Posts Tagged ‘Easter 4B’

Can You Hear Him?


Sunday, April 22nd, 2018

Easter 4B, April 22, 2018
Rev. Brian Henderson-Pastor of
Trinity Lutheran Church,
7210 Lisbon Street
San Diego, CA 92114

Sorry, no audio for this message

In the early 1900’s a man was traveling by steam boat.  While standing on the deck of the ship he began to sing our sermon hymn, “Savior like a Shepherd Lead Us”.  When he had finished singing, a rough looking stranger approached him and asked, “Did you ever serve in the Union army during the civil war?  “Yes,” answered the singer.  “I joined in the spring of 1860.”  “Were you doing picket duty on a bright moonlit night in 1862?” asked the stranger.  “Yes” answered the singer.  “Well, so did I,” said the stranger, “but I was serving in the Confederate army.  When I saw you standing at your post I said to myself, “This guy is as good as dead.”  I raised my musket and took aim.  I was just about to pull the trigger, when you raised your eyes to heaven, and then you sang that very same song.  That song had a very great power over me, and I took my finger off the trigger.  “Let him sing this one song to the end, and then I can shoot him when he’s finished.”  But the song you sang then, just as now stirred up great emotions within me.  Back then, I heard the words plainly and perfectly in my mind and in my heart: “We are Yours in love befriend us, be the guardian of our way; keep your flock, from sin defend us, seek us when we go astray.”  When you had finished your song it was impossible for me to take aim at you again.  I thought: “The Lord who is able to save that man from certain death must surely be great and mighty (and able to save me)” and my arm dropped limp at my side.”

“And (Jesus said) I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)  This is our text this morning.  Jesus calls out to all of His sheep.  Can you hear Him?  Perhaps you hear Him even now, but at times you find it hard to follow?  This is understandable, because after all, you are just a little sheep and sheep are prone to wander.  This morning by looking deeper into our gospel reading we will allow our Good Shepherd to bring us back into the safety of His love which can only be enjoyed within His flock…the universal Church of Jesus Christ! To do this, Jesus gives us illustrations that if learned will ensure that we not only hear His voice, but listen and follow it as well.  

First let’s look at the Good Shepherd in contrast to the hired hand who is not a shepherd at all.  

In the verses preceding our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus said that anyone who enters the sheep pen by climbing the wall or fence isn’t a shepherd, but a thief.  He also said that the true shepherd is one who enters by the door.  OK, this sounds reasonable, but then He said something strange, He said that He was the door!  Now, if you follow this logic, then you must conclude that true shepherds or pastors are only those who have been called by the Holy Spirit to lead Christ’s church as Jesus leads or directs them.  In this sense, the pastor is an under-shepherd, who can only lead the flock of sheep as Jesus directs.

In Israel sheep weren’t herded with dogs or by men who walked behind them.  The shepherd led his sheep.  He had a name for each of them…he knew each one by name, and the sheep recognized his voice.  At night several different herds of sheep might sleep in the same pen.  As they slept, a shepherd would act as the door of the pen by sleeping in the opening in order to prevent a predator or thief from entering and doing harm.  In the morning, when the door was opened, each shepherd would call out to his own flock, and each member of that flock would be able to distinguish his shepherd’s voice from the others.  

Just as the sheep would not follow a stranger, so God’s people are able to recognize Jesus as the living Word of God.  In this way, God has allowed a sure and certain way for His Children to distinguish between a true pastor and a false teacher.  A true pastor will only proclaim what is in the Bible… Law and Gospel!

A traveling minister was walking along a road one day headed to a church that he heard no longer had a pastor.  He thought He might be able to offer his services as their new full time pastor.  As he approached the church, he saw a crowd of boys surrounding a dog.  “What are you doing with the dog?” asked the traveling minister.  “Well” said one of the boys, “Whoever tells the biggest lie, will win the dog as a prize.”  “Oh, that’s terrible,” exclaimed the minister, “when I was a little boy like you kids, I never told a lie.”  There was a moment’s silence. “Here,” said one of the little boys as he handed him the leash, “you win the dog.”

