John 10:22–30 22Then the Festival of Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, 23and Jesus was walking in the temple area in Solomon’s Colonnade.
24So the Jews gathered around Jesus, asking, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.”
25Jesus answered them, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The works I am doing in my Father’s name testify about me. 26But you do not believe, because you are not my sheep, as I said to you. 27My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. 28I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. 29My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. 30I and the Father are one.”
Greg’s father died of cancer. Greg was understandably distraught. I had been introduced to Greg through my oldest daughter. I met with Greg the next day in an empty classroom at Shoreland Lutheran High School. As I worked to comfort and console Greg, I asked him if he believed everything he was being taught at Shoreland. He immediately buried his head in hands on the table. He didn’t answer for a full 30 seconds.
Finally, Greg answered, “I want to.”
I learned that Greg had been baptized as an infant. But since then, he and his family had fallen far away from God. Greg’s parents had divorced years ago. Greg’s father was an atheist. Despite his baptism and attending Shoreland for the past four years, Greg was also an atheist. In a later conversation Greg told me that he did not want to believe in Christianity because that meant his father was in hell.
After his father’s death, Greg could not go live with his mother. His father’s girlfriend would not let him live in her house. So, Greg came to live us. Two of the rules we gave him was that he had to attend church with our family and he also had to attend my adult confirmation classes. Early on, it was obvious that Greg wasn’t very interested in the classes since he would often drift off to sleep.
But the Holy Spirit kept working on Greg through the various ways he was hearing God’s Word – church, high school, confirmation classes. By the last few lessons, Greg was awake and alert. He was the first to answer my questions with everything he had learned in Shoreland’s religion classes.
After the last lesson, Greg and I were sitting in my kitchen while I made dinner for us. I asked him again, “Do you believe everything you are being taught at Shoreland and Epiphany (my church).”
This time, by the grace of God, he answered, “Yes!”
Greg was confirmed a few weeks later. Sadly, his family did not come to his confirmation. His Shoreland family of teachers and friends came, though. They rejoiced with the angels over a soul that had been lost, but then had been found.
Jesus promises, “No one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28).
We often use the traits of animals as similes for the traits of human beings. Strong as an ox. Sly as a fox. Busy as a bee. Wise as an owl. Gentle as a kitten. Faithful as a dog.
I have never heard these similes, though: Smart as a sheep. Strong like a sheep. Courageous as a sheep.
I grew up on a farm raising sheep. Sheep are dumb. They are notorious for getting themselves into trouble, for straying, for searching out greener pastures, for ending up lost, and for being easy prey for predators.
Out of all the variety of animals in God’s marvelous creation, God calls us sheep. That is not a compliment.
We are sheep who stray from God looking for greener pastures. We become bored in our marriage and are tempted to look elsewhere for attention and happiness. We are dissatisfied with our job and salary and that dissatisfaction leads us to be looking for a better, higher paying job. We are disinterested in our church’s style of worship, so we go searching for something more exciting.
Like dumb sheep, we graze in discontentment of where we are and what we are doing – always looking for greener pastures. Foolishly wandering away from the promise to our spouse, the security God provides through our job, the pure doctrine God teaches in our church.
We are easy prey for the devil and his minions. There was another school shooting in Denver recently. Christians were targeted for death on Easter Sunday in Sri Lanka. Politicians belittle and berate Christians for speaking out on the horrors of abortion.
We have no way of fighting our enemies in the spiritual realm. We are sheep. We have no speed. We have no camouflage. We have no fangs, claws or venom. We are easy prey for the enemies of God.
Jesus gives us a wonderful promise that no one can snatch us out of his hand … as long as we stay in Jesus’ hand. But we are easy prey when we jump out of Jesus’ hand, run away from him, in search of greener pastures, sweeter waters and more pleasures. Then we will be attacked, torn up, and dragged into hell.
Jesus promises: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). We were lost, alone, vulnerable, in grave danger. Then the Good Shepherd called us to us. He called us by name in our baptism. Then he wrote God’s Triune name on us. He marked us with the cross on the head and on the heart. We now belong to God’s flock. We are Jesus’ lambs and sheep. Jesus is our Good Shepherd.
Cordale Jr. is a little baby who was born three months prematurely. I baptized him in his incubator. He is still in Children’s Hospital in Milwaukee months later. But he and his parents have this confidence – no one can snatch Cordale Jr. from Jesus’ hands.
