Monday, April 14, 2008

Sermon - Easter 4 - John 10:1-10

Easter 4
John 10:1-10
“The Shepherd”

A “figure of speech”. Sometimes Jesus spoke plainly. But other times, not so much. Always Jesus spoke the truth, but sometimes that truth was given in a way that wasn't as obvious, especially to the unbeliever.

Today is often called “Good Shepherd Sunday”. On this Fourth Sunday of Easter, our readings draw us into the grand scriptural metaphor of the shepherd and sheep. It's a favorite metaphor used by Christ, and an important theme, really, throughout all of Scripture.

Consider these important Old Testament figures who truly were shepherds: Abel, Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Moses, David, Amos – and many others. The kings of Israel were also seen as shepherds – guarding and protecting the flock of their kingdom.

And of course, our well-loved Psalm 23 tells us, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”. Jesus aptly picks up on this depiction, and calls himself the “Good Shepherd”.

Today we take one of the passages from John in which Jesus strikes this theme. Let's note three key ideas there, and we'll expound on them further:

Jesus is the true shepherd, as opposed to false shepherds.

Jesus knows the sheep, the sheep know him.

Jesus is also the gate to the pen, our way to safety and abundant life.


Then, as now, there were many false shepherds. Jesus offered this as a warning to his people, his sheep. Watch out for those false shepherds! They climb over the gate... they sneak in or barge in... but they have no right to be there in the sheep pen. They are not the true shepherd. Only Jesus is.

So who are they? Doubtless Jesus referred to the many false Messiahs that had come before – false shepherds who led the sheep astray, or fail to defend the sheep, or steal from the sheep, or even prey upon them. False shepherds who either claimed to be the Christ, or claimed to do what only Christ can do.

We have false shepherds today, too, of course. False teachers who would lead people astray into false belief and false living. Some of them are wolves-in-shepherd's clothing. They may appear to be good and nice, and maybe even religious. Maybe even Christian.

And here is the great poison, when they lead the sheep away from the safety of the pen, from the shelter of God's grace in Jesus Christ – out into the wilderness of their own shabby good works. There the sheep will starve for lack of food, for the sheep don't live on bread, or grass, but on the word of God. There in the wilderness, the sheep will quake in fear of the enemies – which abound, of course. And who will protect them from the beasts of sin and death? And there, in the wilderness, should the sheep remain, they will surely die. Oh, the false shepherd may wear a smile on his face, but he is a thief and robber. He cares nothing for the sheep.

We are tempted to follow these false shepherds. Sometimes we are even our own false shepherd. When we make our own way, define our own rules, rationalize our own reasons for sin. When we fear, love, and trust in “me”, and not “he”. We lead ourselves astray. We are not following Christ.

As opposed to the true shepherd, Jesus Christ. He feeds and cares for and protects his sheep. He is worthy of our trust and faith. He will not disappoint. He will not flee in the face of danger. His steady hand holds and unwavering rod and staff that comfort the sheep.

Jesus is the true shepherd. And Jesus knows the sheep, and the sheep know him.

In ancient days, a group of shepherds would often house their flocks in the same pen. When it was time to depart for the day, each shepherd would call his own flock, and they would separate into their respective groups, each following the voice of their own shepherd.

The sheep know the voice of the shepherd. We know the voice of Christ. But how? With so many false shepherds out there, with all their appealing teachings and attractive ideas... how can we know the voice of the shepherd?

We know it through his word. We hear Jesus speak when scripture speaks. We know it to be a word of both law and gospel, judgment and grace, sin and forgiveness. And the more we listen, the better we know his voice. It is the only voice worth following. It is the voice of our shepherd. A voice of authority, a voice of power, but more – a voice of love and mercy for poor lost sheep. Sweet music to our sore sheep ears. The sheep know the shepherd.

But more importantly, the shepherd knows his sheep. Jesus knows us. Each of us, personally, better than we know ourselves. He knows what it's like for us, after all he went through everything we do – yet without sin. He knows each of us by name, as we belong to him in holy Baptism. And even though he knows we are wayward sheep, he does not deny us. Instead he seeks us, finds us, claims us, and brings us to himself.

Jesus, the true shepherd, stands in contrast to the false shepherds. He knows his sheep, and we know him. And remember, he is the gate to the sheep-pen.

Yes Jesus is not only a good shepherd, he is the only good shepherd. He is the only door, the one true gate, the exclusive way to safety. No one comes to the father but by him, he says later. But here, the metaphor of the sheep-pen. A safe place to spend the night. Protected and fed, this pen is the safe-haven of his kingdom. Here, the sheep take refuge. Here the sheep rest secure.

But there is only one way in. And he is that way. Jesus is the gate. Only through him do we have any hope at all. But in him, and through him, we have life, and have it abundantly.

See, the true shepherd is also the true lamb- the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. For he died to save the sheep from sin, and he rose to bring this life to the sheep.

So follow him, you sheep of his pasture and pen. Watch out for the false shepherds! Hear and listen to the voice of your shepherd. He is the true shepherd. He knows you, even better than you know him. He brings you to the safety of his care and keeping. And he feeds you even now.

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