Good Shepherd Sunday Sermon
April 14, 2002
is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
God does not call
himself a shepherd and us sheep for light reasons.
This heavenly metaphor has a very serious and down to earth
purpose. God wants us to
understand how he relates to us and how we relate to him.
I can think of no other illustration in the Scriptures that so
clearly explains to us what it means to be a Christian and to be the
Christian Church than this inspired illustration of David the king of
Israel, who had considerable experience as a shepherd of sheep.
The sheep is a simple animal. Heís not smart, like a pig.
He isnít cunning, like a fox.
He isnít ferocious, like a wolf.
Heís simple and heís rather helpless.
He cannot find his way to where he needs to go.
And so it is with us in our relationship with God.
We are lost. We are unable to find the Shepherd. So he needs to find us and carry us home.
This is what God said through Ezekiel in todayís Old Testament
The sheep donít find the Shepherd. The Shepherd finds the sheep.
The relationship that exists between God and his children is a
relationship that God establishes.
Jesus says, ďWithout me you can do nothingĒ (John 15:5) and
he adds, ďYou did not choose Me, but I chose you.Ē (John 15:16)
The first thing the Shepherd/sheep metaphor teaches us is that we
Christians are entirely dependent on our God for everything from
beginning to end.
This is why we need to identify and condemn every
teaching that challenges this precious truth.
We confess in the Catechism on the meaning of the Third Article
of the Creed:
The sheep cannot find God.
God finds the sheep.
God gives them everything they need.
This means everything. Yet
this psalm is not talking in general about how God provides every need
of our bodies and souls. It
is talking more specifically about how the LORD Ė that is, our Lord
Jesus Christ Ė cares for our souls.
Jesus makes that crystal clear when he calls himself the Good
Shepherd. What does the
Good Shepherd do for his sheep? He
lays down his life for them. This
means that he goes to the cross and suffers and dies for them.
As we sing in that wonderful Lenten hymn: ďWhat punishment so
strange is suffered yonder! The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander.Ē
In dying for the sheep and in raising himself up from the dead,
Jesus purchases the food with which the sheep are fed.
That food is the gospel and the sacraments.
It is likened by the Psalmist to green pastures in which there
are pools of pure water that provide the sheep with everything they need
to be healthy and content. The
same Lord Jesus who died for us lives among us and gives to us
everlasting life in the preaching of the gospel and the administration
of the holy sacraments.
This is why we call the man who preaches the gospel
and administers the sacraments a pastor, or shepherd. So long as he speaks the true gospel and administers the
sacraments according to Christís institution, he is acting in the
stead and by the command of the Good Shepherd, Jesus.
But we do not follow any human pastor on account of his personal
piety, persuasiveness, charm, or popularity.
We ask only one thing. Is
this man speaking the words of Jesus?
Jesus is the true pastor and bishop of our souls.
Ministers come and go. God
can and has spoken through the mouth of a donkey.
He doesnít need any particular pastor.
But his people need to be fed.
They need to hear his voice.
They need the washing in which he covers their sin with his
righteousness. They need
the Sacrament of his body and blood.
This is why they need pastors and why we honor this holy office
that Christ has given to his church on earth.
The church is where the gospel is purely preached
and the sacraments of rightly administered.
That is where the sheep find pasture.
This is what sustains them.
It literally keeps them alive.
What do you want in life?
Do you want a better education?
Maybe you need more money or a better job. If your wife were more understanding, that would help.
Or perhaps if your husband were more sensitive to your feelings
and needs, or your parents more interesting in what you really think, or
your boss just a little bit more willing to listen to suggestions your
life would be better. Maybe
so. But is that what life
is? I mean, is that the
essence of living?
Jesus said in his high priestly prayer, ďAnd this
is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus
Christ whom You have sent.Ē (John 17:3)
When you live in the pastures of Godís holy word and
sacraments, when you drink in his words of life that come from the mouth
of Jesus you have everything you need.
You are content. ďThe LORD is my Shepherd; I shall not want.Ē
What do you really need?
You need faith. You
need to trust in God. You
need to know that God forgives you your many sins.
You need to believe this. You
need to believe that you deserve Godís anger and judgment but that
Jesus has removed this anger from you and borne this judgment against
you. You need to know that
the law of God curses you for your sins, but that Jesus bore that curse
for you on the cross. This
is what you need to know and believe.
But you are a foolish sheep and forget what you
need. You run off to where
you cannot hear the voice of your Shepherd.
And so you get lost, it gets dark, the wolf smells you and tracks
you down, and you are utterly helpless to defend yourself against him.
Have you ever seen a wolf in the wild?
They stay shy of men, you know.
But in the wintertime you can see them not too far from here.
