Good Shepherd Sunday| Rev. Rolf D. Preus| April 14, 2013| St. John 10:11-16
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd. St. John 10:11-16
Jesus is the good shepherd. The Church is his sheep. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. He knows his sheep and they know him, even as the Father knows him and he knows the Father. The sheep of the good shepherd hear his voice. The voice of the good shepherd is what unifies the Church as one. There is one flock even as there is one shepherd.
The one shepherd is Jesus. There is not another shepherd that Jesus has appointed over his entire Church. We must speak very clearly about this. There is no such position in Christ’s Church as pastor of the whole Church. Jesus alone is the pastor of the whole Church. The claim that the bishop at Rome is pastor of the whole Church is as false as our Lord’s words are clear when he says: There is one flock even as there is one shepherd.
Jesus alone is the shepherd and bishop of our souls. Jesus is the shepherd of whom David wrote when he wrote, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Jesus is the one who seeks out the lost sheep and finds him. No one can stand between the shepherd and the sheep. The shepherd won’t let anyone stand between. He owns the sheep. They belong to him. He laid down his life for them. He purchased them with his own blood. He confronted sin and death and hell for them, and he will not let any spiritual power or authority come between him and his blood-bought sheep.
Jesus does appoint shepherds or pastors. The men we call pastors are really undershepherds of the good shepherd. These men are appointed and sent by Jesus to feed specific flocks. Congregations of Christians need God’s word and sacraments. They need to be fed. The food of the sheep is the purely proclaimed gospel and rightly administered sacraments of Christ. The authority and responsibility of the undershepherds of the good shepherd is to preach and teach God’s word – both law and gospel – and to administer Christ’s sacraments.
The sheep must be fed. It is the pastor’s job to feed the sheep. They need the pure and wholesome gospel and sacraments. They don’t need the pastor’s dazzling personality, wisdom, manners, charm, or political connections. What they need is what the good shepherd gives to his undershepherds to teach and preach. And this is no secret knowledge available only to the pastors. It is clearly taught in the Holy Scriptures. The sheep have the duty to judge their pastors. They are to see to it that their pastors faithfully feed them with the wholesome food that the good pastor has provided. The pastors have nothing of their own to offer the sheep.
Woe to the pastor who refuses to teach the truth because it might make people angry or drive them away or hurt his chances to get some kind of earthly reward! Pastors don’t appoint themselves. Jesus does. He does so through the call of the Church, that is, through the sheep who are gathered together. Since the pastor is a minister of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God, he must administer what Christ has given to him. A man who refuses to do so is not a minister of Christ. He is a hireling. He works for pay and the money he gets is all he gets. He would be better off selling dictionaries or vacuum cleaners than standing up in the pulpit only to tell the people whatever will not upset the wolf and bring on his attacks.
The wolf will attack. Jesus says so. He attacks the sheep by lying to them. He lies about the good shepherd. All false teaching is ultimately directed against Christ. But the wolf is smart. He tries to hide his true aims. He doesn’t want the sheep to know that he’s attacking the shepherd. So he pretends that he loves the shepherd. He wears the clothing of a sheep. He displays devotion to the good shepherd. He appears to be a pious and loving sheep. His real purpose is to tear the sheep away from their shepherd and scatter the flock.
The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. When Jesus gave up his life on the cross he was fighting and winning humanity’s battle against the devil. The death and resurrection of the good shepherd is the victory of the sheep over the wolf. When the good shepherd dies for his sheep he delivers them from death. When the good shepherd bears the sin of his sheep he forgives them of their sin. The wolf will attack the sheep by trying to falsify the gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
He attacks the gospel in the first instance by making it unnecessary. The gospel gives us the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation freely for Christ’s sake. This is for sinners who need to have their sins forgiven. So the wolf attacks God’s law. Since God’s law shows us our sin and our need for a Savior from sin the devil can attack God’s law without directly attacking the Savior. But his aim is always against the Savior. The wolf cons foolish sheep into ignorance about how foolish they are.
You see this happen all the time. Foolish children who ignore their parents’ instruction get into all sorts of trouble that brings them and their loved ones pain. They foolishly ignore the Fourth Commandment. Then they grow a little older and get into all sorts of trouble by ignoring the Sixth Commandment. They follow their emotions. What they call love is what God calls fornication. But because they do not recognize their sin they do not see any need for forgiveness. They see no need for a shepherd to lay down his life for them.
