John 10:1-10 “Amen, Amen, I tell you: Anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the door, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2The one who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The doorkeeper opens the door for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own sheep, he walks ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will never follow a stranger, but will run away from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this illustration in speaking to the people, but they did not understand what he was telling them.
7So Jesus said again, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: I am the door for the sheep. 8All who came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the door. Whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.
10“A thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
Three shepherds on the Judean countryside had brought their flocks together at the watering hole. The flocks intermingled as the shepherds talked and ate their lunch together. After a while, the first shepherd called out, “Leku,” (Hebrew for “Come.”) Three dozen sheep immediately left the flock and followed their shepherd west up the hill.
Five minutes later, the second shepherd called out, “Leku,” “Come.” Another two dozen sheep followed their shepherd east toward the valley.
Finally, after the third shepherd had finished his lunch, he called out, “Leku.” The rest of the sheep followed him north.
“The sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3).
The interesting thing about sheep is that they know their shepherd’s voice and will follow him. They will not follow a stranger’s voice. They should be afraid of a stranger and run away from him. “When he has brought out all his own sheep, he walks ahead of them. The sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will never follow a stranger, but will run away from him, because they do not know the voice of strangers” (John 10:4-5).
Unfortunately, no matter your age – whether you are confirmands or adults, we like listening to voices of various strangers. We should be afraid and run away, but their sweet melodious voices tantalize and tempt us. These are the voices of thieves and robbers. They don’t know your name. They don’t care about you. They have no interest in your welfare. They are just trying to pull you out of the sheepfold of the Christian Church. They are false prophets, false promises, false friends, and the false thinking of this world – all inspired by Satan.
Our Good Shepherd keeps us together in the flock. But, as American Christians, we like to think that we can be independent – on our own. We already isolate ourselves so much from society. We shrink our world down to the size of a phone screen. We think we are fine by ourselves, doing what we want, believing what we want, worshiping when we want … or don’t want.
We think we are also fine if we isolate ourselves from the Christian community of our church home.
But Christ has brought us into a flock. We are not a flock of one – but a flock of countless lambs and sheep – gathered together into the Christian Church. Many of you are part of the flock that gathers here at Epiphany. We are not isolated believers, little islands of spirituality. We are a continent of Christians banded together by the Holy Spirit around the Means of Grace.
We are baptized individually, but through Baptism, we become a part of God’s uncountable white-robed saints. We kneel individually, but at the communion rail we are joining into a common union with Christ’s body and blood, and a common union of faith with each other. We come to church so that we may worship together, pray together, confess together, grieve and comfort together.
We are weak separately. We are stronger together. Satan knows how easy you are to pick off – one by one – away from the rest of the flock, the safety of the sheep pen, and the protection of the Shepherd.
Christianity is not a sole endeavor. The devil tries to separate us from the rest of the flock. That is the real challenge for you confirmands. Roughly half of every confirmation class stops worshiping by this time next year. If you are part of that half, then the devil wins. Possibly for eternity. Then, not only have you separated yourself from God now, but you will have separated yourself from God forever.
It isn’t only the confirmands who are in danger. All of us are in danger of straying. That’s what sheep are prone to do.
Quite honestly, we don’t want a Good Shepherd. We don’t want someone to tell us what’s right and wrong, what to do and not to do, what’s out of bounds and improper. We don’t want to be made to feel guilty. We don’t want a Shepherd – no matter how good He is – to own us.
We crave our freedoms. We don’t want anyone saying, “no” to us. We definitely don’t want to tell someone else, “no.” We should all just be nice, do whatever we want, believe whatever we want, choose whatever lifestyle we want.
We don’t want there to be any “sins.” We want to be able to be wicked and habitual and unrepentant. All without anyone telling us we are wicked and habitual and in need of repentance.
We don’t want any boundaries.
But your God loves you too much not to have boundaries. He has put you into an enclosure – the sheep pen of His Christian Church. You might feel like the walls of the enclosure are constricting, but they are for your safety. The walls are God’s Word – His doctrines and commandments. They are meant to protect you, to keep you safe, to separate you from the wolves and thieves and false prophets. These walls keep Christ’s sheep in and the predators out.
All the years of confirmation classes these students endured were for their good. So they could learn to recognize the voice of their Good Shepherd. So they could be aware to run away from all the filth on Netflix or in pop music or on social media or on college campuses. They learned the six chief parts of the Catechism – Commandments, Creed, Baptism, Holy Communion, Lord’s Prayer, and Keys and Confession – so that they appreciated the walls of pure doctrine the Holy Spirit had erected around them. Then they wouldn’t be enticed by something sweeter, something different, outside those walls.
As Christians, you are sheep in the sheep pen. Jesus is the door. Jesus said again, “Amen, Amen, I tell you: I am the door for the sheep. … I am the door. Whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture” (John 10:7, 9).
In the days of Jesus, a good shepherd would lie down to sleep in the entrance to the sheep pen. Any predator or thief that tried to get to the flock would have to get past the shepherd first.
In our Old Testament lesson, David is in King Saul’s tent, telling the king why he knows he can defeat the Philistine giant, Goliath. As a shepherd, David risked his life against lion and bear to rescue one of his little lambs (1 Samuel 17:34-37).
Jesus is King David’s greater Son. When the roaring lion of the devil came at us, our David rose up to slay the beast. He rescued us from the lion of hell.
But Jesus did much more than David. David defeated the lion by living. Jesus defeated the lion by dying. He laid down His life for you (John 10:15). He laid His body between you and the satanic lion and gave Himself up to be struck down. Jesus’ bloody corpse lay between us cowering sheep and the devouring lion.
That doesn’t make Jesus sound better than David, does it? David defeated a lion while remaining alive. Jesus defeated the great lion of hell by dying … and then rising back to life again! The Good Shepherd laid His life down for you … and then powerfully took it back up again. He jammed His shepherd’s staff into the belly of the beast. He used His rod to smash out the teeth of the lion. He stepped down, crushing the lion’s head under His foot.
The devil, the world, and our sinful flesh are an unholy trinity that constantly attack us on all sides. On our own, we will listen; we will stray; we will perish.
But that’s why your Shepherd has created the Christian Church. He keeps you safe within its walls with pure Word and Sacraments – the Means of Grace.
Confirmands, stay within these walls. Remain safe. Nothing makes me sadder than walking in the church basement and seeing all those former confirmands who have listened to other voices and strayed from the Shepherd’s flock. Nothing makes me happier than when I see the students I confirmed active and growing and leading in their faith.
This particular group of confirmands is unique. Seventeen is the largest confirmation class at Epiphany since 1975. But it is unique in another way. I have confirmed eleven of their parents over the last decade at Epiphany.
Whether you are confirmed today or decades ago, the message is still the same. The unholy trinity is still attacking you. On your own, you will falter, fail, and perish. But for us fights the Valiant One, whom God Himself elected. Your Good Shepherd stood up to the unholy trinity. 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.
Stay with the flock. Hear Jesus calling your name. He placed His name on you at your baptism – a baptism that for many of you was at this very font. Feast on the green pastures of Christ’s body and blood at His holy table – a feast 17 of you will be taking for the first time. Drink deeply from the quiet waters of His Word – you aren’t done with Bible study, but only beginning. Remain in the safety of the sheep pen of commandments and doctrines. They are your protection.
And listen to the voice of your Good Shepherd. He calls to you today and every holy day, “Leku” (“Come). Amen.