The Fourth Sunday of Easter, 22 April 2018
A Sermon on John 10:11-18 by Samuel Zumwalt, STS
John 10:11-18 English Standard Version, © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers]
11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 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. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. 18 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. This charge I have received from my Father.”
For Our Salvation: Shepherd of His Flock
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
There is the thief, for whom the wolf and hired hand really work. There is the Good Shepherd who loves and protects, Who saves His sheep by laying down and taking up His life.
The Thief, the Wolf, and the Hired Hand
The thief (in Greek “kleptes”) comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. This is what the Lord Jesus has just told His hearers in v. 10. The hired hand (in Greek “misthotos”) cares nothing for the sheep when he sees the wolf (in Greek “lykon”) coming. Because he runs away, the hired hand is the thief’s own man. The hired hand is there when it’s pay day. The hired hand is there when it’s easy, when there is no trouble, when there is no danger. But make no mistake about it. The hired hand is in it for himself. And he just doesn’t care what happens to the sheep. Like the wolf, the hired hand uses the sheep for his own needs. They both belong to the thief, who comes only to steal, kill, and destroy.
You don’t want to be in relationship with someone whose heart belongs to the thief. You don’t want to be mentored by someone whose heart belongs to the thief. You don’t want to work for someone whose heart belongs to the thief. And you don’t want a pastor whose heart belongs to the thief. Why? Because the thief, his wolf, and his hired hand don’t care about you no matter how good they are at seduction in the early stages. The thief only steals, kills, and destroys. You will know them by what they say and then do to others and what they want to say and do to you.
The old Adam or Eve, the old sinner in you and me, is susceptible to the thief, his wolf, and his hired hand, because the old sinner is anthropocentric (human-centered) rather than God centered. And when it comes right down to it, the old sinner is really me-centered, and that’s what the thief, his wolf, and his hired hand always count on. As long as we can be kept from being God-centered, and remain me-centered, then we are particularly vulnerable to what seems to be really good for me. Many a woman or man has been seduced and left broken-hearted by the thief, his wolf, or hired hand. Many a student has been seduced and left broken by the thief, his wolf, or hired hand. Many a worker has been seduced and almost destroyed by the thief, his wolf, or his hired hand. Many a listener has been seduced and left confused and betrayed by the thief, his wolf, or his hired hand. When God is pushed out of the center, the thief easily steals, kills, and destroys. There are a lot of bitter people walking around, because the thief got to them.
The Good Shepherd Loves and Protects
The Good Shepherd (in Greek “poimen kalos”) loves you and me more than His own life. He doesn’t send us flowers. He doesn’t send us chocolates. He carves our initials on the tree of His lonely cross. He stretches out His arms on the cross and is nailed there in your place and mine, because He sees us as the poor defenseless sheep that we are when it comes to the thief, his wolf, and his hired hand. God knows we need a Good Shepherd now. And He will not leave us ever.
Do we wander off sometimes? Yes. Do we get distracted by the devil’s empty promises? Yes. Do we forget all that the Good Shepherd has done that we might be His own? Yes. Sheep are, by our very nature, vulnerable to being stolen, fleeced, and eaten alive by the thief, hired hand, and wolf. Who will deliver us from this body of death? Who will set us free to be His own forever? Only the Good Shepherd, who loves us more than His own life, can save us from destruction!
When we are human-centered, when we are me-centered, we are short sighted. We cannot see beyond the moment, beyond that which is in front of us, or beyond the grave that awaits all of us. The devil’s empty promises always appeal to that short-sighted fear that we won’t get everything we want in this life. The kid who was always the star in youth and young adulthood can too easily forget the God who has given her or him great gifts to be used for God’s glory and the neighbor’s good. Many a once-godly child has been seduced into being a wolf or a hired hand by the thief who only takes and never gives anything but empty promises. He kills and destroys!
Are you falling by the wayside? Are you selling your soul for fool’s gold? Are you so besotted by pleasure that you no longer yearn for joy? Are you lost and bleeding and can’t find your way back home? The Good Shepherd is seeking you. He is calling your name. He is telling you it is never too late and you are never too far gone. His nail-pierced hands are reaching for you, saying, “I love you more than My own life, and I will hold you and never let you go!”
The Good Shepherd Saves by Laying Down and Taking Up His Life
The Good Shepherd freely lays down (in Greek “tithesin”) His life out of love for His Father and those who will be His sheep, whether Jews or Gentiles. Because God’s Son is centered on His Father’s good and gracious will to save the lost sheep, He is able to look beyond betrayal, suffering, and death. His only goal is to give His life to protect the sheep from the thief, the wolf, and the hired hand. He was dead, dead, dead on account of your sins and mine. We cost Him His very life! He protected us from eternal death and destruction by dying for us on the cross.
In John’s gospel, more than the others, the King (the Christ, the Anointed) from David’s family freely laid down his life (“tithesin”) and freely was able to take it up again (in Greek, “labo”), so that we might be born from above by water and the Spirit and trust that what happened to Him will now happen to us. Even though we die a biological death, yet shall we live! The Good Shepherd came that we might have real life and have it abundantly, which means continuously, beyond suffering, loss, betrayal, and death in these bodies that are wasting away.
In the April 2018 issue of the Smithsonian magazine, there is a lengthy article on artificial intelligence and what that might mean for us. The author speculated that artificial intelligence might allow us to live in these mortal bodies for 175 years barring accidents. Apparently, there are those who believe artificial intelligence will give us lives we could never imagine, but others fear that, as in the Matrix movies, artificial intelligence could decide to take what it needs from us and then destroy us. Hmmm. This sounds vaguely familiar, doesn’t it? Perhaps artificial intelligence can watch over itself and prevent itself from stealing, killing, and destroying. That sounds perilously close to big government, big media, and big businesses accountable to self.
