Over the years I have written several "book" or "booklets" and many, many, many newsletter and bulletin articles. Because the book market seeks writings to meet specific needs at specific times, my material has never been accepted. I have a tendency to write what is on my mind and so I am left with self publishing. So, with the encouragement from my wife and others, I am beginning this blog in order to put my "ramblings" "out there"! I hope you enjoy!
Please note that while my intentions are to use good grammar, because of the way in which some of the material presented here is presented (orally) the grammar and syntax might not always be the best English. Also note that good theology is not always presented in the best English so there may be times when the proper grammar rules are purposely broken.
Sunday, May 3, 2020
I Have Come to Bring Life - May 3, 2020 - Fourth Sunday of Easter (Good Shepherd Sunday) - Text: John 10:1-10
Last week and week before last we heard accounts of Jesus’ resurrection. Two weeks ago we were there with the disciples and with the disciples and Thomas as Jesus appeared to them, showing Himself to be alive. Last week we were there with the disciples on the road to Emmaus as they realized that Jesus was alive. And actually, both those events happened on the same day, Easter evening. This week we shift gears (so to speak) as we celebrate what we call “Good Shepherd” Sunday.
We begin by setting the context for our text this morning. Our context is that this account is one which took place well before Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. Jesus had already been baptized by John and was out preaching and teaching, as well as healing, casting out demons, doing other signs, wonders, miracles and the like. By this time, Jesus had established Himself as someone who captured peoples attention. And one group whose attention He had captured was the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. The Pharisees are watching Jesus very closely. They do not like Him and they are looking for a way to get rid of Him, any way or any excuse. Besides Jesus did not make them look very good. In the verses before our text this morning we read about Jesus healing a man born blind, that was our text about six weeks ago. In that text we saw how the Pharisees tried every way they could to disclaim the miracle of the healing of the blind man. They questioned the parents about their child really being born blind. They questioned the man about his blindness, and finally they resort to putting him out of the synagogue. Though their attempts at disclaimer were futile they persisted. The end of the chapter as it is marked in our Bible does not mean that this encounter was concluded, rather, this encounter continues in our text for this morning. In our text, Jesus talks about the vocation of shepherding in order to explain what true shepherding is all about, what true caring is all about, and that He is the True Shepherd who has come to bring us life in contrast to the Pharisees who come as thieves and robbers to take life away.
In order to get a better feel for our text let us talk about shepherding. Our text tells us that there is a gate keeper. From what I have read about the practice of shepherding, at night all of the sheep from several shepherds are kept in one pen, a corral, with walls, but no roof. There is one door to the sheep pen and it is watched by the gate keeper. When morning dawns each shepherd comes and claims his sheep calling them each by name. After his sheep are all out of the pen he goes before them and leads them. The sheep know their shepherd by his voice. They do not mistake another for their shepherd, like a thief or a robber. Our text explicitly tells us that the thief or robber does not come through the gate, but climbs over the wall or comes in some other way. When he comes in, not only do the sheep not listen to his voice or come to him, but they run away from him. The thief comes not to bring life, but to take it away.
Jesus intentionally uses this example of shepherding because He knows that the Pharisees are familiar with the concept of shepherding and they are familiar with the Old Testament symbolism of the shepherd. The shepherd symbolizes a royal caretaker of God’s people. We see this symbolism in the twenty-third Psalm which is a favorite psalm of many people. In the twenty-third Psalm we read how “the Lord is my shepherd.” The leaders in Israel were their shepherds. And God often times denounced the false shepherds and promised to provide a true Shepherd, the Messiah to care for His sheep. The Pharisees knew and understood the imagery Jesus was using. They knew that Jesus was at least a prophet. They knew His claims to be the Messiah, but they just could not and would not believe these claims to be true. Today it is easy for us as we look back to see the Pharisees as the false shepherds and how they were seeking to take life from their people. They took physical life by imposing many tedious laws and spiritual life by taking away the Gospel.
So, what was their problem? What is it about these Pharisees? The Pharisees were a group of “separated ones,” which is what their name means. Their religion amounted to following a code of rules and regulations to the letter. In order to do this they separated themselves from the common people and devoted their lives to following these, what amounted to their own rules. They, with the high priests, had set themselves up pretty good with the ruling Roman government and had good positions of authority. They did know the prophecies of a coming Messiah, but their idea of the Messiah was different than Jesus. They were looking for an earthly king, someone who would be born of royalty, would overthrow the Roman government and would set them up as rulers. Jesus did not fit their specifications so they wanted nothing to do with Him. Whether He was truly the Messiah or not did not matter. They were not concerned about the people, whether they had life or not. Their only concern was for their own life, which in their blindness they lost. They were like the people today who believe that their good works and deeds will be seen by others to merit for themselves a high place in society and who hope that will translate also into a high place in the afterlife, if they are thinking that far forward. They were like people today who look only to their own interest and especially to their own interest in this world, perhaps their own positions or seeming positions of power and authority rather than to be concerned about others or about God’s will and work. It is these same people who use their goodness as a measure of how others should act. They really do not know what is true life in Christ.
