A SERMON ON THE GOOD SHEPHERD, JOHN 10
I. This is a comforting Gospel, which so beautifully portrays the Lord
Jesus and teaches us what manner of person he is, what kind of works he
does, and how he is disposed toward men. And there is no better way to
understand it than to contrast light and darkness and day and night; that
is, the good shepherd with the wicked one, as the Lord himself does.
2. Now, you have often heard that God has given the world two different
proclamations. One is that which is declared in the Word of God when it
says: Thou shalt not kill, not commit adultery, not steal (EX 20, 13-15),
and when it adds the threat that all who do not keep these commandments
shall die. But this declaration will make no one godly at heart. For though
it may compel a man outwardly to appear godly before men, inwardly it leaves
the heart at enmity with the Law, and wishing that there were no such Law.
3. The other proclamation is that of the Gospel. It tells where one
may obtain that which will meet the demands of the Law. It does not drive
or threaten, but tenderly invites us. It does not say, Do this and do that,
but rather: Come, I will show you where you may find and obtain what you
need to make you godly. See, here is the Lord Jesus; he will give it to
you. Therefore, the two are as contrary to each other as taking and giving,
demanding and presenting; and this distinction must be well observed. Thus
God ever has ruled and still rules the world today. To coarse and rude
persons, who are not influenced by the Gospel, the Law must be declared,
and they must be driven until they are humbled and acknowledge their imperfections.
When this has been accomplished, the Gospel is to be applied.
4. These are the two divine proclamations, which come from heaven. Besides
these there are others that are not from heaven, but are human prattle,
which the pope and our bishops have invented that they might terrify our
consciences. Such men are not worthy of being called shepherds or hirelings,
but they are here designated by the Lord Jesus as thieves, murderers and
wolves. For if men are to be savingly governed, it must be done with the
Word of God; and if it is not done by the Word of God, they are not properly
I. THE NATURE OF THE OFFICE AND KINGDOM OF CHRIST EXPLAINED.
5. Now, here Jesus has in mind the second proclamation. He explains
it and sets himself forth as the chief shepherd, yea, as the only shepherd;
for that which he does not tend is not kept. This comforting and sweet
proclamation we will now consider.
6. You have heard that after his sufferings and death Christ our Lord
arose from the dead and entered upon, and was enthroned in, an immortal
existence. Not that he might sit up there in heaven idly and find pleasure
in himself, but that he might take charge of the kingdom of which the prophets
and all the Scriptures have so fully spoken, and might rule as a king.
Therefore, we should think of him as being present and reigning among us
continually, and never think of him as sitting up there doing nothing,
but rather that he from above fills and rules all things, as Paul says
to the Ephesians (4,10), and especially that he is taking care of his kingdom,
which is the Christian faith, and that therefore his kingdom among us here
on earth must prosper. This kingdom, as we have said, is so constituted
that we all must daily increase and grow in holiness, and it is not governed
by any other power save the oral proclamation of the Gospel.
7. This proclamation is not of men, but Christ himself sent it forth,
and then put it into the hearts of the apostles and their successors so
that they understood it, and into their mouths so that they spake and declared
it. This is his kingdom, and so does he rule that all of his power is comprehended
in and connected with the Word of God. They who hear and believe it belong
to this kingdom, and the Word then becomes so mighty that it provides all
that man may need and bestows all the blessings that we may desire. For
it is the power of God, and it can and will save all who believe it, as
St. Paul declared to the Romans (1, 16). If you believe that Christ died
to save you from all evil, and will hold fast to that Word, you will find
it so certain and sure that no creature can overthrow it; and as no one
can overthrow the Word, neither can anyone harm you who believe it. Accordingly,
with the Word you will overcome sin, death, devil and hell, and you will
find a refuge in the Word and attain that which is found where the Word
is, namely, everlasting peace, joy and life. In short, you will be participants
in all the power that is in the Word. Therefore, it is a peculiar kingdom.
The Word Is present and is orally proclaimed to all the world, but its
power is deeply hidden, so that none but they who believe realize that
it is so effective and that it accomplishes such great things. It must
be experienced and realized by the heart.
