying Jesus. They had already made up their minds that anyone who believed that Jesus was the Christ, the Messiah, would be excommunicated – thrown out of their synagogue – cut off from their fellowship. In His words about Himself as the Good Shepherd, Jesus was defending Himself and His ministry as the Messiah, the Christ.
We begin by looking at Our helpless and vulnerable condition as sheep. The Pharisees understood what Jesus meant when calling His followers “sheep.” They knew very well the words of Psalm 23. They lived in an agricultural society, where most people were well acquainted with the bad habits of sheep: great care must be taken in their feeding and watering or they will bloat and kill themselves. They easily wander off and get themselves into serious danger. They are virtually unable to defend themselves from predators.
We are SO MUCH like sheep. Because of original sin, passed on from Adam and Eve to each of us, we are all spiritually helpless. We have no natural defenses against Satan. We are born sinful, so we are naturally prone to DO MORE sin – to feed on it and bloat ourselves with it – and all this leads eventually to death, both earthly death and eternal death.
We are SO MUCH like sheep. We so easily stray away from God and from His path of righteousness. Psalm 23 says: “He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake.” But when left on our own, we don't stay in that path. The author Philip Keller, who has many years of experience as a shepherd, talks about our similarity to sheep: “Scripture points out the fact that … (we) … are a haughty and stubborn lot. 'All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to our own way. (Is.53:6)' And we do this deliberately, repeatedly, even to our own disadvantage. There is something almost terrifying about the destructive self-determination of a human being ...We insist we know what is best for us even though the disastrous results may be self-evident. … We cling to the same habits that we have seen ruin other lives.” (Keller, The Good Shepherd, p.65) Left to ourselves, we wander away from our Maker. Left to ourselves, we ignore our Shepherd/Redeemer.
We are so much like sheep. We are in danger from the sin-filled world around us, and from Satan – the wolf who wants to devour us, and we have no natural means to defend ourselves. We cannot out-run him or out-fight him by our own strength, nor hide from him by our own wisdom. We are dead meat if we try to do any of this alone.
That leads to our second point: Satan, the wolf who attacks the sheep. Satan is like a wolf – intelligent, sly, and powerful in seeking out his prey. Satan is intelligent. He knows our weaknesses. He is sly. He knows how to attack us and sneak up on us unawares. He is powerful, able to produce counterfeit miracles to deceive us. Sometimes just the knowledge of his evil power is enough to paralyze us in fear, like deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming car or like sheep trembling before the glaring eyes and snarling fangs of an approaching wolf.
The wolf is often used as a symbol of hunger. Satan is that way – constantly hungering for our bodies and souls. He took along legions of angels when he rebelled against God, and he would like to have every man, woman, and child to join him in eternal suffering.
Satan is greedy. His pride and hunger for victory began his rebellion against God, since Satan wanted to be god. His hunger for victory took him to battle against Jesus, tempting Jesus in the wilderness, and again in the ultimate conflict on the cross.
The Cross – that is where Jesus, the Good Shepherd lay down His life for the sheep. Jesus makes it clear that this is the difference between Him, the Good Shepherd, and the hired men, those who abandon the sheep in the face of danger. As in Jesus' words, the fear of Satan's power is enough to chase away the hired helpers – those who don't really care about the sheep. But Jesus is the owner of the sheep. He knows us and cares for us. In the battle against Satan, Jesus lay down His life for us.
Being the Good Shepherd is all about Good Friday. Five times here Jesus mentions laying down His life. Laying down His life, dying, shows that He owns the sheep, He cares about the sheep, He knows the sheep closely – intimately. One of our Lenten hymns - “O Dearest Jesus” says in verse 4: “How strange is this great paradox to ponder: The Shepherd dies for sheep who love to wander.”
Being the Good Shepherd is all about Good Friday, not only in terms of His love for the sheep, but in His love for His Father, and in showing His own authority. Laying down His life is evidence of His complete obedience to the Father's plan of salvation for us – the reason the Father loves Him. And Jesus' words, “I lay down my life,” emphasize that He chose to do this – it was not forced upon Him, and that it is His authority to do so. That's why on Good Friday the Victim in the end turns out to be also the Victor.
Being the Good Shepherd is all about Good Friday, but it is also about Easter. I guess that is why part of John chapter 10 is always read on this 4th Sunday of Easter. Two times Jesus reminds us that He takes up His life again. A dead shepherd is not of much use to the sheep. But One who rises from the dead is evidence of the victory He has won. The Shepherd who takes up His life again is able to keep on protecting us sheep from danger as long as we live in this dangerous earthly meadow. The Shepherd who takes up His life again, is able to keep on feeding and leading us sheep – through His Word and Sacraments. The Good Shepherd who takes up His life again, by His own authority, also has the same authority to give us life again, after our death. This is what Jesus says of Himself – this is our Good Shepherd.
“All we like sheep have gone astray.” We wander away from God's path, the world lures us, the wolf attacks us, the hired help runs away in fear. But we have a Good Shepherd who lay down His life for us, and took it up again to give us the promise of an eternal Easter.
Thanks be to God! Amen.