Confirmands, are you ready? Are you ready to confirm that faith which was granted to you in your Baptism? That is what this is all about. This is not graduation from church but rather the next step in your Christian life.
One of the most familiar pictures the Bible uses to teach us about our relationship to God is that of a shepherd and his sheep. It has its roots deep in the Old Testament. In the most popular psalm, Psalm 23, the author declares, “The Lord is my shepherd.” He describes his Lord as a good shepherd who takes care of His faithful believers who are His sheep. Jesus uses this same picture in our Gospel reading for today when He says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
As we read through the New Testament, we see Jesus described in various ways as Prophet, Priest, and King.
When we speak of Christ as being Prophet, Christ preached personally during His life on earth, validating His word with miracles, especially His own resurrection. Jesus says in Mark 1, “Let us go on to the next towns, that I may preach there also, for that is why I came out.” Just what exactly was the message that Christ was preaching? His preaching was focused on the salvation that came because of Him. Everything that Jesus did throughout His ministry was for the sake of the people. The problem was that they didn’t know it, yet that what was Jesus came to do. The message of Christ was and has always been that of salvation. As Jesus says, “They will listen to my voice.” That voice of Jesus tells you that while you are a damned and convicted sinner, Christ died for you to forgive you all of your sins.
Again, we ask the question: why? Why did Jesus give His life for mine? Why did Jesus do what He did, suffer the cross for me? He did this out of love for you. He did this out of love for the Father. He did this out of love for all of creation. He did this so that you would have the gift of everlasting life. He does this for you because He is the Good Shepherd.
What does Jesus mean when He calls Himself the Good Shepherd? His listeners knew that a real shepherd is concerned first and foremost with the welfare of his flock. He would provide the flock the necessities of life such as food and drink. When a wild animal attacked, he would risk his life for the sheep. He would put his own life in jeopardy to protect his flock.
Even today, as Prophet, Christ through the preached Gospel still proclaims Himself to be the Son of God and Redeemer of the world. Jesus tells the disciples, “The one who hears you hears Me, and the one who rejects you rejects Me, and the one who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” This Gospel that Jesus comes preaching is nothing short of the promise of forgiveness that has been won for you by Himself on the cross. This Gospel is the one and only thing that can and will save you. Anything other than Jesus Christ cannot and will not save.
My dear confirmands, you will indeed be tempted to fall away, just as everyone is. But you must remain faithful. That is one thing that you will you promise to do, just as every other member here as done. But hear these words of St. John: “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” That is what our Lord has promised to you.
As our priest, Jesus Christ is the One who fulfilled the Law perfectly for us when we could not. This is most clearly presented in what St. Paul wrote to the Galatians: “When the fullness of time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.”
You and I are under that Law of God. It is a Law that convicts. God’s Law tells us that we are to be holy as God is holy. That means that we are to be without sin. For a brief moment in time, we were. When God created man, we were created in His image of being perfect and without sin. Because of Satan’s temptation, we lost that image of God and became sinners. Because of sin, you and I experience death – both physically and spiritually. We are in desperate need of restoration to God. Through Jesus Christ and His life, death, and resurrection, we have that means of restoration. He willingly gives His life as a sacrifice in order to redeem us, to buy us back, so that we may live with God in a state of forgiveness.
What Jesus sets out to do is to make the distinction between shepherd and hired servant. Most of the time, it is hard to tell the difference between the Good Shepherd and the hired hand. Both the Good Shepherd and the hired hand lead the sheep to good pasture. They both see to it that the sheep get the water they need. They both attend to the minor cuts and scrapes of the flock. At the end of the day, both see to it that sheep find safe shelter. It is very hard to tell the difference between the Good Shepherd and the hired hand under ordinary circumstances.
The one time that the difference becomes very clear is when the flock is in danger, for example: when a wolf is stalking the flock. When the wolf appears, the hired hand leaves the flock to defend itself. The Good Shepherd goes out to meet the wolf and defend the flock. The hired hand runs away. The Good Shepherd puts His life on the line and gives it up for the flock. The enemy of the flock brings out the difference between the hired hand and the Good Shepherd.
Look at some of the characteristics of the Good Shepherd: He calls His own sheep by name; He leads them out to pasture; the sheep follow Him; He gives His life for the sheep; the sheep are His; He does not flee in the face of danger, but puts Himself between the danger and the sheep; He cares about and knows the sheep. These are just a few of the characteristics of the Good Shepherd, of what Jesus does for us.
Just as a shepherd defends the flock, so does Jesus defend us, His flock. He does so by laying down His life for the sheep, just as He says: “I am the good shepherd….I lay down my life for the sheep.” This He does for you. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus gave up His life to secure that bond and keep His sheep safe. He makes the sacrifice of all sacrifices as Priest, a sacrifice that replaces all sacrifices. He sacrificed Himself for your sins, and His sheep all over the world receive the benefit. That benefit is meant for you. He delivers this gift to you in simple yet powerful means of Word and Sacraments.
Not only is Jesus our Prophet and Priest, He is also our King. He rules with His almighty power over all creation and governs and protects especially His church here on earth. He protects us from all that threatens us: the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh. He defends us from the wolf that comes to snatch and scatters us. All this He does so that He can finally lead His church to glory in heaven, just as St. Paul writes: “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into His heavenly kingdom.”
Because of this love, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ knows who we are and how best to take care of us. He knows that we are feeble from the outset because of our sinful nature. He knows that because of that sinful nature, we will do stupid sheep things like stray from His Word by not hearing it preached and by not studying His Word with the other sheep of His flock. He knows that we will stray from His body and His blood which gives us forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. When we do all of that and even more, our Good Shepherd comes after us, to find us and bring us back into the sheep fold. He does not leave us to the wolves to be devoured; rather, He brings us back to Himself where He can keep an ever watchful eye on His beloved sheep.
For you six young ladies, let me ask one thing of you. Please come back to church next Sunday, and the Sunday after that, and the Sunday after that, and every Sunday after that until your Lord calls you home, for this is where your Lord has promised to come to you. He comes here to feed you and to forgive you and that is what He wants more than anything. And for everyone else who is here today, the same thing holds true for you, so please come and be fed by your Good Shepherd. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.