“One Shepherd, Jesus Christ”
Editor’s note: Concordia Seminary President Thomas Egger preached this sermon on John 10:11–18 in the Call Day service on April 28, 2021. It also appears in the Summer 2021 issue of the Concordia Journal. Video of the service can be viewed or downloaded at https://scholar.csl.edu/callday/70/.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Grace and peace to you, in the name of Jesus Christ. And warm greetings and gratitude to all of you gathered here, and to all of you viewing the service online. I wish that more of us could have been included here for this joyful occasion. Welcome, to our guests from many places: to parents, and spouses; to representatives from the Council of Presidents; to President Harrison; to members of our Board of Regents; to our dedicated faculty and staff; and especially to you, our concluding students, to whom God himself will utter his call this evening to serve the church which he has purchased with the blood of the Christ.
I know that I speak for the faculty, and for your parents, and for the whole church, and I certainly speak for myself, when I say that it has been a high, high privilege to have a hand, each in our own way, in preparing you for the vocations of pastor and deaconess.
The text for the sermon this evening is the Gospel reading from John 10, under the theme One Shepherd, Jesus Christ. Hear again verses 14–16:
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
One Shepherd. Tonight is a night of joy, and confidence, and anticipation, and eternal significance, because God has raised up one Shepherd. The ministry into which you are being called is glorious, a bright and splendid light in the midst of the earth, because of one Shepherd.
No one is stronger. No one is more tender. There is no safer shoulder for sheep than on the shoulder of this Shepherd, the one Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
He was at the Father’s side, in the Father’s bosom, from eternity. “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” For us, and for our salvation, He came down from heaven. He became man. He took on our flesh, so that he might be the one Shepherd for the sheep. He took on our flesh, so that he might be slaughtered for the sheep—the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world—so that we might be his dear lambs.
Tonight is a night of joy, and confidence, and anticipation, and eternal significance, because God has raised up one Shepherd. And the time of his humiliation and the hour of his shame and suffering is finished. He has done it! The remarkable saving work of the Christ of God has been accomplished. Tonight is a night of joy because of Jesus, the one Shepherd. He is calling you to feed His lambs.
What a glorious ministry, the ministry of the gospel of Christ. Glorious because of his power and his wealth and his wisdom and his might and his honor and his glory and his blessing! Glorious because of his love. Earlier this week, in a chapel sermon, Christian Pieper reminded us that Call Day is not about us, it’s not about you, not at its core, but rather it is about the love of Jesus. He is the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep. One Shepherd, your Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who died for you, who rose for you, who knows you—as the eternal Father knows the eternal Son, he knows you!—this Jesus, who reigns over all things at God’s right hand of power. He loves you. He loves us all. He cares for us every day. He hears our prayers. He promises never to leave us or forsake us. He is truly with us in his word. He is truly with us in his body and his blood. He is with us, standing in the midst of His flock, come what may, to the end of the age. His Shepherd’s voice will one day summon us from our graves, and his love will be our eternal joy. Call Day is about the love of Jesus. It is about the one Shepherd.
Tonight your names will be read, along with the name of a congregation and the name of a place. You will be called to many different flocks. But, truly, there is one flock, and one Shepherd for all of us sheep.
Our text this evening, about the Good Shepherd and his sheep, comes from right in the middle of John’s Gospel: chapter 10. And it’s fascinating to see the way that John frames his whole Gospel with language of sheep and lambs—proclaiming Jesus both as the Good Shepherd and also as the Passover Lamb of God. Twice in John, chapter 1, the Baptist points his finger at Jesus and says, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.” And already in John chapter 2 we read what will become a kind of refrain in John’s Gospel: “Now, the Passover of the Jews was at hand.” Chapter 6 mentions another Passover: “Now the Passover, the feast of the Jews was at hand.” And a third Passover, what will be the final Passover in the Gospel, is first mentioned in chapter 11: “Now the Passover of the Jews was at hand.” Chapter 12 begins, “Six days before the Passover,” and chapter 13 begins, “Before the Passover, when Jesus knew his last hour had come.” Three more times during John’s description of Jesus’s trial and crucifixion, he mentions that it was the time of the Passover. And John is the gospel writer who tells us that the soldiers did not break Jesus’s legs, so that, as the Scriptures say, “Not one of his bones will be broken”—which is not only a citation of Psalm 34, but also an allusion to the Old Testament instructions for the Passover Lamb: “You shall not break any of its bones” [Ex 12:46].
Of all of the thousands and thousands of Passover lambs that had been sacrificed, here now was the One, the One Passover Lamb, whose blood would avert God’s judgment upon sinners forever. He was the one willing Lamb, the one willing Shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep. He had the authority to lay it down. He gave his life for you; no one took it from him. And he who alone had the authority to give his life had the authority also to take it up again.
