Date: May 11-12, 2019 (4th Sunday after Easer, series C)
Text: John 10:22-30
Locale: Gethsemane Lutheran Church, Lemay, MO
Exegetical Summary: In this section of the gospel according to John, Jesus continues with the metaphor of Him being the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep and gives them eternal life (vv. 1-18). Verses 22-30 take place in the Temple, in the portico of Solomon, during the Jewish festival, the Feast of Dedication, aka Hanukkah. That this festival commemorates the holiness of the Temple and worship to the One True God of Israel makes the Jews’ question aptly important, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly” (v. 24). Jesus tells them He had already told them, though in veiled, metaphorical terms. Here, He repeats what He has already said—that He is the shepherd who gives His sheep eternal life, with the adage that only those who belong to His flock recognise His Messianic voice, which are, apparently, not these Jews who are present. Jesus continues with giving an image of power with His “shepherdhood,” which is the image my sermon will develop.
Focus Statement: Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has ultimate power to keep you in the promise of eternal life and away from sin, death, and the Devil.
Function Statement: That my hearers will come to hear Christ’s voice in Word and Sacrament and receive comfort in His mighty providence when they are in doubt.
Law (Malady): Many try to cause doubt within us, and Satan himself uses means to cause doubt within us.
Gospel (Means): We hear Jesus’ voice in the Word and Sacraments, who ensures our eternal peace in His pasture.
Closing Hymn: #711 Saviour, like a Shepherd Lead Us
“I am the Good Shepherd.” We are all familiar with this phrase. We’ve heard it numerous times. These are the words Jesus spoke prior to our Gospel reading this morning/evening, from John 10:22-30. But what is a shepherd? What does a shepherd do? Whilst we’re all familiar with Jesus’ bold claim, “I am the Good Shepherd,” we’re not all too familiar with what a shepherd does because we don’t have many shepherds in our day. Sure, a shepherd cares for his flock, that much is obvious—we all know this—but what does he do?
Perhaps the best biblical description we get is from David, who volunteered to fight the mighty giant Goliath. King Saul questioned David’s ability not for his size, as Veggie Tales falsely teaches our kids, but for his youth and his inexperience in war. Yet David says to King Saul, in 1 Samuel 17:34-36, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father. And when there came a lion, or a bear, and it took a lamb from the flock, I went after him and struck him and delivered it out of his mouth. And if he arose against me, I caught him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has struck down both lions and bears, and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, for he has defied the armies of the living God.” [Pause.]
Paintings and poetry depict Jesus the Good Shepherd as being gentle. Yet here, with David, we get an entirely different image: we get an image of a shepherd who is a mighty warrior, who fought lions and bears with his bare hands! Shepherds, then, are not only gentle in their care for their flock, but also mighty, brave, and courageous against those who threaten his flock.
David, who has killed lions and bears with merely his fisticuffs, sees Goliath as no different; he is merely a beast who needs to be put down. We know how the story ends: God grants David the ability to deliver His people from their enemy, Goliath and the Philistines.
In our gospel reading today, we get a similar image of a shepherd’s might, although subtle. Jesus had already made the bold claim that He is the Good Shepherd, and then He makes three more bold claims:
- You do not believe because you are not among My sheep.
- My sheep know My voice, and I know them; therefore, I give them eternal life, and no one has the power to snatch them from My hand; and
- I and the Father are one.
You Are Not among My Sheep
The first claim: “You do not believe because you are not among My sheep.” To whom was Jesus speaking here? He was not speaking to His disciples, but to the Jews who had questioned Him. To understand the significance of what’s going on here, I need to provide some historical background. I know, history lessons are boring—unless you’re a history buff—but trust me, it’s important to enhance your understanding of this text.
The Gospel text says this whole exchange took place during the Feast of Dedication. We actually know what this festival is. Today, it’s called Hanukkah. The historical significance of Hanukkah comes from the book of 1 Maccabees. First Maccabees is found in the Apocrypha of Catholic Bibles, which is one of those books in the Apocrypha that we—and Jews—do not recognise as the Word of God, but as being a historically accurate document.
To put it briefly, a ruler named Antiochus IV Epiphanes sent his Syrian forces to conquer Israel between 168 and 165 B.C. During this time, his Syrian forces defiled the Jewish Temple with their pagan practices of sacrificing unclean animals and setting up idols.