Today, just as in Jesus time, false teachers are everywhere.  They impose themselves on God’s people and have only their own benefit in mind.  God’s truth… His love and mercy is not what is leading them.  These false teachers, whom earlier Jesus called thieves, He now calls hired hands, or mercenaries. [vs. 12] They have no direct, specific call from God through a congregation to care for His little lambs.  They received and held onto their position through deception and their desire for self gain.  These type of men were then and are now in ministry for the money and the prestige.  When trouble comes they abandon their flock and look only after their own personal benefit.  And now…

Jesus shows us, by pitting Himself against the Wolf, why He alone is the Good Shepherd.

First, please understand that the word “good” in the Greek means something of excellence, something that sets the standard for everything else.  If we follow this meaning, then what Jesus is saying is that He alone is the “Supreme Shepherd”.  While there are other shepherds that perform their duties in a loving and careful way they are not the “Good Shepherd”.  Why?  Well Jesus answers that for us in verse 15, when He says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Many years ago a young Canadian man, his wife, his two children and a young law-man were traveling in the wilderness in a horse drawn wagon when they were pursued by a very large pack of wolves. Just as the wolves were about to attack, the law-man shot some of the wolves. This stopped the pack for a short time, but soon they renewed their attack. Once again, just as the wolves were about to overtake them, the law-man acted quickly and cut the lead horse loose and the wolves devoured it, but soon they were right back on their blood thirsty attack. The travelers were trying to reach a government fort, a place of safety, and they were almost there.  But the wolves were relentless and it seemed impossible for them to out run them.  The young law-man said that their only hope would be for him to buy them some time by giving himself to the wolves.  After he said that, he immediately jumped from the wagon, right into the pack of wolves. Of course he was attacked immediately, but the family was able to enter the fort just before the pack caught up to them.  Once safely inside, they said “Our protector sacrificed himself for us. We are living because he is dead.”  

Now this sounds noble and good.  But anyone with a good heart and the love of Christ might be able to accomplish the very same thing.  Any shepherd that loves his sheep would most likely risk his life for the good of the sheep.  No, if this act can be accomplished by any true shepherd, this can’t be what makes a shepherd good.  This can’t be the work of the “Good Shepherd”.

In verses 17 and 18, Jesus gives us the mark of the only “Good Shepherd” when He says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. 

Jesus, like any true shepherd, faces the wolf and risks His life in defense of the sheep. But, that would not help the sheep once the wolf finished with the shepherd.  Obviously, after the shepherd is dead, the poor sheep would be completely at the mercy of the wolf without any other source of help. No, the only way the sheep could be eternally safe would be if the shepherd could kill or drive off the wolf, and keep his life for the benefit of the sheep. Friends, Jesus is the one and only shepherd, who can save the sheep by laying down and then taking up his life again.  Jesus died for the sheep, for you and me, but He took his life back again when He rose from the dead.   

Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and the Wolf that He has overcome is sin, death, and the devil.  By Jesus sacrifice upon the cross and His resurrection, He came so that the sheep (you and I) may have life and may have it in abundance (v. 10).

Friends, in order for this truth to be of any benefit to you, Jesus says that you must hear His voice and believe that He is YOUR Savior…YOUR Good Shepherd.  

We must hear His Word and know that He is calling us!  Faith comes only by hearing His Word, which is the message of the gospel, the voice of Jesus Christ!  When we hear His voice and shut out all other messages we will find comfort.  When we hear and listen we will find obedience as God helps us follow our Good Shepherd where ever He leads.  And when we listen and follow, Jesus will show us other sheep who are also listening.  And here is the amazing part…He is asking you to help Him bring them into His flock—into His church, where they too can find comfort and safety from sin, death, and the great wolf, the devil.

Perhaps this morning you’ve been shown that you too have wandered from the flock?  Maybe you have been following the voice of someone other than your Good Shepherd.  He is calling you now.  Can you hear Him?  Are you listening?  He has opened the door, and He calls out to you… “Follow me!” 

Our Relentlessly Pursuing God

Sunday, April 26th, 2015

Easter 4B, April 26, 2015
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us”. [1 John 3:16a]

What a wonderful text for us to be blessed with this “Good Shepherd” Sunday.  It speaks of God’s love for each of us as demonstrated through the giving of His Son; a Son who willingly laid down His life for lost little sheep such as we.  But, that’s only half of the verse isn’t it?  The other half seems to set a different tone, and then it is followed up with two more verses that seem even more challenging, listen:  “and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him?  Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” [1 John 3: 16b-18]

This morning, if we read these Words without remembering who our Good Shepherd is, we may look at Him in a different way; a way that will cause us to flee from Him, instead of running to Him.  This morning we will look at two pictures of God, or two ideas of Jesus and then with the help of the Holy Spirit we’ll allow God to adjust the vision of who He really is within our lives.

