"Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. 2 "But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 "To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 "And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice…
James, today’s the day you’ve been waiting for. It’s the day you’ve been looking forward to these past two years of confirmation class. It’s the day that you’ve been preparing for even from the time you were small and first starting in school with the “Memory Treasures” you had to learn for your teachers. Today is your confirmation day.
Yet what was it all for? Was it so that you could be done with confirmation class, so that you could “graduate from church,” so that after today you would never have to crack open a Bible or a catechism ever again?
Someone once compared catechism instruction to driver’s education class. Just as driver’s ed prepares you for when you go out on the road for the rest of your life, so also studying the catechism prepares you for your entire life spiritually. And just as a driver’s license or a driver’s ed diploma doesn’t excuse you from growing into becoming a better driver, so also finishing your catechism instruction doesn’t excuse you from growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
When it comes down to it, what’s the point of all the instruction? The fact of the matter is that you won’t always live under the same roof as your parents or be under their thumb. More than likely you won’t always belong to this church. You need to know how, with God’s help, to separate truth from falsehood. You need to know whether someone’s leading you down the right path, or whether they’re leading you astray. You need to know who your Shepherd is: your true Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, your Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
- He goes through the door.
The first thing to recognize about Jesus is that, as your Shepherd, He goes through the door. How do you know if someone going into a house is a burglar or not? One of the first questions to answer is always, “Well, which way did he enter the house?” Occasionally you hear about the poor guy who got locked out of his house and had to sneak around back through the open window, but that’s the exception to the rule. Most of the time, the owner of the house walks right in through the front door. He doesn’t have to sneak in through a window or hunt around for an unlocked door in the back of the house.
So it is with the sheep-pen of the church. Jesus, standing before a crowd of Pharisees, said, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep” (v. 1-2).
Sadly, there are many false teachers—false shepherds—who have gone out into the world: people who dress the way a shepherd’s supposed to dress; people who maybe even use words that sound like the words a shepherd’s supposed to speak. Yet they’re not true shepherds. They have ulterior motives. Their goal is to steal sheep—not from a particular congregation, but from the Lord’s flock. And so they sneak around, mixing truth with falsehood in the hopes that you’ll swallow it hook, line, and sinker.
But with Jesus, everything is straight up. Your Shepherd—your true Shepherd—always uses the door. With Jesus there are no secrets—no secret motives, no secret knowledge, no secret handshakes. Nothing sneaky whatsoever. Jesus comes straight through the front door every time.
That’s because He is the Good Shepherd, who knows all of His sheep by name (v. 3). Even you. He called you into His flock from eternity. He brought you into the sheepfold of His church on the day of your baptism. He still cares for you each and every day.
And you know Him. “The sheep follow Him, for they know His voice” (v. 4). By the Holy Spirit’s power, you recognize the voice of the Good Shepherd, the voice that speaks to you loud and clear through His Word. The voice that guides you and rebukes you with His Law. The voice that comforts you with the assurance of peace and forgiveness through the Gospel. You know that voice—that Word—and that is what you follow.
- He is the door.
By that voice you know who your Shepherd is: that He doesn’t just come through the door, but that He is the door. Jesus explained what He meant by that: “I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture” (v. 9).
There’s only one way into the kingdom of God. And it’s not by believing in yourself, or by being a good person, or by trying to obey the laws of God. We are nothing but foolish sheep, disobedient and stubborn. Left to ourselves we were headed for the cliffs of everlasting destruction.
So Jesus came and took our place. He lived the life of perfect obedience before God that you and I couldn’t. And then, as our Good Shepherd, Jesus laid down His life at the cross, taking our punishment, satisfying God’s wrath on our behalf.
But that wasn’t the end of the story. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, not only laid down His life. He took it back up again. He rose from the dead on the third day. He came back to life—as the proof that He is, indeed, the Shepherd of our souls. He came back to life to show that all of our sins had been forgiven.
Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (v. 10). In Christ you now have more life than you will ever know what to do with. Through Him you are brought into the safety of God’s kingdom; and through Him you go out to find nourishment for your life in the truth of God’s Word. Since you know who your Shepherd is, since you know Jesus Christ by faith, you have life to the max. Life that begins now—and continues forever.
That’s why Jesus can say, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me” (John 14:6). Speaking about the name of Jesus, Peter put it this way, “Salvation is found in no one else. For there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Jesus is the door—the door to forgiveness, the door to life, the door to heaven. Without Him there is no salvation.
So as you go forth in your life after confirmation, the Good Shepherd is the means by which you can judge all other shepherds. Basically it all comes down to one thing. When you listen to a “little ‘s’” shepherd—is he pointing you to the Good Shepherd?
When he talks about how you get to heaven—is it all about what Jesus did for you by the grace of God? Or is it somehow up to you? Do you have to make a decision for Christ? Do you have to live a good life? If he’s not pointing you to Jesus—then he’s not a true shepherd, but a thief and a robber.
When he talks about the daily Christian life—about the source of your strength—is it all about trusting or believing more fervently or praying harder for more gifts of the Spirit? Or is it all about the Savior who lives in you through Word and Sacrament, and who leads you by the still waters and through the valley of the shadow of death? If he’s not pointing you to Jesus, then he’s not a true shepherd, but a thief and a robber.
It’s not always easy to tell the shepherd from the thief—the true teacher from the false teacher. But by God’s grace you have one important thing going for you. You know who your Shepherd is—the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who laid down His life for the sheep. Since you’ve studied His Word, you now recognize His voice: the same voice by which He leads you each and every day. The same voice by which He keeps you close to Him—no matter where you are.
You know who your Shepherd is. Keep listening to His voice—to His Word. Receive His love in His holy Supper. And by His undeserved love for you, He will keep you close to Himself now and forever. Amen.