Dear ones, I don’t want to be young again. I was too smart the first time around. I was so smart I was an easy target for the thief, the wolf, and the hired hand. I was easily betrayed. I was easily stolen from. I was easily kept by fear from using God’s gifts for His glory and my neighbor’s good. As my German grandmother used to say, I got too soon old and too late smart. Pain is a good teacher. And if we will listen to the Good Shepherd’s voice, He will bring us through pain to His foolishness that is wiser than the world’s wisdom; to His peace that the world cannot give; to His love that cannot be taken from us; to His hope that will not be disappointed; and to His joy that shatters the darkness with His own brilliant Light!
You and I have nothing to offer God but our sin and our death. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves or earn God’s forgiveness. The Good Shepherd has already done it all for us on Calvary’s tree. If you have not yet been joined to the Lord Jesus’ death and resurrection in Holy Baptism, then ask and He will freely give you His own forgiveness, life, and love forever. Don’t put it off any longer. Don’t pridefully say that you have to do something for Him first. Come! Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, calling for you and for me. Ye who are weary. Come home!
You and I can eat local, fresh, organic, fair trade, home-grown, and whatever other labels we prefer, but the very best food this world has to offer cannot satisfy our deepest longings or need. Today our Good Shepherd sets before His baptized sheep gifts of bread and wine that will become for us His true Body and His most precious Blood. That was the point of His Bread of Life discourse in John 6: “Unless you eat of the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His Blood, you will not have Life within you.” We are not practicing cannibalism as some early Roman critics suggested. We are not metaphorically sharing in His saving death. We are, by His promise, being sacramentally united to His saving death and resurrection and receiving through Him the eternal Life and Love of the one true God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit).
God knows we need a Good Shepherd now. That’s why He always shows up in the Word and Sacraments to shepherd His flock. For without Him, we are just what the thief wants for dinner!
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
©Samuel David Zumwalt, STS
St. Matthew’s Ev. Lutheran Church
Wilmington, North Carolina USA
For Our Salvation: Shepherd of His Flock
“Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth, so that they may return into the way of righteousness: Grant to all those who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s religion that they may resolutely reject those things that contradict the faith they profess and follow all those things that are in agreement with it; through your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen” (The Daily Prayer of the Church, 1334).
John 10:11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
St. Gregory the Great [late 6th – early 7th century Bishop of Rome; Doctor of the Church]: “The Good Shepherd has laid down his life for his sheep in order to change his body and blood into a sacrament for us and to satisfy the sheep he had redeemed with his own body as food. The way of contempt for death that we are to follow has been shown us, the mold that is to form us is there. The first thing we are to do is devote our external goods to his sheep in mercy” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture: John 1-10, 345).
John 10:13 He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
St. Augustine [late 4th – early 5th century Bishop of Regius Hippo in northern Africa]: “…the pastor who seeks his own and not what is Christ’s keeps quiet and does not reprove the person so that he will not have to put up with the annoyances of their attacks or lose what he truly follows after – the advantage of human friendship. But look! The wolf has caught a sheep by the throat; the devil has enticed a believer into adultery. And yet you are silent – you do not censure. As a hireling you have seen the wolf coming, and you fled” (347).
John 10:14 “…I know my own and my own know me.”
St. Cyril [5th century Patriarch of Alexandria]: “…I shall enter into a close relationship with my sheep, and my sheep shall be brought into a close relationship with me, according to the manner in which the Father is intimate with me, and again I also am intimate with the Father…Truly, we are called the family of the Son, and in fact we are part of his family. Through our relationship to the Son, we are related to God the Father, because the Only Begotten, who is God of God, was made man, and though separate from all sin, he assumed our human nature” (349).
John 10:16 “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold…they will listen to my voice.”
St. Augustine [Doctor of the Church]: “He knew those whom He had come to redeem by shedding His blood. He was able to see them, while they could not yet see Him. He knew them, though they did not yet believe in Him. ‘I have,’ he said, ‘other sheep that are not of this fold, because they are not of the race of Israel according to the flesh. But all the same, they will not be outside this sheepfold, because ‘I must bring them along too, so that there may be one flock and one shepherd’” (351).
- Are my ears tuned to hear the Good Shepherd’s voice?
(Read this aloud daily until everyone in your home can say it from memory.)
In the morning when you get up, make the sign of the holy cross and say: In the name of the Father, and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Then kneeling or standing, repeat the Creed and the Lord’s Prayer. If you choose, you may say this little prayer:
I thank You, my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, Your dear Son, that You have kept me this night from all harm and danger; and I pray that You would keep me this day also from sin and every evil, that all my doings and life may please You. For into Your hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things. Let Your holy angel be with me, that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen.
Then go joyfully to your work, singing a hymn, like that of the Ten Commandments, or whatever your devotion may suggest. (Luther’s Small Catechism).
- Pray for every unbaptized child and adult you know and for the child’s parents, too.
- Pray for your unchurched loved ones and friends. Invite one or more of them to worship.
- Answer this. How can anyone have their ears tuned to the Shepherd’s voice if they are not brought to the services of God’s house and taught how to listen?
- Take note at the end of the day how your time has been spent. How much time did you budget for reading the Bible and daily prayer?
- Hang a crucifix or cross opposite your pillow so that the last sight you see before turning out the light is your Lord’s cross and the first sight of the new day reminds you to pray.
For Husbands and Wives
Repeat daily: “I (name) take you (name) to be my wedded wife (husband), to have and to hold from this day forward; for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death do us part, according to God’s holy ordinance, and thereto I pledge you my faith.”