Fifth Sunday of Easter
April 22, 2018
“One Flock, One Shepherd”
Rev. Richard Langness
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours this day from our triune God; Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
In the Nicene Creed we confess, “And I believe in one holy Christian and apostolic Church, I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sins, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” If this is true, why is it that we have so many divisions, so many denominations? Why is it that we just can’t get along with each other? Of course the greater question that we must address here is this; if there is only one holy Christian and apostolic Church and if there is only one Baptism for the remission of sins, then where do we stand and can we truly look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come?
Now you might not think that it is such a big question. You might feel very confident in what you believe. But do you feel confident because you have studied what the one holy Christian and apostolic Church believes or is it simply because you have been a member of a Christian congregation for many years? Have you taken the time to understand where and why we have divisions or are you simply comfortable with what you hear and experience here? If someone were to ask you, “What is the basis for why you look for the resurrection of the dead?” How would you answer? Could you explain the significance of the Resurrection or would you simply jump to the life of the world to come?
It is easy for us to focus our attention on heaven and on the eternal life that is ours. This is easy whether one is a Christian or not. Most, if not all, religions look to a better life after death. Not all, however, look for the resurrection of the dead. Yet Islam looks for the resurrection of the dead. So can you explain why they are not members of the one holy Christian and apostolic Church and why it is that their hope in the resurrection is a false hope?
I heard and interesting comment on humanity earlier this week. I was listening to the radio on Tuesday afternoon and the host mentioned a study that he read. It seems that most people see themselves as being morally superior over the average person. This was even true when the study was done among a group of inmates who were sent to prison. So if this is your attitude, you are not alone. I would also put before you the fact that we have so many divisions and denominations in the Church only serves to confirm that this study is correct.
Now I would be amiss if I did not acknowledge that at the heart of the many divisions are pastors and church leaders. These are the hired hands to which Jesus speaks when He says, “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.” (John 10:11-13) More often than not, the wolf is seen in the face of another pastor who holds a different opinion or thought. But rather than wrestling for the truth of God’s Word for the sake of the sheep; it is easier to simply run away and let the division remain and allow the wolf to snatch and scatter the sheep.
In your experiences in the Church you may have seen this type of division arise. As a matter of fact, I would venture to say that if we did a survey of what each of us think and believe we would probably find that we are not all in agreement on issues like six day creation, men only as pastors, and even the true presence of Christ’s body and blood in the Sacrament. These disagreements along with many others exist within many congregations, our synod, and within the greater body of Christ, this thing that we call the one holy Christian and apostolic Church.
Jesus said, “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.” (John 10:14-15) There is both law and gospel in this statement. The gospel is this, Jesus is the good shepherd and He knows us and He lays down His life for us. He knows His sheep and He is able to care for all our needs, even to the point of rescuing us from the kingdom of the devil. With that, He has also made Himself known to us. But here is where the law comes in. How well do we really know Him? If we all really knew Him would we be divided in our beliefs and opinions? Thus, the law hits us with the condemning reality that we are failing as His sheep to truly know Him. We are failing in our walking together as the one true body of Christ.
Jesus also said, “And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16) Here is where the law really hits us. Not only are we to be one flock under the one shepherd, but we are also to be caring for the sheep that are not of our local fold. We are to be concerned for strangers and visitors, for sheep that we don’t know or recognize, for sheep who may not even know that they are sheep yet. So how well can we do that if we cannot even truly care for our fellow sheep, our fellow brothers and sisters?
Here, then, is the crux of the issue. It is our sinful nature to see ourselves as the ultimate discerners of truth. This is why we see ourselves as morally superior over the average person. It is also why we look at the Bible and think that we can discern all that is within it. We think that we can understand it. In a way, we think that we can control it, that we can master it. But that is far from the truth. Again, Jesus said, “I know my own and my own know me.” Jesus knows His own. Jesus knows you. Another way to see it is this, the Word knows His own. The Word knows you. Thus, it is not you who read the Bible. Rather, it is the Bible that reads you. It is the Bible that knows and understands you more than you know and understand it.
There is an authority that exists with the Bible. There is an authority that exists with the Word of God. It is the authority of the very Word of God, Jesus Christ. Of course we do not like that authority. We do not like to bow down to any authority. Again, we like to see ourselves as morally superior, even though we are convicted criminals under the law of God. But if we are to move towards reconciliation and come together as the one flock of the one shepherd, then we need to all bow down to the one authority of the Word.
So what is the authoritative statement that Jesus makes here? “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” (John 10:17) Our first thought might be that the Father’s love is conditional. And we like this because we like to be morally superior and earn God’s love. But that is not the case. The whole of scripture disproves that idea. Instead, we have a wonderful promise here, a wonderful authoritative foreshadowing of what is to come. Jesus affirms that no one takes His life from Him, but He lays it down of His own accord. He has the authority to lay it down and the authority to take it up again. Yet, we teach that Jesus was raised by the Father. So what is up with that?
We recognize that upon the cross Jesus says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. (Luke 23:46b) The reason He commits His spirit into the Father’s hands is because Jesus is the sacrifice for our sins. If His sacrifice is not sufficient for the task of redeeming us from our sin, then death will forever remain. But what does Jesus say? “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.” Jesus submits Himself to the Father because He knows that the Father loves Him. Jesus commits His spirit to the Father because He knows that the Father loves Him. Even in the face of the Father’s full wrath put upon Him for our sin, even when He cries out, “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” He can trust that that the love of the Father will prevail.
It is this love that we hold onto as well. Jesus said, “This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:18b) This charge is the cross. This charge is the very sacrifice of the Son of God for you, for me. The love of God is truly unconditional but the justice of God is truly just. God does simply forgive. He is truly merciful. Yet the wrath of God cannot go unappeased. Thus, Jesus had to go the cross and suffer and die for the sin of the world. But raised to life by the Father, Jesus has the full authority to raise us to life as well. This is how we can look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. He lays down His life for you.
By the authority of Jesus Christ, the hired hand has declared to you that your sins are forgiven. By the authority of the Word of God I also declare to you that your sins are forgiven. You have been brought into the one flock of the one Shepherd. You have been brought into the one flock because it is the Shepherd who is morally superior. Jesus is the one who fulfilled the demands of the Law on our behalf. We are only righteous because Jesus is truly righteous. Our goodness is the fruit of the Good Shepherd who suffered for us, was crucified for us, and was raised to life for us. The Good Shepherd knows you. May you now grow in your knowledge of Him and the authoritative Word He proclaims to you. Amen.