Vol. 11 — No. 17 April 26, 1970
And it was at Jerusalem the feast of the dedication, and it was winter. And Jesus walked in the temple in Solomon’s porch. Then came the Jews round about him, and said unto him, How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me. But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand. I and my Father are one.
In Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd of Us, His Sheep, Fellow Redeemed:
Our text presents to us words of calm but blessed instruction amidst a rather threatening scene. It wasn’t too long before Jesus made His final trip up to Jerusalem that we find Him here in Jerusalem at the feast of the dedication. He was walking in Solomon’s porch when a group of Jews surrounded Him. They had a question: “How long dost thou make us to doubt? If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly.” The question was not a searching for the truth or for a re-assurance of the truth. That we see from the answer of Jesus: “I told you, and ye believed not: the works that I do in my Father’s name, they bear witness of me.” For almost three years now the Lord had been witnessing both by word and deed, but the response of these people was unbelief. They asked for a straight forward reply in order that they might use it against Jesus, even as Caiaphas did when he tried Jesus the night of the betrayal. But His hour had not come, and so Jesus calmly gave a word of sweet instruction in the form of a description of His sheep. He had said to His questioners, “ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you.” And then He continued with a description of His sheep. It is with this description that we want to occupy ourselves this morning.
The term “sheep” for a believer is one familiar to us. Yea, it is music to our ears. The melody comes from the favorite of psalms, the 23rd. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” What a picture of calm security that makes! This picture our Lord took and enlarged, as we heard in the Gospel lesson for today. “I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” And again, “I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.” There is an intimacy in those words. There’s a feeling of being held in the loving and secure arms of the Good Shepherd. That feeling is, however, based on facts. What those facts are—expressing the relation of the sheep to the Shepherd and the Shepherd to the sheep are given us in the words of the Good Shepherd in our text. We can express it briefly in this way. Our Lord tells us—
“My sheep hear my voice,” the Lord said, and He said that in contrast to the Jews who had surrounded Him and asked Him to reveal plainly and clearly whether or not He was the Christ. After referring them to His past words and works, Jesus said, “ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep.” These Jews demonstrated that they were not sheep of the Good Shepherd because they failed to hear His voice. What did they hear and listen to? They heard the words of their religious leaders. Well, you may be wondering, isn’t that what people are supposed to do? Don’t you want us to listen to you as you preach? Certainly! the sheep of the flock are to listen to the shepherd that the Good Shepherd has sent unto them, BUT ONLY IN SO FAR AS AND IN SO MUCH AS THE SHEPHERD PROCLAIMS THE VOICE AND WORDS OF THE GOOD SHEPHERD!! What had happened here in our text? The religious leaders of the people, their shepherd, the scribes and Pharisees, had departed from the words of the Old Testament Scriptures to such an extent that they had superimposed their own thoughts and ideas upon them. This is what the people heard and listened to. And they became so filled with the falsehoods of their own religious leaders that they were unable to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. Yea, they couldn’t even believe His works by which He proved that He and His Father are one. An authority other than the authority of the Good Shepherd had been established. These people had become the victims of voices and words other than the Voice and Word of the Good Shepherd. If they had listened to the Word and Voice of the Good Shepherd in the Old Testament, they would have recognized His Voice when He stood before them and spoke unto them. What is my duty as a lesser shepherd of the Good Shepherd? It is not to gather you about my words, to charm you, to keep you awake with or to instruct you by MY WORDS—NEVER! It is my business through my words to direct you to the words of the Good Shepherd so that your ear becomes tuned to hear His Voice, and only His Voice. It is very easy to substitute the words of men for the words of the Good Shepherd. It is easy to say: “This pastor says one thing, that another. This church says this, that one says that. This synod says one thing, that synod another.” What is that all but the closing of the ear to the Voice of the Good Shepherd and listening instead to find some human voice that will agree with one’s own personal way of thinking. “My sheep hear My Voice.” Oh, do but hear, read, study, meditate upon the word of the Bible, for then you will always hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. He speaks to His sheep through His Word. Never be deceived by the sweet, honey smooth voice of men that tend to draw you away from the Voice of the Good Shepherd. “My sheep hear my Voice.” That’s what it means to be a sheep of the Good Shepherd.”
“And I know them.” That’s what it also means—to be known of the Good Shepherd. We consider it an honor to be known of men, especially of important men. If one or the other of us would know the President personally and he would know us, it would be difficult for such a person to keep from bragging a little. “The President knows me personally. He calls me by my name. He knows my address. He’s been in my home.” That is just exactly what it means to be a sheep of the Good Shepherd. It means to be known not by the most important person in this world, but to be known by God Himself, to be personally known by the Good Shepherd. The closing words of one baptismal hymn read: “write the name we now have given, Write it in the book of heaven.” The names of all baptized children are written in the Book of Life. The Lord knows His own, each one individually. In the Old Testament the Lord comforted the believers with just that fact when He said: “But now thus saith the Lord that created thee, O Jacob, and he that formed thee, O Israel, Fear not: for I have redeemed thee, I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.” How easily you and I forget names! We remember faces, but the names slip from us. But our Shepherd knows each one of us—full name, address, age, history, yea all about us intimately and personally. That’s what it means to be a sheep of the Good Shepherd—to be known of the Lord, for the Lord says, “I Know them.”