The sheep farmers up north near the Canadian border have had an
ongoing dispute with certain folks who want to protect the timber wolf
from their guns. Of course, the Good Shepherd doesnít go battle with guns.
He sheds his blood and he speaks the truth.
By shedding his blood, we are forgiven of all our sins.
By speaking his truth to us he drives the wolves away.
No one can stand before the truth of the gospel and belie it.
No one! When we take
our refuge in the words of Jesus, the wolves run from us.
These are the words that give us faith.
The gospel and the sacraments of Christ are Christ present among
us today where we live. They
give us what we need. They
give us faith when we doubt. The
gospel gives us comfort when our sins accuse us and would convinced us
that God no longer loves us or wants us as his children.
The gospel convinces us that God hears our prayers and is willing
and able at all times to protect us from all evil.
The running water of a river will frighten the sheep who
doesnít trust that water because he doesnít know whatís in it. But the gospel is a still, pure, clear pond of life-giving
water that brings us no fear at all.
It soothes our fears by giving us Godís pardon.
These are the still waters that restore our soul.
The gospel restores our soul. We are weak and filled with doubts. The gospel breathes life into us, just as surely as Jesus
breathed the Holy Spirit into the disciples on Easter Sunday evening.
Every single baptized child of God is filled with the Holy
Spirit, and this Spirit is God, the God who proceeds from the Father and
Those who hear and believe the gospel are those who
walk in the paths of righteousness.
You donít make people good by telling them to be good and
punishing them for being bad. You
make people good by giving them Jesus who is our righteousness.
Then they live righteous lives for we do what we are.
We can no more make ourselves righteous than a sheep can make
himself into something he is not. God makes us righteous by forgiving us our sins and by giving
us new desires to listen to him, follow him, and submit to his holy
And the well-fed sheep of the Good Shepherd, far
from being prey for the hungry wolf, is able to walk through the valley
where death overshadows him and to do so without fear.
How can he have no fear? Because
he isnít afraid of death! He
has already died; he will never die again.
He had died and risen to eternal life in Holy Baptism and the
Good Shepherd comforts him with this knowledge whenever death strikes.
The rod and the staff of an ordinary shepherd will drive the
sheep and shove him where he doesnít want to go.
The rod and the staff of the Good Shepherd protect the sheep from
death and hell and damnation. They arenít used to beat on the sheep, but to beat away his
And we have enemies.
When Jesus instructs us to love our enemies he is also teaching
us that we will always have enemies.
It is the conceit of our humanistic post-Christian culture that
says we can do away with all enmity here on earth if only we subscribe
to their anti-Christian creed that debunks all Christian dogma and
denies the exclusive claims of Jesus.
And the purveyors of this false religion most certainly are our
enemies. It is foolish for
us to deny it. We donít
hate them. We love them.
They belittle what we hold dear.
They show their contempt for the most holy suffering and death of
Jesus and the precious doctrine of justification by faith alone on which
we rest our eternal hope. They
urge us to let go of historic Christianity in favor of the religion of
the New Age that finds the solution to lifeís trouble in us instead of
God. Make no mistake.
They are our enemies. And
in their presence, Jesus lays before us a table of rich and delicate
foods, of the most excellent wines and sweets, of the most delicious
dessert capped off with the perfect cup of coffee that wonít keep you
awake at night. He feeds us
as kings and anoints us as holy priests before him.
This is true, and this is real, and this is all
ours because the LORD is our Shepherd.
Goodness and mercy belong to us because Jesus is filled with all
goodness and the One who showers us with undeserved but steadfast
kindness every single day of our lives.
Lenin and Stalin mocked the Church.
They murdered the faithful pastors and imprisoned those who
protested. Josef Stalin
destroyed over a hundred and fifty churches in Kiev alone.
And where is the empire they imposed by fear and terror?
It is in the ash heap of history.
And where is that holy flock of Jesus, purchased by his blood,
fed by his gospel and sacraments, protected by his Holy Spirit, and
sustained by his power? It is feasting on the words of the gospel that even now is
bringing new life to those living in the ruins of Communist
You donít need money or power or worldly success.
You donít need the love of the crowd or the favor of the right
clique. You donít need
the cure of your every illness or the answer you told God to give you to
that particular prayer that you think he never heard. What you need is Jesus.
You need Godís favor, Godís forgiveness, and the life that
comes from God and is given to you only in the suffering and death of
Godís Son. You need it,
and God gives you what you need. Because
the LORD is your Shepherd,
dear Christian, you will never, ever be in want.
He will keep you, by his gospel, in the holy faith he has planted
in your heart. He will lead
you to heaven. He wants you
to know this and to rely on this. This
is why he inspired David to write such a beautiful psalm and why he
invites you to take these words to heart and know that they were written
Rev. Rolf D. Preus