4th Sunday of Easter—Good Shepherd Sunday May 8, 2022
John 10:11-18, 27-28
1 John 3:1-2
17, 426, 436, 54
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
+ In the Name of Jesus Christ +
Prayer of the Day: Almighty God, merciful Father, since You have wakened from death the Shepherd of Your sheep, grant us Your Holy Spirit that when we hear the voice of our Shepherd we may know Him who calls us each by name and follow where He leads; through the same Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord, who lives and reigns with You and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” … “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (NIV-84)
A few years ago, coming back home from a pastoral conference in Wisconsin, I and my traveling companions got off the interstate somewhere in the Chicago area. We just wanted to make a quick gas stop, but somehow after getting off we made a wrong turn. (Sometimes that’s all it takes—just one wrong turn.) We ended up in a neighborhood that didn’t look too friendly. I don’t know if we were in any real danger, but we were certainly very alert to the possibility that someone might do us harm. It took quite some time, as I recall, before we were able to find our way back to the interstate. Once out of danger, we relaxed, and our senses were no longer on high alert.
Isn’t it true that when we recognize an obvious danger, we’re usually safer than when we’re oblivious to some nearby danger? If we see the danger we can get away from it, or prepare to protect ourselves from it. It’s when we let our guard down that we’re in real trouble.
The great danger that faces the Christian is not so much the presence of our spiritual enemies, but, rather, our failure to be alert to the fact that they wish to do us harm. I wonder how many of us live from day to day fully realizing that we are marked prey and that we dare never let our guard down.
Today, on this Good Shepherd Sunday, we take our theme from the hymn we just sang: “I WALK IN DANGER ALL THE WAY!” We learn to… 1. Stay Alert to Who You Are. 2. Stay Alert to Who Your Enemy Is. 3. Stay Alert to Who Your Shepherd Is.
Staying spiritually and eternally safe involves, first of all, staying alert to who you are. You and I are sheep—the sheep of God’s pasture. That is a comforting picture, to be sure. But one that also should alert us to our spiritual vulnerability.
For what are sheep like? They can be quite foolish. If left to themselves, they may drink from polluted mud holes. They may eat poisonous plants, and graze on pastureland contaminated by their own feces. Sheep are helpless. They have no fangs or claws, no natural way to defend themselves. Sheep are also stubborn, often insisting on going their own way so that they end up getting lost.
We could go on, but you get the picture. The picture is one that portrays you and me. How so?
Without even realizing it we foolishly feed on the pollution and rubbish of what the world tells us is true. We’re quick to gobble up the lie, for example, that money will solve all of our problems. Or we might read books that claim to be Christian, without bothering to check our Bibles to see if what they’re saying is the truth. Or we let ourselves believe things just because the majority of people believe them. All the other sheep are eating the poisonous plants, so they must be okay!
So often we forget how, like sheep, we are helpless to the attacks of enemies so much stronger than we are. We can begin to live our lives thinking that nothing can ever happen to our faith. We know who Jesus is. We know what He did for us. So what if we don’t go to church every Sunday or bother to read our Bible. Or we do go to church every Sunday so that must make us better Christians than those who don’t. Do you see the danger in both of those points of view—the danger of not seeing our sheep-like vulnerability and the danger of depending on ourselves for spiritual survival?
Also like sheep, we, in stubborn pride, often insist on going our own way. I can go to this party and I won’t be tempted. I can look at smutty images and they won’t hurt my soul. I can listen to these raunchy lyrics and my faith will be okay. We proudly believe that nothing will ever happen to hurt my faith, while not even realizing that we might very well be in the process of getting lost.
How about two quick examples from the Bible? David, who ironically authored the beloved Psalm 23, once forgot he was a foolish, helpless, stubborn sheep. He was not alert to who he was. One day he was up on the rooftop when he saw the wife of another man bathing. Soon his heart was filled with lust, and not long after that he committed adultery and murder. David, that great man of faith, let his guard down, and with just one wrong turn, nearly lost his soul’s salvation. On the flip side our second example is Joseph, son of Jacob. Joseph was confronted with the same temptation as David. The difference was that Joseph was alert to who he was. He knew he was but a sheep in the face of danger, and he ran for his very life.
The Bible says the Lord “…knows our frame, He remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14) He knows we are poor, weak sinners. But how easily, to our detriment, we forget that basic fact.