This morning you may be receiving Jesus’ Words in our gospel reading (John 10:11–18) like this: I am the relentless hound of God, and I will hunt you down until you lay down your life for your brothers; until you are willing to share all of your goods with a brother in need.  I will hound you and find you and force you to love with not just talk but with deeds!”

Do you sometimes struggle with the sins of your past and your many failures to measure up to what you feel God demands of you?  Do you sometimes feel that this Christian life we are asked to live out might just be too much for you to bear; that the risk of falling short of God’s expectations seems to be more of a certainty than a possibility?  If so, you are not alone in your feelings.

Around 1896, a celebrated English author by the name of Francis Thompson wrote what has been hailed as perhaps the greatest poem ever written in the English language; it was titled “The Hound of Heaven.”  It was revealed to be the story of the authors life; a life he spent running from God and pursuing the happiness of the world.  Thompson compared himself to a rabbit that had been flushed from its hiding place by a hunting dog, which caused him to embark on a life darting from one hiding place to another as the Hound of God relentlessly pursued him.

Listen to a bit of the poem and see if you can find yourself at times within his words: “I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways Of my own mind; and in the mist of tears I hid from Him, and under running laughter. Up vistaed hopes I sped; And shot, precipitated, down Titanic glooms of chasmèd fears, From those strong Feet that followed, followed after. But with un-hurrying chase, And unperturbed pace, Deliberate speed, majestic instancy, They beat— and a Voice beat More instant than the Feet— “All things betray thee, who betrayest Me.”

Can you feel the fear and the sense of despair within the author’s words?  Is that the picture of Jesus we have; as a pursuer, a great judge who will find us where ever we flee to either force us to “knuckle under” to his rule or be punished for our miserable failures in life?

Are we too, simply delaying the inevitable confrontation with our God and the coming to grips with our many failures to live up to the “Good Shepherd’s” standards?  Or do we have the picture skewed, and maybe we do not see Jesus rightly?

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”  [John 10:14, 15]

After years of running, Francis Thompson finally met the real Jesus; he began to know Him as the Good Shepherd.  Listen to the words he puts in God’s mouth in the poem when God finally confronted him: “All which I took from thee I did but take, Not for thy harms, But just that thou might’st seek it in My arms. All which thy child’s mistake fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home: “Rise, clasp My hand, and come!”

Dear friends, the point communicated in Thompson’s poem is also the message of all of Scripture:  If we choose to shut out God and His Good Shepherd, then we are shutting out our only true shelter and Provider. God is the source of all things safe and secure so whomever chooses to shut him out will be shut out of all good things; we won’t find the love we are seeking in the world because we have rejected it from God. God is saying to us this morning, “You choose to drive love away from thyself when you choose to separate thee from Me.”

“By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him.” [1 John 3: 19-22]

God is not the overbearing task master, who sends His Son out to hunt us down like runaway slaves, but instead God sees us as His little lambs who have wondered off into danger; He sends His Son out as our Good Shepherd, who has given His life upon the cross to defeat our true enemy the devil, who prowls like a hungry wolf seeking to devour us.  He drives off the hirelings, who are the false teachers, by feeding us here in this place of pasture and rest with the living water of His comforting Word of gospel truth, which is received, taught, and learned as the purest of doctrine.  (Psalm 23)

It is this truth, which reassures our hearts that God does not condemn us, but rather He came to us in His Son to live with us and then die for us.  But ultimately He wants us to see that He also rose for us from death so that we would not fear our own death.  And all that He asks of us is that we trust Him and walk with Him as He continues to teach us, protect us, and yes even seek us when we wonder off into trouble.

What is the commandment of God that can either bring fear or comfort to you who are Jesus’ little lambs? “This is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.  Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.”

What do you believe in?  Does any thing outside of the name of Jesus even compare with the eternal love and mercy of God almighty?  Can anything within the world give you the assurance and then the continued reassurance that you are never abandoned or forgotten by your Creator like God’s Word and Sacraments can?  Has anyone in the world ever died for you?  Would you even want them to?  No, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” [Romans 5:8]  He died for us to bring us back into God’s love, where we can daily experience safety, mercy, and peace.  And all we must do is rest, feed, and then follow Him, our Good Shepherd Jesus Christ as He teaches us to live a life of sacrifice and service to other lost little lambs who need to find their way back to their Savior.

