Sermon Text: John 10:22-30
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Alelluia! Let us pray:
“Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of (our) heart(s) be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, (our) rock and (our) redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).
In the name of Jesus.
What is a shepherd without sheep? That sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it? It’s actually a really good question. What is a shepherd without a sheep? A man with a wooden stick? A man who knows a lot about sheep? A man who wants to be a shepherd? You see, if there aren’t any sheep, a man can have all the qualifications necessary to serve as a shepherd; he may have even served as a shepherd in the past; but if there aren’t any sheep to tend, what is he?
We could ask the same question about pastors? What is a pastor without people? He may be caring and compassionate; he may be a top-notch theologian, and be able to speak about the complex mysteries of God in simple ways that even children can understand; he may be the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, gentle, generous, and every other attribute which the Scriptures use to describe a man fit for the Pastoral Office, but without people, what is he?
You see, pastors and people go together because pastors need to have people to serve or they aren’t really pastors. And shepherds go together with sheep because shepherds need sheep to serve or they aren’t really shepherds. And all of this has been said so that you might rejoice in knowing how it is with Jesus.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, which means that Jesus is going to have a flock of sheep. It means that Jesus is always going to have a flock of sheep. Yesterday, today, forever: Jesus will have a flock of sheep because the Father has given him a flock of sheep as His eternal reward for living in perfect obedience and for giving his life on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for the sins of the entire world.
Jesus did not flee from the flock like a hired hand when danger threatened to kill the sheep. On the contrary. In order to keep his sheep from being damned by their sinful thoughts and actions; in order to preserve his sheep from being ravaged by death and being destroyed; in order to stand between His sheep and the accusations of that roaring lion we know better as Satan, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, laid down His life so that His sheep would have life.
For living that life—for giving His life—and for paying that price on behalf of each and every person, the Father has raised Jesus from the dead, and given Him a flock of sheep that forever He will love, and forever He will serve, and forever He will feed, and protect, from every evil foe. Of this you can be certain: Jesus will always have a flock of sheep. After all, He is the Good Shepherd. If He didn’t have a flock, and if He didn’t keep a flock, and if He didn’t serve this flock, then what kind of shepherd would He be?
Unfortunately, not everyone is a part of His flock. He says this plainly in today’s Holy Gospel. When confronted by the Jews in the colonnade of Solomon, and when asked to tell them plainly whether or not he was, in fact, the Christ, he does not pull any punches, or tell them that they are free to believe whatever they feel in the hearts is best for them. He says, “I already told you and you didn’t believe.” “Haven’t you seen what I’ve been doing in my Father’s name? I preach clearly from the Scriptures, and I forgive people of their sins, and because I know that people are slow to believe I have even accompanied my Word with powerful and miraculous signs so that you would know that I and the Father are one. Everything I’ve been doing bears witness, and should be sufficient to answer your question. The truth has been right in front of you. But you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.” You aren’t my sheep.
It’s tragic, really. I mean, these Jews were religious in every way. They gathered in the synagogue for prayer; they read the books of Moses; they read the Psalms; they read the Prophets, and yet, when the Christ about whom all those writings were about was standing right in front of them, they would not believe it. They read the words, but they did not know the voice of their Shepherd, because they were not a part of the flock.
Today, some of the leading biblical scholars in the world are some of the fiercest opponents to Christ and His Church. If you were to attend a meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, you would be hard pressed to find more than a handful of members who believed that the Bible was actually the authoritative Word of God, or that Jonah was a real man, or that Jesus was actually raised from the dead.
And while a majority of Americans still claim some form of Christianity, the latest numbers I’ve read indicate that on an average Sunday, only 15-17% of Americans are going to a church to hear the voice of their Good Shepherd. Which means that the rest of those who call themselves Christian believe that they can be a part of the flock without hearing the voice of Jesus in the Word of Jesus.
Maybe those numbers are better here in the Bible belt, but even then, there is a difference between hearing the words of Scripture, and hearing the voice of the Shepherd. Those Jews had read the Words of Scripture, remember, but they had never heard the voice of the Shepherd.
There are people within every Christian congregation who are there against their will; attending in order to check a box, or to keep so-and-so happy. And there are those in every Christian congregation for whom the Bible is nothing more than a book of quotes that get you motivated to go about your day. And in every Christian congregation, there are people who are bored with the preaching of Christ, and would rather have the pastor move on to something more exciting, or something that made them feel better. And believe it or not, because the Holy Christian Church is made up of all true believers in Christ, it is tragically true, that there are people in every Christian congregation who appear to be religious in every way, but who do not know the voice of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Those who are not a part of the flock do not believe. But Jesus is the Good Shepherd, which means that Jesus continues to have a flock of sheep. Jesus will always have a flock of sheep. Yesterday, today, forever, there will be a flock of sheep who hear the voice of the Shepherd and follow it. Jesus says. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” My sheep hear my voice…and they follow me. The Sheep hear the voice of the Shepherd, and the follow that voice, because that voice is full of Good News.
Have you felt like you’ve been walking through the valley of the shadow of death lately? I’ve almost been afraid to turn on the news. Some days I’d rather not know what’s going on around me. Bombs exploding in Boston; explosions in Texas; an earthquake in China that has killed at least 179; 5 snowboarders killed in a Colorado avalanche; 200 homes in California are evacuated because of a fire; and this is just a glimpse of what is happening this week around the world.
You are sheep who are walking through the valley of the shadow of death. And if the events of the world aren’t enough to bring you to despair, there is your own list of faults and failures, we call sin. And even though you try to do what is right, and to love and serve your neighbor, you know that daily your heart is full of sinful desires, some of which you act upon, and that you have fallen short of the glory of God. And Satan does his best to bring up that list, and uses that list to in an attempt to make you do one of two things. Either He will tempt you to believe that if you just work a little harder, you will be able to please God with your works. Or, on the other hand, he’ll try to lead you to despair, and to believe that there could be no hope for someone with your sinful desires. Either way, all he’s doing is trying to keep you from hearing the voice of the Shepherd.
For if you hear the voice of the Shepherd, even though you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, you will have nothing to fear. When death surrounds you on all side, the empty tomb is the Jesus’ testimony that death has been defeated, and that even if our bodies would thus be destroyed, yet, in the resurrection, we will live with Him victoriously.
If Satan shows you that you have not kept the Law of God, and have sinned in every way, simply remind him, that your Good Shepherd was perfectly obedient, and kept every bit of the Law in your place. When Satan puts your sin before you, put Jesus’ life before him. For what the Law of God demands, Jesus has already accomplished in your place.
When the devil, the world, and your sinful flesh attack you, it is the voice of your Good Shepherd that calls to you, and comforts you, and strengthens you who walk through the valley of the shadow of death, so that you would not need to fear any evil. The voice of Jesus announces that your is forgiven, and the cross is its proof. The voice of Jesus testifies that even death cannot hold you down, and the empty tomb bears witness to this truth.
The voice of Jesus declares you to be holy and righteous—a forgiven child of God—not because you have been able to stop sinning, but because Jesus’ blood and righteousness covers your sin, and in Holy Baptism, He has given His own righteousness to you as a gift to wear as your very own. When Satan seeks to devour your faith, and to silence the voice of Jesus who seeks to renew you in the forgiveness of sins, remember, that in the waters of Holy Baptism, the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit was placed upon you and marked you as one redeemed by Christ the crucified.
This is the voice of Jesus, your Good Shepherd. It is the voice of one who has a flock. It is the voice of one who will always have a flock. And that flock—the sheep—will always hear His voice and come to Him. You see, even if there isn’t much Good News on Television, or in the newspaper, the voice of Jesus will always be heard as Good News by those who are His sheep. And that’s why the sheep and the shepherd will always be together.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia! Amen.