The Gospel of John, which begins by referring to Jesus as God’s Lamb and which right in its center has Jesus declaring himself the Good Shepherd, also ends with talk of sheep. In John 21, the final chapter, the risen and triumphant Shepherd stands before Peter and charges him: “Feed my lambs . . . Shepherd my sheep . . . Feed my sheep.”
Peter isn’t the one Shepherd. Neither is any other disciple. And neither are you. There is one flock and one Shepherd, Jesus Christ. But what a wondrous thing is happening here at the end of John’s Gospel, as the Good Shepherd, the Victorious Lamb, calls Peter to shepherd his lambs—Jesus’s lambs. Peter! Peter, who just before Jesus was arrested had boasted: “Lord, why can’t I follow you? I will lay down my life for you.” Peter, to whom Jesus had replied, “Will you lay down your life for me? Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.” Peter would find himself weak and weeping.
There is one flock, and one Shepherd. Only one whose faithfulness never wavered, will never waver. One Shepherd, who laid down his life for us. One Shepherd, who will never deny us, because he cannot deny himself. One Shepherd, whose rod and staff, in life and in death, will prevail for us and will bring us home. Peter is not that Shepherd. And neither are you.
But. What a wondrous thing is happening here at the end of John’s Gospel. The one Shepherd is calling another to feed his lambs, to shepherd his sheep. To be a pastor. And what the Lord God did for Peter and the others at the end of John’s Gospel, he continues to do for his church, and he does so here tonight. He is making you shepherds, watchmen over his flock. He who gave his life for the sheep, is tonight giving you for the sheep.
Tonight, here, Jesus Christ is shepherding his flock. He is calling you to go forth with his word, with his sacraments, with his love, with his service, with his humility and meekness, with his strength and authority, with his rod and his staff, and, almost certainly, with his wounds and his suffering.
I pray that warm reception awaits you at your first Call. I pray that your ministry would be blessed, and carried out with joy, and that you would, often, see the fruits of your labor. I pray that God would gather more sheep into his fold through your ministry. I pray that the flock which you serve would display the unity and peace of Christ. My own years as a pastor in Iowa were, I think, the richest and best years of my life.
But whether through the sin and hostility of others, or through our own sin and weakness and brokenness, there will also be many times when the glorious ministry of Christ’s gospel will not seem so glorious, when the strong shepherd he has called will not feel strong, when the faithful pastor he has called will be confronted by his own lack of zeal and unfaithfulness. As with Peter, there will be times when you find yourself weak and weeping.
In those times, my dear ones, the faithfulness of your Shepherd Jesus, the one Shepherd, will endure. His arms will be strong for you. His shoulder will be your rock and your refuge. His Word and promises will bring life to death-soaked bones. His sacrament will bring ointment and healing to your heart and to your lips. His strength, not yours. His righteousness, not yours. His authority, not yours. His love, not yours. Is your hope. And the church’s hope. He is so good. So true. He will not fail you.
You. Will you lay down your life for me? Jesus asks you. Truly, truly, I say to you, the rooster will not crow till you have denied me three times.
But if you turn the question around, and if you ask Jesus: “Will you lay down your life for me?” Yes, there—right there!—is your hope and your joy for a lifetime of self-giving ministry in his name. For he will answer you, again and again: Yes, for you, dear lamb, I have laid down my life. And for all the dear lambs I’ve called you to shepherd. In my one flock, with one Shepherd.
In his sermons on the Gospel of John, Martin Luther encouraged future pastors with these words:
“I know,” says Christ, “that the devil will harass you severely for my sake, to sadden and weary you, to make you impatient, to induce you to defect, and to make you say: ‘I wish I had never had anything to do with this!’”
That is the sentiment of many right now. I myself have been assailed by such aversion and weariness, and the thought has come to me: “If I had not begun to do so, I would never again preach another word; I would let everything take whatever course it may.” For flesh and blood is flesh and blood; and the thought of seeing and suffering so much contempt, ingratitude, and peril in return for one’s love and kindness gives anyone pause.
But Christ declares: “That is not the right attitude. Do not let the devil, the world, or your own flesh overcome you; but think of how I have loved you and still love you. Call to mind what I have spent on you to make you righteous and to save you, to make you acceptable to the Father, to make you his priest and servant and my disciple. To accomplish this, I suffered and overcame everything both the devil and the world were able to do against me. My beloved one, thus you also should remain in my love and not be deterred by . . . the many trials.” [LW AE 24:247]
Remain in my love. Indeed. Labor, then, dear friends, in the joy of Christ, in the freedom of Christ, in the love of Christ for you. Serve with energy and devotion, bring the good news of the Good Shepherd to many. Be a good shepherd for Christ’s flock. Yet always in this confidence: there is, finally, one flock, and one Shepherd: Jesus Christ. The Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for us sheep.
To his name be glory, at this seminary, in his church, and in your lives of ministry. Jesus loves you. Amen.