“I don’t know man, I just work here.” These words are a nightmare for any manager, supervisor or business owner. As soon as a business owner needs to hire other people to help do the work of the business, a risk arises. The business owner is committed to making his business successful. The owner knows that the customer’s experience in dealing with the business is a key factor in determining whether they will use the business again. And so, the owner does everything possible to treat customers well and keep them happy.
Yet when you hire people to do the work, it’s not their business. They don’t have their hopes and dreams tied up in it. For them, it may be just a job. If they feel that it is “just a job,” it’s quite likely that this will show through in the way they do their job and treat customers. We’ve all dealt with employees who clearly did not want to be there and obviously had no real interest in being helpful. It does not make you want to come back again.
The problem of having workers who are there only to punch the time clock is nothing new. Jesus talks about this in our Gospel lesson for today. He describes himself as the Good Shepherd and contrasts his behavior with that of the hired hand. The hired hand is only there to work and make money. The sheep aren’t his. He has no investment in them. And so if a dangerous animal like a wolf shows up, the hired hand has no interest in taking any kind of risk to protect them. Instead, he takes off and flees, leaving the helpless sheep to be devoured and scattered by the wolf.
Today, Jesus Christ tells us that this is not how he does things. The hired hand doesn’t care about the sheep. They mean nothing to him. By contrast, Jesus says in our text, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Our Lord says that he knows his sheep and that his sheep know him. Jesus began this discussion by saying about a shepherd: “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers."
Our Lord is the Good Shepherd who knows his sheep and calls them by name. That’s what he did in Holy Baptism. He called you by name as through the pastor in his Office of the Holy Ministry he spoke your name and baptized you in the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit.
You continue to hear his voice through God’s Word. In the inspired Scriptures Jesus the Good Shepherd speaks to us. He speaks so that we may hear his voice and follow him. Jesus says that the sheep don’t listen to the voice of a stranger. Instead when they hear a stranger, they flee.
So how is it with you? Whose voice are you listening to day in and day out? Is today the only day you listen to Jesus’ voice? I hope not. Because the stranger is speaking to you every single day. Every day you are immersed by his voice. The shows you watch, the music you listen to, the internet content you look at – he is speaking through it every day. His voice says that there is no truth; there is no error. His voice says that your decisions need to be determined by what makes you happy. Choose the way that is best for you. Don’t be bound by the so called “will of God” preserved in some ancient book or by promises and commitments you have made to others … say, at a wedding. You need to look out for you. It’s a persuasive pitch, because it directs me toward the person I am most into – me.
However, Jesus’ voice is different. Jesus directs you to himself because he has put you first. Our Lord says in the Gospel lesson, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Now Jesus is different than the stranger. The stranger is going to tell you what you want to hear. He is going to tell you that you come first because everything is great. Jesus says that he is the shepherd and you are the sheep. It’s not a flattering metaphor. Sheep are dumb. Sheep are stupid. Sheep are helpless. That’s you when it comes to living in ways that are true to the Creator and his ordering of the world. You are spiritually too dumb; too stupid; too helpless.
And that’s why it is astounding that Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” The hired hand would say you are not worth it. And he’s right. But Jesus’ love for you defies all logic. He loves the unlovable. And his love makes you into something that you are not.
His love is one of sacrifice for you. He laid down his life on the cross. He offered himself in your place. It was what Martin Luther called the “great exchange.” He received your sin, guilt and judgment. You receive his innocence, righteousness, and justification.
And then beyond that, because of him you receive life. Immediately after our text Jesus goes on to say, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”
During this season of Easter we rejoice that Jesus has risen from the dead! He has defeated death. And we will share in this victory. As Jesus said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.”
Jesus the Good Shepherd has laid down his life for you the sheep, and then taken it up again. He has given you forgiveness and life. Already now you have eternal life. And you will share in the resurrection life of your Lord on the Last Day.
The Good Shepherd has done this for you. But because he has, it can no longer be only about you. During Holy Week we heard about how Jesus washed the disciples’ feet during the Last Supper. When he had finished he said, “Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
Jesus has sacrificed himself; he has served you, so that now you can serve others. This is what his Spirit leads you to do. It is the Spirit who caused you to be born again when Jesus called you by name in Holy Baptism. The Spirit has given you new life and leads to live this life. Christ’s Spirit leads, but you must also follow the Spirit’s leading. That’s why Jesus said: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Loving service for one another is now to define our lives. Jesus’ great act of loving service – the astounding willingness of the Good Shepherd to give his life on behalf of the sheep – is the ongoing source for this. That is why we need to continue to listen to Jesus’ voice. This is why we need to listen to Jesus loving voice in his Means of Grace. In Holy Absolution Jesus speaks forgiveness to us, so that we then can speak forgiveness to one another. In his Sacrament Jesus gives us his true body and blood given and shed for us to strengthen us in faith.
When we are receiving these gifts, we are receiving Jesus’ forgiveness and love. And it is this that makes it possible for us to forgive and love others. This is what makes it possible to forgive our husband or wife, or brother or sister when they have said or done something hurtful. It is this that makes it possible to forgive and stop sin in its tracks, instead of angrily responding in ways that cause sin to reverberate back and forth between us in with ever greater intensity – with ever greater damage.
To respond in kind; to seek payback is not the way of those for whom Jesus Christ has died and risen from the dead. It is not the way of those who know the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep. And so led by the Spirit we now seek to serve; we now seek to forgive. When we fail, we return to the Means of Grace. When we succeed, we return to the Means of Grace. Our whole life is one of listening to the Good Shepherd’s voice – of receiving his gifts by which he forgives sins and strengthens faith.
Jesus says in our text today, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Our Lord laid down his life on the cross for us. But he then also took it up again on the third day. Because of this we have forgiveness and peace. Because of this we forgive and serve others.