Chris knew it all. He knew how best to protect himself; he did not need a fence restraining him in the backyard. So, he hopped the fence. He knew how to best preserve his health; he could make his own decisions. So, he wandered in a wilderness chocked full of venomous snakes, poisonous spiders, and wild dogs. He knew how to walk, what to eat, what to avoid; he did not need supervision. Chris was so smart, so intelligent, he did not need over him. He needed no one to listen to. He could follow his gut instincts— and his instincts nearly killed him.
You see, Chris is a sheep. In 2011, he wandered into the untamed, unpredictable Australian bush. For years his wool grew. By the time a hiker discovered him, Chris’ wool weighed 89-pounds. (For comparison, Chris weighs 97-pounds). It covered his eyes. It put him at risk for infection or skin parasites. Chris’ wool was so heavy that if he fell over, he could not get back up; he would have been exposed to predators. In fact, Chris’ wild wool snared him stuck in thickets; he was going to die stuck. Chris felt no need for a shepherd— and his ignorance nearly killed him. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2015/09/03/meet-chris-the-insanely-overgrown-sheep-that-nearly-died-for-the-sake-of-our-fashion/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.90295b112d44)
Following your own opinions can kill you. You can believe something false. Jesus makes that point abundantly clear—and he makes that point so that you may live. Keep Listening to the Message of Salvation. It steers you from deadly ignorance and It delivers lifelong comfort.
The image from [our gospel lesson] John, chapter 10, captures that truth. In it, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me” (John 10:14). A shepherd has a special connection to his flock. He lives among them night and day, days and weeks, weeks and months, months and years. He learns their behavior, studies their habits, and understands their needs. In fact, his primary concern is their welfare. The shepherd guides them along safe, danger-free trails. He leads them to nourishment. His eyes constantly watch for predators. That shepherd wants his flock to live and thrive.
Sheep have a special connection to their shepherd. Again, Jesus says: My sheep listen to my voice (John 10:27). Pay attention to that. What makes this one sheep part of the flock of Jesus out of all the other people in the world is that this one sheep listens. Now, of course, ‘listening’ is more than distinguishing tones with your ears. ‘Listening’ takes in words. ‘Listening’ understands the meaning and content of those words. ‘Listening’ considers what areas of life are impacted by those words and then changes life to match what is spoken. ‘Listening’ is important because taking Jesus’ words to heart is what makes you a sheep of Jesus.
So this morning, you find two Christian missionaries, Paul and Barnabas, in a synagogue. After the reading from the Law and the Prophets, the synagogue rulers sent word to them, saying, “Brothers, if you have a message of encouragement for the people, please speak.” Standing up, Paul motioned with his hand and said: “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God, listen to me!
This group needs to listen because for months, many did the talking! The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus [and the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath] and they fulfilled these words by condemning him. Every single week the synagogue leader read an Old Testament prophecy. (1) Each prophecy clearly outlined what to expect about God’s coming Son. (2) Each prophecy clearly identified Jesus as God’s Son. God sends a message of salvation; he explains how his Son will save the world from death. Yet, the Jews did not listen. Instead, they allowed what they wanted in a Christ to trump the Christ who actually stood before them. Their stubbornness blinded them to the words of the prophets!
The Jews did not simply move on from Christ. They did not dismiss him. Instead, they treated God’s Son like a thug. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the tree and laid him in a tomb.
The Jews did not want to take Jesus’ words to heart, they wanted Jesus to take their words to heart. Simply put, they did not ‘listen.’ That’s a problem. Remember what Jesus says: “My sheep listen to my voice…” (John 10:27). Those who do not listen are not his sheep. Such people wander down a deadly path—whether they admit it or not.
The question is: Do you listen? Do not point fingers. At this moment we are not interested in your jerk of a co-worker or that neighbor who calls herself Christian, but never goes to church. Paul points a finger at you. Are you listening to the message of salvation? Jesus has called you out of spiritual ignorance and into life! He keeps you close by speaking, by literally giving you the Bible. Do you walk beside him as you let his Word sink into your ears? …mind? …heart? Or, do your personal desires come first?
