The Second Sunday after Easter: The Good Shepherd
April 23, 2023

The Second Sunday after Easter: The Good Shepherd

Passage: 1 Peter 2:19-25, John 10:11-16
Service Type:

The Second Sunday after Easter: The Good Shepherd
1 St. Peter 2:19-25 & St. John 10:11-16
by William Klock


Our Gospel lesson today is taken from St. John’s Gospel, the tenth chapter, verses 11-16.  But for the sake of context, I want to begin a few verses later and then read our way backwards.  In verse 22 of Chapter 10, John tells us that it was the time of the Feast of Dedication in Jerusalem and that it was winter and that Jesus was walking around in the temple—and specifically that he was walking around the colonnade or portico of Solomon.


All of that might sound unimportant to us, but for First Century Jews every detail there was loaded with significance.  First, it was the Feast of Dedication.  Do you know what that is?  That’s not the name we usually hear for it?  That John says it was in the winter, which might help us a bit.  This is was the Feast of Hanukkah.  And do you remember what Hanukkah is about?  It’s not one of the biblical feasts that the Lord gave to Israel as part of the torah.  This was a new feast—or relatively new—in Jesus’ day.  Hanukkah is the feast commemorating the Maccabean Revolt.  About a hundred and fifty years before Jesus was born, Judea was ruled by Greeks and those Greek overlords were wicked men and they got worse with each generation, until things came to head under Antiochus Epiphanes IV, who defiled the temple and the altar.  Judas Maccabeus led a successful revolt against the Greeks and every year the Jews celebrated the Feast of Hannukah to commemorate that revolt and their national independence and the renewal of worship in the temple.  Their independence under the Maccabees was short lived.  Pretty soon the Romans conquered Judea and the Jews found themselves in a situation not all that different than their ancestors had when they were ruled by the Greeks.


In Jesus’ day Hannukah had special significance.  As long as the people remembered what had happened under the leadership of the Maccabees, they had hope.  Their enemies had been defeated before and that meant that they could be defeated again.  And it’s on this feast that John says Jesus was walking in the temple.  And not just walking in the temple, but in the portico of Solomon.  You remember who Solomon was, don’t you?  Solomon was the son of David.  Again, the son of David.  Does that sound familiar?  People call Jesus “son of David” throughout the Gospels.  David himself was the great king, but Solomon, his son, was the one who built on his father’s victories, enlarging the nation and bringing peace and prosperity to his people.  This is why that title, “son of David”, was wrapped up with the idea of the Messiah.  The people were looking for someone like both David and his son, Solomon, who would come and retore the kingdom of Israel.  So, again, here’s Jesus: at Hannukah, walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon, getting ready to teach.  People were gathering and they couldn’t miss the symbolism.  Jesus did these things on purpose.  What he did and how he staged things was often just as important as what he said in these situations.  John tells us that Jesus had the full attention of the crowd.  They said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense?  If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”  Jesus was perpetually teasing them…or at least that’s how it seemed to a lot of the people.  Jesus would set up a scene just like this, full of messianic symbolism, and he would say and do things that were also full of messianic symbolism.  And it was obvious to everyone that he was saying and doing very messianic things, but then there were other things he did—like associating with the wrong people or doing things on the sabbath that you weren’t supposed to do on the sabbath—and he kept not doing things—like leading a revolt against the Romans—that everyone expected of the Messiah.  So they didn’t know what to think.


This was one of those instances.  Jesus set everything up here—the time and the place and all that—full of messianic political significance.  All he needed to do was give a rousing speech and he could have sparked the revolution so many were waiting for.  “How long are you going to keep us in suspense, Jesus?  Are you the Messiah or not?” they cried out.  But instead, in verse 25 he answers their question and says, “I told you already, but you refuse to believe me!”  He’s referring to our Gospel lesson, the paragraph immediately before in John 10, where he said, “I am the good shepherd.”


That was full of messianic significance, too.  And it would have been just as clear and obvious to them as everything else, because when Jesus said he was the good shepherd, that was a statement deeply rooted in the prophecies of Ezekiel and especially Ezekiel 34 and because of that, also deeply rooted in the messianic expectations of Israel.  Through the prophet the Lord had rebuked the leaders of Israel.


Prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?  You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep.  The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them.  So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.  (Ezekiel 34:2-6)


The very people whom the Lord had charged with caring for the sheep were taking advantage of them, abusing them, and allowing them to be scattered.  But the Lord also promised to the sheep:


I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.  And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken. (Ezekiel 34:23-24)


Think about that promise as I read Jesus words from our Gospel.


I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.  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.  And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.  (John 10:11-16)


It was all so clear.  You and I have to connect all these dots and it takes some work…and without help we might miss them…but connecting these dots was easy and natural for them.  They knew the scriptures and they knew the Lord’s promises and they knew them inside-and-out.  And yet they’re frustrated.  Jesus sets the scene with messianic imagery.  He says things that identify himself with the Lord’s promises through the prophets.  But it’s not direct enough for the people.  He keeps talking in parables and figurative language.  “Come on, Jesus!  If you are the Messiah, just come out and say it!”  But Jesus won’t do that.  Instead, in verses 25-30, Jesus reminds them of all the things he’s done:


Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep.  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one.”


“You’ve heard what I have said and you’ve seen what I have done.”  Think of the things John has shown us Jesus doing: healing the blind…feeding that enormous crowd.  And so many other things.  He’s been healing and feeding the sheep, which is exactly what the Lord had promised the good shepherd would do for his sheep.  In fact, he says, this time no one will snatch my sheep from my hand, because they belong to my Father and my Father has given them to me.  I’m not the hireling who runs away in the face of danger.  I’m not the hireling who takes advantage of the flock for my own person gain.  Nor am I like the wicked rulers of Israel who have scattered the flock.  I will gather them—I’ll even gather in sheep that aren’t of this fold—and I will heal then and I will feed them and I will never let them go.  And then that amazing statement that no one expected.  Here they are asking Jesus to tell them, yes or no, in clear language, if he is the Messiah or not and instead he goes even further: “I and the Father are one.”


Have you ever noticed that Jesus never points the people to himself?  He always points the people to the Father.  Everything Jesus does is aimed at revealing the faithfulness and the glory of the Father.  The people were obsessed with the Messiah, but Jesus is always pointing them beyond the Messiah to the one who sent him.  Jesus says that his sheep will be safe forever in his hand, but the only way he can make that promise is if he and the Father are one.  Everyone knew that no one can snatch the sheep of the God of Israel from his hand.  The Egyptians had tried, the Babylonians had tried, the Greeks had tried, and the Lord always heard the cries of his sheep and came and delivered them.  Jesus can make the same promise as the Father, because he and the Father are one.  And, again, what he says here would have taken the people back to Ezekiel 34, this time to verses 15 and 16.  Yes, the Lord promised that David—or a son of David—would one day feed and care for the sheep, but somehow this was also the God of Israel himself at work.  The Lord promised:


I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God.  I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.


The people keep asking, “Are you the Messiah?”  And Jesus takes them a step further.  He’s sort of saying, “I’ve told you already and you weren’t listening, I’ve shown you and you wouldn’t see and just maybe that’s because you first need to ask yourselves who the Messiah is.”  Jesus is here promising to the people that he will redeem the sheep—and he hints at the fact that this redemption is not only for the sheep of Israel, but in redeeming them, he will also gather in sheep from outside the fold, from the nations.  And he can do this because he’s not just the Messiah, but because as the Messiah, he is the very embodiment of the God of Israel who has heard the bleating of his sheep and has come to deliver them, to heal them, to feed them, and to give them justice—just as he promised.  And he will do all of this by laying down his own life for the sake of the sheep.


Brothers and Sisters, at the cross Jesus revealed the faithfulness of God to his promises and his love for his sheep.


