As we continue through Luke’s gospel we cover Luke 23:26-43.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd
Sometimes we learn best by contrasts. Like many people, I started drinking coffee in high school. I would get up early in the morning, have my oatmeal and coffee and get my homework done. And the coffee I had tasted horrible. And all the years of high school I thought that that was the price you pay for caffeine. The caffeine kept you awake. But the horrible taste also kept you awake. But then I went to college. And down the road was a coffee emporium. I remember walking over to the place with my roommate. You walk in and there’s no tables or coffee makers. There’s just beans. And the beans smell wonderful. And they taste amazing. I did not know that coffee could taste that good. But one of the reasons I knew it was good was that I had drunk some really, really bad coffee in the years before that.
Sometimes we learn best by contrasts. And that’s how Jesus teaches us in these words this morning. He tells us: ““I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11 NIV) Jesus is the Good Shepherd. And he shows that he is the Good Shepherd by laying down his life for us, his sheep. But Jesus teaches to us what it means that he is the Good Shepherd by contrast. He tells us: “12 The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (John 10:12–13 NIV)
The hired hand doesn’t care about the sheep. He cares about himself and the money he is payed. Years ago there was a man who owned a mine. And while the people in that town were mining the resources in that mine he was nice and kind to them. But then, when all the men who worked in that mine were poisoned by asbestos, the man took his money and disappeared. The hired hand doesn’t care about the sheep. He cares about the money and saving his own neck. Jesus teaches us that he is the Good Shepherd by contrast. Then he repeats the same words he started with: “14 I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — and I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14–15 NIV)
Jesus loved the world so much that he was willing to lay down his life to save it. He was willing to die so that we would live. He was willing to die so that when we died we would be with him in heaven. He was willing to suffer hell in our place so that we would never be in hell.
Jesus was willing to lay down his life for us. But we could emphasize that sentence in a different way. Jesus was willing to lay down his life for us. The apostle Paul emphasizes that fact in these words: “7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:7–8 NIV11-GK)
If someone was really good to you, you might possible lay down your life for them. But what about your enemy? Would you lay down your life for the person who takes advantage of you and abuses you? That’s how good our Good Shepherd is. He lays down his life for us—sinners who had made him our enemies. We did not deserve his care and love. But he laid down his life anyway. These words move us to see our sin and repent of it. These words move us to see our Savior and his forgiveness won for you on the cross and given to you in his word. For if he loved you enough to die for you then your sins are forgiven—all of them.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He lays down his life for you. But Jesus does more than that. He tells us, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.” (John 10:16 NIV)
In these words Jesus tells us that there is a task that he absolutely needs to get done. What he needs to do is gather his sheep together—all of them. And just how exactly is he going to accomplish this? He tells us: “17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”” (John 10:17–18 NIV)
He is going to gather all his sheep by laying down his life and then picking it back up again. Notice the point that Jesus is making here. Jesus died. And now Jesus lives. If Jesus delays in coming he will have us die. And then what will he do? He will raise our lowly bodies to be like his glorious body. We will be gathered to his flock in heaven.
And here too is where we see our sin. We sin by pretending that earthly pleasure is better than heavenly promises. And if you want proof, then look at your lives. There is this temptation we have to worry about our bodies. And so we count the wrinkles and complain about the stiffness in our joints and forget about the fact that there is a brand new body that is perfect and holy waiting for us.
And so we worry. But we also face a different temptation. We are tempted to wallow. We wallow in the pleasures of this world as if better pleasures weren’t waiting for us in heaven. Instead of one drink or one donut, we are tempted to have many drinks and many donuts. Both of these attitudes are sin. It is a sin to worry about our bodies as if Jesus hadn’t picked up his life again and left and open, empty tomb. It is a sin to obsess about our earthly health when there is a heavenly body waiting for us in our Good Shepherd’s own good time. And it’s just as much a sin to wallow in what this world offers, forgetting about what is promised to us in the life to come.
But Jesus has picked up his life. And he lives with a perfect, glorified body. And that is proof to us that our sins of worrying and wallowing are forgiven. He picked up his life again. And there is no crime or condemnation to pin on you because Jesus paid for all of them on the cross and buried them in the empty tomb.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He lays down his life for you. He lives for you so that you will live with him. And this fact moves us to thank him, doesn’t it? In our lives we thank him in two ways. First, We follow the sage wisdom of that wonderful theologian, The Cookie Monster. Do you remember the Cookie Monster from Sesame Street? Cookies used to be his anytime food. Whenever he could get his hands on cookies he would eat as much as he could. But a couple of years ago the cookie monster changed that. Now cookies are sometimes food.
We thank our Good Shepherd by taking care of the bodies he has given to us now. So there’s nothing wrong with sitting down to dinner with a cigar in one hand and a glass of scotch in the other hand with a plate full of steak in front of us. But those are sometimes foods, not everyday foods.
We thank our Good Shepherd by caring for the bodies we have. But we also thank our Good Shepherd in a second way. We look forward to the bodies we will have. When I was a child I wanted to be an olympic runner. Then, when I realized that wasn’t going to happen, I wanted to be an aeronautical engineer. And when I realized that math is tough, that dream faded away too. Wouldn’t it be nice if there would be a time and a place where our bodies could take the punishment of running really, really fast? Wouldn’t it be nice if there were a time and place where our minds would learn quickly and retain completely?
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, that’s is what heaven is for. And we thank our Good Shepherd not just by caring for the bodies we have, but also by looking forward to the bodies we will have.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He lays down his life for us, showing us how much he cares for us. He lives for us too, promising to us a new, perfect body like his glorious body. Amen.