To Be Sheep in the Shepherd’s Hand

In John 10:22-30, Jesus is questioned at the temple about whether or not he really was the Christ, and instead of backing down, our Shepherd doubles down and makes us double sure that we are sheep in the shepherd’s hand. What a blessing “To Be Sheep in The Shepherd’s Hand.”    May 12, 2019.

Christ is risen!

How many times have your eyes traced the scene of the quiet hillside, the soft-blowing field grass, the last hour haze of the sunset - perfect weather, perfect pasture, ideal conditions to see a sizable flock of sheep lazily loafing about, without a care in the world, and there in the middle or just off-middle is the one who make the difference, the shepherd, with one precious, lucky little lamb in the crook of his left arm or wrapped gently over his shoulders getting the ride of a lifetime. And to think we didn’t even create this art! It’s the imaginative creation of Jesus himself, his choice to communicate to us what it’s like to be God. Personal love, powerful protection, selfless sacrifice, all the ingredients in the recipe for complete peace. When Jesus thinks of being our God, this is what he sees. This is what he says.

These remain merely nice paintings, until you learn the risks, the threats, the dangers, see the wolves making their circles and midnight, watch the approach of a bear in broad daylight and see the Shepherd brazenly step in the middle. Mothers appreciate not only the great amount of care and number of concerns swirling through the mind during the years of a child’s dependency. But moms also get how care changes over the years, though love and concern stay the same, as a child grows up and becomes independent. Repeated interaction with your own kids becomes more remotely-made prayers. We know how much moms do, but moms especially understand how much they can’t do.

It’s just a nice painting, until you see on its canvass that life depends on this Shepherd. Not twenty years dependency and after that you are considered spiritually grown up and ready for life on your own...our spirits are far too untrustworthy for that to be a safe move. We are always children, called to live in grace we dare not outgrown, a forgiveness never measuring any less, always given as it must, in increasing quantities “for I have more.” His care is unlike any other - it alone is all-or-nothing, do-or-die - in this case, either Jesus does it or we die. To be a sheep in the Shepherd’s hand!

If that’s the case - and it is - praise the Lord for Easter certainty! Blow the roof off his protection and powerful care. This is the Easter season after all, the chance for the living Son of God to bare his holy arm and we check out his pipes! The unique and total victory, to breath in the air of full freedom from sin’s torturous curse and death’s cruel sting and Satan’s nasty enslavement.

Today is no different; it’s a throwback Sunday, as we have our Easter season in the present, but we look back at something Jesus said in the midst of his earthly ministry from John 10.  Jesus is questioned at the temple about whether or not he really was the Christ, and instead of backing down, our Shepherd doubles down and makes us double sure that we are sheep in the shepherd’s hand.

Did you ever hear how Martin Luther wanted to thank the devil? Luther calls Satan God’s fool. The devil thought he could give Luther so much trouble he’d quit or despair, but God used all that Satan did to make Luther a better, more vocal and precise theologian than he would’ve been otherwise. We should thank these Jews - they come and surround Jesus and want to corner him on this topic, but the result is that we get this magnificent statement from Jesus!  These Jews wanted this day to be their last dealing with Jesus. What they say is, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” On the surface it sounds like a legitimate question, but what they really wanted was for either one of two things: One, Jesus gets all intimidated and backs off his claim to be Messiah and so quietly exits the stage and drifts anonymously into the sunset. Or two, Jesus says “Yes I am” and they were prepared to stone him to death for blasphemy on the spot. Spoiler alert - after what Jesus does say, we’re told “his Jewish opponents picked up stones to stone him.”

“I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I do in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.” These are such valuable shepherd words - think about it - like a faithful, concerned shepherd, Jesus is telling them what the real problem is - not that Jesus has failed to speak plainly or give a clear testimony of works - but that they do not believe. The problem is that you need to be completely different from what you are now! This, by the way, is what God says to all people because of our sin - he slams the door on our madness, exposes the evil that comes from us, not him , with all that flows from our sinful nature - you need to be completely different - new desires, new strength, new trust, none of it coming from themselves.

It’s the perfect match for the metaphor that we are like sheep who have needs in every aspect of life in order to survive. “You are a dependent, with nothing of your own in which to put your trust or protect you.” Jesus is giving them the ax to take to their own root and chop down their unrepentant, unbelieving opposition to him! Here and now, if any of them listened, it would be by Jesus’ own powerful words and Spirit.

Yes, how different this is for those blessed to know they are sheep - admit it, to be called a sheep and come to know yourself as one by God’s Word - that’s protection we desperately need - like anything God ever says, it all comes as protection from pride and the Shepherd’s ax to deal with self-reliance. The Shepherd-sheep analogy is perfect to describe our great need and his great supply!

That’s why he uses it. Here, Jesus is claiming to have such a role for the sake of saving souls. That people are ever sheep and he is like a Shepherd to them. You may know that “Pastor” means shepherd, but only because we are called to share his voice, to speak his Word. This is what sadly gets lost these days - churches that just teach according to their interpretation, not the Shepherds. We have so much information access and ability to contradict and counterpoint, we feel the same must be true of church teaching - instead of listening to the Shepherd, we’re just listening to your opinion. A disconnect too in worship - so much variety in style, does it lead you to make choices and consider your preferences? So, hymns are more accessible to criticism - didn’t like that one so much. Instead of considering what is said in them, focusing on the words as poetry reflecting and paraphrasing the Shepherd’s voice...we do so much here in a deliberate way to hide the person of the minister so we can focus on the One he represents, that we might worship in a one-to-one moment of talking and listening, hearing the Word and giving thanks, an hour alone with your God - because you need him.

That’s the single shepherd, the solo voice you need in your life, just as Jesus describes the intimate and intense fellowship he has and must have with believers:  My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. You might hear that and think Jesus is trying to pump up certain behaviors in us, that we need to be listeners and followers. But that’s not the point. Jesus is responding to Jews about himself primarily. And what he is saying is that I am the Shepherd this world desperately needs, with the one voice they are to hear. I take the special role of knowing them, not just in my head, but on my heart - loving and caring for them; I am in the saving position of standing in the front, of being the leader they depend on and follow in order to live and not die. And I do a great job of it -  I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.

The comfort rings out to us hundreds of years later - these are the words of our God, our living Jesus - these are his words for us and concerning us - the very words I am to cling to in the midst of a painful life that would drain my heart from my chest, in the overwhelming struggle with sins I am wickedly bold enough to repeat and in the full light of my sheepishness and all that I cannot depend on in myself, I have his sure words: I give them eternal life - I give it and they will escape that deserved eternal death and never know what it is to perish in hell because of Jesus, my all-powerful Shepherd to whom all my enemies must answer and no one can take me from my most cozy place in his everlasting hand.

They are not just Jesus’ words. They are the Father’s words. They are not just in agreement with each other, they are one. These are not just Jesus’ hands; they are the Father’s hands.

Personal love, powerful protection, selfless sacrifice, all the ingredients in the recipe for complete comfort. Jesus is our God, and when Jesus thinks of being our God, this is what he sees. This is what he says. It’s not just a painting anymore, is it!

Christ is risen!   Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on May 12, 2019