Fourth Sunday of Easter (John 10:1-10)

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

 Jesus says, “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (vv. 1-5).

            Let’s test that out.  I’m going to read an excerpt from a sermon, and you tell me if it is the voice of the Shepherd, or of a stranger.  Here goes:

That’s the way it is with God. What we can accomplish on our own is hardly noteworthy. We try our best, but the results aren’t exactly graceful flowing music. However, with the hand of the Master, our life’s work truly can be beautiful…

Next time you set out to accomplish great feats, or small feats, listen carefully. You can hear the voice of the Master—the voice of our Mother/Father God—and feel God’s loving arms around you.  Know and trust that those strong hands are there helping you, helping us all, to turn our feeble attempts into true masterpieces. [1]

Was that the voice of the Shepherd?  I hope not! Unless you were baptized in the name of the some androgynous god.  The Good Shepherd does not call Himself a conductor, tuning and polishing what is beautiful in us.  The true Shepherd does not direct you to your best efforts, because even your best efforts are sin in the sight of God [Isa. 64:6]. This impostor preaches a so-called gospel of ‘you’re good enough and God accepts you as you are.’  She does not enter through the Door, which is Christ.  Instead, she speaks platitudes about a god (whatever “he” or “she” is), rather than giving Christ’s sheep what they need: the healing that comes only by His wounds [1 Peter 2:24].

Here’s another one, and this is going to be harder:

The Gospel that proclaims that we are, like it or not, let off scot-free… You’re washed. You’re forgiven. You’re free. No law condemns you. No celestial finger is wagging at you. You walk in the liberation of the Spirit, Who lives in you, is active in you, and works relentlessly to mute the voices of guilt that still growl inside you…

The Good News has nothing to do with us, but everything of the Gospel is given to us. We are like beggars on the street corner. Jesus pulls us and drops a million dollars in our outstretched hands. Just like that. Not because we’re excellent panhandlers but because he’s got the money and wants to give it away to those who would never have it otherwise.

All we have is His love. And that’s all we need. Because His love is who He is. When we have Him, we have everything.[2]

            This one is harder because it’s gushing with all the right-sounding stuff.  But unlike the first example, a not a matter of using the right words.  It’s in the application of the Gospel.  What this message says is that you should just mute the guilt that nags in the back of your head.  Write it off as the devil.  Why? Because you have been forgiven.  But it’s in that subtly that our weak and wicked flesh wants to plug its ears to the Law’s accusations, even when it’s right.  This is the creeping error of antinomianism, of the Gospel replacing the Law for a Christian. Where it gains the most traction is among Christians who have a checkered past, and whose on-going weakness—thorns in the flesh [2 Cor. 12:7]—haunt them.  They earnestly want to lead a godly life, but they keep finding nothing but sin and death in the mirror.  The answer, though, is not to silence the accusation of the Law, but to confess that God is right [Ps. 51:4] and seek the Lord’s forgiveness and the Spirit’s continued work in confession and absolution and the Body and Blood of Christ.

As children, we learn to be afraid of strangers, because we don’t know their intentions for us.  This is a good warning, because there are many strangers in this world who mean us harm.  False shepherds are no exception.  What they preach is not the voice of the Good Shepherd.  Instead, they speak in the voice of that ancient serpent, the Devil.

“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.”

Our Lord calls them thieves and robbers.  Thieves, because they come craftily, sometimes doing such a good job that it fools the sheep.  It’s easy to spot messages of empty platitudes, but Gospely-messages that are laced with cyanide are harder to spot. The thief, like the Devil, quotes Scripture, but through a theological funhouse mirror so that the original intent or full meaning is corrupted.  By a sham gospel, you are led to trust in a different shepherd—one who minimizes the seriousness of sin, or praises you for how much you “do for the Lord,” or who focuses you on how spotless your life is.  But all the time, he steals confidence in Christ’s work from you and replaces it with doubt in your own.  The more that Satan can turn your focus away from the cross of Christ, the better he has set you on the road to hell with him.

There are also the robbers, who like Barabbas [John 18:40], are brazen in stealing sheep away from the Lord.  The robbers work within the bounds of the Church on earth.  Here you find open attempts to undermine the trustworthiness of God’s Word, and being told that we all worship the same “god.”  Here it’s easier for the well-catechized sheep to spot something destructive going on, but the weak are tossed to and fro by these suggestions.

Any teacher who comes to you apart from Jesus can do nothing but thieve and rob.  Recognizing them isn’t a matter of choosing the right name.  Sometimes those who turn out to be thieves have the very best of intentions, be well-educated, and loving people.  They may have even been faithful shepherds in the past.  “Put not your trust in princes, in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.” (Ps. 146:3)  Put your trust your Good Shepherd and hearing His voice.  Even St. Paul put himself under this same strict judgment: “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed.” (Gal. 1:8)  The message for the flock is to endeavor to hear only His voice through regular meditation and study of His Word and faithful witnesses to it throughout the centuries.  This is how we can be certain of hearing the voice of our Shepherd, and being cared for by Him.

Why is this important?  Because Satan cannot offer what the Good Shepherd gives.  Thanks be to the true God that He has sent us His Son, because in Him, we are not stolen away, killed, and destroyed.  To us, who have been smothered by evil and death, we bask in what our Good Shepherd gives His sheep:

“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out… Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep… If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

It is true, we can be confident of hearing our Shepherd’s voice, because He has called His Church with His voice.  He seeks us out, gathers us into His fold.  His rod defends us against our enemies and His staff guides us through this treacherous world.  And He will lead us out, calling us by name as He gave us His own in the waters of Baptism.  He is with us in the valley of the shadow of death, all the days of our life.  And in Him we have life that abounds beyond present sin and death, endures forever.

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


[2] “Gospel Phobia” by Chad Bird. (accessed 5/2/20)

Fourth Sunday of Easter (John 10:1-10)

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,[1] 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.
[1] Hebrews 10:22