“The LORD Is My Shepherd”
April 29, 2012
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Psalm 23:1 and John 10:11
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
The words of Psalm 23 and the promises of the Good Shepherd have comforted Christians for century after century after century. They are, perhaps, the most loved verses in all of Scripture. And well they should be. Although the Christian life is joyous beyond measure, it is not fun. Yes, we rejoice that heaven is our home, but in this life we take a beating from the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh.
So many times I have been consumed by the pains of body and soul. So many times I have been beaten up by my failures. So many times I have cried to the Lord, and said with King David, “Against you [O Lord], you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”1
And I know that you have felt the same way too, for such is the Christian life.
In such times, who can we turn to? There is only one. His name is Jesus. We turn to him, the Good Shepherd. He is the one who takes us to himself, speaks words of peace, puts us in green pastures, and leads us to still waters. In place of our sins and sorrows, he shows us the wounds in his hands and feet. He says to you and me, “‘Peace be with you,’ for look, my Father has laid on me the iniquity of your sins. And if they are on my shoulders, they are not on yours.”
He knows us better than we know ourselves. Often we cry to him. Often we hurt. Often the devil makes us feel worthless. Often, again like King David, we say with him, “Oh that I had wings like a dove! For then would I fly away and be at rest.”2
Listen, then, to the words of the Good Shepherd. He says to you and me, “Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart. And you shall find rest for your souls.”3
We can rest safely in him because the Good Shepherd is also the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. It is he who says to us, “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”4
Yes, he has overcome all our enemies. But the word “overcome” is a bit mild. The Greek word behind it is nikaō. It means “to be victorious” in a battle. The noun in this word group is nikē which means victory. That is to say, Jesus has won the victory over all our enemies, sin, death, and Satan. And, to us who trust in him, he gives us the spoils of his victory, viz., all the treasures of the kingdom, the kingdom of heaven.
It is instructive to remember that, two weeks ago today, our campus was hit with a violent lightning strike during the Sunday School hour. Many, myself included, were saying, “Woe is me. Our computers are fried, our telephones are out; our sound system is dead, and our office equipment doesn’t work.”
What I didn’t think about until later was that no one was killed or injured. Given the magnitude of the strike, it was nothing less than a miracle. Now I am saying, “Thank you Lord, for you are good! And your mercy endures forever.”5
But it is also true that we sinners don’t, by nature, want to hear words of the Lord. We have other voices that we hearken to. Out in the wilderness of TV and the Internet, we hear that all religious roads lead to heaven. We hear that sin is fun: “So try it, you’ll like it!” We hear that the most important person in the world is me, myself, and I.
It is true that sheep will hearken only to the voice of its shepherd. But it’s also true that when sheep are sick, they will follow anybody. False shepherds from mega–churches tell us that God wants us to have fun and to have “our best life now.”6 Wolves in sheep’s clothing praise the gods of mega–tolerance. Satan uses the mouths of false teachers to tell us that Mohammed is a greater prophet than Jesus. But I have a question. If that is true, why is Mohammed dead while Jesus is alive foreve?
And even we who are of the Good Shepherd’s flock are prone to listen to these lying voices. May God grant that we turn away from them!
Let us, then, listen to the voice of God’s Word. In Psalm 23, we read, “The Lord is my Shepherd. I shall not want.” The image of a shepherd caring for his sheep is so very tender and comforting. Sheep are virtually helpless creatures and they need and depend on their loving, caring shepherd for their life, health, and safety.
This Shepherd–Lord spoke creation into existence. This Lord enabled the Israelites to pass through the Red Sea on dry land while causing pharaoh’s pursuing charioteers to be engulfed in its returning waters. This Lord miraculously provided food each day for his people in the form of manna or quail.7 This Lord gave drink to his desert–wandering people with a crystal stream of water flowing from a rock.8
So, then, this Shepherd–Lord is omnipotent, omniscient, holy, and eternal. But this great God wishes to be known as a shepherd. Imagine that! The Lord of the universe wants to be the caretaker of sheep. He did not hide himself in heaven. No, this Lord came down to us as the enfleshed God. This Lord comes to us as the lowly babe of Bethlehem and as the crucified of Calvary!
To be a shepherd is not a high and mighty calling as if one were called to be a prince, a king, or even a supervisor. A shepherd does not supervise men; he supervises sheep.