The Jews eventually won when they revolted and when they retook the Temple, they tore down the defiled altar, refurbed the interior of the Temple, and erected a new altar. The Feast of Dedication—or Hanukkah—became a festival, or holiday, to serve as a visible reminder that the Temple was holy and kept for worship of the One True God of Israel.
So then, we can understand the Jews’ concerned question, “How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly” [v. 24]. Because you see, Jesus is in the portico, or colonnade, of the Temple during this important festival commemorating worship to the One True God where He made the claim, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again” [vv. 11 and 17). And Jesus’ respond to their question was, “I already told you! But you do not believe.” Did He, though? Did He already tell them He was the Messiah?
In John 1, His followers acknowledged Him as the Messiah [1:41, 45]. And in John 4:26, He confirmed His Messianic identity to the Samaritan woman. Yet neither of these were public proclamation; they were privately disclosed. So, when did Jesus tell them that He is the Messiah?
Well, He just told them in the words before this, though in veiled, metaphorical terms—”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 am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” and so on [vv. 7, 9, 11].
So, you see, He had told them; they merely wanted to hear Him say the exact words, “I am the Messiah.” That they asked Jesus to clarify His meaning shows they did, in fact, understand His Messianic implication. Jesus was claiming to be the Messiah in the Temple during an important holiday that commemorated the holiness of the Temple and worship to the One True God of Israel. If Jesus was the Messiah, the Jews knew what this meant—that the One True God was in their presence; and if He wasn’t, He was defiling the Temple as a false god and was, therefore, mocking their faith and history.
Jesus already told them and they did not believe. Even the works He’s performed are enough to testify about Him, but they still did not believe. This is not surprising, considering that Jesus’ miraculous works hardly cause faith; and that is not the purpose of His works anyway. Jesus’ words—that they do not believe although they have seen His works and already heard His answer—reminds me of something St. Augustine once said, “I cannot show you my God; not because there is no God to show, but because you have no eyes to see Him.” This harkens back to what Jesus said here, “You do not believe because you are not among My sheep” [v. 26].
The Jews’ question is like the questions atheists ask us today, “Does God really exist? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Science cannot prove God exists,” and so on. My response—and your response—should not be to seek out proofs to convince them. Remember Jesus’ words, “An adulterous and wicked generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah” (Matthew 12:39); and Jesus continues to say that just as Jonah was in the belly of the great fish for three days, so the Son of Man will be dead for three days and rise again
The proof—or sign—is that Jesus is, in fact, risen from the dead! The tomb is empty! Trust me, I’ve been to His tomb in Israel; there’s nothing in there. Yet a wicked and adulterous generation does not believe this sign, or proof. They do not have eyes to see. They are not from Jesus’ flock. Without faith, it is impossible to see God.
And science—although it is a blessing we have to understand how the world functions—it is fundamentally limited. It can only observe the natural. No wonder it cannot prove God’s existence because God is not natural; He is supremely supernatural, not physical, and beyond the grasp of natural reasoning and understanding.
His Sheep Know His Voice
Yet you and I have eyes to see Jesus. We see Him in Baptism. We see Him and taste Him in the Lord’s Supper. We hear His voice in the words of Absolution. We know Jesus’ voice when we hear it.
My dad and stepmom live on a small farm where they have chickens, donkeys, mini horses, and sheep as pets. They have a small pasture where they keep their sheep and lambs. These animals are still new to me because I didn’t grow up on a farm, but if there’s one thing I quickly learnt about sheep, it’s that they’re incredibly stupid. So, it makes me wonder why Jesus chose the sheep metaphor for us. Hmm…
Anyway, a few summers ago, my dad and stepmom had planted some apple trees in the pasture for them to grow large enough in order to provide some shade and shelter for the sheep in the summer. The sheep, for some reason, liked the taste of the bark and would bite the bark and injure the young trees. The sheep, in their ignorant stupidity, did not know that what their shepherds were providing for them was good for them. So, their shepherds built a small wired fence to keep them away from the apple trees, but the trees died because they were too damaged.
These sheep might be stupid, but I made an interesting observation about them. They know their shepherd’s voice. Whilst my dad helps out a lot on the farm, my stepmom loves to do most of the farm chores. (She has a habit of rescuing animals.) As soon as she steps outside and the sheep hear her voice, they are immediately excited to see her and begin crying out to her. Her sheep know her voice, and she knows them…
Christ came to this earth for you. As He said prior to our Gospel text today, “For this reason the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord” [vv. 17-18a]. Again, Christ came to earth for you, and in the stupidity of our sin, we killed Him.
