My Sheep Hear My Voice

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter based on John 10:1-10 (I Peter 2:19-25)

Dear sheep of the Good Shepherd: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says that His sheep hear His voice. He says His sheep follow Him, because they know His voice. He says His sheep will flee from following a stranger because they don’t know the voice of a stranger, but they do know the voice of their Good Shepherd, so they follow Him.

Is that what you do? Do you hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him? Can you tell the difference between His voice and the voice of the thief and robber who does not come in through the door but climbs in by another way? Do you flee the voice of a stranger because you know that it is not the voice of the Good Shepherd?

The voice of the Good Shepherd is heard every Divine Service and every Bible class. His voice is heard in the Bibles you have in your homes. Yet, Divine Service attendance is sporadic and trending downward. Bible class attendance is dwindling. /dwindled to the point that we stopped having Bible class.

But you listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd. You read Scripture every morning and every night. Your Bible is not one of those gathering more dust on the shelf than special occasion china.

Do you know the voice of the Good Shepherd? If you hear some television or radio evangelist, or some preacher at a so-called community “ecumenical service,” can you tell if you are hearing the Good Shepherd’s voice or the voice of a stranger? If you hear the preacher in this pulpit, can you tell if you are hearing the Good Shepherd’s voice or the voice of a stranger? Don’t tell me you don’t care, because Jesus says that if you’re not listening to His voice, you’re listening to the voice of a thief and a robber who comes only to steal and kill and destroy.

If one pastor insists on practising closed communion and another will commune anyone, which one is doing what the Good Shepherd has commanded? Do you know, or do you not recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice? Jesus says His sheep know His voice.

If one pastor says it is a sin to live together outside of marriage and another says it is perfectly fine, which one is speaking with the voice of the Good Shepherd? Do you know, or do you not recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice? Jesus says His sheep know His voice.

If one pastor says it is a sin to have a woman teach or exercise authority in the church, and another says it is perfectly fine, which one is speaking with the voice of the Good Shepherd? Do you know, or do you not recognize the Good Shepherd’s voice? Jesus says His sheep know His voice.

These things are not a matter of personal interpretation or opinion. Scripture tells us, “No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:20-21)

Man doesn’t decide how to interpret Scripture. Man didn’t decide what to write and man doesn’t decide how to interpret. The Holy Spirit wrote and the Holy Spirit has told us how to interpret.

Second Timothy tells us, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) Scripture cannot be profitable if we can all decide for ourselves what to make of it. If I can interpret it one way and you can interpret it another way, then the Bible is completely useless and you might as well take it off your shelf, not to dust it and read it, but to chuck it in the garbage. If God gave us the Bible so that we can all decide for ourselves what to follow and what not to follow, it is the most useless book in the world and we might as well burn every copy and find something better to do on Sunday morning instead of Divine Service and Monday evening instead of Bible class.

But the problem is not with the Bible; the problem is with us when we want to twist what the Bible says to make it fit our fancy. The problem is not with the Bible; the problem is with us when we think we can interpret the clear words of Scripture in a way that lets us do whatever we want. The problem is not with the Bible; the problem is with us when we don’t know what the Bible says and thus cannot differentiate the voice of the Good Shepherd from the voice of a stranger who is a thief and a robber who comes only to steal and kill and destroy.

We take pains and efforts to protect ourselves from thieves and robbers who would come to steal our earthly goods, but do we do anything to protect ourselves from the thieves and robbers who would come to steal our eternal salvation?

Our sinful nature is immediately ready to start making excuses. Life is busy. It’s not my fault that the pastor I’m listening to says something different from the Good Shepherd. I have Jesus in my heart and that’s all that matters. But excuses get us nowhere.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says that His sheep hear His voice. His voice is heard in the Divine Service, in Bible class, and in the Bibles you have in your homes. Jesus says His sheep follow Him, because they know His voice – they know what He says in His Word. Jesus says His sheep will flee from following a stranger because they don’t know the voice of a stranger, but they do know the voice of their Good Shepherd, so they follow Him.

The sheep of the Good Shepherd follow Him where He leads them. The Good Shepherd leads His sheep to the font, to Absolution, and to the altar.

The Good Shepherd leads us to the font, to Absolution, and to the altar because He knows that we are sheep who like to wander. He knows that we haven’t always listened to His voice or followed where He has led. That’s why He comes to search for us from all the places where we’ve wandered. He calls us through His Word to return to Him, the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. He knows that we haven’t always listened to His voice or followed where He has led. That’s why He leads us to the waters of Baptism, the blessing of Absolution, and to the food of His holy Supper. The Good Shepherd says His sheep follow Him to where He leads, because He leads us to where He gives us forgiveness. If we haven’t gone to the font and don’t go to the altar, we aren’t following the Good Shepherd.

Excuses aren’t the answer, but repentance is. The Good Shepherd is calling for us to follow where He leads because He leads us to where He gives us forgiveness. We cannot get forgiveness from anywhere else. We cannot get forgiveness from anyone else. The Good Shepherd gives us forgiveness.

The Good Shepherd laid down His life for us sheep so that we may have life and have it abundantly. Jesus took the punishment of all of our failures to hear Him and follow Him. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth (I Peter 2:22), but He died for our sins; He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5). He Himself bore your sins in His body on the tree… By His wounds you have been healed (I Peter 2:24).

Jesus’ suffering and death are the reason we can be His sheep. His suffering and death are the reason He leads us to the means of grace where we receive forgiveness.

