4 Easter Proper C4
Rev. Dr. D. K. Schroeder
John 10:22-30 Sermon
April 21, 2013
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Hymns (from The Lutheran Hymnal):
192 "Awake My Heart With Gladness"
431 "The King Of Love My Shepherd Is"
361 "O Jesus King Most Wonderful"
357 "Jesus Thou Art Mine Forever"
AN OPEN HAND OR A CLENCHED FIST?
TEXT (vs. 27-30): “27 My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 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. 30 I and the Father are one.”
I don’t know how many of you have ever visited the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but I have. I was younger at the time and we went as a family with my parents. I think we even went a couple times in fact.
Even if you haven’t visited the Grand Canyon, you all probably know that it is this gigantic hole in the ground. That of course is an understatement. It stretches for a distance of 277 miles, and in some parts it is over a mile deep. The Colorado River flows through it at the bottom.
Even though it isn’t the deepest canyon in the world, it is still one of the most beautiful and breathtaking. Everybody should have it on their “must see” list (or “bucket list” as some like to call it) as something to do at least once, if not more than once in their lifetime.
Visiting the Grand Canyon is a very safe thing to do. It is a favorite honeymoon spot. Parents take their children there. Senior citizens enjoy it as well. In fact, those who are in wheelchairs can have access to it. Everybody can go there and enjoy themselves without too much worry.
That being said, the Grand Canyon is also a very dangerous and hazardous place to visit. Now that seems like a real contradiction in terms, especially since I just got through saying how safe it was. So what’s the deal here?
The Grand Canyon is safe, so long as you heed the posted warnings and do what you are supposed to do. There are specific directions for campers and hikers. And if you want to just observe the canyon, you can go to various scenic overlooks. But when you get there, you will find guard rails and warnings telling you not to go on the other side of the railing, or not to sit on the railing, or not to crawl out on some of the more precarious outcroppings of rock.
As long as you follow the directions, and obey the rules, and do as you are told, you’ll be okay. Otherwise, it is a long fall to the bottom, and it is a fall that you most surely wouldn’t survive, unless you were to suddenly sprout wings. So keeping your feet firmly planted where they’re supposed to be is almost a no-brainer. But you know as well as I do that there are idiots out there who will ignore what they are told and venture out on their own. And every year, search and rescue teams have to go out and retrieve people, most of the time with them returning with a corpse.
As we look at our text for today, I’d like you to think of this Grand Canyon picture. Jesus says in verse 27, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” And then he goes on in verse 28, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
When we look at our Christian faith, we like to do so with a certain sense of security. We need to feel that we are safe with Jesus, and that our salvation is secure. We need to feel that way, otherwise we’d always be wondering if we were saved or not. If there were any question or doubt, we’d go through life with a huge question mark in our minds. We’d look at death with fear instead of hope.
But throughout the Gospels, Jesus gives us numerous assurances that our faith in him is not misplaced. John 3:16 says in part, “…whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” In the concluding verses of Mark’s Gospel we are told, “He who believeth and is baptized shall be saved.”
Furthermore, Paul reminds us in Romans 10, 9: “That if you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
We have some very sound assurances that our faith in Jesus our Saviour is well placed. Our salvation is something that we can be assured of, regardless of what happens. A Christian indeed can and ought to be certain of their salvation.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus describes himself as the Good Shepherd, and we are his sheep. He looks after us and cares for us; and since he is our Good Shepherd, we know him and recognize his voice.
In the animal world, sheep are creatures who know those who take care of them. When I was in Australia, I knew people who had sheep as pets. Naomi Pfitzner had a couple of pet sheep. They were orphaned lambs she raised and bottle fed, and they never forgot her. Every time she would come toward the fence, they would always come running up to meet her. They liked to be petted, and of course if Naomi had a carrot or two in her pocket for them, they especially liked that.
That’s the way we are to be as well. Jesus is our Good Shepherd, and we are to recognize and heed his voice. We know that his voice is genuine, and he will never harm us or lead us astray. Our Shepherd loves us like none other.
That’s all well and good. But now I’d like to turn our attention to the words found in verse 28: “…and no one will snatch them out of my hand.”
For the Christian, those words are reassuring. As long as the Christian heeds the voice and direction of Jesus, then they have nothing to fear.
But now, let’s look at this in light of I Corinthians chapter 10, verse 12: “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
There are those who believe in something called “irresistible grace,” which means that once a person becomes a Christian, they cannot ever fall from grace. Or, they will assert that their call to faith is something that they could never walk away from. For them, it’s once a believer, always a believer. And they hold up the passage from John 10:28: “…no one will snatch them out of my hand” as proof of that.
