The 4th Sunday of Easter (yesterday, May 7) was Good Shepherd Sunday. It is on that day of the Church Year that we focus our attention on Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd. He says, "I am the good shepherd..." (John 10:11 ESV) We read in Psalm 23, "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want." (Psalm 23:1) He watches over us and cares for us in our lives. The sheep (you and me) need the Shepherd to care for us in the midst of this world that is filled with many wolves, lions and other dangers. The devil, the sinful world and our sinful nature all seek our destruction. Left to our own ways, we would find that we fall prey to so many things that our lives are filled with pain and suffering.
Isaiah writes, "We all like sheep have gone astray; we have turned - every one - to his own way." (Isaiah 53:6 ESV) Straying sheep, sheep that feel that we know better than the Shepherd, sheep that seek their own way, that is how we are described. And it is true. When we quit following the Shepherd (for a shepherd leads his sheep rather than driving them ahead of himself), we stray off to all sorts of things.
How true this is for my life. Those times when I am tempted by the tuft of grass here or the berry on the bush that looks so succulent, I forget to follow my Shepherd. I figure, "What will one little moment matter? How can I get in very much trouble if I just go over here for a moment?" It is at those moments that the lion (1 Peter 5:8 "Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour." ESV) smiles to himself and realizes that yet another little lamb is straying from the flock and is fair game. The simple little tuft of grass leads to another tuft a little further and so on until I have strayed from the Shepherd and the roaring lion gets to devour this little lamb. All because I didn't think that one little temptation would actually lead to something bigger, something called "sin."
That is when the Shepherd comes for me. Now the question that I ask myself and I would ask you is this, "When the Shepherd comes for you, to rescue you, do you fight Him? Do you listen to His voice? Or do you think you are still wiser, more apt to know what is best for you, that you don't listen to Him? Do you run to the Shepherd? Or do you run from Him?"
When called back from sin, we have one of two choices: 1) listen to the voice of the Shepherd, turn from our sinfulness and follow Him, or 2) think that we still have it under control, that we can still hold fast to the sinful action and not be hurt by it. When the Law calls to us, points out our sin, shows our weakness, shows our need of a Savior, how do you respond? I know that often my sinful nature will tell me, "You are all right. You don't have to turn from this temptation. You are still in control. You are safe. Nothing will happen to you." Then the lion sinks his teeth into me, tearing at my flesh, seeking to destroy me completely. That often happens when someone is in a sinful action and doesn't wish to stop - the person who is consumed by alcohol and doesn't want to/is unable to stop; the person who is caught up in pornography; the person who is a gossip; the person who doesn't feel the need for Word and Sacrament in his/her life; and so on. "I can do it myself. I don't need the Shepherd to bother me." Sheep lead astray, sheep getting lost, sheep being destroyed by sinful temptation and sinful actions.
The Shepherd wades into the fray, the battle for the soul of the lamb, giving Himself to the claws of the lion, to the teeth of wolf, to the terror of the angered grizzly bear, all in order to save the little lamb, the sheep who has strayed. That is what the Good Shepherd does. "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." (John 10:11b ESV) He does that when He goes to the cross. The nails piercing His hands and feet, the weight of sin laid on His shoulders, the Good Shepherd gives up His life for you and me. He takes our place, standing between us and sin, death and the devil, fulfilling the Law for us, in our stead. He dies so that we might live. The Good Shepherd rushing to our aid, fighting off those which would devour us.
In Him, we have life. In Him is forgiveness. In Him is true earthly life. In Him is peace. In Him is all that we need. And so I ask you (and myself), "Do you go rushing back to that temptation? Do you feel that it will still be all right to chase after that one berry of sin, thinking that you will still be all right?" The answer to that question is most generally "yes." Even after all He has done for you and me, sin still holds that power of us. This is why we need to be in the Word regularly. This is why we need to be living in our Baptism. This is why we still need to receive the Lord's Supper when it is offered. This is why we still need to be a part of the "flock" which we call the local congregation. A sheep by itself is easy prey. A sheep surrounded by the power of the Holy Spirit, by the Means of Grace (Word and Sacraments), is protected. He/she will still fall into temptation but will be easily brought back through forgiveness. A sheep that is off by itself, feeling no need at all for the flock or the Shepherd or the Means of Grace, will find that he/she is sliding down the steep cliff to his/her spiritual death (even when he/she doesn't realize it). We need each other as brothers and sisters in Christ for the reason that it gives us support, strength and the power to withstand the temptations to stray. Being a part of the local congregation centers us, anchors us and strengths us each day.
All right, so this blog didn't go the direction I thought it was going. But as a sheep of the Lord, the under shepherd of the flock here at Troy, I see that the Spirit leads where He wishes and I follow. Will you follow today? I pray that you will. More than that, I pray that I will follow as well.