As sheep, we love to wander, don’t we? We love to set our opinions, our incorrect thoughts over the voice of the Good Shepherd. We love to think we are always correct and we know how best to care for life. We may think God does not care about our cursing— but he does! He says so! “Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be” (James 3:10). God says honor the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4). Still, we break marriage vows, we do not encourage marriage (like we could), we resist commitment. Why? Because we see nothing bad happen! So, we think we can wander and life will still be fine! Then, we already have in our minds what we will do, but then try to find an excuse so that our wrong actions appear better. God wants worship to be a priority, but we shrug: “Oh, Jesus understands why I must skip worship.”No! He does not!
Fellow sheep, are you listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd? Do you consider what areas of life his words impact and then change life to match what is spoken? Do you listen to him or to yourself? Regardless of what the heart wants to believe, nothing will overrule what Jesus clearly spells out: My sheep listen to my voice and those who do not listen are not my sheep. That ignorance will kill you.
Keep Listening to the Message of Salvation because It steers you from deadly ignorance. It delivers lifelong comfort.
Everyone in that synagogue needed to hear these words. Some in that synagogue may have even condemned Jesus! The point is: failing to see Jesus as Savior kills!—and it killed him.
The reason a cross is mounted to this wall is to serve as a powerful reminder that you (and I) are the reason this cross hangs here. You (and I) wandered from the loving commands of God— and Jesus, your Good Shepherd, noticed. He saw how sin grew in us, how it festers, how it harms. He knows letting your heart wander exposes you to deadly temptations. He knows being stuck in the thistles of guilt will only kill you. So, he searches for you and he finds you.
Jesus wanders in the same wilderness. He confronts devilish temptations to do wrong, but withstands. When he finds you stuck in what will kill you, he reaches into your thorny consequences. Yes, Jesus frees you (and me) from death by allowing our sin to pierce him, to cut him, to kill him. He pulls you out of the thistles of death with his life. He sets you free so that God can sheer off your (and my) immense guilt.
Jesus dies because we wander. We wander, he dies. But God raised him from the dead. Even though we caused the death of Jesus, even though our actions cared absolutely nothing about him, God raised him from the dead. He did that to make Jesus your eternal Good Shepherd. He did that so that Jesus may carry you into his flock. He did that so that you see Jesus guiding to heavenly pastures. Keep Listening to the Message of Salvation. Keep listening to the work Jesus has done for you because only this truth delivers lifelong comfort.
Let those words sink in to your ears, your mind, your heart. “Jesus is Savior.” A ‘savior’ does this work of ‘saving,’ ‘snatching from danger,’ ‘preventing harm.’ If Jesus is Savior, then it means he ‘delivered’ you from hell. What part did you play? What did you do? Nothing. Jesus did it all.
Understand this. I have heard people say: “I know God forgives, but I need to try and live better.” No. Your behavior is not dependent on your forgiveness. ‘Being better’ does not make God forgive you ‘better.’ Either you are forgiven or not; there is no ‘in between.’
More than that, you are not listening. We tell you the good news: What God promised our fathers he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. God points to this one Man, shines a spotlight on him, singles him out. He says in the second Psalm: ‘You are my Son; today I have become your Father.’ God makes clear: Follow him. Stop relying on your thoughts. Do not cherish your opinions. Listen to the Word. Shape your life around it and you will live.
Do you get it? It is all a tremendous gift. It is all meant for you. This is what your Shepherd does. You do nothing—except one thing, I guess. You live! You live with an unburdened conscience! You feed on the Word of Truth. You live happy because Jesus is the reason you have life! Keep Listening to the Message of Salvation. Keep pointing to the magnificent work of the Good Shepherd because It delivers lifelong comfort.
Chris was certain he knew everything he needed for life. So, he wandered. He relied on his own gut instincts—and those instincts nearly killed him. Fortunately, a hiker spotted Chris, called for help, and rescued him. Chris needed a shepherd.
Following your own opinions can kill you. Those opinions morph into warped views of who Jesus is, the life he lives for you, and the forgiveness he wins. Those opinions can lead you to reject his promise of forgiveness and chase after other teachings that are false. Jesus makes that point abundantly clear—and he makes that point so that you may live. Your Good Shepherd hands you his Word to hit your ears, mind, and heart. So, who are you listening to? Keep Listening to the Message of Salvation. It steers you from deadly ignorance and It delivers lifelong comfort.