The Fourth Sunday in Easter
 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  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.  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 lay down my life for the sheep.  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.  For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father." John 10:11-18 (ESV)
“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 lay down my life for the sheep.” What a comforting passage of Scripture. Jesus is our shepherd who takes care of us. He is the one who leads us to the Green pastures of Beshan and Gilead, our heavenly home. And He leads us there with His death and resurrection. For He is the good shepherd who lays down His life for the Sheep.
In years past this was called not just the fourth Sunday in Easter, but Good Shepherd Sunday. Some passages of Scripture reveal truths so important that they cannot be neglected for more than one year. That really is the point of our liturgical year and the Pericopy lessons that are read on any given Sunday. The idea is that those parts of Scripture that provide the key to understanding the rest of Scripture, that reveal the overarching truths of all of Scripture are read, and expounded upon so that no article of the faith is neglected, but all are taught. Good Shepherd Sunday reveals the relationship of the Church and her Lord, the Sheep who hear the voice of the Shepherd and listen to Him, the good shepherd who lays His life down for the sheep, defending them against the wolves of sin, the bear of death, and the power of the devil, our adversary who prowels around like a lion seeking someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)
Shepherding I think has always been a fairly thankless job. The men who owned the sheep rarely shepherded, but hired out the shepherding to others, or made their sons do it for them, as Jesse did to David. And it wasn’t an easy job. Sheep are really the easiest of prey when they aren’t protected. They are a delicious animal to eat also. They tempt almost all predators. Domestic sheep do not survive on their own in the wild. They need protection from the predators. The shepherd is that protection. David recounts his days as a shepherd to his king Saul:
 And Saul said to David, "You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him, for you are but a youth, and he has been a man of war from his youth."  But David said to Saul, "Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and took a lamb from the flock,  I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him.  Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God."  And David said, "The Lord who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." And Saul said to David, "Go, and the Lord be with you!" 1 Samuel 17:33-37 (ESV)
It is funny because David is depicted as being the shortest and a man of not very big stature not a likely candidate for wrestling bears. But then so is the Messiah unexpected. Jesus is depicted by Isaiah as being.
 For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him. Isaiah 53:2 (ESV)
David in many ways served as a foreshadowing for Israel of who and what their Messiah, the Good Shepherd, Jesus would be like. David started out as a shepherd. A strong and good one it seems. He fought bears and lions with his own hands. It seems incomprehensible to me. What bravery, courage, and strength that would have had to take. David wasn’t one to stand up and scream, but to charge forward and strike with reckless abandon for his own life. Later on as king of Israel his officers had to tell him to stay home and fight no more, they didn’t want to lose their king to battlefield heroics. I have to say as a kid I would read these stories and want to emulate them. I still sometimes wonder what it would be like to take a lion on with a stick.
When Jesus says he is the Good Shepherd, these are the images he invokes. One who does not run for fear of his own life, but a Shepherd who takes a stand and lays down his own life for the helpless sheep, when the lion prowling around seeking someone to devour attacks. “I lay down my life for the sheep.” He is the Good Shepherd He knows His sheep, He loves His sheep, and the sheep know Him and love Him, and because He loves His sheep He lays down His life for the sheep.”
Who are His sheep? You are His sheep. Those who listen to His voice, the Gospel, they are His sheep. His sheep are His church, where ever the Gospel His voice is heard and there are people who listen to it, that is are comforted by it, and trust Him when he says I lay down my life for the sheep. There is only one holy catholic, or Christian church, one flock as there is only one shepherd.
 There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—  one Lord, one faith, one baptism, Ephes. 4:4-5 (ESV)
As for us there is, “one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. 1 Cor. 8:6 (ESV)
So there can only be one church, one flock, and those of that flock are those who listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd who lays his life down for the Sheep. No one else even deserves a hearing. No one else has ever laid his life down for the sheep. Oh there are many would be shepherds who would try to steal, rob and kill your soul, and hired hands who run at the sight of a wolf, afraid of a dog. But the sheep will not listen to them, but only the voice of the shepherd. The church listens to her Lord, Jesus Christ and no one else. And Jesus warns us about these thieves, and robbers who come to steal and destroy, warns us of the false prophets and anti-Christ’s to come, who yes indeed were there in the world already. You can tell these false prophets, they are afraid of the Gospel, and will not hear it, or voice it. They are afraid of the green pasture of the Gospel, the forgiveness of sins, and would feed only straw, starve you one the law. Straw is maybe good for bedding, terrible feed. The law is the bed we made, the bed we have to lie in for our sin. It pokes at us and prods us, it is even worse when we are so starved of the gospel that we have to feed on it, eat our own bedding. Not the good shepherd, He leads us to green pastures, feeds us on the gospel, lays down His life for us sheep and forgives us our sins, leads us by still waters, from which we drink and thirst no more, when He makes us righteous in the waters of baptism. Incorporates us to the one fold with the forgiveness of sins.
This church is not any earthly institution. It cannot be identified by a sign outside. And just as our Lord could not be known for the appearance of majesty, so his sheep cannot be known for the appearance of righteousness. But our Lord had majesty, and He gives us righteousness. Righteousness that is not seen in the lives of the saints who in this world remain also sinners like everyone else in this world. In fact the biggest difference between the sheep of the Good Shepherd’s flock, and those of other folds, is they know they are sinners, helpless in the face of the lion, but that they have a Good Shepherd who defeats the lion by laying down his life. They hear the voice of that shepherd and listen to him when he says, “peace be with you” “your sins are forgiven.” Because He laid down His life for you, and no one else ever has.
He laid it down of his own accord. This is amazing. This isn’t a shepherd who had his life taken from him as he ran from the lion. No He confronted the devil head on. Met him in the desert, resisted his temptation, and chased him to Jerusalem. He laid it down of His own accord! Why because He knew this was the only way to defeat sin, death and the power of the devil! He knew it was the only way to defeat the lion. The lion was looking for someone to devour, he found Him, and choked. We call the day that happened Good Friday. Why? Because it was not defeat, but victory. I marvel at how often it is looked at as defeat. As if Jesus was somehow unable to complete what He started. These people can’t understand the gospel. They think Jesus came merely to overturn tables, and drive out money changers. These people can’t see beyond this world. There are still people today who wait for the Lord to come, not so that we can once and for all be lead to the green pastures of heaven as His flock, but so that he can rule this world of malcontents and ingrates with the law, and put an end to the unrighteousness that is rampant in this world. And that is not why He drove the money changers out of the temple. He did that because they tyranized the people with law! And stood in the way of the Gospel and the forgiveness of sins for which God had the temple built! These men had broken into the sheepfold as thieves, climbed in with a ladder of law, which they used to kill and destroy the sheep. They did not come in through the door who is Jesus Christ, by way of the Gospel.
[10:1] "Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. John 10:1 (ESV)
But it was not defeat, it was victory. Jesus came and laid His life down of His own accord, because He had the authority to lay it down, and the authority to take it up again. So He laid his life down before the before the wolves of sin, the bear of death, and the prowling lion of the devil. He laid it down, and they feasted and choked, and when death was dead, He took his life up again, and gave it to us, saying, “your sins are forgiven. Yes, in Me they are dead.”
Now the peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.