Misericordias Domini – Third Sunday of Easter
Dr. Charles Gieschen
St. John 10.11-16
01 May 2022
Christ is risen! Response: He Is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!
There are some amusing and contradictory descriptions of the Perfect Pastor. For example, people want a pastor who is 38 years old but also has 30 years of experience. They want someone who teaches them a lot in his sermons but never preaches more than 12 minutes. They want someone who preaches and teaches the Word of God faithfully, but never offends anyone in the process. They want someone who has a perfect bedside manner in the nursing home but is known as being hip with the teenagers in youth group. They want someone who seldom makes a mistake or forgets a name, but who always forgives the mistakes and forgetfulness of others. With such expectations, no pastor fits the bill!
Our Gospel Reading for today, however, presents to us the perfect pastor. It has become very clear to me over the decades that I have served as a parish pastor and professor that the favorite image for Jesus, both for my congregation members and the seminarians that I have taught, is the image of himself as the Good Shepherd. The most widely used title for the office of the Holy Ministry in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod is the title “pastor,” and with good reason. In some languages, the title “pastor” is derived from the word for “shepherd,” and “shepherd” is one of the key titles that Jesus uses to describe himself, especially in John 10. Thus, Jesus describes himself here as the Good Pastor.
What is Jesus claiming by saying, “I am the Good Shepherd?” First, this statement has deep roots in the Old Testament because Jesus is claiming to be God of Israel himself whom David wrote of when he wrote Psalm 23 and of whom Ezekiel wrote in chapter 34 when the Lord told Ezekiel that he was tired of his sheep being scattered and not cared for by the bad undershepherds of Israel, so he was going to come himself to gather his lost sheep. He says through the prophet Ezekiel, “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy.” When Jesus announces, “I am the Good Shepherd,” he is announcing that he is the fulfillment of this hope that God would come and shepherd his people himself.
Why does Jesus characterize himself as the good shepherd? It obviously is in contrast to all of the bad shepherds in Israel’s past, but Jesus unpacks the adjective “good” with these words which are my own translation of the Greek text, “The Good Shepherd places down in sacrifice his entire self on behalf of the sheep.” Most Americans have never herded sheep, so we do not readily understand how vulnerable sheep are to predators. They are slow, lack intelligence, and cannot defend themselves; they have no claws or big teeth! They need a shepherd to guide them to pasture, water, and especially defend them when a predator attacks. At night, a shepherd in ancient Israel typically put his flock into an enclosure with a rock wall and slept at the opening so that any predator would have to go through him to get to his sheep.
Jesus characterizes himself as the pastor or shepherd who willing sacrifices his entire self for his sheep because he owns and loves every one of them. He makes it very clear that he is not like a hired caretaker: “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.” Jesus knows exactly what Satan has done to his sheep, to his flock, since the first attack in the Garden of Eden. He knows that Satan is like a roaring lion or a sly wolf, seeking whom he may devour spiritually. He knew the burden of sin that weighed down each of his sheep, so he did what no other shepherd could do: he offered himself as the perfect Lamb of God, he allowed himself to be placed on the cross as the sacrifice in the place of every sinful sheep, to redeem all people, the entire world, from Satan’s dominion. He was not a victim of religious and political circumstances; he used those circumstances to accomplish the Father’s will.
Nations often honor a soldier who lays down his life for his nation’s freedom; we do it in the United States and Ukrainians are honoring such noble deaths in their country every day. Jesus’ death on the cross was the ultimate noble death because he sacrificed himself to redeem all the lost, sinful sheep of the world, including you and me. He willingly placed down his entire self on our behalf, in our place, for our benefit, as the full payment for our sin, and then he took it back up three days later, risng victorious over sin, Satan, and death for us!
Through Holy Baptism, God’s own name has been put upon you and he knows each of you by your name. You have been graciously brought into this close relationship with Christ: he is your shepherd and you are his sheep. Jesus likens this close union to the oneness between the Father and the Son: “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 place down in sacrifice my entire self on behalf of the sheep.” This teaches us that God is not some distance King who does not know his subjects; in Jesus, he is our shepherd who is present with each of us from the moment he washes us in baptism, feeding us in the green pastures of his word, overfilling our plate and cup each Sunday with his own body and blood. This risen and living Shepherd will even lead us one day through the valley of the shadow of death unto eternal life with him that will climax with the resurrection of our bodies to be like his glorified body. He is and remains the perfect pastor who also uses imperfect undershepherds to shepherd and care for his flock, to be his hands, his feet, and his lips. Even though he uses undershepherds, he is truly present and remains the Chief Shepherd of his flock.
Did you hear how each of you were explicitly mentioned in the final verse of this reading? Listen again to Jesus: “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.” Jesus is speaking about including Gentiles like you and me into his flock that had been the people of Israel for centuries. These words are a reminder that Jesus not only cares about the baptized who are in his flock, the church, but he has compassion for those who continue to be lost, or who have strayed away from his flock. He uses each of us to reach out to those lost, confused, and wandering sheep in our community that they may also be part of his flock and experience his love, daily care, and forgiveness. Jesus especially wants them to be part of his one flock in heaven that no one can number, where “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” (Rev 7:17).
Is there a Perfect Pastor? Yes, and his name is Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Christ is risen! Response: He Is Risen Indeed. Alleluia!
Dr. Charles Gieschen our Guest Preacher and Celebrant today, serves as Academic Dean and Professor of Exegetical Theology at Concordia Theological Seminary in Fort Wayne where he has taught New Testament courses since 1996. For eleven years prior to being called to the seminary, he served as Associate Pastor and then Senior Pastor of Trinity Lutheran Church in Traverse City, Michigan.