Pastor Eric Schroeder

Text: John 10:11-18

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Psht . . . psht . . . That sound doesn’t mean much to anyone here. Perhaps it sounds strange, or unpleasant, or harsh, or slightly annoying to your ears, and I don’t expect you to know what it means. But it means a great deal to my dog—especially in busy places like the dog park. He can be running around sniffing and exploring with people shouting and dogs barking all around, but all it takes is one “psht” and he whips his head around and usually comes running. At home, one “psht” can just about wake him up out of a dead sleep, because to him, it means that he might get to eat or go outside or go for a walk. To everyone else, “psht” is a strange sound, but to my dog, it is a voice that he knows better than any other.

What does that have to do with you? Good question. Earlier in John chapter 10, the “Good Shepherd” chapter, Jesus said that his sheep recognize his voice and listen to him. Today, we have this blessed opportunity to hear our Good Shepherd speak to us, to recognize his loving voice, and to listen to him carefully as we take his words to heart. Now, on this particular Sunday, perhaps we all have that moment go through our minds when it hits us that if Jesus is the Shepherd, then that makes us . . . sheep—not usually something people say as a compliment. But after hearing what our Good Shepherd has to say, we will be more than happy to sing “I am Jesus’ little lamb” on our way out of church today. Let’s listen together as our Shepherd speaks to us.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.  No matter how much we know about raising sheep, we all get the picture here. Domesticated sheep aren’t very well-equipped to protect themselves; they need someone to watch over them and defend them from hungry predators. In his illustration Jesus draws a stark contrast between a hired hand (who is tending sheep simply for his own livelihood) and a good shepherd, who owns, values, and even genuinely cares for the sheep. The motivation of each is revealed when the wolf shows up: the hired hand flees; but the good shepherd stays, fights, and even is willing to die to protect the sheep.

That’s the picture, but what does it mean for us? Once again, whether we like it or not, we are all sheep in this picture. We aren’t that well-equipped to take care of ourselves. And what’s more, we are all following someone. The question is whose voice are we listening to, and who is leading us to make decisions, to choose our behaviors, and shape our thinking as we go through life? Some voices say, “do whatever you want.” Others say, “do what makes you happiest right now.” Still others tell us, “just do what it takes to blend in with everyone else, but don’t tell anyone else what they should or shouldn’t do.” Each of those can appeal to a certain part of us, and far too often, we listen to those voices. We blend in. We do what is easiest instead of what is right. We take shortcuts to happiness instead of thinking about the long-term consequences.

And when we fail miserably and fall into sin, where are all those people who were so eager to give advice? Nowhere to be found.  So, we find ourselves with broken relationships, broken hearts, and broken lives, and worse yet, all alone in our shame and our guilt. Only then do we realize that this corrupt world and its influence never really cared about us at all. Far too often, we learn the hard way, once the consequences of our sinful choices weigh us down. Here Jesus talks about a wolf attacking; we all need to be reminded that our enemy the devil is a hungry predator, a roaring lion seeking sheep, seeking lives, seeking souls to devour and destroy.

Today, we are so grateful that our Good Shepherd gives more than just a warning. 14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life . . .

As our Good Shepherd speaks, we are so blessed to recognize that his voice is different. He isn’t telling us merely what we want to hear, but rather what we need to hear. He doesn’t speak like everyone else, because he speaks God’s own words to us. When he speaks, we are reminded that he knows us, and by God’s grace we know him. And just in case we didn’t hear him the first time, he tells us twice more that he is not like the other voices who run away to save themselves; no, our Good Shepherd stays, and fights, and if necessary, he lays down his life for the sheep.

It might be here that we ask an important question: what good is a dead shepherd? We’d all agree that there is something incredibly noble about a shepherd’s willingness to sacrifice himself for helpless sheep, but if he dies, who will protect the sheep from that point on? What happens the next time a hungry wolf shows up? Won’t the sheep be on their own, even more helpless than before?

As our Good Shepherd speaks to us, he has a powerful answer, and it is this: You have never been alone. You are not alone. You will never be alone. Yes, sometimes it feels like you’re all alone, even when other people are around. You know better than just about everyone else what you have done in the past, and what kinds of devious thoughts still occupy your mind. You have hurt the people in your lives, and they have hurt you. Some have left already, and others threaten to do the same. But your Good Shepherd will never leave you. Not even death can keep him from watching over you, protecting you, and lovingly holding you close to himself.

Jesus knows you better than you know yourself. He knows how helpless we are, how naturally resistant we are to listening for his voice, how prone we are to wandering away from him. He knew that calling you into his flock would cost him his life. Your sins could only be atoned for through his bleeding and dying. And yet he came from heaven to earth for that very purpose. First to live for you, then to die for you. That was his mission as our Good Shepherd. But here’s where we take note that it is no accident that this gospel teaching comes to us in the Easter season. Hear the Good Shepherd speak once more: I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

We do not have a dead shepherd, even though his life was laid down for us. No, we have a Good Shepherd—a living Shepherd, one who took back his life to give us God’s full assurance that through faith in our Good Shepherd, you and I have been rescued from the open jaws of Satan, death, and the hell we all deserved. We have been brought into the fold of the shepherd who calls us by name, who makes us lie down in green pastures, who leads us beside quiet waters, who restores our souls. Even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil, for he is with us, and he comforts and protects us. He loves us with an everlasting, unbreakable love, not because we are so lovable, but because he is merciful, and his greatest desire is to save sinners like you and me.

Today we hear our Good Shepherd speak to us, and as his Holy Spirit works through this message of forgiveness and salvation, we can’t help but be grateful. But what about tomorrow? What about when we turn on the TV or the computer later today? What about when the other voices reach our ears? May our God give us the ability to sort them out, and then seek out the voice that matters most. And throughout our lives, as God wills it, may our Good Shepherd lead us along the paths of righteousness, until we are safely home with him, to dwell in his house forever. AMEN.