The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God, and the Fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
John 10:22 “At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; 23 it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. 24 The Jews therefore gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, ‘How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.’ 25 Jesus answered them, ‘I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father’s name, these bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; 28 and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand. 29 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. 30 I and the Father are one.’ 31 The Jews took up stones again to stone Him. 32 Jesus answered them, ‘I showed you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you stoning Me?’ 33 The Jews answered Him, ‘For a good work we do not stone You, but for blasphemy; and because You, being a man, make Yourself out to be God.’” (NASB)
Today’s Gospel reading is from John chapter ten, which is known as the “Good Shepherd” chapter of the Bible. On the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the three-year lectionary always selects a reading from the John chapter ten.
Good Shepherd Sunday is one of the favorite annual themes. Rightly so. It conjures up all kinds of images of Jesus caring and providing for the sheep of His pasture. The images that are most associated with Good Shepherd Sunday are ones like the one on the front and inside of the worship folder. Jesus and a little lamb, often carried on His shoulders or held in His arms. The picture on the front of the readings (Jesus protecting a lamb from the wolves on the hunt) is less familiar, but still an accurate depiction of what Jesus does for us.
But the life of the shepherd, particularly in Jesus’s day was not a gentle and warm one. Nor was the vocation held in high esteem or looked upon with nostalgia. It was a hard and dangerous life. This is part of the context that is missing from many Good Shepherd sermons this morning. It is not the only thing missing.
Jesus’s Good Shepherd sermon not only has as its back ground the contemporary and hard life of the shepherd, it is also missing the context of the conversation taking place in John chapters nine and ten. The beloved sermon was born out and directed toward a conflict between Jesus and some Pharisees who had gathered to listen in on what Jesus was teaching the people.
Toward the end of chapter nine. Jesus had heard about how the Pharisees had put a man out of the synagogue because Jesus had healed him from blindness. Jesus went looking for the man. We He had found the man, Jesus asked him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” The man said tell me who He is and I will. Jesus replied, “You have both seen Him, and He is the one who is talking with you.” That is as straight forward a claim to be the Son of God/Son of Man as you can get. In that statement Jesus confirmed His deity and the wolves standing nearby didn’t like the claim one bit.
They object to the claim and His declaration that He had the authority and ability to forgive sins and that they, the Pharisees, remained in their sin because they remained in blind unbelief. It was at this point that Jesus tells preaches the sermon of the Good Shepherd (John 10), a portion of which is used each year on the Fourth Sunday of Easter.
In the first year (Series A), we learn something about the purpose that the Good Shepherd serves. He is the door to the sheep pen. The only way into the sheep pen is through the door, that is through Him. He is the only way into the kingdom of heaven.
In the second year (Series B), we learn how committed the Good Shepherd is to saving and protecting His sheep. The Good Shepherd is so serious about saving and protecting His sheep that He lays down His life for His sheep. That’s everyone’s favorite part of the Good Shepherd Sermon.
In today’s reading (Series C), Jesus teaches us about that which binds the Good Shepherd to His sheep and His sheep to the Good Shepherd and brings all the lessons of the Good Shepherd sermon to bear in verses 27 and 28. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand.” In that one statement Jesus summarizes all that a shepherd, especially the Good Shepherd does for His flock. He calls them. He gathers them. He gives them eternal life, that is He forgives their sins. He keeps them. They will never parish. And no wolf is going to take Jesus’s sheep from Him.
All this He says on during the Feast of Dedication. We know it as Hanukkah. Hanukkah celebrates an uprising that occurred 200 years before the birth of Christ.
The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem around 600 B.C. in 539 B.C. the Babylonians were destroyed by the Persians. The Persian Empire fell to Alexander the Great in 334 B.C. Shortly thereafter Alexander the Great died, and the Seleucids took over the governance of Judea around 312 B.C. One of the Seleucids’ kings, Antiochus Epiphanes, outlawed the practice of the Jewish religion and made some of its observances punishable by death. He turned the temple into a place for pagan sacrifices and a brothel.
In 167 B.C. a Jewish tribe by the name of the led a revolt and in 160 B.C. Judas Maccabee defeated the Seleucids and freed Jerusalem. The Jews held a celebration, cleansed the temple, and dedicated it to the Lord once again. The occasion became a holiday called “The Feast of Dedication.”
At the time Judas Maccabee was thought by many to be the promised Messiah, but then came the Romans, Roman occupation, and Roman rule at 27 B.C. (That’s pretty close to the birth of Christ in the time line.)
Enter Jesus and the mistaken idea that He just might be the “real” political deliverer. So in John 10:24, having heard Jesus’s claim to have the authority to forgive sins and to be the Son of Man, “The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, ‘How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly.’” Jesus responded, 25 “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in My Father’s name, they bear witness of Me. 26 But you do not believe, because you are not of My sheep, as I said to you. 27 My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. 28 And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand.”
“I told you and you did not believe” It’s not that Jesus hadn’t spoken plainly. He had been clear on this point, They were just looking for a different kind of explanation and messiah. That’s always the problem with sinful human beings. We are always looking for our own kind of god. Human beings are by nature religious. They are always setting up false gods.
The first commandment is the hardest Commandment to keep. “Thou shall have no other gods before Me.” Don’t make graven images! That is, we are not to fashion gods out of our own imaginations. Not out of possessions. Not by way of lifestyles in slavery to sin. Not out of political and economic systems. Not out of that state. Not out of philosophies of the world. Christians are to be whole devoted to God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
By the way – that includes creating doctrines and beliefs about God that are not true and are not of and from God Himself. Thus the Christian axiom, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” Follow Christ means we believe what His words teach and fighting against sin so that we at least in some measure follow Christ’s example, all the time knowing that we cannot even keep the first Commandment let alone all the rest. Thus we follow His voice to church to receive from Him what He gives to us in the service, forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.
The Pharisees were looking for a different answer from Jesus. They wanted another warrior and conqueror. They wanted a god that would do their bidding. But Jesus doesn’t describe Himself as an avenging warrior. Now when Jesus talked about His Second Coming on the Last Day He did speak of Himself and all the company of heaven as the conquering ones who will bring the world to its final judgment.
But here, at His first coming He is the Good Shepherd Who lays down His life for the sheep. He is the Good Shepherd who feeds His sheep. He is the Shepherd that shepherds us through this life and its hardship to the life of the world to come. He does not stand behind us and drive us like cattle. He goes before us and speaks His Word and we know His voice and follow Him. He is the Good Shepherd Who guarantees us protection from all His enemies and all those who seek to snatch us out of His hand. (v 28b).
Hear the words of Jesus, your Good Shepherd: “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.”
The voice of the Good Shepherd goes out beckoning us to come to the divine service to receive from Him the forgiveness of our sins. “Where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.” (Matt. 18:20) “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” (Matt. 20:19-21)
For more than 2,000 years the Good Shepherd has shepherded His people through this evil world. He continues to do so.All this so that the Lamb of God who took away the sin of the world, could and would become your Shepherd. 2 Peter 2:24-25; “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed. For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls.”
He does so for you too. For all those who continue to hear His voice. And no one can snatch you out of His hand. “They will hunger no longer, nor thirst anymore; nor will the sun beat down on them, nor any heat; for the Lamb in the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and will guide them to springs of the water of life; and God will wipe every tear from their eyes.” (Rev. 7:16-17)
Hear the benediction of Hebrews 13:20-21. “Now the God of peace, who brought up from the dead the great Shepherd of the sheep through the blood of the eternal covenant, even Jesus our Lord, equip you in every good thing to do His will, working in us that which is pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen.”
May the peace that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen