Resurrection Reality: The Risen Savior Provides Good Shepherding

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Watch the livestream beginning at 10:30 a.m. on Sunday. After the livestream is finished, the video will be available to watch at any time.

First Lesson: Acts 20:28-32 (NIV)
Second Lesson:  1 John 4:1-6 (NIV)

Gospel: John 10:11-18  (NIV)


  • Hymn: CW 554 “The Lord’s My Shepherd”
  • Hymn: CW 938 “This is the Feast”
  • Hymn: CW 552 “The King of Love My Shepherd Is”
  • Hymn: CW 551 “Jesus, Shepherd of the Sheep”

Year B, Easter 4 (Good Shepherd)                                                April 21, 2024

Acts 20:28-32                                                                               Pastor Ryan Wolfe

“Faithful shepherds bring hope to the flock”

It was a little over two years ago. Salem was in need of a pastor, and had been for a while already. The members looked at a list of unfamiliar names and chose one, with prayer, to be your shepherd. You didn’t know him. You didn’t know how your next pastor would serve. You simply trusted that the Good Shepherd would bring you a shepherd to live among you. The Holy Spirit guided your selection as you chose a pastor with the unfortunate last name “Wolfe.” The spirit guided my decision to accept the call, and here we are. Pastor and congregation. Or in today’s theme, “pastor and flock,” because the title pastor literally means “shepherd.”

For centuries the Church has celebrated the fourth Sunday of Easter as “Good Shepherd” Sunday. We remember Jesus as the Good Shepherd in John 10 who lays down his life for his sheep. But he blesses some with the privilege to serve as under-shepherds. Men who get to take care of the sheep for Jesus until he returns. In the children’s sermon you heard me talk about why God brings us together into church. Having pastors and church leaders to guide and protect and nurture us is a blessing of God.

Good Shepherd Sunday gives us an opportunity every year to think about our relationship with the Good Shepherd and the relationship between pastor and congregation. What is it that you have called me here to do for you? What are my chief responsibilities? What are yours? Without regularly taking a step back and asking those questions it becomes easy for us to lose sight of what’s important in the church. And when your pastor becomes your computer consultant, financial manager, groundskeeper, repairman…well, we’re all the worse off for it. Instead, as we consider God’s Word today, we see that the chief purpose of God’s shepherds is to bring hope to God people. Our hope grows as we remember our Good Shepherd in Christ. And our hope grows as our pastor-shepherds feed the flock and guard it.

The Apostle Paul wrote the words of our text to a beloved group of church leaders from Ephesus. He had previously stayed in that city longer than any other place in all his missionary journeys. His average stay during his missionary journeys in a given city was a matter of weeks. He stayed in Ephesus three years! Now he was traveling through again and wanted to encourage those who were leading them. He writes to a group called “overseers” here, men who served the same function as our pastors and elders today. Leaders of the church chosen to shepherd them. Paul begins with the reason they have the position of leadership in the first place. “Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” From a human perspective, church leaders come into their positions in different ways. When Jesus called the Apostle Paul, he appeared to him in dazzling light and called him by name. Nothing like that happened either when I became a pastor or when I received my call to serve at Salem. Nor were there any fireworks at our voters’ meeting when we elected men to serve on the church council. Nevertheless, explains Paul, it is the Holy Spirit himself who makes some overseers in the church.

God, who is overseer of all things, oversees his church as well. And while he might use church voters’ meetings and elections today, he still guides the process. I am pastor here today because God called me to be here through our voters. Our teachers minister here on your behalf because through you God called them to do it. By God’s direction, we publicly use the Word and Sacrament to bless our congregation and community. That’s the heart of what being a called worker is. But these words apply broadly to all church leaders too. Anyone who serves the congregation publicly, be it on the church council or as part of a board or committee.

Before a church leader can watch over the flock though, Paul says he must keep watch over himself. Church leaders may be appointed by God but they’re sinful just like everyone else. If anything, pastors, teachers, and church leaders face more temptations. Satan knows he can do the greatest damage to a church if he can get the leaders to stumble. Break the shepherds, Satan knows, and the sheep will scatter.