Now, what do we do with that?  Throughout the season of Eastertide our scripture lessons point us to the practical application of Jesus’ death and resurrection—what it means for us in practical terms, what it means for the life of the Christian, that Jesus died and rose again and, in that, reveals the faithfulness of God.  And so today the Gospel shows us God’s love revealed in Jesus and his faithfulness revealed in Jesus and we’re reminded that Jesus is the one who has laid down his life for the sheep, and then we turn over to St. Peter’s first epistle and he says to us in 2:19:


For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly.  For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God.  For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.  He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth.  When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.  He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.  For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.


What is Peter talking about?  I think he saw that persecution was coming to the church—the sort of thing Jesus promised and that we see the churches in John’s care facing in the beginning of his Revelation—but Peter’s concern was much broader than that.  He opens this part of his epistle with those familiar words, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.  Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:11-12).


Peter’s concern was simply Christians living in the midst of a fallen and pagan world in which the gospel was advancing, but that has not yet been fully transformed and made new by Jesus.  Someday it will, but until that day, it will always be imperfect and full of trials and tears and pain and opposition and we need to think on how to be good stewards of the grace of God and of the good news about Jesus as we live with the pressures of the world around us.  Jesus is Lord, but corrupt, power-hungry, and unjust civil governments and rulers still govern us.  In Peter’s day slavery was still common—in fact the Roman Empire ran on the labour of slaves and it was amongst these slaves that Christianity quickly spread.  Our world is different in many ways, but in many ways it really hasn’t changed.  How are we to live in light of the problems of the world?  If the Christian slave is to endure the beating of an unjust master, this sets a pattern for the unhappy marriage, living under a pagan ruler, and a host of other difficult and seemingly impossible situations.


When we face hard things, our first inclination is to express outrage, to protest injustice, to assert our rights, and to fight back.  It’s not that there isn’t a place for the Christian to take a stand for his rights or the rights of others, but Peter saw that in many situations the Christian has an even higher calling.  As Jesus reminds us in the Sermon on the Mount, manifesting the kingdom to the world is a higher priority than defending or asserting our own rights.  It’s worth noting that the specific situations given in these verses are things over which most people in the First Century had no control.  Peter saw such injustice through the lens of the cross, the greatest injustice ever perpetrated by human beings.  He goes back to Isaiah 53 and the song of the suffering servant.  Jesus accomplished God’s saving purposes for his people by being reviled, yet without reviling in return, by suffering, yet not threatening.  Rather, as he faced the false judgement of unjust men, he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.  He who knew no sin bore on his body our sins.  Why?  Because his suffering and death were the only means by which we can die to sin and live to righteousness.  Sin did its worst to Jesus in his crucifixion, but he came out the other side alive again, bringing the firstfruits of resurrection into the world and inaugurating the age to come.


Jesus’ death and resurrection have become the central point of human history, the events on which everything hinges—the moment in time when everything changed.  That means we need to see our own lives, the joys, the sorrows, and the suffering in light of those events.  In allowing evil to do its worst to him at the cross, Jesus has caught up in his suffering every last bit of human suffering, including the suffering afflicted upon us and the suffering we afflict upon others, and he has turned it into the means by which he has brought redemption to the world.  And here Peter recalls today’s Gospel: through his suffering and death, the shepherd has rescued the lost and straying sheep.  He is our shepherd and overseer—our bishop, our chief pastor—and no hireling.  He who has laid down his life for our sake, and in doing so suffered the penalty of our sins, will hold us close as we suffer the injustices of the world.  In turn, the faith we exhibit in entrusting ourselves to him and holiness and grace that should characterise our lives become a profound witness to the world.  We can face injustice knowing that as the Judge who judges justly has vindicated Jesus, he will also vindicate us for our faith.  Brothers and Sisters, the world is a hard place, but we live for Jesus in the midst of it all precisely because he has died for us.  And we live in hope, because Jesus not only died, but rose again, has promised that we will follow him into the life of the age to come, and that as his sheep, no one will ever snatch us out of his hand.


Let’s pray: Almighty God, who gave your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and an example of godly life: Give us grace that we may always receive with thankfulness the immeasurable benefit of his sacrifice, and daily endeavour to follow in the blessed steps of his most holy life, who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, on God, for evermore.  Amen.


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