Paige is a tough little girl in our church and school. Her mom noticed that something wasn’t right with Paige and took her to the doctor’s office. The doctor pushed on Paige’s stomach and asked how bad the pain was from 1 to 10. She said, “5” while at the same time wincing in pain. She had her appendix removed that day. Her parents were comforted during the surgery – no one can snatch Paige from Jesus’ hands.
Last Sunday we had 7 confirmands make their vows to suffer all – even death – rather than fall away from their Christian faith. They will be tempted by their sinful nature to break the 3rd Commandment and stop worshiping the Lord on the Sabbath. They will be tempted by their fiancé some day to break the 6th Commandment and move in together. They will be tempted by their liberal professors and unbelieving coworkers to break the 1st Commandment and give up their faith in Jesus. But they are promised through it all – no one can snatch these confirmands from Jesus’ hands.
We all know people whose spouse left for greener pastures, leaving behind the other spouse and children. Through the single-parenting, rushing to practices, tears while doing homework, trips through the drive-thru, etc., that remaining spouse and children have this assurance – no one can snatch them out of Jesus’ hands.
Terry has been battling cancer for the past few years. He has recently been placed in home hospice care. The doctors have given him two months to live. Yet Terry and his wife are not afraid. They are not depressed. They are not blaming God. They are living with this tenacity – no one can snatch Terry from Jesus’ hands.
There is no one … no thing … not at any time … that can snatch you out of Jesus’ hands, either!
Oh, the devil and his demons will try! The devil is a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour (1 Peter 5:8). His demons, false preachers and other enemies of the gospel are wolves, looking to tear apart the sheep (Matthew 10:16). But Jesus stands between us and the lion and his wolves.
The wolves attacked Jesus, sinking their teeth into him, dragging him to the cross. They howled in pleasure, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” There on the cross, the lion sank his fangs into Jesus’ flesh, tearing apart his head, hands, side, back and feet with his claws. Jesus’ bloody corpse was testament to the lion’s brutality.
Then, on Easter dawn, the Good Shepherd rose from the dead! He marched straight into hell, threw open the lion’s cage and walloped him with his Shepherd’s staff! The Shepherd knocked out the lion’s fangs and pulled out his claws! Then Jesus went after the wolves and did the same thing to them!
Our Good Shepherd laid down his life for his sheep (John 10:11). He walked through the dark valley of death (Psalm 23:4). He stands between his lambs and sheep and the lion and his wolves. He has silenced the lion’s roar. He has muted the wolves’ howl. Our enemies are out there ready to attack us. But with our Good Shepherd between us and them – they are nothing more than a kitten and his puppies. They are nothing to be afraid of!
Jesus is our guarding and guiding Good Shepherd. He is committed to getting us safely home. This is what that will look like: “These are the ones who are coming out of the great tribulation. They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Because of this they are in front of the throne of God, and they serve him day and night in his temple. He who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. They will never be hungry or thirsty ever again. The sun will never beat upon them, nor will any scorching heat, for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd. He will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 7:14-17).
Hold onto this promise: “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. No one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand. I and the Father are one” (John 10:27-30). Those nail-scarred hands of Jesus hold your life in a way that you cannot. Your hold on this life is tenuous. A doctor’s visit, divorce papers, car accident, school shooting, flood, fire, disease – there are so many things that can cause us to break our grip so easily. One day, you will lose your grip on your home, your family, on your very life.
But Jesus does not.
Jesus holds your life wholly and entirely. You are a sheep in his hands. He will not let you go. Not until he is ready to set you down gently and safely in the green pastures of his heavenly paradise (Psalm 23:2).
You see, it’s not your grip on Jesus that is important. It is his grip on you. Jesus gripped you in his arms at your baptism. He places his divine food right into your mouth with his sacramental meal of body and blood. He speaks into your ear in his holy Word. He has made you a sheep in his flock. You see, sheep don’t make the flock. Shepherds do. Sheep are in a flock, but it is the shepherd who gathers them. And you have all been gathered together by the Good Shepherd. You have been gathered forever.
By the grace of God, your Good Shepherd has placed his nail-scarred hands around you. No trial or temptation, no cancer or car accident, no divorce or demon can harm you. Your Good Shepherd stands between you and your enemies. Nothing can snatch you out of Jesus’ hands. Amen.