EASTER 4, C – April 17, 2016

SCRIPTURES – Psalm 23; Acts 20:17-35; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10

 

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday; and that might not mean that much, really, to us who have little familiarity with sheep. Jesus’ words, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” are certainly comforting, but maybe we’re not quite sure why. A few years back I got a much better insight into them from a story that Synod President Matt Harrison shared in his book, “A Little Book on Joy” (Lutheran Legacy, 2009). He was visiting a man named Graham Koch at his sheep ranch in Australia, and Graham drove him out in his pickup truck to see his sheep. Pres. Harrison writes:

“As we neared the flock, a thousand skittish animals began bawling and fleeing, a sea of nervous wool. But then the scene changed in an instant. Graham began calmly, even quietly, repeating, “Hey Bob! Hey Bob!” Suddenly the flock turned toward us at once, and within a minute or two, we were in a sea of calm but bleating sheep. They were so tightly packed around the truck that I might have walked across them.” (p. 118)

The voice of Jesus, like Graham Koch’s voice to his sheep, is the voice of a protector, of a helper, of a friend. He is a shepherd who will give us what is good.

 “My sheep hear my voice.” That John included these words of Jesus in his Gospel, which he wrote many years after Christ’s ascension into heaven, is very significant. John is telling us that Jesus is still speaking to us today, in a calm and comforting voice that brings us peace from God. These Scriptures that we hear, and that we are so very blessed to even be able to read ourselves, are Christ’s voice. He is not a God and Savior who is hidden far away from us in heaven and cannot be known but only imagined; who we hope will perhaps reveal Himself to us in a dream, or speak through some modern day prophet or mystic. He is speaking to us here and now in the words of the Bible! “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” By these words we know Jesus, and He knows us! We are His, and He is ours.

 This is why you should care so much about these words, and about the right speaking and teaching of them. Few Christian people and churches are concerned with this today. In fact, many think that certainty about God is unattainable, and that to assert and hold to the purity and truth of His Word is to be unreasonable and uncaring. Well, tell the people of Flint, MI that it is unreasonable and uncaring of them to expect their local, state and national governmental officials to make sure that the water delivered to them from the Flint River is pure. The people of Flint are now dependent upon bottled water because for several years their officials were allowing the water from the Flint River to be contaminated with lead as it was supplied to them! “My sheep hear my voice.” These are not just words that you’re hearing. You’re hearing Jesus! Your Savior is calling you to Himself. His words are our life.

 “My sheep hear my voice, and I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” These are words that you should keep them in your heart and mind and think upon often. For, daily life is our focus. We have work to do… bills to pay (are your taxes finished?)… errands to run… messages to respond to… people to see… kids to cart around… even weddings to prepare for! “So, what can the Church do for me now? If it’s not helping me now, I don’t have time for it! I also don’t have time to read the Bible!”

 The now consumes us; but, it won’t always do so. Time flies, children grow quickly, and life changes. God never promises that all will go well in your life, or that no great difficulties will come. He does hold before us a wonderful life after this life and in eternity in Jesus. A glimpse of it is given in our epistle reading today from Revelation 7. Christ’s people “shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore; the sun shall not strike them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” Oh, how wonderful life in heaven will be!

 It is yours. Jesus has gained it for you. By taking upon Himself your sins, which offend the holy God and would keep you from His presence, and enduring their punishment for you on the cross, He removed their burden from you; and by then rising from the dead He has brought forth a new and eternal life for you. “I give them eternal life.” It is yours! Jesus has purchased this life for you!

 But, like a great inheritance that is given to you and put in the bank for you, you must receive it. You must have access to it and be able to use it. An inheritance in the bank can pay your bills if you write a check, or make a payment from it online, or use an ATM card to withdraw it. The news of your inheritance is only words until you actually have access to it and use it. Then it is a real help and blessing.

 Jesus – His victory over your sins and death, His oneness with His Father, and His eternal life in heaven – is yours. He gives Himself to you as He speaks to you. Listen to His words and take them to heart, and eternal life with God won’t be just something to look forward to in heaven. Jesus will be with you now to comfort you in your sorrow and lift you up when you are low. His life and joy will lift you up in faith, and when your life ends He will lift you up to eternal life with Himself in heaven. Your Good Shepherd speaks to you and gives you Himself in His words! There is no greater gift you could receive.

 This is why the devil attacks Christ’s words more than anything else. If he can get you to doubt and distrust Christ’s words, he can separate you from your Shepherd. He’s been doing this for a long time. Only 25 years or so after Jesus ascended into heaven the Apostle Paul warned the pastors of the church in Ephesus: “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20) Twisted things – Paul uses a word that describes a clay pot on a potter’s wheel that is misshapen and useless. Just as the potter never intended that, Paul knew that false teachers would arise from the Ephesian people who would intend only to help them but, because they twisted Christ’s words and taught them wrongly, would hurt them. “Be alert!” Paul warns. Just because a pastor or teacher speaks well and is friendly and successful, this doesn’t mean that you should listen to him. Don’t let anyone twist the words of your Good Shepherd. He speaks clearly and plainly. Accept His words in the Bible according to their simple meaning. You will then hear His voice and know His truth.

 “Hey Bob! Hey Bob!” Simple words. But, to Graham Koch’s sheep they were safety; they were the call of a friend, not an enemy; they were Graham himself.

 “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them 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.” The blessing of oneness with God and eternal life in Him is yours! For, you are Christ’s sheep who hear His life-giving voice.

 To Jesus, our Good Shepherd, be all thanks and praise! Amen.