Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 29, 2007
Text: John 10:22-30
The Lamb of God is also the Shepherd of God’s people. “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7:17; ESV). The people of God “have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (v. 14). Now the Lamb Himself is the Good Shepherd who tends the sheep. You are the sheep. You hear His voice. He knows you each by Name. You follow Him (John 10:27). He leads you beside still waters. He restores your soul. He leads you in the paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake, so that even though you have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you need fear no evil, for He is with you, comforting you with His rod and His staff (Ps. 23). That’s what it means to have Jesus as your Good Shepherd.
What an appropriate day to feature the Sunday School students in our service as they sing songs and hymns about the Catechism. They are confessing their baptismal faith before Christ and His Church. And of course, we are confessing along with them, for we share the same faith and creed. We share the same Shepherd. We hear the same voice and follow it into green pastures.
That is how our Shepherd leads us… by His voice. He speaks to us. And as we learned last week, He does not speak to us or call us by means of warm feelings or noble thoughts or bodiless voices. He speaks to us in real words, His Word. We confess with Luther in the Small Catechism that the Holy Spirit “calls me by the Gospel.” The Gospel is manifest in words. It is the Word of God that all your sins have been forgiven on account of Christ, that He died for your sins and is risen for your justification, that God is gracious and merciful to you because of His Son, indeed, loves you because of His Son, and that in His Son Jesus Christ you have a Good Shepherd who continues to speak to you and guide you where you need to go.
For most of us, it begins with Baptism. There our Triune God speaks to us, calling us by name and calling us into His own Name, the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. He calls us to be His own. He speaks His good Word over us and washes us with His living water. He brings us into His Church, the community and family of faith, where we can continue to be nurtured in our Baptismal calling by the Word and the Sacrament of the Altar.
It is in this community gathered around the Word that we find green pasture. This is where our Shepherd, Jesus, leads us; namely, where His Word is, the Church. Luther, commenting on Psalm 23, writes, “Here the prophet himself explains what kind of pasture and fresh water he has been discussing, namely, that kind by which the soul is strengthened and restored. That, however, can be nothing else than God’s Word.” He continues:
"The prophet accordingly applies many kinds of names to the Word of God.
He calls it a fine, pleasant, green pasture; fresh water; the path of righteousness;
a rod; a staff; a table; balm, or the oil of gladness (Ps. 45:7); and a cup that is
filled to overflowing…
"In other words: these sheep of the Lord are not only instructed and guided,
refreshed, strengthened, and comforted by God’s Word; but they are also
continuously kept on the right path, protected in body and soul in all kinds of
distress, and finally they conquer and overcome all tribulation and sorrow,
of which they must endure only as much as the verse mentions [namely,
walking through the valley of the shadow of death]. In short, they live in
complete safety as men whom no sorrow can befall, because their Shepherd
tends and protects them.
"We should, then, learn from this psalm not to despise God’s Word. We should
hear and learn it, love and respect it, and join the little flock in which we find it,
and, on the other hand, flee and avoid those that revile and persecute it…
"As often, therefore, as the Christian who belongs to a church in which God’s
Word is taught enters this church, he should think of this psalm. With the
prophet he should thank God with a happy heart for His ineffable grace in
placing him, as His sheep, into a pleasant green meadow, where there is an
abundance of precious grass and fresh water – that is, for being enabled to be
at a place where he can hear God’s Word, learn it, and draw from it rich comfort
for both body and soul."
Thus far Luther. What great grace is given us that we should enjoy all the blessings and benefits of the purely preached Word here in the Holy Christian Church and as heirs of the blessed Reformer, Martin Luther. Our good Shepherd has led us to lush, green pastures. We feast on His Word continually. But it is not so everywhere else. Some refuse to hear the Shepherd’s voice. Some are even ravenous wolves in sheep’s clothing, trying to sneak into the sheepfold to steel the sheep. These are the false teachers, who often appear as good and Christian (remember, they’re dressed as sheep), but inside seek to kill your faith in the Lord Jesus. Our Good Shepherd would protect us from these enemies so that we do not stray from the healthy pasture to which He has led us.
Yes, it is a great blessing to be members of Christ’s Church, tended by the Lord Jesus Himself and His undershepherds, the Christians pastors, where the Word of God is preached in its truth and purity and the Word in visible form is offered to us faithfully in the Sacrament of the Altar. For it is in the Church that our Lord Jesus tends us with His Word, and in which we hear His voice. This is all a gift of grace. Let’s never forget that. Let’s never despise this good and gracious gift. Let’s not despise the Word or take it for granted. For the Lord doesn’t need us for the faithful proclamation of His Word. He can take it to others. It can be preached by others. That is why we should constantly pray that our Lord would keep us faithful to His saving doctrine. We should constantly pray that He would keep us within the sheepfold and grazing on His green pastures, lest the ravenous wolves lead us astray into mortal danger, and we lose the Word, along with our faith. Let us not despise the Word, but daily give thanks for it and make it our constant companion, reading and meditating upon it, hearing it preached and taught, learning it, marking it, and inwardly digesting it. That’s the opposite of despising the Word, when we gladly hear and learn it and recognize that it is a free gift of God, given by grace.
Thanks be to God, the children of our congregation know this. They have confessed this truth again in their music this morning. It reminds us of something Luther said in the Smalcald Articles: “thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd.” These children have heard the voice of their Shepherd. They have been clothed with Christ and His righteousness in their Baptism. Their sins have been covered by the blood of the Lamb, who is also their Good Shepherd. They do not despise His voice, but gladly hear and learn His Word. And today they have confessed their faith to us, and strengthened our own faith with their confession.
The Lamb whose blood covers the sins of our children covers our sins as well. He is our Shepherd, too. We also hear His voice. He knows us, and we follow Him. And like little children, we believe in Him, trusting Him to lead us to green pastures and feed us only with the best of food. He is a faithful Shepherd. He will never lead us astray. So in the confidence of our Lord’s leading, we say with David, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Ps. 23:6). We dwell there, because in His Word He calls us there and leads us there. Thanks be to God. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
 Martin Luther, “Psalm 23,” Luther’s Works, 55 vols., Jaroslav Pelikan, ed. (St. Louis: Concordia, 1955) 12:164.
 Ibid., pp. 148-149.
 SA XII:2 (Tappert).