Fourth Sunday of Easter (B)
Good Shepherd Sunday
April 22, 2018
Text: John 10:11-18
He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
The Good Shepherd loves His sheep. Each and every one of them. He will do anything to keep them as His own. Like King David, He will fight the lions and the bears with His bare hands. He will face down robbers and wolves. He will leave the 99 to seek and to save the lost one. He will go any distance, through any weather, any terrain, scale any mountain, descend into any ravine, risking life and limb for His precious lamb. He will bind his wounds. He will lead his sheep to green pastures and quiet waters and provide His sheep safety and rest. The Good Shepherd gives His life for His sheep. A hired hand will not do this. Sure, he’d rather keep the sheep alive and healthy and with the flock if he can. That’s how he makes his money. But he will not risk his life, and he certainly won’t give his life into death for the mangy little animals. He can always get another job, and there are plenty of other sheep. The hired hand watches over the sheep for a living, but he does not love the sheep.
The Lord is our Good Shepherd. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. You are the sheep. Jesus lays down His life for you. That is how He loves you. By dying for you, for the forgiveness of your sins, that you might not die, but live. He knows you by name, He says. “I know my own and my own know me” (John 10:14; ESV). Jesus doesn’t just care for the flock in general. He cares for you individually. He knows you intimately. In fact, He knows you better than you know yourself. And this is important. He knows your sins. All of them. He knows your deep, dark secrets, the ones you keep buried in your mind and heart. He knows your rebellious nature, how prone you are to wander, how you get yourself into all sorts of mess and mischief, munching on poisonous weeds (the things that are not good for you and poison your faith), bumbling right into the jaws of the predator (the old wiley foe, the devil). He knows about all of this, and it is precisely from this that He rescues you. He snatches you out of the clutches of the demonic dog, warning you of the dangers by the preaching of the Law and turning you from sin to Himself in repentance and faith by the preaching of the Gospel. He purges the filth and washes it away in the precious bath of Baptism, anoints your wounds with the medicinal oil of His Spirit in His Word, and binds your injuries in Holy Absolution. And He sets a Table for you, right here in the Church, in the presence of your enemies (the devil, the world, and your own sinful nature). Your cup runneth over, the Chalice, the Cup of salvation.
Of course, the Good Shepherd always wants more sheep in His flock. That’s what He says in our text: “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice” (v. 16). In its original context, our Lord is talking about the Gentiles who will come to faith in Him. That’s most of us, all of us who are not Jewish, and so this is very good news for us this morning. The Good Shepherd wants us, too. The Gentiles who believe in the Lord Jesus are added to the Jews who believe in the Lord Jesus, and thus there is one holy Christian Church, “one flock, one shepherd,” and Jesus is that Shepherd. We tend to use this as a mission text, and that is absolutely right. Jesus isn’t done adding Gentiles, or Jews, for that matter, to His flock. He still has other sheep, and He preserves the world for the sake of bringing those sheep into His fold.
There are a couple of things we should take into account about this text, though, if we’re going to use it as a mission text. The first thing is, it is not the case that Jesus wants more sheep for His sheep fold because the bigger the numbers, the better. Jesus isn’t interested in a massive flock of sheep for its own sake. And this is first of all a point of Law for us, because the Church too often gets this wrong. We need to do missions and evangelism, which is absolutely true, but what we too often mean by that is that we need more members to preserve the congregation (as if it isn’t really Jesus who preserves His congregation! The arrogance of us sinners!). We too often mean that we need more people in the pew to put more dollars in the plate so we can keep going, and it doesn’t hurt to inflate the congregational statistics, either. Of course, we’d never say these crass things out loud (well, I guess I would…), but that’s the truth of the matter. Beloved, we must guard against this sin of lovelessness and looking for salvation in our own mission efforts and bigger numbers. Especially as a mission congregation, where the future is always a little uncertain. Remember, this is God’s congregation, Jesus’ flock, and He’ll do what He wants to do with it. It’s up to Him to preserve it, and it’s up to Him to grow it. He’s the Savior. We’re not. We are given to be faithful and to proclaim the Word of God in this place and love people, body and soul. Jesus, remember, is concerned with the individual sheep. You. Your neighbor. Actual people. Individuals. Jesus wants them for Himself. Jesus wants you for Himself. Our district president is fond of saying, “God counts by ones.” He’s got that one right.
