Text: John 10:22-30
Date: Easter IV + St. Mark, Evangelist + 4/25/10
Lutheran Church of the Incarnate Word, Rochester Hills, MI
Someone once pictured the great multitude of St. John’s vision standing before the throne of God in heaven from a unique point of view. It was the view from behind the great multitude and all you can see is the back of their heads as their attention is on the throne of Christ. Can you tell who is sitting in front of you from seeing just the back of their head? A friend remembered that his parents would always sit in the back of church “so that,” they said, “they could see who was there.” Well, again, that’s fine, if you can recognize someone from the back of their head!
We heard from St. John’s vision of the Church Triumphant in heaven. There is a great multitude of the redeemed, a multitude, we are told, no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. The Lamb, of course, is Jesus Christ, as when John the Baptist pointed to Him saying, “Behold, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.” Everyone is wearing white robes—the wedding garment of the righteousness of Jesus Christ handed to us at the door, the garment we received in our Holy Baptism. The celestial song of praise is heard, and says, “the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd.” What a wonderful mystery! The Lamb of God is also the Shepherd! Jesus Christ is both the sacrifice who paid the price of sin and death for the world, and, now risen from the dead, is also the Shepherd of His people. The Lord is my Shepherd. The Lamb is the Shepherd.
On this “Good Shepherd” Sunday, in the first two years of the three year lectionary, we hear the Gospel from John chapter 10 where Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…. I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” But in this third year we hear the reaction of Jesus’ enemies. John tells us they were divided. Some were saying he was demon-possessed. But others disagreed, saying, “Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” They remembered Jesus’ healing a man born blind, reported to us in John chapter 9. But so are people divided today over the question, “Who is Jesus?” Likewise there seems to be a question over what it means to be His Church. John’s vision of the Church Triumphant in heaven remains an article of faith and hope on this side of eternity. Each Sunday we do not say, “I see one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church,” but confess as an article of faith, “I believe in one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church.” We believe in the one Church because we cannot see it. The visible church is divided and will always be, as we say in our Lutheran Confessions, a mixture of true saint and hypocrites. For faith is a matter of the heart, not of the eye.
It was some time after the argument among the Jews as to whether Jesus was a mad man or the promised Messiah. It was winter; the “Feast of Dedication,” Hanukah we call it today, the festival commemorating the liberation and rededication of the temple which was destroyed in 164 b.c. by the Assyrians. Jesus was there for the festival with his disciples when the Jews “gathered around him,” literally surrounded and crowded around him asking him a question. “How long will you keep us in suspense or leave us hanging?” they asked. “If you are the Messiah, say it to us openly.”
Now Jesus could have just said, “Yes,” as he would eventually say to the High Priest Caiaphas at His trial. And He does admit it here, but in a hidden way…hidden for faith to grasp. “I did tell you,” He replied. Yet, if you look at the record in the Gospels we never do find Him telling His enemies straight out who He is. So what does He mean here? He continued, saying, “The miraculous signs which I am doing in my Father’s name, these things bear witness about me.” He told them by what He was saying and doing. This is an important point in John’s Gospel. The signs speak. The content of the Word of God are the things that God actually does, and especially in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. All of the deeds of Jesus point toward His ultimate purpose and goal, His atoning death and triumphant resurrection.
The problem is not with the signs or the Word of God, you see. Jesus says, “but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.” He then describes His sheep: Christians are those who believe in Jesus, who listen to His voice and follow Him. To them He gives eternal life and protects them from being stolen away from Him. Furthermore, He describes them as being given to Him by His Father. Only then does He say straight out, “I and the Father are one.” As we confess in the Creed, the Son of God is “of one substance with the Father.”
The only true God is the God who has revealed Himself as One God in the Trinity of Persons, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Here is the Son of God, now according to His two natures: the eternal Son, begotten of the Father from all eternity, and true Man, who took on our human nature from His Mother Mary, prepared as the Lamb of God to take away the sin of the world by His death on the Cross. And now He is enthroned, still True God and Man mind you, the Lamb of God, the Good Shepherd who leads His sheep to springs of living water.
The entire point today is that ordinary Christians many times forget the miracle of faith; that they believe in Jesus, hear His voice and follow Him. The Jewish leaders who ganged up on Jesus that day simply would not listen, would not believe. Unfortunately, there are always people who will not listen, who do not hear the Shepherd’s Voice. But then, again, there are actually people in this world today who do hear the Voice of Jesus, who believe His Word and follow Him. And we call these people “Christians.” And it is quite a miracle! And there they are—in the picture St. John paints for us, gathered before the throne in heaven. We only see them from the back because we are all facing the Lamb, the Shepherd, the King, Jesus, our God and Lord.
Can you see yourself in that picture? You can if you hear His Voice today, believe His Word and follow Him. For it is the result of God’s action, the miracle of faith in your heart, applying Christ’s forgiveness by being baptized into His death and resurrection, being fed with the very body and blood that was once for all sacrificed for us and now gives us life and salvation.
What a miracle! What comfort! What a blessing to know:
I am Jesus’ little lamb,
Ever glad at heart I am;
For my Shepherd gently guides me,
Knows my need and well provides me,
Loves me ev’ry day the same,
Even calls me by my name.
Who so happy as I am,
Even now the Shepherd’s lamb?
And when my short life is ended,
By His angel host attended,
He shall fold me to His breast,
There within His arms to rest. (LSB 740: 1, 3)
Rev. Allen D. Lunneberg