Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter (April 25, 2010)

Wordle: Untitled

“You’re in Good Hands with the Good Shepherd” (John 10:22-30)

For years, Allstate Insurance’s slogan has been “You’re in good hands with Allstate.” They want to convey the idea that they will take care of you when accidents or losses occur in your life, whether it’s to your car, your home, or other possessions. “You can count on us. You’re in good hands. We’ll take care of you.”

In today’s Gospel lesson, Jesus wants us to know that “You’re in good hands with the Good Shepherd.” Jesus is the Good Shepherd, as he describes himself a few verses before our text. And here, he says of the sheep in his flock, “no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Being a part of the Good Shepherd’s flock is more than just having an insurance policy. Yet that’s the way many people treat God’s gifts of baptism, going to church, and receiving the Lord’s Supper. They think to themselves, “Well, I better do this…just in case it really turns out to be true.” Rather, being a part of the Good Shepherd’s flock is having a share in real and abundant life, having peace of mind and heart, and being united to the God who cares for you in a very intimate and personal way.

There are all kinds of things in this world that would seek to harm us and tear us away from the Good Shepherd’s flock. The devil would love to drag us down to the place of eternal torment, the place God has prepared for him. This sinful world has all kinds of evil that can harm us physically and spiritually. And our sinful nature constantly tempts us to follow in our own ways rather than in the path of the Good Shepherd. Thankfully, our text assures us today that “You’re in good hands with the Good Shepherd.”

You’re in good hands precisely because Jesus is your Good Shepherd. Sadly, Jesus is not the Good Shepherd of those who refuse to believe in him. They are not a part of his flock.

The people in our text today are an example of those who are outside of Jesus’ flock because they refused to believe in him. They asked Jesus to tell them whether or not he was the Christ, the promised Messiah of the Old Testament. Jesus replied, “I told you, and you do not believe.” Jesus then pointed them to his miracles that testified to his identity as the Christ. He said, “The works that I do in my father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock.” The Old Testament had foretold all the miracles that the Messiah would do … healing the sick, giving sight to the blind, casting out demons, and so on. Jesus was doing all this among them. Yet they still refused to believe in him.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd of those who do believe in him. They listen to his voice. Sheep recognize their shepherd’s voice. They will not come when they hear another voice. But they know what their shepherd’s voice sounds like and they will follow.

You and I recognize the Shepherd’s voice today in the Bible, and we listen to that voice. But this is also attentive listening. It’s not like the kind of listening I do with my wife. She’s talking to me and I’m nodding, saying “Uh-huh. Uh-huh.” But then, five minutes later I have no idea what she said. And this gets me into trouble. This is the kind of listening of which I must repent. If we treat Christ’s voice like this, it’ll get us into trouble. We must repent. When Jesus says, “My sheep listen to my voice,” he means an attentive listening that takes to heart what the voice of the Shepherd says. Moreover, by careful, attentive listening to Christ’s Word … and by diligent study of his Word, we will be better prepared to recognize our Shepherd’s voice when we hear various doctrines being taught. If we hear an unfamiliar voice, an unscriptural teaching, we will refuse to follow that voice.

The Messiah’s miracles are performed today in the way that he creates a new heart in those who hear and receive his message of forgiveness … in the way that he washes away our sin in simple water … in the way that we eat and drink ordinary bread and wine, but which delivers to us the extraordinary gifts of Christ’s body and blood. Some people see these miracles today and refuse to believe. They want more spectacular things to happen before their eyes. But these are the very ways in which the Good Shepherd is present and active in his Word and Sacraments today. These are the ways we hear his voice and see him in action.

