WHEN THE SHEPHERD SAVES
My sheep hear my voice and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. John 10:27ff
THE Bible uses many metaphors to describe our relationship to God, but the picture of Jesus as our Shepherd has always been a favorite, not only for those who know the pastoral life, but even in the concrete jungle people understand this picture and love to think of themselves as sheep with Jesus as their shepherd. Why shouldn't they? Anyone who hopes in Christ knows that He does all the things for us that shepherds do for their sheep.
Like David, we know that with Jesus as our shepherd we will never be in want. We believe that in Christ, God will supply all the things that we need for both body and soul. He gives us rest in the green pastures of His love, He leads us to the still waters of His grace and He restores our bruised and wounded souls with the inexhaustible riches of His mercy.
However, these benefits are not mere metaphors. They are grounded in the reality of baptism. Here the living word of God is spoken over us to sanctify us and make us God's own children. Living water is applied to our mortal flesh which, according to the Lord's own promise, forgives our sins and makes us fit to dwell in the house of the Lord forever, for nothing unholy can enter there. We also receive the gift of the Holy Spirit in baptism so that we are able to see what the Jews in our gospel lesson could not; that Jesus is the promised Messiah and the Shepherd of Israel who is enthroned between the cherubim, who leads Joseph as His flock. (Psalm 80)
Yes, Jesus is the Good Shepherd, but that is not all He is. Scripture also casts Him as the Lamb; the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, and the Lamb who sits on heaven's throne to be worshiped now in the church and for all eternity in a world without end.
As the Good Shepherd, Jesus is our mighty defender who did battle against the devil at every turn. He conquered him in the wilderness showing Himself to be the stronger man; and as a matter of course set helpless people free from Satan's deadly grasp whenever He encountered them in His earthly ministry. He does the same today whenever any person believes and is baptized into the strong name of the Trinity, but when the time was right, when all things were fulfilled, the shepherd became the sheep. He became the Lamb of God who by His suffering and death expunged the sin of the world. He ended the human/divine conflict that began in Eden. He brought a screeching halt to the world's enmity, to man's cruelty to man, by establishing a new and holy law that taught the world a new and wondrous way to live: that we love one another as He loved us. When the Lamb of God died, Satan's kingdom crumbled, and when He rose again on the third day the grave lost its victory and death lost its sting.
Yet for all the similarities between our Lord and the near eastern shepherd, there is one big difference. Shepherds did what they did for a living. However sentimental or solicitous they were of their sheep, they were, in the end, protecting their investment. They sold the much coveted wool for money, and when a sheep could no longer produce it became lunch. Not so with Jesus, quite the opposite! He takes nothing from us except our curse and gives everything to us: His glory and His righteousness. He gave His life for ours, and established the holy supper so that the sheep might feed on the shepherd until we reach the goal we hear of in today's first lesson. The people described there from every nation, tribe, language and people, are seen in St. John's vision wearing robes that were made white in the blood of the Lamb. They are the ones who passed through the Great Tribulation and dwell safely in the shelter of the Lord their God forever and ever.
We have the same promise of safety even now. The One to whom all heaven ascribes all power and might tells us here that no one can snatch us out of His hand or out of His Father's omnipotent hand. That is a promise you can rely on at all times and in all places. As Luther writes in his Christmas hymn, "Christ is your brother you are safe," but unlike those saints in glory who have gone on ahead of us, we are still in the midst of the Great Tribulation. We still need to contend with temptation, sin, guilt and shame; with the lingering consequences of our sins and the collective sin of those around us. It is still our calling each day to deny ourselves, to take up our cross and to follow our Lord in the paths of righteousness, then on the appointed day to pass through the greatest tribulation of all.
Where do we obtain the supernatural strength needed for this task? Only from the supernatural food which the Lord Himself prepares for us in the holy supper. This is the table David predicted in the Psalm , set before us in the presence of our enemies, the feast given to fortify us against sin and death and propel us heavenward. Here we receive all that we need to pass through the great tribulation and to attain our destination where God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. Amen
~ Rev. Dean Kavouras