When Christ announces that He is the Good Shepherd and the Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep, he is teaching us that He is the only One to whom his disciples can look for help and protection against sin, death, and the devil. He calls these things that would devour and scatter his little flock “the wolf.” And He teaches that He alone can help the sheep because the sheep are His; they belong to Him.
He contrasts Himself with the hired-hands. According to Dr. Luther, do not mistake these to be false preachers and pastors, but the hired hands are all who came before our Lord’s incarnation. Yes, even Moses and all the prophets. You see, they were servants of the Lord’s sheep, but they did not own the flock. And no matter how much they preached and taught, neither Moses nor the prophets had the wherewithall to stop the wolf from devouring and scattering the flock.
So because this was the situation, the Son of God himself took on our flesh and blood from the Blessed Virgin Mary to fulfill the prophecy of Ezekiel: “I myself will seek out my sheep.” Thus He came among us as one of us, He who had created us in the beginning - “for all things were made through Him and without Him was not anything made that was made.” He thus came to those who were His own by virtue of their creation, and even though we had fallen into sin and become the prey of the devil, sin, and death, He came to redeem us, to buy us back, to lay down His life for us, so that He might not merely be our Creator, but also our divine Redeemer, our Savior, our Shepherd. Thus He “did not cease to do all things until He had brought us up to heaven and bestowed on us His kingdom to come.” But all this is only in Him.
Whoever hopes to survive the onslaught of the devil, our own sinfulness, and death, has no other help or hope. In the end, either the Good Shepherd or the wolf will have you.
So hear the voice of your Shepherd, people loved by God! He comes to you not to take from you, but to give to you. He laid down His perfect life in place of your forfeited and imperfect life. He says to the Wolf - “You cannot have that one. You must have me instead.” And so He gives His life into death to destroy your death. And so He places His sinless soul over you to protect you from the terrifying teeth of the wolf.
Thus when the wolf comes howling at you and tries to frighten and alarm you, you must not listen to what it says. Rather, you listen to the voice of your Good Shepherd, the One who laid down his life for you. The One who waged war with that Wolf and won long ago. It is the voice of Your Shepherd who speaks to calm you: “Do not let the sin you struggle with or the thought of your death or the devil’s accusations frighten you. I have forgiven all your sins by my death; I have destroyed death’s power over you by My rising; and I descended into hell and took the keys of hell and death that Satan could never again have any right or claim on you. You are mine, my very own. Mine because I made you and doubly mine because I redeemed you. Did I not wash you in the baptismal water and mark you with my cross as my own dear possession forevermore. You are my sheep and I am your Good Shepherd. And so every need of yours I can and I will provide for. Only trust me.”
This is the voice of the Good Shepherd that the sheep hear. And they soon learn to know when it is His voice they are hearing, and they learn to flee from anyone who comes to them speaking something else. Any voice that invites them to fear the wolf, to run from God in panic over sin and guilt, or from fear of death or the devil. No, they know that any voice urging such things is NOT the voice of their Shepherd.
And where does our Good Shepherd’s lovely voice ring out more clearly, more sweetly for you, than at the Table He prepares for you in the presence of your enemies? “For this Sacrament is the Gospel.” What sin can accuse the one who trusts and receives the Blood of Christ? That is the blood that atoned for the sin of the world! Our Good Shepherd spilled it in your place. Given to you it marks you as His, blood-bought and paid for. What death can attack the one who trusts and receives the Body of Christ? This is one Body that Death will never forget. Death took hold of that body once but could not hold onto it; rather death was shattered by it. When that body enters you, death groans that it has lost another!
“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep....I have other sheep not of this fold, them also I must bring and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock and one Shepherd.”
And that’s where you and I come in, so that all He first said to the Apostles applies to us. We are the other sheep He was speaking of, Gentiles not of the fold of Israel originally, but led into the joys and privileges of Jesus’ flock by hearing the Voice of our Shepherd and following where He leads. And herein is the true and only unity of the Christian Church - that we are all but little sheep who hear and know the voice of our Shepherd, and that we have no other Shepherd but Him alone, our Good Shepherd, the One who laid down His life for us. “For you were straying like sheep, but have now been returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls, even Jesus Christ.” In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.