4th Sunday of Easter – 4/30/2023
Truth is conveyed by words. A good wordsmith, someone skilled in the use of words, can not only be a wonderful communicator of truth and effectively lead people in the right way but sadly, could also use his skill to lead untold numbers of people in the way of evil. Compare, say, Ronald Reagan to Adolf Hitler. Both are famous for having, as they say, silver tongues, but the effect of their words could not have been more strikingly opposite!
One of the tools in the box of an effective orator, speaker, or preacher, is the use of figures of speech, like metaphors. For example, when I said Reagan and Hitler both had silver tongues, I was employing a metaphor. Their tongues were not made of silver, of course! If that were the case they would not have even been able to utter a word. Silver simply is being used to communicate just how effectively they spoke. I suppose I could have simply said, “They both talked real good!” but such poor English would have betrayed the very point I was trying to make.
Jesus was a master of the use of figures of speech, especially metaphors to convey the truth. He even referred to Himself as “The Truth” and is spoken of in The Holy Bible as “The Word” (John 1:1,14). Jesus’ teaching, especially, concerning Himself was thoroughly seasoned with metaphors. He said, “I am the Light of the World.” “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Light.” “I am the life-giving bread that if anyone eats of it he shall live forever.” “I am the Resurrection and the Life.” And, of course, here He says, “I am the Good Shepherd. I am the Door of the sheep.”
Now, many, even today, reject this use of any kind of figures of speech. They insist vehemently, “Just say it plainly, so we can understand it!” So we see in the sixth verse of our text this morning from John chapter 10. We read: “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.”
Now, I’m not so sure that John means that Jesus’ audience was just clueless as to what He meant with His figures of speech; that is, His metaphors, or, as I am convinced, that they just didn't want to accept what His metaphors were conveying. After all, the ramifications of what His metaphors truly mean would be catastrophic to their self-styled theology. I believe they knew exactly what He was saying about Himself. They just didn’t want it to be so; that is, for Him to be The Good Shepherd and The Door to abundant life.
After all, we know from the context that the persons Jesus was most directly speaking to were those among the Jewish leaders who opposed Him and did not want Him to be the Messiah, the promised Savior. He was not fitting the mold of a saving king conquering their Roman occupiers as they had distorted their salvation to be.
John derogatorily refers to them simply as “the Jews.” What made them so dangerous was that they held God-ordained positions of spiritual oversight and leadership. They were the very ones entrusted with God's Word and ordinances to lead people into true fellowship with Him. They were the ones the people of Israel were supposed to be able to trust to tell them the truth about God and the way of salvation.
But over and over again through their faulty teachings, self-righteousness, and stubborn refusal to see Jesus as God's true Savior and Messiah, these spiritual leaders of Israel proved to be unfaithful guides. Not only did they lead people away from God and the true salvation that He was offering them, but they also managed to deceive themselves into losing their souls.
Just before our text, Jesus had quite pointedly declared them to be blind and condemned in their sin of unbelief. He said, "If you were blind (that is, clearly recognized you were blind and in need of the sight that only Jesus could give) then you would not have sin. But now you say that you see, (proving) that you remain in your sin (of unbelief) (Jn. 9:41).
Today, this Good Shepherd Sunday, we celebrate what Jesus' first metaphor in our text means. He is not simply like a shepherd. He is in His very essence and mission in our world The Good Shepherd. A shepherd cares for, tends, feeds, protects, and leads his sheep to good pastures. A good shepherd will even put his own life on the line to protect and save his sheep. Jesus does not just act the part of a shepherd. He is the quintessential shepherd! He is The Shepherd is David’s Shepherd in Psalm 23. Of course, he does not shepherd a flock of four-legged sheep and their lambs. He shepherds feeds, heals, and leads helpless, hapless, lost, sin-ravaged souls like you and me to the cool waters and green pastures of eternal life. He sets a table before us among our enemies of sin, death, and eternal punishment filling the cups of our need to overflow with His forgiveness. He does lay down His life for His sheep. He is not the shepherd who just feeds us any old sustenance but gives He gives us to eat and drink of Himself. As the true Bread of Life, He gives us not merely memories to live on but He feeds us His very body and blood given into death for us.
Jesus does not employ metaphors to simply illustrate or make a point. As the Word of God Himself, He conveys to us exactly what His metaphor says. This is clear even in the way He states the metaphor. When you and I use a metaphor we will say things like, “Cheryl is a real peach” or “Tiffany is a nightingale when she sings.” Jesus, however, doesn’t employ the indefinite articles “a” or “an” but always the definite article “the.” He does not say He “is a bread of life” or He “is a Good Shepherd” or He “is a door.” Rather, He says, “I am the Bread, the Good Shepherd, and the Door.”