Staying alert to who you are, and hand in hand with that, you and I need to stay alert to who our enemy is. Jesus uses the picture of a wolf in our text. A sheep is no match for a wolf. Your enemy, the Devil, is a wolf. He’s a skilled predator, a killer beast. Ephesians chapter six tells us: “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil…” (Ephesians 6:12) As a sheep you have no natural or inborn defenses against power like that.
Satan is real. The Bible tells he’s a fallen angel, extremely cunning, very powerful, and very relentless in going after his prey. His single-minded goal is to sink his teeth into the souls of God’s people.
The problem, again, is not so much that Satan is wily and powerful, or that he’s looking to devour us. The real problem is that we go about our business failing to understand that every day of our lives he’s lurking in the shadows, watching us, ready to pounce.
Perhaps if Satan showed up on our front door in red tights, with a pitchfork in his hand, and fire shooting from his eyes, we’d take him more seriously. But he’s much too clever for that. The Apostle tells us that he and his minions masquerade as angels of light. (Cf. 2 Corinthians 11:14) He hides behind a mask and pretends to be our friend. He sends His wolf pack of false teachers after us, but dresses them in sheep’s clothing. He comes at us in the glamour and glitter of Hollywood. He tries to poison our minds through the words of the atheist college professor, which sound so logical and convincing. Or through society he tries to convince you that it just makes sense for couples to live together before marriage. He tells you it makes sense to divorce your spouses if you don’t love them. He tries to convince you that science has proven that we evolved from monkeys.
Satan has a million ways to sneak in and take a bite out of your faith. He’ll use anything and everything to his advantage. Maybe he tries to lure us into a work-righteous civic organization such as Scouting or the Lodge. Or he tries to tempt us into gossip or worse through social media. Or he just gets us so involved with hobbies and other pursuits to where we begin to convince ourselves that God’s Word just isn’t really all that important.
We just sang: “The tho’t shall never leave me That Satan who has marked his prey, Is plotting to deceive me.” But I wonder if we are all that alert Satan’s schemes?
Knowing our vulnerability as sheep and knowing Satan’s power as a spiritual wolf, will not in itself keep your soul safe. We do need to be alert to who we are, and who Satan is, but more than anything you need to be alert to who your Shepherd is.
Sheep need a shepherd because they can be so foolish, helpless and stubborn. Sheep need a shepherd to protect them from predators. You and I have a shepherd, the Good Shepherd, the only Shepherd who can lead us safely through this life into the next life. His name is Jesus.
See how forcefully He wishes to impress upon your heart that you need Him, that you can’t live without Him. Three times in our text He tells us that He is the Good Shepherd. He’s not just a shepherd. Not even just a good shepherd. He’s the Good Shepherd, the best one, the only one wise enough and strong enough to take care of you and protect you.
Why is He good? Because He loves His sheep. He’s not like a hired hand who runs at the first sign of trouble. He sticks by you and stands by you no matter what because His heart belongs to you. He knows you personally and perfectly. He knows what you need and how to provide it.
Why is He good? Because He gives His life for the sheep. Literally He gives His life in place of the sheep. “All we like sheep have gone astray,” Isaiah teaches us, “and the Lord laid on Him [Jesus] the iniquity [the sin] of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) He’s the Shepherd that is so good that He was willing to die in the place of an entire world in rebellion against God. He took all your foolishness, all your helplessness, all your pride, every last one of your sins, and paid off your debt to God, completely and forever!
Why is He good? Because He took back His life. He rose victorious from His grave so that you need never fear death or hell, so you could have the certain hope of being raised and living forever in Heaven with Him.
Why is He good? Because He promises that no one can snatch you out of His hand. His nail-scared hands will hang onto you with a firm and loving grip.
So stay alert to His Voice by making sure we’re here as often as possible, by taking time to open our Bibles, by meditating on the promises and guidance His Word alone can give. That’s how we stay alert. That’s how we stay close to our Shepherd. That’s how we avoid that wrong turn. That’s how we can say:
“I walk with Jesus all the way, His guidance never fails me;
Within His wounds I find a stay When Satan’s power assails me;
And by His footsteps led, My path I safely tread,
In spite of ills that threaten may, I walk with Jesus all the way.”
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked “NIV-84” are taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. NIV®. Copyright © 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.