Thus, when the Pharisees hear Jesus speak of the example of the shepherd they do not understand. So, Jesus speaks the example a second time hoping that they will understand. From the first telling of the example two truths come clear to us today, obviously none of which the Pharisees understood. Each of these truths comes with the understanding that Jesus is the shepherd He is talking about. First, we know that Jesus the True Shepherd calls each one of us by name. He knows each one of us and as He knows us, we know Him. He alone can see in our hearts and He knows all about us. He is the one who called us by name at our Baptism, putting faith in our hearts, giving us forgiveness of sins and writing our names in the book of Life. With the faith He has given to us, we hear His call in His Word. By the power of the Holy Spirit working in and through us, we respond to His call by following Him. Thus, the opposite is true as well, that is that if we live lives refusing God and the gifts He has to give, absenting ourselves from His means of grace, from divine service and Bible class, then truly we do not know God, nor His voice, nor are we known by Him. Which means we have put our souls in jeopardy of losing heaven.
Second, we know that Jesus has given each of us, that are truly His sheep, His children, the ability to discern between what is truly His Word and what is false doctrine coming from false shepherds, or teachers. We know the difference between the true shepherd and the thief or robber. We know that the true shepherd is the one who teaches that Jesus is the only gate, the only way into His kingdom, the only way into eternal life in heaven. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we follow only the true shepherd and flee from the thief.
Because the Pharisees were blind to the truth by their own unbelief and did not understand what Jesus was saying, He speaks the example a second time. The second time He speaks the example He hopes the Pharisees will understand and come to faith, while knowing that if they do not they will fall even more into their unbelief. Again they do not understand, but, with the help of the Holy Spirit, we do. We understand that when Jesus says that “all who ever came before me were thieves and robbers,” He is talking about the Pharisees and the high priests. We understand that Jesus is the gate into eternal life. As Jesus specifically states, “9I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture”(v.9). It is through Jesus alone that we are saved. It was just three weeks ago that we remembered His suffering and death upon the cross and celebrated His Easter victory. Finally we understand that through Him, through His victory on the cross over sin and death, not only do we have life, but we have it to the full. Verse ten reads, “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly”(v.10).
Jesus has come as the True Shepherd, the Messiah, in order that these people, the children of Israel, yes, even the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, and we today might have life. This is in contrast to the death which comes through the lies of the thieves and robbers who come to kill and destroy, the same thieves and robbers who today preach and teach anything other than the Gospel of eternal life through faith in Jesus alone. This life Jesus has come to bring is eternal life, but not only eternal life, also life here on earth. It is through this Jesus that these people and we were first given life back in Genesis, when, in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, all of creation, and topped it off with the man and the woman as He breathed into their nostrils the breath of life and they became living beings. It is this Jesus whom God the Father promised to send as a Savior back in Genesis 3:15 right after Adam and Eve sinned. It is this Jesus whom God promised to send through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, and so forth through Mary and Joseph. It is this Jesus for whom the children of Israel were waiting. It is this Jesus standing right before the very eyes of the people, the Pharisees, the high priests, and before us today who has come to bring life.
This Jesus is the one who has also come to bring us a more abundant life. God promised Abraham to make his descendants a great nation and to give him a land. The Israelites were given the promised land, a land flowing with milk and honey. Jesus here comes as the True Shepherd to bring us an even more abundant life. Abundant life is not only eternal life, but is life without death, that is without eternal death, hell, or fear of death. Abundant life is living in the joy and peace of the Savior, the peace that only He can give, the peace about which we spoke two weeks ago when Jesus gave His peace to His disciples, that is a peace which comes from His suffering, death and resurrection and restores our relationship with God the Father. This does not mean that we will not have struggles while we are here on this earth, but with our struggles God will provide for us the strength to handle them. Abundant life is life lived in faith in Jesus.
“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus came to us first in our Baptism bringing us back into a right relationship with Himself. We were given our first abundant life through this gift of living water. Today we grow in our faith and abundant life through His Word, the Bible. As we remember our baptism we daily partake of His abundant life. As we daily read and study His Word we daily partake of His abundant life. As we daily and weekly confess our sins we partake of His abundant life. As we weekly come here to divine service and Bible class and hear His Word proclaimed we partake of His abundant life. And when we come to His altar to be given His body and blood in the Lord’s Supper we taste of His abundant life. Through these means we are daily renewed and enriched in the abundant life which Christ came to bring so many years ago and still brings today. As we are enriched in that abundantly life, our desire is even more to revel in that abundant life and with His help we go out and live the abundant life, for Jesus sake. To Him be the glory. Amen.