And speaking of Jesus being The Door, what is He conveying to us? Indeed, life is full of doors beckoning us to go through them with the promise that they will lead us to a more enriched life, more success in life, better health, happiness, and even, eternal life and salvation. But in our text today, Jesus is here to tell us that there is only one door, one passageway that will lead us to the true abundant life. He says, He is that One Door!
Unfortunately, the world is full of hustlers, who will try to lead us to all those doors that go nowhere, or even worse, bring us only our present and eternal death. These false guides do not have our eternal welfare at heart but are simply concerned with padding their own pockets of success or wealth at our expense.
All this prompts Jesus to teach all His hearers a lesson in how to recognize the true spiritual guides that will lead souls to the one Door that will bring them abundant life in God. Drawing upon the picturesque metaphor of a shepherd and his sheep, Jesus exposes all the false guides. He identifies them as thieves and robbers. The true shepherd, Jesus says, is that shepherd, who doesn't try to climb into the sheep pen in some other way, but approaches the sheep through the one true gate or door. By the same token, He says, this true shepherd will lead the sheep out to find pasture only through that same door.
Perhaps, a little explanation might be to glean the full significance of Jesus' Shepherding metaphor. Although some of us might have had some experience raising sheep, the methods we employ today are quite different from those in the Judean culture of the first century. It was common practice at that time that each village would maintain one central sheep pen. Every evening the various shepherds would lead their sheep back from their pastures to the one holding area, where certain shepherds, or doorkeepers, would watch over all the sheep for the night.
Then, when morning came, each shepherd would come to the door of the sheep pen and call each of his sheep by name to come follow him and he would lead them out of the pen gate, or door, to find pasture for the day. It is entirely possible, then, that on the night that Jesus was born, it was to these shepherding gatekeepers to whom the heavenly host appeared to proclaim the good news.
Needless to say, under this kind of system of tending sheep, if a shepherd coming to get his sheep was not known by the doorkeepers, or tried to get his sheep by climbing over or through the sheep pen fence, he would be immediately recognized, even by the sheep, as a “stranger,” even a false shepherd, someone who was merely trying to rustle sheep, or fleece the flock!
The Jewish leaders were just such sheep rustlers. They were trying to call the people out and lead them to the pastures of their false teachings and practices without going through the Gate; the One true Door, Jesus Christ. They were not true shepherds. Their only intent was to “slaughter and destroy the sheep.”
Who are the true shepherds of Christ’s sheep today? Are there false shepherds, who are scattering the flock and murdering the sheep?
The central word used to apply to the spiritual guides in the New Testament Church of God is the word “Pastor”, from the Latin word for shepherd, stemming from the word pascere, “to feed.” The pastor’s role is to feed the flock with the wholesome Word of God and His true sacraments.
The true pastor of Christ’s people, therefore, is recognized by the fact that he goes in and out through the One Door; that is, through Jesus Christ. After all, as we have already noted, Jesus says, “I am the door of the sheep.”
The true pastor must by necessity, then, be recognized by Christ. That means more than that this pastor is a Christian. He must be someone, first of all, who comes to the sheep through Jesus Christ, the Door. What can this mean other than He is appointed by Christ? There is no place in the church of Christ, for "self-appointed pastors." Simply because someone claims to be a Christian and to have knowledge of the Bible, or even claims to have had a direct revelation from God, does not qualify him to be a pastor. Neither does the claim that God spoke to him and told him to go preach. None of God’s prophets nor Jesus’ apostles were self-appointed. They were called immediately by God/Christ. Many of them were called to preach even though they like Jonah tried to run in the opposite direction, or like Moses put up many objections, or like Peter were very hesitant, or like Paul, was an enemy of Christ.
In the early days of the Christian Church, Jesus personally appointed and sent certain men to shepherd His followers. He called them "apostles;" and "sent ones." After Jesus’ ascension into heaven, all further preachers, or pastors, were appointed and ordained by the apostles themselves. This gave the people the assurance that these shepherds were truly Jesus’ appointed shepherds and not mere strangers, who would follow their agendas or, like the Pharisees, teach them as they saw fit and not as God desired.
Since the time of the apostles, it has been the tradition of the church that either the successive Bishops, pastors, or the congregation of the faithful themselves, would appoint the pastor in each place. Again, this gave Jesus' flock some recourse to ensure that the pastor had come to them through the Door; that is through Christ. Accordingly, it is still the confession of our church, as stated in the Augsburg Confession, that "no one should publicly teach in the Church or administer the Sacraments unless he is regularly called" (Art. XIV).
Now, anyone who would feel the desire to serve as a pastor should gladly and willingly submit to this restriction. After all, if he desires to do what is just and right in the sight of Christ and is in the best interest of Christ's sheep, then he should have no qualms about being regularly called and appointed in the established way. Otherwise, his lack of submission would signal that he is willing to circumvent Christ, to come to the sheep in another way than through Jesus Christ. He would reveal that it is in his hand to do only that which is right in his own eyes. The sheep would be right to view him as a stranger… a thief… a robber, yes, even a murderer of Christ’s sheep, and not follow him.
Secondly, and perhaps even more importantly, Jesus teaches us that a true pastor, and not a robber, leads his sheep out through Jesus Christ, the One Door. By the very nature of his role, the pastor leads by his teaching. The true shepherd, or pastor, teaches His people to know the true Jesus Christ and to follow Him as their true Good Shepherd.
Now, this is not as easy as it might seem. The shepherd, or pastor, that is truly leading his people out to find good spiritual pastures, does not simply preach the Bible, but He preaches Christ Jesus, who is the Word Made Flesh, Who is the One to whom all the Scriptures point us.
The true pastor of Christ, then, does not merely preach moral lessons. The Pharisees taught the Ten Commandments and morality and Jesus called them “blind guides," "white-washed tombs!" All religions teach some code of ethics and right behavior. But no one is saved by being morally upright, even if they could keep all the commandments of God perfect. The true pastor of Christ preaches the Law as a Tutor to lead his hearers to Christ (Gal. 3:24). That is, he preaches the law in such a way that his hearers see, believes, and repent that they haven’t kept God’s law, and indeed, “fall far short of the Glory of God.”
By the same token, the true pastor of Jesus Christ, preaches the true Christ, not some imitation Christ… some Christ who is merely a man and not God in Human flesh (I John 4)…or some Christ that is merely one way among many to God and not the Only Way, the Truth and the Life (Jn 14:6) … or some Christ who simply loves you the way you are and not the Christ who died in atonement for your sins to redeem you not only from God’s eternal wrath but also from every lawless deed with His blood (Titus 2:14).
The true pastor also preaches a Christ of the cross, who by His suffering and death sanctifies the suffering of His people to be that which God works toward the good of His people (Ro. 8). It is the false pastor who preaches that somehow suffering is a sign of God's disfavor, or your lack of faith, or your failure to live by His Word, after all, they insist God’s desire is for you to be successful… happy… wealthy…healthy.
Then, too, the faithful shepherd is the one who leads you to see that your hope of salvation is in Christ’s work for you and Christ’s promises to you alone and that faith is merely the recognition of this. This same faithful pastor will lead you to look for Christ where He has promised to meet you and give you the fruits of His suffering and death on your behalf; that is in Holy Baptism, in the Word of Absolution, in the bread and wine that is His body and blood. It is the robber that directs you to look at your faith, or your decision to follow Jesus, for the assurance of your salvation. By so doing he is leading you to trust in your work and not Christ’s.
The true pastor also preaches the living Christ, who was put to death for your sins and was raised from the dead for your justification. This pastor will lead you to see the living Christ in the Word of the Gospel preached to you and in the bread broken for you and the blood shed for you.
The true shepherds are those who by their calling and by their teaching come to you and lead you out only through the true Door, Christ Jesus. They do not attempt to make some sort of spiritual deal with you. They teach you to know Jesus alone as Your Good Shepherd and the One and only who laid down His life for you…Whose voice is the only voice that will lead you to eternal salvation… Who alone will lead you to those verdant pastures and that living water? It is the sheep rustler who leads you to himself, as though he were your intercessor… your connection with God. After all, Jesus says to us, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will in and out and find pasture… I came that they may have life and have it abundantly."
Jesus is not merely like a door. He is the Door! This saving message was even left to us by the craftsmen of the Middle Ages. They purposely built the relief design of every door to be composed of four panels so that it would prominently display the cross of Him who alone is the Door to Life, Jesus Christ. We cannot pass through a doorway without being reminded that the crucified and risen Jesus Christ, is our only way to true, eternal, forgiveness, life, and salvation; in short, through Him, we have the true abundant life!