Pastor Jeremy Husby delivers a sermon entitled “Jesus Is Your Good Shepherd” based on John 10:11-18 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered: Sunday, April 22, 2018
Which is easier to say: I would live for you or I would die for you?
If you were married here at Peace over the last 10-15 years, you may have been asked that question by one of the pastors in a pre-marriage class or seminar. After a few moments of thought and consideration, though, the time comes for the follow up question: which of those is easier to actually do for your future spouse? Would it be easier to live for them or to die for them?
That is a valuable question to be asked—and answered—as people consider what their married lives will be like and how they can truly be a good husband or wife for their future spouse.
Dying for someone that you love is by no means an easy decision to make, no matter what the circumstances are that surround your particular situation. To give up your life in place of another is an enormous expression of love and an act that would not be soon forgotten.
But what about living for someone that you love? Would that really be easier than dying for them?
While it would no doubt be a tremendous act of self-sacrifice to die for someone else, living for someone else is a series of acts of tremendous self-sacrifice. Rather than one life-changing moment, living for your loved one involves an intentional and determined decision to be made over and again, day after day. Being a good spouse means putting the wants and needs of your husband or wife in front of your own.
What makes Jesus the Good Shepherd? Does that phrase conjure up any pictures in your mind? Perhaps you see a man in white robes with a long shepherd’s staff in his hand, walking ahead of and leading his flock. Maybe, instead of leading his sheep, you’d rather see the broad shoulders of that Good Shepherd carrying the poor sheep who cannot walk on their own or the tender arms and warm embrace of the Good Shepherd enfolding and enveloping the littlest of his lambs.
Those things may constitute a pretty picture of what qualities qualify Jesus to be your Good Shepherd. However, as you likely know from other sections of Scripture, your God has different standards than human beings. The very word Jesus used to describe himself as the “Good” Shepherd is the same one that the Greeks used when they translated the God the Father’s satisfaction with the creation of his perfect world. He saw that the separation of land and sea, the vegetation of the earth, the sun, moon, and stars, and all the animals that he placed on to his perfect planet earth were, according to his standard, good.
If, in order to be a good shepherd, you would simply have to measure up to man’s standards, there would likely be many who would qualify for the category of good shepherds. Those hired hands to whom Jesus compares himself were ones that carried out the tasks that people expected of their shepherds. They surely were leaders who guided their flocks to green pastures on which they could feed and streams of quiet waters from which they could drink. They would, no doubt, at the end of the day, guide their flock back into the safety and security of the sheep-pen for protection.
But, Jesus doesn’t consider that good enough. The hired hand is not a good shepherd because there is one quality and characteristic that the hired hand is unwilling to undergo and accept. When the wolves and other wild animals come to feast upon the flock, the hired hand sees the danger and values his own life far more than the lives of the flock. They are not his sheep, so he runs for cover, abandoning those who were depending on him for deliverance.
Instead, in contrast, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because the Good Shepherd, as he says lays down his life for the sheep. Instead of running away for his own sake, he put the benefit and welfare of the flock in front of his own.
There are plenty of wolves in your lives that are seeking to devour you. Greed seeks to lure you away from the safety and security of your pen under the guise of finally allowing you to live the good life. Jealousy plays primarily on your pride and works to remind you of what everyone else has and why you deserve it instead. Lust lingers around and advertises all the pleasures of the flesh that would seem to fill the void in your relationships—or the void you feel because you don’t have any such relationships.
Convinced by those conniving wolves who so often sneak around in the sheep’s clothing of basic human rights and privileges, you would be doomed to be their dinner night after night, as they would eat away at you until, finally, you would be kept away from those green pastures and quiet waters for all of eternity.
But, thankfully, Jesus is not simply some hired hand, seeking to keep himself well fed and safe. No, Jesus is your Good Shepherd. He does not only live up to the standard that human beings expect from their shepherd. He worked according to a much higher standard. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life.
His purpose in coming to this earth and being your Good Shepherd was not to please you or your standards, but, rather, to measure up to his Father’s definition of good. He had to do what no one else could do. He made himself the Good Shepherd by laying down his life for his sheep. He didn’t decide to live or to die for the flock that he loves. God’s requirements made it necessary for him to do both.
He laid down his life by living his life for you. Every breath, every step, every thought, word, and action had nothing to do with what would make his own life here on earth any easier. When he faced the same temptations toward greed, jealousy, pride, and lust that you face, he didn’t fall for them. He kept himself aligned with the Law the Father laid down for all of humanity and shows that life to his heavenly Father whenever he looks to see how you measure up against that Law.
And then, to complete the task assigned to him, he laid down his life by taking that life of perfection and sacrificing it on Calvary’s cross. In so doing, he died the death that your sins cause you to deserve and took on himself the fullness of God’s wrath so that you would never have to undergo the same.
Jesus is your Good Shepherd because he did the only thing that makes you loveable in the eyes of your God. He loved you and laid down his life for you, living and dying for you, his sheep.
Because of that, and in thanksgiving for that, be a good spouse to your husband or wife. Be a good dad to your daughter and be a good mom to your son. Be a good child, a good brother or sister, and a good friend. Be good at your job and be good while you are enjoying your hobbies. Be a good member of this congregation and a good representative of Christ to the world around you. Lay down your life for those you love and for those you hate, for those who deserve it and those who don’t.
Put aside the temptations to greed, to jealousy, to pride, and to lust. Put aside what will make your life easier and, strengthened by the love that your Good Shepherd has shown to you, make every step you take, every thought, word, and action that you make for the benefit of those who surround you.
And, when you fail; when you can’t find the strength or the desire to measure up to God’s standard of good, go into the welcoming arms of your Good Shepherd. See his nail pierced hands and rest on his broad shoulders that once carried the weight of the world’s sin. Remember what he did to be your Good Shepherd and, with your cup overflowing, be good again. Amen.