In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
1. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. The Church is His flock. The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep. He knows His sheep and they know Him, even as the Father knows Him and He knows the Father. The sheep of the Good Shepherd hear His voice. The voice of the Good Shepherd is what unifies the Church as one. There is one flock, even as there is one Shepherd.
2. The one Shepherd is Jesus. There is not another shepherd that Jesus has appointed over His entire Church. We must speak very clearly about this. There is no such position in Christ’s Church as pastor of the whole Church. Jesus alone is the pastor of the whole Church. The claim that the bishop at Rome is pastor of the whole Church is as false as our Lord’s words are clear when He says: “There is one flock even as there is one shepherd” (John 10:16).
3. Jesus alone is the Shepherd and bishop of our souls. Jesus is the Shepherd of whom David wrote, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Psalm 23:1). Jesus is the one who seeks out the lost sheep and finds him. No one can stand between the Shepherd and the sheep. The Shepherd won’t let anyone stand between. He owns the sheep. They belong to Him. He laid down His life for them. He purchased them with His own blood. He confronted sin and death and hell for them, and He will not let any spiritual power or authority come between Him and His blood-bought sheep.
4. Jesus does appoint shepherds or pastors. The men we call pastors are really undershepherds of the Good Shepherd. These men are appointed and sent by Jesus to feed specific flocks. Congregations of Christians need God’s Word and Sacraments. They need to be fed. The food of the sheep is the purely proclaimed Gospel and rightly administered Sacraments of Christ. The authority and responsibility of the undershepherds of the Good Shepherd is to preach and teach God’s Word—both Law and Gospel—and to administer Christ’s Sacraments.
5. The sheep must be fed. It is the pastor’s job to feed the sheep. They need the pure and wholesome Gospel and Sacraments. They don’t need the pastor’s dazzling personality, wisdom, manners, charm, or political connections. The sheep don’t need a good facilitator of conversation, someone to make them feel loved and affirmed, or someone to be their friend. What the sheep need is what the Good Shepherd gives to His undershepherds to teach and preach. And this is no secret knowledge available only to the pastors, it is clearly taught in the Holy Scriptures. The sheep have the duty to judge their pastors. They are to see to it that their pastors faithfully feed them with the wholesome food that the Good Pastor has provided. The pastors have nothing of their own to offer the sheep.
6. Woe to the pastor who refuses to teach the truth because it might make people angry or drive them away or hurt his chances to get some kind of earthly reward! Pastor’s don’t appoint themselves. Jesus does. He does so through the call of the Church, that is, through the sheep who are gathered together. Since the pastor is a minister of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God, he must administer what Christ has given to him. A man who refuses to do so is not a minister of Christ, he is a hireling. He works for pay and the money he gets is all he gets. He would be better off selling used cars or vacuum cleaners than standing up in the pulpit only to tell the people whatever will not upset the wolf and bring on his attacks.
7. The wolf will attack. Jesus says so. He attacks the sheep by lying to them. He lies about the Good Shepherd. All false teaching is ultimately directed against Christ. But the wolf is smart. He tries to hide his true aims. He doesn’t want the sheep to know that he’s attacking the Shepherd. So he pretends that he loves the Shepherd. He wears the clothing of a sheep. He displays devotion to the Good Shepherd. He appears to be a pious and loving sheep. His real purpose is to tear the sheep away from their Shepherd and scatter the flock.
8. The Good Shepherd gives His life for the sheep. When Jesus gave up His life on the cross He was fighting and winning humanity’s battle against the devil. The death and resurrection of the Good Shepherd is the victory of the sheep over the wolf. When the Good Shepherd dies for His sheep He delivers them from death. When the Good Shepherd bears the sin of His sheep He forgives them of their sin. The wolf will attack the sheep by trying to falsify the Gospel of the death and resurrection of Jesus.
9. He attacks the Gospel in the first instance by making it unnecessary. The Gospel gives us the forgiveness of sins and eternal salvation freely for Christ’s sake. This is for sinners who need to have their sins forgiven. So the wolf attacks God’s Law. Since God’s Law shows us our sin and our need for a Savior from sin, the devil can attack God’s Law without directly attacking the Savior. But his aim is always against the Savior. The wolf cons foolish sheep into ignorance about how foolish they are.
10. You see this happen all the time. Foolish children who ignore their parents’ instruction get into all sorts of trouble that brings them and their loved ones pain. They foolishly ignore the Fourth Commandment. Then they grow a little older and get into all sorts of trouble by ignoring the Sixth Commandment. They follow their emotions. What they call love is what God calls fornication. But because they do not recognize their sin they do not see any need for forgiveness. They see no need for a shepherd to lay down His life for them.
11. But the flagrant foolishness of the young is easy to spot. You don’t need to be a Christian to understand the benefits of obeying parents and controlling one’s passions. The deeper and more vicious sins are identified in the Small Catechism in the explanation to the sixth petition of the Lord’s Prayer where we learn to confess: “God tempts no one. We pray in this petition that God would guard and keep us so that the devil, the world, and our sinful nature may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great shame and vice. Although we are attacked by these things, we pray that we may finally overcome them and win the victory.”
12. False belief is when you believe something about God that just isn’t true. Despair is when you conclude that God cannot help you and there is no point in relying on Him. Both false belief and despair come to those who do not hear the voice of Jesus. The voice of the Good Shepherd is the only protection from these terrible calamities. This is why Jesus emphasizes this fundamental truth so often. His sheep hear His voice. His voice is what unites the sheep to their shepherd. It is what unites the sheep to one another. The voice of the Good Shepherd is the pure Gospel and Sacraments of Christ.
13. I can’t possibly make this point clear enough. The Good Shepherd’s voice, which speaks to us through the Word and Sacraments, is our only defense against the wolf and his attempts to lead us into false belief and despair. It is the Word and the Sacraments which defend us against these attacks, not the pastor, not social hour, not connection with other members of the church, not having fun in Bible class, not serving the poor and needy. Those things all have their place, to be sure, but their place is secondary to the Good Shepherd’s Word being proclaimed and applied to us and the Sacraments of Christ being faithfully administered among us. If we don’t learn to love the voice of our Good Shepherd through Word and Sacrament, then everything else is meaningless. But when we hear our Good Shepherd’s voice through Word and Sacrament, He defends us from the wolf, grant us forgiveness, and leads us to green pastures evermore. May our Good Shepherd preserve us in His Word and Sacraments, teaching us to love His voice, and so defend us against the prowling wolf through all our days.
In Jesus’ name. Amen.