Wednesday, April 24, 2013
What makes Him good?
Have you ever noticed how we abuse the word "good"? This tastes good when it doesn’t, this is good for you when it tastes terrible, he or she was a good person when they died and we have nothing better to say, that's a good kid when we mean average, he's a good Pastor when we mean not great... We use "good" in a relative sense, a comparative sense. What we often mean is "not terrible". So when Jesus comes along saying "I am the Good Shepherd" we hear Him say that He is good in a relative sense – and to quote His own words – good compared to the hired hands who care nothing for His sheep.
We say Jesus is our Good Shepherd and that translates into kind, compassionate, forgiving, does what He can, but, hidden in there is also the idea that He could do more if He wanted or we could talk Him into it. We hear Jesus say He is the Good Shepherd but good to us often means that He loves us just the way we are – with all our quirks and weaknesses, faults, and failings. You know how familiar that sounds. We have said those words to a spouse or parent. But Jesus is not good because He loves us as we are. He does not love our quirks, weaknesses, faults, and failings. What makes Him the Good Shepherd is that He died for them. He loves enough not to leave us as we are – sinful, unclean, dead in trespasses...
We say Jesus is our Good Shepherd but we often live with the nagging doubts about whether Jesus will give us what we want or do what we ask of Him. Our definition of good is getting what we desire from Him. How many times don’t we say “if you loved me, you would buy this or do that for me...” When He answers our prayers with “No” we wonder if He has turned against us. Instead of trusting in His answer, we assume we need to fix things by trying to be good. Jesus is not our Good Shepherd because He does what we ask or gives us what we want, He is our Good Shepherd because He has laid down His life for His sheep.
We love to call Jesus our Good Shepherd but we generally want a shepherd who will follow us around and clean up our messes – not a shepherd who expects us to hear His voice and follow Him. Jesus it not good because He follows us. Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He has laid down His life for His sheep – it is this Gospel that faith hears and it is this Shepherd that faith follows. His path is the way of life that we hear His voice and follow.
Jesus said to those who rejected Him: "I told you already but you did not believe Me." What kind of love is greater than the love shown in the Shepherd who dies for His sheep? What greater good can Jesus be than the Good Shepherd who dies for the sins of His sheep? What we have a problem with is that good has come to mean something different to us than it does to Jesus. Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He loves us even to death for us.
He is good because He gives us that which we do not deserve – in the grace and mercy that counts us as His own, makes us new, washes us clean, clothes us in righteousness. He is good because He calls us to Him and counts us as the children of God when we rebelled against Him and chose the path that lead to death. Our Good Shepherd loves us enough not to leave us as we are. We are not our own, we have been bought with a price. Our Good Shepherd loves enough not to leave us to our own distorted values, priorities and goals. He has set us on His path, the one He forged through death to resurrection to eternal life. Our Good Shepherd loves us enough to grant us ears of faith attentive to the sound of His voice but faith is also the call to follow Him, to walk in His ways, and to delight in His will.
Why is it so easy for us to doubt when troubles come our way? Why is it so easy for us to put a higher value on the things of the moment than the eternity He has prepared for us? Why is it so easy for us to demand a Savior who hears and follows us instead of one whom we hear and follow? If Jesus is Good only because He gives us what we want today, He has only created spoiled children who know little of love. God has given us His presence, His forgiveness, and His grace for this day and the needs of this mortal life but they are all in preparation for the eternal life which is to come. We keep on thinking that if you get it right today you will get eternal life as your prize when the truth is if you get eternal life, then this life is the hidden prize that comes with eternity.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd meaning the RIGHT Shepherd, because He is the only one who dies for His sheep, who forgives His sinful flock, who bestows on the unworthy and undeserving eternal life. Good here does not mean better than other shepherds as if Christian faith were a better deal than other religions. No, it means ONLY Shepherd, only faith, only way, only truth, and only life. Jesus is Good and there is none other. Lord, where can we go but to YOU? This verse we just sang does not mean that Jesus offers more than others, it means that we have no other place to go, no other shepherd who is good, and no other hope except that which offers eternal life.
Now this might be a good place to end the sermon but it does not end here. Not because I keep on talking, no, but because you finish this sermon when you walk out this door and follow Him. The rest of today, Monday through Saturday, you finish this sermon as You take what You have heard and heed the sound of His voice, walking in His way, delighting in His will, and showing forth His righteousness in your words and works. The last word of the Gospel lesson might be “follow Me” but this the first word that marks who we are and what we do when we leave the doors of this house to live as His children in the world.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd because He is the ONLY Shepherd who love us enough to die for us, to forgive our sins, to lead us to holiness of life here, and to lead us to eternal life to come. That is what good means. Now, we have the opportunity to mirror that goodness in holy lives and holy conversation... today, tomorrow, and each day to come. And that, my friends, is how this sermon ends. My sheep here My voice and they follow Me. Amen.