Third Sunday of Easter - Misericordias Domini
April 14th, Year of Our + Lord 2013
Trinity and St. John Lutheran Churches, Sidney and Fairview, MT
Vicar Jason Toombs
“I am the Bread of life,” says Jesus, “the Light of the world, the Door of the sheep, the Good Shepherd, the Resurrection, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I am the true Vine.” These are the seven “I am” statements of Jesus found in John’s Gospel. Today we hear two of these statements from the mouth of Jesus.
“I am the Door of the sheep ... I am the Good Shepherd.” Jesus is our entrance into the good pasture and He is the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep. We are His sheep, He came for us little lambs. He came to remove your doubt and give you faith.
On this side of the good pasture, on this side of heaven, our faith lives alongside of doubt. The devil doesn’t need to plant it in us. By our fallen nature, it is already there. He simply needs to apply water and wait for his fruit to grow. When we hear Jesus say, “I know My own and My own know Me,” it doesn’t take much to get us thinking, “Do I really know Jesus? Am I one of His sheep?” Our doubt wants proof that we know Him. Where should we look? Doubt directs us back to ourselves, back to our hands, back to our heart, back to our works. Doubt directs us away from Jesus, away from our Good Shepherd, away from the Truth.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He lays down His life for His sheep. He lays down His life for you. He pays for your sins, your doubts, your troubles. He ransoms you away from the grasp of your enemies: sin, death, the grave, and the devil. Our enemies are always around us. You are a sinner who can do nothing but sin when you try to do things on your own apart from God. Death lingers behind every corner in your life. You never know when you will breathe your last breath. The grave is beckoning you to lose your life because you know it’s not worth anything. And the devil, that chief liar, who always uses lies, uses tricks, uses anything he can to get his hands on your soul. He wants to drag more people, more souls, down to hell with him. His appetite for souls in insatiable, always looking for one more soul.
But Jesus comes to defeat your enemies forever. He has paid for the wrath that you deserve, He has satisfied justice on your behalf. You are righteous, perfect, and holy because Jesus has declared you to be so. He has taken your death, the death that you deserve because of your sin, and He has given you life, a new life, eternal life. He has risen from the dead to be your justification and He will raise you too when He returns. And He will bring you into the good pasture of heaven. There He will be your Good Shepherd for you to see all the days of your life. He loves you. He lays down His life for you. And you know His voice. You hear it now.
It seems strange to say that you hear His voice now. You hear His voice in His Word, in everything that He has done for you. You heard His voice in the lessons this morning. You heard His voice in the hymnody as you sang. You heard His voice at your Baptism. You hear His voice as God claims another child as His own in Baptism. You hear His voice when the Pastor, the under shepherd of Christ, absolves you of your sins. You will hear His voice every time you receive the meal that He instituted for you to eat for the forgiveness of sins. You will hear His voice as He blesses you at the end of the service.
It also seems strange every time you hear His voice because you doubt. You doubt that He is there for you. You doubt that He is your Good Shepherd. You doubt that your sins are forgiven. The devil tries to seize on this doubt, trying to get you to trust in the doubt rather than God’s Word. But this doubt that you have is also evidence of your faith. The doubt that is in your mind, in your heart, in you is the pin pricks of conscience. As you grow more mature in the Christian faith you become more aware of your sin, more aware of the guilt and burden of your sin, and more aware of the weakness of your faith. You doubt that God is good, that Jesus is your Good Shepherd. But this doubt is evidence that you are engaging the enemy inside yourself. God is good and Jesus is your Good Shepherd who laid down His life for you. He paid for all of your sin, all of your guilt and remorse over your sin. He came to remove your doubt and give you faith. If you had no faith in God’s love toward you, you would not care if He exists, you would not worry about your doubts, you would feel no guilt.
