Christ the Good Shepherd
There’s a common term used by conspiracy theorists and fringe political groups to describe the helpless masses. They call them “sheeple.” I don’t think I need to translate too much for you. They’re saying if you’re not like them you’re just a dumb follower.
We’re almost two thousand years removed since the last drop of ink was scraped into the final page of the Scriptures, but we still use sheep as a derogatory accusation of fools who are susceptible to any predator and at risk of following the herd off the precipice of dangerous summits. “Wake up sheeple!” is the common refrain from those who claim to be in the know. Their message is quite simple: Quit being sheep!
Unfortunately just as you can’t tell an actual sheep to change its breeding, so you can’t order a man to change their nature. In our lessons Jesus leaves us no room to escape this metaphor—we are all sheep. Even those who think they have awakened and are now free thinking non-sheeple should realize they have listened to someone’s voice to arrive at their conclusions. You see for Jesus the question is not a matter of the degree of our sheepyness, but instead a matter of who is our shepherd.
Everyone listen’s to a particular shepherd’s voice. These voices shape your view of the world and of life. In our relativistic culture people will listen to all kinds of shepherds. They’ll do this even when they contradict one another. They think they can pick and choose what is good for them. Yet, like sheep we like things that are not good for us. We blithely go with the crowd and chew on spiritually poisonous food. The Good Shepherd has lead us to still waters and green pastures. We have all that we need in his Word for our health, but like stubborn sheep we want to ignore what is good for us. We reject how God has ordered the creation for us and for our good. When we do not like that order we say we’ll redefine it—like we see with marriage. Please don’t think that’s just condemning the issue of homosexual behavior—marriage was redefined a long time ago in America with cohabitation, no-fault divorce, and pornography claiming to be artistic expression. Hirelings have mislead and abandoned the sheep when all kinds of spiritual dangers of the wolf—that is the devil—are spotted on the horizon.
We keep hearing that on our horizon is a more secular America. Some think secularity means godlessness, but that’s not necessarily true. Plenty of people live in a secular way and adorn it with a deity of their fancy. Secular simply means “in the moment.” To be secular is to be only concerned with the present. The world’s secularity is a symptom of our own sheepyness. How many of us catch ourselves worrying more about the bills and balancing our time then we spend time in prayer? Sheep only live in the moment with no thought to the future and they don’t learn from their past. Sheep only worry about the blade of grass before their nose and the stream yards away. They follow the flock whether or not their shepherd is leading them in a trajectory that leads to death or life. Sheep are the most secular of animals! They can’t live anywhere, but in the moment.
That is us, says Jesus. How many terrible things have we swallowed because it seemed tasty at the moment? How many things have we accepted because without admitting it we just wanted to fit in and follow the larger flock—to be in with the in-crowd? Adulteries of mind and body, covetousness that leads to discontent and theft, self-righteousness which chokes the Word of Christ from us, pride which smashed our neighbor and leaves scars in the back of the poor weak lambs we’ve climbed over to get what we want. We are indeed sheeple!
Where do we go from here? We need a good shepherd and all others have failed. They abandon the flock when things become too dangerous or they’re devoured with the rest by the wolf. That is why God has sent us the Good Shepherd of our souls Jesus.
Jesus is the “I am” Good Shepherd. Did you notice the divine name there? “I am, “Yahweh”, the Good Shepherd.” Jesus is the God enfleshed shepherd who promised by the prophets to come himself to guide and to save his sheep. Jesus certainly had Psalm 23 in mind when he called himself the Good Shepherd, but he also knew his promise in Ezekiel 34. “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.” Jesus is saying that this is he. He is the Lord God seeking his sheep and they will respond to his voice.
Jesus emphasizes he is a shepherd in his own unique class. He’s the divine shepherd—the greatest shepherd. He does not say, “I am like a shepherd who is good” as if he belongs to the class of other shepherds who are good at their vocation. He is the Good Shepherd. All other shepherds claiming to lead man to God are evaluated by comparison to Jesus. All the hirelings abandon you and lead you away from Jesus. The Good Shepherd has given you pastors, under-shepherds, and they are only worthwhile if they deliver you to the Good Shepherd.
Christ calls himself the Good Shepherd. We should ask then “What makes Jesus the Shepherd good?”
Jesus states the reasons clearly. The Good Shepherd unlike the hireling owns the sheep. He’s in fact their creator. Therefore when danger comes he does not abandon his flock, but stays and protects them. Even more, he stays, and is willing to lay down his life for the sheep.
What good is a dead shepherd? If the wolf kills him then his flock is left there with the predator. This is perhaps where the metaphor breaks down a bit, but there’s a great paradox that happens here. Instead of the sheep being the blood sacrifice for the shepherd, the shepherd becomes the sacrifice for the sheep. Of course the disciples and all who heard this would not have a clue what Jesus meant by laying down his life until his crucifixion. Afterwards they knew as you know now that Christ paid the penalty for all our sheepy ways. He has stood in the gap and suffered the penalty for all the things that tempt us to go astray and flirt with eternal death. The wolf—that ancient evil one—bit the shepherds heel and did his worst and for a fleeting moment it looked as though the sheep were all alone with their salivating enemy looking for his next snack.
Just a verse after our lesson Jesus says, “…I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and I have authority to take it up again.” This makes this shepherd the greatest of them all. Christ saved you by allowing the wolf to take his life instead. It would do you no good to be left alone with a dead shepherd. So the Good Shepherd lays down his life to defeat the wolf, sin, and death. The he takes his life up again to nurture, protect, defend and lead you forever.
You know the Good Shepherd by his actions for you. He is the shepherd who when you stand condemned forgives you. This is the shepherd who time and again follows you when you’ve gone astray and picks you up, bears the burden of you, and restores you to the flock of God. When you’ve followed other voices, when you’ve lived for the moment and forgotten where the shepherd is guiding, he’s there with his rod and staff to protect and lead you home. This is the shepherd who has baptized your filthy sin ridden wool and made it white as snow. This is the shepherd who feeds and nurtures you from his own body and blood week in and week out. This is the shepherd whose voice speaks to you the peace and blessing of God the heavenly Father. This is the shepherd you have grown to trust and are still growing to trust. This is Jesus, the Good Shepherd leading his sheep to rise from death and to live eternally by still water and rich pastures. It’s never been so good to be sheeple! In Jesus’ name, amen.
SDG—Rev. Eric M. Estes