Easter2 (Misericordia Domini) - St. John 10:11-16 - April 19, 2015

Recitation of the Small Catechism (handout)
Hymn #263 O Little Flock, Fear Not the Foe
Hymn #288 Lord Help Us Ever To Retain
Hymn #444 Rise! To Arms! With Prayer Employ You
Hymn #262 A Mighty Fortress

OT - Ezekiel 34:11-16
Epistle - 1 Peter 2:21-25
Gospel - St. John 10:11-16

1)         The prophet Zechariah writes in his thirteenth chapter, “Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.” (Zechariah 13:7) This prophecy found its fulfillment in Christ’s passion. It began in the Garden of Gethsemane. When the disciples realize that Christ would not defend Himself against the mob but intended to turn Himself over to them, “all the disciples forsook Him and fled.” (Matthew 26:56) Peter follows behind at a distance, making into the courtyard of the High Priest’s residence. There his true cowardice comes forth. Hours before Peter was brandishing a sword with which to defend Jesus. Now in the firelight he can’t withstand questioning about his relation to Jesus from a servant girl. That leads to his denying Christ three times before the rooster crows, at which point He leaves the scene, weeping bitterly over his denial of Christ in His moment of need. Thomas hears of the crucifixion of Jesus and wanders the paths of unbelief, forsaking everything He had believed about Jesus and everything Jesus had taught. Strike the shepherd and the sheep will be scattered. Left to themselves, Christ’s sheep fall into sin, deny their Lord, and wander in paths of their own making. They do not yet understand what Jesus said in John 10. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) The sheep see their shepherd crucified and buried and see only despondency. They do not yet see that the entire passion of Christ was not evil winning, but Jesus going forth uncomplainingly as the lamb of God to atone for the sins of the world. They see the Shepherd struck, as Zechariah foretold, but they do not see that in Zechariah’s prophecy it is not men but God who orders the Shepherd to be struck. The Lord says, “Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, Against the Man who is My Companion," Says the LORD of hosts.” (Zechariah 13:7) The entire passion is not man striking the Shepherd, but God striking the Shepherd to kill Him, so that His death might atone for the sins of the all the world.

2)         The Good Shepherd, who lays His life down for the sheep so that their sins might be removed, then takes His life back up again on the third day. Jesus says a few verses later in John 10:17-18, Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father.” The Shepherd rises from the dead just as He foretold. And as soon as He is risen from the grave, having suffered for the sins of the world, the Good Shepherd goes back to His work of shepherding His sheep. He finds Mary Magdalene outside the Garden Tomb. Revealing Himself to her He says, “Do not cling to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father; but go to My brethren and say to them, 'I am ascending to My Father and your Father, and to My God and your God.'” (John 20:17) He gathers weeping Mary back to Himself and tells her to go to the disciples with this news. On the evening of His resurrection He enters the room where the disciples were hiding, doors locked for fear of the Jews. He goes to collect more of His scattered sheep and does so by saying, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) He gathers them back into His fold and commissions them as undershepherds, giving them the Office of the Holy Ministry so that they may gather still more sheep after His ascension. He gathers Thomas, lost and wandering down roads of unbelief, by presenting Himself to Thomas the next week, very much alive, body and soul once rent asunder now put back together in the resurrection. So He gathers unbelieving Thomas into His sheep pen.

3)         But the Good Shepherd is not finished. In the twenty-first chapter of St. John’s Gospel, the disciples are fishing all night and have caught nothing. A stranger approaches them on the shore and tells them “Cast the net on the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” (John 21:6) There Jesus gives them a picture of what He is doing, and what they, as His office-bearers, will do after His ascension. But Peter, the denying sheep, recognizes His Good Shepherd, as Jesus said in John 10:14, “I am the Good Shepherd; and I know my sheep and my am known by my own.” So Peter jumps from the boat, swims to the shore because He knows the voice of His Shepherd. There, on this third time Jesus had revealed Himself alive to His disciples, He gathers up Peter, scoops up this precious lamb unto His shoulders, and welcomes him back into the fold. Three times Jesus asks Peter if he loves Jesus, for three times Peter had denied he even knew Jesus. Three times Peter answers that he does love Jesus. There Peter is reinstated and told, “Feed my sheep. Do the work that I have been doing up till now. Like the others, be my under-shepherd.” There are no “I told you sos.” There are not lectures on the importance of listening comprehension. There is only the Good Shepherd gathering His lost sheep and restoring them, giving them peace, and giving them purpose in the Holy Office of Christ.

