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“My Sheep Listen to My Voice”
John 10:27-28


Pastor Kevin Vogts
Holy Cross Lutheran Church
Dakota Dunes, South Dakota
Fourth Sunday of Easter—Good Shepherd Sunday—April 29, 2012

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Since ancient times it has been customary for the Church to observe one of the Sundays after Easter each year as Good Shepherd Sunday.  Jesus promises in today’s Gospel Reading: “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.”  Sheep are used as symbolic for the people of God throughout the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments.  Perhaps the most famous and familiar example of this symbolism is the beloved Psalm 23, which we read as our Introit this morning.

Why does God use sheep to symbolize his people?   Sheep are notorious for wandering from their shepherd.  As Isaiah says, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”  That is why we pray to our Good Shepherd in Psalm 23, “He guides me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”  The Lord compares us to sheep because like wayward sheep we have wandered from our Good Shepherd, we have wandered from the paths of righteousness, into the ways of wickedness and sin.

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”  When sheep wander off from their shepherd it almost always ends in them perishing.  For, sheep are completely defenseless, and everywhere there are wolves and other vicious predators just waiting to capture and devour them. 

Peter says, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour.”  The Lord compares us to sheep because, like sheep who go astray, when we wander away from our Good Shepherd and stray from the paths of righteousness we are putting ourselves in grave danger of perishing eternally, captured and devoured by that roaring lion the devil.

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”  Sheep also are susceptible to the herd instinct.  A few years ago in Turkey one sheep went off a cliff and before the shepherds could stop them 1,500 other sheep followed right off the cliff.   Paul says in Ephesians, “As for you, you were dead in your trespasses and sins, in which you used to live, when you followed the ways of this world.”  The Lord compares us to sheep because like sheep we often give into the herd instinct, and follow the ways of this world instead of the ways of Christ.

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way.”  Finally, the Lord compares us to sheep because, unlike many other animals, sheep have no innate sense of direction.  You hear stories about cats and dogs that get lost and find their way back home across hundreds or even thousands of miles.  That could never happen with a sheep.  They don’t know how to get back on the right path toward home.  That is why Jesus told the Parable of the Lost Sheep: “If a man has a hundred sheep, and one of them goes astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine and go to the mountains to seek the one that is straying?”  Like a lost sheep, you could never get back on the right path toward your heavenly home, you could never find your way back to your Good Shepherd.  But, the Good News is, like the good shepherd in the parable, your Good Shepherd Jesus sought you out and saved you.

“We all, 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.”  The irony of this symbolism in scripture is that the Good Shepherd is also the sacrificial lamb.  “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 not only your Good Shepherd, he is also the Lamb of God, who by the sacrifice of his death and resurrection takes away all your sin.  Peter puts it this way: “You were redeemed . . . with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. . .  For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

“MY sheep.”  In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther explains why Jesus calls you “MY sheep”:  “[He] has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death, that I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity.  This is most certainly true.”

“My sheep LISTEN.”   People assume that with all the labor-saving devices we have in our modern world we must have a lot more leisure time than people in the past.  But, actually, studies show that we are busier than ever, and for most people our leisure time is actually decreasing.  One study found that 76% of Americans usually feel rushed in their everyday lives.  “My sheep LISTEN.” But, because of the fast-paced tempo of our modern world, taking time to listen to our Good Shepherd often gets shoved aside by other things.  Like Martha, in the story of two sisters Mary and Martha, we are often so preoccupied and distracted by all the hectic busyness of our lives that we don’t take time to listen to God, like Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet, listening to what he said.

“My sheep listen to MY VOICE.”  Another problem is that when we do take time to listen, often what we listen and give heed to is not to the trustworthy voice of our Good Shepherd, but the deceptive voices of the world.  Our Good Shepherd’s voice is recorded for us in the Holy Bible.  But, within the past few years entire denominations have voted down what the Bible has to say about matters of basic biblical morality, listening instead to the deceptive voices of the world and adopting its perverted viewpoint.  As Paul warns in Colossians, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”

“My sheep listen to MY VOICE.”  Martin Luther famously said, “Even a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is . . . sheep who hear the voice of their Shepherd.”  That’s really what it means to be a Christian.  Against all the competing voices, coming from within your own sinful self, from Satan and the wicked world, from all those trying to lead you astray, listening to none of those competing, deceptive voices, but instead listening and giving heed only to the voice of your Good Shepherd.  As Jesus said, “The sheep . . . will never follow a stranger but will flee from him because they do not recognize the voice of strangers.”

“My sheep listen to my voice; I KNOW THEM.”  This means an intimate knowledge and loving care about every aspect of your life.  The good shepherd knows all about his sheep, your Good Shepherd knows and cares all about you, your wants and hopes, your problems and struggles, your sorrows and sadness.  As Jesus promises, “Even the very hairs of your head are all numbered.  So don’t be afraid.”

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, AND THEY FOLLOW ME.”  The alluring voices of devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh are continually tempting you to turn away from your Good Shepherd.  Do not follow those strange, deceitful voices, but listen to your Good Shepherd’s voice, and, as Psalm 23 says, follow him in the paths of righteousness all the days of your life.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I GIVE THEM ETERNAL LIFE.”  Sometimes people don’t understand the meaning of the opening verse of Psalm 23: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.”  That means, “I shall not be in want,” “I shall not lack for nothing.”  You see, sheep are helpless animals, completely dependent upon their good shepherd.  “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.”

You can imagine that in the hot deserts of the Holy Land, Psalm 23 is describing a paradise, a poetic picture of heaven, with soothing, green pastures and cool, quiet waters.  Like sheep we are helpless, completely dependent upon our Good Shepherd to lead us to the green pastures and quiet waters of heaven.  “I GIVE THEM ETERNAL LIFE.”  Just as the good shepherd on earth leads his helpless sheep to the green pastures and quiet waters, your Good Shepherd leads you to the paradise of heaven and gives you eternal life.

“My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, AND THEY SHALL NEVER PERISH.”  Jesus promised, “I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even though he dies, yet shall he live. . .  For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. . .  Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out.”

“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me.”  Even though you die, yet you shall live.  For, at the moment of death your Good Shepherd will take your soul to be with him in paradise.  And at the last day the voice of your Good Shepherd will call one final time, bringing your body forth from the grave, to be restored and reunited with your soul for eternal life.  “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

“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.”   Your Good Shepherd promises to be with you always, not only on the beautiful mountain peaks of your life, but also when you walk through the darkest valleys of your life, even the valley of the shadow of death. 

Paul puts it this way in Romans: “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? . . .  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.  For 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.”  “No one can snatch them out of my hand.”  Nothing, not even death itself, will separate you from your Good Shepherd.  As Psalm 23 says, “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.  Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.  Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies.”

“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.”

Amen.

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