It’s an intimate relationship between sheep and shepherd. That we see as we continue, for to be a sheep of the Good Shepherd also means—
How are we sheep to do this very thing of following the Good Shepherd? We are to follow by constantly hearing and listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd. The picture is taken from the life of a shepherd. The shepherd never drove his sheep. He would walk ahead of them, calling them, and his sheep, hearing and knowing His voice, would follow after. That is how we are to live our lives—with our ears and hearts always in tune with the voice of the Good Shepherd—following that voice and word.
Perhaps a few examples will illustrate what it means to follow by hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd. All during our lives we are exposed to pressure from within and without that keeps on telling us that we’re not hopelessly bad and so are not totally dependent for salvation upon a Savior. How can we avoid becoming the victims of this pleasing but deadly lie? By following Jesus, by listening to His voice. What does He tell us? “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves.” “There is none righteous, no, not one.” Those words our Shepherd tells us so that we evaluate ourselves rightly. Then He tell us: “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) In our lives there are frequently controversies. Both sides claim that their particular side is correct. Clergymen, churches, synods takes sides. Frequently a layman may throw up his hands in despair and ask: “How can we be expected to know what’s right or wrong when even the preachers can’t agree?” You laymen can find your way through the maze of controversy. You can follow Jesus if you heed the words of Jesus spoken through His Apostle Peter when he said: “If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God.” (I Peter 4:11) Never listen to men AS MEN, but only as the oracles of God. In the voice of men there must sound the THUS SAITH THE LORD. Then only is there certainty that will help you follow Jesus. Personal problems arise in our lives. Misfortunes, sicknesses arise and strike us. How are we to follow Jesus through all of these? By listening to His Voice. He says: “Commit thyself unto the Lord, trust also in Him and He shall bring it to pass.” “All things work together for good to them that love God.” Learn to pray: “Not my will, but thine be done.” If in the midst of trials and trouble, we keep our ears in tune with these words of our Lord, we shall be able to follow Him through the valleys of the shadows.
And when this life comes to an end—what then? The Good Shepherd has the answer: “And I will give unto them eternal life.” Of that sweet blessing we have spoken again and again during the Easter season. It is the greatest blessing. It belongs to the sheep of the Lord. That is what it means to be a sheep of the Good Shepherd.
But there are dangers along the way. And because there are, we learn that it means also this to be a sheep—
Here the Victor and Champion of our salvation speaks. “They—His sheep—shall never perish.” Those words recall similar words of Jesus: “The gates of hell shall not prevail against My Church.” And His Church is made up of His sheep. Then comes the second statement: “And no man is able to pluck them out of my hand.” The words imply that there will never cease to be those who will strive to pluck the sheep from the Good Shepherd’s hand, but the assurance is that no one shall ever succeed in plucking the Lord’s sheep from His hands.
But what about cases of those who were once sheep but fell away? What about Judas who was one of the Twelve blessed in a wonderful way with spiritual gifts? He fell away and lost His soul. What about the many who sang “Hosannas” on Palm Sunday, but cried, “Crucify Him” on Good Friday. What about people, whom you and I know, who were once faithful confessing Christians but who fell away and possibly lost their souls. That these things do happen is evident. The Lord knew that too. He related the parable of the lost son. But what happens in each such a case? Is it this that some stronger hand plucks such lost ones from the grasp of the Lord? Not at all, for there is no stronger hand than the Lord’s. In each such a case the individual himself first renounces his glorious position as a sheep of the Lord. St. James paints the picture when he speaks of temptation and falling the victim of temptation. He warns: “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God—and so try to excuse himself—for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man: But every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed. Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringth forth death.” Judas fell a victim of the lusts of greed and ambition within him. He renounced the Good Shepherd. The thousands of Jews who rejected Christ fell victims of their own earthly, fleshly ideas of a Kingdom and a Christ. The lost son fell victim of what he thought would be freedom but which he soon found to be slavery to sin. When a sheep no longer wants to be a sheep, when he refuses to hear the Word and Voice of the Good Shepherd, when he turns from following the Good Shepherd, they he forfeits these glorious assurances, “they shall never perish.” But for the sheep these promises stand firm. We fear Satan not with all his raging. We fear not the world with its allurements. He fear not the hosts of false prophets who all, knowingly or unknowingly, lead away from the Good Shepherd, for no one can pluck us out of the hand of the Good Shepherd. What unfailing security! That’s what it means to be a sheep of the Good Shepherd. What a blessing to be numbered among His sheep! Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the King James Version.