The Good Shepherd also knows his sheep. “I know them,” he says. He knows everything there is to know about you. Now this could be a fearful thing. You and I are well aware of the wretchedness of our inner thought-life. Certainly, we must turn away from our sinful thought and sinful attitudes and turn to our Good Shepherd for forgiveness and let his Word shape our thoughts and attitudes. However, Jesus’ words about knowing his sheep are meant not to scare you but to comfort you. He knows everything there is to know about you … your cares, your worries, your struggles. And because he knows those things – especially because he knows about your struggle with sin – he knows that apart from him we are powerless to do anything about our terminal situation … that is the very reason he went to the cross for you. The Good Shepherd is himself a sheep. A Lamb. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. And as we heard in our reading from Revelation today, he is the Lamb who is now ruling and reigning in heaven … the Lamb whom we worship as God and Savior … the Lamb who in heaven will finally “wipe away every tear from [our] eyes.” (Rev. 7:17)

You’re in good hands because the Good Shepherd gives you eternal life. You would not be in good hands if eternal life were something you had to earn … or pay for, like a monthly premium for an insurance policy. That’s what our sinful nature would have us believe. Our sinful nature always thinks we have to do something to earn God’s favor. It always wants us to take pride in our own abilities, our own goodness. Instead of placing ourselves into God’s hands, we try to take things into our own hands. But that will never do, because our hands are soiled with sin.

But with the Good Shepherd, we are in good hands. His hands once pierced with nails and stained with blood are holy and without the stain of sin. In his holy hands are the keys of heaven. Through his shed blood on the cross and his rising to life again, he has opened the gates of heaven to us. “I give them eternal life,” the Savior says, “and they will never perish.” Eternal life is a gift from his loving, holy hands.

Jesus freely gives us eternal life and takes us into his hands. No one has the power to snatch believers out of those protective hands. Only by rejecting our Lord’s hand of salvation do we go astray from him.

You are in good hands because Jesus and the Father are one in caring for you. Jesus said, “My Father, who has given [the sheep] to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”

Now just prior to this, Jesus had said that we are in his hands and no one can snatch us out of his hands. Now, he says that we are in the Father’s hands and that no one can snatch us out of the Father’s hands. Jesus is trying to get us to understand the relationship that exists between him and his Father … between God the Father and God the Son. In this work of caring for the sheep, both Father and Son are united.

Those groups who deny the doctrine of the Holy Trinity – such as the Mormons and the Jehovah’s Witnesses – use this verse to teach that Jesus is not equal to the Father concerning his deity, concerning his godhood. They say that while Jesus may be god-like or one lesser god among many, it is the Father who is true God. Besides, doesn’t the verse say, “My Father … is greater than all”? And where Jesus says, “I and the Father are one,” these other groups say that what Jesus meant is that he and the Father are one in purpose.

But this verse teaches exactly the opposite. When Jesus said, “I and the Father are one,” he clearly meant that they are both true God, two distinct persons in the Holy Trinity, but still One God (along with the Holy Spirit). If we were to read beyond these verses in our Gospel lesson, we would see that the Jews understood his meaning quite clearly. Immediately after our reading, it says that the Jews picked up stones to stone him. Jesus asked them why they were doing so. They replied that they were going to stone him for blasphemy, as they said, “because you, being a man, make yourself God.” (John 10:33)

What then, do we do with Jesus’ words, “My Father is greater than all”? Remember, at this time, Jesus was in his state of humiliation. He had humbled himself and gave up his rights as God to live as a man, in our flesh, to suffer and die for us. Although he was equal to the Father in his godhead, he always willingly submitted himself to the will of his Father. So, in that sense, in his human nature, Jesus could really and truly say, “My Father is greater than all.”

Whereas you and I don’t always willingly place ourselves in our Father’s hands, Jesus did … and he did it for us. Jesus always prayed, without doubt and without reservation, “Father, not my will but yours be done.” And in his final breaths as he was dying for our sins, Jesus said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus always placed himself in his Father’s hands.

Through baptism and by faith in the Lord Jesus, you and I are united to him. And because we are united with him, we are in his hands, and we are in the Father’s hands. Both Jesus and the Father are united in caring for us every moment because we are in the sheepfold of the Good Shepherd.

And that’s better than any insurance policy. You are eternally in good hands with the Good Shepherd. He knows you. He cares for you. He died and rose for you. He gives you eternal life from his gracious hands. No one can snatch you out of those hands. Listen to your Shepherd’s loving, forgiving voice today and follow him.


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