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April 26, 2015 Text: John 10:11-17

Dear Friends in Christ,

In his book, The Story File, Steve May writes, “Students in a psychology class at San Diego State were asked to name their most valuable asset. Two wrote down intelligence, and both misspelled it.” And then he tells of this incident: “The manager of a novelty shop located in a tourist area attracts customers from all over the world. One day, a man came in and started browsing. He spotted a ventriloquist’s dummy and asked, ‘Do you have one that speaks Spanish?’
And then he makes this priceless observation: “Ignorance has something to be said for it. It contributes to about nine-tenths of the world’s conversational output.”
What does all of this have to do with the sermon? Very little, other than reminding us of the human condition and our need for help. This morning . . .
So we start with the wolf. Jesus says, “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd…sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.” (v. 12)
The alpha wolf is the devil, the father of lies. But the alpha wolf has other wolves. Jesus warns, “Beware of false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matt. 7:15) And Paul warns the leaders of the church at Ephesus, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30)
There is the alpha wolf the lesser wolves and then another group that Jesus identifies in the text, “He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.” (v. 13)
Lutheran commentator, Gary P. Baumler writes: “The hired hand is like those church leaders who think more of their own well-being than of serving God’s flock. They are not true shepherds. They do not feel any personal responsibility for the sheep. They do the job to make a living. When wolves, come, they show their real colors. They abandon the flock and let the wolves ravage and scatter it.”
I would suggest that many “hired hands” simply do whatever they have to in order to avoid conflict, to avoid taking a stand for God’s Word, to keep themselves in a worldly comfort zone. See the hired hands, the wolves and the leader of the pack himself, the devil – they’re everywhere seeking the destruction of God’s people.
And that brings us to…the sheep. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (v. 11) And then He notes, “…I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” The “other’ sheep is a reference to the Gentiles. Us. And it all fits with Christ’s revelation of, “For God so loved the world…” The world: Jew and Gentile.
And the sheep have two qualities about them. They know the voice of the Good Shepherd. Jesus says, “and they will listen to my voice.” (v. 16) The sheep hear the Word. They know the Word. They learn the Word. And they cling to the Word unto death!
The other quality? The gentle nature of the sheep that makes them vulnerable to all sorts of attacks. We are no more of this world than the Shepherd. Do we understand that? We may have this world and do of this world, but it is all very momentary and not the goals of our lives – having and doing. Jesus said about you and me and our brothers and sisters everywhere, “I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of this world, just as I am not of this world.” (Jn. 17:14) It’s always the same old inner confrontation, isn’t it? What, of this world, is really that important?
Sheep. That’s us. The people Christ sought and loves and claims as His own. And that brings us to . . . the Good Shepherd.
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep…For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” (v. 14, 15, 17)
The part we know and love the most is: I lay down my life for the sheep. It takes us to Calvary – to the payment for every sin – to the fact that God, for the sake of Jesus, sees us as His holy, righteous, forgiven people.
Then this: I lay down my life that I may take it up again. That brings us to His resurrection. We love this because it reminds us of Jesus’ promise to everyone who believes in Him: “Because I live, you also will live.” (Jn. 14:19)
But we don’t want to exclude this: I know my own and my own know me. His “own” are those He has purchased with His blood. Those who are righteous – not by virtue of there own goodness, but because we are reckoned righteous through faith in Christ. Paul calls it “the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” (Rom. 3:22)
The Good Shepherd is always there. Watching, protecting, and giving life. As we deal with the wolves of this space and time give a listen to something I’ve quoted before. It bears repeating. It’s 250 A.D. and Cyprian a noted Christian writer and Bishop of Carthage wrote this to his friend Donatus.
“This is a cheerful world as I see it from my garden, under the shadow of my vines. But if I could ascend some high mountain and look very far, what would I see? Bandits on the highways, pirates on the seas, armies fighting, cities burning, in the amphitheaters people murdered to please applauding crowds, selfishness and cruelty, misery and despair under all roofs. It is a bad world, Donatus, an incredibly bad world. But I have discovered in the midst of it a quiet and holy people who have learned a great secret. They have found joy that is a thousand times better than any of the pleasures of our sinful life. They are despised and persecuted, but they care not. They are masters of their souls. They have overcome the world. These people, Donatus, are the Christians – and I am one of them.”
You and I are too. Thanks be to the Good Shepherd!