The Good Shepherd’s Voice
St. John 10.11-16
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
St. John 10:14,15: “I am the Good Shepherd … and I lay down My life for the sheep.”
Dear fellow redeemed in Christ our Lord… “Why should you forgive the person who hurt you? He doesn’t deserve it.” “Why should you bear with her any longer? You see how she treats you.” “Your pleasure matters most of all – do whatever feels good; forget what God says.” “Aren’t you tired of this Christianity business? Ignore it for awhile, and take care of yourself first.” “That shepherd, that pastor – he doesn’t care about you. Besides, he’s a hypocrite.” “You are a terrible sinner, and your sins can never be forgiven.” “Your life is worthless … throw it away!”
These, dear friends in Christ, are the words of the wolf, the one who comes in sheep’s clothing. His words are silky smooth. Oh, they may make sense at the time, and we want to follow them, but they are ultimately words of death. They are devilish words; they lead to the edge of the cliff. And when this wolf, masquerading as your friend, has led you away from the flock, he unmasks himself; but then, it is too late. His teeth sink into your neck. He is a ravenous beast. His will is not for your good. The sweet words soon taste bitter, and you are undone.
Has this wolf led you astray? Indeed, because of our weak and sinful nature we stand in danger every hour of every day. Truly this is the story not only of our own lives, but the story of the entirety of humanity. Lured away from our God by that wolf, we obtained another shepherd, an evil shepherd. Psalm 48 says, “Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shepherds them” [v15 LXX]. When our first parents, Adam and Eve sinned, that is when death became the shepherd of mankind, leading us into the valley of its shadow, never to return.
What joy then, it was for us to celebrate Holy Week and Easter! What joy still is ours! For the true Shepherd, Jesus Christ, has come to rescue His lost sheep. See how He does it! He braves the thorns of our out-of-control vineyard, and stands fearless against the wolf’s rage. Condemned and rejected by the very sheep He came to rescue, Jesus presents Himself willingly to the snapping throat of that beast who threatened all mankind. On the cross, the beast’s mouth was dripping with the Good Shepherd’s blood; but incredibly, his jaw is broken, his teeth are shattered. Christ is risen, and the wolf’s growl has now become a toothless and empty threat!
Remember that, dear friends! For the wolf is enraged, he is furious, and he still seeks to recapture his ancient prey. That means he still longs for your return to the darkness. But you, dear fellow redeemed, are children of the light! The wolf’s snapping jaws are powerless to harm you who are in Christ!
What sort of shepherd would do that sheep? No earthly shepherd, to be sure. It is preposterous, it is reckless. By any shepherd’s reckoning, the sheep are not worth it. Sheep, after all, are lonely sheep; they are expendable, they are replaceable. And given the choice, the shepherd will save his own skin every time. That’s what Jesus is referring to when he calls some of them “hirelings,” those who do not care for the sheep and are only in it for themselves.
And that is exactly why your Lord Jesus Christ is called the Good Shepherd. He makes the selfless decision to choose your life, your forgiveness, your restoration, and He lays down His life for you, the lost and scattered sheep.
What that means, then, is this: no longer are you destined for the sheep-pen of that other shepherd called Death. No longer do you follow the voice of the wolf and his false shepherds urging you to be unfaithful to your spouse, lie to your friends, cheat on your taxes, gossip about others in the church, and engage in self absorption and self-destruction. Now, by Holy Baptism, you are in the flock of the Good Shepherd.
And please remember, dear fellow redeemed, how you got there! It was not by your own choice; it was not by your own works or actions; it was not by your feelings; it was not by your birth. Indeed, it was by your rebirth, which, of course, comes from God, not from yourself.
You, child of God, are not a lamb of the Lord’s flock by your own right. It is, rather, a privilege, and by the words of our Lord we see that we can be cast out and declared not one of His flock. Jesus said, “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left”[Mt. 25.31ff].
What is there to desire more than to be among the sheep on that day, and not the goats?
Ah, but we live in a society that values “choice” above all things. You can choose your political party; you can choose which college you attend; you can choose which job to take, you can choose to have Cheerios instead of Cocoa Puffs; you can choose to self-identify as a gender you were not born with; you can even choose legally to kill your unborn baby; what a country!
And how quickly we translate this culture of choice to the area of religion as well. We suppose that we can make our religious choices, and dictate them to God. How does this affect our church life? When a family moves to a new area, they should look for the church that is most faithful to Holy Scripture. Yet too often, churches are evaluated based on their programs, their people, their pastoral personalities.
Further, consider the promises made in church membership: “Will you suffer all, even death, rather than fall away from this faith and confession?” Sadly, those promises are discarded with less consideration than changing your socks or your breakfast cereal. How easy it is, in these decisions, to really be saying to God, “I will determine the terms by which I am part of Your flock.”
Dear friends in Christ, every year on this Sunday we celebrate those comforting words, “The LORD’s my shepherd.” Remember that these words are not a declaration of choice, for Jesus said “You did not choose Me, but I chose you.” When we say and sing with great joy, “The LORD’s my Shepherd,” we are confessing that He has called us by the Gospel; that He has, entirely out of His divine goodness and mercy, brought us into His flock. It is always His flock, not ours. When we say, “The LORD’s my Shepherd,” we confess that this is not a matter of my choice for Him but His choice for us, His words and promises to us.
And what does He promise? He promises to lead you and guide you all the way through the valley of the shadow of death. He promises that He will bring you even to the resurrection of the body. He promises to cause you to dwell in the house of Yahweh forever. When Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd,” He is declaring that Psalm 23 is all about Him, and when we sing it, we are confessing with the deepest gratitude His inestimable sacrifice for us.
Don’t ever forget what really makes you the Lord’s sheep. It is not all of our bleating and scampering, it is not our activity; it is His activity to and for us. Blessed Martin Luther explained in the Smalcald Articles that the Church, the flock of the Good Shepherd, is not defined by bureaucracy, whether it is the papacy or another structure. The Church is not a corporation or a social organization. Thank God, Luther said, that “A seven-year old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd.” (Smalcald Articles Part III XII:2)
So pay no attention to those false and misleading voices you hear when they tell you it’s fine to carry on sinning, it’s fine to withhold forgiveness, or that your life is worthless and empty. None of those things are true!
Listen only to the Good Shepherd’s voice, who tells you again and again in the Psalms, the Gospel, and in Divine Service, “I am your Shepherd, and you are Mine. Abide in Me. I have washed you, and you are clean. I have paid for all of your sins. I have fed you from the finest pasture, and I will be with you through the valley of the shadow of death, and the wolf shall not harm you.”
Come now and feed on His body and blood given and shed for you.
In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.