In Nomine Iesu
Pastor Thomas L. Rank
Misericordias Domini, Easter 3
April 30, 2006
Text: John 10:11-16
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12 “But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. 13 “The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 14 “I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 “As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 “And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.
Dear fellow redeemed in our Risen Lord Jesus Christ,
Have you ever noticed that the word and idea of “sheep” is not much used as a name for things like cars or military vehicles? In World War II the German army named their tanks after animals like: Tigers, Panthers, Rhinoceros, Elephant: power, size, killing ability. British airplanes were called Spitfighters and Hurricanes; the Americans had Thunderbolts, Lightning, Mustang, Flying Fortress. Some modern American planes are Hornets, or Super-hornets. Trucks and cars are given names with numbers and letters, or names like Titan, Mustang. These things are given names that we associate with power, or speed, or sophistication. About the only sheep-related name I can think of that’s used for a vehicle is “Ram.” Not many people would talk about how they drove their “Ewe” into work today, or took their “Lamb” our for a spin on the back forty.
The word “sheep” does not bring up images of power and might, nor great speed or intelligence. In fact, we use the word “sheep” to describe people who follow a leader without thinking. It is not considered a compliment for a group of people to be called “sheep.”
But this is where the distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of the world can be seen. The world has its power games. The world thrills to the powerful. And the power of the world is mostly very blatant: bigger engines, more powerful weapons, faster vehicles, and so on. There is a time and a place for such power. It has its rightful sphere in the way this world must operate. But the church is different.
Power in the church is very different from the power of this world. The most powerful in the Christian Church, and in the history of the world, is the One who went like a lamb to the slaughter, who deliberately did not use the power of the sword, but relied on His word. This one was even called “the lamb of God.” What a contrast between the power that people are impressed with, and the power of God.
God shows His power by allowing death to come to Him and kill Him: “The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” The world shows its power by its ability to deal out death. Again, such power has its place, but it is not in the church, for the church is not about such punishment, it is about how God takes our place in the deserved punishment for our sin. And that is what the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, wants us to know.
Sinners, without Jesus Christ, are the prey, the targets, and not the predators. Sinners without Jesus Christ are gobbled up by sinful flesh; they are dominated by the world for their end is death; and they are run over by Satan. Yet we sinners like to imagine that we have power, that our human strength, or the power of our machines, can overcome obstacles. So we invest so much in the power of this world. And we are left at the end with nothing. Death destroys us, just like rust and wind and water erode, dissolve, destroy the things of this world.
We are sheep. And we need help. Our help is the Good Shepherd, Jesus.
How does this Shepherd help? He calls to us. He speaks to us. He lays down His life for us and then tells us that His death is our life. He takes the poison of our sin into His own body, and gives us instead the green pastures and pure springs of water that restore us and keep us.
All of this is brought to us as we hear His voice, as we listen to the Word of God. Jesus says, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and I give them eternal life.” Martin Luther preached: “[Christ and His kingdom] all depends on hearing it with faith....Its whole makeup and nature is to hear....We Christians should be and remain attentive, for all depends on the hearing of the Word and believing it....We Christians know Christ through the voice of the his gospel, and Christ knows us by our hearing, that we hearken to his gospel which proclaims to us that he died for our sins” (Hauspostille, II, 84).
The voice of Jesus, His Word, the Gospel, is the power of God for salvation. This is a power which turns upside our ideas of what power should be. And this is really the nature of the Gospel – it turns everything around. How does Jesus get rid of death? By dying. How does He get rid of evil? By taking it upon Himself. How does He show power? By being weak. How does He take on the dogs, the strong bulls of Bashan, the lion? By being a lamb.
Because this is so against what we want power to be we may very well find ourselves rebelling at such a 180 degree shift in our thoughts. That is part of the struggle in the life of a Christian. But it is a necessary struggle for us – for our Savior says to us and shows us in many ways that whoever would lead, let him become like a slave; whoever is strong, let him become weak; whoever is proud, let him become humble; whoever wants to be first, let him be the last. God didn’t pick the powerful nations of Egypt or Assyria to be His chosen people; God chose a small family, a family that became slaves, and then God rescued them and He alone, by His power, makes them strong. David, small and unarmored, defeats the giant and well-armed Goliath. Jesus, alone, bloody and tortured, takes on death. David cuts off and lifts up the head of Goliath in triumph. Jesus rises glorious on Easter Sunday, alive, victorious, undefeated.
This is the way of God. This is the way of Shepherd and sheep.
This victory is yours by hearing and believing the voice of the Shepherd. That means hearing the Word of God, reading Holy Scripture wherein we find the bread of heaven, the life-giving work of Jesus Christ, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.
Wolves, the lies of Satan, the power of the world, the false teachings of those who want to lead you away from the truth of God, the voice of Jesus, all these are around us in this world. That is why we continually hear the voice of the Shepherd. We keep learning to distinguish His voice from all that falsely mimic Him or try to sing a different song to us.
God keep us safe in the hearing of our Good Shepherd, the one who knows us, who calls us by name, who makes us His own. In that way we are safe, safe from all predators that would prey on the people of God. May the Lord keep us steadfast in His Word, and may we by faith trust the blessed voice of Jesus: “My sheep hear My voice, 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.” In the name of Jesus, our risen Lord, Amen.