Listening to Jesus talk, He often speaks in parables, metaphors, what some might call flowery language. His parables often times are simple sounding, but rather complex in understanding. On more than one occasion the disciples had to ask Jesus just what exactly He meant in His parable. As we look at our Gospel for today, Jesus describes who He is and what He has come to do. He uses a description that the people should be familiar with already – a shepherd.
Shepherds have a single job – to tend to the sheep. But that job entails quite a bit. It means providing for them. Breaking that down, it means feeding them, protecting them, mending them when they are injured. It means setting their needs above your own. It means fighting off the evil that threatens to harm the sheep. That’s what a good shepherd does.
Jesus makes the distinction in our text between that of a true shepherd and one who is a stranger. For the true shepherd, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” The true shepherd knows the sheep entrusted to him. He calls them by name and leads them. He goes in front of the sheep to keep whatever evil may happen at bay. He defends the sheep from all harm and danger, putting himself between the sheep and danger.
In contrast, Jesus also speaks of a different kind of person, the anti-shepherd, “he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.” This anti-shepherd cares very little, if at all, for the sheep. He does not have their best interests at heart. The sheep know this, for “a stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This anti-shepherd is out for number one, himself. The sheep mean little to him.
For anyone listening to Jesus, it should be easy to make the distinction between one who is a true shepherd and one who is not. Unfortunately, the people did not understand Jesus and what He was telling them. There are those who proclaim to be a shepherd who instead are wolves in shepherd’s clothing. Thieves and robbers don’t care about the people they steal from. There is no connection to them other than what they take from you. Once they’ve gotten what they can from you, you are of no use to them anymore and they move on to the next target. What we so desperately need is a shepherd, someone who will care for us.
Fortunately for us, we do have a Shepherd, one who cares for the sheep, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. It’s great to have a shepherd, but what will the shepherd do? The shepherd is one who will lay down his life for the sake of the flock. He will be the one who will tend to the needs of the flock, great or small, because they are his flock. He will be the one who will provide for all of their wants and needs, keep them safe and do all that is within his power to make sure that nothing harmful happens to the flock.
Isn’t that the description of our Shepherd? We just celebrated Easter a few weeks ago and what is the purpose of Easter? It is the celebration of our Shepherd who laid down His very life for us, only to take it up again and defeat sin, death, and the devil for us. Jesus tended to the needs of the people, healing them of their earthly diseases but more importantly, healing us of our eternal disease of sin. Nothing that you and I could do would ever be enough to cure the disease of sin and death and so Jesus comes and says, “I will rid sin and death from my Father’s creation. I will die so creation will never die again.” Jesus is the one who went to the utter depths of hell so that we would not suffer. A thief and robber would never do such a thing, but a true shepherd would.
A true shepherd is what you need and a true Shepherd is what you receive in Jesus Christ. Jesus just a few verses after our text calls Himself the Good Shepherd. He says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” There can be no better description of what Jesus does than that, laying down His life for us.
Jesus is clear when He says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep…. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” Jesus is the door. Through the door of His holy life and bloody sacrifice, we have eternal life. Through Him and Him alone, we have heaven. He’s a door that is dripping with water and blood through whom we find good pasture.
The final words of Jesus in our text speak to what Jesus does: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” He’s gone before you into the grave — the shepherd has laid down His life for the sheep. But here’s the thing: He’s come back out. He’s risen from the dead. So He says to you, “Yea, though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, fear no evil, for I am with you. I will comfort you — and I will raise you up.”
That’s what the Good Shepherd does: He’s gone before you in life and death and resurrection. He’s been to hell and back for you, then ascended into heaven. Now He calls you by His Word, feeds you with His Supper: and He says to you, “I came so that you might have life—and have it abundantly.” He gives you grace abundantly—He forgives you more sins than you could ever commit.
Your Good Shepherd has given up His life for you. He took upon Himself all the times that you live for yourself and not others. He died for all the times you try to make yourself the door to everlasting life. He rose again on the third day. You have life in His name, in His Baptism. You are His own sheep. He goes before you, protects and guides you. He meets your enemies head-on and defeats them for you. You follow Him, for you know His voice. You are His sheep. He isn’t just any shepherd, but your Good Shepherd, the one who lays down His life for you on the cross, the righteous sacrifice that makes you acceptable to God.
It is He who loves God perfectly for you. It is He who loves His neighbor perfectly for you. It is He who died for you. It is He who rose from the dead for you. It is He who ascended for you. He is the one whose body is the door to salvation. It is He who calls you by name. He has done all that you need. And He has done it so that you can live with Him forever. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.