I will close with a children’s bedtime story, I call “The Lamb Who Wanted to Be Lost.”

Once upon a time there was a little lamb who wanted to run away from home.  So, he said to his Good Shepherd who loved him very much, “I am running away.”  “If you run away,” said the Shepherd, “I will run after you.  For you are my little lamb.”  Then the little lamb told his shepherd that if he runs after him, he will become a fish and swim away from him.  And the Good Shepherd smiled and countered that he would simply become a fisherman and fish for him.  The little lamb then decided to become a rock on the top of a tall mountain, and so the Good Shepherd said that he would become a mountain climber.  After a rock, he decides to become a flower hidden in a large garden, and the Good Shepherd says that he will simply become a gardener.  Whatever the little lamb wanted to become to escape from his shepherd, he countered with a person or thing that would find him.  And so the story goes until the end, when the little lamb finds himself exhausted trying to come up with more ideas, and finally says, “Aw shucks, I might as well just stay where I am and be your little lamb.”

Well… AMEN!

You’re one of Jesus’ little lambs?!

Sunday, April 29th, 2012

Easter Sunday 4B, April 29, 2012 (Good Shepherd Sunday)
Pastor Brian Henderson-Trinity Lutheran Church, San Diego, CA

Click here for audio of this message

“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold.  I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.  So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” [John 10:16]

So you’re one of Jesus little lambs are you?  You’re a Christian?  Really?  You guys are just as messed up as I am; why would I want to  follow you?  What have you got to offer that’s better than what I already have in this messed up life?

Have you ever had someone say something similar to you, or have you ever been afraid that they would say something like that if you  tried to share Jesus with them or invite them to church?  Did you know that fear of rejection and humiliation are two of the biggest  reasons Christians give for not sharing their faith?  Did you know that not sharing your faith is a lot like being a fruit tree that won’t bear  fruit?  And what should we do with a fruit tree in our yard that takes up space, uses valuable resources like water and fertilizer, but year  after year it refuses to do the very thing we bought it for?  That’s right, we’d  chop it down, dig it out, and plant one that will give us  fruit!

Did you know that every day you give a witness to your neighbors, family, and friends, whether you want to or not?  The real question  is what kind of witness are you giving?

Let’s look at the hypothetical questions that I started our message off with and see if you could give an answer and a witness to our antagonistic neighbor.

“So you’re one of Jesus little lambs are you?”  Yes, I suppose I am a lot like a lamb, or maybe even a goat.  Neither one of them are very smart.  They are dirty and not the brightest animals in the world.  They wonder away from the group and their shepherd whenever something catches their eye or draws their attention.  And that’s not a good thing, because the wolf is just out of their line of vision, waiting to kill them and eat them.  Oh yeah, and like me, sheep don’t see very well either.  But that’s just talking about sheep when they are outside of the sheep pen.  You see, I’m also a lot like a sheep who is supposed to be resting safe and sound within the pen.  Their shepherd is standing at the gate protecting them.  He’s the door and will never let any wolves enter and hurt the sheep while they are in the safety of the pen.  But their pen has little escape areas in it, and a dumb sheep could be tricked by another dumb sheep to think that it would be cool, fun, entertaining, and exciting to sneak out and try something new, without the care of the shepherd!

Yeah that’s me.  I’m not the sharpest tool in the shed.  You see, I keep doing the very things that I know I shouldn’t do, that’s called sin by the way.  And the things that please God, well that’s called keeping His commandments, and they’re the very things I can’t seem to do consistently.  Because of that, I can get into a whole lot of trouble; I can get dirty, sinfully dirty, just like a sheep.  If it wasn’t for my Good Shepherd Jesus Christ, I would wander away from His love and the love of my family at church, and I’d end up just like the sheep who gets eaten by the wolf; I’d be destroyed by the devil who hates Jesus and all of His little sheep.  You see, as I told you I don’t see very well, and what I mean by that is, I can’t see and recognize all of the dangers that are around me because, well they’re spiritual dangers.  There are spiritual threats in this world that can destroy my faith and love for God and my neighbor.  But Jesus sees them, and if I stay close to Him, He’ll protect me from those things I can’t see.  And that brings me to how I follow Jesus and stay close to Him.  You know, just as the sheep hear their shepherd’s voice and follow Him, I also hear Jesus, my Good Shepherd’s voice and I follow Him.  I hear His voice in the Word of God; in my Bible.  Every day I try to find time to read His Word and listen to Him speak.  I hear Him, but thank God, He also hears me, and that’s why I talk to Him every day; we call that prayer.

