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Easter 4A Sermon — John 10:1-10 (LSB Easter 4A)

May 15, 2011

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May 15, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA


Jesus said: “But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, 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.”


By now, it is quite evident that today is Good Shepherd Sunday for us in the Church. That theme was clear from the readings for today, including the most famous 23rd Psalm that we prayed this morning. But for us in the English District of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, this morning has an added dimension: it is the centennial anniversary of the day when our forefathers in the faith were brought into union with the German-speaking Lutherans based in Missouri. May 15, 1911, was the day when a group of pastors and congregations serving 26,000 members became part of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.


Much had separated these two groups. Practical and sociological factors were at issue, language being the foremost. But what these two groups had in common was what Jesus described in His famous illustration about shepherds and sheep: “The sheep hear his voice, 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.” The voice of the Good Shepherd was heard by the sheep of both groups. In fact, they had a truly multi-lingual shepherd: the Lord Jesus Christ. He has sheep of many breeds—not Cotswald, Hampshire, or Merino, but Brazilian, German, Japanese, Malagasy, Papuan, Swedish, and Zulu.


Jesus’ sheep are those who have been obtained by Him. This is what the apostle Peter made known to the flock that Jesus set him over: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Through death and resurrection, Jesus has purchased sheep for Himself.


You who have been purchased by Jesus have been marked by Him. You have no notched ears or brand burned into your hide, but you did have His cross traced on your heads and etched in your hearts. The Divine Name has been given to you. And you have been brought into an assembly, a flock of fellow Jesus Sheep. Jesus is your Shepherd, the One whose voice you know and follow. You follow Him, as He calls you by name and leads you out.


But to where does Jesus lead you? That was a question that the pastors and congregations knew the answer to back in May 1911. The destination was not St. Louis, Missouri; that was just a stop on the way. The true destination is salvation and life in eternity. That is what Jesus makes known to His sheep: “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus’ purpose was to bring abundant life to His sheep; it is a purpose that He fulfills.


The destination of salvation and life in eternity is a place that Jesus went to first. The Shepherd can lead His sheep to that destination because He knows the way. Jesus has traveled the way to salvation and everlasting life: He has walked perfectly in the way of the Lord, has died, and has risen again. Now He leads you on that path, giving you His righteousness, taking you through the grave, and guiding you to your dwelling places found in His Father’s house. Following this Shepherd, you will reach the destination that He has for you.


The words of the shepherd’s psalm that you prayed this morning put this truth in poetic form: “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. 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; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” This well describes what Jesus does for you, including taking you from death to life everlasting. Because His Name is on you, Jesus leads you. Because your Shepherd has overcome death, you do not fear it. Because He knows the way, Jesus can guide you. Because your Shepherd lives eternally, you will have His goodness and mercy given to you without end.


The destination of salvation and eternal life is meant for you. Jesus’ purpose is to lead you to it. So Jesus says: “The sheep hear his voice, 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.” But His statement includes another word: “A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” Jesus speaks about two voices—one voice that is followed, another that is ignored. The two voices lead sheep to two different ends—one for good, the other for evil: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” One voice is spoken by the Shepherd, the other is spoken by the Shepherd’s ancient enemy.


Thanks to our forefathers in the faith, we have the voice of the Shepherd spoken in our own language. The English District’s long-standing motto had been: “The faith of the fathers in the language of the children.” You can receive what Jesus speaks. It is available in your language. You can truly know His voice and recognize it. But to reach the blessed end that He has for you, you must hear it. That means actually having His words spoken and taught to you. It means gathering in the places where that is taking place. It means following the example of the fathers in the past, taking part in the activities that you heard described: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” What took place in the first days of the Church was happening among the English-speaking Lutheran congregations in 1911 and happens here and now. What happens? Jesus’ sheep gather to hear what He has done and said, to offer worship in thanksgiving for His actions, to receive forgiveness of sins in the Lord’s Supper, and to ask for His continued help and guidance. All this is done, so that Jesus’ sheep may follow the Shepherd’s voice to safety.


As you hear the Shepherd’s voice, you receive what He possesses and gives. But this cannot be done when and where other voices are listened to. Jesus’ description of His sheep is correct: “A stranger they will not follow, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” But there are plenty of sheep that wander away. There are sheep that do not gather together. There are sheep that have drifted so far, that they cannot hear the Shepherd’s voice calling out. For such sheep, the end is disastrous. They are the victims of the thieves and robbers that Jesus’ words describe: “All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. . . . The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.” Jesus’ sheep are not to listen to those thieves and robbers, but sadly there are many who fall victim to them. They believe the lies and false promises, the teachings of death instead of life.


But for you who are hearing the Shepherd’s voice, for you who are devoted “to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers,” you are not victims. No, you are the recipients of the salvation and eternal life that Jesus has won for you and freely gives to you. Peter’s words truly describe your Shepherd and you: “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” You have become part of the flock through the way that Jesus has opened for you: “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”


So on this Good Shepherd Sunday, you can give thanks for what your Shepherd has done for you: giving His life, so that you may live eternally. As it is the centennial anniversary of the English District’s formation, you can give thanks that the Shepherd’s voice is heard by you in your own language and that you have been united with the other Jesus Sheep in The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod. But there is also the opportunity to speak of what is present and in the future. You are now gathered together, “devoted to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” And there is the same happening, as it was in the past: “the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.”


This is what is given for you, but only if you are hearing the Shepherd’s voice and following it. Do not tune out that voice. Do not wander off, so that you are out of earshot. Rather, be those who “have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” That Shepherd Jesus speaks truly about Himself and you: “He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, 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.” And following Him, you will receive what He desires to give: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” It is meant for you, the English-speaking Lutherans who have been made part of the Shepherd’s flock of sheep from all tribes, races, and languages. So hear the Shepherd’s voice. Bear the Shepherd’s mark. Follow the Shepherd’s way. Then you will be eternally united with all of Jesus’ sheep that heard and held the faith of the fathers in their own language.


T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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