+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti Amen +
Text: John 10:1-10
Theme: Life Under the Shepherd
Dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The Son of God is never apprehensive. He candidly speaks His word of judgment and His word of grace. Jesus was not remiss in calling a spade a spade. In today’s gospel reading, so dearly loved for the Good Shepherd imagery that follows, He begins by condemning the religious rulers. The criticism is pointed and it is personal. It is a call to repentance. It is a warning of judgment. These shepherds have abused and disadvantaged the flock. They seek only personal gain. They have abdicated their positions. He calls them thieves and robbers. They are not true shepherds at all. In contrast, He is the true Shepherd. He cares for the flock.
Who are the “thieves and robbers” today? They are all who supplant, denigrate, or undermine the work of Christ. All sinners fall under such guilt. We are all prone to transgressions such as these. Christ is robbed of His position when we put our trust in other powers that are not God- government, medicine, science. We steal His reputation when we hope to find ultimate happiness in money, careers, or relationships. We misappropriate His gifts when we indulge ourselves liberally while denying others in need. Finally, to rob Christ of His glory is to deny Him the honour of being the complete and sufficient sacrifice for our sins.
Of course in heaven it is impossible to rob Christ of His majesty. He reigns as the crucified, resurrected, and ascended Lord. But it happens on earth whenever the gospel is despised or so misrepresented as to discredit His work. It happens as a matter of course as we follow our human instincts unchecked and ungoverned by God’s truth. It happens (this distancing ourselves from God and diminishing Christ’s work) most noticeably when we operate apart from the witness of the Holy Scriptures. Dear friends, if we do not have the word we do not have the Spirit. If we do not have the Spirit we do not have faith. If we do not have faith, we do not have Christ. If we do not have Christ we do not have anything worth having.
Christ cannot be severed from His word. The voice of our Good Shepherd is heard through it. Through the Scriptures the Holy Spirit transforms the lives of the baptized. One writer describes Christ’s careful shepherding in this way, “He tempered the wind to the shorn lamb, but now that you are stronger in the spiritual life, you must enter upon the riper and rougher experience of God’s full-grown children. We need winds and tempests to exercise our faith, to tear off the rotten bough of self-dependence, and to root us more firmly in Christ. The day of evil reveals to us the value of our glorious hope.”1 In short, God exercises our faith vigorously but does not give us more than we can bear. Faith lives in the midst of struggle. It must pass through the crucible to be refined. The Father prunes those who bear fruit2; He chastises those He loves3; He allows suffering for those who bear His name4.
God tempers the wind to the shorn lamb but He does not pamper and thus undermine our faith. Believers are active followers and busy ambassadors, not trophies kept behind glass in some divine display case. It is only in the tension of suffering for Christ that we can understand our true purpose in life. Our pursuits and experiences are not all of equal importance. St. Peter says, “How is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps.”5
Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”6What does it mean to have life fully and abundantly? The world is constantly demanding that we adopt its standards for the quality of life. These standards revolve around material wealth, physical health, and unrestricted opportunity. Those outside these parameters are pitied as unfortunate, lamented as missing out, or ostracized as ones who stand in opposition to expected norms.
But dare the Christian even reflect on what quality of life means apart from the spiritual dimension? To do so without a biblical frame of reference reveals the extent of our secularism. To do so without humility reveals the extent of our arrogance. To do so without gratitude reveals the extent of our sense of entitlement. The Scripture says, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are.”7 In Christ we have all things. The terminally ill are as fit as Olympic athletes; the orphan as settled in a stable family as the only child of loving parents.
How much more abundant might be the life of the honest unskilled laborer than the life of a high-flying CEO. How much more abundant might be the life of the quadriplegic than the life of the professional athlete? God reads the heart. Believers have an eternal inheritance. They have protection from Satan’s accusation. They have the final victory over death itself. Yes, these blessings remain largely hidden in the shadow of the cross. But their certainty is not in doubt.
Dear friends, the way to life is narrow. But broad is the road that leads to destruction.
Jesus said, “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”8 The Bible says, “He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out.”9 Christ has always known your name. In the mystery of salvation He elected you in Christ before the foundation of the world. You are His redeemed child. In baptism you now share His name. You are not a number. You are not a generic composition of human stuff. You are His intricate, unique creation. You reflect His image in a way no one else can. You are a particular flavour of salt; a particular intensity of light, a unique stone fitted into His living temple. You are made for eternity.
These truths shape how we live in the present. They inform our vocation. Each one of us has specific tasks and opportunities ordained by God. Mother’s Day provides many clear examples. The privilege of carrying the life of another is unique to a mother. It is a high honour. It is a divine vocation. Eve was the mother of all the living. Looked down upon in today’s society as being relatively unimportant, motherhood is honoured by God one of the most valued and influential vocations that exists. Mothers provide Christ’s loving embrace for the tiniest lambs of the flock.
Dear friends, the imagery of the shepherd and his sheep has a long biblical history. Abel brought of the firstborn of his flock for sacrifice. Abraham brought the son of the promise but was given a ram as a substitute. The heavenly Father gave in sacrifice the divine Lamb. For Him there was no substitute. In Him you have life and forgiveness given here and now as you receive His body and blood. King David too was first a shepherd. But One greater than David now shepherds the true Israel of God. The apostle says “I can tell you with confidence that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was not abandoned to the grave, nor did His body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all are all witnesses of the fact.”10 Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
1 Charles Spurgeon
2 See John 15:2
3 See Hebrews 12:10
4 See 1 Peter 1:6-7
5 1 Peter 2:20-21
6 John 10:10
7 1 Corinthians 1:27-28
8 John 10:9
9 John 10:3
10 Acts 2:29-32
Fourth Sunday of Easter
11 May 2014
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt