14. April 2013
Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! In the name + of Jesus.
“There will be one flock, one shepherd.” There are not many churches but one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic church. There are not many shepherds but One Shepherd. Our confession of the church is bound to our confession of Jesus. Today’s religious landscape is marked by many different Lords and as many or more church bodies to match. This is not the Lord’s doing. For Jesus says, “There will be one flock, one shepherd.”
Such religious chaos is not of the Lord but of the lord of chaos. Only the devil would want to see churches rent apart by schism and division. Only the deceiver would lead mankind to think it acceptable to tolerate error and false teaching. Satan rejoices when Christian congregations fight within and amongst each other.
His task is easy. First, we are a fickle people, easily distracted and enticed by our own imaginations and hopes of what the God, church, and faith should be. As the prophet Isaiah said, “All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way” (Is 53:6). The deceiver tempts us to look within. He would have us devise our own ideas of God, creation, sin, and salvation. Like wayward sheep, all we need is a little shove off the path, a little lie whispered in the ear, a little encouragement to follow our own passions. Thus we put a God of our own devising onto the throne of our heart. We substitute His righteous decrees for our own laws and commands. We reject salvation in God the Son, Jesus, and look for salvation in ourselves. We wander all the while thinking ourselves faithful members of Christ’s flock.
Second, the Great Liar is a copycat. He knows that sheep need a shepherd. Lost sheep are anxious to be found. They desire to hear the voice of a shepherd and to be led again to cool waters and fertile pastures. Thus, he appoints himself shepherd (not good). Unwittingly, they hear a Shepherd but do not distinguish his voice from the truth. Indeed, Jesus calls him a wolf who snatches them away from the truth and scatters them apart from Jesus and His church.
Therefore, Satan’s great deceit is to draw you away from Jesus, the good shepherd, and away from His flock, the holy church. “Strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered” (Zech 13:7). The devil loves to see little flocks guided by hired hands. He cannot abide by one flock with Jesus as its one shepherd. He loves to hear sheep bleet: “I’m a Christian” all the while going their own way or following false shepherds. he loves to see churches confess their love of Christ while rejecting the very voice of Jesus in the Holy Scriptures.
No one born of flesh has escaped this wandering. Even after being found by Jesus, washed white in the cool waters in Holy Baptism, we, like sheep, wander. We bathe ourselves in the filthy muck of this world. We are so covered in it that our restored radiance is tarnished or even unknown. After idling munching of the rich grass of God’s green pastures, we wander out of the fold to see what sort of other delectables we might find. We discover the poisonous food of the world, devil, and flesh is quite enjoyable and learn to crave it. We wander from the Shepherd’s care willfully, even if it would lead to our death.
Jesus knows our nature. He knows our flesh, having been born of flesh himself. Thus, He knows our weaknesses and still provides for us. “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” He calls to you and brings you into His fold. Not just you but all those who believe in Him. Jesus promises, “There will be one flock, one shepherd.” How does He keep this promise? How does He gather us into one flock under one shepherd? First, Jesus goes after the lost sheep and brings them home. “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” He is the Good Shepherd who relentlessly pursues the wayward sheep until all whom He has chosen are gathered into his fold. The history of this world and the saving work of Jesus are not complete until the all the elect of God have been gathered into the Shepherd’s embrace.
Notice how Jesus goes about this gathering. “I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” Where the Good Shepherd speaks, there is the true church. You can be confident that you are in Christ’s fold when you hear His voice. The voice of the Good Shepherd is the Word of the Scriptures. Where the Holy Word is preached and taught in truth and purity, there Jesus is speaking.
The opposite must also be said. Where the Word of God is distorted, confused, sidelined, or hidden, there Jesus is no longer speaking. Simply proclaiming, “the Bible says” does not mean you are hearing the truth of Jesus. If the Word spoken does not give you Jesus Christ crucified, then it is not of the Good Shepherd. If the church speaks in error, then it is not within the Good Shepherd’s fold.
Those who follow after false Words and gather with flocks in error are in serious danger. Among them is the Deceiver with his hired hands, seeking to snatch them, devour their faith, and bind them forever in their sin. Therefore, when someone says to you, “I’m a Christian” do not assume they follow the voice of Jesus and are in His flock. So they same for the multiplicity of other Christian branding, including “I’m a Lutheran!”
As family, friends, neighbors, or even fellow Christians, we are duty bound to follow only one voice and to speak this voice truthfully. We boldly proclaim that there is salvation in no one by Jesus only. This salvation is received by faith only, through His grace only, a it can be heard only in His living voice, the Scriptures. Set the branding aside and speak this truth. Therein only do we have confidence of our salvation and the salvation of our neighbor.
Jesus says it this way, “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” This is how you know your Shepherd. He is the one who took on your flesh and all its weaknesses. He is the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He is the paschal lamb who sets us free. He knows us because He became like us. He is both the lamb of the sacrifice and the Shepherd of our souls. He did not run or flee when Satan sought Him. He willingly went to death like a lamb to the slaughter. Upon the cross, the Shepherd died for His sheep, so that sheep would never die. And He rose victorious from the grave and thereby leads all His sheep from death unto life.
Jesus must gather His flock. Even one who has wandered is still His. He rescues the scattered and calls them by His voice. Indeed, there is no way to become part of the one holy church apart from the one Shepherd. Jesus also says, “I am the door of the sheep. All who ever came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:7-10).
The Good Shepherd is not speaking in empty words. The church is His sheepfold, where His voice speaks and His hands work. He has placed in His stead undershepherds—pastors—to continue His work. They speak in His name. They proclaim His Word. They forgive sins on His behalf. St. Paul instructs us to consider the church in this way. He told the pastors of the church in Ephesus, “Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.” There can be no lone Christians. Salvation in Christ’s blood comes by the church who continually holds to the Word of the Good Shepherd.
The answer to the religious chaos of this world and Christianity is Jesus alone. He promises, “There will be one flock, one shepherd.” There is only one, holy, catholic, and Apostolic church. There is only one Good Shepherd. Our confession of the church is bound to our confession of Jesus. Where you hear Jesus’ voice in truth and purity, there you are hearing the Good Shepherd. Where the Good Shepherd is laying down His life that you would have life in Him, there is His true sheepfold. Where sheep are gathered to receive their crucified Shepherd for their forgiveness, there is the true church.
In Name of the Father, + Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen. Alleluia! Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
Grace Lutheran Church