Now let me tell you a little something about the flock that I’m resting in.  That flock is simply the church, and the fence that protects Jesus little lambs is simply the Word of God that tells me how I should live my life.  Now remember, I told you right up front that like the sheep I just can’t seem to do what’s best for me.  I am prone to wander away from God, so He gives me commandments that guide how I live my life as I am following Jesus my good shepherd.  The only problem is, like I said I am prone to wander off; like those dumb sheep, I am really good at finding holes in the fence and following false teachers, or as Jesus calls them, hired hands.  Those false teachers act like pastors and well, they can really fool you, but when trouble comes, when the devil comes, boy they’ll light out of there real fast, because they are only in it for the money.  Yeah, those kind aren’t real pastors because they don’t hear the Good Shepherds voice, and if they can’t hear it, how are they supposed to lead and teach me?  No thanks, I’ve learned that new and exciting things aren’t always what they seem to be.  I’ve learned to find rest by staying in the flock, where I listen to and follow Jesus voice as He preaches and teaches through my pastor, who is a real under shepherd, loved and led by the same Good Shepherd that I follow, Jesus Christ!

So there you have it, a way to witness without arguing or backing down.  If someone asks you if you’re really a Christian, one of Jesus little lambs, don’t get intimidated by the question, just answer it.  Now I know that many times those questions can be a little more like accusations; like they’re calling you a hypocrite and that very possibly is what they’re saying.  But that’s alright, because you see, they’re right!  We really are hypocrites in the world’s eyes; God calls us saints and yet we still sin.  So if they ridicule your faith, simply agree with them and say you really are a lot like a dumb sheep doing the things and going to places you shouldn’t.  You really do get angry and say hurtful things sometimes; you do think about yourself more than others; even more than God.  Agree with them, but tell them that you still hear your Good Shepherds voice teaching you and changing you.  He speaks through His law and tells you what you did was wrong; that it was sinful.  That voice, that Word from God causes you to confess your sin and ask for His forgiveness.  But then you hear Him speak again, you hear His good news, that says that He still loves you and forgives you.

And then, after you’ve gotten the hypocrite accusation out of the way, it’s time for you to demonstrate that you really are a Christian; ask them to forgive you for anything you’ve done or failed to do that has hurt them.  And if they have hurt you, well then it’s time for you to tell them that you forgive them just as your Good Shepherd has forgiven you.  Now, I know it can seem a little intimidating doing these things, but just keep reminding yourself that it is Jesus speaking and acting through you.  You are simply hearing and following His voice!

So now, the scariest part of witnessing is over.  You’ve identified yourself with sinners, even sinners like the one who is calling you a hypocrite; so now all that is left is to extend the offer to that person to become a saved sinner like you.  How?  Invite them into the safety of the flock!  Invite them to come to church with you.  Explain to them that what you experience every week, they can experience too!  They can know real safety and peace, even joy and fulfillment by getting to know the Good Shepherd’s voice.  Tell them right up front that at church, it is God’s Word, preached and taught, that saves and changes everyone equally; tell them that in that Word they too will hear the Good Shepherd speak. And if you like, you can let them know that God takes that same Word and applies it with water in baptism and he converts sinners into Christians.  Why you could even tell them that God’s care doesn’t stop there; He also feeds and nourishes our spirits with His Holy meal, where He combines simple bread and wine with His Word as He feeds us His very body and blood, all so that we will by faith know that we really are forgiven.

Oh, and don’t forget to tell them that there is safety in numbers!  If they will come into God’s flock, they won’t be alone.  Not only will the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ be with them, but so are all of us!  Make sure they understand that each of us knows that we’re no better or worse than they are.  We’re just lost sheep who’ve been found and are trying ever day to love each other as the Good Shepherd loves us; tell them we are learning to forgive each other too, just as God forgives us.

