Life to the full with the Good Shepherd

John 10:1-10 "I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger's voice." 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. 7 Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

Jim was a life-long Lutheran. His wife, Carol, was an adult convert to the Lutheran faith. Their children, Billy, Miranda, and Nicole, were confirmed as teenagers in the Lutheran church.

Jim served on the Church Council and Carol was active in the church’s women’s ministry. Their children were active in the youth group. But Jim daily battled the demons of alcoholism. He lost more than he won. Carol tried holding the family together, while at the same time conducting a daily search for the liquor bottles and dumping out the ones she found.

Their three teenage children each had their own specific problems. Miranda had an extreme shyness and solitude about her. Today she longs for friends but doesn’t know how to make them. Billy was always getting into trouble. But trouble found him and now he is spending a number of years in prison. Nicole had trouble seeing herself as beautiful so she would cut her arms. She still battles depression.

And Carol is a young widow. Jim died several years ago because of the alcohol abuse.

The family I mentioned is a real family – although the names I gave you are not real. They are very real people with very real problems. They are very real people with a very real Savior. A Savior who was with them at their baptisms, who was with them in the counseling sessions and confirmation classes, the prison ministry gatherings and AA meetings, the worship services and family time and Jim’s funeral.

Just because we are Christians does not mean we will have an absence of problems. Just because we are lambs and sheep of the Shepherd does not mean that the wolves and predators won’t attack. Just because we have faith in our Savior does not mean we won’t have that faith tested.

Can you identify yourself with this family? They certainly have a unique set of issues. … Or maybe they aren’t that unique.

There are various voices calling for your attention. Social media pulls you out of society. Your boyfriend or girlfriend tempts you to take “the next step” in your relationship – a step that God has reserved for marriage. Your college friends and professors debate the merits of Christianity versus atheism. Your needs for a bigger home, better car, more stuff all pull you away from being content with God’s Word and Sacraments. The desire to be liked and accepted by your friends pulls you into designer clothing or recreational drugs or coarse joking or malicious gossiping.

There are other voices who vie for our attention. They whisper: “Sin isn’t so bad.” That’s not the voice of Jesus.  “You can always be forgiven later.” That’s not the voice of Jesus. “You can do this and remain a Christian.”  That’s not the voice of Jesus. “You aren’t so sinful.” That’s not the voice of Jesus. “You are so sinful, God can’t love you.” That’s not the voice of Jesus. “You don’t belong in God’s flock.” That’s not the voice of Jesus.

They are all different voices, but they are all saying the same thing – “You don’t need Jesus.”

Those are the voices of the thieves and the robbers. They are trying to pull you out of the sheep fold. They are false prophets, false promises, false friends, and false thinking of the world – all inspired by Satan. They want to lead you away from your Good Shepherd. They want to take you away from Christ, and they will do everything they can to accomplish your spiritual demise.

Sadly, we listen to these voices. All because we are looking for something better, something sweeter, something different than what Jesus has to offer.

The voices of the world, the voices of the devil, and the voices of our sinful nature competing against the voice of the Good Shepherd. To whom are you listening?

This is what the Christian life is like. Jim, Carol, Billy, Miranda, and Nicole were all strong Christians, yet the devil was able to sink his claws into each on of them. He worked hard to drag them out of the Shepherd’s flock. The emotional, physical and spiritual scars are still there.

The devil is working hard on you, too. He is a thief who only wants to kill and destroy. He wants to maim you and drag you to hell with him.

But Jesus won’t let him! Jesus knows how rough life is for you. He knows the battle scars you carry daily. He knows the persecution you face for His name. He knows the temptations you endure because you are one of His sheep.

While there is a cacophony of voices vying for your attention, there is only one voice to follow. This is the voice that says: “I am your shepherd. I bore your sins in my body. I died that you might live. I created you. I redeemed you with my blood. You are mine, and I love you. I love you when you’re good, and I love you when you’re not so good. I come looking for you when you are lost, and I rejoice over you when you are found. I will discipline you when you need it, and I will bandage your wounds when you’re hurt. I will protect you, and you give you all that you need for your life.”