As a pastor, as teachers and church leaders, we have to watch our own lives first. Are our thoughts filled with that which is pure and holy? Do we approach our ministry and our work with humility, praying that God would give us wisdom to lead by serving? We need to watch ourselves against pride or arrogance. We have the high privilege of taking care of something precious. Something bought at great price. The first thing after the call to watch over ourselves in this text is the recognition that the flock doesn’t belong to us. Paul says, “Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”

There’s the most important part of the shepherd’s work. The faithful shepherd never forgets that he is watching over God’s flock. The church does not belong to the pastor or the elders or the council. This is God’s church because he bought it with his own blood! Think of everything our Good Shepherd did to purchase and protect us. In our Gospel lesson we heard Jesus say how he didn’t run away from danger to save himself. That he was willing to lay down his life for his sheep, but that he also had authority to take that life back up. Jesus told us how he called us to himself so that we would know his voice and follow him. The reality of Jesus’ resurrection proves what our Good Shepherd has done for us. And we know that he who provided salvation and eternal pastures to us also guides and protects us through this life until we arrive at that heavenly home.

And we need that protection. Paul warned the Ephesian elders that God’s flock would come under attack. Beginning at verse 29, “I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.”

Shepherds in Paul’s day carried strong staffs of wood, not to beat the sheep, but to strike the wolves. A faithful shepherd watched for approaching danger and then protected the sheep from it. The shepherd of God today carries God’s Word. That Word – the “sword of the Spirit,” Paul calls it in Galatians – that Word fends off the false teachings that assault us. This need to defend the sheep is not a matter of “if” but “when.” This is the primary work of a shepherd – to watch for spiritual danger and protect the flock from it, whether the danger comes from outside or within. Paul told the Ephesian leaders that men from their own ranks would “distort” or “twist” God’s Word. And sadly we see that far too often today. Thank God for those shepherds who are on their guard watching and warning as Paul did, even with tears.

People have all kinds of ideas about what makes a pastor a faithful shepherd. Maybe we even dabble a little in our own imaginations as we consider a new associate pastor coming to Salem. Will he be a great preacher? Will he connect with the youth? The elderly? Will he have great and innovative ideas? Will the church grow under his leadership? But notice that Paul doesn’t talk about any of that, either here or in the letters to Timothy and Titus where he describes the qualifications of a good pastor.

No, the faithful pastor is the one who is on guard for the sheep. Who cares enough about them to never stop warning. The one who loves them enough to spend days and nights in tears and sorrow when he sees the sheep wandering. That’s what makes a faithful shepherd. A good pastor. Good leaders. A pastor doesn’t have to be perfect himself – he has to imitate the perfect Good Shepherd and direct people to him above all.

The faithful shepherd brings hope to his flock by entrusting them to the same One to whom Paul entrusted the Ephesians. He simply said: “I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” Paul knew the challenges that were coming against the Ephesians, probably better than they did themselves. But he knew that even though he had to move on these sheep still had the Good Shepherd and the Word of his grace. Paul, faithful shepherd that he was, trusted God to build up the flock and make them ready for the glories of heaven. He had brought hope to them through the Word and trusted that same word would continue to bless them with hope.

So brothers and sisters in Christ, whether you count yourself today as a shepherd or a sheep, I invite you to find your hope in the same place we always do: the Good Shepherd who laid down his life and took it back up for you. The one who guides us to green pastures of heaven for his own name’s sake. To our leaders, I invite you to faithfully bring hope to our people through the Word. Whatever your role is at Salem, I implore you to serve in it with zeal and effort and humility. To make it your priority that souls might be saved and faith might grow. To all our members, I urge you to seek out the Word that brings the hope of heaven. See in your shepherds the working of the Good Shepherd. Pray for them and feed on the Word with them. Then together, hearing the voice of the one who calls us, we will enjoy the feast of eternal blessings in heaven, gathered together, one flock in perfect pastures. God bless us. Amen.

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