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A Trustworthy Protector

Sermon 1860 John 10.1-10 April 30, 2023

Come, meet the risen Christ. Think of that in these Sundays after Easter. Work on that in these Sundays after Easter.

Not a one of us doesn’t believe in God. Even if we have our doubts, even if we haven’t exactly felt like we were on a first name basis with God, not a one of us doesn’t believe in God. No matter how you distort the religious polls, a steady 95% of people believe in God. Whether that God wants you in a particular church’s pews on a Sunday morning, that’s where the differences of opinion start. But that’s another sermon.

We all think God is strong. We all think God is good. But a lot of us think God leaves us in the lurch once in a while. Is he tending to business elsewhere? Distracted? Is he not quite strong enough? Or good enough?

Unlike politicians and celebrities, the Bible doesn’t sidestep difficult questions. It gives us straight answers. Here’s one of those answers when we think God might be leaving us to dangle in the wind. Our Savior is

A Trustworthy Protector

1. Standing tall.

2. On the move.

Sheep are important to poor people. Cows take too much pasture. Sheep and goats can eat just about anything anywhere. No wonder wet California has its “Cow Counties” and Nevada has the Basque shepherding. Sheep were important to the Jews of Jesus’ day. Remember, shepherds were among the first to know the Christmas story. In Jesus’ day everybody knew what shepherds did.

“I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice (1-3a).”

There is a problem raising sheep. Predators find them tasty. Also sheep defense tactics don’t help. “Huddle together—maybe I’ll be the last one eaten!” So the ancient shepherds banded together, perhaps four of them, to build a stone sheep pen. They would take turns staying up all night to keep the predators (and thieves) away. The bona fide shepherd came through the gate, plain and simple. The wall kept the others out or at least caused enough delay for the guardian shepherd to drive them away.

The reality Jesus’ picture language portrayed is this. People are sheep. We need a protector. We need a protector from our sin. The devil and all who have cast their lot with the devil, yes I am talking the drug pushers, the mass murderers, but I am also talking about those who murder faith by their false teachings, they are the thieves and robbers who want to steal us away from God. They do that by enticing us to sin, leading us to sin. They so consistently do it that they hope we will wear down and simply throw away the faith in our heart. We all know how human beings can be worn down. Our kids do it all the time.

If Jesus were a protector like human beings are protectors, we would be in a lot of trouble. He would wear down. He would get tired of the daily grind. I mean, isn’t that why we sin a lot of times? We get sick of fighting against the temptation.

The sheep pen is the fortress for the sheep. The sheep pen is where they are safe. God’s church, the assembly of believers, has often been pictured as a fortress. My old boyhood church was actually designed to look like a fortress with its toothed bell tower. Here believers were safe because here the Gospel was preached. Jesus is our trustworthy protector standing tall in the Word that is preached to us.

Think of that for a moment. Church isn’t where we come to see each other. Church isn’t where we come to offer our praise to God. Church isn’t where we celebrate the good things in life we are experiencing. Oh, all those things take place in church. But that’s not the reason there is “church.” Church is where Jesus comes to us with his message of sins forgiven through faith in him. Church is where Jesus protects us from the false idea that we are good enough for God just the way we are. Church is where Jesus strengthens us against the temptations of the devil and the unbelieving world. In this, Jesus is always a trustworthy protector. He never lets us down. It is built right into “church.” Even if the sermon is bad, misses the mark entirely, we still have the Scripture readings. Take today for example. How can we miss the news that we, though undeserving, have been washed clean of our sins by Jesus? “He himself bore out sins in his body on the tree—by his wounds you have been healed.” “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” We have life through Jesus. That life comes through the forgiveness of sins. Jesus died to pay for our sins. Even if I natter away about nothing in the pulpit for twenty minutes, you will still hear the messages of sin and grace. And the Gospel will predominate. Or how about the service itself? We confess our sins. We receive forgiveness. Our Apostles’ Creed confesses we believe in the forgiveness of sin and the life everlasting. Through the Gospel we “cling to the blessed hope of eternal life.” We even leave with the blessing of the Lord upon us. Forgiveness upon forgiveness falls upon us in church. Jesus is always there, always assuring us he is our trustworthy protector. He is standing tall in every church service.

If church is the only place Jesus is our trustworthy protector, we should probably imitate all those past religious movements (and I include some of the founders of our country—the Pilgrims!) who wanted to form a Christian civilization set apart from the sin and temptations of the world. Call it an Augustinian monastery or a Carmelite nunnery. Call it the Massachusetts’ Bay Colony. But you can’t call them successes. You can’t claim your team is undefeated when they refuse to schedule any games.

Jesus is our trustworthy protector on the move.

“He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him, because they know his voice (3b-4).” And, since Jesus’ hearers were not getting the point of his picture language, he continued, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full (9-10).”

The sheep didn’t stay in the sheep pen. They went out into the world. Their shepherd went with them. They heard his voice and followed him out. They weren’t afraid. Their shepherd would take care of them. He would be their trustworthy protector.

Tough for a lion or bear to pick off a sheep in the sheep pen. Much easier when they are out in the open pasture on the move. But with Jesus as our trustworthy protector, even on the move we don’t have to worry.

As a parent who has raised a family I find great comfort in that. Jesus is watching over my children, even when I am not with them. Being older with grandchildren that same comfort is still there. Remember how David, who, by the way, was a shepherd in his youth, so he knew what a good shepherd his Lord really was, remember how David said his Lord shepherded him? “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies (Psalm 23.5).” Jesus is such a trustworthy protector that we happily munch away in our pasture and our empty-bellied, snarling enemies are within eyesight! That’s strength. That’s confidence. That’s trust! But let’s not dislocate our shoulders congratulating ourselves on how much we trust Jesus. Trust is earned. Trust is won. Trust is deserved. Jesus did all of that when he hung on the cross to die for our sins. Jesus did all of that when he rose from the dead as he promised he would. His Holy Spirit created that trust in our hearts.

So what does that mean for us? First of all, look at what Jesus says it means. We will have “life, and have it to the full.” He is talking about eternal life, just like David ended the 23rd Psalm with “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” We will live with our God in heaven forever. That’s why this portion of John’s Gospel is to be read in the weeks of the Easter season. It is part of God’s promises that we will not stay dead. Already at the point of death, our souls, that immaterial part of us that is really us, our personality, our moral being, our spirit, will be with God forever in heaven. Then, when Jesus returns on the Last Day, that material part of us, our bodies, eyes and ears, hands and feet, heart and brain, will be reassembled, brought back to life. Remember Job’s words read on Easter Sunday? “In my flesh I will see God. I myself will see him, with my own eyes, I and not another (Job 19.26-27).” The full life, a life without sorrow or tears, a life eternally removed from death and decay, a life where the devil cannot tempt and the sinful world cannot mock, that life is waiting us in heaven. How our hearts yearn within us when we think of such an eternal home our trustworthy protector has prepared for us!

Until that eternal day comes, Christians have lives to live here in this world. How we live those lives show the power of our Lord and Savior. President Roosevelt came up with a phrase that has found its way into the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Every human being has the right to live free from fear. How is that working out for us? Are your lives free from fear? Is my life free from fear? Not if we look at the mass media. There is something to fear every day! Some things we never thought fearful should keep us awake at night they tell us. Not if we listen to those running for office or trying to sell us security systems. Crime is way up (even if the numbers don’t bear that out). People are intent on taking away our (you fill in the blank). Unless we vote for this or that candidate and unless we sign up with this or that home protection service, we are targets. What measures could ever make us really feel safe?

It is a quaint notion, but the Bible says it. Jesus keeps us safe. Jesus watches over us. Jesus will take care of us. That’s why I can take care of others. That’s why you can stick your neck out for others. That’s why we can serve others in love as we trust them and take their words and actions in the kindest possible way. “If you make the Most High your dwelling, then no harm will befall you, no disaster will come near your tent. For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways (Psalm 91.10-11).” Jesus keeps away so many of the things we fear. They never happen. Our fears are never realized. We can sleep at night. We can go about our daily lives at peace. Everything’s going to be OK. Jesus is in charge.

We all have lamented and regretted the social isolation imposed upon us during the late COVID pandemic. Even scientific studies have shown the harmful effects to our children, our economy and our society. How sad if, because of lack of faith, we reinstated that isolation upon ourselves because we were so fearful of what was outside our front doors. Don’t be afraid. We have

A Trustworthy Protector

1. Standing tall.

2. On the move.

Our God doesn’t leave us in the lurch. He protects and defends, guards and delivers. Listen to the voice of Jesus and follow him where he leads.

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