Pastor Paul Waldschmidt delivers a sermon entitled “Listen to the Good Shepherd’s Voice” based on John 10:27,28 at Peace Lutheran Church in Hartford, Wisconsin.
Delivered on Sunday, May 12, 2019
Robin Ficker isn’t a particularly famous person, but you might know some of his famous friends. Charles Barkley, Isiah Thomas, Michael Jordan. Robin Ficker is not a former NBA player though. His Wikipedia page describes him an attorney, political activist and sports heckler. He was a passionate fan of the old Washington Bullets basketball squad and for many years had season tickets right behind the opposing team’s bench. He gained quite a reputation for getting into players’ heads with his barbs, insults and taunts. So much so, that during the 1993 NBA Finals, the Suns’ Charles Barkley flew him out to Phoenix so that he could sit behind the Chicago Bulls bench and try to mess with Michael Jordan’s psyche. But Robin Ficker is not the most famous heckler of all time. That distinction goes to the one with pointy hooves and forked tongue. Isn’t the devil the most famous heckler of all time? He knows exactly where we are most thin-skinned and he shows no mercy with his barbs and insults.
You’ve probably heard many of his greatest hits:
- “You’re so weak. You’ve done just…shameful, shockingly wicked things in the past. As we stand here today, you can’t even go five minutes without sinning. There’s no way God would ever want anything to do with you.”
Or he plays the opposite angle.
- “You’re so awesome and committed to God. You make this world such a better place. Your family would be so lost without you. They are really lucky to have you and God is too.”
Or he pokes fun at something we hold dear.
- “Christianity’s losing, losing people, especially young people!, losing its protected status, losing popularity…do you really want to be part of the losing team?”
Or he simply sows a little doubt.
- “Can you even prove that there even is a God in the first place? Everything good in your life can easily be attributed to some work that you did or a good decision that you made.”
The devil sits right behind our bench in this game called life. And he tries to get in our heads. When you think it about his voice is just one of thousands vying for a little office space in our craniums. In the 21st century, everybody has a voice. People on youtube upload their videos because they have a message they want you to hear. Same with every television show, every tweet, every facebook post, every email that hits your inbox, every text that you receive, every classroom lecture you attend and yes, every sermon you hear. And hopefully it goes without saying that…they’re not all bad! They don’t all mean you harm. It can just be really hard in this vortex of voices to figure who really has your best interests in mind and whose message serves a harmful agenda, which voices to ignore and which to listen to.
And there’s a lot riding on this. The devil is not just a heckler—annoying, but harmless, yelling barbs and messing with our heads. The devil is a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8) He is without pity, mean and hungry…and he fights dirty. He tricks us into thinking that the trustworthy people in our lives are clueless, on the one hand. And that some university professor, some twitter ranter, some online reporter, people who don’t care for us, don’t even know us, in fact, are the ones who truly have the truth, have our best interests in mind and are the voices we should be listening to. Be careful, dear friends. The lion may smile pretty, but at the end of the day, he’s still a lion. If we try to kiss him on the cheek, we shouldn’t be surprised when he turns on us and tears us to shreds. In other words, give your ears to the wrong voices and they will most certainly take your heart as well.
It may leave us wondering who we can trust. The voices that call to us are many. The devil is a roaring lion, and the sheep are vulnerable and confused…but they are also protected. For you have a Good Shepherd. He’s the one who says, My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” The noisy voices of this world will try to tell you that the Bible is just a book, written by men, thousands of years ago, with no real relevance for people today. The same noisy voices will try to tell you that you can believe in God without actually taking seriously what the Bible says. Don’t listen to those smiling lions. They mean to do you harm. Listen to the voice of your Good Shepherd. He speaks to you through his Word. His voice leads you in safety.
When you listen, he will show you your failures, your weaknesses and your sins. His voice is a hammer, smashing to bits our overinflated view of ourselves. His voice is an axe chopping down our sense of entitlement, reminding us who we really are and what we really deserve because of our sins. His voice is a scalpel, cutting us to the quick by exposing all those times when we were embarrassingly unchristian, all those secret sins cannot remain hidden before his sight. Painful though it may be for us, he speaks those hard words of law for a reason—to get us to understand how much we need him. Realizing how much you need the Shepherd, how dangerous it is to be away from him is the first step toward spiritual safety.
When you listen, he will show you why it’s smart to listen to him. He’s the one who says, “I know my sheep and my sheep know me.” We hinted at this earlier. Of all the voices competing for your attention, chattering in our ears today, how many of them actually know you? Would recognize you on the street and call you by name? How many of them would die for you? How many of them have? Just one. You find spiritual safety when you realize that Jesus’ voice offers you something no one, no one else can. He says, “I give them eternal life.”
When you listen, he will constantly show you that you are safe. The Good Shepherd assures us, “No one can snatch them out of my hand.” I remember almost nothing about my grandpa—he died when I was nine. But I do remember his hands for some reason. I remember them being huge, powerful paws with protruding knuckles and gnarled fingers from years of labor on the farm. Those were working hands. The hands of a shepherd in Bible days were working hands. They would protect, they would feed, they would carry the weak. The hands of Good Shepherd also are working hands. Those nail marked hands washed us pure in our baptism. Those nail marked hands feed us in his Supper. Those nail marked hands fend off the lions and all the other beasts that would destroy us. Those nail marked hands pick us up when we fall, and carry us when we just don’t think we can go on any longer. Listen to his voice, stay close to his side and then trust his Word: no one can snatch you from my hand.
It’s good to have a reminder every once in a while what we do here and why this is a pretty special place. For an hour, at least, all the voices in our world go far away, for an hour here, we listen to one voice, our Shepherd’s voice. We hear of God made flesh for us, God’s blood shed for us, God’s presence ever with us, God’s heaven prepared for us. It doesn’t just happen here, of course. We listen to his voice whenever we pick up our Bible, our Meditations, our Catechism, whenever we dig deeper in a Bible class, whenever we open the Daily Devotion app on our phone. Do that more and more. You have a Good Shepherd. Rejoice! Listen to his voice! Amen.