I Lay Down My Life

Text: John 10:11-18
Date: Easter IV + 4/22/18

Only now can we hear, really hear and understand what our Lord said when, during His earthly life, He was speaking to the Pharisees before Hanukkah that year saying, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Because if He really meant what He said, it meant He was going to die to protect and defend us. Which is what He meant. But then, it occurred to us, what good is a dead shepherd after that? So, it’s only now that we know what He meant, saying, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” Now in the afterglow of Easter we finally know what He meant. For He did lay down His life for us. But He has also taken it up again being raised from the dead. Only now in light of the resurrection has He opened our minds to understand. Only now can we believe we have a truly good shepherd, not a dead one!

Jesus is risen. He is risen indeed. And that makes all the difference. ALL the difference. He did not come to give us a new philosophy of life, new rules to live by that somehow guarantee a better more fulfilling life. He came to give us new life itself. That required no more and no less than the removal of death in the equation.

But how do you remove death? Death is still an experience for us, an often dreaded experience of our lives. I marvel at the dates of those famous people who die, comparing their dates of birth to mine. And they are getting closer! Nevertheless, death is the mark. My grave stone next to my wife’s reads my name and then the years 1949 – blank. I have yet to fill in that blank. Will I fill it in? Well, of course. (I should add the word of faith, “unless the Lord comes first”).

But this is why the good shepherd came. This is why He was born of the virgin Mary at Christmas. This is why He taught, preached and healed among us. This is why He was questioned, doubted, and disbelieved among His enemies and even among us. This is why He laid down His life—allowed Himself to be betrayed, handed over to sinners, to be crucified and murdered. It’s still too hard to believe. Wasn’t there another way? Another way to save and deliver us from sin, death and the devil?

This is where the Gospel says, “No;” no to the thought that God’s love, His good and gracious will means simply looking over, ignoring our sin. Through the millennia this is precisely why death has reigned, nobody lives forever and all have died, whether good or bad, famous or infamous, valuable or invaluable. You sin, you die.

That is why the good shepherd, our Savior, had to die. Sure He chose to die. But it was not just His choice as if there could have been another way. Death was and is the enemy, the last enemy. Therefore we needed One who was completely holy, sinless to give His life as the one and only substitute and pure sacrifice for our sin, for the sin of the world. We make that distinction, don’t we? We think our sin is relatively small, not so unusual or significant. By God’s Law however we learn that all sin has the same result. You sin, you die.

We too easily make distinctions between what we consider great and little sins, yet the end result is the same. We call them “little white lies.” Actually, it is the devil himself who convinces us that the lie is little, even colored white verses, I suppose, big black lies such as those we hear so often from politicians. No, a lie is a lie. “False testimony” God’s commandment calls it.

But now what was it that moved God to send the world of sinners and liars a Savior from sin and death? What made Christ go through with it? It was nothing else than His essence of love. Love! God so loved the world. How so? Godly love sees a need and is moved with compassion to rush to meet that need whether we appreciate it or not. Our greatest need was and is deliverance from death. God’s love is stronger than death.

It began to be known with the incarnation of the Son of God. Christina Rossetti caught the essence of it when in 1893 she penned the poem, “Love Came Down at Christmas.” “Love was born at Christmas, Star and Angels gave the sign.” Jesus revealed it on the night He was betrayed, saying, “A new commandment I give to you. that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another” (Jn 13:34). Then the expression and extent of that love He demonstrated the next day on the cross. So you heard St. John say today, “By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers” (1 Jn 3:16). True love is a matter of life and death.

So today Jesus says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again” (Jn 10:17). By His cross and resurrection He opens our minds and invites us to the true Easter joy, saying, “As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love” (Jn 15:9).

Jesus was the good shepherd. He laid down His life for us and the whole world. But we do not have a dead shepherd for He is risen from the dead. The promise of the resurrection is also for you. Remember how He said, “For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day” (Jn 6:40).

Only now is the risen Christ opening our minds to understand; to understand the scriptures and to believe; to believe that God indeed does love you. The result: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”