The Shepherd’s Voice (John 10:22-30)
Rev. Peter Heckert

+ Grace to you, and peace, from God our heavenly Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. + Amen.

The text for our meditation for this fourth Sunday of Easter comes from our Gospel text, especially where John records Jesus’ words, “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.” Here ends our text; my dear Christian friends …

It’s one of the most comforting sections of Scripture for Christians, and comes immediately before our text, from the latter portion of John 10: Jesus’ “I am the Good Shepherd” discourse. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.” 

These words are extraordinarily comforting for us as Christians. So … why is there such division amongst the people? Why does His declaration, “I am the good shepherd,” make many in the crowd say, “He has a demon, and is insane; why listen to him?” Why does it cause others to cry out, “These are not the words of one who is oppressed by a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?” What’s the cause of all this division? It’s the voice of the Good Shepherd. He knows His own, and His own know Him … and those who are not His own do not know Him. 

Which brings us neatly along to our text. Presumably, some time has passed since Jesus first called Himself by this pastoral name, and we see the Good Shepherd walking in the temple, in Solomon’s colonnade, and He ends up surrounded by wolves who seek to steal His sheep away. They have heard Him calling Himself “the Good Shepherd,” and they know this is tantamount to calling Himself the Messiah. Thus, they’ve been flustered and befuddled by His constant allusions and hints, never coming out and saying definitively whether He is that One chosen by God to redeem Israel. “How long will you keep us in suspense?” they ask Him. “If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” It’s a suspicious question; given their desire to trap Jesus in His words and take Him out for good, it’s not unreasonable to assume they are attempting to do the same here. 

As always, Jesus does not cater to the wolves, and instead strikes at the heart of the matter with surgical precision. “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.”

Again, we Christians hear these words and find in them great comfort and peace. Eternal life, never perishing, not slated for hell, secure in His hands, given to Him by the Father, with whom He is one. Those are a great comfort … so the reaction of the crowd is rather unsettling and shocking. While we didn’t hear it in our text today, John goes on after our text to tell his hearers, “The Jews picked up stones again to stone him. Jesus answered them, ‘I have shown you many good works from the Father; for which of them are you going to stone me?’ The Jews answered him, ‘It is not for a good work that we are going to stone you but for blasphemy, because you, being a man, make yourself God.’” 

Why the vitriol? Why the hatred? Why do they think that Jesus is guilty of blasphemy, and thus, why are they seeking to kill Him? Because He is the Good Shepherd to His own sheep, but those who are not His, who will not hear His voice, who refuse, they see an enemy. It shouldn’t come as a surprise that this is the response of those who oppose the Good Shepherd. Those who refuse to hear His voice hear only cacophony, nonsensical foolishness, or in this case, rank sacrilege. They cannot hear the truth of what He is saying; thus, like wolves, they wish to steal the life of the Good Shepherd.

But they could not. It was not His time, and as the Good Shepherd said earlier, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” Only He could say when that time arrived … and arrive it did. The time came for the Good Shepherd, as He marched up Golgotha’s hill, bruised and bloodied, hauling the death-machine upon which He would nailed, to lay down His life for His sheep.

For three long days, the sheep would not hear their Shepherd’s voice. They would cower in sorrow and doubt and despair and doubt at the deafening silence emanating from His grave. That silence, however, would be shattered in the early hours that following Sunday morning, as the stone was rolled away, the centurions clattered to the ground like dead men, and the proclamation of the angel to the women declared that the Good Shepherd had taken His life up again! He has the authority, and He exercised it! The wolves of sin, death, and the devil could not prevail against Him, much less the anger and rage of unbelieving, unhearing non-sheep!  He took up His life again, all the same, just as He said!

The sheep who hear His voice know this. They are willing to be called silly and stupid for believing what is, according to the world, fantastical fiction. They know better; they can hear His voice, when He says through His under-shepherds, “I baptize you,” when He says, “I forgive you all your sins,” when He says, “Take and eat, take and drink this true Body and Blood of Mine, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” We hear His voice, and thanks to His promised gift of the Holy Spirit, we trust Him. We hear His voice, His Words of promise … and we believe Him. In the midst of the cacophony of this world, the voice of our Shepherd is the only thing to drown it all out, as He declares to you that your sins are forgiven, and that eternal life is yours! Have no fear, little flock! Your Good Shepherd remains with you, and no one will snatch you from His pierced, living hands!

+ In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. + Amen.