Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter based on John 10:22-30
Dear sheep who hear the voice of the Good Shepherd: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
Sheep lying down in green pastures beside still waters. No predators around; no worries or fears; no needs as there’s lots to eat and drink. The sheep harmoniously and leisurely eat and sleep. The shepherd carries a baby lamb and the big sheep make room for the little ones by the quiet waters. This is an image of peace and tranquillity from Psalm 23 and what we normally picture in our minds when we think about Jesus the Good Shepherd and us as His sheep.
It certainly is the perfect image of how things should be, but unfortunately, it is an image far from our current reality. While Jesus certainly does lead us to green pastures and still waters, we don’t always want to follow Him. We think we know where the better pastures are. Instead of eating the nutritious food He provides in His Word and Supper, we’d rather eat the junk food of emotionalism and enthusiasm. Emotionalism is following our feelings – doing what we want, what we feel to be best. It is following our hearts instead of God’s Word. Enthusiasm, on the other hand, is seeking God apart from His Word and sacraments. Enthusiasm is believing that God speaks to us apart from the Bible. Because we are sinful, we are often tempted to follow our feelings and senses of spirituality rather than hearing the Good Shepherd’s voice because we don’t like everything He says. We don’t care to be fed and nourished by the Good Shepherd except maybe the bare minimum.
And we don’t get along with the other sheep. We speak evil of them behind their backs. We look down on those who are hurt or injured by their sin and we drive them away from the Good Shepherd. We turn our backs to those who are wandering away instead of helping them and encouraging them to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice and follow Him. We turn a blind eye to those sheep who are about to be consumed by wolves because we don’t want the discomfort of confronting them.
This is why we need a Good Shepherd. A shepherd that continues to nourish and feed us even when we don’t think it’s all that important. A shepherd that forgives our failures. A shepherd that goes after the wandering sheep to bring them back to the fold.
There are sheep that do not hear the Good Shepherd’s voice or follow Him. Jesus says that those sheep do not believe because they are not part of His flock. But Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” We know the voice of the Good Shepherd. We hear His voice in His Word and nowhere else. We know His voice when it calls us to turn from sin and follow Him. We know His voice when He says He knows us.
It might be a bit hard to believe that Jesus knows each one of us. After all, there are billions of people in the world. Can Jesus really know me very well personally? God’s Word tells us yes, He can and He does. He knows everything about us. He knows when we sit down and when we rise up. He knows our thoughts (Ps. 139:2). He knows how many hairs we have on our heads (Matt. 10:30). That’s not even an important detail and it changes every few minutes, yet Jesus knows it, because He knows us, and we belong to Him.
Jesus knowing us, knowing our very thoughts, can seem distressing. That means He knows all of our ugly, shameful, disgusting sins. He knows how sinful our thoughts are, even those thoughts we manage to hide from others. But our sinful thoughts are not a surprise to Jesus. Jesus knew our thoughts even before He came to die for us. In fact, our ugly, shameful, disgusting sins are the reason that Jesus came to earth. Jesus came to live a perfect life without any sins – not even one sinful thought. Jesus came to fulfil the Law of God that we cannot fulfil. Jesus died on the cross for all of our sins of thought, word, and deed without ever even having a single begrudging thought towards us.
Yes, Jesus knows each one of us, and despite our sins He calls us His sheep. And He says of His sheep, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus gives you eternal life. You will never perish; you will live forever. No one will snatch you out of His hand.
This last point is crucial to understand. If it was up to us to hear the voice of Jesus, we would never listen. If it was up to us to follow Jesus, we would all be lost. If it was up to us to stay in Jesus’ hand, we wouldn’t remain there at all. But it is not we who hold onto Jesus, it is Jesus who holds onto us. Because He holds onto us, He says no one can snatch us out of His hand. No one and nothing can.
This means that sin cannot snatch us out of Jesus’ hand. This world cannot snatch us out of Jesus’ hand. The devil is powerless to snatch us from Jesus no matter how much he raves and storms. We confess with Saint Paul, “I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom. 8:38-39) No one and nothing can snatch you from Jesus’ hand.
You belong to Jesus, the Good Shepherd. That is why you hear His voice and follow Him. That is why Jesus has again called you here today to hear His voice. He once again teaches you through His Word. He will once again feed you and nourish you with His true body and blood to forgive you all of your sins and strengthen you to continue hearing His voice and following Him.
Jesus has brought you into His flock, that is why you hear His voice and follow Him. Jesus knows you. He continues to strengthen you through His Word and Holy Supper to crush your desire to follow your feelings and to turn you away from seeking Him anywhere except in His Word and sacraments where He has promised to be found. Jesus has snatched you from your sins and futile ways and He will not let go of you.
No one will snatch you out of Jesus’ hand. The world and the devil cannot make Jesus let go of you. Your ugly, shameful, disgusting sins cannot make Jesus let go of you. Not even the nails driven through His hands could make Him let go of you. You are Jesus’ sheep, so He promises you that no one will snatch you out of His hand, and He gives you eternal life, and you will never perish. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.