O give thanks unto the Lord for He is good, His mercy endures forever (1 Chr 16:34). Beautiful Savior Lutheran Church - Winnipeg, MB
Lamb and Shepherd
Lamb and Shepherd
Based on John 10:22-30 and Rev. 7:9-17
Preached on April 17, 2016
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Fellow baptized saints, of all the images in the Bible, the most comforting, endearing, and enduring - is that of Jesus the Good Shepherd. The image goes back to Psalm 23 and King David the shepherd-king who wrote as one of the Lord's flock, "The Lord is my shepherd." Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays His life down for the sheep, who calls His sheep by name, whose voice His sheep hear and follow to eternal life.
It is one of the great and wonderful paradoxes of the New Testament that the images of lamb and shepherd coalesce - they morph into one - in Jesus. He is both Lamb and Shepherd, both Sacrifice and King, the one who dies and rises and the one who lords His death and resurrection over us - to save us. At His birth, shepherds left their lambs in the fields of Bethlehem to worship Him. In His death He is most Lamb and most Shepherd, giving His life into Death and leading humanity through the dark valley of Death to eternal life.
"God so loved the world" - that is, He loved the world in this way - "He sent His only Son that whoever believes in Him would not perish but have eternal life."
"My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand."
Jesus came as God's Lamb, the single substitute for humanity under the Law, the appointed Sacrifice for Sin which all the sin sacrifices of the Old Testament prefigured and anticipated. "Behold the Lamb of God - who takes away the sin of the world." (five) This is how God loves the world - in His Lamb. This is how God deals with the Sin of the world - in the Lamb. This is how Sin is washed away - by the blood of the Lamb. This is how the sinner stands justified before God - in the Lamb. This is how you and I - are sheep of the Lord's flock and people of His pasture - by being baptized into the Lamb.
When you think of "shepherd," you think of goodness and mercy. You think of self-sacrifice, of the shepherd who literally becomes one of the sheep, giving up his life for them, who washes them and tends them and feeds them and protects them.
But sadly, our mechanized, industrial farming and ranching doesn't leave us much of a picture of the shepherd, does it? Ranch hands and herders are very different from the shepherd of Jesus' day. The shepherd was literally a member of the flock. The sheep looked to him as one of their own. He knew each of them the way we know our pets. Their foibles, their idiosyncrasies. He gave each of them a unique name, and he had a special way of calling them so their ears would always be attuned to their shepherd's voice. Oh, they'd never follow a stranger, but they'd follow their shepherd anywhere. Even when he would lead them through dark and treacherous valleys with the wolves watching from the cliffs overhead - "the valley of the shadow of death" - the sheep would fear no evil because their good shepherd was with them.
Now, as comforting as the image of Jesus the Good Shepherd is, it also brings a rather discomforting thought. We're sheep! It's one thing to sing, "I am Jesus' little lamb." Lambs are cute. But sheep - they are anything but cute. They're stubborn, prone to wander, dependent, high maintenance, and ornery. "All we like sheep have gone astray." Not a pretty picture, is it? Sheep need to be led and guided, or they will perish. "Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will scatter." We need to be guarded against the wolves, kept away from the polluted puddles and the poisoned weeds. We are utterly dependent upon our Good Shepherd for every good gift of forgiveness, life, and salvation, and without Him we perish.
This is the end of any notion that we are self-sufficient, dependent on no one, and that we are able to fend for ourselves in spiritual matters. It's not even true for things like daily bread, and it's even less true for our eternal life. We are doomed, isolated in Sin, led as sheep to the slaughter. We are bleeting sheep caught in a trap from which we cannot free ourselves. We face a very long and dark valley called "this life" in which fierce wolves and false teachings and dangers to body and soul lurk around every dark corner hoping to make our miserable situation permanent.
Of course, our old Adam takes exception to all this. We'd rather be something other than spiritual sheep. A proud peacock perhaps, strutting its tail feathers for all the world to admire. Or a sleek cat, a loyal dog, a strong horse, a bull. Really, if you're going to run with animal metaphors, let it be anything but a sheep.
"Sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd." Luther said that every reasonably enlightened seven year old recognizes at least this much about the church. The church is a flock of blood-bought sheep who hear the voice of their Lamb and Shepherd calling to them from out of their Baptism. "Follow me." And they follow Him. They hear His Word. He gives them eternal life, and they will never perish. Death cannot harm them. The devil is no threat to them. Sin and the Law cannot touch them. They go through the dark valley of this world hearing the voice of Jesus calling them. He's gone ahead of them through death and the grave. He's risen from the dead, and now like a shepherd calling his sheep to follow him through the valley, He leads them from death to life.
That's what it means to follow Jesus: to die and rise together with Him, something already declared done to you in your Baptism. It means to walk through the darkness, despair, and danger of this present age fearing no evil knowing that Christ, your Lamb and Shepherd is with you. That He is leading you through death and resurrection - even every day - dying to the old Adam and rising new in Christ - a rhythm that will only end when He leads you through the grave itself.
This is why Christ's resurrection really matters. Before Him, death is not death at all. For us it is called and is death when we die. But before God it is a light sleep which could not be any lighter. This is what Christ wants to impress upon your mind today - so that you may not fear when sickness and death draw near, but that you may learn to say: "O death, what can you do even in your worst form? You have terrible teeth, which you show to frighten me, for I do not like to die. But your work will not be the only thing I see when you draw your sword like an executioner to take me: but I will remember what my Lord will do when you have slain me. He is not afraid of you and does not care for your raging and destroying, but says: "O death, I will be your plague" and "O grave, I will destroy you." When you kill my Christians, I will destroy you and recall them to life again.
Exiled on the island of Patmos, taken from family, friends, and congregation, John saw only defeat, despair, and death all around him. He saw a church that was poor and fragmented, weak and scattered. He saw the forces of power and darkness seeming to gain the upper hand and triumph. But for his comfort and strength, and for ours too, he was given to see the church in her glory, white-robed sheep gathered around the Good Shepherd, their robes washed white in the blood of the Lamb. The great tribulation of this life had given way to the glory of the life to come.
That vision is yours too. It's the vision of what is now by faith and not yet in your possession. It's the hope of resurrection and life that awaits you, and it's the joy of eternal life and glory that is already yours in Christ. This is the green pasture to which the Good Shepherd is leading you. This is where "follow me" carries you:
"Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
Rev. Cameron Schnarr