4)         What Jesus, as the Good Shepherd is doing, is what the prophet Ezekiel said He would do. “For thus says the Lord GOD: ‘Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.’” (Ezekiel 34:11-12) He gathers His lost sheep. He leads them to the green, verdant pastures of His Word, for in His voice, which is His Word alone, do His sheep find rest. Ezekiel says, “I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick.” (Ezekiel 34:16) In each of the post-resurrection episodes, Jesus is bringing back lost sheep. He is gathering sheep that were driven away on the dark day of His crucifixion. He is binding up the sheep broken by their own transgressions, ill by the own iniquity, and sick because of their sins. This He does with His word in the upper room, “Peace be with you.” (John 20:19) This He does when He gently calls Mary by her name at the garden tomb, for the Good Shepherd knows His sheep. This is what He does when He reinstates dear Peter.

5)         And this is what the Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is doing to this very day. He is still gathering sheep for His pasture because that is what He says He will do. “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16) He does it through the Holy Spirit, for the Good Shepherd has ascended into heaven and sits on the right hand of God the Father almighty. The Holy Spirit works this work through the Office of the Ministry, through the Office given to the apostles and passed down through the ages, the Office committed only to preaching the Word and administering the sacraments according to Christ’s institution. In this Office of the Holy Ministry Christ is truly present, as is the Holy Spirit. Through the Word spoke, preached, read, and contemplated, He is seeking lost sheep. Through the waters of Holy Baptism He is scrubbing sheep clean of sin’s stain and bringing them into His holy pasture. He still seeks and gathers lost sheep with His word of Gospel, the word that brings peace between God and man because the one speaking that word is the one who died to earn that peace between God and man.

6)         We cannot find our way into the pastures of the blessed that decked in glorious sheen, for all humanity, like the disciples and women after Jesus death, is lost in their own unbelief and trapped in the maze of human understanding. Sheep that can find their own path do not need a shepherd. By calling Himself the Good Shepherd, our Lord Jesus is ever reminding us that “He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of His hand.” (Psalm 95:7) Sheep need a shepherd who will call them with His Word and keep them in that Word. So we confess in the Small Catechism of Dr. Luther, in the explanation of the Third Article of the Creed, I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Ghost has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith; even as He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth.” When Jesus calls Himself the Good Shepherd, He is giving us so much more than a metaphor to conjure up a warm feeling or a comforting picture. Jesus truly is your Good Shepherd, who has laid His life down for the sheep, for you, to atone for your sins. He lays His life down to rescue from the false teachings of hirelings who only want to fatten you up for the slaughter. He lays His life down for you to redeem you from the power of the satanic wolf who only wants to fleece and gut you. He calls you with the Gospel at your Baptism and in His preaching. He guards and keeps you in the holy pasture of His Word to protect you from the hireling and the wolf. He most certainly is the only Shepherd who is truly Good.

7)         It was the will of the Father to strike the shepherd so that by His passion and death He could atone for the sins of the world. It was also the will of the Father that that same Shepherd, who suffered, died, and was buried, be raised from the dead to seek out His scattered sheep, the disciples and women who followed Him during His earthly ministry, and all men who will hear and believe the Gospel. Jesus is your Good Shepherd and you are His dear, precious lamb, who has called by the Gospel, enlightened with His gifts, and sanctified by His sacraments. He is yours and you are His. Amen.

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