“Christ, Our Shepherd”Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons
We live in a fearful time. Most other people in most other times would think it strange that Americans today are as afraid as they are. After all, we live in the heart of the territory controlled by the greatest military power of all time. There has not been war here for more than 150 years. Far from being worried about famine, we have so much to eat that we are more concerned about gaining too much weight. We have access to such good medical care that most of us can expect to live to ages far beyond what our brethren in the 1st century would have expected.
Nonetheless, we are afraid. We are afraid of COVID, afraid of politicians that we think are hostile to us, afraid of societal change that we think is for the worst, and probably afraid even of things that we can't put a name to. Optimism about the future is sadly out of fashion.
When we wrestle with fear, we should remember all the reasons that God gives us not to be afraid. It may be that not everything in our earthly lives goes our way, but through His son Jesus, He will take care of what is most important. This morning, then, let's see what we can learn from John 10 about Christ our Shepherd.
The first section of our reading this morning concerns Jesus as the gate of the sheep. Let's look at John 10:1-10. There are a couple of different elements to Jesus’ words here that are well worth our attention. Of course, in this text we are the sheep, and Jesus tells us that we can expect to encounter two categories of people. One is made up of thieves and robbers. The other is only occupied by Jesus. The sheep don't listen to the thieves and robbers; They only listen to Him.
For us, this underscores the importance of listening only to the words of our Lord and identifying all the other religious voices that are not His. In this world, there is an abundance of false teachers. They occupy pulpits all across our country and the world, and every one of them teaches something that according to the Scriptures is not the word of Jesus.
Make no mistake, brethren! These are not good people who have made a mistake but have useful things to say to us. They are thieves and robbers. If we listen to them, they will lead us away from Jesus for their own benefit. Instead, we must be careful to listen only to the word of Christ and reject anything and everything that does not come from it.
So too, notice what Jesus says about Himself as the gate. If we enter by Him, we will be saved and will come in and go out and find pasture. This language should remind us, as Jesus intended for it to do, of Psalm 23 and its beautiful depiction of what it means to have the Lord as our shepherd. When God takes care of you, He makes sure that you have everything you need.
By contrast, the devil wants us to believe that Jesus will not provide for us if we follow Him. He wants us to think that the grass is better where Jesus does not lead us, that the best life is lived apart from Christ. This is one hundred percent a lie! He intends our harm, not our good. By contrast, if we stick close to Jesus, we will find that we lack for nothing.
Second, Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd. Let's continue our reading with John 10:11-21. Here, our Lord shows us how he is different from a hireling. The hireling flees from the wolf, allowing the wolf to destroy the sheep. By contrast, the good shepherd, even though he is not equipped to defend himself from the wolf, will die in order to keep the sheep safe.
Of course, this is exactly what Jesus did. The wolf that He had to face down was none other than the devil, who came to devour all our souls. Even Jesus could not save us from Satan by living. Instead, He had to die. He willingly laid down his life for our sakes.
We need to remember this anytime we get to feeling down on ourselves. The devil loves to try to convince us that we're worthless, that nobody places any value on us. Jesus did. He loved and still loves you, me, and every Christian enough to suffer, bleed, and die for us. He is good, and His goodness is revealed in the greatness of His love.
Let's pay attention also to His words in verse 16. Here, we learn that one of Jesus’ great goals as the Good Shepherd is to bring all of His sheep from different pens together into one. Since the beginning, His church has had a sad history of division, but His desire is for all of us to be united.
We can't do anything about the contentiousness and pride of other people in other places, but we can make sure that in this congregation we stay united. Indeed, one of the things that I most love about this church is the willingness of so many not to press their views and judgments on others, rather choosing to maintain the unity of the Spirit.
We can't compromise on the truth, of course, but it is vital for us to be able to tell the difference between what the Bible says and what we think. Believe me; I know just how tempting it is to get on one of my hobby horses and take a lap around the auditorium! However, such self-righteous behavior does not glorify God. When we instead humbly, patiently pursue the things that make for peace while remaining focused on the Scriptures, He is pleased.
Finally, let's ponder Jesus’ words about the safety of the sheep. We'll conclude our reading with John 10:22-30. Here, we find a verse that Calvinists love to take out of context. They love to seize on verse 28 and insist that it teaches that it is impossible for a Christian to fall away.
This is a strange thing to believe, especially given that in Matthew 24, Jesus prophesies about a time in which He says many will fall away. Of course, there is no contradiction between His teaching in Matthew 24 and His teaching in John 10. Instead, we need to look at the way that Jesus describes His sheep just a verse earlier, in verse 27.
According to him, His sheep are those who hear His voice, present tense, and who follow Him, again present tense. This promise isn't about those who followed Jesus at some point in the past and aren't following Him anymore. Instead, it is about those who are following Him right now.
If we are striving to follow Him, His promise does apply to us, and it should give us great assurance and hope. Our salvation is not dependent on how good we are. Instead, it depends on how strong He is. No matter how hard the devil pulls, he will not be able to pull us out of the hands of Jesus, and if that's not enough, the Father Himself will exert his strength to keep us safe.
Here too, the devil loves to prey on our minds and try to make us afraid. Fear is one of his favorite tools. Because of Jesus, though, we don't have to be afraid. We can be confident of our salvation, but our confidence is not in ourselves. It is in Him.