The sheep of the Good Shepherd follow Him to the font, to Absolution, and to His holy Supper so that they will follow Him to eternal life. In these means of grace the Good Shepherd gives eternal life, because wherever there is the forgiveness of sins, there is eternal life; there is life and salvation. The Good Shepherd leads us to where He gives us forgiveness, so He leads us to eternal life. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

 

The Good Shepherd

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter based on John 10:11-18

Dear sheep of the Good Shepherd: grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Sheep are the most helpless of animals. They are easy prey. Sheep have no defence mechanism to protect themselves from wolves or other predators. They don’t have claws or sharp teeth to defend themselves. They don’t have a shell like a turtle, spines like a porcupine, ink spray like an octopus, or stink spray like a skunk. Sheep can’t change colour to hide themselves like some frogs and lizards, nor can they repair limbs like a starfish. They’re soft and fluffy and rather stupid. It is no wonder then that sheep need a shepherd.

Sheep need a shepherd to take them to green pastures so they don’t eat weeds that are poisonous to them. They need a shepherd to lead them to still, quiet waters so they can drink. They need a shepherd to protect them from predators day and night.

What a fitting analogy for us. We also are helpless and unable to defend ourselves. Temptations surround us, and we are only too ready to fall. We are ever ready to fall victim to the predators that seek to take us: the predators of desire, greed, and selfishness; the predators of doubt, fear, and despair. We think the grass is always greener elsewhere than in the pasture to which our Shepherd has led us. We wander into our predators’ territory. We become enamoured with the ways of the world; ways which keep us from the pastures where we are fed. In other words, we get hooked by all kinds of things which do not spiritually feed us, but in fact get in the way of us reading God’s Word and receiving His gifts. Whether it is overworking ourselves, sports and other leisure activities, or even just plain laziness, spiritual nourishment just isn’t the pasture in which we want to feed. We eat poisonous weeds that are harmful to us, whether it is the lies of some television preacher like Joel Osteen or the self-help ideologies of Oprah. If there is anyone who needs a shepherd, it is us. If there’s anyone who needs protection from predators and their own propensities to wander, it is us. On top of it all, when we have wandered and got ourselves into trouble, we look around and think the Good Shepherd has abandoned us or forgotten about us, when it is really we who have wandered away from and forgotten about Him.

Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” There’s lots of artwork dedicated to Jesus as the Good Shepherd. We can probably readily think of many of them: art depicting Jesus gently holding a lamb in his lap, petting its wool, or carrying it upon His shoulders; art depicting sheep peacefully grazing in lush pastures with quiet waters nearby as the Good Shepherd watches over them.

But how does such art fit into what we experience in our lives? How does this fit with what we have seen happen to us and to other sheep around us? We’ve seen predators snatch their prey. We’ve experienced loss and heartache, illness and weakness. We’ve wandered into other pastures and eaten the poisonous weeds of false teachings. We’ve seen the effects of sin in our lives and in the lives of others around us. Where is our Good Shepherd in all of this?

The answer is in our Gospel reading. Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” In fact, Jesus says five times in our reading that He lays down His life for the sheep. That’s what it means to be the Good Shepherd – to give His life for the sheep.

This is quite odd, really. If an ordinary shepherd dies, the sheep are left helpless. The sheep need their shepherd. If it came down to it, a shepherd would sooner allow a couple of sheep to be snatched for the sake of the rest of the herd and for the sake of his own life. Sheep are replaceable. It’s better to lose a bit of wool than your own life, isn’t it?

But Jesus is no ordinary shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd. He gave His life to save us. He died for our sins, taking the punishment of our sins in our place. Jesus died for our sins of wandering from Him; our sins of not listening to His voice; our sins of despising His spiritual nourishment. “The Shepherd die[d] for sheep that love to wander” (LSB 439:4). The sinless Son of God gave His life in exchange for yours, despite your wandering.

But Jesus said, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” (v. 17) Jesus did not remain dead. The Good Shepherd did not abandon His flock and leave them helpless. He died for them, in their place, and rose again. He will not even abandon or forget His wandering sheep but seeks them out to rescue them and forgive them (Ezek. 34:11).

In Psalm 23, David points to what Jesus accomplishes as our Good Shepherd. He writes, “He restores my soul.” (v. 3) He doesn’t say that the Good Shepherd restores my health and my wealth. He doesn’t say the Lord will restore my ambitions and my happiness. We writes, “He restores my soul.”

David doesn’t write that everything will be joyful and painless. He writes, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.” (v. 4) Thus, David is saying that we will walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We will face consequences from our sinful actions. We will face sickness and difficulty, trials and hardships that are part of living in a fallen, sinful world. But even in the valley of the shadow of death we have nothing to fear. Jesus, our Good Shepherd restores our soul even in the valley of the shadow of death.

Your Good Shepherd has not abandoned you or forgotten you, nor will He ever. He put His name on you in your Baptism, thus you are His sheep. In your Baptism, Jesus identified you as His own.

The prophet Isaiah writes to God’s people who think that God has forsaken them and forgotten them, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” (Is. 49:15-16)

In your Baptism, your name was engraved in the palms of God’s hands. He will not forsake you. It was Jesus who cried out from the cross to the Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) Jesus was forsaken for you. All of your sins were put on Jesus, and He took your punishment in your place. Jesus was forsaken by God the Father so that you will never be forsaken.

Yes, even through the valley of the shadow of death, your Good Shepherd will not abandon you. He will bring you through the valley of the shadow of death to eternal life. Jesus, your Good Shepherd, laid down His life for you, in order to bring you to eternal life with Him forever. Jesus, your Good Shepherd, laid down His life to earn forgiveness for all of your sins. Jesus, your Good Shepherd, laid down His life to give you that forgiveness by nourishing you with His body and blood. Thus you can say with David, “Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (Ps. 23:6) Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.