Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and
Savior, Jesus Christ.
Fellow redeemed in Christ, the text
for this morning comes from the Gospel Reading but also the First Reading and
the Epistle Reading.
This morning is Good Shepherd Sunday, which is always the
fourth Sunday after Easter. And Good Shepherd Sunday always has a theme of
Christ being our good Shepherd, we being His sheep of His flock. And in this
morning’s Gospel Reading, especially these words. This is verse 16. “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.”
And Christ’s wish is to do such a thing. You and I then
become the hands and the feet and the mouths of Christ as He reaches these
individuals throughout all of our lives. We are the ones whom God uses and
chooses to use regardless of our abilities and imperfections. In fact, in spite
of all our inabilities and imperfections does God use us faithfully.
But the difficulty in this time and in this age is that
there is a complete acquiescence to relativism. “We all worship the same God.
It really doesn’t matter as long as we are all worshiping God.” That’s
relativism. It’s saying “Discrepancies between your faith and my faith aren’t
worth us getting into any kind of a discussion. In fact, so unworthy of any
kind of discussion, I’m not even going to discuss it with you. Yours is yours
and mine is mine, and we’ll just say it’s all the same.” That’s relativism.
That’s not what came out of the disciples’ mouths in the
First Reading. When they said very clearly, there is no other name under Heaven
by which we must be saved, none other, except Christ and Him alone. Another
term that’s very relativistic is, “As long as you’re sincere. As long as you’re
sincere, that’s all that matters,” as if sincerity counts for anything, because
it does not and has not ever been found in Scripture that sincerity is what
brings us to Heaven. It is not what was said, again, in that First Reading.
There is also a temptation that, if we keep these essential truths but
repackage it and present it in another fashion or form, another manner or way,
then it’s still good. It’s kind of like the old saying, “A spoonful of sugar
helps the medicine go down.” At some point in time, the more sugar you add, the
less medicine’s going down, and pretty soon, it’s just nothing but sugar.
So it starts out with great intention and sincere
motivation, but the difficulty in Christ laying down His life for the sheep is
that not all the sheep hearken unto the voice of the Shepherd. And you and I
take that personally as if we’re the problem, or as if we’re the solution or
the answer. That’s not what the text says. “I must bring them,” Jesus said.
And without a doubt, He uses us, but let us never think more highly of
ourselves than we ought as if we are the integral tool, or we’re the problem
tool. Either way, do not think more highly of yourself or myself than we ought.
It is God working through us.
Now, the difficulty in this relativistic world is that at
some point, like what was said in the First Reading from the book of Acts, there
is a moment when truth comes to bear and then there is offense. Verse 12 of
that Acts passage, the last verse of that text, there is salvation in no one
else. “There is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be
saved.” That’s saying there is a right way and there is a….Yes, that’s exactly
what it’s saying. That is difficult to bear. Who wants to be the giver of such
a message? I don’t like to be the giver of such a message, and neither do you,
but that is the message we’ve been given to give. Because the knife cuts for
the benefit of your and my solidness and comfort in such a proclamation.
In Sunday morning Bible class, our study is on the Book of
Hebrews, and in the fourth chapter, which we sort of got a little bit of today.
We had some great discussion. In the fourth chapter of the Book of Hebrews is
about God’s Word being living and active, dividing through the joints and
marrow. It is what God brings to bear to bring about this salvation. It’s what
He did in your heart. That’s what He did to you. He said, “This is the way.
This is not the way.” And the Holy Spirit did His work, and He used some
really imperfect people to bring that about in your life, whether that is your
parents, whether that is the pastor, the teacher, the church in which you grew
up or not, He still used imperfect people to bring you to why you’re here this
morning to give praise to the One who feeds us Himself on this glorious day.
Now, that is a difficult message to bear, and we’re tempted
to either be really harsh or really wimpy. Now, the being harshness has two
possibilities. One of the motivations for being harsh is we can rest assured
that we did it. By golly, we gave them the whole load, and we gave it to them
without any problem, any qualms or what have you, but that’s like killing a fly
with a shotgun.
The other temptation is to keep it, shall we say, focused
and motivated upon ourselves so that we don’t feel guilty for not having done
it. The temptation on the other hand is so that we don’t offend everybody. We
don’t like to be not liked. There’s the temptation, but truth is what was given
to the people in the Book of Acts when Jesus proclaimed through that apostle
those words. He even adds it’s the stone that y’all rejected, you, the builders.
And now, He’s become the cornerstone.
