Sermon for Misericordias Domini – Easter 3
John 10:11-16 + Ezekiel 34:11-16 + 1 Peter 2:21-25
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. There are so many shepherd images of God in the Bible. The shepherd walking through green meadows with his sheep walking close behind him, leading them through green pastures, guiding them up to a gently flowing stream where they can drink and quench their thirst. There’s the shepherd image of Jesus feeding his little lambs. There’s the image of the shepherd comforting his sheep, carrying the little ones in his arms. There’s the image of the shepherd leaving behind the ninety-nine to go out searching for the one that strayed, searching until he finds it and puts it up on his shoulders and brings it home.
But no shepherd image is as striking as the one before us in our Gospel—the image of bloody shepherd. The shepherd who places himself between the sheep and the wolf. The shepherd who takes his stand, even as all the hired hands see the wolf coming and run away to save themselves, leaving the sheep to be attacked and slaughtered. The Good Shepherd doesn’t run away. He stays. He confronts the wolf. But he doesn’t fight it off. Instead, he opens his arms and makes himself the wolf’s target. The wolf pounces on him, and he embraces it. He allows the wolf to injure him, to gore him, to eat him alive. And there’s blood everywhere. He lays down his life for the sheep. And then, after the shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, he stands up again. That’s what the word “resurrection” means – to stand up again. He stands up again, still bloody, but no longer bleeding. Still scarred, but no longer injured. Having died, but no longer dead. The wolf is still there, threatening the sheep until the very last day of planet earth’s existence. But the Good Shepherd is still there, too, between the sheep and the wolf. Always.
This is the image that saves, the Good Shepherd as the bloody Shepherd. This is the image that comforts the sheep more than any other. This is the image that creates faith in the Shepherd and brings the sheep into his flock, the image that creates Christians.
Without this image of the bloody shepherd, the words of Psalm 23 ring hollow. All the people in the world who love the 23rd Psalm, “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want,” without believing in Jesus as the bloody shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep—they’re all fooling themselves. The Lord isn’t their Shepherd. If you don’t want the bloody shepherd, Jesus, for your shepherd, if the blood on his clothes, if the scars on his hands and side are repulsive to you, then the LORD is not your shepherd. Because the bloody shepherd is the LORD Jesus. The Good Shepherd is the bloody shepherd.
Who or what is the wolf? What threatens you? What seeks to devour you? There are many wolves out there. The devil himself is one of them. What pleasure, what comfort, what blessing can he dangle before your sheep-eyes to get you to look away from your shepherd and wander off? What tragedy, what evil, what suffering can he send your way to turn your love for Jesus into hatred and bitterness? What fault or sin of your neighbor’s can he hold before your eyes so that you’re so consumed with anger or apathy toward your neighbor that your shepherd is no longer in view?
Who or what is the wolf that threatens? It’s the world with its empty morality and hollow philosophy. It’s the world that hates the light of the truth, because its own deeds are evil, and so it threatens your family, threatens your career, it laughs at you and rejects you for being a Christian, for following Jesus.
Who or what is the wolf that threatens the sheep? It’s false teachers who darken the Shepherd’s words with their lies that sound so sweet. It’s temptation. It’s sin. It’s death. And while you’re busy looking around and focusing on all those wolves, what you don’t realize is, that the wolf is also you. You – your sinful nature is your own worst enemy. It’s what separated you from God in the first place and made you an object of God’s wrath. And it’s still always there, always dragging you away from God, dragging you off to serve yourself, to live for yourself, to love only those who love you and care only for those who care for you as you want to be cared for. It’s your sinful nature that can turn you into a wolf toward your fellow Christian, to treat them so poorly, to injure them so badly that they never want to know another Christian or step foot in another Christian church as long as they live.
How many wolves are gathering, circling? You can’t even see them. But your Shepherd can. And who has let you down? A parent? A relative? A teacher? A pastor? The Good shepherd isn’t like any of them. Even if all of your protectors and guardians run away, the Good Shepherd never will. He puts himself in the way and shields you with his arms, with his body, with his blood. All of your enemies, everything that threatened you, including the wrath of God itself, all of it fell on your Good Shepherd. He intervened between you and the wolf, opened his arms on the cross, and he laid down his life for you. The bloody image of Jesus dying on a cross is your shield and protection from any and every wolf, from sin and death and the devil, from fear and depression, from everything that seeks to harm you.
The bloody Good Shepherd lays down his life but then stands up again on the third day and keeps fighting, and this time, he can’t ever die again. He comes back to life to keep on shepherding his sheep forever.
The Good Shepherd has brought you here today. He has gathered you around himself in order to place himself between you and the wolf. Because he is here in this Gospel, warning the impenitent so that they do not die eternally. He is here in this Gospel, forgiving the sorrowful, comforting the sad, carrying the weak. Jesus calls his sheep together to be served by him, the good shepherd: to hear his Words, to be led by his teachings, to be fed by his life, by his body and blood.
Jesus knows how hard, how scary it is to face the wolf. But see, the sheep aren’t the ones who have to face the wolf. They wouldn’t stand a chance. The sheep aren’t the ones who have to be brave against sin and death and the devil. Sheep are too dumb to even see the wolf coming until it’s too late. No, the Shepherd is the brave one. He’s the one who does the fighting. And his blood-stained body proves that he will fight for you and never give up. He knows his sheep. He knows where they’re vulnerable, and he knows how to protect them. So don’t pretend that you’re strong or that you need to be strong enough to stand against the wolf. Your Shepherd does that for you. Trust in your Shepherd.
He won’t leave you vulnerable, even when he goes out looking for his lost sheep. There are still lost sheep in the world that he has to find with his Word and call into his flock. Some of them are Christians who have strayed away from his Word, and therefore, away from his kingdom. Others have never yet heard the Shepherd’s voice. But they will. They still don’t know the image of the Shepherd who bloodied himself in order to protect his sheep from the wolf. But when they hear it, they will believe. Not all will believe, but some will, and it won’t take any gimmicks or tricks or seduction to bring them into Jesus’ flock. Just the message about the bloody Shepherd – that’s all it ever takes.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. The Lord isn’t your shepherd unless the Lord you mean, the Lord you believe in, the Lord you follow in faith, is the bloody Lord Jesus who laid down his life for the sheep and took it up again. If he is the Lord whom you call your shepherd, then you shall not want for anything. You don’t have a healthy body? You lack nothing. You don’t have a happy marriage? Friends? Money? Security? You lack nothing. He gives you all you need. He knows what you need before the thought enters your mind. He has given you good things – even his own body thrown between the wolf and you, even his own flesh as food and his blood as drink. He is a good shepherd. He is THE good shepherd, stained in his own blood, but victorious. Those who trust in him have nothing to fear from any wolf. Amen.