We Follow and Rejoice
Text: John 10:1-10
Date: Easter IV + 4/13/08
As when a shepherd calls his sheep,
They know and heed his voice;
So when You call Your fam’ly, Lord,
We follow and rejoice.
Once when Jesus was in Jerusalem during the feast of tabernacles he spoke of himself using the two metaphors, “I am the good shepherd” and “I am the door of the sheep.” St. John tells us, “This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them” (10:6). Now, on the other side of Good Friday and Easter, the Lord opens the minds of his disciples to understand the Scriptures, to believe the Gospel and to live in its light. Now, as our living Lord, risen from the dead, we see what he meant when he said that “he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep,” how he entered by the door in order to become the door, and where he leads his sheep. He entered through the door of the Scriptures as the promised Messiah of Israel to lead His sheep out of the temple of the Old Covenant to the green pastures of the New Testament in His blood (Lk. 22:20).
Psalm 23 in the Old Testament has been a favorite psalm and has provided much comfort especially at Christian funerals. It speaks of the Lord as a shepherd leading his sheep, his people, out into the open green pastures, beside quiet waters on paths of righteousness. It speaks of the life of faith in this world where sin still collects its wages as a journey that involves a short walk down hill through the valley of the shadow of death. Yet the sheep fear no evil because the shepherd is there, his rod shooing away threatening wolves and his staff there to drag us back from the precipice of any danger. Then there is the strange yet beautiful image of the Lord himself preparing a feast out there in the wilderness. After all of this, however, the destination of the flock in Psalm 23 is found when the shepherd leads them back to the temple—“and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23 is about God’s care and protection of and provision for his people, and how their true home is where He is and promises to be, namely, in the Jerusalem temple.
Now, however, when the true and chief Shepherd of souls comes on the scene, while the comforting images are the same, the only difference is where He now leads His flock.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, entered the sheepfold by the door, that is, all the Messianic promises of Moses, the prophets and the psalms pointed to this moment when the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. He healed the sick, preached good news to the poor in spirit, and even raised the dead. He entered by the door, the Word that called Him to be the suffering servant, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. The purpose of His coming was to lay down His life for His sheep. In other words it involved a battle to the death. He warned of those who try to climb in among the sheep by another way and calls such a one a thief and a robber. While this may be true generically of false shepherds and pastors, St. John has in mind other details. John’s Gospel singles out, more than the other Gospels, the person of Judas as “a thief, having charge of the moneybag [from which] he used to help himself to what was put into it” (John 12:6). Also, at His trial before Pilate, the crowds surprisingly asked not for Jesus but for Barabbas to be released. John writes, “Now Barabbas was a robber” (John 18:40). Yet not these but the real enemy the Good Shepherd came to destroy is the devil and his rule of death.
The true Shepherd of the sheep enters by the door, the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. During Jesus’ earthly ministry He came, first, to call His own people by name. The Jews were the first to hear the Shepherd’s voice. A few responded by following Him. Many did not. And now, on this side of the resurrection, the invitation is through the Jews to all nations. Still he calls each one by name. Still there are those who receive Him and others who do not. To those who reject Him he will say on the last day, “I never knew you.” But those who receive Him do so by faith given to each by name.
How important is your name! Oh, your parents could have freely given you any name, and you could have given your children any of a number of names. It’s not the name, after all, that gives meaning to the person. It is the person who gives meaning to their name. In naming our children, however, we are like Adam of old before whom God caused every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens to make an appearance “to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name” (Gen. 2:19). What a marvelous partnership God established with human beings as the highest of His creation! Through each generation, even though we can explain the process of human conception and birth medically and scientifically, still each person is, at the same time, the creation of God. So, though we are free to choose any name, that naming is a solemn and sacred act. God speaks that name in Holy Baptism and writes that name in His Book of Life. He says through the prophet Isaiah, “Can a woman forget her nursing child…? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands” (Is. 49:1-16).
Mary Magdalene didn’t know who she was talking to in the garden on that first Easter morning—thinking it was a mere employee of the cemetery—until Jesus said her name. “Mary!” Then she recognized Him. The same promise is to you and to all who come near, the promise through the prophet Isaiah: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine” (Is. 43:1). At every Holy Baptism there are three things required: water and the Word and your name. “Robert, Susan, Steven, Joyce, Harold, Marilyn, I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” To each the promise is given, “The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels” (Rev. 3:5).
The true Shepherd enters by the door, the sheep hear his voice, he summons each by name and he leads them out. The difference with this Shepherd from Psalm 23 and the Old Covenant is that He leads them out and does not ever take them back. The Old Covenant is fulfilled in Christ. God’s presence is transferred from the old temple to the temple of the body of Jesus. The Church is the body of Christ in the world and in the world to come. Therefore St. Paul said, “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17).
With a change in metaphors Jesus continues to say that he who said he entered by the door of the Word of God now has become the door Himself. “I am the door of the sheep,” which is to say “I am the Word.” John began his Gospel saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (Jn. 1:1). Jesus enters by the door that he might become the Door. Jesus walks in the way that he might become the Way. Jesus becomes the Good Shepherd that he might become the one, perfect sacrificial Lamb of God. And now he calls his sheep, his followers, to enter through this Door, to walk in this Way, and to rely on and become participants in his sacrifice. The “green pasture,” the “quiet waters” is now that of the paradise of heaven for which we hope. Until then the baptized daily die and rise again and follow by faith.
As He led His people out of the old covenant, the old temple, never to return there again, so now He leads His people out of death never to return there again. “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly,” not, as the world thinks in terms of the abundance of things or possessions, but life eternalized again now, and in the new heavens and new earth, the paradise of heaven.
The Good Shepherd leads us out. We are on an adventurous journey, not knowing the paths we trace now, but only the destination. Remember that “strange yet beautiful image” of Psalm 23 of the Lord himself preparing a feast out there in the wilderness? Well, here it is—the feast of victory, the feast of love, the sustenance of His own body and blood for the forgiveness of our sins all along the way, for life all along the way, for salvation all along the way.
Christ goes before us. He calls us by name. We follow Him, for we know His voice.
The myst’ry of Your presence, Lord,
No mortal tongue can tell:
Whom all the world cannot contain
Comes in our hearts to dwell.
As when the shepherd calls his sheep,
They know and heed his voice;
So when You call Your fam’ly, Lord,
We follow and rejoice.
You satisfy the hungry heart
With gift of finest wheat.
Come give to us, O saving Lord,
The bread of life to eat.
Rev. Allen D. Lunneberg