King David was, by his first calling, a shepherd.9 But in this Psalm, he speaks as a sheep of the Lord. “The Lord is my Shepherd,” he says. David knows that a sheep cannot protect itself from predators or dangers. It is timid and shy and prone to stray from its flock and from its shepherd. And once lost, it cannot find its way back. It continues to stray hither and yon until it is seized by a wolf or falls into a ravine, only to die by injury or exposure.10
However, Luther noted that sheep do have a noble trait. He says, “However weak and small a sheep may be, it nevertheless has this trait about it: it is very careful to stay near its shepherd. And if it can only so much as be near him, it worries about nothing, fears no one, and is happy and secure.”11
But, by nature, we human beings want nothing to do with the Good Shepherd. We don’t want to hear his voice. Because we are spiritually blind12 and dead in our trespasses and sins,13 we would rather use our own muscles to climb to the kingdom.
But this will never do. If we wish to be saved we must become weaker than sheep. We must become beggars who cry out, “Help me, O Lord, for I am starving. If you do not help me, I will die now and forever.”
Like a sheep, we sinners must trust in the Good Shepherd for all good things. And Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is a thousand times more willing and ready to do everything that is to be done for his sheep than is any faithful human shepherd.
What will a human shepherd not do for his beloved sheep? As a shepherd, David killed a lion and a bear to save his flock.14 He made sure his sheep had plenty to eat and fresh water to drink. Times without number, he sought out the strays, found them, and returned them to the flock.
And what will the Good Shepherd not do for his sheep? Behold, he comes to seek and save the lost.15 He gives them his faith–engendering and faith–sustaining Word. He says, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never hunger; he who believes in me will never thirst.”16 He comes to us in Holy Baptism. And he feeds and forgives us in the Sacrament of his body and blood.
My friends, the world is filled with people who are sin–sick unto death. They hearken to the voice of any shepherd who happens to appeal to them. Their eternity will not be pretty.
But not us. We will listen only to the voice of the Good Shepherd. To some unbelieving Jews, Jesus said, “You do not believe because you are not of my sheep.”17 But to believers, he said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish.”18
We all know that sheep can’t make it without a shepherd. Thank God that Jesus is our good and gracious Shepherd. He promises to supply our needs, especially all of our spiritual and eternal needs.
Beloved, when we come to the Lord’s Supper today, we do so penitently. We acknowledge that we, like sheep, have gone astray and dirtied ourselves in sin. And, behold, the Good Shepherd will not turn us away. No, he will forgive our sins. He will forgive and forget our sins. He will forgive and forget our sins forever.
Don’t you see? When you arise from his Supper, you get a brand new start. He doesn’t remember anything of your former life. It’s as if you were born anew today. He says to you and me, “Depart in peace for I have just written your name in the Book of Life; and you shall never perish.”
That is his promise. And Jesus always keeps his promises. In the name of the Good Shepherd … amen.
Soli Deo Gloria!
1 See Psalm 51:4.
2 See Psalm 55:6.
3 See Matthew 11:28-29.
4 See John 16:33.
5 See Psalm 118:1.
6 This is one of Joel Osteen’s book titles. See http://www.amazon.com/Your-Best-Life-Now-Potential/dp/0446532754.
10 Luther describes the nature of sheep especially well. See Luther’s Works 12:151-152.
11 See Luther’s Works, 12:152-153. Luther’s translator writes, “Still, however weak and small an animal a sheep may be, it nevertheless has this trait about it: it is very careful to stay near its shepherd, take comfort in his help and protection, and follow him however and wherever he may lead it. And if it can only so much as be near him, it worries about nothing, fears no one, and is secure and happy; for it lacks absolutely nothing. It also has this virtue—and this is to be marked well, because Christ praises it especially in His sheep (John 10:4)—that it very carefully and surely hears and knows its shepherd’s voice, is guided by it, does not let itself be turned away from it, but follows it without swerving. On the other hand, it pays no attention at all to the voices of strange shepherds. Though they may tempt and lure it in the most friendly manner, it does not heed them, much less does it follow them.” (12:153).
13 See Ephesians 2:1.
14 In 1 Samuel 17:34-36, David said to King Saul, “When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear.” (NASB).
15 In Luke 19:10, Jesus says, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost,” (ESV).
16 See John 6:35.
17 See John 10:26.
18 See John 10:27-28.
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