From the Word
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
John 10:11, RSV
“The good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep.” In this one virtue the Lord comprehends and exemplifies all others in the beautiful parable of the sheep. The sheep has this trait above all other animals, that it soon recognizes the shepherd’s voice and will follow no one but him. Though it cannot help and keep and heal itself, nor guard against the wolf, yet it always knows enough to keep close to the shepherd and look to him for help. Christ uses this trait of the animal as an illustration in explaining that he is the good Shepherd. In this manner he shows plainly what his kingdom is and in what it consists. It is to protect the sheep, that is, poor, needy, wretched men who realize that there is no other help or counsel for them. The kingdom of Christ is to be concerned about the weak, the sick, the broken, who need to be helped. This is a comforting declaration.
“A bruised reed shall he not break, and smoking flax shall he not quench.” The bruised reeds are the poor, tender consciences, which are easily distracted. But God deals gently with them. The smoking flax (dimly burning wick) he does not wholly quench, but lights it and trims it again and again. When a Christian is not only weak and infirm, but when he falls into such great temptations as to deny the gospel, as Peter when he denied Christ, even then you are not to cast him away, as though he no longer belonged to this kingdom. You must not rob Christ of this characteristic, that in his kingdom abounding grace and mercy alone prevail, and that his kingdom is wholly one of consolation, and that he is a comforting, friendly shepherd, who tenderly invites, and would induce all men to come unto him. All this is effected through the gospel alone, by means of which we are to strengthen the weak and heal the sick. It will give full consolation to all, so that no one, no matter how great a sinner he has been, need despair.
Luther, Martin, and John Sander. Devotional Readings from Luther’s Works for Every Day of the Year. Augustana Book Concern, 1915, pp. 159–60.