THE 4TH SUNDAY OF EASTER AD 2019
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
Text: John 10: 22 At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. 24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly. 25 Jesus answered them, I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, 26 but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep. 27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. 30 I and the Father are one.
Sheep are not cows. There’s a big difference between them. Just about every kid knows that because Old McDonald has both on his farm. Sheep are small and white and fluffy or woolly. Cows are big and more or less hairy. Smart? No, neither of them are what we’d call smart but even here there’s a difference. Cows tend to have their own minds but sheep not so much.
That’s why you have a flock of sheep but a herd of cows. Sheep flock together while cows have to be herded. Sheep follow after their shepherd, while cows have to be driven from behind. No, to my knowledge there’s no such thing as a “sheep prod,” but farmers do have, and sometimes need, such a tool, when it comes to getting cows to go where they want them to go.
Now, although I’ve lived for close to twenty years amongst the pastures of Perth County, this city born and raised boy will not claim to be an expert in these matters. No, I will not, because the Experimental Farm in Ottawa that filled my nose every spring with what is known as “fresh country air” hardly qualifies me to be a true country boy.
An expert, I am not, but the One speaking to us today, through whom the Father created both cows and sheep, does draw on this particular truth about sheep. And I would venture to say that He does know a thing or two about the matter. Sheep know their shepherd’s voice and they follow him. They flock around Him and each other. Cows and pigs … not quite. If you think about it, we have no such term as being "sheep headed” but we do have “bull” and “pig headed.”
Being called a sheep in the world is not such a great thing. Being a sheep means that you are weak-minded and submissive. It means that you are easily led. All bad things in a world that celebrates strength and independence … that questions all authority and rebels against the idea of submitting to anyone. This all naturally flows from the belief that those over you don’t have your best interests at heart.
In a world where those at the top just want to keep you down, the last thing that you want to be is a sheep. This is just what the devil convinced our first parents about in Eden when he sold his lie to them about God’s heart toward us. Trust? Follow? No, he lied, “You don’t want to do that, you want to stand on your own, go your own way.” And so we turned away from flocking to the Lord and have been herded by Satan ever since.
God in His mercy, as we are joyfully celebrating in these Easter days, was not happy to leave things as we had chosen to make them. At the greatest of costs to Himself He came to find us and undo the lie by revealing His true heart to us in Christ, so that we might flock back to Him. Although as Almighty God He could have easily forced us to fall back in line, that is not who He is - the lie is really a lie, beloved.
And so gently and humbly He came to suffer and die for us that we might see and know that this Shepherd truly is One that we would want to follow. Dominate? Put down? Keep down? No, look at His hands and feet and side and know without question that that simply is not true. The One who did that for you is not going to lead you down the garden path or lead you astray. The One who did that for you can be trusted fully and completely in everything for everything.
Does Jesus want you to live as a sheep with Him? Without question. Because as every kid knows (even city ones like me) a sheep is not a cow no matter how much it may try to be like one. A sheep that tries to live like a cow will end up in trouble, no ifs, ands or buts about it. We were created to be sheep - to be cared for, looked after, tended and led by the Lord. We may have bought into the lie that we could shepherd ourselves, and so lived as bullheaded cows ever since, but a sheep’s needs remain whether or not it thinks it’s a cow and tries to live like one.
The voice of your Good Shepherd calls out to each and everyone of you today, reminding you that you are just such a poor and helpless sheep that needs His loving care. He points out to you those places where you have not listened to His voice, where with head down you’ve gone your own dangerous way. He holds out His hands and points to His feet and and His side, and He asks you why you have questioned or doubted Him in the troubles and trials of your life.
Jesus calls out to you from the altar in His flesh and blood today to remind you what you are, and even more importantly, what He is to you. Yes, you are a sheep but not one without a Shepherd. “Hear my voice,” He says. “Hear my word of forgiveness. Hear my word of mercy. Hear my word of peace. I know you. I have called you by name. You are mine.
I have written your name in the palms of my hands. I have claimed you as my own. I have given up all for you. I have suffered all for you. I have laid down my very life for you. You are a sheep of my own fold. I am your Shepherd. I once was dead but now I live. Nothing will snatch you out of my hand.”
“The Father has given you to me, beloved,” He says. “When you became His child, He took and placed you upon my shoulders, as a lamb of my own flock, that I might bear you through life on the shoulders that carried the cross for you, holding on to you with the hands that were nailed to that cross for you.”
“Look down,” the Lord Jesus says today,“look at the wounds in the hands that hold you and know that nothing can snatch you out of these hands. Death cannot snatch you out of them because these hands have overcome death. Sin cannot snatch you out of them because these hands have taken away all sin’s power. Satan cannot snatch you out them because these hands have defeated him.”
Yes, beloved, the Good Shepherd takes care of His sheep. They hear His voice. He knows them. They follow Him. He gives them eternal life. They will never perish. No one will snatch them out of His hand. And what can a poor sheep say to that other than - Aaaaa … men.