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4501 Waller Rd E
Tacoma, Washington
INI
The Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 17, 2016
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA
Paul Naumann, Pastor

FINDING A GOOD SHEPHERD
John 10:1-11

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen. Our text for today comes from the Gospel of John, chapter ten, beginning with the first verse, as follows:

"Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2 "But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 "To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 "And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 "Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers." 6 Jesus used this illustration, but they did not understand the things which He spoke to them. 7 Then Jesus said to them again, "Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 "All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 "I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 "The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. 11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. Here ends our text.

In the Name of our Risen Lord Jesus, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

What if farm animals could choose their owners, instead of the other way around? Normally, a farmer goes to the sale barn and picks out the livestock he wants for his farm. But what if it were reversed? What if cattle could select the ranchers who would take the best care of them? What if sheep could choose their own shepherds? It's a ridiculous thought, of course. Animals are unable to distinguish the good from the bad. -- But we're not! When it comes to our spiritual "shepherds" - the religious leaders we listen to and learn from - we Christians have choices.

How can I tell which preachers are "good shepherds" - people I can trust to feed my soul spiritually, and to guide me safely along the path to heaven? How can I tell the difference between them and the false shepherds, whom the Bible warns are so terribly dangerous to my soul? And with all the dangers that threaten a Christian nowadays, what chance have I got of making it through to heaven? Our text for today reveals that there is a way to insure that you and your family have good spiritual leadership in your walk through life. Today's theme is:

FINDING A GOOD SHEPHERD

I. One who preaches Christ is A good shepherd.
II. Jesus Himself is THE Good Shepherd.

The background for our text this morning is interesting. Jesus had once again found Himself in conflict with the Jewish religious leaders, the scribes and Pharisees. Christ had healed a blind man on the Sabbath, and these people were upset about it. But Jesus turned the tables on them. He told them that they were the blindest of anybody! They claimed to have religious knowledge, they claimed to be spiritual leaders for the people, and yet they completely rejected the very Messiah that God had sent to save the people!

Some religious leaders! Instead of shepherding the flock of God, they were fleecing it. Instead of guiding the people to heaven, they were leading them straight to hell! What the Lord said about them through the prophet Ezekiel was true: "Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock." -- Ezek 34:2-3.

The thing was, these Pharisees looked good. What I mean is, they appeared very upstanding and religious on the outside. So Jesus told this allegory about the shepherds. He wanted to give His people a sure-fire way to tell the godly leaders from the thieves and robbers, the true shepherds from the false. The key, He said, was simple: one who preaches Christ is a good shepherd.

In this allegory, the sheep, of course, stand for the people of God. Jesus pictures them in the "sheep fold," or pen, which in those days was usually a sort of stone corral with a hinged door, or gate. Now - Jesus said - here's how you can tell the true shepherds from the false. If you see somebody climbing over the wall, or sneaking into the sheep fold some other way, you know he's a thief or a robber. Because the true shepherd always uses the door to get to the sheep. And then Jesus reveals the key to the whole thing: "Most assuredly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep."

You get the point? Jesus is the Door. Anyone who claims to be a shepherd - a religious leader for God's people - had better come to God's people through Jesus Christ. That means he better come in the name of Christ, preaching the words of Christ, and directing the people to Christ alone as the only way of salvation. If he doesn't, Jesus said, you can mark him right off as a thief and a robber.

Well, that described the scribes and Pharisees right down to the ground. Sadly, it also describes many false shepherds in our day: the religious hucksters, the charismatic televangelists, and the latest big thing: the purveyors of the "Prosperity Gospel." "Join my mega-church and listen to me, and you'll have lots of money, a big house, and a successful career." Now, many of these preachers certainly seem very good and pious. Sometimes even their message sounds pretty good. But that's not the question. The question is: are they using the Door? Is their preaching directing people to Christ and His cross -- or is it directing people to them, and to their talents, and their ministry? Sometimes these preachers seem very sincere, and I'm sure many of them are. But if the focus of their teaching is NOT on the blood and righteousness of Jesus Christ, then what you really have is very sincere FALSE SHEPHERD, leading his flock (ever so sincerely!) away from their Lord and Savior!

My Christian friends, don't shrug off the dangers posed to your souls by these false shepherds! Their object, Jesus says, isn't just to deceive you and rob you. Their final object is to destroy you eternally! If you don't think false doctrine is a very serious matter, then you'd better wake up. The Apostle Paul (I Tim. 2:15-18) said it's just like cancer: even a little bit is a very serious matter, and if you don't cut it out of the body immediately it will eventually kill you. Jesus said, "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits." -- Mt 7:15. And by "fruits" Jesus doesn't mean how big their churches are, how many thousand members they have, or even how many good works they do for the poor. He means their teaching. Does the doctrine they preach line up with what God says in His Word? That's how you'll know them. Jesus said, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed." -- Jn. 8:31. It doesn't get much simpler than that!

So here's the sure way to secure a good shepherd: find one that uses the Door. One who preaches Christ is a good shepherd. Of this kind of preacher our Lord says, the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. The sheep will recognize, and be reassured by, the voice of such a preacher, because it is in reality the voice of Jesus. He speaks Jesus' words to them, adding nothing to the Bible and taking nothing away. He nourishes them, Sunday by Sunday, with the pure Word of God. By the way, this first part of the allegory holds out a delightful promise to preachers. It's the surest formula for success in your ministry: Use the Door! Preach Christ alone, and all will be well!

