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LSB Easter 4A Sermon – John 10:1-10

May 12, 2014

May 11, 2014 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“When [the shepherd] has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Jesus uses the imagery of a shepherd and sheep to speak about Himself and His followers. This is why the Church designates one of the Sundays in the calendar as Good Shepherd Sunday. In His testimony about Himself found in John’s Gospel, Jesus emphasizes many facets about being a shepherd to describe His person and work. He speaks about the connection that He has to the sheep. He mentions the protection that He gives to those who belong to Him. He talks about other sheep that He will bring into His flock. In this year’s selection from John 10, the focus is on the Shepherd’s Voice and how the sheep hear and follow it.

Jesus introduces the matter of His voice after comparing a shepherd to a thief and robber. Thieves and robbers have no right to enter a sheepfold, but the shepherd does. Thieves and robbers climb over walls to enter the pen, but the gatekeeper opens the door and lets the shepherd in. And once the shepherd is in the sheepfold, he can carry out his tasks: “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 if a thief or robber tries to pull this off, it won’t work: “A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

The emphasis here in Jesus’ teaching is on what the shepherd says and the sheep hear. Jesus is speaking about His teaching, what He has been disclosing to the people of Israel. Jesus is the One who has come from the Father to speak what the Father had given Him to speak. And Jesus has spoken quite well. By the time He is in Jerusalem giving this statement, Jesus had already taught in the synagogues of Galilee, preached His Sermon on the Mount, spoken many parables about the kingdom of heaven, and had given testimony about His connection to God the Father. His voice had been heard. And the people who had heard it flocked to Him. They noticed that Jesus taught with authority, that His voice differed from that of the scribes and Pharisees, that He wasn’t afraid to speak the truth that the Sadducees and Herodians would never dare to utter.

That difference was meant to be noticed. It stemmed from the source and origin of the words. Jesus was bringing the words of eternal life to the people. As the Incarnate Word, Jesus spoke what the Scriptures said. And His explanation of them was like having an author talk about the book he wrote. In fact, that is what Jesus was doing—talking about the Scriptures that He Himself had authored through the prophets. He was showing how they testified about Himself and what He was doing in the world. That is what the people recognized when they heard Jesus speak: the LORD’s sheep heard their Shepherd’s voice and were following Him. They were being led by Jesus, so that they might have what He was bringing to them: “If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture…. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

But that voice of Jesus has not been silenced so that no one may ever hear it again. No, the voice is still present in the world. Even now, there are sheep who hear Jesus’ voice. That is what you are doing right now in this place. Yet the question might be asked: “How do I hear Jesus’ voice, if I don’t have Him standing in my presence and talking to me?” That is a good question to ask. The answer is actually found in what Jesus has instituted. Just like the prophets of old spoke what the LORD gave them to speak, so also the apostles spoke what Jesus gave them to speak. When hearing the apostolic teaching, their testimony about Jesus and their passing down of Jesus’ teaching, you hear the Shepherd’s voice.

An example of that was shown in the First Reading for today. Recall the description that was given to you about the Church in the days that followed Jesus’ ascension into heaven: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need.” 

That description of the Early Church shows how the people were hearing the Shepherd’s voice through His apostles. Note their actions. The people were devoted to the apostolic teaching: they clung to what the Twelve were testifying about the Shepherd and the abundant life that He brought. The people were devoted to the fellowship: they recognized themselves as a flock who were bound together. The people were devoted to the breaking of bread and the prayers: they were abiding in Jesus’ instructions to participate in the meal that remembers how the Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep; they were offering their intercessions to the Father as the Shepherd directed. And the people were committed to charity: they were giving to others in need, following the commands and examples that the Shepherd gave. All this was happening, even without Jesus standing right there. Some in Jerusalem may have never heard sounds come from Jesus’ mouth, yet they were hearing His voice as the apostles handed down what Jesus had said.

Now this is the same situation that you find yourself in. No, you do not have Jesus standing right here in front of you. And until the Last Day comes, you will not hear sounds come from Jesus’ mouth. But you do hear His voice. You hear it as you do the same things as the Early Church did: as you are devoted to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers. That is how the Shepherd’s voice comes to you. And as it does, then the actions that Jesus describes occur: “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.” That is meant for you, even as Jesus has called you by name in Holy Baptism, made you one of His sheep, and leads you by His voice being heard through the apostolic teaching.

But note what was prayed in the Collect of the Day: “Almighty God, merciful Father, since You have wakened from death the Shepherd of Your sheep, grant us Your Holy Spirit that when we hear the voice of our Shepherd we may know Him who calls us each by name and follow where He leads.” Why is such prayer offered? Why was that request made? The answer to that is found in Jesus’ words that you heard today: “A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers…. 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.” These statements from Jesus show that thieves and robbers also have voices. They are strange voices. And they may summon people to follow, all the way to death and destruction. So Jesus sounds the warning for His sheep.

That warning is needed because sheep like to wander. In fact, the wandering that sheep do formed part of the description that Peter made about his audience of Christians: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” Sheep may like to wander; being out of earshot of the Shepherd’s voice is dangerous for them. Unfortunately, there are many who had been Jesus’ sheep who have followed other voices. The uncomfortable truth is that you may have been one of them or people whom you know very well are. There can even be entire flocks of sheep in that condition. It is evident when they take up activities that show no devotion to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. For when that happens, the people are no longer hearing the Shepherd’s voice, but have begun to follow the voice of strangers. And how Jesus speaks about that is nothing good: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.”

That is why you are exhorted by the Shepherd not to go that way. Instead, you are called by Him to hear the words of eternal life that He brings to you. He speaks, so that you may follow Him. And that voice is heard in the apostles’ words that testify about Jesus, just like you heard today: “Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you may follow in His steps. 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.” Where that testimony is given, you know that you are hearing the Shepherd’s voice.

So be present where that testimony is given. Be where the people are devoted to the apostles’ teaching, where the Credal confession is made about Jesus and where His words form the content of what is taught. Be where people are devoted to the fellowship, not just a “social getting together” but a bond that exists between believers. Be where people are devoted to the breaking of the bread, where Jesus’ body and blood are given out for the forgiveness of sins. Be where people are devoted to the prayers, where intercessions are being made for the Church and for all people. Be where people are devoted to giving when others have need, where charity is encouraged.

This is what must govern our congregation’s agenda. That is why there are multiple times offered weekly for hearing and studying the Scriptures and the apostolic teaching, so that you can hear the Shepherd’s voice in them. That is why there are activities provided to help bring believers together, so that the fellowship is enhanced. That is why the Sacrament of the Altar is offered weekly, if not more frequently, so that you may eat the Bread of Life. It is why we almost never have a gathering of members together without prayers being offered. It is why we have the calls for giving go out, whether it be the My Neighbor Fund, the Lutheran Malaria Initiative, the Baby Bottle Blast that starts today, the Clothes Closet, and so on. This isn’t just to list events. None of these are insignificant; they are what happen when the Shepherd’s voice is heard by the sheep. But they really are of no benefit for the sheep who don’t participate, for they remain out of earshot of the Shepherd’s voice—a dangerous place to be.

So if the Shepherd’s voice needs to be raised louder or if the devotion to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of the bread and the prayers, and to charity need to be enhanced, then Almighty God grant us the Holy Spirit, so that we may hear the voice of our Shepherd and follow where He leads. For when the Shepherd’s voice is heard, good things are given: “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…. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture…. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” The Good Shepherd grant that to us all as His voice is heard in this place.

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

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