Sunday, May 3, 2020

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Fourth Sunday of Easter (A)
Good Shepherd Sunday
May 3, 2020
Text: John 10:1-10
Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!
            “Thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd.”[1]  That is what Dr. Luther says in the Smalcald Articles, a confession of our Church in the Book of Concord.  And that is us.  Holy believers in Christ.  Lambs who hear the voice of their Savior.  Or as Jesus says it this morning, the sheep hear the voice of their Shepherd, “and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice” (John 10:3-4; ESV).  Jesus is our Good Shepherd.  We are His sheep.  And by His call, by His voice, by preaching and God’s Word, He gathers us safely into the Sheepfold of His Church.  Think about that in this pandemic and in these uncertain times.  You are safe in the care of the Good Shepherd who loves you and knows you by name.
            But Jesus uses another image to describe Himself this morning, and it is exceedingly comforting.  Jesus says, “I am the door of the sheep” (v. 7).  This is, first of all, another of the famous “I AM” statements in the Gospel of John.  Jesus is telling us that He is YHWH, that He is God!  But then note what this flesh and blood God, Jesus Christ, does for us, His sheep.  He places Himself right there in the doorway so that if any predator or enemy wants to get to us, they’ll have to get through Him first. 
            This is actually what good shepherds do when they gather their sheep into the sheepfold at night.  They lay themselves in the doorway, the only entrance to the fold.  They become the door.  So thieves and robbers can’t enter by the front door without encountering the shepherd.  If a wolf, or a bear, or a lion desires a lamb dinner, it will have to tear apart the shepherd first.  And remember what that good shepherd of the Old Testament, King David, did to such predators?  As he said to Saul on his way out to slay the giant Goliath, “Your servant used to tend sheep for his father.  And when there came a lion, or a bear, and 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 defiled the armies of the living God” (1 Sam. 17:34-36).  
            Jesus is the Son of David, and like His forefather, He is a Good Shepherd who puts Himself on the line for the lives of His sheep.  If our enemies, sin, death, the devil, want to get to us, they’ll have to go through Jesus first.  He is the Door.  And He’ll die before He lets them have us.  Of course, there is great risk in that kind of shepherding.  But that is just the point.  A good shepherd will die for his sheep.  That is what Jesus says just one verse beyond our text: “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).  And that is just what He does, isn’t it?
            He stretches Himself out on the wood of the cross as the doorway to our salvation.  And the predators pounce.  Nails, spears, a thorny crown.  Lifted up in naked humiliation for all to see and mock.  He goes into this willingly, gives Himself into the jaws of our enemies, for the sake of His sheep, for you.  The enemies do their worst.  Sin, death, the devil… He grabs them by the beard and… they kill Him.
            But that is their undoing.  By His death, Jesus defeats them.  His death is the atonement for our sins.  By His death, Jesus raids death.  He goes through the valley of the shadow and leads a host of captives in His train.  He goes after the lost sheep and brings them out.  Death can’t have us.  It swallowed the wrong Shepherd!  Jesus blasts a hole right through its belly.  The devil can’t have us.  Jesus has slain that Goliath!  The head of the serpent has been crushed.  Jesus Christ is risen from the dead. 
            And now we are His blood-bought sheep, and there is no getting to us now that He has died.  For having died once for sin, death no longer has mastery over Him.  He is risen.  He lives.  Forever.  And with Him, we live.  Forever.  And He will raise us on that Day.
            Now, there is another point to this idea that Jesus is the Door.  That is, He is the only way in.  Not just for blocking predators, but for the entrance of the sheep.  He is the only way into the safety of the sheepfold, His Church, His Kingdom, salvation.  If you are to be saved from the predators, sin, death, and the devil, it must be through Jesus.  You are not saved by good works or good intentions.  You are not saved by being “basically a good person.”  You are not saved by money or social standing, good health or good family values.  You are most certainly not saved by the government or politicians.  And you cannot be saved by any other god.  I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” Jesus says a little later in the Gospel.  No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).  “No one comes into the sheepfold except through Me.”  Jesus is the only Savior, the only way to be saved. 
            This is what our Lord is talking about when He speaks of thieves and robbers who try to get in by another way.  In the original context of this Holy Gospel, the thieves and the robbers are the Pharisees and scribes and others who taught salvation by keeping the Law.  That is to say, like thieves and robbers who try to enter the sheepfold by other ways than the door where the shepherd is laying, these false teachers try to enter the Kingdom through other ways than Jesus.  And what is true of the Pharisees and scribes is true of any false teacher.  If they try to break into the Kingdom by another way than Jesus, they are thieves and robbers!  And they are a mortal danger to the sheep. 
            This is important for you to know.  We don’t like labeling anyone as a false teacher in our day because it isn’t politically correct, and it isn’t nice.  It makes people feel bad.  Well, get over it!  Anyone who teaches you any other way of salvation than Jesus is a false teacher, a thief, and a robber.  He may be a very nice robber.  He may have the best of intentions.  But that doesn’t make him any less dangerous.  Don’t follow him!  His way leads to death and hell.  You follow Jesus’ voice, and Jesus’ voice alone.  Remember what He says about His sheep: “A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:5).  Sheep of Jesus Christ follow Jesus Christ alone, and the undershepherds of Jesus who speak with His voice, Christian pastors, who enter by Jesus Christ alone, preaching salvation by Jesus Christ alone, by grace through faith, apart from works and apart from anyone or anything other than Jesus Christ.  That is the voice you know.  That is the voice to follow. 
            For thieves and robbers come only to steal and kill and destroy.  But Jesus comes that you may have life and have it abundantly.  You enter the fold of Jesus through His death and resurrection, to which you are united in Holy Baptism.  He calls you to Himself by His Word.  Following His voice, you go in and out and find pasture.  You lie down in green pastures.  He leads you beside quiet waters.  He sets a Table before you in the presence of your enemies.  You eat His body and drink His blood.  And you fear no evil, for He is with you.  He is tending you.  He is keeping you safe.  Therefore goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life, and you will dwell in His house, His sheepfold, forever. 
            Jesus is the Door.  He is the Good Shepherd.  Listen to His voice as he calls you by name.  Follow Him into eternal safety and peace.  He will never fail you.  He will never forsake you.  Alleluia!  Christ is risen!  He is risen, indeed!  Alleluia!  In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.       

[1] SA III XII:2 (McCain, p. 283).

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