His Life For Ours
April 21, 2018
Verse: John 10:11
Christ Lutheran Church
April 22, 2018
by: Rev. Dean Kavouras
His Life For Ours
I am the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd places his LIFE down for the sheep. John 10:11
The metaphor of the shepherd and his sheep is timeless. Even though we are far removed from pastoral life, it is part of our DNA. Even in this post-industrial, and nearly post-information age, it has the power to fascinate. The power to calm us, and to cleanse us of the madness all around.
Indeed, it seems that the farther we stray from the land, the more we want to go back to it. On the one hand we glory in our gadgets; we live in mortal fear of leaving home without them; and panic! when the internet goes down. But on the other hand we reverence our forests and waterways, and speak wistfully of days gone by.
For all history humanity has sought to escape the dangers of isolation, for the safety of cities. And now that we have arrived, all we want is to go back. And so this parable of the shepherd still attracts us today. But in the mouth of Jesus it is more than a pretty picture to help us feel good.
Coming from the lips of the Good Shepherd who places his LIFE for ours, it arouses us from the fantasy worlds, and makes invisible realities, visible.
We are sheep, and that means we have enemies.
The first, and possibly worst, is our inability to accept the fact that we have enemies. Mortal foes who want to use us, abuse us, and when we have outlived our usefulness, toss us out like rubbish.
Driven by demons they fail to recognize our humanity. They fail to honor the fact that God deliberately made each person. They fail to see that the Maker and Monarch of all fashioned every human being no matter how pathetic by human standards, in his own divine image, with the intention that his children should be like him. Be like the Father who begat us; though we have fallen from that pedestal. Or to use today’s imagery: “All we like sheep have gone astray.” (Isaiah 53:6)
And that is the second natural enemy of sheep, they love to stray. Indeed, they cannot help themselves. Sheep suffer from an acute case of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD). They are incapable of retaining a thought in their heads, and so they stray from the safety of the shepherd, going from one blade of grass to the next, oblivious to where it leads. Like a toddler playing with matches, they are insensible to the danger; until the house is engulfed in flames.
The other natural enemy of sheep is the Wolf, which is Biblical code for the devil. For Satan, who Jesus warns, comes into the sheepfold in order to: steal, butcher and destroy the sheep; and which of us is not scarred from head to foot by the marks of his bloody fangs?
Yes, we are sheep, and like sheep we have all gone astray. But Jesus is the Good Shepherd, who defended us to death, even the death of the cross. And this is where the parable of the Good Shepherd finally leads. To Jesus on the cross, placing down his LIFE for ours. But how does that work? How does one who dies, rescue the dead?
In order to salvage us from the death of sin, Jesus needed to go where the dead are. To go into the place of death. And so when his enemies crucified him, and thought they had made an end to their problem, the very opposite was the case.
By putting the Lord to death on the cross, they granted him entrance into the place where all humanity resides because of sin -- the Bleak House of death. But neither death nor grave could hold him, as we hear in today’s first reading. And not only could it not hold him, but it can no longer hold us. In the words of the hymn (TLH #193):
Vain the stone, the watch, the seal,
Christ hath burst the gates of hell,
Death in vain forbids Him rise,
Christ hath opened paradise.
Soar we now where Christ has led,
Following our exalted Head.
Made like Him, like Him we rise;
Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.
But beyond all this, there was a debt owing which needed to be paid, and this is the second reason why Jesus placed his LIFE for us, the sheep. He offered his LIFE as a sacrifice on behalf of all. He surrendered his own Temple to death in place of all, to settle humanity’s account with death, and to free us from the Primal Transgression.
But in the same act he also showed himself mightier than death; displaying his own body incorruptible as the first-fruits of the resurrection.
And so two things happened when the Good Shepherd placed his LIFE for the sheep. The death of all was consummated in the Lord’s body. But because he is the Word of God made flesh, death and corruption were in the same act utterly abolished.
Have no fears then. Now that the Good Shepherd of all has died on our behalf, we who believe in Christ no longer die as men died in times past. That is, in fulfillment of the threat of the Law.
That condemnation has come to an end; and now by the grace of the resurrection, corruption has been banished and done away. We are released from our mortal bodies, each in God’s good time, so that we may obtain thereby a better resurrection. (Athanasius: On The Incarnation)
But before we leave the theme of the Good Shepherd today, let us remember why sheep were raised. In Israel they were raised to be sacrificed. They were born to die. And so are we. Not senselessly. For even as the Lord says: "No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down willingly." But in the words of Blessed Paul, “For your sake we are killed all the day long. We are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Romans 8:36)
What does this mean? It means that we should return to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. (1 Peter 2:25) That we should live for him, with him, and in him. And in due time die in him, with him, and if need be for him. For he is the Good Shepherd. And, “we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” (Psalm 100:3) Amen.