Fourth Sunday of Easter - Good Shepherd Sunday
Fourth Sunday of Easter (A)
Good Shepherd Sunday
May 15, 2011
Text: John 10:1-10
He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!!
Too many voices. There are so many voices in the world, in society, even in the Church, vying for our attention, trying to get into our heads and plant the seeds of their teaching, whether for good or evil. For example, there is the ever-expanding media, no longer just newspaper, radio, and television, no longer just the Big Three networks, but countless channels, the internet, blogs, social media, podcasts, a barrage of voices that even assault us on the tiny phones we all carry around, texting, Twitter, YouTube, Facebook. Many of us are connected. Some pridefully boast that they are not connected to any of these things. But don’t let this become your standard of self-righteousness. Technology is neither good nor bad in and of itself. It is the use or abuse of technology that determines whether it is bane or blessing. And there is no denying that such technology can overwhelm us. Why? Because of the voices, all saying different things, all seeking to influence you in the battle for your mind and heart. Which, by the way, is a spiritual battle, waged not just by human beings, but by unseen spiritual forces of good and evil.
Don’t be fooled. There is no such thing as an unbiased media, and this goes far beyond the realm of politics, the Kingdom of God’s Left hand. Understand that every time you open up a book, the author and the publishers are seeking to shape your mind and heart. Every time you watch a television show or movie, the writers, directors, and producers are seeking to shape your mind and heart. The same is true of the news media, of bloggers, even of musicians. Again, it’s not all bad, but you need to know going in that this is what is happening. You need to discern the voices. I’m not suggesting that you should cut yourself off from the world. I’m not suggesting you should avoid all media. That would be a Law answer to the problem, not a Gospel answer to the problem. And it would never work. Nor is it ever suggested in the Bible. If anything, it would become another source of self-righteousness. What I am suggesting… in fact, stating as a fact for your Christian life, is that the answer to this problem is Jesus, and His voice, really speaking to you in His Word. Because the voice of Jesus will shed light on all the voices that are not Jesus. Beloved, you need to be discerning. And only the voice of Christ in His Word can give you the gift of such discernment. Of course, not everything that claims to be moral, or appeals to your fallen heart as moral, is, in fact, moral. But more importantly, not everything that claims to be Christian, or appeals to your fallen heart as Christian, is, in fact, Christian. Wolves appear in sheep’s clothing. Jesus warned us about that: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves” (Matt. 7:15; ESV). That means that the wolves, the false teachers, appear to be sheep, Christians, and so we can easily be taken in by them. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus calls these wolves, these false teachers, “thieves and robbers” (John 10:1). And the aim of the false teachers is clear: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy” (v. 10). But Jesus’ aim is different. In fact, it is the polar opposite. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (v. 10). What we see here is the profound difference between all the unfaithful shepherds in this world, and the Good Shepherd, Jesus.
You see, then, that in the mélange of voices vying for our attention, there is only one voice to which we should listen, the voice of our Savior Jesus Christ. For only His voice brings life in abundance. As our Good Shepherd, He cares for the sheep. He keeps us safely in the sheepfold, the holy Christian Church. In the parable Jesus tells this morning, He is the Good Shepherd who enters through the narrow door. The Father is the Gatekeeper who opens the door immediately for the Shepherd. The thieves and robbers are the false teachers, the Pharisees and Sadducees, and all the sectarians and false religionists of today and throughout history. Jesus protects us from these by becoming the door of the sheepfold. “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep… I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (vv. 7, 9). The Shepherd becomes the door of the sheepfold by laying Himself down in front of it. Jesus lays Himself in front of the door in death. He sacrifices Himself for the sake of the sheep. He gives Himself into the hands of the thieves and robbers, that the sheep may go free. He does this because He loves His sheep. He loves those who are His own, even unto the death of Him. And then He rises again for the sake of His sheep. The sheep find life and immortality in their crucified and risen Shepherd.
So we must follow no other voice. The voice of the Shepherd, Jesus, brings life. All other voices bring death. There is no substitute for the voice of Jesus. Therefore we have to discern among the voices. And how do we do that? How do we know if it is Jesus speaking, or someone else, a false teacher, our own sinful flesh, the devil? This is a very important question, because remember, this is a spiritual battle for your mind and heart. And it has eternal consequences. Thankfully, there is a very sure way to know if it is Jesus speaking. He has promised that He will speak in one place. It is His Word. He has tied Himself to His Word so that you don’t have to be confused. How do you know whether the feeling in your heart is Jesus speaking or just a bad can of chili? Go to the Word, the Scriptures. Jesus has not promised to speak to you by feelings in your heart, but He has promised to speak to you in the Scriptures. How do you know whether the voice in your head is the voice of the Holy Spirit proceeding from the Father and the Son, and not just a delusion, or even a demon? Go to the Word, the Scriptures. Jesus has not promised that the Spirit will speak to you in your head, but He has promised that the Spirit will speak to you in the Scriptures. Jesus has promised that His communication to you will be by His Word in the Scriptures, and in preaching, and in Absolution, and in the visible Word of the Sacraments, Baptism and Holy Communion. He does not promise to speak to you in any other place. And this is good. Because now you can know whether it is the voice of your Good Shepherd, or just some other pretender. Jesus says of Himself as the Good Shepherd, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name… A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (vv. 3, 5). You hear the voice of Jesus in His Word. He calls you by name in Baptism, gives you the Christian family Name, the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And He feeds you with His true body and blood. As you abide in His Word, you learn ever deeper to recognize His voice and follow Him, and to discern between His voice and the dangerously beguiling voices of strangers.
What actually happens as you abide in the Word of Jesus Christ, is that you begin to recognize the voices that claim to be Christian, but are not. As you regularly attend the Divine Service, receiving the gifts of Jesus Christ; as you pore over the Scriptures in your devotional reading and prayer each day; as you come to a deeper understanding of the Scriptures and grow in understanding and wisdom by attending Bible class; it gets easier to spot a false teacher coming and recognize him for the thief and robber that he is. But of course, we cannot, for that reason, let our guard down. Even the wisest of Christians can be sucked in by a false teacher. Even Adam and Eve, in the state of perfection, believed the lies of the serpent, and fell into sin, dragging us all down with them. That is why we confess that the Holy Spirit, the very Spirit Jesus promised to His disciples to lead them into all truth (John 16:13), keeps us in the one true faith of Jesus Christ. This also is by grace alone. And how does He do this? By the Word, to which He has attached Himself. By His Word, the Spirit wins the battle for your mind and heart against the spiritual dark forces that want to claim you. By His Word, the Spirit delivers you from the power of the devil and brings you to faith in Jesus, and preserves you safely in that faith unto life everlasting.
The Word of God is the green pasture about which the Psalmist, King David, waxes so ellquent in the 23rd Psalm. Our Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus, restores our soul by the green pastures of Scripture and preaching and Sacrament, and the still waters of Baptism. He leads us in the paths of righteousness, His righteousness, imparted to us in the means of grace, received by faith, giving birth to our own walking in righteousness. He is with us. He comforts us. Even through the valley of the shadow of death. He comforts us by speaking to us. His tender voice, in opposition to all other voices, promising that even as He is risen from the dead, we will come out on the other side of the valley, risen, alive, eternally and abudantly. For that is why He came. That we may have life, and have it abundantly. And as He bestows that abundance upon us, our cup runneth over. The goodness and mercy of the Lord are with us throughout all the days of our life, and we know without a doubt that we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. There are many voices vying for our attention. But only one voice connects with us in mercy to grant us eternal life. It is the voice of Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd. And He is risen! He is risen, indeed!! Alleluia!!! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.