April 22, 2018

A Sacrifice Beyond Our Heart's Belief


4th Sunday of Easter
First Lesson:  Acts 20:28-32

Second Lesson:  1 John 3:1-2

Gospel Lesson:  John 10:11-18

Sermon Text:  John 10:11-18

Preacher:  Loren Lucht

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.  14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
 
Dear Friends,

Have you ever done something dumb?  *Let’s say you rented cross-country skis to go skiing with a church group. You start skiing and notice that your right ski doesn’t slide in the snow.  You grumble a little about the rental place but after two hours of skiing on your left foot you find that you didn’t take ¾ in rubber band from your right ski, that was holding the skis together when you picked them up from the rental place. That’s dumb.  *You decide to put up some pictures or repair something in the living room and you need your tools from the basement.  You open the door, climb the stairs and stand there in the attic wondering what you came here for. That’s dumb. *You drive to Fleet Farm or Walmart or the grocery store. You park your car, get out, push the door lock button and close the door.  Ten steps away from your car you realize that you left the car running with the keys in it.  That’s dumb!  We do dumb things, no matter what age we are.
 
In our gospel lesson today, Jesus compares us to sheep.  Now, who wouldn’t like that picture?  Sheep are cute.  They’re cuddly and warm.  They’re gentle and so peaceful.  But that’s not the picture that Jesus is giving us here.  Basically, he wants us to realize that sheep are dumb.  Just like we are. (Maybe more often than we think.)

First of all, we might want to think about when sheep get burrs in their outer coats, or thorns or pebbles in their hooves, that are incapable of helping themselves. Because they’re simple-minded sheep they don’t recognize danger when it approaches and because they are weak they couldn’t defend if they needed to. They need a shepherd to help and protect them.
 
Secondly, on their own, sheep would not find food and water.  They would wander aimlessly on the prairie and would only find respite if it would be by dumb luck.  They need a shepherd to guide them to green pastures and still waters.
 
Thirdly, sheep are known to wander.  If there is one chance in a hundred that a sheep could find an opening in the brush and bushes around him, you can be certain one of the shepherd’s hundred sheep will find it.  And if others see him going through the opening, they’ll follow right behind.  It’s the shepherd’s responsibility to watch out for the sheep and bring them back into the fold.
 
So how are we like the “dumb” sheep?
 
For starters, sheep are an appropriate picture of us because of the problems we face daily: whether they are big or small.  As we deal with life, we recognize our weaknesses, our inability to help ourselves with simple tasks, day by day we wish we could do better.   Sheep have many wants and needs, yet they are very helpless, and quite unable to provide for themselves. If it wasn’t for the shepherd's care they would soon perish. And it’s true of us. This doesn’t apply only to our daily challenges, our spiritual needs are numerous and pressing, yet we cannot fill any of them.

Like simple little sheep, we love to wander, and that puts at risk to get lost and dirty and injured.  We are not strong and independent.  Our lack of common sense makes us self-destructive, and destructive to our fellow sheep. We need a Good Shepherd, to help us with our difficulties.
 
Give us our daily bread.  We do that don’t we?  If you’re living at home you’re your parents, who fills the refrigerator, freezer and cupboards?  Mom and Dad, that’s your responsibility, but maybe you’re in this position now, or maybe you remember when your income wasn’t enough to buy even generic or off brand products. Those of you who my age, too often deal with the question of how to afford the medication our doctors say we need.

When we think of all those concerns, in a way, we can say, unless our bread drops down from heaven, and our water flows out of a living rock, we couldn’t take care of ourselves.   Who provides for our daily needs?  We can be certain that our Good Shepherd knows what we need. He sees that our needs are all taken care of.  
 
We pray, lead us not into temptation and deliver us from evil, yet we wander away from the One who supplies our needs and protects our lives and spiritual well-being. And this is the worst part
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.  Isaiah 53:6

Do you see yourself a sheep that wanders off?  Have you found yourself in an evil place or even in danger because you followed some enticing path? And,  there you were caught, knowing only that you shouldn’t be there, but not knowing how to go back.

