On this fourth Sunday of Easter we turn a corner of sorts. Up till now we have been reading of the resurrection appearances themselves. Today we begin to see how the risen Lord ministers to us as the Good Shepherd. In effect, the Lord gives us four basic pictures or teachings of how, as the King of Love he shepherds us. Here than are four portraits of his love:
I. Passionate love – In the text Jesus says, I am the Good Shepherd, a good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Purely gratuitous love is a hard thing to come by in human relationships. In one sense we are too needy to be able to give it purely. In another sense our motives tend to be a mixture of self love and love of the other. This is our human condition that few of us rise above in a consistent way.
But Jesus loves us purely, gratuitously, and for our own sake. His love is passionate in the sense that it is sacrificial. He lays down his life for us. And he does this while we are still sinners and often alienated from him. He dies for us though we cursed, mocked and ridiculed him. He loves us and lays down his life us, though he gets nothing out of it.
The hired shepherds on the other hand work for pay, and seek above all else their own good. When there is danger to the sheep, they will not risk themselves to rescue the sheep. Theirs is a service based on pay, and is subordinated to their own needs and safety.
Only one Shepherd died for you – In this world there are many people, politicians, music and movie stars, political parties and organizations that seek our loyalty, our votes, our membership and our dues. They also make us promises in return, even as they want to influence us and exercise leadership over us . None of this is necessarily wrong. People form relationships and seek leaders for any number of reasons. But note this important difference: none of these leaders or “shepherds” ever died for you. Only Jesus died for you.
For there remains this problem, that many Christians give greater loyalty to their political leaders, to musicians, to movies stars and the like, than to Jesus Christ. Too many tuck their faith under their politics, and give greater credence to what popular figures say, than to what Jesus says in his Word and through his Church.
Only Jesus died for you. Human beings and hirelings too easily bring their own needs and agendas. Only Jesus Christ loves you perfectly, only he died for you. Only he is deserving of the role of Chief Shepherd of your life.
II. Personal love – Jesus says, I know my sheep and mine know me. No one knows you like Jesus Christ, As God he knew you before he ever formed you in your mother’s womb (cf Jer 1:4). He has always thought about you, he created you, knit you together in your mother’s womb, and every one of your days was written in his book before one of them ever came to be (cf Ps 139).
Never been Unloved – No matter what you think you may have done to cancel his love, he knew you would do it before he ever made you. And still he made you. Do not doubt his love for you, or that he knows you better than you know your very self.
And old hymn says,
Perverse and foolish oft I strayed,
But yet in love He sought me,
And on His shoulder gently laid,
And home, rejoicing, brought me.
He also says his sheep know him. And that is both our invitation and our call. We often like to quote the 23rd Psalm “The Lord is my Shepherd” But this is not a slogan, or merely a psalm of consolation. It is a psalm of confession that I am one of the Lord’s sheep. But the Lord says “My sheep know me.” He does not say we merely know about him.
Do you know him? To be in the Lord’s flock is to be in a life changing, transformative relationship with the Lord. To know the Lord is to be seeing our life changed by that very relationship.
III. Persistent love – The Lord says, I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold, These also I must lead, and they will hear my voice, and there will be one flock and one shepherd. Jesus is not content merely to shepherd a few thousand Jewish disciples in the Holy Land. He wanted his love to spread to the whole world. He wants to embrace, and hold close, every one he has ever made. He wants to call every human person into a saving relationship.
Part of our journey as disciples, as sheep of the Lord is to experience the call to evangelize. But that call will only take flight when the love of Christ for everyone fills our heart.
Christ has a persistent love to embrace and hold close to him everyone. Do you sense that love? He wants to draw others to him, through you.
IV. Powerful love – Jesus says, I lay down my life, in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, I lay it down on my own. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it up again.
We see how Jesus does this for himself. But as Lord and Shepherd of our life he does it for us too. Our old self was crucified and died with him. We have also risen with him to new life. And this life is the totally new and transformed life that Christ died to give us.
He has the power to crucify our old and sinful self, and the power to raise it up again. And it is not merely our old self that rises, it is a new, and transformed humanity that the Lord takes up on our behalf. He has the power to do this, for his love powerful.
I am a witness of this, and I pray you are as well: he has the power!
Thus, as King of Love, Jesus, the Risen Lord shepherds us with a love that is passionate, personal, persistent, and powerful. No one loves you more than Jesus with his Father and the Holy Spirit. He is the King of Love and He is your Shepherd. The final line of the beautiful Hymn The King of Love My Shepherd is says,
And so through all the length of days
Thy goodness faileth never;
Good Shepherd, may I sing Thy praise
Within Thy house forever.
Here then. is that hymn, one of my favorite hymns: The King of Love my Shepherd Is. It’s peaceful strains amount to a king of musical onomatopoeia (a word, or in this case a song, that sounds like what it describes).
Here is an another magnificent musical onomatopoeia: