Fourth Sunday of Easter


To whom should we listen? Whom should we trust? Whom should we follow? Are these not among the most important questions that we can ever ask? Indeed, whether we succeed or fail, flourish or wither, even whether we live or die, depends to a large extent on how we answer these questions.  


Indeed, it has never been more the case than it is today. There are innumerable people on social media platforms who compete for our time and attention. We call them influencers. “Find me on Facebook.” “Follow me on Twitter.” “Subscribe to my YouTube channel.” “Hit that notification button so that you don’t miss out on the new content I post every Tuesday and Friday.”


And we do. Or at least I do, as I will readily admit. But why do we do it? Why do we so eagerly consume the content they generate?


Some will say that they do it for entertainment purposes only. I certainly think this is a dimension of the problem. But I also think the pull the influencers have on us points to a deeper dimension.   


Consider the most common themes that make up their content: health and fitness, beauty and fashion, love and relationships, money and wealth building. These themes have an innate appeal to most, if not all of us. But when they are promoted by those bright and attractive influencers who brim with youthful vitality, we find them irresistible.


The theme of the gospel lesson designated for this Good Shepherd Sunday is about none of these. Rather, it is about shepherds and sheep.


The image of the shepherd is one of the most familiar and most comforting in the whole Bible. One has only to invoke the beloved Twenty Third Psalm to support this claim. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters” (Ps. 23:1-2).


Or one can recall those moving words in Isaiah 40:11, words that have inspired popular Christian art: “He will feed his flock like a shepherd. He will gather the little lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom. He will gently lead those that have young.”


Probably lesser known to most of us is the messianic prophecy in Ezekiel 34, in which God declares through the prophet: “I will set up one shepherd over them, and he shall feed them, even my servant David; he shall feed them, and he shall be their shepherd. And I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord promise it” (34:23).


Even though all of us here today are far from removed from those pastoral scenes such passages evoke, we still find these images compelling, because they give us insight, not only into God but also into ourselves.


The image of shepherd is suited to the self-expression and self-giving love of God. The shepherd is utterly devoted to the life of the sheep, both individually and as a flock.


When one is injured, he binds up its wounds. When another is lost, he goes out in search of it. For he knows that in its distress the sheep will lie down and refuse to budge. He will have to bend down, pick it up, and carry it on his shoulders to a place where it feels safe. And when a mother sheep is in labor, he assists in delivering the lamb.


The shepherd leads the sheep to green pastures and still waters not only to provide sustenance for them. It is also to care for them in their distress. For a sheep this may mean restoring it to health.


For us it may mean restoring our fragmented souls to wholeness through the loving care of our Shepherd.


This is good, because sheep cannot find pasture on their own. They tend to stray. And when they wander so far from the fold that they’re no longer visible to the eye of their shepherd, they become easy prey to predators. Against prowling wolves they are defenseless. The wolf lies in wait for that lone stray that’s separated itself from the rest. That is why the solitary sheep becomes distressed as soon as it realizes it is alone. Only when it is found and restored by the shepherd does it regain its peace and contentment.


This utter dependence of the sheep on the shepherd perhaps explains why sheep have this almost uncanny ability to form a trusting relationship with the shepherd.


In this connection, Scott Hoezee, professor of preaching at Calvin Theological Seminary, tells us that a sleeping flock of sheep will not stir if their own shepherd steps carefully within it. But if a stranger comes close enough, the sheep will startle as though a firecracker had exploded.


In fact, even today, if you visit the Middle East, you may see three or four Bedouin shepherds at a watering hole at sundown. Within a few minutes, their respective flocks will merge to form one big flock. But those shepherds don’t worry about this merging of their flocks, because they know that when it is time to go, each can give his own unique whistle or call and all of his own sheep will move out from the big flock and follow the one shepherd they have come to trust.


“And the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and they hear his voice. And when he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him, because they know his voice” (John 10:3,4).


Sheep may be frail and vulnerable, but they are not gullible. They will not follow a stranger, but will run from him, because they do not know his voice.


We spoke earlier of those innumberable voices we hear on social media, those voices that compete for our time and attention. Now we are not imputing malicious intent to our favorite influencers when we use the terms “stranger” or even “thief” or “bandit” to refer to them.


But do they distract us? Do they drown out the voice of the Good Shepherd by their louder voice?


If they do, so that we can no longer hear the voice of the Shepherd, then they do rob us, because when we miss out on what the Shepherd has to say to us, then we are diminished. For the words that he speaks to us are spirit, and they are life (cf. John 6:63).