Haven’t we all been in situations where we ask ourselves, “How did I get here?”  You might be grounded.  You might have lost your job. Maybe you recognize that the friends you have are not kind of people you ever thought that you’d be with. The things you live with every day might be things you never dreamed you would deal with. As sheep who wander from our Shepherd sometimes we really get lost.  We need a shepherd to keep watch and keep us safe.

We are like sheep who habitually, constantly, willfully, foolishly, without the wisdom to return, have gone astray. We are like helpless sheep cared for by a loving God but apparently not able to recognize the loving hand that cares for us.  We are like mindless lambs who are just smart enough to find the gap in the hedge by which to escape, but so silly as to have no idea or desire to return to the place from which we had wandered.  

And we add the issue of sin.

Each of us has turned to our own way.
This is a most disturbing thought.  In general ways we rightly talk about our sins of thoughts, words and deeds. But the Bible is very clear in condemning your sin and mine.  We each have “turned to our own (sinful) way.”  Each of us has one sin, at least one, which we regret, for which we have repented, which we don’t want to go back to or repeat.  Do I need to say anything more than . . . dumb sheep?
 
Such thoughts weigh heavy on us.  Why would Jesus ever love us? What kind of a shepherd would even want “dumb sheep”  like us?
 “I am the Good Shepherd.  I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” Verse 14
 
As our Good Shepherd Jesus Keeps Us Safe
My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me; . . .  no one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10:27,28

What a comfortable place to be.  In the arms of Jesus.  What can hurt the sheep here? If anyone or anything tries to hurt these lambs they would have to hurt the Shepherd first. Jesus says, nothing can get the lamb out of the shepherd's arm. Any adversary would have to cut off the shepherd's arm before they could hurt the lamb? They would have to destroy the Shepherd’s body before they can kill the creature whom he lovingly holds!  The devil must destroy your Shepherd before he can slay you.

In our Shepherd’s arms we find comfort. What a soft place to ride in! The warmth of the Shepherd's heart cheers his lamb! So, as a lamb in His fold the warmth of Jesus, and the delightful comfort of his presence, will bring us strength, peace and rest.  Spurgeon
 
There is not one sheep of all his flock (there is not one among us) who does not recognize the mark of Jesus’ blood on him!

In the face of every believer the Savior sees the stain of his sacrifice at the cross.
You are not your own; you were bought at a price.”  1 Cor. 6:19,20
 
This is where the greatest test of His shepherding skills came: at His death.  It is easy to be a shepherd when there are no wolves around.  A cowardly shepherd runs at the first sign of wolves.  He will not stay and risk his life because he knows that those he watches over are only sheep.  In his mind they are not worth dying for.

But Christ is not a cowardly shepherd.  He is no hired hand.  He is the Good Shepherd.  When the wolves came, He stood His ground.  When they circled Him and closed in for the kill, He would not abandon us.  Even though we are only sheep, He has loved us to the bitter end.  Here is the truest picture of the Good Shepherd: Our savior - Christ dying on the Cross.  That is the love of the Good Shepherd for His sheep.
 
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:7,8
 
But there’s more! If a shepherd only dies, he leaves the sheep abandoned and defenseless.  So, Christ our Good Shepherd not only laid down His life, but He also took it up again.  He died, but He also rose, so that we sheep will not ever be abandoned.

“The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again” Verses 17, 18
 
Christ Jesus continues to shepherd His flock today. 
He leads us beside living waters and provides for our daily needs.
He heals our spiritual diseases and binds up our wounds.
In Baptism and the Lord's Supper, Christ cares for His sheep. 
He makes us healthy with a proper diet of Word and Sacrament. 
He forgives all our sins and repeatedly proclaims this good news.
 
Amen