Electrical wires not securely connected generate heat and can cause a fire. This beautiful text about the Good Shepherd reveals loose wires in our relationship with God that generate heat and will cause us discomfort.
This text shows the disconnect we sometimes feel between God the Son and us. Jesus tells us, "I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep." Well, if it's His life for yours, why do you suffer and die? It won't be Jesus lying in the hospital bed; it will be you. It won't be Jesus they carry out to bury; it will be you. So what does it really mean to have Jesus as the Good Shepherd? What comfort should you take from Him laying down His life in your place?
Jesus says in this text that He's not a hired hand, but the Good Shepherd who owns the sheep. He says unlike the hired hand, He doesn't abandon the sheep when He sees the wolf coming. If that's how it is, then why does He tell us in Matthew 7 to beware of the false prophets who are ravening wolves? If the Good Shepherd stands by His sheep, how come Paul tells the Ephesian pastors that he knows "grievous wolves will enter in among you, not sparing the flock?" If Jesus doesn't abandon us sheep to wolves, how come in Luke 10 He says He sends us forth as lambs among wolves?
Jesus says He's the Good Shepherd and that He owns all the sheep, so there' one shepherd and one flock. If this is the case, why are sheep scattered among so many folds? What kind of a shepherd can't keep his sheep together?
You can feel those loose wires now, can't you? The disconnect is causing heat and you're getting uncomfortable. Some of you have always felt the disconnect. Others of you have tried to ignore it. Still others never even suspected a disconnect until a professor, a magazine article, a book, or TV show started shaking the wires between you and Jesus. When that happens the heat can make you so uncomfortable, you'll break the connection. What you don't realize is this the disconnect we sometimes feel and proud intellectuals like to point out doesn't start between us and Jesus. No, the lose wires start between God the Father and God the Son.
People question how the Good Shepherd takes care of His sheep. He appears to be a weak, uncaring, or at least inept shepherd. He leads sheep where no truly good shepherd would take them: death's valley. He feeds them where a good shepherd wouldn't choose to: amidst their enemies. But these aren't the loose wire. No, the loose wire is this. We don't think that what the Son does, where He leads us, how He leads us is really what the Father wants. There's a bigger, smarter, better God behind Jesus. We can't know what this God thinks, wills, or feels from what Jesus does.
For some of you, this disconnect is your ace in the hole. Jesus may be leading me through a dark valley or into the midst of enemies, but the Big God, well, I believe He's doing, thinking, and willing better things for me. But for others of you, the disconnect between God the Father and God the Son leaves you wondering how you can know anything at all about God. Yes, Jesus is my Good Shepherd, but what is God the Father to me?
In our text, Jesus addresses this disconnect all are tempted to believe is there. For example, on the night Jesus was betrayed Philip asked Jesus to "show us the Father" as if they hadn't been seeing Him all along in Jesus. Mother Mary didn't understand that the Father's Business was the same as Jesus'. That's why Jesus repeatedly needed to teach what is the Father's is mine and what is mine is the Father's. This sermon on the Good Shepherd ends emphasizing this connection. Jesus says, "No one will snatch My sheep 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. I and the Father are one."
Right here is the connection that keeps loosening that Jesus wishes to solder together in our text. Jesus says the Father wanted His Son to suffer and die for sinners. The eternal God whom we never can see in the blinding light He dwells in, in the consuming fire that surrounds Him, wanted the incarnation, the humiliation, the resurrection, and the ascension of His eternal Son. The God who created all things and upholds them, the God of the Cosmos, the God who knows all things before they happen wanted His only dear Son to suffer and die for sinners like you. There can be no disconnect, no loosening of the wires here otherwise Jesus' bloody suffering and hellish death are a mistake, a misstep, only evil.