Now, this is Jesus about whom we know is perfect, God and
man, who knows the words that could come out and be offensive, yet chooses to
allow His apostles to proclaim such truth. It’s not fun at all. The temptation
is, “Well, since it’s not fun, let’s just go about it as if it’s not fun and
get it over with.” That’s crazy. That’s not good either. But good old John,
John who recorded those words of Jesus in our Gospel Reading. “I have other
sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also. I, Jesus, must do it.”
You? You’re merely the parrot that proclaims the truth. You’re the hands and
the feet and you do it imperfectly, but you’re the ones that He uses.
The same John in the Second Reading kind of goes about it in
another way. He talks about love and laying down our life, and he talks about
first of all, if you notice the text, he says, “Lay down my life for the
brothers.” In fact, that’s who he’s referring to in that Epistle Reading. He’s
not even talking about those outside the church. He’s talking about those
inside the church.
And remember that campfire song, “They Will Know We are
Christians by Our Love”? Big back in the seventies and it kind of clung onto
the church for a while. The truth behind that is this. Yes, the church showed
herself beautiful in how she treated one another. It speaks volumes, doesn’t
it? When you hear a wife or a husband talk to you about their spouse in a
disparaging way, you have got to scratch your head and think, How do they
treat them at home? If this is how they’re treating them when they’re away from
them with such strong and harsh words, how do they treat them when they’re
around them? Wow, I don’t know if I would want to be joined to you!
And sometimes people within the church talk that way about
other people within the church. Why would we want to be a part of such a group
of hypocrites and sinners? Hence, why John proclaims to those who heard his
letter such words. And there’s easier and there’s a harder aspect, just like
proclaiming truth. It’s easy to say, “I love you. You’re so important.” It’s
harder to show that in telephone calls and checking on them and encouraging
them and complimenting them. That takes much more of an effort. It’s very easy
to point out someone’s shortcomings. Oh, that is the easiest thing in the
world. It’s a lot harder to point out their positive aspects, to compliment
them, to find out about them.
So, rather than us getting into our cars and driving away
after church, pause and slow down. Be willing to shake someone’s hand and talk
to them and introduce yourself if you don’t know them. And let them tell you,
“I’ve been a member here for twenty years.” It’s okay. That’s a sign of love
and that’s harder to do. Compliment someone rather than complain and grumble
about how it’s being done. Step into that area of service rather than talking
about those who are serving in that area of service. That’s harder. That’s what
John is talking about. That’s ultimately what Jesus is talking about, because
he says, “Do not love in word or talk; that’s easy. Love in deed and in truth.”
We just spoke about the truth; that’s hard. But to love in deed is also hard
and they both go together. That’s the manifestation of true love.
Let’s be honest. Growing up, the word, “I love you,” has no
meaning unless the person who says it backs it up with clinging to you when you
are the ugliest, sticking by your side when you are the most repulsive, and
taking you back when you don’t even want to take yourself back. That’s love,
and it’s not words; it’s a deed. It is the same way with us and one another,
here in the church, because if we can’t do it here, we’re wasting our breath to
talk about doing it outside the purview of this group. It starts here and
expands outward. It will never be perfected here, so don’t be waiting. “Well,
I’m not going to do anything outside because we haven’t got it straight here.”
It’s doing both at the self same time. But it starts here.
One of the problems with any hardworking individual is that
their work can become more important than their family. The world praises hard workers,
but sometimes being a hard worker sacrifices family. It works that way
sometimes. This is the difficulty of being one of God’s sheep. But God shows us
that in that He lays down His life for such sheep, such sheep as we. And He
takes it back up for such sheep as we, that we might be a part of that one
flock, of which we are, and that he would reach others through us who are a
part of that flock by building up the body of Christ and by extending the
kingdom. That is how He has always done it.
It has been said you cannot believe truth without loving
truth. You cannot believe in Christ without loving other people as a result of
that faith. The reverse is also true. You cannot love other people without
believing truth and what God has done for you. They go hand in hand. And the
voice of the Shepherd has spoken. You, His sheep, have heard. Be comforted and
be strengthened by being used by Him. And let’s get over ourselves. We’re going
to do it wrong, we’re not going to do it enough, but rather than beat each
other up and ourselves, just get back up on the horse and ride. Because it’s
all about this:
And so through all
the length of days
Thy goodness faileth
Good Shepherd, may I
sing Thy praise
Within Thy house
In the name of Jesus, Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your
hearts and your minds on Christ Jesus to life everlasting.