Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sermon -- 4th Sunday of Easter (April 21, 2013)

JOHN 10:22-30
THE GOOD SHEPHERD KEEPS YOU SAFE.

In the name + of Jesus.

M:       Alleluia!  Christ is risen!
Cong:  He is risen indeed!  Alleluia!

     Our Lord Jesus Christ declared, “I am the Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)  This is one of the most endearing images of our Savior in all of Scripture.  He is a gracious, tender shepherd who watches over his flock.  He is not merely employed to care for the sheep.  He is totally invested in it.  He lays down his life for the sake of the flock.  He would die so that his sheep might live.  He sacrifices everything so that the sheep can have everything.
     But it is even more than that.  Jesus states, “I give (my sheep) eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29)  He who died for you is risen.  He cannot die again, for he has conquered death and rules over it.  And he lives and reigns to watch over you, to tend you, to care for you, to feed you, and to protect you.  While you are still threatened and hunted by your enemies—sin, death, and the devil—Jesus has crushed these enemies.  Sin has been paid for.  Death has been overcome by Jesus’ resurrection.  The devil has been crushed under Jesus’ feet.  The enemies may try to convince you that they are formidable foes.  But they cannot harm you.  They may snarl and snap at you, but Jesus is your Good Shepherd.  He is your defender and your Savior.  Jesus speaks, and the enemies can only whimper in response.  The Good Shepherd keeps you safe.
     Jesus said: “I give (my sheep) eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29)  From these words, you may falsely conclude that you can never fall from grace.  Some churches even teach, “Once saved, always saved.”  If that is true, you cannot lose God’s salvation no matter what you do.  And what is scary is that many Christians live that way.
     Remember the words of Isaiah, “All we, like sheep, have gone astray.  Each of us has turned to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6)  Dear Christians, you are still sheep, are you not?  And you are still prone to going your own way.  Many voices tempt and seduce you.  Why are they seductive?  Because they say what you want to hear.  You want to hear that adultery and fornication and porn are healthy.  You want to hear that gossiping is harmless.  You want to hear that coming to God’s house is optional.  You want to hear that faith will grow strong even when it is not being fed.  You want to hear that all people go to heaven because a loving God would never find fault with us or the people we like. 
     Dear flock of Christ, the devil still prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour.  Though he cannot harm Jesus, he still hopes to seize you.  And so the father of lies deceives and seduces, trying to draw you away from Jesus.  He wants you listening to the same twisted words that deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden.  He wants you to believe that he shows you a better, more satisfying, and more loving way.  And he plays on your sinful desires. 
     Remember: “All we, like sheep, have gone astray.  Each of us has turned to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6)  We are still sheep.  We are still prone to stray.  And the devil tries to imitate the voice of your Good Shepherd so that you will wander over to him.  He sounds so pious, so loving, so wise, so tolerant, so promising.  He convinced Eve that the fruit was desirable for gaining wisdom.  He tells you that his ways are desirable for instant happiness.  And you are attracted to it.  So, like Eve, you grasp what is forbidden.  Like Adam, you sink your teeth into that which contains the curse and contaminates the soul.  But it is the roaring lion who sinks his teeth into you.  And you, who are but sheep, are defenseless.  You, who are but sheep, will perish.
     This is what happens to sheep who stray.  This is the price of neglecting your Shepherd’s voice.  What is a sheep to do?  If you know that straying from your Good Shepherd is a sure-fire way to fall into Satan’s grasp, what hope can you have? 
     Dear Christians, you have a Good Shepherd for a good reason.  If you are alarmed by sin, death, and Satan—and you should be!—then stay ever closer to your Good Shepherd.  He is the only one who has put away sin.  He is the only one who is a refuge in death.  He is the only one who has crushed the serpent’s head.  So flock to him for refuge.  Go where you will find him.  He is not found in your feelings or your sincerity or in your own thoughts about him.  He comes only through his Word, whether preached or tied to elements in the Sacraments.  That is where his sheep come, for that is where you hear his voice.  That is where you are fed.  That is where you find your protection.  Even in the valley of the shadow of death, you fear no evil.  Even in the presence of your enemies, you get to feast.  For, the Good Shepherd keeps you safe.
     Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice.” (John 10:27)  You are here because Jesus has graciously made you his sheep.  You keep coming because Jesus graciously keeps you in his care.  You come because Jesus is found only in his word and sacraments.   You come because this is the only way Jesus dispenses his forgiveness.  You come because this is where you find your protection from your enemies.  This is where you find his rod and his staff, his Law and his Gospel, his word and his sacraments.  This is how your Good Shepherd keeps you safe.
     Jesus has promised: “I give (my sheep) eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29)  As long as you remain in Christ, no one can snatch you out of his hand.  The devil cannot pluck your faith from your heart.  When he challenges Jesus’ claim on you, he is lying.  You have been baptized into Jesus.  His name is on you.  You are his.  Your Good Shepherd keeps you safe.
     Death cannot snatch you out of God’s grace.  Even though you will one day go to your grave, you are not lost.  God’s love remains yours.  Yes, you will enter the valley of the shadow of death, but you will pass through.  For your Good Shepherd has already gone before you.  He entered death and rose again to life.  And your Good Shepherd will bring you out of death to life as well.  Even at the grave, the Good Shepherd keeps you safe.
     Not even your sins can snatch you out of Jesus’ hands.  That is not permission, much less encouragement, to give into your sins.  You have been set free from your sins!  Why would you pursue them again when they only lead to death?  Nevertheless, you continue to stumble.  You are weak, and your weakness gets the better of you.  Even then, your Good Shepherd keeps you safe.  The blood of Jesus purifies you from all sin. (1 John 1:7)  Your place in God’s flock is not so shaky that you never know that whether you belong to Jesus or not.  Even in your weaknesses, your Good Shepherd keeps you safe.  You do not have a place in his flock because you are such good sheep, but because Jesus is such a Good Shepherd.  The Good Shepherd has laid down his life for you.  The Good Shepherd lives to guard and keep you, to nourish and bless you.  The Good Shepherd forgives your sin.  He has destroyed your enemies.  So, have no fear, little flock.  Nothing can snatch you out of his hands.  He has entrusted you to his heavenly Father who is greater than all.  Therefore, nothing can snatch you out of the Father’s hands. 
     Behold!  Your Good Shepherd speaks.  Behold!  Your Good Shepherd has anointed you.  Behold!  Your Good Shepherd has spread out his table for you.  Behold!  Your Good Shepherd lives.  He tends to your needs.  He guides your way.  He defends you from your enemies.  Have no fear, little flock.  Your Good Shepherd keeps you safe.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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