Our Good Shepherd:  The Marked Difference between Sacrificial Leadership and Political Leaders of Today

Apr 21, 2024 – 4th Sunday of Easter | John 10:11-18

The Good Shepherd vs. Political Leaders

Once again, we're in the thick of another presidential election, and it's shaping up to be quite the ride, as they tend to be. The difference between the leading candidates isn't just noticeable in their personalities. It's apparent in their governing styles and ideologies. With both candidates having already served one term, we've got a pretty good idea of what to expect, whether we're singing their praises or critiquing their every move.

As we experience this political hustle and bustle, it's reassuring that our leadership under the Good Shepherd is a world apart. Unlike the self-serving motives of many earthly leaders, the reign of our Eternal Good Shepherd is characterized by love and genuine care for His flock.

Jesus drives home this difference by likening Himself to a hired hand who looks after someone else's sheep as a job. The hired hand lacks a personal investment in the sheep's well-being and will put his safety above theirs. In contrast, Jesus, as the Good Shepherd, shares an intimate relationship with His sheep. Not only does He own them, but He lays down His life for their protection, demonstrating commitment and profound love.

The Good Shepherd's Sacrifice for His Flock

In today's world, many vie to become shepherds. They promise to lead us to better pastures in this life or the next. However, their intentions often revolve around personal gain rather than genuine care for those they lead. Despite their outward displays of knowledge and charisma, they ultimately prioritize their interests over the well-being of their followers.

Jesus stands apart. Instead of abandoning the sheep, He willingly offered himself as the wolf's victim to shield the flock from harm when He saw the wolf approaching.

It's worth noting that the danger posed by the wolf is greater for the sheep than for the shepherd. The shepherd, equipped with means of protection and aware of the danger, can often escape. The sheep, defenseless and unaware, are vulnerable to attack. This analogy mirrors our situation. 

Jesus recognized our vulnerability in our sinful state, oblivious to the dangers surrounding us—such as sin, the world, and the devil—as we wander through life's pastures. The Son of God willingly placed Himself in harm's way, experiencing the temptations of the devil and enduring God's wrath on behalf of sinners. 

Love and Sacrificial Leadership: The Impact of Jesus' Shepherd Role

His sacrificial act, laying down His life as a ransom for our sins, demonstrates an unparalleled love and commitment. Jesus affirmed His purpose, stating, "I lay down my life for my sheep, so that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me; I lay it down of my own accord."

This sacrificial leadership differs from conventional notions of leadership, where leaders often demand obedience and service from their followers. Jesus, however, exemplifies servant leadership by sacrificing Himself for the sake of others. He sets the standard for a good shepherd, as He is the source of all goodness. The etymological connection between "good" and "God" in English and German underscores this point, highlighting that all goodness originates from Christ.

Jesus's shepherding is deeply personal. He offered himself not only for the world, but would have done so even if just one person needed salvation. His intimate knowledge of each individual, akin to the Father's knowledge of Him, reflects the depth of His relationship with His followers. This profound intimacy highlights the extent of his love and care for every soul.

Understanding the Shepherd-Flock Relationship in Modern Context

In our modern context, the profound intimacy between shepherds and their flocks, as described by Jesus, may seem distant. Unlike the agricultural settings of ancient times, where shepherds knew each sheep by name, today's herding practices lack this personal touch. Yet, for Jesus' audience in the first century, such closeness between shepherds and sheep was familiar. 

In their agrarian society, shepherds commonly called their sheep individually, fostering a unique bond. Although private ownership of pastures was rare, shepherds would gather their flocks in a communal pen overnight. At dawn, they'd call out their sheep's names, and each sheep would follow its shepherd. This bond epitomized intimacy, reflecting the connection Jesus shares with His followers.

The depth of Jesus' knowledge of His sheep stems from His boundless love for them. The term "to know" in Greek often signifies the intimate union between spouses, emphasizing closeness and understanding. Similarly, the Good Shepherd possesses this intimate knowledge of His flock. He declares that He knows His sheep, and they know Him in return.

According to Lutheran dogma, this knowing involves love and appropriation, signifying a sense of ownership demonstrated through caring actions. The intimate relationship between Jesus and His followers surpasses human understanding, echoing the unique bond between Christ and the Father. Just as Jesus, the Son, knows the Father and the Father knows Him, there exists a communion of persons, knowledge, goals, and love—a communion Jesus extends to each of His sheep.

Declaring Jesus as the Good Shepherd

Jesus prayed to His Father, interceding for His followers and expressing His desire for unity among them. He declared, "I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one." This unity, rooted in divine love, is a testament to the Father's love for humanity. 

Through faith in Jesus and baptism in His name, believers enter into an intimate communion with Him. They are known by His name, and through faith, they come to know Him, nourished by His very essence. Could there be a more personal connection than this?

Why heed any other voice when you have Jesus as your Good Shepherd? What cause is there for fear or worry? 

Like David of old, you can declare with confidence, "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He guides me to lush pastures and peaceful waters. He restores my soul and leads me on righteous paths for His name's sake. Even in the darkest valleys, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your presence comforts me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever." 

In Jesus, the name of our Good Shepherd, Amen.

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