Video of the Divine Service here.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
I suspect that mothers have always spoken to their unborn children. Long before there were studies showing that newborns responded differently to their parents’ voices than to others, I am sure that mothers were talking to their unborn children, singing to them. And then when they are born, they know the voices of their mother and father because they have been hearing them continuously for nine months, becoming familiar with them, becoming accustomed to their tones and inflection. When they are born, they know the voices of their parents. It happens in the Scriptures, in Luke’s Gospel. The unborn John, in the womb of his mother, Elizabeth, not only hears the voice of Mary, but he believes; he leaps with joy when he hears the voice of the mother of his Lord.
So it is with the children of God, who have been born from above by water and the Spirit—as these young people have, as we have. Jesus calls them sheep in John 10. But the same thing happens: they hear the voice of their Shepherd, and they know it. Jesus says, I know My own, and My own know Me. He comes in by the gate of His own word, because He is both the gate and the good Shepherd. He calls His own sheep by name, and they hear Him. They know His voice—not so much the tone and inflection, as the words which He has caused to be written down by His prophets and apostles. The sheep learn the sound of His words the same way that unborn children learn the sound of their parents’ voices: by hearing them over and over and over, daily, for months, and years, and over a lifetime.
The strange thing about the Shepherd’s voice is that it can be crowded out by all the other voices that surround us. There is so much chatter, from so many different directions. It’s constant, the voices all around us. Perhaps that’s why the Good Shepherd’s voice is not as familiar to us as it should be. We know more lyrics of songs, more lines from movies, than we do verses from the Scriptures. Our ears have to be filled continuously with the voice of our Lord, or we will drift, we will wander, we will lose the familiarity that we have with His words.
Though it is by repetition, it is not by repetition only. We are not naturally able to distinguish the voice of the Good Shepherd from all the other voices. We have to be given new ears. Perhaps you’ve seen the video going around the internet of the toddler who hears his mother’s voice for the first time. He undergoes some surgery, and his mother speaks to him. It’s almost unintentional, but when he hears his mother’s voice, he smiles. New ears, and a new voice. So the Holy Spirit digs new ears for us so that we can hear the voice of Jesus. And then those new ears are filled up with Jesus’ words, until we’re so familiar with them that we can hear Him when He is speaking. Then, when other voices call to us, when others try to climb in from other places, and by other ways than Jesus Himself; the hired hands and those who are just in it for the money; those who are speaking anything other than the voice of the Shepherd; the gatekeepers who allow any and all to come in; then we will refuse to listen to them. We will, in fact, flee from them. Because we know the voice of our Shepherd by long repetition as the Spirit brings His words to our ears.
This is what happens in the Book of Acts. We heard it this morning. How did the newborn Christians in Acts learn their Shepherd’s voice? How did the Good Shepherd provide for those who had received the word of His Apostles and been baptized for the forgiveness of sins, receiving the Holy Spirit? It says: They devoted themselves to the Apostles’ teaching. They heard, in the words the Apostles proclaimed, the voice of their Shepherd. And they shared by faith that word. Just as John said: what we have seen and heard and touched, we proclaim that Jesus to you so that you may have fellowship, communion, with us, which is really communion with the Father and the Son. And they devoted themselves to the highest expression of that fellowship in the breaking of the bread, the Supper of the Lord. And they devoted themselves to the prayers for themselves, for the world, speaking God’s promises back to Him. And as they devoted themselves to the voice of the Good Shepherd, He added to their number daily those who were being saved. As Jesus says, “I have sheep who are not yet of this flock, and I must bring them, too. So there will be one flock, and one Shepherd.”
So the Shepherd speaks, calls His sheep by name, and leads them out; they follow Him. He leads them in and out, and saves them, and leads them to good pasture. He saves them from the thieves and robbers, from the wolves who want only to seize them and devour them; from those who want only to steal, kill, and destroy; to tear the sheep away from the Shepherd, separate them from the flock, and destroy them. But your Good Shepherd keeps calling you who are called by His Name; He leads you in and out, and feeds you here. He says, in the Revelation, that He knocks at the door, and those who hear His voice—who know that it is their Good Shepherd, and not an impostor—they open the door, and He comes in, and He eats with them. Today He eats with you, because you know it is His voice who says, “This is my body and this is my blood. Eat and drink, and find rest for your weary bodies and souls.” It is His voice that speaks when you are baptized. It is His voice that speaks when your sins are forgiven. We keep listening, keep hearing, keep eating and drinking, so that on that last day, when the Shepherd comes to gather in His flock once and for all, there will be no doubt when we hear His voice calling us from our graves, transforming our lowly bodies to be like His glorious body. There will be no doubt that He is our shepherd and we are His sheep, and He is leading us to springs of living water, in good pasture, where the shadow of death has disappeared, and there is no more pain, or crying, or death anymore. Because your Good Shepherd has laid down His life for you, not to stay dead, but to take up His life again and give it to you freely. Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us keep the feast!
And the one who began this good work in you—Rylee, Anika, Ashlyn, Jordyn, and Lucia—He will bring it to completion until the Day of the Lord. Then, you will leap like lambs newborn, rejoicing to hear the voice of the Shepherd to whom you have listened your whole life.
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, 5/5/17