Beautiful Shepherd

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John 10:11-18 || April 21, 2024

What comes to mind when you hear the word beautiful? Maybe you think of a great piece of artwork. Maybe you think of your spouse or your children. Maybe you think of a sunrise or a sunset. I suppose there’s a lot of things that you could list that are beautiful. But how many of you think of a shepherd? At least for me, I know I don’t think of a shepherd. Rather, when I think of a shepherd, I think of things like rough or dirty. That’s because being a shepherd really isn’t the greatest job in the world. For millennia, this has been considered a poor person’s job. It’s tough work. Even today, in places where a shepherd still exists, they often will go days without seeing another person. Or they’ll go days without having running water, and they sleep in tents. It’s tough work. It’s not what you would consider beautiful. And a lot is asked of shepherds. They need to be vigilant. They need to be aware of predators. They need to be aware of the health of each individual sheep within the flock. Because at the end of the day, the whole purpose of sheep herding is to produce a profit, to make money. And you can’t make money off of unhealthy sheep. Ultimately, they are there to provide us with either wool or meat. The people in Jesus’ day, they understood what a shepherd was. They lived in an agrarian society, so they knew what shepherds did. But what Jesus says here in chapter 10 would have sounded strange to their ears. Because what Jesus says is that the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Now, while it would have been customary for a shepherd to protect the sheep as best he could, it was not the norm for the shepherd to die for the sheep. If the shepherd died, that would mean disaster for the flock. Because who would look after the flock? Who would make sure that goods were produced? You see, you can’t leave sheep alone. They are vulnerable creatures. One of their problems is that they just can’t see very well. That’s why they travel in flocks because at the very least, they feel more secure in a large group. And it’s not so much that sheep are dumb. It’s just that they’re weak. But they’re not totally incapable. When a lamb is born, they can walk immediately, which is more than we can say of us humans. When we are born, we can’t do anything. On top of that, we come into this world by nature, sinful, and enemies of God. We naturally don’t like listening to what God has to say, nor can we carry out what he commands. And so we deserve to die. And not just physical death, but eternal separation from God in hell. And so because we are spiritually ugly and not beautiful, we deserve to be punished. We deserve for wolves to rip us apart. But that’s not what happened. Instead, Jesus the shepherd, he was ripped apart on the cross. Jesus, the innocent shepherd, took the fall for the wayward actions of the flock. That is why he is called good. But another way of translating that term, and perhaps a better way, is to say not good, but beautiful. Jesus is the beautiful shepherd. He’s beautiful because he lays down his life for the flock. And because he does so, you and I will get to roam free in the house of the Lord forever, as Psalm 23 says. But before that happens, for now, Jesus protects us in this world with his rod and staff, his holy word. And he also sends to us aid. He sends sheepdogs. Now, sheepdogs isn’t said in the Bible. It’s not a metaphor that you find there. But it comes from a book on pastoral theology. In that book, the author compares pastors or teachers to sheepdogs. Because sheepdogs are supposed to heed the voice of their master and to help keep the flock on track, though flawed they are. So sheepdogs are there to help, but wolves, on the other hand, are there to destroy. And wolves are people who are against Jesus, people who are against Christianity. So therefore, pray to the Lord that he sends more faithful sheepdogs because as we get closer and closer to Judgment Day, the onslaught of the wolves will increase. And though we may be surrounded by wolves, we will fear no evil, because our cup overflows with peace, the peace that comes only through faith in Jesus, the one who lived, died, and rose to pay for our sin. But for now, Jesus is still gathering more sheep into his sheep pen, sheep that are not part of his sheep pen but will be. And they will become part of his sheep pen when they hear his voice, and they will be one flock, one shepherd. These sheep, they might be your co-workers, they might be your neighbors, your friends or family members. Basically, what I’m trying to say is that people need to know the beautiful truth that Jesus died for them. This is the single most important historical fact that a person could ever know. Being a shepherd is a thankless job. Yet the Almighty God humbled himself to do this labor. The holy hands of Jesus got dirty so that lambs like you and me would be clean. Jesus, the shepherd, became a lamb for the slaughter so that you and I wouldn’t have to be slaughtered. His death means life for you and me. And that, my friends, is beautiful. Amen?