Advertising is all around us. There are commercials on television and on the radio. There are signs and banners for just about everything scattered around just about everywhere. If you’re on the internet, ads will even just pop up and cover your entire screen if you’re not careful. There are even a kind of ad in our bulletins, since we have announcements for different events and programs going on in the church. It’s pretty much impossible to get away from advertising.
All these ads tend to do one thing: they make whatever it is they’re advertising look the best they possibly can. Commercials will tell you that the product their selling is the most effective. Sales ads will tell you that their products are the cheapest you can find. Political ads will tell you that their candidate will be the most effective if elected. These ads are filled with superlatives — everything is the best it can possibly be. I even saw a roll of toilet paper with an advertisement on its packaging that proclaimed it the softest and best quality toilet paper in existence.
If you’re like me, you just tend to tune out of these ads once in a while. Everyone says what they’re selling is the best, but sometimes I think they just want me to spend my money. I tend not to believe their claims that their product really is the best.
That’s what might be surprising about our text for today from John’s gospel. In a way, this is Jesus giving an advertisement about himself. He’s telling us who he is and what he does for us. The surprising part is how he says it: He said, I am the Good Shepherd. (Jn. 10:11) I’m thinking, “That’s it?!” He’s just “good?” I mean, a B is a good grade, but an A+ is better. If you went and ate at a fancy restaurant and someone asked you how it was and you said, “It was good.” That’s not exactly high praise. It sort of makes it sound like it could’ve been a whole lot better. So Jesus is just a “good” Shepherd? Does that mean he’s just “okay?” That he has room for improvement?
This morning, friends, we can take that idea out of our minds. Today we will see that Jesus isn’t an okay Shepherd, or an adequate Shepherd. He’s the Good Shepherd. He’s the very best Shepherd there is or could ever be. And he’s not trying to sell you a product. He’s the best shepherd because he really loves you and he really knows you. So don’t tune out this advertisement. Look to Jesus and be sure that you have the very best Shepherd.
It might seem obvious that a shepherd is someone who looks after sheep. But we might not always think of what a tough job this must have been. Shepherds didn’t show up at 8 in the morning and punch out at 5 in the afternoon. They had to keep watch all the time. You might remember that when the angels appeared to the shepherds when Jesus was born, the shepherds … were keeping watch over their flocks at night. (Lk. 2:8)
Then, sheep aren’t known for their sparkling intellects. They constantly get themselves into trouble. The shepherds would have to make sure they were lead to plenty of food. The shepherds had to make them lie down and rest. The shepherds had to defend the sheep against all the animals that wanted to make them dinner. The shepherds were responsible for every aspect of the lives of those sheep. If the shepherd didn’t do his job, the sheep would die.
That’s what Jesus is for us. He said in our text, I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. (Jn. 10:11) I said it before, but Jesus wasn’t just saying he was “good.” He wasn’t a “pretty good” shepherd. He wasn’t just above average. The word translated “good” here can also mean “blameless” or “excellent.” Jesus was excellent at his job as shepherd. And he wasn’t just an excellent shepherd. He was and is the excellent shepherd. He is the one shepherd above all others. He’s the very best shepherd.
And you can start to see why right away. He said, the good shepherd lays his life down for the sheep. (Jn. 10:11) Jesus’ work of taking care of his sheep would mean putting his own life second and putting the life of the sheep first. He would rather die than see those sheep hurt.
Jesus wasn’t doing this to collect a paycheck. Most people don’t put their lives in danger just to earn a few bucks. Do you know any? I mean, I’ve heard of lots of people getting hurt on their job, but killed? There aren’t many jobs like that. Police officers, firefighters, and people in the military are certainly dangerous jobs where getting killed can be a possibility. But those jobs still don’t compare to what Jesus did. Think about it, police officers don’t go into their job knowing they will for sure be killed. Same thing with someone in the military. They don’t know for sure they will die. They know it’s a possibility, but they’re going out with the goal that they won’t lose their lives.
Then there’s Jesus. He spoke these words a few short months before he went to the cross. He wasn’t just saying he was willing to die if it came to that. He knew it. He knew he would suffer more than we could imagine, physically, emotionally and spiritually, as he suffered hell itself for his sheep — for you and me. He was going to die for sinners, for rebels who’d turned against him, for people who could never deserve what he was about to do. No, Jesus wasn’t in this for a paycheck.
Some shepherds were in his day, though. And obviously, if you were just in it for the money, you wouldn’t want to die. You wouldn’t really love those sheep, so you’d keep yourself safe, even if it meant having them die. That’s what Jesus said in our text. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. (Jn. 10:12-13)
Jesus is no hired hand. He’s not in this for a paycheck. He really loves the sheep. He loves you and me with a love we can’t begin to fathom. It’s a love that gives up everything for those who don’t deserve it. It’s a love that suffers hell to give heaven to sinners. That’s Jesus love for you.
