Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia. Our text for this morning’s sermon is taken from St. John’s gospel account the 10th ( John 10: 11-18) chapter.
Beloved in the Lord,
“All we like sheep have gone astray. We’ve turned every one to his own way.” Indeed, beloved, we are like sheep. And like sheep we wander. Wandering we get ourselves into trouble. And there is much trouble to get into these days.
Getting into trouble with the world we hurt, we despair, and then we wonder: “Why? What have we done to deserve this? What are we doing wrong?” That’s when we begin to realize our wandering has led us out of the pasture and into a barren wilderness. Dangers to body and soul seem ubiquitous. Everywhere we turn there are wolves growling, lions prowling about, and serpents slithering. Even other lost lambs are ready to turn on us. We’re not only wandering in the wilderness . . . but we wandering alone. We’ve turned, every one to our own way, and our own way has only led us down the path of pain, sorrow, and suffering, and eventually to hell.
We are like sheep. And like sheep we need to be tended. We need a shepherd. We need someone to keep us from wandering, someone to point out the dangers, someone to feed and nourish us, someone to lead us in the right direction, in the safe direction, towards green pastures.
Sheep need a shepherd. And not just any shepherd, but a good one, a faithful one, one who loves the sheep. For without love, there is nothing to compel the shepherd to be faithful, nothing to motivate the shepherd to be good. Love for the sheep must rule the day, love must rule the Shepherd.
Jesus speaks to us this morning about the “Good Shepherd” and about “hirelings.” Hirelings do the work of the shepherd but . . . hirelings don’t love the sheep. Too many sheep these days are just fine with that and they love to follow hirelings rather than the Good Shepherd. Following the hirelings, they follow after men/and or women who follow after the world. Hirelings don’t love the sheep. Hirelings love the world. They love the affections of the sheep. They love the glory of “touching” peoples’ lives with their message. They love the praise of their fellow hirelings. “Look how successful he is! Let’s do what he’s doing, build what he’s building, say what he’s saying.”
Hirelings can be anyone who acts like the good shepherd but doesn’t love the sheep. Hirelings can be ordained or installed. They can be TV personalities or doctors with degrees. They can be government celebrities or Hollywood politicians. They can be very “spiritual,” or very “secular”.
Hirelings don’t love you. So hirelings will be hesitant to be honest with you. They will not mention the wolves. They don’t want you to know about the wolves. Wolves are dangerous and scary and politically incorrect. Talk of wolves could frighten the sheep. So instead hirelings talk of bad choices, wrong turns, unhealthy lifestyles. The sheep hurt and despair not because the wolf has them by the neck, not because sin and temptation have seized their hearts and ruined their lives, but because either they have chosen a bad path for themselves or someone else has trampled their rights, someone else is to blame. They’re just victims of a bad deal.
Talking as these hirelings do, renaming the problems, ignoring the symptoms, allows them to provide their answers – answers you can achieve on your own. You can do it. If the problem is bad choice, you can learn to make better ones. If the problem is wrong turns, you can simply turn around. If the problem is an unhealthy lifestyle, you can learn to eat better and exercise more. And, because they’ve come up with these programs, these hirelings become quite popular, rich, and famous.
But these hirelings never talk of sin, death, or the devil. They never mention the wolves! And the sheep never really get better! Despite all of the hireling’s 12 step programs, self-help books, hi-tech DVD’s, and inspiring real life illustrations, the sheep still hurt and despair, because the works of the flesh cannot fix the problem. The problem is sin, sin against God, not against self! And sins have names but the hirelings never name the sins!
Sheep wander and you sin. The cure for wandering is not finding your own way back. The cure for sin is not your good works. The cure for hurting hearts is not doing more. The cure for despair is not wishful thinking or the positive attitudes of the sheep. God is not your moral coach! And He most certainly is not your therapist! The cure for your heart, your hurt, your condition is a shepherd! not a hireling, a good Shepherd, not one who fleeces the sheep. The cure for the sheep, and therefore you, is Jesus.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd loves the sheep. The Good Shepherd loves you! “And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” He has seen the wolves advancing upon you. He doesn’t run away. He’s not here to take from you, to fleece you, to sell you a plastic statue of Himself that can put on your dash board and watch it bobble as you go along. That would be more like a hireling. No, Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd loves the sheep. He loves you. And He shows His love for you by laying down His life for you.
