4th Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday) May 3, 2020
1 Peter 2:13-25
436, Worship Supplement 2000 #783, 431, 648
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father and from Christ Jesus, our Savior. Amen.
Years ago, on an extraordinarily dark night, a little boy of not more than four or five years old suddenly awoke from sleep. As often happens when one awakens, he was a bit disoriented, which was only worsened by the darkness of that night. Wanting a drink of water, he stepped out of bed and began walking in the direction he supposed the door to be. Two steps and THUD! He ran into a wall. He turned to the right and took three more steps before tripping over a few toys that lay in his room. He cried out to his mother. She assured him that all was right and that he just needed to feel his way around. He got up and kept walking. Suddenly he felt himself surrounded by clothing. He was in the closet. He cried out again. His mother, calling from the next room said, “Just find your way back to the bed and start again.” Once at the bed, he again turned in the direction he thought would lead him to his doorway only to hit the wall after two steps again. After he cried out one last time, his mother settled on a most useful tip: “Listen to the sound of my voice and walk in the direction of my voice.” After tripping over a few toys left scattered on the floor, the boy finally made it to the doorway and down the hall, to the kitchen where he finally got his drink of water.
Living in this world darkened by sin often leaves the child of God feeling very much like that little boy. There are obstacles and dangers to us all around, and even though most of our activity is conducted in the daylight hours, there is a spiritual darkness that hovers around us and in us that clouds our judgment and, at times, fills us with fear. But in the darkness, a Voice calls out! It is the voice of our Savior, Jesus, calling us to safety and to the still waters of peace with God and eternal life. This is the subject of our text for today from John 10:1-10:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
There is much going on in this parable that Jesus told. There are sheep and a shepherd, a sheepfold and a door to the sheepfold, a gatekeeper and thieves and a wolf. Part of what makes it all confusing is that Jesus occupies two roles in the parable—He is both the door to the sheepfold and the Good Shepherd. He is the one who gives sinners access into His Kingdom of God, and He is the one who watches over them in this Kingdom. The sheep, of course, are those who belong to Jesus through faith in Him—that is, those who trust in Him for forgiveness of sins and eternal life. The thieves are those who attempt to steal away the sheep from the shepherd by spiritual cunning and deception. The wolf is the devil, whose only desire is to scatter and to kill the sheep and then to devour them in hell.
Now that we know all the players in the parable we turn our attention to the most important part of the parable, which is the voice of the Good Shepherd. One of the best weapons that a shepherd has when it comes to defending his sheep is his voice. Now, that may not sound like much of a defense when robbers are trying to steal the sheep away at night or when a wolf is lurking in the shadows ready to scatter the sheep, but the shepherd’s voice is most certainly an important weapon. This was demonstrated to me when I was a child in Christian Day School. We went out on a field trip to one of the member’s farm where there were a number of sheep. When we arrived—I suppose there were about thirty of us—the first thing he had us do was go over to the corral in which he had about fifty sheep. At the man’s invitation and encouragement, we all began calling the sheep over so we could pet them. You can imagine thirty children all trying to call these sheep at the same time. We made all kinds of racket. The sheep, though, were noticeably agitated and ran to the other side of the corral. So we called more enthusiastically, supposing the sheep just didn’t hear us. The louder we called, the more agitated they became. We tried grabbing some feed to lure them, but still they wouldn’t come. Just when we were all mumbling about how stupid those sheep were, the old man quieted us and then began calling the sheep. The man’s voice almost instantly calmed the sheep and soon they were all over by us. His voice was familiar to them and instinctively the recognized that voice to belong to their protector and provider.
Now, imagine how valuable the man’s voice was at night. See, sheep have poor eyesight, and that weakness is a greater detriment when darkness falls. Wolves and other nocturnal carnivores would easily sneak up on them and kill them. The shepherd’s voice would be the sound that would keep his sheep close-by so that he could protect his sheep.
Your Shepherd has a voice also and He’s calling to you, constantly calling you to Himself, to safety, to the food and drink that will preserve your souls. He calls to us in His Word and in the preaching of it. It is important—vital, even—that we listen to His voice, for all around us are enemies that would steal us away from our Good Shepherd and devour us. It’s not enough that we heard Him speak to us once or twice and now we know what He sounds like. We have a need to keep on hearing His voice because He alone provides us with the safety of God’s forgiveness and He alone leads us to the food and drink that satisfies our hunger and quenches our thirst for righteousness. That food and that drink is the preaching of the cross on which the Good Shepherd laid down His life for His sheep.
Yet, as we said, there are many enemies prowling around us wanting to scatter us and devour us. Those enemies may take the form of false teachers that have set themselves up in the churches as shepherds, but who do not preach the cross of Jesus as our source of God’s forgiveness. Instead, they direct the sheep to themselves and what they should be doing for Jesus. There are many such enemies to Christ’s sheep in our day.
Still, there are other enemies, outside of the churches, all clamoring for our attention. Those enemies may take the form of worldly philosophies and mottos that have a sound of godliness to them, but only because we don’t know the voice of our Good Shepherd as well as we ought. Some of those enemies come in the form of inner greed and pride and self-love. Some of those enemies come in the form of temptations to immorality and the supposed happiness that comes from it. Some of those enemies may come in the form of cultural icons and pop stars, of supposed “experts” and professors, even of family, friends, and one’s own misguided conscience. That is why it is so important for us continually to be hearing the voice of our Good Shepherd, so that we grow more and more familiar with His voice, and not the voice of strangers. When Jesus speaks, we should be listening, with our ears and our hearts, so that we know more and more what His voice sounds like and what the voice of robbers and thieves sound like.
In general, the voice of our enemies will speak soothing words that downplay the danger of sin in our life. The voice of our Good Shepherd speaks with urgency, knowing that sin leads to death. The voice of our enemies will lure us into a false sense of security. The voice of our Good Shepherd will point out the danger that is all around us and in us. The voice of our enemies will assure that nothing is ever wrong. The voice of our Good Shepherd will alarm us to what has the potential to kill us spiritually. The voice of our enemies will tell us that we will be OK if we just do our best to please God. The voice of our Good Shepherd tells us that we will only escape death and hell through His death and resurrection.
Of course, it’s generally easier to listen to soothing, secure, and happy words than it is to listen to words of warning and danger and death. But then, which of our enemies ever cared so much for us to tell us when we were heading into danger? More importantly, which of our enemies ever loved so much that he laid down his life that we might have life? Only our Good Shepherd, the Son of God, left heaven to come down to save us from our sins. Only our Good Shepherd, Jesus, suffered hell in our place that He might obtain for us the forgiveness of sins. Only our Good Shepherd died that we might live forever. He who gave His life for the sheep has never condoned sin. He has died for it. He has never excused sin. He forgives it. His voice unites the sinner with God. His voice unites us with one another. His voice—His holy Word—is our greatest defense in this life. It leads us through the valley of the shadow of death and to the house of the Lord where we will live forever. AMEN!
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.