I recently watched a video in which an influencer was marketing a system for trading the financial markets. He said that trading was simple, but not easy.


Perhaps the same can be said of hearing the voice of the Shepherd. If we belong to him, if we are truly the sheep of his pasture, then our ear is naturally attuned to his voice. But we have to practice listening for it.


Perhaps this can be compared to learning a language. We have to develop an ear for the pattern of sounds, distinguishing one word from another, and dividing the syllables within the words.


And how do we do this? By constant immersion in the language. That is why foreign language teachers urge their students to spend a semester or an entire school year abroad, in the country whose language they are trying to learn.


So where do we hear the voice of the Shepherd? In the pages of Scripture. By constant immersion in them, we develop a discerning ear, which hears and obeys what the Good Shepherd is telling us through the words of Scripture, so that we may come in and go out and find pasture.


In this connection, author David F. Ford writes in his fine commentary on John that John intends his Gospel to enable readers “to know, through its testimony, who their true shepherd is, to learn to recognize his voice through attending to his teaching and conversations, to trust him because of who he is and what he does, and to follow him.”


Ford concurs with what we are saying here when he writes further that reading and rereading what John writes, together with tracking down all those references that he makes to the rest of Scripture, is a vital way to stay attuned to the voice of the Word made flesh, Jesus Christ.


Changing figures of speech, Jesus declares: “I am the gate for the sheep” (John 10:7, 9). But what else can he mean except that it is only through him that the sheep find all that they need for their security and satisfaction?


Citing Colossians 2:3, John Calvin comments that since all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Christ, those who go elsewhere to find another gate are misguided. They neither keep to the road nor enter by the gate.


In this light, we should not neglect the warning that Jesus issues earlier to pastors. “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep” (John 10:2). Most of you know that “pastor” is a Latin word, which, when translated, is literally “shepherd.”  


If those who call themselves “pastors” attempt to lead us away from Christ, then we ought to flee from them, at the command of Christ, as we would from wolves or thieves (John Calvin).


Elsewhere in the Bible false teachers are called “wolves in sheep’s clothing” who, once within the pen, will not spare the flock. Here Jesus says that the thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy, but he has come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.  


Abundant life. Is this not what we all want? Of course, it is. Otherwise, those influencers on the Internet would not have the draw they have. Indeed, health, wealth and the love that you always desired constitute the very definition of abundance. Some influencers even use the word “abundance” when they market their strategies. “Don’t you want finally to live the life of abundance that you deserve?”


Now don’t misunderstand me. Health, wealth and love are good things; it is not wrong to desire them. But when we devote our hearts to them exclusively, expecting from them total fulfillment, then we are inevitably disappointed, because they are not permanent. Health declines, love ends, whether by break up, divorce, or death, and “cast but a glance at riches, and they are gone, for they will surely sprout wings and fly off to the sky like an eagle” (Prov. 23:5).


As author Daniel Witt points out, while God made the universe good, he did not make it permanent. The cosmos will vanish like smoke (Isa. 51:6). The elements will disappear with a roar (2 Peter 3:10). God will once more shake the heavens and the earth, removing all created things, so that only the unshakeable remains (Hebrews 12:26-27). The earth and the heavens will flee from the presence of God, and there will be no place for them (Rev. 20:11)


Modern science agrees. Physicists may be divided over whether the universe will dissipate into a heat death, defined as a permanent dead state with no energy, light or movement, or collapse into the heat and pressure of a reverse Big Bang. But whatever theory they embrace, they agree on one thing: It won’t last forever. And even if it did, our lives in it could not. Everything in this world will die.


But that does not terrify the sheep. Because they know their hearts are made for more. Our hearts are not ultimately satisfied by the abundance that this world, which is passing away, offers, because the heart’s desire is infinite. Only what Christ offers will satisfy the heart, because he gives to his sheep eternal life, and they will never perish (cf. John 10:28).


Dear friends, in these days when innumerable voices compete for our time and attention, let us be careful about which of them we let into our hearts. Let us be discerning, asking ourselves where they come from, and where they are leading us. And then let us ask God to work in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, that we may recognize and follow the voice of the Good Shepherd, as we hear it in the pages of scripture.  


After a session of a particularly hard teaching, Jesus looked up and noticed that many of his followers were leaving. Then he looked at the Twelve and asked: “Are you going to leave too?” And then Peter responded: “Lord, to whom would we go? For you have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).


Let us not be among those who leave too. For to whom else should we go? For to whom else should we listen? And whom else should we follow?  For Jesus has the words of eternal life. Amen.










Scroll to Top
Scroll to Top