“The Sheep Hear the Shepherd’s Voice” (John 10:1-10)

Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 30, 2023

“The Sheep Hear the Shepherd’s Voice” (John 10:1-10)

Today is the day in the church year we call “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Every year on this day we get a reading from John 10, the chapter where Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” Every year we hear Jesus talking about the relationship of the shepherd and his sheep. And so today Jesus says: “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Dear friends, my fellow sheep, it is vitally important–it is a matter of life or death–that we hear and know and follow the voice of our shepherd. For there are other voices out there that would lead us astray, lead us into grave spiritual danger, if we were to follow them. Thus our theme this morning: “The Sheep Hear the Shepherd’s Voice.”

Yes, Jesus is our good shepherd. Throughout this tenth chapter of John, Jesus takes the familiar Old Testament imagery of the Lord as the shepherd, and he applies it to himself. What we find in Psalm 23 and elsewhere, Jesus says is fulfilled in him, that he is the true and good shepherd of God’s people.

The 23rd Psalm says, “The Lord is my shepherd.” The Lord Jesus is that shepherd. He leads and feeds, he guards and guides his sheep. He leads us beside still waters. He feeds us in green pastures. He guards us from all evil, even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death. He guides his sheep in paths of righteousness.

We the sheep are utterly dependent on the shepherd for our very life. Without our shepherd, we would be in big trouble. We would get stuck in dried-out areas where there’s not enough pasture. We would be alarmed and bewildered by things that frighten us. We’d be easy prey for any predator that comes along. We’d be lost and not able to find our way back to safety. That’s what would happen to us without our shepherd.

And so we need our shepherd–we need to hear the voice of our shepherd–to bring us out of those barren places. To comfort us when we’re distressed. To warn us of approaching danger. To call us back when we wander astray. Without the clear and steady voice of the shepherd, finding us and calling us, we sheep would be surely lost. On our own, we’re vulnerable to all sorts of dangers and predators, vulnerable also to our own lack of good sense. That’s why we need the good shepherd to take care of us.

Luther puts it like this: “You are a lost sheep and you cannot, of yourself, find the way to the shepherd. Of yourself you can go astray, and unless Christ, your shepherd, sought you and fetched you back, you would simply fall a prey to the wolf. But now he comes, seeks you, finds you, and brings you back to his flock, that is, through the Word and the Sacraments, back into the Christian church, gives his life for you, keeps you henceforth in the right way, that you fall into no error. There you hear nothing about your own strength, good works, and merits, except that your strength, good works, and merits mean going astray, being defenseless and lost. Christ works, merits, and manifests his strength in this alone: He seeks, upholds, and leads you. He wins life for you through his death. He alone is strong enough to protect you so that you do not perish, and are not snatched out of his hand. Towards all this you can do nothing but lend your ears, listen, and receive with gratitude this unspeakable treasure and learn easily to recognize your shepherd’s voice and to shun the voice of the stranger.”

Jesus’ sheep gladly listen to the voice of their shepherd. They recognize his voice as the one they can trust. And they shun the voice of the stranger. Understand the picture in what Jesus is saying: In ancient times, there might be several flocks of sheep gathered into one sheepfold. In the morning, when the shepherds come to get their sheep, they begin calling out to them. Any number of shepherds might be in the sheepfold at one time, each one gathering his flock. But each sheep in that flock knows the voice of its own shepherd. They ignore the other voices calling throughout the sheepfold, and they zero in on their own shepherd. They hear his voice and follow him, not someone else.

“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Oh, there are many other voices in our world that you and I could listen to. There is the voice of our popular culture, calling out to us. What does that voice sound like? It sounds very appealing. It speaks our native language, the language of our flesh. It appeals to our desires. We can hear this voice calling out to us night and day, from entertainment, celebrities, education, media, and government. This voice says: “There is no such thing as truth, there’s no such thing as right and wrong. The only thing that matters is what’s true for you, what feels right to you. Be spiritual, sure, but don’t get too involved in organized religion. Make up your own mind. Don’t let anyone tell you what to do or believe.” This voice is calling out 24/7. It is the voice of the world around us. It’s that little voice lurking in the dark corner of your heart. It’s the same seductive voice that came slithering on a tree and whispered in the ear of Adam and Eve. Don’t listen to it. It’s not the voice of your shepherd.

The voice of your shepherd has a clear and distinct tone. His voice rings true, calling you home. This voice, like the one in Eden, comes calling out from a tree. But it is a different tree, and this voice speaks a different word. This voice speaks of forgiveness. It speaks of the love of the Father who sends his Son to redeem a world that had rebelled against him. This is a one-of-a-kind voice. You hear the voice of God in the true and trustworthy words of Jesus. Here is your shepherd; his, the voice you should listen to.

Listen to him speaking to you today. Jesus speaks absolution to guilty consciences, when Christ’s undershepherd says: “In the stead and by the command of my Lord Jesus Christ I forgive you all your sins.” Jesus speaks of the willing sacrifice he makes to guard and save his sheep: “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Jesus speaks of what he came to do for his sheep: “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” This is the living voice of the gospel that Jesus speaks to you even now through the preaching of his word.

And what a sweet sound it is! Jesus gives a gift no one else can give. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus gives you life! Abundantly! Eternally! This is life renewed and restored back to God. Life that is yours right now by faith. Life that lasts forever, conquering the grave. Jesus’ sheep will never perish. We will not die eternally. The abundant life that Jesus gives is life with God that will never end.

“I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” Jesus can give this gift because he earned it for us on the cross, where he suffered the judgment we deserve. As Peter writes: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”

On the cross, our good shepherd laid down his life for the sheep, only to take it up again in his resurrection. And now our living Lord Jesus speaks to us–his voice very clear, very recognizable–so that we can hear and know it and follow where he leads.

Listen to your shepherd’s life-giving voice and follow him. This is the life of faith. This is life in his flock, the church. You were made Jesus’ little lambs in your baptism. You were brought into the fold. You know your Savior, Jesus Christ, and he knows you. You learn to know the shepherd’s voice through your life in the church, here in God’s house, listening to God’s word as it is preached and taught and sacramented. These gospel means, these means of grace, the Word and the Sacraments–these are your life! For they are the life of Christ coming to you and leading you through life and into the life to come. The voice of Christ comes to you in his word and nowhere else. Never stray from his word. Never get out of range of his voice. Your very life depends on it. His life comes to you by means of it.

Brothers and sisters, are you feeling a little sheepish today? Good. I hope so. For we are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his hand. We are Jesus’ sheep, and we gladly listen to his voice. Our shepherd calls, and we follow. “The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”

Published in: on April 28, 2023 at 3:47 pm  Leave a Comment  
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