Now, you might wonder to yourself, “What is the difference between a dead shepherd and a fleeing hireling? A dead shepherd still leaves the sheep vulnerable.” And here we sheep behold the greatness of our Good Shepherd. In His death, the Savior catches our enemies. Although Himself is captured He captures the devil. Although He dies, He destroys death. Although He is slain, He undoes the work of the grave. Although He takes our sins, He dies a righteous death. Although we deserve it, He suffers it. Although the hirelings flee, He remains at His post. He is fixed in place as our savior. He is nailed to the cross as our redeemer. His death is our healing. His resurrection is our hope. All that is wrong with us is made right in Him. For God was in Christ reconciling Himself to the world!
Jesus is no ordinary shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd and the Good Shepherd loves His sheep. Love makes Him brave and counts nothing as too difficult, or too bitter, or too serious or too deadly for His beloved. What sword, what wounds, what penalty, what deaths can avail to overcome such perfect love? His love is an impenetrable breastplate. It wards off arrows, sheds the blows of swords, taunts dangers, and even laughs at death. The love of the Good Shepherd offers Himself for the sins of the World. Offering Himself He offers His heart. That’s the Love of God for the sheep. That’s the love of God for you! Jesus is not any ordinary shepherd, He’s the Good Shepherd and the good Shepherd loves His sheep. He lays down His life for the sheep and He takes it up again on the third day for you.
Still, all we like sheep tend to go astray. Even as newborn, regenerated, Holy Spirit filled Christians, the wolves continue to surround us and tempt us out into the wilderness where they may devour us with sin and death. “That we may not be like sheep without a shepherd.” (Numbers 27:17) our Good Shepherd has sent to His flock under-shepherds. The Latin word for shepherd is Pastor. Jesus sends pastors to His sheep. These are to be like the Good Shepherd not like hirelings. They are to love the sheep. They are sent with His Word and they have authority to speak it. Speaking God’s Word they name the real dangers to your heart. Pastors name the sins which you and I and every other person struggles with in this life. Sins have names: like adultery, abortion, divorce, slander, gossip, malice, holding grudges, hating your neighbor, theft, drunkenness, envy, lust, greed, and the list can go on and one as you well know from your own lives. But the naming of sins, the preaching of the Lay, is not their primary mission. Jesus has given His authority to heal hearts. He has given pastors the authority to forgive sins on earth. It’s not theirs by right, just as the sheep are not theirs by right. No pastor has died for His flock. That’s Jesus’ work, and His alone. The Savior’s under-shepherds give Jesus’ Word and Work to the sheep through Jesus’ Word and Sacrament. How do I know this? I have the Word of Jesus, Himself. “Whoever hears you hears me.” And, “whosoever sins you forgive they are forgiven. Whosoever sins you retain they are retained.”
When the Pastor speaks the Words of Jesus, he speaks with the authority of Jesus. You hear the voice of the Good Shepherd. When the pastor forgives sins he speaks “by the command of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
The biblical truth of the matter is, our Good Shepherd sends out men to serve as under-shepherds. Unlike the hirelings, these men call the sheep back to the fold; they call sinners to repentance and warn them of the wolves. Jesus does this sending because Jesus loves the sheep. The sheep need a voice to follow. Either they follow a hireling or they follow a shepherd. The Good Shepherd has authority to bind up the broken hearted, to preach the good news to the poor, to give sight to the blind, and to open the ears of the deaf. The under-shepherd has authority to speak in accordance with what Jesus speaks and only in accordance with what Jesus speaks.
Beloved in the Lord, you and I are like sheep. And we like sheep often go astray. We sin against God. Sinning we hurt ourselves and others. We need a shepherd, one who speaks God’s Word. We need the Word of the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd who loves us and gave Himself up into death for us. This Good Shepherd’s Word is absolute and objective truth. It tends to us. It binds our broken and hurting hearts. It gives us hope. His Word forgives our sins and nourishes us with the resurrection. The more we read, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of the Good Shepherd, the more we learn of His good heart toward us. The more we hear Him Speak the more we sing His praises. The more we love His Word the more we love Him. Sheep need a shepherd. God has given us a Good one. This Good Shepherd loves the sheep. He loves you. And loving you He laid down His life and took it up again. Follow Him into the greenery of Eden. There we shall receive all good things and God will wipe away every tear from our eyes. God grant us all penitent hearts, open ears, and willing minds to follow our Good Shepherd’s Word all our days. AMEN!
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding keep your heart and mind through faith in Christ Jesus. AMEN!
Pastor Tony Sikora
Hope Lutheran Church
De Witt, MI