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LSB Easter 4B Sermon – John 10:11-18

April 27, 2015

April 26, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”

“By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us….” With that statement, the apostle John speaks about the work that Jesus has performed for His people. John’s statement is focused on an expression of love. Love has been known by humanity through an act. It is a very particular act: “He laid down His life for us.” John is describing what the great act of sacrifice that Jesus performed for the redemption of the world. And he declares that this sacrifice has revealed what love is.

That concept stands behind the statements that Jesus makes about being a good shepherd. This is what you heard in the Gospel Reading for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, known as Good Shepherd Sunday. Jesus says: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus’ statement foretells what He would do for the benefit of humanity. His words aren’t spoken after Holy Week, but just a couple of months before that time. The Church hears these words of Jesus after Easter, but they were actually spoken as another of the Passion Predictions that Jesus was giving to His followers.

When speaking about Himself as a good shepherd, Jesus notes that other individuals have been put in charge of sheep. Using the shepherd motif, Jesus states that there are hired hands who had the job of watching over sheep. But Jesus reveals a flaw about the hired hands: “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” This flaw is that the hired hands do not actually have a vested interest in the sheep; they do not have a love for the animals that they are employed to watch over.

Because the hired hands have no vested interest in the sheep and no love for them, they will not risk themselves for the sake of the sheep. They may see the wolf and the threat that it brings to the flock. They know that the wolf will attempt to devour the sheep. But the hired hands also know that the wolf brings a threat to themselves. The wolf’s fangs can cut a man’s throat just as much as a sheep’s neck. So when the question of whether to hang around to protect the sheep from the wolf and possibly get mauled in process arises in the hired hand’s mind, he finds the answer quickly: abandon the sheep and save his own skin. The hired hand cares for himself, not for the flock.

But this is not the action that Jesus performs: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus does this because He is not a hired hand with no concern for the sheep. No, Jesus has a vested interest in the sheep because they are His. That is what Jesus makes very clear to His audience: “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.” Love drives Jesus to perform this act of sacrifice—not just love for the sheep, but love for His Father. Because His Father has entrusted Him with this command, Jesus does it: “For this reason the Father loves Me, because 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 charge I have received from My Father.”

That is the reason why John writes to his congregation of disciples: “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” Jesus’ act of sacrifice has demonstrated His love and care for humanity, His love and care for you. Do you want to know whether Jesus has concern for you? Then hear what He has done for you. Hear how He has given His life for your sake. Hear how He has taken upon Himself your guilt and iniquity. Hear how He has endured divine wrath, so that you would be recipients of divine blessing. Hear how Jesus has disarmed the wolf’s fangs of death by rising to life again and opening up the gates of Paradise for you to enter. Hear how He did not abandon you to be Satan’s prey but has overcome him instead. Hear John’s proclamation: “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us….” Hear Jesus’ own words: “… I lay down My life that I may take it up again.”

Jesus’ acts demonstrate the concern and love that He has for you. He fulfills His own teaching: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” When Jesus lays down His life and takes it up again, there is no more that He can offer for you. And yet, that is offered over and over for you. Not only has this happened in time with the crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus continues to provide this life-giving sacrifice to you. You are baptized into His death and resurrection. You are absolved as the merits of Jesus’ sacrifice are repeatedly applied to you. You eat and drink of Jesus’ sacrifice in the Lord’s Supper. You are not left to be devoured by the wolf, but are given protection from it, as Jesus guides you by the Holy Spirit whom He provides to you. That is how He is present with you, pointing out the dangers of lies and temptations and leading you into paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. You listen to Jesus’ voice, just as He foretold: “I have 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.”

The life that Jesus leads you into was also part of John’s writing to his audience. The first part has been emphasized: “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us….” But there was also a second part—the effect that this work has among Jesus’ followers: “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.” The love that you have known because of Jesus’ work for you becomes what you are led to express through your actions. The care and concern that Jesus has for the sheep who belong to Him is how you also consider the sheep who belong to Him. That is what John outlines for all those who have been made part of Jesus’ flock: “If anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” 

The apostle’s point becomes clear: as you have been recipients of the divine love expressed through the sacrifice that Jesus made by laying down His life for you, that love is not idle. Instead, it opens your hearts to love your fellow disciples in the way that Jesus loved them. It calls you to be givers for them, just as Jesus has been a Giver for you. It leads you to identify them as individuals that you are bound and connected to. It makes them objects of your care and concern.

This is the holy living that comes from being brought into the flock that belongs to Jesus. You are not the shepherds of the flock; that is Jesus’ role. But remember what He said: “And I have 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.” Listening to Jesus’ voice means that you trust what He says about His role as your Redeemer and Deliverer, the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for you: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”

But listening to Jesus’ voice also means that you love and follow the way of life that Jesus sets for all who belong to His flock. That is what the apostle John reminds all who would be Jesus’ disciples whom the Father has entrusted to Him: “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as He has commanded us. Whoever keeps His commandments abides in God, and God in him.” And again what do you know about the idea of loving one another? “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”

So when the call for sacrifice goes out, it is not seen as a major burden that you want nothing to do with. We can see that in the actions that you participate in. Washcloths and hygiene items for veterans: the baskets get full. Donations for the My Neighbor Fund: the bank account grows. Coins in baby bottles for the Capital Area Pregnancy Center that you’ll get next month: the bassinet will be have plenty of them. Clothes Closet will have a distribution: tables will have shirts, pants, and jackets on them.

The bond created by Jesus among you reflects His bond with the Father: “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.” That bond gets expressed in forms of care and concern. You hear about parishioners in hospital, and you visit. You hear the good news about births and baptisms, and you are there to rejoice with them. You hear when death affects the church family, and you both mourn and console.

Why is this done? Because that care and concern is what Jesus has shown to you: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” That has made Him your Redeemer. And what effect does that have? “By this we know love, that He laid down His life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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