Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon on the Third Sunday of Easter, 5/1/2022. The bulletin is available as a PDF: Easter3 Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for the Third Sunday of Easter, click here.
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
If that is still working, then it must be Easter. Which sort of makes the Gospel this morning an Easter text. That’s not really a fair distinction, though.
We’re an Easter people, after all. Which means that, for us, everything is understood in the light of the resurrection. Like the Apostles, remembering everything that Jesus told them, we know what it means for Jesus to be the Good Shepherd, because we have beheld His death and resurrection.
We can behold Christ crucified and know what God meant when He said,
Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.
Jesus has done this. By His incarnation, He has descended into the ravine that is this world; by His life, death, and resurrection, He has sought you, found you, and gathered you. He has rescued you from all the places where you were scattered.
Just as He is the only-begotten Son of God, He is the uniquely Good Shepherd.
A note on the word “good” is necessary. It doesn’t mean that there’s a list of qualities that good shepherds should have, and that Jesus exhibits those qualities exceptionally well. Though He certainly displayed such qualities better than His ancestor, David – the Shepherd-King, who so often acted as more king than shepherd.
The point is that Jesus is not “good” according to the expectations of an employer. The particular word John uses means something like “beautiful” or “noble.” Jesus is not good because He lays down His life for the sheep; rather, He lays down the life for His sheep because He is good.
No other shepherd is called to do that, because no other shepherd is the Good Shepherd. No pastor, however respectable, pious, competent, or effective at shearing the sheep – what we call “capital campaigns” – is called to lay down his life for the sheep as Jesus does.
Today is the feast day for a couple noteworthy pastors, Saint Philip and James. They were faithful unto death. They were good pastors, and faithful shepherds. They preached the Gospel, forgave sins, and carried out the Great Commission.
James was likely sawn in half for his trouble. But his death, as is the case with the death of all the martyrs, could not win salvation for anyone.
Salvation does not come by the virtuous, faithful death of men – be they good pastors, fathers, or anything else – it comes by proclaiming the death and resurrection of the singularly Good Shepherd. A phrase that in Latin today’s Alleluia verse was translated “Good” as a Pastor bonus.
You recently learned that you are getting a bonus pastor. And it’s true – I was there – that Rev. Barcelos is now on his way to us. But since the United States is not as proficient at bringing in people from outside our fold as Jesus is, it will take a bit of time.
What will make him a good pastor, and not merely a “bonus” or “extra” pastor, is that he will proclaim to you the Pastor Bonus, the Good Shepherd, by whose wounds you have been healed. By Word and Sacrament, by preaching and teaching, by hearing and absolving, he will return you, again and again, to the Good Shepherd and Overseer of your souls, as St. Peter does in today’s Epistle.
The Good Shepherd gave His life for the sheep. And He now uses pastors as undershepherds to proclaim that life to you.
Peter himself gives instructions to pastors just a bit later in the Epistle you just heard:
Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
Pastors are also called upon to teach, correct, and admonish according to God’s Word. That probably makes us seem more like sheepdogs: occasionally barking and nipping, but also guiding and protecting, happy to serve for a pat on the head, and to eat the scraps that fall from the Master’s table.
Sometimes I get asked by well-meaning Evangelicals why I wear a collar. And the answer is that I wear a collar for the same reason a sheepdog does: because I have a Master. That Master, the Good Shepherd, is still at work. Just as He came to bring in the Gentiles, so also, there are still those who know Him not or who love Him not. That only happens one way. Jesus says,
I must bring them also, and they will listen to My voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
Pastors Philip, James, Peter, and Miguel may not speak carelessly to you. When we open our mouths, you are to hear the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd; which should entail just as much about our speaking as it does about your hearing. After all, this is God’s work, even as He uses our hands and mouths. Thus, He has spoken:
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.