April 17, 2016

Pastor Mark F. Bartels

Old Testament Lesson; Psalm 23

Epistle Lesson; Revelation 7:9-17

Sermon Text; John 10:22-30

The fourth Sunday after Easter is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. The Gospel Text is always taken from John, chapter ten. So, we have a reading from John, chapter 10, verses 22 through 30.

At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around Him and said to Him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered them, “I told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name bear witness about me, but you do not believe, because you are not among my sheep. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father's hand. I and the Father are one.”

These are your words, Heavenly Father. Lead us in the way of truth. Your Word is truth.


I want to do three things this morning. First of all, I want to tell you what Pork Soup has to do with The Good Shepherd. Then, I want to talk about the 23rd Psalm, read from the perspective of our sinful nature. Finally, I want to put us up on the shoulders of The Good Shepherd.

       -So, what does Pork Soup have to do with the Good Shepherd? Interestingly, this Bible passage begins by pointing out a context. It says, “At that time the Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem...” What in the world was the Feast of Dedication? In the year 165 BC the Children of Israel were under the dominion of the Greeks. The Greeks were, kind of, this foreign occupying force. They had been taken over by Alexander the Great.

One of his successors was a really, creepy, guy, by the name of Anticus IV, or Antiochus Epiphanes. He was the Greek ruler at the time. Antiochus Epiphanes did not like the Jews. He did not like Jewish worship. And one day, he did something really creepy.

In Jerusalem was the temple. The temple was the holy place. It was the place where the Jews would go, and worship God. You could only go into the temple if you were clean. Only clean things, ceremonial clean things could go into the temple.

One day, because Antiochus Epiphanes hated the Jews, and the Jewish people, he went into the temple, and he took a pig with him. Pigs were consider unclean. The Children of Israel were not to eat pigs. They were not to touch pigs. But, into this clean, holy, temple of God he takes a pig. He takes it right up to the altar, the holy altar of God where the holy sacrifices were sacrificed. There, he slits this pig's throat, and unclean pig blood runs all over the altar.

Then, having desecrated the altar, he had this pig meat cooked in a broth, and made into kind of a soup. Then, he had it spread, this broth, spread all over the walls of the temple, making the entire place unclean.

It was horrifying to the Jewish people. That would be like somebody coming in here with a can of spray paint, and spray painting bad words all over the walls of this wonderful sanctuary.

The Children of Israel were so taken aback by the fact that their temple had been desecrated that three years later there was a family by the name of Maccabees that were able to rise up, and get a following that caused a revolt. They were able to actually retake the temple. They cleansed the temple, and they brought it back to its glory, as it should be.

Then they had a wonderful celebration in the city of Jerusalem. Everyone lit lights, and there were lights everywhere in Jerusalem. It became known as The Feast of Dedication. We know it as The Festival of Lights, or Hanukkah. Every year since then, on December 15th, the Jewish people celebrate this festival, called The Festival of the Re-dedication of the Temple, or The Festival of Hanukkah, when the temple was cleansed.

And so, our text says,

“At that time The Feast of Dedication took place at Jerusalem. It was winter and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the colonnade of Solomon.”

It is very important to know that at The Feast of Dedication there was a text that would be read for all of the people to hear. Here is what was read. It was from Ezekiel, chapter 34. This is from The Old Testament. The Lord starts talking about shepherds and sheep.

“The Word of the Lord came to me, Son of Man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy and say to them, even to the shepherds, “Thus says the Lord God. 'Ah shepherds of Israel, who have been feeding yourselves? Should not shepherds feed the sheep?' Thus says the Lord God. 'Behold, I am against the shepherds. I will require my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths that they may not be food for them.'”

Then, the Lord makes this promise.

For the Lord says, “Thus the Lord God says, 'Behold, I, myself will search for my sheep, and seek them out, as a shepherd seeks out his flock, when he is among his sheep that have been scattered. So will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.'”

So, that text had been read. The LORD, Himself, Jehovah, the God of The Old Testament, is going to come, and be The Shepherd for His sheep.

So, it was a pretty dicey thing. Sometimes, I think when we think about Jesus calling Himself, “The Good Shepherd”, it was just a beautiful picture of Jesus shepherding sheep. But, He was saying a lot more, when He claimed to be The Good Shepherd. It was very dicey, when He claimed to be “THE Shepherd”.

The Jews came to Him, and it says they surrounded Him. They said, “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” “Don't keep us in suspense. Tell us if you are the Christ.”

Jesus said, “I told you, but you didn't listen to me.”

Then, listen to what He says,

“My sheep hear my voice,

and I know them,

and they follow me.”

What was Jesus saying? “I am here. The Lord said He would come, and He would shepherd His sheep. Now I am here.” He was claiming to be the God of The Old Testament. He was claiming to be the God of Psalm 23, “The Lord is my Shepherd...”

Jesus goes on, and says,

“My sheep hear my voice,

and I know them,

and they follow me.

I give them eternal life...”

Who can give eternal life, but God, Himself? Jesus was claiming to be none other than the LORD, Jehovah.

“I give them eternal life,

and they will never perish...”

Who can say that He can keep His sheep from perishing, but the LORD, Himself?

“No one,

no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

Then, He says,

“My Father,

who has given them to me,

is greater than all,

and no one

is able to snatch them out of my Father's hand.”

Then, He says,

“I and the Father are one.”

