Easter 4

Preached: May 11, 2014

Sheep Know the Shepherd’s Voice
John 10:1-10

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which our Shepherd speaks to us is John 10:

“Truly, truly I tell you: Anyone who does not come into the sheep pen through the gate but climbs in some other way, he is a thief and a robber. But the one who comes through the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep each by name and leads them out. Every time he’s driven out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will never follow a stranger; rather, they will run away from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Jesus told them this parable, but they did not understand anything he was saying to them.

So Jesus again said, “Truly, truly I tell you that I am the Gate to the sheep. All who have come ahead of me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the Gate. If anyone comes through me, he will be safe, and he will come in and go out and find pastures. The thief does not come except to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it fully.” (John 10:1-10)

This is the word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

The tension was rising. A few days earlier Jesus had healed a man born blind. He had made some mud and put it on the man’s eyes. After he washed in the pool of Siloam, he could see. The Pharisees were aghast. Jesus had done this on the Sabbath. They interrogated the once-blind man. But he simply kept confessing that Jesus had done this. How could the Pharisees deny that this was from God?

They threw him out. But Jesus found him and made it clear to him that he was the Son of Man, whom God had promised. The once-blind man believed. Then Jesus said, “For judgment I have come into this world, so that the blind will see and those who see will become blind” (John 9:39 NIV84).

Some Pharisees heard this and took offense. They claimed to see, but was Jesus telling them that they were actually blind, spiritually blind? Weren’t they the spiritual leaders!

Jesus now tells the parable of the sheep pen to bring home their guilt. What kind of person climbs over the fence to get at the sheep? Certainly not the shepherd, but rather thieves and robbers. The shepherd goes through the gate. And who is the gate? Jesus, only Jesus. “I am the gate,” Jesus declared as he explained this parable. “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate” (John 10:7 NIV11).

Despite all their religiousness and charitable work, despite all the respect and honor the common people showed them, the Pharisees did not go through Jesus. They climbed the fence to get at the sheep. They were the thieves and robbers.

For you see, dear friends, they did not speak with Jesus’ voice. They did not tell the people of the Messiah who would lay down his life for the sheep. Rather they urged the people to do what they could to make themselves right with God. Rather than pointing the people to the promises of forgiveness spoken by the Savior-God through the prophets of old, they manufactured their own rules claiming that these extra rules would help the people keep God’s laws. They did not want the people to find comfort and peace under the Shepherd’s care; rather, they wanted guilt to keep driving the people back under their thumb. They were the thieves and robbers. Their teachings would kill and destroy the sheep. But sheep know the Shepherd’s voice.

Still today many try to get at the sheep without going through the Gate, Jesus Christ. Watch out for them. Beware. They may exude charisma and shine with friendliness preaching a popular message. They may excel in works of charity. They may seem so earnest and sincere. They may even mention Jesus often. But do they come through the Gate? Do they come through Jesus?

For you see, a shepherd that goes through the gate speaks with Jesus’ voice. He doesn’t simply talk about Jesus and hold him up as an example. He proclaims Jesus as Savior from sin and death, the one-and-only Savior, the Savior that sinners, like you and me, desperately need. The shepherd that comes through the Gate will not mince words about our sinfulness and its deadly, damning results. He will tell it like it is in all its dirty horror. But such a shepherd then brings our crushed hearts to the Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for the sheep and took it up again. To come through the Gate and speak with Jesus’ voices means to proclaim the crucified and risen Jesus, to proclaim forgiveness in his blood, to proclaim eternal life through his resurrection, to proclaim this Good News for others to believe with all their heart. Know the Shepherd’s voice, so that you hold on to his Good News and stay away from all who do not come through the Gate.

And what about your own pastor? Does he come to you through the Gate? That’s the greatest challenge in writing a sermon. Am I speaking with Jesus’ voice here, coming to you, his flock, through him? If sermons were only motivational messages to give you some pep, or cogent observations about life, or interesting anecdotes and stories, or lessons on Bible facts, it wouldn’t take long to piece together a sermon.

But here I stand claiming to speak with the voice of Jesus, claiming to be one of his faithful under-shepherd who comes to his flock through him, the Gate. I better be well-grounded in all of God’s truths. I better have diligently studied the specific verses I’m preaching on today. I better have taken these word into my own heart and applied them to my life. Then I need to wrestle with questions like: What does Jesus want to teach his flock at St. John’s from these words? What in these verses expose our sin and need for the Savior? What in these verses bring the comfort of forgiveness to nourish faith? What here empowers and guides us in godly living?

But someone might say, “It can’t be too hard too preach about Jesus since even little children can believe in him.” But CAN little children believe? CAN anyone believe by their own power? No one has that ability. The Bible says, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:3). Now the Gospel of Jesus does come in very simple, plain words, words that even little children know. So it’s not the skill of the preacher using wise and persuasive words or his ability to explain that gets people to believe either. But as I just said, it’s the power of the Holy Spirit working through the simple words of the Gospel, working through the clear voice of our Shepherd calling out from the Scriptures.

But those simple words of the Shepherd’s voice are so contrary to our human thinking that our natural self without the Spirit rejects them and tries to modify them. It’s so easy to let my natural thinking slip in as I prepare a sermon. But that distorts the Shepherd’s voice. Then I’m no longer coming to his flock through the Gate. My mind must be held captive by the written word of God or else I’m not a faithful under-shepherd.

And that’s a challenge that not only I as a preacher face but you do as well, dear Christians. You want to hear the Shepherd’s voice, but from inside of us comes such a racket that so easily distorts the clear words of the Gospel as we’re hearing. Even when we hear them correctly we under-appreciate them and take them for granted. We assume that since the words are simple we already know it well enough. Our attention wanders. Our love for the Shepherd’s voice becomes lukewarm. We see the evidence of this lukewarmness in the lack of time we spend with the Scriptures and the lack of support we give for spreading his Word around the world. How many other things consume our time and support! We don’t know the Shepherd’s voice as well as we imagine.

But dear friend, that’s why the Good Shepherd came. He came for sinners like you and me. He came for sheep who so easily stray. How true what Isaiah wrote, “All we like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6 NIV84). He laid down his life for you and took it up again.

Yes, he did that for you, dear sinner, for you personally. For he calls you by name, each one of you. His shepherd care is not some generic tending of nameless masses. He calls you by name. In Baptism he called you by name and made you one of his little lambs. He called you by name and said, “Your sins are washed away by this water with the word.” He still calls you and me by name as he leads us in and out and finds green pastures for us. He feeds us with his Word and Sacrament. How individual the Lord’s Supper is! There again he calls you by name and says to you individually, “Take and eat. This is my body given for you. Take and drink. This is my blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

Your Shepherd calls you by name to bring you life, life to the full—not full of earthly success, wealth, happiness, or fame, but real life, life with God, life in his flock, life under his care, life filled with the peace of forgiveness, life filled with the hope of heaven, life filled with the joy of salvation. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:10 NIV11). That’s your Shepherd’s voice. Know it well. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313