But the flagrant foolishness of the young is easy to spot. You don’t need to be a Christian to understand the benefits of obeying parents and controlling one’s passions. The deeper and more vicious sins are identified in the Small Catechism in the explanation to the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer where we learn to confess:
God indeed tempts no one; but we pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us nor seduce us into misbelief, despair, and other great shame and vice; and though we be assailed by them, that still we may finally overcome and obtain the victory.
Misbelief is when you believe something about God that just isn’t true. Despair is when you conclude that God cannot help you and there is no point in relying on him. Both misbelief and despair come to those who do not hear the voice of Jesus. The voice of the good shepherd is the only protection from these terrible calamities.
This is why Jesus emphasizes this fundamental truth so often. His sheep hear his voice. His voice is what unites the sheep to their shepherd. It is what unites the sheep to one another. The voice of the good shepherd is the pure gospel and sacraments of Christ.
The unity of the church is not something the church achieves for herself. It isn’t obtained by submitting to constitutions or bylaws. It isn’t a political achievement. It’s not by the winsomeness of pastors or by joining together in acts of charity. The unity of the church is God’s gift and it comes only from hearing the pure gospel. The truth is what joins us together. The truth is what makes us the church. The truth is what delivers us from our sins. The truth is what protects us from the wolf. The truth is what leads us to heaven. The voice of the good shepherd is the voice of truth.
Lies divide the flock and leave it easy pickings for the hungry wolf. False doctrine enslaves those who trust in it. It is poison. The good shepherd leads his flock to lush green pastures of good grass and still pure and clean waters that refresh the soul. False teaching is poisonous grass and polluted water that hurts those who eat and drink.
A Christian is a sheep of the good shepherd. Beware of the false teaching of the wolf. Here are two of his falsehoods, designed to snatch you away from the good shepherd who gave his life for you.
The first is the falsehood that turns the gospel into law. The gospel is the message of Christ to sinners that their sins are forgiven because he has died for them. Jesus lays down his life for his sheep, bearing away their sins. This provides them with the forgiveness of sins which is theirs through faith alone. This gives them the assurance of eternal life.
But when the gospel is turned into law, it loses its power to save. But how often this is done! How often we hear the word “gospel” or “evangelical” used to refer to a kind or loving or generous way of behaving. Thus, the gospel is no longer God’s love for us in dying for us, but it is our love for others in imitation of Jesus. That isn’t going to save the sheep from the wolf! The wolf attacks the sheep by turning the gospel into a new law.
Another error that destroys faith is the error that turns faith into obedience. This is a subtle but deadly falsehood that has snared millions of consciences, rendering the sheep unprotected. Those who teach this error will say that we are saved by faith alone. That sounds good. It is good. But then they go on to explain what faith is: it is making Jesus the Lord of your life. A famous Evangelical preacher defined saving faith in these words: “When you totally surrender yourself to the Lordship of Christ in absolute faith.” What do you think? Have you totally surrendered yourself? Or have you held something back? Is your faith absolute? Or is there doubt? And if you have held something back and if you have doubt, what are you going to do about it? You’d better get yourself some faith! The wolf attacks the sheep by turning faith into obedience.
But he who gives his life for the sheep speaks the words to the sheep that give them eternal life. It is the gospel. It isn’t a new law. It isn’t something the sheep do. It’s something they believe. The gospel tells them that their sins are forgiven and they have eternal life through faith in Jesus their good shepherd who gave his life for them. Faith is not something we do. The doing comes as the fruit of faith. When you teach that faith is surrender or commitment to Jesus, you teach falsely and you rob faith of its foundation and assurance in the gospel. When faith is trust in the promises of the gospel, then it bears the good fruit of a life lived in imitation of Christ. The power of faith is not faith. It is the gospel.
Jesus keeps his sheep safe from the wolf by means of the gospel. That’s the voice they hear. By forgiving them their sins and justifying them by his grace, Jesus leads them in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. By feeding them with his body and blood in the Supper he restores their soul. By the gospel of his death for them he leads them through the valley of the shadow and death and takes away their fear of dying. He turns bad into good so that their lives are filled with goodness and mercy. And they live and reign with God forever and ever. Amen