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Our Good Shepherd
John 10:22-30


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fourth Sunday of Easter—May 15, 2011

In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Our text is today’s Gospel Reading, especially this verse: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.  No one can snatch them out of my hand.”

Imagine that you are a Bible translator among the Eskimo tribes in the frozen wasteland of Alaska.  How would you translate the 23rd Psalm?  “The Lord is my penguin-herder?”  How about, “The Lord is my walrus-keeper, he leads me to pools of icy cold water?”  It loses something in the translation, doesn’t it?

Although most of us here have at least seen sheep, either in real life or on television, it is still much harder for us to relate to the imagery of a flock of sheep and its shepherd than it was for the people in Bible-times, when sheepherding was the major industry.

Sheep are animals that must be looked after and tended.  They easily wander off and get lost; they are unable to search out food and water for themselves; and they cannot defend themselves from wolves and other predators.  Sheep need a shepherd to keep them safe, lead them to green grass and pure water, and make sure they don’t wander off and get separated from the rest of the flock.

This imagery is used throughout the Bible: God is our shepherd, and we are his sheep.  He provides for our needs, protects us from danger, and keeps us safe within his fold.  Psalm 100 says, “Know that the Lord, he is God.  It is he who has made us, and not we ourselves.  We are his people and the sheep of his pasture.”  Isaiah says, “The Lord tends his flock like a shepherd; he gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart.” 

Most familiar to us is the beautiful and  majestic Psalm 23:  “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.  He maketh me to lie down in green pastures, he leadeth me beside the still waters.”  The climax of this Biblical imagery of God as the shepherd and us as his flock comes in the New Testament, when Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me . . .  and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Jesus is your Good Shepherd.  He purchased and won you for his flock by laying down his life for you.  In today’s Gospel Reading, Jesus describes your relationship with him, your Good Shepherd: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.  No one can snatch them out of my hand.”

“My sheep listen to my voice.”  The logo of the RCA company used to be a picture of a dog listening to an old-fashioned gramophone with the words, “His Master’s Voice” underneath.  The idea was that the gramophone reproduced the master’s voice so perfectly that the dog recognized it and listened attentively.  If only we had recordings of the voice of Jesus.  Surely we would sit and listen with our ears perked up just like that dog.  But they didn’t have gramophones 2000 years ago, let alone our modern digital recordings and hand-held video cameras. 

But we forget that for thousands of years before such inventions people carefully wrote down what they had seen and heard.  We forget that God inspired four such men—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John—to write down for us the Good News of Jesus’ words and deeds.  Jesus promised this at the Last Supper when he said, “The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  What Jesus said and did is recorded for us, in the inspired Scriptures, and in them we hear our Master’s voice.  The last thing Jesus said to his disciples before ascending into heaven was, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”

Many of us can’t remember when we first heard the voice of Jesus, as he called out to us, “Let the little children come unto me.”  It was when our parents fulfilled Christ’s command and we were baptized as little children.

Each time we come to the Lord’s table we hear the voice of Jesus promising, “Take, eat, this is my body . . . Take, drink, this is my blood,” and assuring us, “Shed for you for the forgiveness of sins.”

At the beginning of our worship services when we confess our sins we hear the forgiving voice of Jesus, as he told his disciples, “If you forgiven anyone his sins, they are forgiven them.”  The Small Catechism says, “I believe that when the called ministers of Christ . . . forgive those who repent of their sins . . . this is as valid and certain . . . as if Christ, our dear Lord, dealt with us himself.”

“My sheep listen to my voice.”   We hear our Good Shepherd’s voice in the Scriptures, in Baptism, in Communion, in Absolution.

“I know them.”  The shepherd lives out in the field with his flock.  He spends many hours with them, watching over them day and night.  The shepherd really knows his sheep.  He knows which ones are more apt to stray from the fold, and which ones are most frightened by the howling of the wolves and the clap of thunder. 

Just as the shepherd knows his sheep, the Bible assures us that our Good Shepherd intimately knows each one of us.  The Lord told Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.”  Psalm 139 says, “O Lord, you have searched me and you know me.  You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. . .  you are familiar with all my ways.  Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O Lord.”  Jesus says, “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”  “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them.”  The Lord is your shepherd.  He knows you.

“They follow me.”  Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”  Peter says, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.”  Following Jesus means sacrifices and suffering.  Still today in many parts of the world those who follow Christ are violently persecuted for their faith.  The worst abuses occur in Islamic and the remaining Communist countries.  Just last week there was a massacre of Christians in Egypt, two churches burned, 150 wounded, and a dozen of our Christian brothers and sisters martyred for their faith.

Here in the United States we are blessed with religious freedom and don’t face that kind of persecution.  And, yet, there are many outrageous cases of Christians and churches being discriminated against.  Like a church in Oregon that wanted to rent the school gymnasium and was told that church groups were the only ones not allowed to rent school facilities.  And two boys in a Texas high school who were sent to detention for wearing ordinary Christian jewelry.  And a teacher in Virginia who was fired for reading the Bible to herself at her desk during the lunch hour.  None of this should really surprise us, for Paul says in 2 Timothy, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”   Following Christ often means sacrifices and suffering.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”  Yesterday was high school graduation and today we are celebrating Confirmation.  As you continue on life’s path, the world will often tempt you to go astray, to turn away from your Good Shepherd.  Do not follow the deceitful voices of the world, but listen to your Good Shepherd’s voice.  As Psalm 23 says, follow him in the paths of righteousness all the days of your life.

“I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.”  Not even death can separate us from our Good Shepherd, as Jesus promises, “I tell you the truth, a time is coming . . . when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live.”  On that final day when you hear the voice of your Good Shepherd you will rise from the dead and follow him into eternal life.  As Revelation says, “The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water.  And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.  No one can snatch them out of my hand.”  Nothing can snatch you from the loving embrace of your Good Shepherd.  As Paul says in Romans, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? . . .  I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” 

“I am the Good Shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me . . .  and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  Jesus is your Good Shepherd.  He purchased and won you for his flock by laying down his life for you.  As Peter says in today’s Epistle Reading, “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish.  No one can snatch them out of my hand.”

The book of Hebrews closes with a beautiful benediction about our Good Shepherd: “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

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