That’s what makes it pretty sad the way we sometimes treat him. Jesus is the good shepherd; he’s the very best shepherd. But sometimes we act like we wish he were just a hired hand.
The sins that Jesus died and rose to save us from — well, sometimes we like those sins. We want to continue in them. I’m sure you have at least one sin like that. Think about something you do that you know is wrong but you find yourself doing again and again. Part of you wants to stop that sin, but part of you doesn’t. That part of you wants Jesus to maybe come back later. Come on back when I need you, Jesus, and just stay away for a little bit longer.
We were reminded of this last week with our welcome home Sunday. Maybe you were someone who hadn’t been around church in a while, or maybe you are someone who remembers a time like that in your life. Or, maybe you’re in church every single week and always have been. For all of us, there’s that pull. That pull that tells us we don’t want to hear God’s Word today. That sin lurking in every one of us that tells us we don’t really need Jesus and his love all that much after all.
But then when something goes wrong, we flip it all around. When we start hurting and have a crisis, we start crying out as if Jesus had let us down. “Lord, where’d you go? How did you let this happen? I need you! Where are you? Come back!”
Then, since we consider him our hired hand, the shepherd on our payroll, we hold out his paycheck. “Lord, I’ve been going to church my whole life! I help with church; I read my Bible. You owe me!” Or if we haven’t been doing those things, we say we’ll start. “I’ll be in church every Sunday. I’ll start giving offerings, and I’ll be the best sheep I can. Then you’ll help me, right?”
Friends, Jesus is not our hired shepherd. We can offer nothing to pay him, and he has never owed any of us anything. Well, I suppose he does owe us one thing. Punishment. We deserve punishment for all eternity for our sins. We deserve to be the sheep in the jaws of the wolf, forever.
But Jesus is no ordinary shepherd. He’s the good shepherd. He’s the very best shepherd. And no, we didn’t earn his love, but that’s what makes his love so amazing. He didn’t lay down his life for sheep who deserved it; he laid it down for sinners like you and me. He knows we could never pay him back, but he gave his life anyway.
We have the very best shepherd. His love for us is completely self-sacrificing, completely giving. He gave all he was and all he had for us. He did it for you. He forgave your sins. Those times you treated him like a hired hand; those sins are taken away forever. He’s taken our hearts, dirty with sin and death, and he made us as white as the whitest wool that a sheep could ever have. He’s the very best shepherd, and he really loves you. He proved it.
He doesn’t just love you, though. He also really knows you. And he lets you know him. He doesn’t see you as a number — like counting sheep. No, he knows every bit of who you are, and he invites you to know him, too.
Knowing someone like that is no small thing. Newlyweds sometimes find this out, don’t they? They think they know each other so well. They’re the loves of each other’s lives. They want to spend the rest of their life together. They see each other with rose-colored, heart-shaped glasses. Then they get married and realize they didn’t know each other that well after all.
He just leaves his shoes scattered around the house. She doesn’t squeeze the toothpaste tube properly to get all the toothpaste out. Couples can find out pretty quick that there’s a lot more to know about someone that you could have ever thought possible.
That’s a scary thought! It’s scary to have someone know everything about you. Some of us tend to be more private than others, but all of us some of who we are that we tend not to let others see. We guard parts of our personalities or we don’t let others know about everything we do. Part of us doesn’t want to be fully known by someone else.
Then there’s Jesus. He’s the very best Shepherd who knows us perfectly. He said, I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— (Jn. 10:14) Whether it’s something that everyone knows about you or something that you’re trying to hide; Jesus knows it. He knows you perfectly.
That’s when our sins panic us. That’s when we think, “But I don’t want him to know about this, that, and the other thing.” And you know what. Jesus doesn’t shrug our sins off and say they don’t matter. Quite the opposite in fact. He knows you so well that he took every one of those sins, and he laid down his life to take them away forever. I lay down my life for the sheep. (Jn. 10:15) He laid our sins down with his life. And they’re not coming back. But he did. He said he would lay down his life only to take it up again. (Jn. 10:17)
The reason we remember Good Shepherd Sunday in the season of Easter is that we don’t have a dead shepherd. We don’t have someone who died and left us alone. We have a living Shepherd. We have the very best shepherd. He carries us when we’re hurting. He brings us to his heavenly food in Word and Sacrament. The Savior who knows us perfectly and loves us anyway also allows us to know him. He lets us see him by faith. He lets us trust him and look to him for everything — and then know that he will provide us with just what we need. That’s your Savior. That’s your Shepherd. Don’t ever forget that.
After all, he’ll never forget you. We don’t need a commercial on TV or an advertisement in the paper to tell us. Because he tells us himself. He’ll never leave you. He knows your sins, and he loves you anyway. He knows what you need before you do, and he provides it. He carries you in his arms, and he brings you home. And he promises that through him you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. All his sheep will follow him and he will bring them home. As he said in our text, I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. (Jn. 10:16) You are a part of that flock. Your shepherd will never leave you, because he’s the very best shepherd there is.