Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Fourth Sunday of Easter + May 7, 2017
Text: John 10:1-10
Jesus describes Himself as the Good Shepherd in this section of John’s Gospel. Typically, we picture the Shepherd standing in endless green hills, leading His sheep. However, right from the top of this discussion, Jesus describes a sheepfold. The sheepfold is a walled enclosure for keeping the sheep safe through the night. The Sheepfold for our purposes is the Christian Church.
Why the walls? Because there are both predators and there are dangers for the sheep that wanders. By setting up these walls, Jesus teaches us—His sheep—why this must be.
You see, we are not just the Lord’s sheep that He’s gathered as He walked along the dusty roads of Palestine. We are sheep who were caught in the thicket of sin, teetering on the brink of going off the cliff of death, and chased by coyotes like the Devil and his demons. We are sheep who have been saved from many things, washed in pure water of Baptism, and given a place where we may safely graze under the loving eye of our Shepherd, Jesus.
So there’s a place inside the Sheepfold (the Church) and there’s a place outside the Sheepfold. Inside the Sheepfold, we have peace with God, we call on Him as our Father, we have His help and consolation through trials and griefs, and the hope of eternity with Him.
Outside the Sheepfold, there is only doubt and despair. There’s no peace with God, so we must always look to our works to see if our life measures up against those around us. There’s no certainty of God being our Father, so people are afraid that he’s only an angry judge toward them, or that he’s an impotent bureaucrat who runs the universe. Outside the Sheepfold, when scary times come, it’s up to you. Even if you have a spiritual belief, it’s up to you to master it so you can find serenity and maintain purpose and hope—nevermind any promises of a blessed afterlife.
Inside the Sheepfold, you have a Shepherd who loves you. His every aim for your life is that you endure many trials and remain steadfast in a Spirit-worked faith. His goal in everything for your life is your salvation—“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”
Yet, those on the outside of the Sheepfold still try to force their way in, so that they can destroy the Lord’s sheep. “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber.”
Outside are thieves and robbers. The thieves steal from you the treasures that belong to a child of God—your faith, a clear conscience before God, love for God and your neighbor, a calm confidence in God’s fatherly care during trials, an open ear with God through His Son.
The boldest of these thieves will use biblical language, but rob it of its pure message of Law and Gospel. They might insist on the King James version, or use many obscure translations to make their point. But their work is clear: instead of proclaiming repentance and forgiveness of sins, they make God’s Word into an almanac to predict the future, make divisions between levels of salvation, or claim that simple faith in Jesus isn’t enough to be a good Christian.
The more subtle thieves make their way into Christian circles and replace Scripture with counterfeit attractive sayings. “With the temptation God will provide a way out that you may endure it” (1 Cor. 10:13) is replaced with the common but unbiblical concept, “God never gives you more than you can handle.” They substitute firm statements of God’s love and faithfulness with platitudes. Instead of “Nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:39) you hear the measly “God has a plan in this” when someone you know takes their own life. “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3) is covered over with the idea that because God is love He would never send such fine people to hell.
Robbers, on the other hand, are those who make personal attacks on your salvation. They call into question your being a Christian because your life isn’t pure and you struggle in weakness to overcome your sin. They fill you with false guilt about things that are not Commandments of God. They hold up their own example of good works—their devotional habits or all that they’ve done for the church—and subtly imply they’re a better class of Christian.
However, inside the Sheepfold of the Christian Church, the only voice that matters is God’s. “The sheep hear His voice, and he calls His own sheep by name and leads them out.” In this Sheepfold, the Lord through His Word and Sacraments gives you abundant life—not prosperity, health, and wealth—but a rich life of faith. With that faith come all the blessings of the Kingdom of heaven. You have a heavenly Father to call upon in need and praise for His goodness to you. You have a High Priest in heaven, who sympathizes with your weakness and interposed His blood for all your guilt. You have the Holy Spirit, who not only works this faith, but also comforts you with the assurance that though heaven and earth pass away, you have believed the right Gospel.
Jesus is the Gate who opens to His sheep so that they have this abundant life. He laid down His life for the sheep so that this treasure would be theirs. Therefore, He also jealously guards you against any who would try to steal you away. The Holy Spirit He has given you gives you ears to recognize His voice and flee from the voice of strangers. When His sheep hear the voice of strangers, they’re not afraid to turn off the TV, walk out of whatever service, or abruptly end the conversation. The strangers can’t deliver on what they say, but can only take what you have from the Lord.
But your Good Shepherd loves you and gives you shelter against them in this Sheepfold of the Church. He is ever faithful, and may He preserve you from every temptation to wander outside of His watchful care. Amen.
 Hebrews 10:22
Fourth Sunday of Easter (John 10:1-10)
Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR