Third Sunday of Easter

Knowing and Being Known

Saint John 10:11-16

Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!

The Gradual for today, which we sang between the Old Testament Reading and the Epistle, makes two statements about knowing and being able to discern the truth. The first concerns the two disciples from Emmaus who, as they were walking along on their way home from Jerusalem after the crucifixion of Christ, were joined by the risen Lord Jesus. At first they do not know who He is, for “their eyes were kept from recognizing him.” As they walk together, Jesus explains to them, from all that the Scriptures had said, why the Christ should suffer and die as He did and enter into His glory. Still, they do not recognize Him. Saint Luke tells us, though, that upon reaching their home, and inviting the “stranger” to join them, the two disciples sat at table with Jesus, where He “took the bread and blessed and broke it and gave it to them”—Saint Luke’s way of saying that they received the Sacrament of Holy Communion from Jesus. “And their eyes were opened, and they recognized him.” As the Gradual says, “The Lord was known to them in the breaking of the bread. Alleluia.”

The Gradual’s second statement about knowing the truth comes from today’s Gospel Reading, which begins with our Lord Jesus telling us, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Twice in the reading Jesus refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd—the first time to tell us that the Good Shepherd “lays down his life for the sheep,” and the second time, as we hear it also proclaimed in the Gradual, the Good Shepherd says, “I know my own and my own know me.”

So, what’s the connection between the Emmaus disciples knowing Jesus in the “breaking of the bread,” that is, in the Lord’s Supper, and Jesus knowing His own and His own knowing Him, like a good shepherd with his sheep? Well, the connecting point is faith, dear friends, specifically, faith in Him who lays down His life for us. In the Lord’s Supper, by faith, we are given to know Him who gave Himself unto death for us. The apostle Paul says that, “the cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ?” The Lord’s Supper is no mere recalling of what took place long ago, symbolized by bread and wine, but, as Saint Paul says, an actual and real participation in Christ’s death on the cross for us. Which does not mean, as some wrongly believe, that Jesus, in the Sacrament, is sacrificed again every time we have the Lord’s Supper, but that, in a sacramental way—a way that cannot be understood, but only believed—we are joined together with Him and His death on the cross. And through this sacramental union with Jesus, we receive all the blessings that He purchased and won for us with His innocent suffering and death. You have forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.

The lovely stained glass window of the Good Shepherd that we have adorning this sanctuary depicts a scene that is ever so peaceful and calm. Jesus, however, tells us that the real picture of the Good Shepherd is altogether different. There’s a wolf in this picture coming after the sheep to kill them—a ravenous wolf called death and the devil and sin. The sheep and lambs of the flock hear the growling of the wolf, they sense its wicked intent. But they do not run and scatter so that the wolf can pick them off, one by one. Instead, they take refuge behind their Good Shepherd who stands His ground, ready to lay down His own life to save them. And He does. His blood is shed by the wolf. His flesh is torn asunder. He dies, and in His death the beast is defeated and the sheep are saved.

This is exactly what we are given by faith to behold in the breaking of the bread. “Do this in remembrance of Me,” Jesus says in the Sacrament. Know where your salvation lies. Flee the wicked foe, turn away from your sins, and run to Jesus for the safety and care and forgiveness that He bestows with His true Body and Blood given and shed for you. There is no one else who can give you this gift of life and salvation—no one else who can keep you safe from the old evil foe. Only Jesus, your Good Shepherd. All other things and people of this world, in which sin and temptation would have you put your trust, will do you no good. Your eternal life is not safe with them. They are like the hired hand of which Jesus speaks—the hired hand who cares nothing for the sheep and who, at the first sign of danger, will turn tail and flee, leaving the sheep for destruction.

Now, dear sheep and lambs of our Saviour’s holy flock, let’s consider a bit more the relationship that exists between the sheep and the good shepherd, as Jesus describes it for us in today’s Holy Gospel. The question that comes to my mind is how the sheep come to know that the good shepherd is not like the hired hand? How do the sheep know that he will protect them and not run away, too?

Well the answer, dear friends, has to do with ownership of the sheep and what ownership implies. Jesus says that the hired hand does not own the sheep and that this is the reason why he runs away when the wolf threatens. As well, it would seem to make sense that the hired hand’s lack of ownership of the sheep would also play out in how he deals with the sheep at other times, in the care that he provides. To him it’s just a job, whereas for the good shepherd, it’s more. For the good shepherd, the sheep and lambs are dear to him, and so he knows each one of them in a way that the hired hand never would or ever could. The hired hand sees them only as a bunch of wool and mutton on four legs; the good shepherd looks upon them as precious gifts. And this difference that ownership makes is something that the sheep would surely pick up on. They would know that the good shepherd loves and cares for them, and so they would trust in him to keep them safe.

In a prayer called our Lord’s High Priestly Prayer, Christ says to His Father, “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me.” Jesus also says in this prayer, “I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. All mine are yours and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them.” Not only does Jesus speak of His ownership of those given to Him by the Father—believers like you and me—He also speaks of what that means to Him. He says, “I am glorified in them.” This is a reference to the cross. That’s where the glory of Christ is made manifest to us—in His innocent suffering and death—in the Good Shepherd willingly laying down His life to save the sheep that belong to Him—the sheep that the Father has given to His Son.

When Jesus first said the words of our text and declared, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,” He was referring to what was, at that time, a comparatively small flock of sheep. Of course, there were all those believers of old, like Abraham whom God counted as righteous because of his faith. But right then, at that time when Jesus first spoke of the Good Shepherd, most of the two-legged human sheep walking about did not believe. However, our Lord does mention others who would come to be part of His flock. He says, “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.”

With these words, Jesus is looking ahead to the Church that He would set in place upon the foundation of the prophets and apostles, with Himself as the cornerstone. He was looking ahead to when the Gospel would be preached and proclaimed to all the world. He was looking ahead to when you would be one of His dear sheep and lambs who trust in Him. It is as He said to His Father in His High Priestly Prayer: “I do not pray for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word.”

I don’t think it’s possible to spend this time thinking about Jesus as our Good Shepherd without also thinking about Psalm 23. There’s an obvious connection, isn’t there? The Psalm is definitely prophetic in describing the care that we lovingly and faithfully receive from Jesus. And while the Psalm doesn’t show up in any of today’s Propers, we will be singing it as a hymn at the very appropriate time of the Communion distribution. It’s in all of the portions of the Divine Service that Christ serves us as our Good Shepherd with His grace and mercy, speaking His Gospel Word of peace into our hearts, but in the Lord’s Supper—in the “breaking of the bread”—we behold our Saviour in His glory—the glory of the cross—the glory of His laying down His life for His sheep. We see as did the disciples from Emmaus. And so we sing, “My table Thou hast furnished in presence of my foes; my head Thou does with oil anoint, and my cup overflows. Goodness and mercy all my life shall surely follow me; and in God’s house forevermore my dwelling place shall be.”

In Saint John’s Gospel, there are two more verses not included in the text of today’s Gospel Reading that I wish were, for in these verses Jesus not only speaks of freely laying down His life to save us, but also of rising up again. He speaks of both in terms of authority—authority given Him from the Father to lay down His life and “authority to take it up again.” And the authority to do both is given for your sake—for yours and mine—for our salvation. The Good Shepherd lays His life down to save us and He rises up from death to save us. The Good Shepherd lives to care for His sheep—to feed and nourish you and bring to you the forgiveness of your sins. This He does faithfully and lovingly in His Word and through His Sacraments.

Alleluia. The Lord was known to them—to us—in the breaking of the bread. Alleluia.

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. Alleluia. Amen.