Fifth Sunday of Easter (John 14:1-14)

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)

Fifth Sunday of Easter (John 14:1-14)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Fifth Sunday of Easter + May 14, 2017
Text: John 14:1-14

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.”  The only reason Jesus says this to His disciples is because He knows their hearts are troubled.  You don’t say “I am the Life” unless there’s the threat of death.  You don’t say do not be troubled unless there is tumult and uncertainty.
Jesus was speaking to His disciples at that time as they were about to face His betrayal, crucifixion, death, and then His ascension.  This arrangement where Jesus is with them face to face would not—could not—last forever, because it was necessary for Jesus to be taken from them in His suffering, and taken when He ascended into heaven 40 days after His resurrection.
The Ascension is coming, when Jesus’ disciples would lose their visible presence with the Lord.  Now, the Ascension is something we confess each week—He ascended to the Father and sits at the right hand of the Father Almighty—but something that isn’t well understood.  Thankfully, these next few weeks, each Gospel reading will teach us about the significance and comfort of Jesus’ Ascension.
In this part of the Gospel, Jesus reassures us about His Ascension: “Let not your hearts be troubled.”  “I go to prepare a place for you” and “I will come again and will take you to myself.”
“Let not your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God; believe also in Me.”
Things like our bills, the direction of the country, and keeping our job cause great anxiety.  How much more should it matter where we go when it’s all said and done?
Yet our Lord says about this: do not be troubled.  It’s not based on performance evaluations or lifelong dedication.  Instead He says, believe!  Believe that He has done everything which is needed to bring a poor, weak, sinful creature back to God and bring them safely into eternal rest.
But how important it is to believe!  Where faith reassures a troubled heart, unbelief leads to an uncertain and callous heart.  The calling of a disciple of Jesus is to take Him at His Word each day. Repent of your wicked thoughts, words, and deeds.  Believe in God and the One He has sent to accomplish your forgiveness, your salvation.
“I go to prepare a place for you.”
On Good Friday, the debt you owed was paid.  Every sin which would bar you from God’s holy presence was atoned for there.
So, the comfort for you, as His disciple, is that He returns to the Father to prepare a place for your return to the Father.
This life is a pilgrimage, not a destination.  The true end of life is not the grim grave. It is to have a place with God.  What counts in the meantime is not our achievements here or how much we collect (because we must let all that go).  What truly lasts when this life comes to a close is our faith in Jesus, who alone is the way to the Father and the resurrection to eternal life.
Yet in our pilgrimage, we go through many unknown ways—unknowns about the future and the struggles we and our families will have to endure, as well as unknowns about what will become of Christians in the world.  Yet, Jesus assures us, “Let not your hearts be troubled…you know the way to where I am going.”  Even though we haven’t seen the end of our journey, we already know the way.  You may not know what lies on the road ahead, but you can be certain that through faith, your Savior has already prepared your place.
“And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.”
Our comfort isn’t in the Ascension alone, but also in the fact that from thence He will come to judge the living and the dead.  He comes again to gather us into that promise of eternity.
Salvation is not complete yet.  Yes, of course, the atonement which brought peace to all who believe is finished (John 19:30).  However, the creation still longs in eager expectation for Jesus’ return and the revealing of the sons of God (Romans 8:19-21).  That’s why the world is still like it is, full of unrest and destruction.  That part of the job isn’t finished yet.
So know where to expect paradise.  Paradise won’t be in the body of death you now have—full of sin and plagued by death.  Paradise won’t be in this world, filled with corruption and wickedness.  It will be complete when we see the Son of Man coming on the clouds in glory.  It will be when we rise from our graves finally free from the curse of sin and death.  That’s the hope that we press toward, where our longings for outward peace will finally be satisfied.
Through many unknown ways, by faith we already know the only way to heaven.  The way is Jesus, who has become your way to eternal life.  Do not be troubled that He has ascended and is no longer visibly among us.  Believe that He has gone ahead of us, as the forerunner so that the children of God may be at home with their Father.  Amen.