Now, I suppose you might still be a little nervous about this witnessing thing.  You might be worried that they’ll laugh at you and ask how all of this can be true.  And if they do, then all you need to do is point them to the very thing that saved you… the power of God!  Jesus said, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life (for my little lambs) that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.  I have authority (and power) to lay it down, and I have authority (and power) to take it up again.” [John 10:17,18]

Where do you point them to see the power of God?  To the love of God, Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected for them.  Point them to Jesus who is God in human flesh, come to save us; Jesus who paid for the sins of the world, even their sins, so that they would not have to pay; Jesus, their Savior who like a Shepherd wants to lead them along with us to life everlasting.  Christ is risen; He is risen indeed! AMEN!

Can You Hear Him?

Sunday, May 3rd, 2009

Pastor Brian Henderson, Trinity Lutheran Church-San Diego, CA
Click here for audio of this message

In the early 1900’s a man was traveling by steam boat.  While standing on the deck of the ship he began to sing our sermon hymn, “Savior like a Shepherd Lead Us”.  When he had finished singing, a rough looking stranger approached him and asked, “Did you ever serve in the Union army during the civil war?  “Yes,” answered the singer.  “I joined in the spring of 1860.”  “Were you doing picket duty on a bright moonlit night in 1862?” asked the stranger.  “Yes” answered the singer.  “Well, so did I,” said the stranger, “but I was serving in the Confederate army.  When I saw you standing at your post I said to myself, “This guy is as good as dead.”  I raised my musket and took aim.  I was just about to pull the trigger, when you raised your eyes to heaven, and then you sang the very same song.  That song had a very great power over me, and I took my finger off the trigger.  “Let him sing this one song to the end, and then I can shoot him when he’s finished.”  But the song you sang then, just as now stirred up great emotions within me.  Back then, I heard the words plainly and perfectly in my mind and in my heart: “We are Yours in love befriend us, be the guardian of our way; keep your flock, from sin defend us, seek us when we go astray.”  When you had finished your song it was impossible for me to take aim at you again.  I thought: “The Lord who is able to save that man from certain death must surely be great and mighty (and able to save me)” and my arm dropped limp at my side.”

“And (Jesus said) I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)  This is our text this morning.  Jesus calls out to all of His sheep.  Can you hear Him?  Perhaps you hear Him even now, but at times you find it hard to follow?  This is understandable, because after all, you are just a little lamb and lambs are prone to wander.  This morning by looking deeper into our gospel reading we will allow our Good Shepherd to bring us back into the safety of His love which can only be enjoyed within His flock…the universal Church of Jesus Christ! To do this, Jesus gives us illustrations that if learned will ensure that we not only hear His voice, but listen and follow it as well. 

First let’s look at the Good Shepherd in contrast to the hired hand who is not a shepherd at all.  In the verses preceding our gospel lesson this morning, Jesus said that anyone who enters the sheep pen by climbing the wall or fence isn’t a shepherd, but a thief.  He also said that the true shepherd is one who enters by the door.  OK, this sounds reasonable, but then He said something strange, He said that He was the door!  Now, if you follow this logic, then you must conclude that true shepherds or pastors are only those who have been called by the Holy Spirit to lead Christ’s church as Jesus leads or directs them.  In this sense, the pastor is an under-shepherd, who can only lead the flock of sheep as Jesus directs.

In Israel sheep weren’t herded with dogs or by men who walked behind them.  The shepherd led his sheep.  He had a name for each of them…he knew each one by name, and the sheep recognized his voice.  At night several different herds of sheep might sleep in the same pen.  As they slept, a shepherd would act as the door of the pen by sleeping in the opening in order to prevent a predator or thief from entering and doing harm.  In the morning, when the door was opened, each shepherd would call out to his own flock, and each member of that flock would be able to distinguish his shepherd’s voice from the others.  Just as the sheep would not follow a stranger, so God’s people are able to recognize Jesus as the living Word of God.  In this way, God has allowed a sure and certain way for His Children to distinguish between a true pastor and a false teacher.  A true pastor will only proclaim what is in the Bible… Law and Gospel!

