The Lord is my shepherd—or so I say. But is He really? Is the Lord my Shepherd? Am I His sheep?
I say that I shall not want… not want anything beyond what my selfish heart desires, that is. I often covet that which He has not seen fit to give me, even though He promises to give me all that I need to support this body and life, and freely gives me all the gifts that I need for eternal life, including faith and forgiveness, grace and peace, His Word and Sacraments.
The Shepherd makes me lie down in green pastures, but look, the grass is greener on the other side of the fence! He leads me beside still waters, knowing well that His sheep cannot safely drink from swift streams, but I see still more exciting places where I’d love to drink my fill. Besides, I’ve never been a very good follower, preferring to do things my own way.
But the Shepherd restores my soul, squelching the wanderlust within me that moves me to live life the way I see fit. He leads me in paths of righteousness when I want to run in the open fields of the world—eating where and what I want to eat, associating with whom I choose to associate, doing whatever I want to do, serving my own appetites, living like the beast I am. Or, just as dangerous, those times when I try to walk the path of my own righteousness, my own good works, my own attempts at self-justification, rather than trusting in the perfect righteousness of Christ that alone justifies me and opens for me the way to eternal life.
The Good Shepherd leads me for His name’s sake, but I want to make a name for myself. I want others to like me and respect me, to look up to me. I want others to envy me, to speak ill of me if they wish, but secretly to covet who I am and what I’ve done. I want to get my own 15 minutes of fame, my time in the sun, and I’m willing to go to great lengths to make it happen.
Oh, I must tell you: I find the Shepherd’s rod restrictive and His staff stifling to my animalistic heart! Come valleys of the shadow of death, come storm and wind, hail and rain, I shall fear no evil, for I know the lay of the land, I can take care of myself, and I’m not sheepish about telling you.
So I, so you, so we sheep, boast in the psalms we sing from our untamed ovine hearts. We do not really want a Good Shepherd but a hireling, one who does not own us, who has no personal stake in us, but who answers to our whims. We want our precious freedoms—freedom to walk in unrighteous paths if the end justifies the means; freedom to pull the wool over men’s eyes, twisting every story to paint ourselves in the best light, lying when we ought to confess, telling tales of others’ sins to make our own wool seem that much whiter in our own eyes.
Repent. For you are sheep going astray. Return to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. For the freedoms you crave are slaveries in disguise, chains that hell’s butchers cast around your neck to pull you under the slaughterhouse blade. The strange pastures you long for lead only to wandering, wilderness, and wolf, to darkness, death, and destruction.
The Lord is your Good Shepherd. And all He wants is you. You who so often turn your back on the fold and its shepherd? Yes, you. You who have cursed His staff, ignored His call, and gone your own way? Yes, you. You who have been more like a wolf than a sheep, angrily tearing away at those around you? Yes, the Good Shepherd wants only you.
So much does He want you and me, He became one of us. For us, who are but dust, He who is God of God came down, was beaten down Himself, and beat down Satan under our feet. For us, who are sheep that love to wander, the Lamb of God is bound to the altar of the cross in order to bind us to Himself. For us, whose mouths are open far too often, He opened not His mouth like a Lamb that is led to the slaughter. Now we listen to His voice.
The Lord is with us. The Good Shepherd does not send His sheep into places He will not go Himself; He leads us and is with us always. The hired hand sees the wolf coming, leaves the sheep at its mercy, and flees. He lets the wolf snatch them and scatter them, because he cares nothing for the sheep.
Our Good Shepherd goes right after the wolf, attacks him, and rescues us from his jaws. When the lion of hell rises up against Him, our Shepherd seizes him by his beard and strikes him and kills him. No, more than that. He rescues you, but not as the shepherd David did with club or sling and smooth stone. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for you that He may take it up again. He lays down His body between you and the satanic wolf, between you and the lion of hell, and He gives Himself over to be devoured. The beast of Hades licks up the blood of the slain Shepherd, chews His flesh, and gulps Him down.
But that which the beast wolfs down cannot be digested in the tomb of the stomach. And when He who lays down His life takes it back again, that tomb cannot contain Him. The Good Shepherd vacates the stomach that had entombed Him for three days, leaving behind Him a predator that you, O little flock, need fear no more.
Shall you fear the wolf of hell with his burst belly, his broken teeth, and his howls of his own defeat? Shall you fear what mere mortals think of you when God Himself calls you His child, His friend, His beloved? Shall you fear that your rebellious ways have separated you from God when He makes you bone of His bone and flesh of His flesh? Have no fear, little flock, for He who is known by the Father knows you, calls you by name, and has made you His own.
And, as St. Paul reminds us:
If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son but gave Him up for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:31–39).
The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord, for by the humiliation of His Son, God raises up our fallen world. The Good Shepherd raises you up from the pit into which you have fallen. He places you upon His shoulders and rejoices to carry you home. He washes you in cleansing waters, binds up that which was broken, and heals all your wounds. He prepares a Table before you and anoints your head with oil, and His chalice continually runs over—over your lips, over your sins, quenching your thirst while making you yearn for more. All this He does for you, solely out of His boundless goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in you, but for the sake Jesus’ holy, innocent bitter sufferings and death.
Is the Lord my Shepherd? He most certainly is! He is your Shepherd, too. And because He is the Good Shepherd, you are His good sheep. Baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection, covered with His righteousness, He gives His life for you and makes your life His own and His life your own. He becomes what you are, in order to make you what He is—holy, righteous, and blessed.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you, shall precede you, shall be on your right and on your left, above you and below you, all the days of your life, and you shall dwell in the fold of the Lord forever. Safe in the flock of His Church, you have forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. Indeed, for Jesus’ sake, you are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This sermon is an adaptation of a sermon by Chad L. Bird, published in his book, Christ Alone: Meditations and Sermons.