Good Shepherd Sunday
May 12, 2019
“Sheep or Goats?”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. Then the King will say to those on his right, [the sheep] ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world’…Then he will say to those on his left, [the goats] ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ (Matthew 25:31-34, 41)
There is a difference between sheep and goats. It is evident upon earth and it will show itself eternally, whether one spends their forever days in heaven or in hell. There is a difference between being a sheep or a goat.
In my first congregation in the corner of Colorado we had all types of animals that roamed the town of 40 folks. One of them was a goat. One Sunday, as I walked to the back of the sanctuary following the service to receive congratulations that my sermon hadn’t put all of them to sleep, I saw a goat just outside the entrance into the church. It had jumped on top of Emma Lahnert’s nice car and wasn’t going to move – until Emma demanded it back!!
This is Good Shepherd Sunday and the readings are about sheep and goats. “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life.” (John 10:27-28a) But of the goats, “But you do not believe because you are not my sheep.” (John 10:26)
The account in John 10 looked like this – It was a winter day and it was Hanukkah, also called the Festival of Lights, or the Feast of Dedication. This was a yearly festival when they remembered the deliverance that God provided for the Jews from the evil of a man called Antiochus Epiphanes. About 200 years before this, evil Antiochus sought to eliminate the Jews and their religion. If any mother circumcised her son, that child was murdered and was then hung around her neck. He took over the Temple and offered a pig on God’s altar to Zeus.
But a man nicknamed “The Hammer”, long before fake wrestling was even invented, organized a rebellion against Antiochus, who was also given a nickname – “The Madman”, and “The Hammer” – Judas Maccabaeus won. Jesus was walking those grounds on those days when the Jewish people were remembering that great work of deliverance. And they were wondering if another deliver had come.
They surround Jesus, hemming Him in, and demand an answer to who He is and what He can do. “How long will you keep us in suspense. If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24b) Just before this Jesus had spoken about them and Himself, “You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” And do you know their reaction? “Who are you?” (John 8:23-25a) Many of them could not take Jesus at His word. They couldn’t come to faith.
Sheep listen. They trust. They follow. They take Jesus, the Good Shepherd, at His word. But goats don’t. They live in unbelief. They do not pay attention to what God says. They don’t trust, nor do they follow God. When the crowd ganged up on Jesus and said, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” Jesus answered, “I did tell you, but you do not believe. The miracles I do in my Father’s name speak for me, but you do not believe because you are not my sheep.” (John 10:24-26)
One is either a sheep or a goat. One either takes in the words of Christ or they will not listen to Him. Be a sheep. Be one who yearns for God to speak. Be one who has ears that are listening attentively to what the shepherd has to say. Jesus says of the sheep, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
John 6 is the chapter when Jesus says words like, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:53) At that time the reaction from a number of His followers was not positive. “On hearing this, many of his disciples said, ‘This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?’” (John 6:60) Then it gives us the account of many disciples leaving Jesus, “From that time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” (John 6:66)
The sheep turned into goats. Jesus looked at the Twelve, the Apostle’s, and asked them if they were going to leave as well. But Peter, who had some goat in him at various times replied well, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68)
Sheep listen. If you are one of His sheep listen to all the words that Jesus speaks. Listen to His hard words that demand much of you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.’” (Matthew 5:43-44) Sheep listen to everything the Shepherd says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:19-21)
Listen to all His words. “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26)
Sheep follow. But they won’t follow anybody. They only follow the Shepherd. They only know His voice. They are confident that the Shepherd will do amazing things for them. If a sheep gets lost, the Shepherd goes and finds them. If a sheep gets hurt, the Shepherd picks them up, puts them on His shoulder and brings healing.
Jesus is our Good Shepherd. We listen to all His words. We follow Him. We live in trust that He will take care of us now and even forever. Goats don’t have those ears, that heart or feet. But sheep do. You are the sheep under a Shepherd. He knows your name. You know His voice. I read this question and answer this week, I found it clear and comforting: “What is the most important thing you have learned about God?” “I have learned that God can be trusted in every circumstance in life.”
We had two funerals this past week at Ascension. One for Joyce Wagner last Sunday. Then the following day we had the service for Hunter Evans, a 20-year-old young lady who died of Leukemia. Different lives. Different situations. But both used the same Psalm at their service. Psalm 23. The Shepherd’s Psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me…” (Psalm 23:1, 4)
But the greatness of being a sheep and not a goat is not how well we listen or how well we follow, it is how tightly He holds to us. Listen to these words, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can 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 10:28-30)
Have you ever seen those photos of a newborn being held by their mom? Sometimes they show the contrast between the miniscule hands of the baby in the strong and loving hands of the mother. That’s how I picture this word – “And no one can snatch them out of my hand.” The Good Shepherd, Jesus, has a grip on you. He won’t let you go. He won’t let you fall. You are one of His sheep – you are in good hands.
Sheep or goats? Sheep. Listening, Following, Trusting. Living now and forever in the hands of the best Shepherd we’ll ever have. Amen!!