Jesus was saying, “If you are in my hands, my hand is the exact same hand as the hand of God, the Father. I am God, come to be your shepherd.” Wow!

The Bible tells us at that, they took up stones to stone Him. They understood what He was saying.

Do you need the LORD to be your Shepherd? Jesus was saying, “I am the LORD, and I have come to be your Shepherd.”

We are Christians, and even as Christians, we have so many problems. If we were left to ourselves, as Christians, what would happen to us? I know, if I were left to myself, and I were to try to take care of my own soul, it would not be pretty. It would be ugly, because even as Christians, we still have a sinful nature. We are so prone to go astray. We are so prone to wander off, and do the wrong thing.

I want to read what one pastor wrote. This is the 23rd Psalm, as if my sinful nature were speaking the 23rd Psalm.

The Lord is my Shepherd,

I shall not want anything

beyond what my heart desires.

He maketh me to lie down in green pastures,

but I spy grass that is greener on the other side of the fence.

He leadeth me beside the still waters,

but I know of still more exciting places where I would love to drink my fill.

He restoreth my soul,

squelching the wanderlust within me that moves me to live life the way I see fit.

He maketh me to walk in paths of righteousness,

when I want to run in the open fields of the world, eating where I want, sleeping with whoever I want, living like the beast I am.

He leads me for His name's sake,

but I want to make a name for myself. I want others to envy me, and to speak ill of me, if they wish, but secretly to covet who I am, and what I have done.

Oh, the Shepherd's rod is restrictive, and His staff is stiflingly to my heart.

Come, valley of the shadow of death, come storm, wind, hail, rain,

I shall not fear.

I know the lay of the land. I have been around the block. I am not sheepish about telling you so.

We want our freedoms. Freedom to walk in unrighteous paths, if the end justifies the means.

Freedom to lie down in the Green's bed, or the Jone's bed, or the Smith's bed, or whatever bed our lower appetites choose.

Freedom to pull the wool over men's eyes, twisting every story to paint ourselves in the best light. Lying when we aught to confess, and confessing other men's lies to make our own wool seem much whiter than their's.

That is a really powerful, good description of our sinful nature. Left to ourselves, we would be in huge, huge, massive trouble. It would be so easy for the devil to destroy us, gobble us up, and for us to end up in Hell.

So, we need the Good Shepherd. We need the Lord to be our Shepherd. There is no one who can keep our souls safe, except the Lord, Himself. Jesus is the One who says,

“My sheep hear my voice”.

So if your sin troubles you, and you realize how prone you are to go astray, then you realize how much in trouble you would be, if left to yourself. Jesus says,

“My sheep hear my voice.”

Jesus' sheep run back to Him in repentance. When He says,

 “Come unto me

all you who are weary and burdened,

and I will give you rest”,

His sheep run back to Him in repentance. He says,

“My sheep hear my voice,

and I know them”.

Jesus knows all about us. Jesus knows every sin I have ever committed, even all my thoughts. He says, “I know you. I know just what it takes to remove all of that sin”. The Bible says,

“All we,

like sheep

have gone astray,

and the Lord has laid on Him

the iniquity of us all.”

Jesus said,

“I am the Good Shepherd,

and the Good Shepherd lays down His life

for the sheep.”

So Jesus, who knows you, laid down His life for all of your sins. Then, Jesus took up His life again, and He 'ripped open the jaws of death and Satan', so they can't hurt you, or harm you, anymore. He says,

“My sheep hear my voice,

and I know them”.

He picks you up, and the Good Shepherd whispers in your ear, “Even though you have gone astray, and you have a sinful nature”, what does He say? He says,

I forgive you.

“I forgive you of all of your sins. I will never hold them against you. I love you. There is nothing you can do that could make me love you more than I already do. There is nothing you could do that could make me love you less. I love you unconditionally.”

“My sheep hear my voice,

and I know them,

and they follow me.”

Because of that, we want to follow safely, by our Shepherd's side. There is no safer place to be. Jesus says,

“I give them eternal life,

and they shall never perish.”

Never perish! When Jesus has us 'on His shoulders', there is nothing that can hurt us. We already have eternal life. John always speaks about eternal life, in the Gospel of John, as if it has already begun. Even when I close my eyes for the last time in death, my Good Shepherd is holding me. He is the One who safely went into death, and came out of death in victory. When I am 'on His shoulders', even death can't hurt me, because He will take me right through to eternal life in eternity!

“My sheep hear my voice,

and I know them,

and they follow me.

I give them eternal life,

and they shall never perish,

and no one, no one will snatch them out of my hand.”

The safest place to be, the only safe place to be is right in the hands of Jesus. We are in His hands, when we stay close

       -to His Word. That is where He speaks to us.

       -to His sacrament. That is where He feeds us, and guides us.

I love it that in life's major events we often sing, or play music that has to do with The Good Shepherd.

       -A little baby gets born, and baptized, we sing, “I am Jesus Little lamb”.

       -Young people get confirmed, and we sing, “Jesus, Shepherd of the Sheep”.

       -People get married, and the organist plays, “Sheep May Safely Graze”.

       -Someone dies, and we sing, again, “Jesus Shepherd of the Sheep”.

We know, that with Jesus, as our Shepherd, we are safe, and no one can snatch us out of His hands.

Jesus, as our Shepherd, you can say, truly say,

“Goodness and mercy shall follow me

all of the days of my life.

And, I will dwell in the House of the Lord, forever.”