But while doubt is, in a bit of a paradox, a sign of faith, still it is no fun to doubt. We doubt God’s love toward us because we know we are sinners, only deserving God’s wrath. We doubt Jesus’ laying down His life for us sheep because we know we wouldn’t lay down our life for all of humanity. For all of this you feel guilty. You worry about it. You know you are a sinner. You know you have broken His law. You are terrified. You are sick to your stomach. You must look somewhere for Him. And God directs you back to Himself, back to His loving arms, back to the arms of your Good Shepherd. God returns your focus back to the cross, back to Good Friday, where Jesus was crucified for your sin. Back to where your Good Shepherd laid down His life.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy ... the wolf snatches the sheep and scatters them.” The devil and his cohorts are thieves and wolves. We know the devil is the one who tries to get us to turn away from God, but who are his cohorts? His cohorts are those who are like us, humans. They are the religious leaders who try to turn you away from the God who died for you and rose again on the third day. They are your neighbors who care more about the pleasures of this life than the life to come. They are teachers who direct you to the things that you can do to “get right with God.” They try to take away the sheep, steal them, kill them, destroy them. Steal you. Kill you. Destroy you. But Jesus, your Good Shepherd, is stronger than they. They would seek to harm you but He loves you. He loves you in this way, that He willingly laid down His life for you, for your life.
Hear again as your Good Shepherd says, “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.” Jesus came down from heaven to lay down His life upon the cross. He came to suffer the death that we deserve, the death that we owe because we are sinners. And He laid down His life in your stead. And three days later, He took up His life again. He has authority to lay down His life, and He has authority to take it up again. This was what He came down from heaven to do.
He didn’t come down from heaven to do this for Himself. He came down to do this for you. He came down to die for you. And He’s not the only one who has died. In your baptism, you died with Christ. You have died with Him, only to hear Him say to you, “Arise.” He has authority to not only take up His life, He also has authority to give you life. You live every day as one of His little lambs, a lamb of God’s flock. You hear the Good Shepherd’s voice calling you through the door.
You hear as the Good Shepherd says, “I am the Door of the sheep.” He is your entrance into the good pasture, He is you entrance into heaven. It is only through Him that we can be saved. If we try to get in on our own, whether trying to cross the fence or jump over it, we won’t make it. Some teachers will tell you that you can cross the fence by your works, your deeds, your faith, your love, your anything. But none of those ways will get you through the fence into the pasture. It is only those who enter by the Door that get into the pasture.
He is the only way into heaven. Not our works, not our deeds, no religious leader, no prophet can get us into heaven. No other door gets us to the pasture. “For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt. 7:13-14). The door to hell is wide and there are many teachers who will lead you there. But the door to heaven, the door to the good pasture where the lambs will eat forever, is narrow. This Door is the cross. This Door is the empty tomb. This Door is our crucified and risen Lord, Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the only door that leads to God. He calls you to enter through Him. You have entered through Him in Baptism. You have been baptized into Christ’s death and resurrection. You have been given Christ in the waters of your Baptism. This is the life giving water, the water that flowed from His side. And He feeds you with Himself. He gives you His Body and Blood, the same body broken on the cross and the same blood that flowed from His side. You eat His Body and drink His Blood and He gives you life. He feeds your faith through His Word and through His meal.
He gives you faith to answer your doubt. He gives you His eternal promises to confirm your faith when doubt raises its head. He gives you life when doubt tries to bring death. He brings you back to Himself when doubt tries to run away. When doubt asks, “How?,” Jesus answers, “Repent.” Repent of your doubt, repent of your self-justifying works, repent of your self-centered lives. And after turning us from our sin, Jesus directs us back to Himself where we are focused once again on our Good Shepherd. You have been turned away from you and back to Jesus and what He has done for you. And you rejoice because He alone has saved you.
A lamb cannot save itself from a thief or wolf. Only the Good Shepherd can rescue His lambs from the devil. And your Good Shepherd has called you by name, called you through the door into His pasture. And there you eat the food and drink the drink that He has given to you, resting comfortably under His watchful eyes.