Up until this point in the allegory, Jesus has pictured himself as a DOOR: the door of the sheep fold. If that seems like rather strange imagery to you, then we'll move on to a more familiar picture. In the last part of our text, Jesus portrays Himself with a different image, one that is known and loved by every Christian. No longer as a door through which all good shepherds pass, but as THE Good Shepherd Himself! Jesus says, The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. If you're looking for a shepherd in your life, then don't forget the obvious: there is One you can always depend on. Jesus Himself is THE Good Shepherd!

Most of us have been believers since we were children, and we've gotten used to hearing Jesus described as our Good Shepherd. I hope we're not so used to it, however, that we miss the full importance of this picture.

"I am the good shepherd," Jesus said. "The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep." -Consider that statement for a moment. When you think about it, that really doesn't make much sense. I had several farmers in my former parish who kept sheep, and certainly they went to a good deal of trouble to provide food and pasture for them, and to protect them from predators. Sheep are valuable, after all, and it just makes sense to take care of your investment. But what would you call a person who actually gave up his life for the sake of his livestock? You wouldn't call him the good shepherd, would you? More likely you'd call him the crazy shepherd! It wouldn't make any sense at all to sacrifice a precious human life for the sake of dumb animals! -- Would it? My Christian friends, that's exactly what Jesus Christ did for us. He gave His life for us, the lost and straying sheep of His pasture!

At this point I'd like to call your attention to a little word in our text: the word, for. "The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep." In fact, that's a rather inadequate translation of the Greek. In the original, what the word actually means is instead of, or, in the place of: "The Good Shepherd gives His life instead of the sheep!" So you see, the metaphor here is not of a shepherd bravely battling a wolf, and dying in defense of his flock. It's a different picture entirely. This is the picture of a shepherd going to the slaughterhouse, and offering to be killed himself -- so that his sheep can live. And isn't that the exact picture Isaiah paints of Jesus, "The LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all... He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, And as a sheep before its shearers is silent, So He opened not His mouth." --53:6,7.

As we heard a few weeks ago on Good Friday, Jesus went along quietly. He offered no defense before Pontius Pilate, He made no protest when the nails were being driven through His hands and feet. For He knew exactly what He was doing. With His death on the cross, Jesus was dying instead of us. He was taking our place, acting as our substitute, and making the payment for our sins that we could never have made for ourselves. The Good Shepherd gave His life instead of you giving yours. He bore the punishment, so you need never bear it! He endured the consequences, so you need never endure them. He was forsaken by God so that you can now be reconciled to God. He went through hell on the cross in order to open heaven to you. The Apostle Paul put it this way: "You, who once were alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now He has reconciled in the body of His flesh through death." -- Col 1:21-22.

Are you seeking The Good Shepherd? Then you've come to the right place, for no one could possibly be a better shepherd for your soul than Jesus Christ. Do you have sins which burden your conscience? We all do. Bring them to the Lord Jesus. He is THE Good Shepherd, and with His blood He has atoned for every one of them. Are you struggling with a particular sorrow in your life? Come to the Good Shepherd, for as the Psalmist says, "He heals the brokenhearted And binds up their wounds." Are you anxious about the future? Is there danger lurking along your path? Come to the Good Shepherd, and you too will be able to say with the Psalmist, "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me." -- Psa 23:4.

Perhaps you're a straying sheep, someone who has spent months or even years wandering far from your God. Come back to the Good Shepherd. He welcomes wanderers! "For," Peter says, "you were like sheep going astray, but you have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls." -- 1 Pet 2:25.

Yes, come to Jesus Christ. For Jesus Himself is THE Good Shepherd. He provides for all your wants and needs, physical as well as spiritual. One thing you know: if Jesus already sacrificed Himself to save your eternal soul, He's not going to begrudge you the other things you require for your body and life! He gave you forgiveness of sins -- He's certainly going to give you money to pay the electric bill. He shed His blood for you -- He's not going to omit to put food on your table. The very idea is absurd. "Your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things," Jesus says. "But seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." -- Mt 6:32-3.

Nor is it only the bare essentials that our Good Shepherd provides for us; on the contrary. Especially when compared with the hollow, self-seeking, spiritually-empty lives of the unbelievers around us, the life our Good Shepherd gives is spiritually very rich and full and satisfying. That's why Jesus says, in our text, I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.

I saw a painting once that I particularly liked - perhaps you've seen it, too. It's a picture of Christ with a shepherd's staff, guiding a flock of sheep toward a far-off destination. The sky is dark, and the path is narrow and treacherous, with a steep drop-off on either side. Nevertheless, the sheep are safe. The Shepherd, with His staff, is guiding them unerringly toward their distant goal. My Christian friends, you are those sheep, the members of Jesus' flock. You are even now treading the thorny and dangerous path toward heaven. With all the dangers that beset your path, with all the false shepherds and religious hucksters clamoring for your attention, with all the thieves and robbers seeking to destroy you, it might seem like you will never make it to your final destination of heaven. But take heart! You know how to find a good shepherd. And in fact you've found one. This congregation is, even now, preparing to receive its next shepherd - a faithful young man who for many years has been studiously preparing himself to serve as your shepherd. Remember: one who enters through the Door - who preaches Christ - is a good shepherd. And Jesus Himself is THE Good Shepherd. And Jesus has made you a promise - a promise that He'll never break. You'll find it in John 10:28: "My sheep hear My voice," Jesus said, "and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand." -- Jn 10:28. AMEN