Jesus, the Good Shepherd. This title brings to mind one of the most popular and comforting images of our Lord. A grassy vale, shaded with large trees and bordered with a still brook serves as a backdrop of Jesus with a small flock of sheep gathered around His feet. Perhaps there is a staff in one hand and a lamb in the other. However, while it is comforting to think of Jesus and our relationship Him in such a way, are such images really nothing more than expressions of our attempts to escape the fears that weigh on our hearts? With news of a shootout with police in The Home Depot’s parking lot or with a Facebook Live video of a police stand-off at a local convenience store it is easy for fear to cause us to look for an escape. As we read Jesus’ words about being our Good Shepherd, it is doesn’t take much for the images conjured by this language to give expression to our fear-filled desires to escape.
This is not, however, what Jesus intended when He spoke these words. Instead of creating an image for us to hide behind, Jesus is actually trying to bolster our confidence to face our fears – not on our own, but through Him who goes before us. Read what Jesus says, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.” (John 10:3-4)
This is important to understand because as Jesus says in Matthew 10:16, “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves.” While this may seem to add to our fears, understood in light of what Jesus says in John 10, we realize there is no need to fear because Jesus is not driving us out into the world as a normal shepherd would. He is leading us from the front, calling us by name to follow Him through this valley of the shadow of death. Yes, all around us are things that can terrify us, wolves who seek to devour us, but we have the confidence to go where we are led because we follow a Shepherd who owns us, who has laid down His life for us so that we do not need to live in fear looking for a means to escape.
Living in this confidence also means that we can go out into the midst of wolves, being sent as the disciples were, to proclaim the love and strength of our Shepherd. A bit further in John 10, Jesus says that there are “other sheep not of this fold [that He] must bring also” (John 10:16). By heeding the voice of Him who calls us to follow, we can bear witness to the grace and mercy Jesus has shown to us as our Good Shepherd.
Because we can hope again, we can live again – with purpose and passion. This is what Peter is revealing in his epistle as he speaks about the new life that we have because of the living hope in Jesus’ death and resurrection. He writes…
[Know] that you were ransomed from the futile ways inherited from your forefathers, not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot. He was foreknown before the foundation of the world but was made manifest in the last times for the sake of you who through him are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God. (I Peter 1:18-21)
Unfortunately, this new life is something we usually long for rather than experience. We might experience it briefly here and there when we feel like the “reset” button on life was pressed and all things are seemingly in place and are working in harmony; but that experience is fleeting. After four long years of college and countless interviews you are starting to doubt if you are going to find a job that will launch your career. Your hopes are wavering and your strength is waning. But, finally, you are offered a job and you can hope again. And, more importantly, you can live again… with passion and purpose. But, then that job ended in a lay-off. Life as it’s meant to be seems to come in cycles as the chaos and brokenness of the world are imposed upon us.
The cycle can be broken, though. And, just as we can hope again, we can live again – with purpose and passion. It comes when we, as St. Peter encourages in this passage, consider the cost of the life that we are given in Jesus. It was not with perishable things, earthly things like silver or gold, but with the death of Jesus, with His precious blood, that we were bought so that we might live in Him who was raised from the dead. Sin and death have no mastery over Jesus who conquered the grave by His death and resurrection. Therefore, sin and death have no mastery over us because we are His. No longer do have to live as if we are compelled to follow the sinful desires that seek to impose on us the brokenness of this world. Rather, having the living hope of Jesus’ resurrection, we live new lives.
How long has it been since you have been able to say, “I can hope in something.” Sadly, it is not uncommon for us to be in a position where our hopes have been dashed and broken to the point where we not only wonder what we can hope in, but we question if we even have the strength to hope even if there was something in which to hope. The vows we took on our wedding day which gave us the hope of “until death do us part” were destroyed when the court papers were filed for divorce. The investments we made in the hopes of a financially secure retirement failed because of change in the market or an unwise decision. The circumstances are many and varied, but the end result is the same. Our hopes are shattered to the point that we are not sure if we can muster the strength to hope again. If it has been a while since you have been able to have a sure and confident hope, then consider Peter’s words in his first epistle.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. (I Peter 1:3-7)
With these words, Peter is telling us that we can hope – boldly and confidently – because we have a living hope that is formed by the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus’ resurrection is more than just a happy ending to a sad story. It is God’s means which empowers us to hope again even if our hope is “grieved by various trials.” This is a hope that is not built on the things of this world which are corruptible and capable of causing the deepest of sorrows. This is a hope that is “imperishable, undefiled, kept in heaven” causing us to rejoice in the knowledge that our hope is “set fully on the grace” of Jesus. (I Peter 1:13)
Along Life's Way
Learning to live life as it’s meant to be. That’s what we strive to do here at Grace, to live under the cross in the new life that we have in Christ through His death and resurrection. The posts on this blog, grounded in God’s Word, will be offered as a source of encouragement, comfort and strength “along life’s way” to the end that we live lives of service in our homes, in our communities and in our congregations.
The author of this blog is the pastor of Grace, Andrew Green. He is a 2000 graduate of Concordia Seminary in St. Louis and has served Grace since January 2002. He is married to Erica and has two children, Clara and John-August.