Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Fourth Sunday of Easter (C)
April 21, 2013
Text: Psalm 23; John 10:22-30

He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            The risen Lord Jesus Christ is our Good Shepherd.  We are the sheep.  That tells us a lot about Him, and it tells us a lot about us.  The shepherd tends the sheep, and sheep assuredly need tending.  They are rather stupid animals.  They need a shepherd to keep them together, keep them safe from predators, away from noxious weeds, away from poisonous water.  We’ve perhaps sanitized this illustration of shepherd and sheep so that we see this as a picture of cute, cuddly, fluffy animals in the embrace of the kind and smiling bearded Savior.  Actually, in using this illustration, Jesus is telling us that without Him we’ll perish eternally.  We’ll eat stuff that is bad for us, drink poison, and wander right into the clutches of the lions, the wolves, and the bears, sin, death, and the devil.  It’s true, though, isn’t it?  You know this from experience.  We are sheep who love to wander.  The Prophet Isaiah makes this point: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him,” Jesus, “the iniquity of us all” (Is. 53:6; ESV).  St. Peter says the very same thing: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25).  That’s us, isn’t it?  Each one turning to his own way… that’s the definition of sin, to be turned away from God and curved in on yourself, going your own way, determining your own path, judging for yourself what is good and what is evil.  That way only leads to death.  But there is good news in both of these verses.  The LORD has laid on Jesus the iniquity of us all.  The Holy Spirit has called us by the Gospel to return to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.  He is the Shepherd, we are the sheep.
            Jesus talks about this in our Holy Gospel this morning.  My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27).  What does this mean?  One thing sheep have going for them is that they know the voice of their shepherd.  You know the voice of your Shepherd, Jesus.  He who first called you to be His own in Holy Baptism continues to call you by His holy Word.  You hear His voice.  You hear Him in Absolution as He forgives your sins.  You hear Him in Scripture and preaching as He calls you to follow Him.  The more you hear Him, the better you know His voice.  That’s why it is so important to be in Church, to be attentive to the reading of Holy Scripture and the preaching of His Word, to be in Bible study and Sunday School, to read and meditate upon Scripture in your home and family life.  His Word, after all, is the green pasture we sing about in Psalm 23 (v. 2), in which the Lord Jesus makes you to lie down and find rest and refreshment and nourishment. You live by every Word that proceeds from His mouth.  His Word imparts His Spirit.  His Word gives you saving faith in Him and strengthens that faith as you live your baptismal life in this fallen world.  He leads me beside still waters” (Baptism).  He restores my soul.  He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake” (His righteousness, justification by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and then sanctification, the Christian life that follows).  His Word crucifies your sinful flesh.  His Word raises you up, a new creation in Christ Jesus, to walk after Him in newness of life. 
            Incidentally, since this is true, you also know when to be suspicious of other voices, voices that are not the voice of the Good Shepherd.  In other words, you know that those other voices are the voices of false teachers, many of whom claim to be Christian; the voices of the unbelieving world, the voices of your sinful flesh which must be drowned and die, the voice of the devil himself and of his demons.  The plain truth is that if it isn’t the voice of your Good Shepherd, Jesus, it’s the voice of a predator or a robber.  There’s no middle ground here.  It’s dangerous to follow any voice that isn’t Jesus.  His is the only voice that leads to eternal salvation.  Every other voice leads to perdition.  And that’s important to know in a world that would have you believe all roads lead to the same destination, that every person’s truth is legitimate, that there is no such thing as objective truth, that your truth is only true for you and should not be applied to anyone else.  That voice, beloved, is demonic.  You know that.  But as is unfortunately the case with sheep, it’s easy to become confused.  Only one thing sheds light in the darkness and straightens out the confusion.  That’s the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus. 
            And here is what He does for you as He calls you: “I will give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).  His Word is the Word of life.  Now death, which is the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23), no longer has any power over you.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me” (Ps. 23:4).  The Lord Jesus took your death into Himself.  He died on the cross, in your place, for the forgiveness of your sins.  He crossed over the valley for you.  And He came out the other side alive.  Christ Jesus is risen from the dead.  And that means He can bring you through valley and out the other side alive.  He will take you to heaven when you die.  And He will raise you up bodily on the Last Day, to live forever with Him.  Fear no evil.  There is no need to fear.  For Christ has conquered death, and He will never leave you or forsake you.  No one will snatch you out of His hand.  For you belong to Him, and to His Father and your Father in Baptism.  As He says, “My Father… is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them [the sheep… you!] out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29).  God is greater than the lions, the wolves, and the bears.  God is greater than your sin, your death, the devil and his minions.  No one and nothing can snatch you out of the pierced hands of your Savior, Jesus Christ.  No one and nothing can snatch you away from the Father.  Not even death.
            Your Good Shepherd goes to the depths of death and hell to keep you for Himself.  That’s what He does on the cross.  And now He tends you in the sheep fold of His Church.  There is Jesus, your Good Shepherd, comforting you with His rod and staff (Ps. 23:4).  Sometimes He has to use His shepherd’s crook to grab you around the neck and pull you away from what is bad for you.  That’s the Law.  Sometimes He has to discipline you with His rod.  But then He takes you up in His arms and carries you.  That’s the Gospel.  He binds your wounds.  He washes away your filth.  He feeds you what is good.  As one of my colleagues points out, you never see a picture of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, where He isn’t carrying one of the sheep.  That sheep is wounded.  That sheep is you.  And there is no safe place for a wounded sheep except in the arms of the Good Shepherd.  He carries you.  He carries you home as His own, precious and beloved.
            And now He gives you all the blessings we sing of in Psalm 23.  He prepares a Table before you, His body and blood, given and shed for you, the spoils of His victory over your enemies, sin, death, and the devil.  He anoints your head with oil, His Holy Spirit.  Your cup overflows with forgiveness of sins, eternal life, salvation, and every other blessing.  Goodness and mercy follow you all the days of your life, and the promise is certain: You will dwell in the house of the Lord forever (vv. 5-6). 
            Sheep are not the smartest animals, and this is no flattering illustration Jesus uses to describe us.  But it’s good to be a sheep.  Because as a sheep, you know that all is in the hands of your Good Shepherd, Jesus.  You, yourself, are in those hands.  And those hands will carry you all the way through the valley of the shadow of death, to the resurrection on the Last Day.  Jesus can do it, for He is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.         


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