One of the things I frequently encountered especially in Australia, is some of the lackadaisical attitudes when it comes to the Church and the Christian faith. And in many ways, it parallels this line of thinking. People would think that as long as they were baptized as a baby in the church, that they were all set for heaven, irrespective of what they did or what they believed during their lifetime. A Christian Baptism and a Christian burial was the magic ticket into heaven. Nothing else mattered. They couldn’t be bothered with a Christian lifestyle, or attending worship, or keeping in the Word.
If we look at the word that is translated “snatch” in the Bible, it is from the Greek word “har-pad-zw,” which means to “seize or to carry off by force.” So if one is actively sitting at the Saviour’s feet and heeding his voice, then they don’t have to worry about someone coming up and kidnapping them from Jesus by force against their will. Nobody will come and wrestle a person away from Jesus if they don’t want them to.
If you noticed the theme of my sermon in your bulletin this morning, I did it in the form of a question. I simply asked, “open hand, or clenched fist?” We need to picture Jesus holding us with an open hand, and not a clenched fist. And this is where our God-given freedom can cause us some problems.
How this plays out, is that a person can start listening to a voice other than the one of their Good Shepherd. Satan knows he cannot take a person by force; so he will try everything he can to get a person to walk away from Jesus and follow him instead. The hand of Jesus is safe and secure, but it is still an open hand and not a clenched fist.
I used the illustration of the Grand Canyon at the beginning, because I believe this best describes what happens when a person decides to follow a voice other than that of their Good Shepherd. We could also think of other warning signs, like “Don’t feed the bears” at Yellowstone Park, or “Keep off the rocks” at Niagara Falls. If a person chooses to ignore the voice of God, then it is like ignoring all of those warnings. Nobody has come and picked that person up and placed them in a perilous situation; that person has chosen to place themselves in danger and risk death. If they get killed or injured, it is their own fault and nobody else’s. The warning signs and guard rails and fences should, for all intents and purposes, be enough of a deterrent to keep people safe.
If a person chooses to walk away and ignore Jesus, and follow the voice of Satan, they might as well jump off the rim of the Grand Canyon and take their chances in the abyss below. The end is going to be death; and in the case of Satan, it will be eternal spiritual death.
I find it very interesting that the Bible uses the word “fall” for following the voice of Satan. Just think of the instances. At the beginning in the Garden of Eden, Adam and Eve FELL into sin. Jesus warned the disciples about “FALLING AWAY” when the going got tough. If one chooses Satan’s path instead of God’s, then it is said that the person has “FALLEN FROM GRACE.” Maybe nobody can pluck a person from Jesus’ hand, but a person can walk right off the edge according to their own free will.
Of course Jesus doesn’t want that. That’s why he offers protection and care to those who follow him and listen to his voice. That’s why the Bible warns God’s people time and time again about falling away from him, and going down the path of destruction according to their own choosing.
If we look at our own lives, we can see that we have been in Satan’s snare. He’s had us firmly grasped in his hand. We’ve listened to his voice and gone his way far too many times.
But Jesus does something great for us. He’s sought us out and found us at the brink of destruction. And then he snatches us out of Satan’s hand, and places us in his protective custody. He calls us by the Holy Spirit and brings us to faith. He took us from the abyss of our sin and brought us to safety. And to keep us safe, he gives us words of direction and hope. He speaks to us as a shepherd speaks to his sheep. We know his voice, and we follow him.
This morning, our Psalm was the words of the very familiar 23rd Psalm. It paints a picture like nothing else in the Bible, telling us that Jesus our Shepherd leads us and guides us during those times in our life when things aren’t the most pleasant. He dispels the fear of evil and death, and he is an ever present help in the face of our enemies and during adversities. The path our Shepherd leads us down is filled with green pastures and quiet waters. He provides abundantly for all of our needs.
Furthermore, he restores our soul. Jesus, through his act of loving self-sacrifice brought us back into fellowship with God. Through faith in him as our Saviour, our bruised, sin-sick, and wayward souls have been completely healed and renewed. Jesus was indeed the Good Shepherd who lay down his life for the sheep.
The Grand Canyon is certainly a beautiful place to visit. You can go there and be safe and secure, as long as you pay attention to what you are told. The same is true at Yellowstone Park, or Niagara Falls, or any of the other many attractions where there are posted warnings. The directions given to you by the National Parks Department are the voices of experience. They want to keep you out of danger and peril.
If you want to visit the Grand Canyon safely, you certainly wouldn’t want to listen to the voices of other people daring you to do some dangerous stunt or foolish acrobatic feat. And you certainly wouldn’t want to go and “do your own thing,” thinking that you know better than the experts, or that those signs and warnings and other deterrents apply to everybody but you.
Today, the Good Shepherd, Jesus our Saviour speaks to us as he does all the time. He speaks to us through his Word. He wants to keep us safe, and lead us into heaven when our earthly life is over. He has our best interest at heart. Therefore, we can be assured that as long as we don’t go our own way and listen to the voice of Satan, he will indeed keep us safe and secure, and that nobody can ever snatch us away from him.