Yet Christ rose from the dead for you. In spite of our sinful stupidity, He rose from the dead and gives you eternal life. Christ speaks to you in Word and Sacrament, and you hear His, and we all cry out—and you can give the proper response when I say this—”Alleluia! Christ is risen!” [Congregation responds: “He is risen indeed! Alleluia!”]
You hear His voice, and He gives you eternal life. No one can snatch you from His hand, He says. This is mighty power. Remember the might of David, who fought lions and bears with his bare hands and defeated Israel’s enemy, Goliath and the Philistines? In a much greater way, Jesus has this power. Jesus fought our Enemy: death, sin, and the Devil with His bare hands. At first, it seemed as if our Enemy was victorious, but Christ rose victorious from the grave and gave the final blow to our Enemy: death, sin, and the Devil.
“I and the Father are One”
This brings us to Jesus’ third bold claim: “I and the Father are one.” Jesus’ power is the same power as God the Father’s. God the Father has given you and me to Christ. Just as no one is able to snatch you from God the Father’s hand, so no one is able to snatch you from Jesus’ hand.
It appears to me that Jesus adds these words as a comfort. He’s essentially saying: “If you can’t take it from Me, take it from God the Father, who is greater than all things. No one can take anything from God the Father, and He gave you to Me. I and the Father are one; therefore, no one can take you from Me either.”
You are in Christ’s eternal pasture. Christ holds this pasture in place. Wolves in sheep’s clothing may sneak in—pretending to be Christians and pretending to preach the Word of God—and some may try to force you out, but you are in Christ’s hand; and as the parable of the lost sheep tells us, Jesus leaves the 99 in the flock to find that one lost sheep who strayed from the shepherd at the sheep’s own doing.
No one can force you from His hand. Some may try to stir doubt within you, but hear His voice: Remember your Baptism, where God the Father made you His child and has promised you the inheritance of eternal life through Jesus Christ with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Taste Christ’s body and blood in the Lord’s Supper, where you taste the sweetness of His mercy for the forgiveness of all your sins. Hear His words of forgiveness in Absolution.
Hear His words of comfort in the Gospel. Receive His comfort from your brothers and sisters in the same flock as you. Receive His comfort from your personal shepherd, Pastor Paetow; he loves you all dearly and like Christ, fights for you daily in prayer and deed. Cry out to God in prayer, who hears your woes and joys no matter the time of day.
Allow me to conclude with a brief story of a time Christ’s voice protected me. I have committed what I personally consider to be grave sins. I’m sure you all can relate; we all think we are the chief of sinner, and indeed we are. I won’t share here what the exact substance is, but it should suffice to say that I suffer with addiction.
Currently, I am on my longest streak of sobriety, thanks be to the grace of God, but several years ago there was a time when I was convinced I was going to Hell for my addiction—and other sins that followed—in spite of my faith in Christ. The Enemy the Devil had snuck into Christ’s pasture and convinced me I was going to Hell, no matter how sorry I was and no matter how many times I repented every day. And believe, I repented a lot every.single.day.
As a result, I fell into a deep state of depression. Please listen to this short poem I wrote that briefly describes this experienced, called Depression VI:
As the black cloud came upon me, and I looked upon what shame had wrought, despair soon followed like drops of acid until the Potter coiled me together again.
Darkness weighed upon me like a yoke of iron. Every time I looked at the shame of my sin, the yoke became heavier. I felt like my soul was being disintegrated by my acidic sin. Until I recognised the voice of my Shepherd:
“Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy” (Proverbs 28:13).
From our confession earlier, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (John 1:8-9).
And from our introit earlier, “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me” (Psalm 23:3-4).
I heard the voice of Jesus, and He restored me and renewed me. Like a potter, God coiled me together again.
Brothers and sisters, you have heard Christ’s voice today. You will hear His voice again in the next hymns we will be singing and when you partake of His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper. You hear His voice every day in the Word He has given to you, readily accessible to you in a book just like this [hold up my Bible], for you reside within His eternal pasture.
No one has the power to snatch you from His hand, for He merely speaks and restores you and renews you in His holy Word, with which He has defeated your enemy, the Devil.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.