Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and we consider the ongoing gracious work of Christ Jesus, our Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for us, His sheep, and is now risen again. And, the Scriptures speak of Christ’s work as a shepherd in many places.
In Ezekiel 34:1-6, 15-16, we read: “And the word of the LORD came to me, saying: Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to those shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourself with the wool; you kill those who are fed without feeding the flock. The diseased you have not strengthened, nor have you healed that which was sick, nor have you bound up that which was broken, nor have you brought back that which was driven away, nor have you sought that which was lost. But with force and with cruelty you have subjugated them. They were scattered because there was no shepherd. And they became meat to all the beasts of the field and were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains and upon every high hill. Indeed, My flock was scattered upon all the face of the earth, and no one searched or sought after them. … I will feed My flock, and I will cause them to lie down, says the Lord GOD. I will seek that which was lost and bring back that which was driven away and bind up that which was broken and will strengthen that which was sick. But I will destroy the fat and the strong. I will feed them with judgment” (cf. all of Ezekiel 34).
God lays much of the blame for the fact that His people of Israel had turned away and came under His judgments upon the shepherds who should have been feeding and nourishing God’s sheep with His Word.
Had they been preaching and teaching God’s Word, admonishing and bringing back those who were erring and wandering from the fold and comforting those who were overwhelmed with guilt and the problems of life, God’s flock would not have been scattered and carried away by their enemies. Instead, those who should have been shepherds to God’s people were busy feeding themselves and taking advantage of the sheep under their care.
The same, of course, is true today in regard to the pastors who have been given a charge to shepherd God’s flock over which the Holy Spirit has made them overseers (cf. Act 20:28). Instead of shepherding the flock and using God’s Word and His Sacraments to feed and nourish the souls entrusted to their care, pastors take advantage of the sheep and seek worldly gain at the cost of those they should be nourishing. Instead of watching over the flock and protecting it from false doctrine, pastors are often the ones advancing false doctrine and erring views that destroy faith (cf. Rom. 16:17-18). Instead of admonishing the erring and giving God’s comfort to the penitent and suffering, pastors say nothing against the sinful lifestyles of our day and offer false comfort to the impenitent and erring.
What does God say He will do? “I will save My flock, and they shall no more be a prey. And I will judge between one sheep and another. I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even My servant David. He shall feed them himself and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and My servant David shall be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken” (Ezek. 34:22-24).
God promised to send His only-begotten Son into the world, born a descendant of David, of the Virgin Mary. He would be the Good Shepherd who would gather God’s sheep from all the nations where they had been driven. He would give His life for the sheep to redeem them and restore them to God’s flock. He would feed His sheep with His Word and Sacraments and protect them from the assaults of those who seek to destroy and devour God’s flock, and He would judge the shepherds who took advantage of God’s flock and failed to be true shepherds to them.
In Isaiah 40:10-11, we read: “See, the Lord GOD will come with a strong hand, and His arm shall rule for Him; see, His reward is with Him, and His recompense before Him. He shall feed His flock like a shepherd; He shall gather the lambs with His arm, and carry them in His bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”
In Jeremiah 23:1-4, we read: “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of My pasture! says the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel against the shepherds that feed My people: You have scattered My flock and driven them away and have not visited them. I am about to punish you for the evil of your deeds, says the LORD. I will gather the remnant of My flock out of all countries wherever I have driven them and bring them again to their folds, and they shall be fruitful and increase. I will also set up shepherds over them who will feed them; and they will fear no more, nor be dismayed, nor will they be missing, says the LORD.”
And we heard Jesus’ words today in John 10:11-16: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. But he who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and runs away. So the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because he is a hired hand and does not care about the sheep. ‘I am the good shepherd. I know My sheep and am known by My own. Even as the Father knows Me, so I know the Father. And I lay down My life for the sheep. I have other sheep who are not of this fold. I must also bring them, and they will hear My voice. There will be one flock and one shepherd.’”
What does this Word of God say to us today? To pastors, it is a stern warning to shepherd God’s sheep with God’s Word. It is a warning not to abuse or neglect God’s flock but to preach the whole truth revealed in the Bible and to faithfully apply God’s Word to recover the straying, to admonish the indifferent, to comfort and bind up the weak and injured and to gather the lambs to their Savior. Those who don’t fulfill their duties will be held responsible for their failures to shepherd God’s sheep, but those who do the work entrusted to them will receive a reward (cf. 1 Cor. 4:1-2).
Peter writes (1 Peter 5:2-4): “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, take care of them, not by constraint, but willingly, not for dishonest gain, but eagerly. Do not lord over those in your charge, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of glory that will not fade away.”
And to the sheep, it is a reminder that the Good Shepherd continues to watch over our souls. He feeds and nourishes us with His Word and Sacraments. His Word reveals to us our sinfulness and comforts us with the good news of forgiveness and life through faith in Christ Jesus and His atoning sacrifice on the cross.
And, indeed, He gave His life His sheep! Isaiah 53:6 tells us: “All of us like sheep have gone astray; each of us has turned to his own way, but the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Jesus gave His life for us and with His Word, He admonishes us when we go astray, He comforts us when we repent and look to Him for pardon and peace, He encourages and comforts us when we are weighed down with guilt and overwhelmed by the troubles of this life.
His Word tells us in 1 John 1:7 — 2:2: “But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us. My little children, I am writing these things to you, so that you do not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
When His called ministers are faithfully doing their duty, God commands us in Hebrews 13:17: “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they watch over your souls as those who must give an account. Let them do this with joy and not complaining, for that would not be profitable to you.”
And, of course, the ultimate goal is that we, God’s sheep, dwell with the Lord Jesus forever. The goal is that expressed in Psalm 23:6: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
And we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever when, by the gracious working of the Holy Spirit through the Word and Sacraments, we are preserved in the true faith and trust in Christ and His cross alone for pardon and for life everlasting!
“Savior, like a shepherd, lead us; much we need Your tender care. In Your pleasant pastures feed us, for our use your fold prepare. Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, You have bought us; we are Yours. Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, You have bought us; we are Yours.” Amen. (Lutheran Service Book, Hymn No. 711, Verse 1.)
[Scripture is quoted from The Holy Bible, Modern English Version. Copyright © 2014 by Military Bible Association. Published and distributed by Charisma House.]