“I am the atoning sacrifice for your sins.” That’s the voice of Jesus. “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” That’s the voice of Jesus. “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven in near.” That’s the voice of Jesus. “You may not get everything you want, but you get me, and that’s enough.” That’s the voice of Jesus.

Is there a better or sweeter voice than that?!

The voice of Jesus promises you: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

But what does it mean to have life in the full? Having a life in the full is different, I think, than having a full life – although that’s a common confusion today. Too often, we think that life consists of having a full closet, a full bank account, a full life experience. But that’s simply filling up our puny lives with stuff. 

And that’s why we end up listening to all those false voices.

Jesus says that He came so people could have life “and have it to the full.” “Full” means “more than enough,” “overflowing.” Jesus gives life that no one or nothing else can give. He gives us an abundance of grace (John 1:16). He gives us overflowing joy (2 Corinthians 8:2). He gives us a peace that the world cannot give (John 14:27).

Hebrews 13:20-21 describes a full life: “May the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” We are empowered and equipped to follow our Shepherd wherever He may lead. Even if it is through dark valleys or counseling sessions or prison cells or hospital rooms or funeral homes. We can still have life to the full.

So if it takes trials and troubles and struggles and crosses to give you that life, then that is what your Shepherd will do. God had David square off against a lion and a bear in order to prepare him for battle against the Philistine giant, Goliath. Jesus will prepare you for battle for whatever temptations or illnesses or scary situations you face.

Truth be told, we like our puny little lives and our paltry little pleasures and our little pet sins. But that’s not good enough for your Savior, your Shepherd. He has come to give you more. So maybe He has to take away the lesser things in your life in order to give you His greater and eternal things. He certainly must remove the sins in order to gift you with His forgiveness. Maybe He has to pry your cold, dead hands off your old life and sins in order to give you His life.

If that’s what needs to happen … thanks be to God! He is not punishing you, but saving you. Calling you. Teaching you. Saving you. For that is the kind of Shepherd you have.

All the enemies and thieves and predators you face on a daily basis, Jesus faced, too. Where you fall, He stands. Where you fail, He is victorious. Where you crawl into the fetal position crying for “Mommy,” Jesus prevails, with His Father and Holy Spirit by His side.

When the devil, the world, and our own sinful flesh attack us on all sides, we cannot handle it. There is no way. The unholy trinity is too powerful.

But that’s where our Good Shepherd comes in. He didn’t run away on that dark Friday when sin, death, and the devil all ganged up on Him. He stood up to them. He stepped on them. He crushed them. He drove nails into them. He buried them in the grave. And now He drowns out their voices with the gentle whisper of His Word.

The devil tried hard to get Jim and his family. But the devil did not win. He did not get them. The Good Shepherd would not let him. The Good Shepherd has Jim with Him in heaven now, and He’s waiting for the rest of the family, because He has given them life to the full.

There is someone else who lived life to the full and is now with her eternal Shepherd. And that’s my grandmother. My grandmother had a very large family of 8 children and 20-plus grandchildren. Every other week was a party at Grandma and Grandpa’s house.

But now Grandma is partying with Grandpa in the green pastures of heaven.

The rest of us are here waiting for that life in heaven. But that’s doesn’t mean that we have to just “get through life.” We get to really live life! Live it to the full! The thief takes life. Jesus gives life. The life He gives you right now is abundantly richer and fuller and better and sweeter. It is eternal … yet it begins right now!

Instead of living a dull, just-getting-by kind of life, Jesus offers the spiritually rich and abundantly full life that only He can give.

How do we life that full life with so many trials and temptations and troubles? How can we live the eternal party right now instead of waiting for the party?

We huddle close to the One who has promised us life – life now, life then, life eternal. We stay close to our Good Shepherd. We remain in the Word of God and apply His promises to our lives. We enjoy worshiping with our fellow lambs and sheep in Christ’s Epiphany flock. We feast on the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

This doesn’t mean that all of our pain will be removed. Billy is still in prison. Miranda still feels lonely. Nicole still has bouts with depression. Grandma still missed Grandpa. But they all have Jesus. Jesus who never left them. Jesus who always searched for them. Jesus who always picked them up and held them in His arms. Jesus who died for them so they might live with Him.

Because that’s life to the full with the Good Shepherd. Amen.