Text: John 10:11-16
This last week was Call Week at our seminaries in Fort Wayne and St. Louis. Call Day is the day where our fourth-year seminarians find out where the Lord is sending them to tend His flock. Five years ago, I myself was in that position. We give thanks to God for raising up servants for His Church, and we pray that He would continue to do so more and more even as we currently face a shortage of pastors. And, not just pastors, but Lutheran school teachers and principals, as well. The topic of Call Day has caused me to reflect back on my time at seminary, and there’s something to comes to mind this week. In the Gospel text, Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father know Me and I know the Father.” (John 10:14-15, ESV)
At seminary we had daily chapel services. They were held throughout the day, but the main service was at 10 a.m. On Wednesdays, and on Feasts Days, we received the Lord’s Supper. The distribution took place in continuous fashion; you would come and kneel, receive the Sacrament, and then return to your seat with the dismissal being after all had communed. The professors were the communion assistants. As they served, they would speak the words we normally hear: “The body of Christ, the blood of Christ.” One particular professor, when he assisted would always say, “the body of Christ for you, the blood of Christ for you.” He would emphasize that Christ’s body was broken and His blood was shed not just for the world in general, but also for you in particular. His body and blood were given for you, for the forgiveness of your sins; you are known to Christ. That’s what Jesus says this week. He is the Good Shepherd who knows us each by name, and He makes Himself known to each of us in His Word and Sacrament.
This Sunday, the Third Sunday of Easter, is the one commonly called “Good Shepherd Sunday.” This idea is brought out very clearly by the readings. In the Gospel text we hear our Lord describing Himself to us as a good or noble shepherd, a contrast to the hired hand who flees at the sign of a wolf. This idea would’ve been familiar to our Lord’s initial audience as shepherding was a very common profession at that time in that part of the world. But still, the image of a shepherd is one we can bring up in our minds. It’s the job of a shepherd to care for his sheep. During the day, it’s his job to lead the sheep to good pasture. Then, at night his is to guide them back to their pen – which, in Jesus’ time, was often a cave. Once they were all in, the shepherd would then lay at the entrance. Nothing could go in our out without his say so.
One aspect of shepherding in Jesus’ time, and maybe now, was that the shepherd had a name for each sheep. Each of his sheep he knew by name. They weren’t just a flock of nameless animals, but each had a name and was precious to the shepherd. This is where Jesus is going when He said, “I am the good shepherd. I know My own…just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father.” Scripture often describes the Church, God’s people – us – as a flock. Just as a shepherd knows the name of each of his sheep, so also are we known to our Lord. When He looks upon us, He doesn’t just see us as just a mass of nameless people, but each of us, individually, as a beloved little lamb. We are each precious lambs of the Good Shepherd.
As a good shepherd, Jesus said, He lays down His life for the sake of His sheep. He is not like a hired hand who, “sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees.” (Jn 10:12) The hired flees because the sheep aren’t his and he doesn’t care if they die. We are Jesus’ sheep and He does care if we die, if we die eternally. Therefore, being our Good Shepherd, He did what only He could do – He laid down His life in our place. Because Jesus is God, His death is able to atone for the sins of the world, and even ours. This is why the one professor at seminary would say “for you,” during the distribution. Jesus says He knows His sheep. We are His sheep. Therefore, He knows us, and laid down His life for us – not just for the world, but for you and for me.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me.” This is another comforting word for us today. As you know, the New Testament was originally delivered to us by the Holy Spirit through the Apostles not in English, but in Greek. And, though the translation we’re using for the readings is generally speaking very good and accurate, every now and then there are spots that could be tightened up. Here is one of them. We all know this passage as it is in the bulletin, but it could also be rendered: “I am the Good Shepherd, and I know My own, and I am known by My own.” Translating it this way – though a little more wonky to say – keeps the focus on the Good Shepherd who not only lays down His life for each of us, but also makes Himself known to each of us.
How does He do that? That is Judas’ question in John 14 – not Iscariot, the other Judas. He asked Jesus, “‘Lord, how is it that You will manifest Yourself to us, and not to the world?’ Jesus answered him, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word, and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.’” (Jn. 14:22-23) This is to say, Jesus makes Himself known to us – He reveals Himself to us, His sheep – through His Word. The Holy Spirit works through the Sacred Scriptures to reveal Christ to us and draws us to Him through the same. Christ makes Himself known to us through the written Scriptures and through His visible Word in the Sacraments. In Holy Baptism, He unites us to His own death and resurrection. In the Lord’s Supper, He makes Himself known to us by giving us His true body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, knows each of us by name. He laid down His life for us. He makes Himself known to us, His sheep, by His Word and Sacrament.
Let this by our encouragement this Sunday. The Latin title for this Sunday comes from Psalm 33, where it says, “the earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.” (33:5) The Lord is our Good Shepherd who knows us each by name. As our Shepherd, He gave His own life into death so that we might be forgiven. Now, He continues to make Himself known to us in His Word and Sacrament – even in just a few moments. Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me.” Amen.