The image of Jesus as a shepherd captures the Christian imagination like no other. Even city-dwellers who have never encountered a living, breathing shepherd (much less a sheep) find themselves drawn to it. They hang pictures of Jesus with sheep in Sunday School classrooms. They sing, “The King of love, my Shepherd is,” and, “I am Jesus’ little lamb,” with childlike faith. They memorize Psalm 23 and expect it to be read at their funeral. And every year, during the season of Easter, they spend an entire Sunday meditating on the idea that Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
The familiarity of this image presents a challenge for the preacher. Your people have heard many Good Shepherd sermons. Their conception of Jesus is a mash of biblical verses, hymn stanzas, and VBS coloring pages to form a general shepherd-ish conception of their Savior. This is not a bad thing, but it makes it difficult for the preacher to offer something more specific than a generalized “Jesus is the Good Shepherd” sermon.
One antidote to sermons which are too general is close attention to the details of a specific text. If you choose to preach on the Gospel reading from John 10 this week, the specificity begins in chapter 9. There we are reminded Jesus was not talking to faithful Christians on their death beds or little ones gathered for a children’s message. He was rebuking a group of Pharisees. They were offended Jesus had healed a man on the Sabbath. Rather than rejoicing with the man born blind, they were harassing him (and his family) for their association with Jesus.
In His response to their criticism, Jesus made use of an occupation which would have been familiar to the people of that day. He contrasted a good shepherd with a hired hand. The difference between the two has to do with commitment. A hired hand is just that—one who is paid to care for someone else’s sheep. His connection to the sheep is transactional. He is committed to the sheep only as far as he is committed to himself. When danger arises and the wolf comes, the hired hand tends to his own safety and flees. His lack of commitment makes him incapable of providing protection.
Contrast this with a good shepherd. A good shepherd cares for the sheep because the sheep are his own (verses 12 and 14). They belong to him and he loves them, not for his own sake, but for theirs. He will not abandon them when the wolf comes. He will protect and defend them. With him, they are secure.
A good shepherd cares for the sheep because the sheep are his own. They belong to him and he loves them, not for his own sake, but for theirs.
This is the heart of your Gospel proclamation in this sermon. As His resurrection demonstrated, Jesus has the power to lay down His life and the power to take it up again. And He is not only capable, but He is also committed. Out of love and concern for His sheep, He is willing give Himself to the wolf to protect them. Your hearers (who are baptized into Christ and united to Him through faith) are among His sheep. They have been included in His fold. As such, they enjoy the protection and security of a shepherd who is both committed to their safety and fully capable of delivering on His commitment.
Capable and committed, that could be the theme for your sermon. But He is not committed to your hearers only. In verse 16, Jesus tells the Pharisees He has other sheep that are not part of this fold. He was talking about the Gentiles, of course. This foreshadowed His mission to all nations which would become explicit after His resurrection. This mission is not yet complete. There are still more sheep to gather. Jesus, “must bring them also,” (verse 16) into His one flock. They will listen to His voice, Jesus assures, but first they must hear it.
This is why Jesus sent His disciples after the resurrection. That is why Jesus sends you today. It is also what you might send your hearers to do throughout the week.
The goal of your sermon could be to equip your hearers to participate in the loving commitment of the Good Shepherd. He continues to gather other sheep in, and He does it through the selfless serving and the gracious speaking of His people. We are not committed to this naturally, however. In our sin, we are more like the hired hands who care most of all for ourselves. This is why your hearers need to hear you proclaim God’s promises as well as His commands. They need you to forgive them for their selfishness, to assure them of God’s grace and mercy, and to restore them, not only to be hired hands, but to be sons and daughters. They also need you to encourage them, to equip them, and to send them to speak with the voice of their Good Shepherd to others. There are people in their lives who will never step foot in a church, and, therefore, they will never hear the voice of a pastor. Such people are searching (without success) for one is both capable of and committed to protecting them and making them secure.
Jesus is their Good Shepherd too. He has laid down His life for them and He has taken it back up for them. Through His Church, He continues gathering them into His fold.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching John 10:11-18.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Luke 24:36-49.
Lectionary Podcast- Dr. Charles Gieschen of Concordia Theological Seminary in Ft. Wayne, IN walks us through John 10:11-18.