They Will Listen to My Voice. Misericordias Domini 2015.
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 10:11-16
April 19, 2015
“And They Will Listen to My Voice”
And they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. St. John 10:16
There’s a fact that is kind of unpleasant to most of us that the Gospel reading takes for granted. The fact is that we are sheep. This is an unpleasant fact for most of us. Everything we see on tv and the internet, everything we read in newspapers and magazines, even what we learn in school pretty much tells us another story. The story our society tells us is that we are individuals who choose for ourselves and our choices are really important. You are really important, says your television. Just think. Candidates for president court your vote. Giant corporations spend millions convincing you, the all-important consumer, to buy their product. According to the messages you’re constantly being fed, you and what you want are the most important things in the world. If you are a girl but you feel like you’re a boy, even nature itself has to bow down before your feelings. The universe owes you happiness in whatever form you think your happiness will take.
Jesus says something less flattering in the Gospel. He says you are a sheep. That’s right, a helpless, nearly senseless animal whose entire life depends on listening to the voice of a shepherd and remaining part of a flock. An animal shorn and slain for food. A sacrificial animal.
The best thing a sheep can hope for is to have a good shepherd. If a sheep has a good shepherd it will be guided into rich pasture and have enough to eat and drink. It will be safe and protected from the many predators, like wolves, that seek to prey upon it in its helplessness.
That’s true that that’s the best thing for a sheep—to have a good shepherd. But there are all kinds of voices in the world that call out to sheep like they are shepherds. Many of them tell us, “Look, you’re not a sheep at all! You can roam wherever your heart desires and you’ll find happiness, and we’ll show you how to do it.”
Then there are other voices that call out, “No, you are a sheep, but if you just follow these rules, you’ll be safe. Follow these rules that this shepherd has laid down for us.”
How our sinful flesh loves to hear that we are not really sheep and that we can chart our own course to the green pastures! Why do we love hearing that so much? Because “we all, like sheep, have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way,” as Isaiah says (Is. 53). Ever since the first man listened to a voice that did not belong to his Shepherd that said, “If you eat from the tree that has been forbidden you, you will be as God” (Gen. 3)—ever since then we have been partial to the lie that we are not sheep and do not need a good shepherd.
And so we have listened to the voices of our flesh and the world, voices that are not the voice of the good shepherd. They have told us that in sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman we will find life and pleasure and happiness, and we have believed it. These voices told us that children didn’t need to honor their parents and parents didn’t need to guide and discipline their children, and we listened. These voices told us that our own internal sense of who God is and what is right and wrong is enough for us to know God, and our society listened and stopped coming to church. We heard that we were really not in that much danger fr4om the devil and our sinful nature, and we believed it and started coming to divine service only occasionally. We heard that we don’t really need the rest of the flock, Christ’s Church, that we can have our own relationship with God without having to put up with the rest of the sheep. And we believed it, and our love for the other sheep of Christ dried up.
We listened to voices other than the voice of the Good Shepherd. He does not say, “Be as good as you can.” He says, “You shall be perfect, as my heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5). He did not say, “Do the best you can.” He said, “You shall not covet anything that is your neighbor’s—“ that is, you shall have an innocent, pure heart. He said, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor,” that is, you shall have a tongue that speaks no bitterness or slander. He said, “You shall have no other gods,” which means, you shall not love or fear anything more than Me. You shall trust Me in all things and follow my voice even when it seems to lead you where you do not want to go.
That is the voice of the Good Shepherd. Repent and hear His voice. Admit that He has called you and would have led you, but you did not want to hear. You wanted to follow a shepherd who would at least let you act like your own shepherd sometimes, not one who required of you nothing less than that you love God with all your heart and your neighbor as yourself.
But the voices of other shepherds lead to death. The voice of the Good Shepherd leads to life.
In this world, we can’t expect much more of a good shepherd than that He protect His sheep and care for them until the time comes for them to be sold. But in the end sheep are used for their wool and milk and their meat. A good shepherd will put himself at risk to protect his flock from the wolves, but he does not want to have to die for his sheep. Ultimately the sheep die for their shepherd, so that the shepherd can eat and provide for his family.
Jesus is a different kind of shepherd. “I am the good shepherd,” He says. “The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” Jesus did not come into this world so that we could give ourselves for Him. He needs nothing that we have. He came into this world to lay down His life for us. He came here to die so that the great wolf, Satan, would have no power over us.
Satan comes to scatter Jesus’ flock and to slay individual sheep, to destroy the faith of Christians. He is a bitter foe, filled with nothing but hatred and desire to kill and slay us. He comes into the flock of Christ with lies to seduce us from listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd. He tells us we can sin and get away with it and he tells us we can fix our sinfulness on our own. He tells us that we don’t need to be a part of the flock of the good shepherd, that we can listen to His voice without having to be one sheep among many others. Then he turns on us and condemns us in our conscience, sometimes in this life, more often as we are dying. He says, “Look at how you have violated God’s law! Look at how you have not listened to the shepherd! Now you’re mine!”
This is why it is so necessary that we be sheep gathered in the flock of Christ, gathered around His word and sacrament. Because there, among the other helpless, nearly senseless sheep, we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd that saves us. “I have laid down my life for you,” says Jesus’ voice. “I have atoned for your wandering with my blood. Your failures to heed my voice in the law are atoned for. Indeed, the sin in which you were born that inclines your ear to other shepherds who are thieves and robbers, that original sin is also covered by My blood.”
We have a Good Shepherd who does an incredible thing. He lays down His life for the sheep. Earthly shepherds don’t do this. They protect the sheep only so that in the end they can take their lives. Jesus came and laid down His life so that we, His sheep, will live. We have life because He gave up His life for us on the cross. He now feeds us, His sheep, on the rich pastures of eternal life. He douses us in the water of life in Baptism and makes us clean. He feeds us on eternal life as He gives us His body and blood in the Sacrament.
How good it is to be a sheep in the hands of such a shepherd! This is why we should not be afraid to listen to His voice and not the voices of the world and our flesh. The voices of the world and our flesh promise us freedom in seeking ourselves, but they leave us to be torn apart by the wolf when the test comes. The voice of Jesus does not flatter us. It calls us sheep who don’t know their own way. It rebukes us and makes great threats against our wandering hearts. But the voice of Jesus does this only to call us to life. “You can’t find life in your own efforts and striving or in the things of this world,” it calls. “But you have life in Me, for I have laid my life down for you. I have rescued you from Satan the wolf, having atoned for all your sins. And when I lead you along thorny, difficult paths, I do it as the Good Shepherd who died so that His flock might have safety and everything good.”
So let us return to the voice of our Good Shepherd who has laid down His life for us. Let us receive the life He laid down for us, for it is given freely to us today in His Word and His Holy Body and Blood. And let us continue to hear His voice as it calls out the assurance of our sins’ forgiveness.
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
Soli Deo Gloria