To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father – to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
“It’s not fair.” You’ve said it. You’ve thought it. Sometimes, in the more cynical seasons of life, it is a real temptation to take those words as my personal motto: “It’s not fair.” The system is broken, and it preys on people in my situation. My childhood has scarred me beyond repair. I’ve been set up for failure. I don’t have enough money. I didn’t get the right education. I have nowhere near the amount of support I think I need. It’s not fair. For every moderate success I think I’ve achieved, there are ten failures sending me back to square one. What’s even worse is the one place where I think I should be able to find some validation, I come and Jesus tells me that I’m a helpless, weak, unassuming sheep. Well, that makes some sense. His metaphorical assessment seems to jive with all the evidence I see in my life. I’m vulnerable. I feel defenseless. Sheep don’t really offer much – they just kind of exist. All they do is get fat and die – sometimes that’s how I feel – like I’m a sheep who’s been marked for slaughter.
So, the sheep out there and the sheep in here go casting about in the world looking for something, but what? Greener pastures; a more fulfilling life; just a touch of sheeply security in an insecure world. “But how?” the sheep ask. Everybody “knows a guy.” That program really seemed to work for her, so maybe I should try it. And it just makes sense, doesn’t it? These are the big questions the sheep are asking: How can I level the playing field of life when I’ve been dealt such a bum hand – maybe not the worst, but certainly not the best? And here’s the best the sheep have come up with: Give me a financial planner; someone who will chart the course for my personal wealth through an ever-fluctuating stock market. Give me a physical trainer; someone who will get me trim and tone and finally happy about myself when I look in the mirror. Give me a life coach; someone who will watch and guide and teach and bring about the best possible version of myself. These are relatable. These make sense. These are fine…But do any of these self-help gurus really provide a solution to your biggest problem? No amount of money gained, pounds lost, or life improved could ever provide us with the way to God or pay for our sin or deal with our death. After all, a healthy, wealthy, improved human will inevitably become a once healthy, formerly wealthy, dead person. Then your chances for improvement decrease rapidly. What’s a sheep to do in a world like this? Sheep don’t need a financial planner, a personal trainer, or a life-coach. Sheep need a shepherd. But sometimes the shepherd doesn’t do what the sheep think he should.
The Jews of Jesus’ day were waiting for a shepherd – except they called him “Messiah.” In modern church art, we see the pictures of Jesus as the Good Shepherd and it’s such a tenderhearted picture – you can see it, can’t you? There he is in the field, surrounded by sheep – but then there’s that one, oh the one who liked to wander, and that one Jesus holds in his arms close to his heart. It’s touching, and it’s true. But it’s not the whole picture. In the Old Testament, kings of Israel were described as shepherds. And every pious Jew of Jesus’ day was waiting for THE shepherd king, the son of David, Messiah. He would make all things right. He would lead his people to peace. And then Jesus came along making claims, but sometimes the shepherd doesn’t do what we think he should. They were tired of waiting, and wanted to get to the bottom of this. The Jews gathered around him, saying, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” In other words, “Jesus, if you are the Messiah, you’d better start doing the kind of Messiah things we’ve been waiting for the Messiah to do! Where’s the political freedom? Where’s the restored glory of Israel?” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep. Feeding the masses, healing diseases, giving sight to the blind, driving out the devil and his wicked work – those are all things the Messiah was prophesied to do, but you’ve looked right past their testimony because you wanted a Savior of your own making.
Today, Jesus makes it clear to the Jews of his day and to his people today just what kind of Messiah Shepherd he is. My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. Jesus didn’t come to set you free from the political oppressors or a broken system – he came to set you free from sin. Jesus’ work wasn’t to make you financially solvent in an unstable economy – but to give you the treasures of heaven. The Good Shepherd came not to make your life on earth a Sunday stroll in the park – but to give you an eternity that absolutely no one can take away from you. That’s what he says, and it’s clear – then why is it so hard to believe? Maybe because life doesn’t seem fair. Maybe because it doesn’t always feel like I’m a sheep in the fold of the Good Shepherd. Maybe because your life looks like a living testimony that you’re marked for slaughter rather than safe in the arms of Jesus.
