Sunday, April 21, 2024

John 10:11-18; The Fourth Sunday of Easter; April 21, 2024;

Life in Christ Lutheran Church, Grand Marais, MN;

Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We simply cannot comprehend the scandal of the cross. In our day, the cross is the definitive symbol of who we are. We have them everywhere. Here in church, the cross is prominent. Randy has multiple walls covered with them. We can’t imagine Christianity without the cross.

For early Christians, however, it was different. The cross was a symbol of Roman power. The Persians invented it, the Romans perfected it. They crucified hundreds of thousands. Many were guilty, and many were innocent. Some say barely a day went by without a crucifixion. It was a public humiliation, not only for the person who was crucified, but also for the nations who were under the thumb of the Romans. “We are in charge.” It was a billboard of Roman will. “Don’t do what he did, or you too will suffer.” No form of punishment was more feared because of the lingering death that came with it. The pure humiliation, the shame, the nakedness, the crowds of mocking people. Christians didn’t go around with crosses hanging around their necks, like we do today.

That is not to say that Christians didn’t talk about the cross. Very early, Paul writes
Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.” (1 Corinthians 1:20–25, ESV)
When Paul talks about a stumbling block and folly it is really an understatement. The message of the cross was one of the most counter-cultural messages that could have ever been.

In fact, one of the earliest depictions of Jesus on the cross comes from graffiti. It is called the The Alexamenos Graffito. It depicts a man named Alexamenos worshipping a donkey headed person on a cross. The inscription says, “Alexemenos worships his God.” It is almost certainly meant to mock a Christian for worship a crucified God. The message was clear. “Alexemenos worships an ass who was crucified.” And remember this was carved in plaster 150 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. Depictions of Jesus on the cross prior to this have not been found.

Despite their unwillingness to use the cross as an image, it was still central to the Christian faith, as central as it is now. The crucifixion wasn’t denied, it was spoken openly, it just wasn’t depicted, well not with a cross anyway.

So, what image did the Christians use to depict the crucified Jesus? That brings us to our text today.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 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. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”” (John 10:11–18, ESV)
It is Jesus, the Good Sheperd. Our text brings it out clearly. Jesus himself says, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” He is referring to his cross and resurrection. He is referring to his willingness to be crucified. “I lay down my life for the sheep.”

In the catacombs of Rome, we find many illustrations of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Look at the images of Jesus on the back of the insert. One is from the 2nd Century. The other is much younger. But they have something in common. Our depictions of the Good Shepherd show him with a little lamb on his shoulders. Notice that these show a full-grown sheep, that’s 200 pounds of sheep. It’s not an easy load.
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luke 15:4–7, ESV) >/blockquote> Nowhere does the parable say it is a lamb. Imagine the difficulty in carrying a full-grown sheep on your back through rocks, thorns, and predators. Let alone the idea of leaving 99 sheep unwatched. That shepherd would return to a mess of scattered sheep. The answer to Jesus’ question, what man of you? is no one would do such a foolish thing.

It is a picture of Jesus on the cross. No man would do such a foolish thing. Jesus chooses the most painful, disgraceful, humiliating death. Just as the shepherd carries a full-grown sheep on his back, Jesus bears our sin on the cross. The burden of it is tremendous. The sins of every man, woman and child that ever lived and will ever live was carried on Jesus shoulders there. All our blatant sins, all our intentional sins, all our accidental sins, all our unknown sins, carried into death. The image is much older than the 2nd century too. Isaiah writes,
All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6, ESV)
The burden of being fetched home falls on the shepherd. The sheep (and its iniquity, that is the guild of his sin) is laid on Jesus.

Today, look upon your Good Shepherd, there (on the cross). He bears your burden. His arms are spread apart willing to carry not only you, but all your burdens.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28–30, ESV)
Come, he says. Come to the cross and give them all to me. I will take them gladly, willingly. The burden of sin you carry is now mine to carry.

Dump your sins at the cross. Not only the sin, but the guilt, and the consequences. Put them there on Jesus. Jesus, on the cross, removes them. He carries them as the Good Shepherd. Along with himself, he puts them to death. He frees you from them forever.

And how can you be sure this is done? Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, dead in the grave with your sin and guilt and burdens, rises from death. He does the impossible. After his brutal death on the cross, that would have been the end of any mortal man, he breaks the bonds of death. From Romans 6;
We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” (Romans 6:9, ESV)
He has left your burden in the grave. He has died the death you deserve for it and risen to prove it is done. He will never die again. He promises that you too after your death, will live eternally with him minus your burden of sin. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who finds you when you were lost and bears you home. Amen.

The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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