Sermon from Sunday, April 30, 2023
Speaker: Rev. Michael Cloud
Scripture: John 10:1-10

Sermon Transcript

Our Scripture reading this morning comes from the Gospel of John, Chapter ten, verses 1 to 10. “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out his own, he goes ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of a stranger.” Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. So again, Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. I have come that they may have life and have it abundantly.”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.

So I want you to notice that in verses two through five of the illustration that’s given this morning, there is more than one flock in this sheep pen. Now, in the summertime, this is what we all think about, right? In the summertime, when the lands would become dry, the shepherds became nomadic people, and they would travel from place to place so the sheep could graze and find good, green grass. And once the sheep had eaten all the grass in one area, the shepherd would move the flock to the next area of fertile soil to sustain the life of the flock, the shepherd, and the sheep. They spent so much time together that the sheep began to learn the voice of the shepherd. But during the winter, everyone was able to stay a little bit closer to the village and not graze about as much.

Now we’re talking winter in Israel, right? We’re not talking snow or a white Christmas. But winter, you know, it’s not as dry and arid anyway, and the grass is able to sustain itself just a little bit more. So, it wasn’t uncommon at this time for more than one shepherd to put their flocks together in the same sheep pen for the night. And so when it was time to go, the sheep would follow the voice of their shepherd out of the pen, and all the other sheep would not follow a voice they did not know.

But what’s special about the experience that Jesus is telling us about is not only do the sheep know the voice of the shepherd, but here the Good Shepherd goes as far as to individually name each and every one of the sheep as he calls them out. The Good Shepherd will call each of his sheep by name. Now, in Isaiah 43, we hear this:

“Now this is what the Lord says: the one who created you, Jacob, the one who formed you, Israel: Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not overwhelm you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be scorched, and the flame will not burn you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, and your Savior.”

When you belong to the Good Shepherd, you will never be left or abandoned to fend for yourself. The Lord will go before you, and the Lord your God will be with you.

John 10:8, Jesus says, “All those who have come before me are thieves and robbers.” This isn’t reference to Moses and the prophets, as well as the false messiahs and false teachers who claim to have truth, peace, and fulfillment apart from the resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is not only true for those who came before Jesus, but it’s also true for those who come after Jesus.

Don’t we have false teachers and false gospels among us today? Not in here, obviously. Okay, tough crowd this morning. So talking about false gospels, Al Tizon is going to give us a definition. He says that false gospels more often than not grow out of a biblical truth. A group focuses on and develops and proclaims at the expense of other biblical truths.

And Tizon is going to name something that we’ve all at least heard of, possibly experienced. Maybe we haven’t given it a name before, but he calls it the gospel of hate. False gospel, right? Gospel of hate. Now, the gospel of hate says that Hurricane Katrina was God’s judgment on New Orleans. Forget about all those churches, pastors, and congregants who lost everything. The hurricane was clearly there to judge the sinners of New Orleans.

The gospel of hate says that the calamities and trials in your life are because you failed to live a life pleasing to God. It says that God hates sin and the consequence of sin is punishment and death. So if you would have just straightened up and followed God the right way, whatever that is, then you wouldn’t have had all these problems in your life.

And is that true? Is God serious about us following his commands? Does God hate sin? Does sin bring death? Yes, but that’s not the gospel. All throughout Scripture, we see a God who will not be marked by our living in sin and injustice while we call ourselves His people. But while this is all taking place, we also see throughout the Scriptures a God who is patient, gracious, and abounding in steadfast love. The message of the Gospel is that God’s Son took on flesh and blood and endured the punishment of the cross so that there would be now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.

The overwhelming message across the pages of Scripture, which we see most evidently and most powerfully in the cross of Christ, is that God calls His people to repentance of sin and a turning back towards the holiness of heart for those He created to have life. repent, go in sin no more. But repentance isn’t so we can be nice people who do good deeds and avoid getting in trouble with our daddy.

The aim of repentance is a recognition of and a fleeing from sin because we desire a relationship of restoration with God and with our neighbor, as we all know. John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.” We’ve got that. Why do we always leave out John 3:17? Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.

And so at this point, you might be saying, “Well, yes, Pastor, I agree, I’m in, but how do I get this new heart where I have these new desires, where I want reconciliation with God and with my neighbor?”

I’m glad you asked. How do I cultivate a life that is longing after the love of God above everything else? Now, first, let’s look at the whole of John 10:8, just the first half. Very right. “Those who have come before me are thieves and robbers. But the sheep did not listen to them.” And then in verse 9, Jesus says, “I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved and will come in and go out and find green pastures.” Don’t say green. I added that. Okay, if you’re following along, you got me. I want to be faithful to the text right now.

So it’s not just about not listening to false gospels and false teachers. It’s part of it, but we need a transformation of our understanding, our heart, and our mind that is only given by Christ. Once we enter, once we get that, once we enter the sheep through Christ, and once we become part of God’s flock, our desires are changed. We will be able to go in and go out, and we will always find pasture.

William Barclay, a great Scottish commentator, was talking about how when the Jews would use this example of going in and out, it meant that there was no fear of attack or fear of loss of anything, that they were free to come and go. That’s the picture that’s being painted here. So when we enter the protection of God’s sheep pen through the Gate of Christ, we no longer have to wonder about grazing here or there because the land is shriveled up. Staying in the presence of God under the protection of the Good Shepherd always leads to the greener grass of God’s grace and mercy.

But in order to go in and out of this sheep pen, we must ask ourselves one very important question: Do I know his voice? Do I know his voice? Have we spent enough time with Jesus to be able to distinguish the voice of the Good Shepherd above all the other shepherds who are seeking to lead us astray? See, some psychologists have said that our ability to discern voices isn’t all that stable right now. We’re really good with voice recognition with people we know well, people we spend a lot of time with. But if we’re talking about people that we’re not well acquainted with or people we don’t know much about, our ability to distinguish them by voice recognition alone goes way down. So the parallel here is interesting.

At first, a sheep will not listen to a stranger. Even when a sheep is sold to a new family, it will not come when the new shepherd calls. And biblical scholar Kim Bailey suggests that the sheep will remain in the pen, agitated and hungry when that new shepherd calls. They won’t listen until they are retrained. See, as faithful as sheep are to the shepherd, they can be retrained to listen to the voice of another. Enough time has passed. Not hearing the old voice anymore, I’m hearing the new voice. More and more, I’m retraining to shepherd. So in other words, we hear most loudly and we can distinguish most clearly the voices we interact with most regularly.

Everything else becomes a blend of noise that we slowly begin to ignore, and the sobering part of all of this is that God’s voice can be found in either place in our lives: either most clearly or mostly in the blend of all the other noises. When the voice of God, of the Bible, becomes blended with all the other voices in this world, we end up with a generation of people who are spiritual but not religious, whatever that means.

Well, what it means is that today, we are living in a time across our nation where there has been an exponential increase in self-love and positivity, and following your heart, and there has been a decrease in the necessity of prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit. Now, I’m not saying that self-love and positivity are bad things in and of themselves.

We have a very real dangerous problem in our society today of people devaluing themselves and devaluing the self and the worth of others. But what I’m saying is that any time we get our worth and our joy from anything besides Jesus Christ, it will always fade away. It will always wither up and die. We will always end up lost and alone.

It’s another false gospel sneaking in like a thief and a bandit. The problem with following our heart alone is that our hearts are fickle. I think of people who end one relationship to go be with somebody else, and they justify it by saying, “the heart wants what the heart wants.” What do you want me to do?

Well, one time, like two days ago, your heart won one person. Now your heart wants another person. Is that the measure we’re going to use to guide our entire life? That’s how we’re going to figure things out? Really? Now? Absolutely. You don’t hear what I’m not saying. Jesus will warm your heart, and there will be a fullness of joy in the heart like never before.

But we have to be cautious about which passions are alive inside of us. The only way we’re going to be able to follow our hearts is by making sure that each and every day our hearts are beating in rhythm with the heart of Christ. Which voices are we listening to? Who are we letting inside our souls? And the answer isn’t no one.

We’re always putting in something, and so that thing is either of God or it isn’t. But our value and our worth are only truly fulfilled by meeting Jesus. Jesus is that longing desire of your heart that you have not been able to fill anywhere else. It is only when our hearts are tuned to the voice of the one who speaks on our behalf, the one who hears the cry of the needy, the one who rescues the oppressed, that we will be able to follow where the heart leads. It is the heart of God that we must learn to follow.

And another particular piece, “The Heart of God,” that we have ignored for far too long, and we’ve forgotten what it sounds like when God speaks to us in this way. So for the month of May, we are going to enter into a time of lament. Now, each week when you come to worship, there will be a new set of daily prayers to walk you through this season. You should have picked up a packet on your way in.

If you didn’t, that’s okay. You can pick up a packet on your way out. What does the Scripture say when you go in, and how do you make that connection? Right now, there are only seven prayers in this particular packet, right? So each week, you’re going to get a new packet, right? A new set of seven prayers. A new set of seven prayers. A new set ofseven prayers. And it’s going to… But what does it say? Lament: the journey to joy. Right. We’re not just going to wallow in our sadness. We want to have our time of sadness. We want to have our… We’re going to wallow in it. We’re going to let it lead us to joy because we’re going to be listening to the voice of God as we lament, because lament can be easily misunderstood.

And then when it is, it becomes an unused form of worship. We somehow got this idea that following Jesus meant all happiness and joy and that there was no such thing as an unhappy Christian or Christians. They can never show times of distress or loss of comfort. Like you can’t be confused, you can’t be disillusioned, Christian. Like you can’t be uncertain about life, where you’re not reading your Bible, you don’t trust your Bible, you don’t love God.

But where exactly is that in the Bible? Because I can’t find it. In fact, we have an entire book of the Bible literally called Lamentations. Like all throughout the Bible, the people of God cry out in agony. Sometimes it’s because of a consequence of their own doing, sometimes it’s because something happened to them beyond their control. But a deep grieving over our pain is a very real emotion that God is ready and willing to engage with us.

Is it any coincidence, do you think, that after John talks about hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd, John immediately records the story of Jesus and Lazarus? Jesus stands at the tomb of the one He loves and in John 11:35, it says that Jesus wept. Or in Hebrews 5:7, it says that in the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplication with loud cries and tears to the one who was able to save him from death.

And he was heard because of his reverent submission. See, the truth of the matter is that you cannot hold it in forever. And many of you have been holding on to a lot for a very long time. I’m not trying to blame or shame you in any way. But what I want you to hear me say as your pastor is that part of our human condition, even for Jesus, is that our emotions come out in one way or another. There’s no such thing as bottling them up and repressing them and making them go away.

Because when it becomes too much to bear, we are going to go looking for a place to put it all. We are going to go looking for a place of comfort and restoration. And if we aren’t listening for the voice of our Shepherd, we are going to follow something other than Jesus, and the comfort and security we find in that place is a lie.

It is a false gospel that will weather your soul and drag your life down into the greatest depths of hell, all the while telling you that you tried your best to be a good Christian, to do the right things, and to love Jesus. But the weight of this life was just too much to bear. But Jesus bids us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

Our hearts are heavy, and that’s okay. Jesus didn’t go to the cross without a heaviness of heart. But his burden is light because the power of God will always triumph over the grave. Amen. You were never asked to carry it alone, Church. You weren’t designed that way. And when our hearts are in tune with God’s heart, we let our agony and grief come out, and we put it in the hands of the God of comfort and peace.

Because Jesus reminds us that the thief comes only to steal, kill, and destroy. But He has come that we may have life and have it abundantly. And part of being fully alive means being fully able to come to God, even in our agony and grief. There is only one way to go in and out of God’s presence, protection, and peace. And that is Jesus.

Jesus is the one who walks with us through the valleys of darkness and allows us to stand strong and not be afraid. Jesus isn’t just offering you life here; He is offering you an abundance of life. Anything less than the full measure of God’s loving grace is not good enough to wipe away every tear for eternity. That’s exactly what God wants to do in each andevery one of our lives as He calls us by name, out of darkness and into His marvelous light.

We cannot go anywhere else, and we cannot listen to anyone else. For when we do, we will surely perish. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who provides all that we need, and Jesus is our comfort in times of chaos. So during this next month, I want you to lament well the things that have been grieving us and weighing down our souls. And then let us once again tune our ears, hearts, and minds to the voice of the One who calls us by name and restores our souls.

And so, as we pray now, I want to read the familiar words of Psalm 23 over you in prayer and let you hear them anew this morning:

“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
He leads me beside still waters;
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for His name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for You are with me;
Your rod and Your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”