Having tightened this wire, there's a danger of a disconnect on the other side, that is, it was easy for the Father to send the Son to the cross. Let's put it in human terms. A pastor is holding forth on the need for missionaries in the fetid, malaria infested jungles of Africa. He paints the suffering, hardship, and possible death that await any who would go. "Who will go?" He asks. "Who will go to save those dying in heathen darkness?" As he paused for emphasis, the silence was broken by a young boy in the front row. "I'll go," he said softly; "I'll go, father." It was the preacher's only son, his only child! The preacher was so shocked he blurted out, "On no! Not you!"
You just think your sorrow over seeing Jesus crucified, dead and buried is deep. You just think your heart breaks over what your sins caused. You can't imagine the sorrow, the dread, the pain that filled the Father's heart. Not one of us dares to assume we know or can even share what parents go through when they lose a child, but we don't see that deep, loving connection between God the Father and God the Son. It was not easy for the Father to send the Son to the cross.
The close connection between God the Father and God the Son is what needs to be reconnected so that the disconnect between us and our strange Good Shepherd can be healed. How is this done? Only by what the Son preaches in this text. Since we know nothing about the relationship between God the Father and God the Son unless the Son, the eternal Word of God, tells us, to Him we must listen.
Jesus says, "The reason My Father loves Me is I lay down My life." Now that's an astounding statement, but like many of the Words of Jesus recorded by John, we can run right by them. If the reason God the Father loves the Son is because He lays down His life, i.e. suffers, bleeds, cries and dies in place of you, then that means the Father loves you above all else. So while the Father's heart breaks as the Son becomes sin for us, as the Father must turn away from the One who is sin on the cross, He's not looking at you and saying, "Do you see what you made Me do?" He's saying, "See how much I love you!"
How does this address the disconnect between having a Good Shepherd and you suffering and dying surrounded by wolves? God the Father gave the Man Jesus authority over His life and death. Though we think otherwise Ecclesiastes tells us, "No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death." God the Father gave this power to the Man Jesus. He could live forever in flesh and blood never facing the horrible disconnect between body and soul that sinners like us must. But Jesus faced it, bore it, and endured it for our sakes. He chose to lay down His life in place of ours. Now you might say. Suicides choose to lay down their life. Well, suicide or not they would one day die. Jesus wouldn't have unless He chose to.
Why did Jesus go the way He did? He had authority to live any way He wanted, to never die, never suffer, never have to be raised. Why did He put His Father through the horrible suffering and death of His only beloved Son? Because this is the only path for sinners in a fallen world. Once we were thrown out of Paradise for our sins against the holy, loving God, there could only be blood, sweat, and tears for us. All that was good in God's creation was polluted by our sins. All that was meant to serve us in God's creation rebelled against us.
Connect this rightly. We don't go the path of suffering and dying; we aren't surrounded by wolves because Jesus was. No, He, the Holy One of God, the only beloved Son goes the path of pain, loss, and death because we're on that path. His going the path we deserve doesn't take us off that path, but it does remove the guilt, the shame, the payment for sin for us on this path. His death stung with judgment for sins, ours will not. His suffering had the stigma of guilty shame ours does not. He was abandoned to wolves to pay for our sins; we are surrounded but never abandoned because our sins have been paid for.
But what about that last disconnect? If Jesus is the Good Shepherd of all the sheep why are they scattered over so many folds? The world answers, "Variety is the spice of life. God knew that different things appeal to different people." That doesn't solve the disconnect; it reconnects you to human reason rather than to God's Word. Jesus reconnects us to the right place by saying that Father and Son know only one flock, with one Shepherd. Jesus promises that His sheep only listen to His voice. They may hear a bunch of others but they only listen to His.
So amid the cacophony of voices in the world claiming to speak for the Good Shepherd, sheep only listen to Jesus. As the Son only listens to the Father, so sheep only listen to the Shepherd. As the Son is known by the Father and the Father is known by the Son, so the Son knows His sheep and they know Him. Sheep live from this connection, and they get skittish when it loosens. Next time it does, may this text retighten the connection between Father and Son, and that will reconnect you to the Good Shepherd. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday of Easter (20060507); John 10:11-18