We sing it, and we teach our children to sing it – how does it go? I am Jesus’ little lamb, but who wants to be a lamb? You need to be strong and self-assured if you’re going to make it. It’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and Jesus sends me out into that fray as a sheep! Ever glad at heart I am, but only when I can see and perceive that God is being good to me in the way I think he should be. For my Shepherd gently guides me, but, quite frankly, sometimes it doesn’t seem like he knows where he’s going either. Knows my need and well provides me, but not as well as he seems to be providing for my neighbor over there. Loves me every day the same, so this is what love looks like? When that’s the diagnosis? When the tears don’t seem to go away? When no one calls me, not even on mother’s day? Even calls me by my name, but my entire existence only seems to prove the fact that God has forgotten about me. It’s not fair. Jesus doesn’t seem to be doing his job, at least not the way we think he should.
If that’s the case, then let me remind you of what kind of Shepherd you have, dear sheep. You have a Shepherd, not one who shouts direction from a distance in the hopes that you’ll find your way back to him. You have a Shepherd who dives in; one who doesn’t shy away from the muck and mire of your life; one who pays no mind to the putrid smell of your shame or the great personal cost to himself. You have a Shepherd who saw the hopelessly and haplessly lost sheep, so he did something. He didn’t sit on his throne on high and lament the wretched state of his once perfect creation. Instead of rightly condemning the whole sinful world, he became sin itself. Jesus Christ became what he was not, so that he could declare you to be what you were not – holy, righteous in God’s sight, perfect sheep in the fold of the Good Shepherd. Jesus said, I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me. Your Good Shepherd knows you – not just as a nameless, faceless creature, but as his brother or sister. Don’t think for a second that he’s ignorant of your hardship in life. For every time you feel like you’ve been marked for slaughter, your Good Shepherd is there to remind you that he’s put a different mark on you – In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Through your baptism, the Good Shepherd has claimed you as his sheep for time and eternity, calling you by name, adopting you into his family. The Good Shepherd added you to his fold – and though the devil and the world may try to tear you away, listen to the promise of the Good Shepherd, I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.
This world doesn’t always seem fair to God’s people, and your own life may bear witness to that. In a place like that, your ears are assaulted with a cacophony of voices out there telling you how to fix it or how to level the playing field. Some of the voices out there evoke fear; others make demands or give advice. But one voice rises above all the noise and clamor of the experts out there. Jesus said, My sheep listen to my voice. Listen to the voice of your Good Shepherd –do you hear it? It’s so different! It’s not the voice of fear or demand, but the voice that makes you a promise and keeps it; a voice that gives and gives and gives; a voice that never tires of making absolutely sure that you know you are his very own. A voice belonging to the Savior Jesus, who has risen from the dead and lives for the express purpose of keeping his promise to you: I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. You might wonder where your life is going and where your Shepherd is leading. If so, go ahead and ask him, and you’ll hear that his answer is always the same: “Where are we going? Eternal life with me, dear child. That’s where we’re going!”
These words of John 10 are underlined in my Bible, because they’re pretty special to me. Every time I read them, I’m reminded of my confirmation day when (coincidentally, at Good Shepherd’s Lutheran Church) my father held his hand over my head and spoke these words of Jesus. When I read these words, I’m taken even further back to my earliest memories of listening to my mother sing to me about whose lamb I am and what my Shepherd does for me. So that’s my prayer for you today – that as you hear these words, you hear the voice of your Good Shepherd, and maybe you even remember the voices of those who spoke Jesus into your ear. Isn’t that the point, after all? To speak of the Good Shepherd, to fling out into the world his word of promise and watch the Good Shepherd do what he does, to see fellow wayward sheep and point them to the Good Shepherd? In a world that seems so unfair, you have on your lips a message that flips everything on its head. You have a Savior who became what he was not so that he could declare you to be what you were not – the righteous for the unrighteous to bring you to God. You have a God who sees you as already delivered from the great tribulation that is this world, standing around his throne in heaven with your palm branch in hand. You have a Good Shepherd who holds you in his arms. And listen to his promise, because it’s a big one, and this is about as clear as the gospel gets – no one will snatch you out of his hands because those hands were nailed to the cross to make you his own. In your Good Shepherd, you have everything – forgiveness for yesterday, hope for today, and certainty for eternity. And the beautiful truth about this Good Shepherd – he’s yours, and all he wants is you.
May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen