In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Have you heard the story of the three little sheep? It’s kind of like the story of the three little pigs…but with sheep. These three sheep know that the wolf is out there. They know the wolf is prowling around, circling around, trying to pick off a sheep that is not paying attention. They know that the goal of the wolf is to devour and destroy; to seize and snatch and scatter the sheep; to tear the sheep away from their sheepfold, that is, from their Shepherd. So each of these sheep tries to figure out how to survive, how to live their lives safe from the wolf. The first sheep builds a shelter and other sheep gather there with her. They agree that the way to live as sheep is to have as much sheep happiness and success as possible. They want to be as happy as possible, to improve their lives together. They say that sheep are being taken by the wolf because they’re not acting right, not behaving. So they decide to work on better sheep marriages, better sheep parenting, better sheep finances. And when the wolf comes and knocks on the door and says Let me in, they say no. But you know what happens: the wolf blows down that shelter, devours and destroys, snatches and seizes and scatters the sheep.
The second sheep also builds a shelter, and sheep gather there with him. And they all look around and they say, Look how many sheep there are! We’ll be safe here. Look how friendly we all are! Look at how many things there are for sheep to do! Look how many young sheep there are with lambs! And the wolf comes and knocks on the door and says Let me in; they say no. But the wolf blows down that shelter and destroys and devours, snatches and seizes and scatters the sheep.
The third sheep—and here’s the twist—doesn’t build a shelter at all. In fact, occasionally he looks like he’s wandering in the wilderness. Sometimes there aren’t very many sheep around him. The ones that are there look kind of ragged, kind of hungry, kind of lacking in all the things that would cause people to call sheep healthy, wealthy, and wise. But this sheep knows one thing, above all: he knows that he has a Shepherd, and that that Shepherd is good, and that that Shepherd gathers and leads His sheep. He comes to the sheepfold, and the gatekeeper opens the door only to Him; He comes in and He calls each of His sheep by name; He knows His own sheep, and they know Him. The ones that refuse to follow do so because they do not believe His words. They look for and take their shelter in other places, other pens, other fields. But the Good Shepherd leads His sheep in and out, and they find good pasture and good water, no matter how it appears to the world. What looks like nothing to the world is, in the hands of the Good Shepherd, the only food there is.
It’s not that the concerns of the other sheep are not important in their places; but they cannot shelter the sheep from the wolf. Even though the wolf will destroy marriages, and families, and bodies, and congregations, none of those is his main goal. When he does all of that, his only goal is to tear sheep away from their Shepherd. Even if he accomplishes all of those things, but does not tear you from the hand of your Shepherd, what has he accomplished? When the wolf comes knocking on doors, he doesn’t care at all about works and lives and numbers and money; the only thing in which he is interested is whether Jesus is there. No matter what else may be found, no matter how things may appear to our physical eyes, the only way to be protected and kept from the ravening wolf is to be in the hands of the Shepherd. He says, No one is able to snatch or seize the sheep from My hands. Because those are the hands He shows to the disciples, marked with nails. This Shepherd was dead, but now He is alive. He lay down His life for the sheep and He took it up again. The devil, the wolf, cannot seize sheep from the Shepherd’s hand, because He is the Shepherd who was devoured by the wolf, but broke that wolf’s jaws, and is victorious over death and hell.
So fear not, little flock: it is the good pleasure of the Father, who is greater than all, to give you the kingdom, to give you Jesus who reigns forever as the Shepherd of the sheep. We are not fearful, because even if the wolf kills our bodies, we will be raised glorious. We are not fearful, but we are vigilant. We are not anxious, but we listen and test the various voices we hear, making sure we are listening to the Shepherd who speaks His Word to us. His sheep will hear and follow no other shepherds, but will instead flee from them, because there is only one Good Shepherd. Fear not, little flock: no matter how things appear, no matter how many sheep gather with us, no matter how ragged, tired, weak, and helpless we appear to the world, our Shepherd will never forsake His sheep. He feeds and nourishes you with His own life, His own body and blood. He leads you in and out, and you will find good pasture and rest for your souls. This Good Shepherd is also the door of the sheep, and He is also the Lamb who was slain for the sins of the world. He alone can and will keep you from the wolf without and the false and hired hand within. Hear His voice, eat His food, and live.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
— Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 4/15/16