John 10:11-18 (NKJV)
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12 "But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. 13 "The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep.
14 "I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 "As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.
17 "Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. 18 "No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father."
Emily and Rachel, family, friends—dear fellow Redeemed,
If someone were to ask you who you were, you would usually answer first by giving your name, but that usually isn’t good enough on its own. You’d follow it up by saying, “You know, John’s daughter,” or “Hannah’s sister.” We define ourselves by our relationships. And that’s especially true when it comes to who you are in the sight of God.
Today, on your confirmation day, we’re going to take a few minutes and remind ourselves how your lives, my life and the lives of everyone here are totally and completely defined by the relationship we have with Jesus Christ. As Jesus Himself describes it, He is our Shepherd—the Good Shepherd! You and I are the sheep. And—the Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.
- For the sheep that He knows.
The Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Sounds like a raw deal for the Shepherd, doesn’t it? Especially when you consider that the life of the Shepherd has to be worth a lot more than the lives of all the sheep put together. After all, if a robber comes up behind you and puts a gun in your back and says, “Hand over your purse,” what do the police say you should do? Give him your purse! A human life is worth way more than property—even if that property is a flock of sheep.
And yet the Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Still sounds like a raw deal for the Shepherd, though. Especially when you think about the pain in the neck that sheep can be. Of all the animals for Jesus to describe us as—He picks sheep! Sheep are stubborn and not very smart when it comes to their safety. As a result they tend to wander away from the rest of the flock.
In the same way, you and I can be stubborn. You and I—when it comes to the safety of our souls—tend to not be so smart, stumbling into thorny temptations all the time. You and I have made a regular habit out of wandering away from our Lord, away from His will, away from His commands, away… from His love.
The only one who acts rationally when it comes to the sheep is the hired hand. Look at what he does! When the wolf attacks the flock, what does he do? He runs! As stubborn, wandering, sheep, we’re not really worth the heroic effort, are we? Why should our Shepherd lay down His life for us?
And yet… the Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Jesus gladly lays down His life—because we’re His sheep. The Lord Jesus knows you just as much as the Father knows Him and He knows the Father. And Father and Son (along with the Holy Spirit), having known one another from eternity, are of one mind. That’s quite a close relationship! So Jesus is one in mind and heart with you. He also has known you from eternity. He knows your name, how many hairs are on your head, what you ate or didn’t eat for breakfast this morning. He knows your innermost desires, your darkest fears, and your greatest joys. Warts and all, Jesus knows everything about you… and yet He loves you anyway! And this love is what we call grace.
This love Jesus has for you is so strong that when the wolf came for you, Jesus your Shepherd took your place. He laid down His life for the sheep. Jesus willingly endured the wolf Satan’s attacks—even the pain and spiritual torture of the cross—for you. It was your Shepherd who from the cross cried out, “It is finished!”—and then willingly gave up His spirit in death.
And He doesn’t just know you—you know Him. You have heard His voice from the time of your baptism. And for you who know Him—this is what makes Jesus the “good” Shepherd. Jesus is not some uncaring god who doesn’t have time to worry about your problems. Do you think He’s ever going to forget you? He gave His own flesh and blood for you! And He will always love and care for you—now and in the future.
- With His Father’s total approval.
And it’s not only Jesus who loves and cares for you. Jesus is not a freelance artist in the way He has laid down His life for you.
This was all part of God’s plan! It was the Father’s command that Jesus lay down His life. Going all the way back to the beginning of time, when Adam and Eve first wandered away from Him, God promised that a Savior would come, a Savior who would crush the serpent’s head, though the serpent would strike His heel. And so it was God’s will that Jesus would be our Good Shepherd—that He would be conceived and born, suffer and die. The Good Shepherd Jesus lays down His life for the sheep with His Father’s total approval.
We know it because not only did the Shepherd lay down His life—He also takes it back up again! Just as He had the power to lay down His life on His own timetable, on His own schedule, He had the power to raise Himself back from the dead. And just as Jesus willingly laid down His life, He willingly took it back up again to prove to His sheep that everything’s okay, that the wolf, Satan—and the death he brings—will never trouble you again. Will you still die? Sure, along with everybody else. Yet your Shepherd promises that when you lay down your life in His arms, He will raise you back up again too, just as He raised Himself from death.
And again, the Father’s approval is all about love. He shows love for the Shepherd, for His Son. But even greater than the Father’s love for His Son the Shepherd is His love for the sheep—for you and me. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). In all your life, in all the people you’ve known, have you ever seen love like this—so great, and meant for so many people? And yet that love isn’t just meant for everybody else. It’s meant for you.
We define ourselves by our relationships. It’s true when it comes to your relationship with your family and friends. And it’s even more true when it comes to your relationship with God Himself. When you stand up and make your confirmation vows today—your promises to remain in the faith of your baptism, you’re promising that you will always define yourself by the relationship Jesus has made with you: that you are the sheep; He is the Shepherd.
Live as His sheep. Hear His voice, the voice that speaks His love through the Word and Sacrament. Join the Shepherd’s flock—the flock of the church. And live with the Shepherd—who is not just any shepherd, but the Good Shepherd, who lays down His life for His sheep, for you. Amen.