A traveling minister was walking along a road one day headed to a church that he heard no longer had a pastor.  He thought He might be able to offer his services as their new full time pastor.  As he approached the church, he saw a crowd of boys surrounding a dog.  “What are you doing with the dog?” asked the traveling minister.  “Well” said one of the boys, “Whoever tells the biggest lie, he wins the dog.”  “Oh, that’s terrible play!” exclaimed the minister, “when I was a little boy like you kids, I never told a lie.”  There was a moment’s silence. “Here,” said one of the little boys, “you win the dog.”

Today, just as in Jesus time, false teachers were everywhere.  They impose themselves on God’s people and have only their own benefit in mind.  God’s truth… His love and mercy is not what is leading them.  These false teachers, whom earlier Jesus called thieves, He now calls hired hands, or mercenaries. [vs. 12] They have no direct, specific call from God through a congregation to care for His little lambs.  They received and held onto their position through deception and their desire for self gain.  These type of men were then and are now in ministry for the money and the prestige.  When trouble comes they abandon their flock and look only after their own personal benefit.  And now Jesus demonstrates this truth.

With His next illustration, Jesus shows us why He is the Good Shepherd, by pitting Himself against the Wolf.  First, please understand that the word “good” in Greek means something of excellence, something that sets the standard for everything else.  If we follow this meaning, then what Jesus is saying is that He alone is the “Supreme Shepherd”.  While there are other shepherds that perform their duties in a loving and careful way they are not the “Good Shepherd”.  Why?  Well Jesus answers that for us in verse 15, when He says, “I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Many years ago a young Canadian man, his wife, his two children and young law-man were traveling in the wilderness in a horse drawn wagon when they were pursued by a large pack of wolves. Just as the wolves were about to attack, they shot some of the wolves. This stopped the pack for a short time, but soon they renewed their attack. Once again, just as the wolves were about to overtake them, they acted quickly and cut the lead horse loose and the wolves devoured it, but soon they were right back on their blood thirsty attack. The travelers were trying to reach a government fort, a place of safety, and they were almost there.  But the wolves were relentless and it seemed impossible for them to out run them.  The young law-man who was accompanying the family said that their only hope would be for him to buy them some time by giving himself to the wolves.  After he said this, he immediately jumped from the wagon, right into the pack of wolves. Of course he was attacked immediately, but the family was able to enter the fort just before the pack caught up to them.  Once safely inside, they said “Our friend sacrificed himself for us. We are living because he is dead.”  Now this sounds noble and good.  But anyone with a good heart and the love of Christ may be able to accomplish the very same thing.  Any shepherd that loves his sheep would most likely risk his life for the good of the sheep.  No, if this act can be accomplished by any true shepherd, this can’t be what makes a shepherd good.  This can’t be the work of the “Good Shepherd”.

In verses 17 and 18, Jesus gives us the mark of the only “Good Shepherd” when He says, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”  Jesus, like any true shepherd, faces the wolf and risks His life in defense of the sheep. But, that would not help the sheep once the wolf finished with the shepherd.  Obviously, after the shepherd is dead, the poor sheep would be completely at the mercy of the wolf without any other source of help. No, the only way the sheep could be eternally safe would be if the shepherd could kill or drive off the wolf, and keep his life for the benefit of the sheep. Friends, Jesus is the one and only shepherd, who can save the sheep by laying down and then taking up his life again.  Jesus died for the sheep, for you and me, but He took his life back again when He rose from the dead.   Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and the Wolf that He has overcome is sin, death, and the devil.  By Jesus sacrifice upon the cross and His resurrection, He came so that the sheep (you and I) may have life and may have it in abundance (v. 10).

Friends, in order for this truth to be of any benefit to you, Jesus says that you must hear His voice and believe that He is YOUR Savior…YOUR Good Shepherd.  We must hear His Word and know that He is calling us!  Faith comes only by hearing His Word, which is the message of the gospel, the voice of Jesus Christ!  When we hear His voice and shut out all other messages we will find comfort.  When we hear and listen we will find obedience as God helps us follow our Good Shepherd where ever He leads.  And when we listen and follow, Jesus will show us other sheep who are also listening.  And here is the amazing part…He is asking you to help Him bring them into His flock-into His church, where they too can find comfort and safety from sin, death, and the great wolf, the devil.

Perhaps you find yourself this morning in the wrong flock?  Maybe you have been following the voice of someone other than your Good Shepherd.  He is calling you now.  Can you hear Him?  Are you listening?  He has opened the door, and He calls out to you… “Follow me!”