Thy Kingdom Come: Our Kingly Shepherd

Text: John 10:1-10
Date: Easter IV + 5/7/17

Every year the Fourth Sunday of Easter is Good Shepherd Sunday. Therefore every year we hear a portion of John chapter 10. Interestingly, it is only in the second year of the three-year lectionary that we actually hear Jesus say, “I am the good shepherd.” Today we may think of Jesus as the shepherd of the sheep to whom the gatekeeper opens the door and leads His sheep in and out to find pasture. But then St. John tells us “this figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.” Oddly then it seems Jesus changes the figure and then says, “I am the door of the sheep.” So which is He? The Shepherd or the Door?

Well, the first answer is “both.” But it is only next year in verse eleven that Jesus claims to be the Good Shepherd implying that there are other shepherds. He warns against false shepherds whom he calls thieves, robbers, strangers. But then there are “under-shepherds” under Jesus, the “Good” one. These, of course, would be Christian pastors, the word “pastor” meaning a herdsman or shepherd. Christian pastors are to enter by the door just like everyone else. The door is Jesus Christ. What does He mean? Recall how Jesus said, in John 14, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (Jn 14:6). So the door which Jesus claims to be is not one that is shut and locked but is rather the open way of entering into the kingdom.

First the faithful pastor enters the sheepfold by this door himself. The vocation of pastor is not like any other because no one makes himself a pastor. I always like it when someone asks, “why are you a pastor,” because I always answer, “because God made me one.” It’s as simple and mysterious as that. That is no priest, pastor, prophet or apostle or even any Christian became one except by first being called by God, as it says in Hebrews 5, “and no one takes this honor for himself, but only when called by God” (Heb 5:4). So we say of us all in the catechism, “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” The Kingdom comes to us all by itself without our prayers or preparations. So it is with pastors as St. Paul wrote to the Ephesians, “[Our Lord] gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints[,] for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:11-12).

It is a typical thing that, the longer you hear the particular voice of your pastor, his individual tone and range and articulation, and how this voice is always identified with speaking God’s word, it’s like music, that familiar voice to whom we are drawn. I suppose he could even say simply, “two plus two equals four” and that simple math equation takes on a certain spiritual tone. But it is more than that. It is the green pasture of the steadfast and faithful pure doctrine of the scriptures with which he feeds the flock. Those who speak false doctrine are strangers. “A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Unfortunately, there are many who follow these strangers. They can even occasionally find their way into the true Church and lead many astray as Jesus warned us in Matthew chapter 24, “See that no one leads you astray,” and “For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Christ,’ and they will lead many astray. For false christs and false prophets,” and I suppose we should add false pastors, “will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect” (Mt 24:4-5, 24).

This is why it is so important for every Christian to know the catechism, to know the Bible. So how do you know pure doctrine? Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep.” True doctrine is always in line with preaching Jesus. But of course many people make many different claims about Jesus. So which Jesus are we talking about? St. Paul said, “when I came to you, brothers, I did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor 2:2). It is the crucified Christ alone that forms the sure foundation of all pure teaching.

“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” “I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” One enters this door by faith in Jesus. One receives this faith by means of God’s word and Holy Baptism. Entering the door is as easy as that.

Christ leads [us] through no darker rooms
Than He went through before;
He that unto God’s kingdom comes
Must enter by this door. (LSB 757:3)