The second thing is, Jesus is very clear in our text that He will be the One doing the bringing of the sheep into the flock. “I must bring them.” Did you get that? Jesus, not you, will do the bringing. Oh, He’ll use you in the doing of it. You will confess Christ. We call it evangelism, the speaking of the Gospel. The best way to do it is simply to invite people to Church. Use the postcards we have in the narthex. Or just ask, face to face. I’m not talking about knocking on the doors of total strangers, although you can do that if you want. I’m talking about individuals that you know and love, or people with whom you have these kinds of conversations. It’s never wrong to say, “Hey, we’d love to have you at our Church sometime. Come visit us. I’ll send you a postcard with all the information.” That’s very easy to do. And, of course, the person may say “No thanks.” That’s not all that painful, is it? What it is is a very important indication that you need to be praying for that person. Then again, the person may show up! And if so, praise the Lord. Because here’s the point. You have no responsibility to bring a sheep into the sheepfold, which is to say, make a believer out of an unbeliever, make a member of this congregation. That’s not your job. Jesus is the One who does that, as He says in our text. He may do it through you. That’s a glorious privilege when that happens. He may do it through someone else. But He’s the One who does it, so there’s no pressure on you. I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating, the pastors and synodical bureaucrats who guilt everybody for not loving the lost enough and doing enough evangelism need to knock it off. They’re trying to make saviors out of us all. It’s not right. Jesus is the Savior. He brings the sheep into the fold. And He tells us here how He does it. “They listen to my voice.” He does it by the Word. Not by gimmicks. Not by “changing the way we do church,” pandering to the world, letting unbelievers set our agenda and dictate what we should do and how we should do it. No, that’s making us and our brilliant and oh-so-cutting-edge ideas the saviors again. Jesus gathers the sheep to Himself in His Word. He does it in preaching. He does it when you tell your co-worker about Jesus. He does it when parents bring their child to the font of Baptism and raise that child in the faith, bringing that child Sunday after Sunday to the Divine Service and Sunday School, making them do their Catechism homework (Catechism students, your parents are loving you when they make you repeat your memory work!). The Spirit blows in on the vehicle of the Divine Word. He’s in the preaching and the Scripture readings and in the visible manifestation of the Word in Baptism and Supper, doing His Holy Spirit thing, bringing the dead to life, creating faith where faith is not, out of nothing, and strengthening faith where He has already planted it, causing it to thrive. And He does this on an individual basis, to every individual sheep gathered here with the flock in the sheepfold, which is the Holy Christian Church. So here’s what we do as the Church: Preach, preach, preach. And hear and believe the preaching. The results are up to God. He knows what He is doing. Relax, and let Him drive. Do you hear what He is saying in His Word? That Word is for you. Believe it. Trust it. Cling to it. And know that that Word is for your neighbor, the very neighbor you love and wish would believe in Jesus and join the Church. Jesus wishes that, too. It’s up to Jesus to do it. Invite that person here, to hear the preaching and come under the care of the Good Shepherd.
For the Good Shepherd loves that person. The Good Shepherd loves you. And He loves you to the utmost, to the ultimate self-sacrifice. He loves you to hell and back (print that one on a t-shirt!). He loves you to the laying down of His life on the cross for your forgiveness, and the taking up again of that life in His resurrection, that you be raised from the dead and be His own forever and live with Him in His Kingdom. For this reason the Father loves Him, because He does all of this willingly, for you. The Father sent Him to do this very thing. Because the Father loves you. And this is the Father’s House. And these, your brothers and sisters, are Jesus’ sheep. And He loves each and every one of you, despite what He knows about you, which is all forgiven in His blood. And the Spirit goes out on the wind of the Word and enters your ear and mind and heart and takes possession of you whole. Every evil spirit is cast out. Here you are in the Good Shepherd’s fold. Your every want has been provided. The pastures are green. The waters are still. The rod and staff comfort you. The Shepherd leads you through death and out the other side alive, risen, and free. And here is the Table. The altar is the Table. Your enemies cannot harm you here. Eat and drink and rejoice. You will dwell in this House forever. He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.