Jesus Our Good Shepherd

John 10.1-11, 27-28 

“Go to the Good Shepherd.  Go through the Gate.”

Just months away…Calvary and the cross were just months away.  And Jesus was on the move.  Jesus was doing the work the Father sent him to do.  Some loved him and followed him.  Some hated him, but so many were split over whether to follow him or not.  Could Jesus really be the Messiah, the King of Kings, the Savior?  Jesus gave sight to a man who had been born blind.  It was an unmistakable miracle, but the Pharisees were split as to whether this was from God or the devil.  When the man who had been healed pointed out how ridiculous it was that they would think Jesus was from the devil, the Pharisees threw the healed man out of the synagogue.  They were supposed to be Israel’s leaders, but rejected Jesus.

Jesus went to see the man and told him that he was the “Son of Man,” a name for the Messiah.  The man worshipped Jesus.  Jesus told him that there were some who claimed to see but were blind (spiritually).  Some of the Pharisees who were listening to Jesus were offended because they knew Jesus was talking about them.  Jesus painted a couple pictures for them that they might see.  These pictures warn us and comfort us.  “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.  The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.  The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice.  He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.  When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice.  But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”  Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.  Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.  I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.  They will come in and go out, and find pasture.  The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

There are legitimate shepherds for the sheep, and then there are thieves, robbers (carries a picture of violence), and strangers.  The shepherd enters and exits the sheep pen by the door.  The thieves, robbers and strangers, however, either go over the top of the wall, or stand off to the side and try to lure the sheep away.  They steal, kill and destroy.  What do they steal, kill and destroy?  You.  You are the sheep, God’s sheep.  Jesus cares about you.  So listen.

The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were one example of these thieves.  Because they rejected Jesus, or at best confused people about Jesus, they were enemies of the sheep though they called themselves teachers and leaders.  There are still thieves, robbers and strangers today.  Anyone who offers you something great, or claims to have the secret to what you desire, or knowledge that will be the key to unlocking your dreams, but does not follow Jesus, or line up with what he commands, and who does not give glory to Jesus his cross and empty tomb – this is the call of a thief, robber or stranger.  The thief says, “My friend, just do this and you will be so happy, your every desire will be fulfilled.  Even though God says no, he’s just holding out on you, and no one will know.”  Or the robber says, “Hey, just get or try this pleasure and all the stress and worries will fade away.  Life will be easier or fuller.  Never mind that your mother wouldn’t approve.  It is never policed anyway.”  Or the stranger says, “Just follow my teaching, my way of life, even though it is anti-Christian and rejects the Bible, you’ll have superior knowledge, riches and people will respect you.”  Whether they are called good, friend, family, professor, teacher, priest or pastor, if they promote what does not give glory to Jesus or go through him and his cross and resurrection, that is a stranger who will not and cannot help you.  Run.

Sometimes even your own mind will tell you that God’s law doesn’t matter – do what you want and in the next breath tell you that God is not as gracious as you think he is.  He might love you if you do this, that, and the other thing, and then and only then will he maybe be pleased with you.  Or you can’t be forgiven because you have sinned in such a deceptive and awful way.  Or God is too weak to help you get through what you’re going through.  If people only knew.  If God only knew the depths of our depravity, our doubt, our deeds done in anger, lust and greed would he forgive us?  We’ve tried to jump the wall or fade from the shepherd’s view.

God knows.  He knows your sin, your past and your present.  Jesus was just months away from a cross when we met him today.  He didn’t stop and say, “oh, you guys aren’t damnable sinners, oops, Father, I guess I didn’t need to suffer hell and be crucified for the sins of all people.”  No, you are real sinners who would only live if you had a real Savior.  Jesus is that real Savior for real sinners. Jesus told them, “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Jesus is not only the only gate.  He himself is the Good Shepherd who loves you and laid down his life to save you from thieves, robbers, and strangers, and sin, death and the devil.  And he took up his life again to continue to protect you and lead you through this life by his Word and let you graze in good pasture and finally take you home to heaven.  Go to your Good Shepherd.  Only go through Jesus the Gate.  Every advice you follow, every path you walk in has to go through the gate that is Jesus Christ.  If not, it’s a thief, a robber and a stranger.  Run to the Good Shepherd.

I grew up in West Allis, WI.  While the town got its name because Allis Chalmers made orange farm tractors there, there were no farm fields for miles and miles.  We were in the Milwaukee sprawl.  So when I visited my brother-in-law’s dairy farm it was quite the excitement, even as an adult.  Cows are huge animals, and they don’t move for much.  I walked up to the wire fence, about four feet from a cow, looked him in the eye, and I moo-ed at him.  You know what he did?  Nothing!  Just stood there.  However, remembering back when I was in high school and visited my buddy’s farmhouse and watched him go in by their sheep, all of them rushed around him and he could hardly enter into the pen.  But then I walked in.  The sheep ran to the other side of the pen, as far away from me as they could be.  Sheep are different.  While it seems cows could care less, sheep know their master.  They know his voice, the sound of his footsteps, and they trust him.  Everyone else they run from.

In Jesus’ day, shepherds would spend all day going from grazing land to grazing land, but finally they needed to sleep and so they would bring their sheep to a rock wall pen with sticks and other brambles on top to keep the sheep in, and unwanted predators out.  Often times, other shepherds would use the same pens.  But they didn’t have each sheep branded, or tagged or microchipped.  In the morning, in the early dark hours, a shepherd would go to the gate and call.  Some sheep would stay where they were or run to the other side of the pen.  But his sheep knew his voice and came to him.  He identified them, called them by name and pushed them out of the pen.  Then after his sheep were all out, he would lead his sheep to pastureland before he’d bring them back again at night.

Jesus’ two pictures collide don’t they?  Jesus said, “I am the gate.”  Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd.”  If you follow any pastor, friend, leader or advice in this life it had better go through Jesus or be in line with his Word and his will.  He is the only gate.  If someone or something is advising you or tempting you and Jesus is not being followed, then they are trying to jump the wall to steal and destroy, no matter how well or great their promises sound.  Run.  And to whom do we run – the Good Shepherd.  Every earthly shepherd whether pastor, parent or friend, who is worth following will always point you to The Good Shepherd.  Follow him.  Go to your Good Shepherd.  Go through the Gate.

Jesus calls you his sheep and he wants you “to have life, and have it to the full.”…  “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.”  You listen to His voice – you hear him and know his voice.  You know your shepherd.  You heard his voice as he called you a child of God, as he called you forgiven and washed clean at your baptism.  You hear his voice as you hear, read, study and sing the truths of Scripture and impress upon you heart these pictures God paints for you here at church, and as you study his Word in other places.  You hear him call specifically to you as you receive his body and blood for the forgiveness of your sins in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.  You hear him say, “For the forgiveness of YOUR sin.”  He has come so that you may have life.  He leads us in good pastures, maybe not easy ones or the ones of our choosing, but ones that are best and right for us, because he loves us.  Because he is our Good Shepherd.

Jesus gives you eternal life.  You won’t perish eternally.  Not now, not ever.  No one can snatch you out of his hand.  It had to be his hands.  My hands, though sometimes strong are sometimes weak and struggle and fail.  His hands are marked with the nails which brought your redemption.  His hands are strengthened because he is not just true man, but also true God.  His almighty hands hold onto us.  You have nothing to worry about.    You are his sheep.  Follow him.  Go to the Good Shepherd. Go only through the true gate; accept only those who come through the true Gate – Jesus Christ.

The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.  Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff –they comfort me.  You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil.  My cup runs over.  Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.  Amen.

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