8. Hence, all that we preachers can do is to become the mouthpieces
and instruments of Christ our Lord, through whom he proclaims the Word
bodily. He sends forth the Word publicly so that all may hear it, but that
the heart inwardly experiences it, that is effected through faith and is
wrought by Christ in secret where he perceives that it can be done according
to his divine knowledge and pleasure. That is why he says: "I am the good
shepherd." And what is a good shepherd? "The good shepherd," says Christ,
"layeth down his life for the sheep; and I lay down my life for the sheep."
In this one virtue the Lord comprehends and exemplifies all others in the
beautiful parable of the sheep. Sheep, you know, are most foolish and stupid
animals. When we want to speak of anybody's stupidity we say, "He is a
sheep." Nevertheless, it has this trait above all other animals, that it
soon learns to heed its shepherd's voice and will follow no one but its
shepherd, and though it cannot help and keep and heal itself, nor guard
itself against the wolf, but is dependent upon others, yet it always knows
enough to keep close to its shepherd and look to him for help.
9. Now, Christ uses this trait or nature of the animal as an illustration
in explaining that he is the good shepherd. In this manner he plainly shows
what his kingdom is, and wherein it consists, and would say: My kingdom
is only to rule the sheep; that is poor, needy wretched men, who well see
and realize that there is no other help or counsel for them.
10. But that we may make it the plainer, and may understand it the better,
we will cite a passage from the prophet Ezekiel, where he speaks of the
wicked shepherds that are against Christ, when he says (34, 2ff) : "Should
not the Shepherds feed the sheep? Ye eat the fat, and ye clothe you with
the wool, ye kill the fatlings; but ye feed not the sheep. The diseased
have ye not strengthened, neither have ye healed that which was sick, neither
have ye bound up that which was broken, neither have ye brought back that
which was driven away, neither have ye sought that which was lost; but
with force and with rigor have ye ruled over them. And they were scattered,
because there was no shepherd; and they become food to all the beasts of
the field and were scattered. My sheep wandered through all the mountains,
and upon every high hill: yea, my sheep were scattered upon all the face
of the earth; and there was none that did search or seek after them," and
so forth. Accordingly, God reproves the shepherds who do not keep the sheep.
And now mark well what he has written. His earnest intent in this paragraph
is that the weak, sick, broken, those who are driven away and the lost,
are to be strengthened, bound up, healed, and sought again, and that they
are not to be torn to pieces and scattered. This you should have done,
says he to the shepherds, but you have not done it; therefore, I will do
it myself. As he says further on, in verse 16: "I will seek that which
was lost, I will bring back that which was driven away, and will bind up
that which was broken, and will strengthen that which was sick."
11. Here you see that Christ's kingdom is to be concerned about the
weak, the sick, the broken, that he may help them. That is, indeed, a comforting
declaration. The only trouble is that we do not realize our needs and infirmities.
If we realized them, we would soon flee to him. But how did those shepherds
act? They ruled with rigor, and applied God's Law with great severity;
and, moreover, they added their own commandments, as they still do, and
when these were not fulfilled, they raved and condemned, so that they were
driving and driving and exhorting and exacting, continually. That is no
proper way to tend and keep souls, says Christ. He is no such shepherd
as that; for no one is benefited, but is rather wholly undone, by such
a course, as we shall presently hear. Now let us consider this citation
from the prophet in its order.
12. First, be says: The sheep that are weak are to be strengthened;
that is, consciences weak in faith and troubled in spirit and of tender
disposition are not to be driven and told: You must do this. You must be
strong. If you are weak, you are lost. That is not strengthening the weak.
St. Paul, speaking to the Romans (chapter 14,1) says: "But him that is
weak in faith receive ye, yet not for decision of scruples." And shortly
afterwards (chapter 15, 1) he says: "Now we that are strong ought to bear
the infirmities of the weak." Accordingly, they should not be driven with
rigor, but should be comforted, even though they are weak, lest they be
driven to despair; and in time they will grow stronger.
13. Isaiah, the, prophet, speaks of Christ likewise (chapter 42, 3):
"A bruised reed will he not break, and a dimly burning wick will he not
quench." The bruised reeds are poor, tender consciences, which are easily
distracted so that they tremble and despair of God. He does not fly at
them then, and trample them under foot; that is not his way. But he deals
with them gently, lest he break them to pieces. Again, the dimly burning
wick, which still burns at least, though there be more smoke than fire
there, he does not wholly quench, but lights, and again and again trims
it. That is a great consolation, indeed, to such as experience it; and,
therefore, he who does not deal gently with tender consciences is no good
14. Secondly, the prophet says: "Neither have ye healed the sick." Who
are the sick? They are those who are manifestly deficient in certain of
their works. The first clause has reference to tender consciences; the
second, to outward conduct. As, for instance, when one growls and sulks,
and now and then lapses, and in anger and other foolish ways oversteps
the bounds; even as the apostles, at times, grievously stumbled. But even
those who in their outward works before men manifest their shortcomings,
so that people are offended at them and say that they are rude and peculiar,
he will not cast away; for his kingdom here below is not so constituted
as to embrace only the strong and the whole, as it will be in the life
to come. Christ is sent here that he might receive and help just such people.
15. Therefore, even though we are weak and sick, we must not despair
and say we are not in the kingdom of Christ. But the more we realize our
sickness, all the more should we turn to him; for that is what he is here
for, to heal and make us whole. Accordingly, if you are sick and a sinner,
and realize your condition, you have all the more reason to go to him and
say: Dear Lord, I come just because I am a sinner; that thou mayest help
me, and make me good. Thus, necessity drives you to him; for the greater
your ailment, the more imperative it is that you seek relief. And that
is what he wants; therefore, he tenderly bids us to be of good cheer, and
to come unto him. They who are not good shepherds, however, expect to make
people good by hatefully scolding and driving them, whereas they are thereby
only making matters worse. And this may be seen when we look upon present
conditions, brought about by this wrong method, when everything is so piteously
scattered, even as the prophet has here said.
16. Thirdly: "Neither have ye bound up that which was broken." To be
broken is as though one had a bone fractured or were otherwise wounded.
As when a Christian is not only weak and infirm, so that he makes a misstep
at times, but when he falls into such great temptation that he breaks his
leg; for instance, if he should fall and deny the Gospel, as St. Peter
did, when he denied Christ. Well, even though one should make such a misstep
as to be impeded or overthrown--even then you should not cast him away,
as though he no more belonged to this kingdom. For you must not rob Christ
of his characteristic, that in his kingdom abounding grace and mercy alone
prevail, so that he helps those who realize their misery and wretchedness,
and desire to be helped, and that his kingdom is wholly one of consolation,
and that he is a comforting, friendly shepherd, who tenderly invites, and
would induce, all men to come unto him.
17. Now, all this is effected through the Gospel alone, by means of
which we are to strengthen all the weak and heal all the sick; for this
Word will satisfy every want of those whose consciences are troubled, and
will give full consolation to all, so that no one, no matter how great
a sinner he has been, need despair. Hence, Christ alone is the good shepherd,
who heals all our infirmities and raises up again those who have fallen.
He who does not do that is no shepherd.
18. Fourthly, the prophet says: "Neither have ye brought back that which
was driven away." What is meant by "that which was driven away"? It is
that despised soul that is fallen so low that all efforts to reclaim it
seem to be in vain. Nevertheless, Christ would not have even such dealt
with rigorously. He would not have his kingdom narrowed down so as to include
only such as are strong and healthy and perfect. That will be the
case in the future kingdom that follows this life, as has been said: Now,
because he reigns, pure grace and bliss only shall prevail. Even as God
promised the children of Israel (Ex 3, 8) that the promised land would
be a land flowing with milk and honey. Likewise St. Paul says that our
uncomely parts shall have more abundant comeliness
(1 Cor 12,23).
19. Fifthly, he concludes: "Neither have ye sought that which was lost."
That which was lost is that which is given up as already condemned, so
that there is no expectation that it ever will return; as the publicans
and harlots mentioned in the Gospel, and as the dissolute and intractable
in our day, were and are. And yet, even these he would not have us pass
by, but would have everything possible done to reclaim them. This was done
by St. Paul, on different occasions; as, for example, when he delivered
two men unto Satan, as he said to Timothy (1 Tim 1, 20): "Whom I delivered
unto Satan that they might be taught not to blaspheme." And, again, to
the Corinthians he said (1 Cor 5,5): "I have concluded to deliver such
a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may
be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus." He had cast these away as condemned,
and yet he goes after them again.
20. Therefore, we should so preach Christ as one who will reject nobody,
however weak he may be, but will gladly receive and comfort and strengthen
everybody; that we may always picture him to ourselves as a good shepherd.
Then hearts will turn to him of their own accord, and need not be forced
and driven. The Gospel graciously invites and makes men willing, so that
they desire to go, and do go, to him with all confidence. And it begets
a love for Christ in their hearts, so that they willingly do what they
should, whereas formerly they had to be driven and forced. When we are
driven, we do a thing with displeasure and against our will. That is not
what God desires; therefore it is done in vain. But when I see that God
deals with me graciously, he wins my heart, so that I am constrained to
fly to him; consequently, my heart is filled with happiness and joy.
21. Now see what an evil it is when one person judges another. Christ's
kingdom, as we have heard, is calculated to heal and sanctify only such
souls as are sick and needy; therefore all must err who look only upon
those who are strong and holy. Consequently, the knowledge that rightly
apprehends Christ is great and mighty. By our nature we are knaves to the
very hide, and yet we expect everyone to be pious. With open mouth, we
do not want to look at anybody but strong Christians. We ignore the sick
and weak, and think that if they are not strong then they are not Christians
at all. And others who are not perfectly holy we reckon among the wicked,
and yet we, ourselves, are more wicked than they, That is what our evil
nature does, and our blind reason, that wants to measure God's kingdom
by its own imagination, and thinks that whatever does not appear pure in
its eyes is not pure in the sight of God.
22. Therefore we must get that idea out of our minds; for if we keep
it before us too much, we will finally get into such a state of mind as
to think: Oh, what will become of me if only they are Christians who are
strong and healthy and holy? When will I ever reach that state? And thus
we, ourselves, will make it impossible. Therefore, we must eventually be
driven to say: Dear Lord, I realize that I am very weak, very sick and
despondent. Nevertheless, I will not allow that to confound me, but I will
come to thee, that thou mayest help me; for thou art ever the good and
pious shepherd, which I also confess thee to be, and therefore will I despair
of my own works.
23. Let us, therefore, ever be wise and learn to know Christ well, and
to know that in his kingdom there are only weak and sickly people, and
that it is nothing but a hospital, where the sick and infirm, who need
care, are gathered. And yet there are so few who understand that! And this
fact seems so obscured that even they who have the Gospel and the Spirit
are lacking in the knowledge of it; for it is the most profound wisdom
that man can attain. For even though they see that the Scriptures praise
this kingdom and speak of its preciousness, yet they do not realize what
the words mean, and do not understand that they contain that true wisdom
which is far above the wisdom of men. For it is not our wisdom that we
deal with, and that we speak of and preach to sensible, prudent and wise
people; but it is this, that we go among fools and simpletons, and care
for them, not because we find pleasure in so doing, but in order that we
may help them to get rid of their sins and foolishness and to find righteousness
and true knowledge.
24. So you see that Christian wisdom does not consist in raising our
eyes to that which is lofty and wise, to see ourselves reflected there,
but in lowering our eyes to that which is lowly and foolish. Let him who
knows this, thank God; for such knowledge will fit him to accommodate himself
to, and guide him under, all circumstances in this life. Therefore you
will yet find many even among those who preach the Gospel, who have not
yet attained it. They never taught us thus before, and we were accustomed
to think we did not dare to come to Christ until we had first become perfectly
pure. Now you must get out of that way of thinking and come to a proper
understanding of Jesus, and learn to know him as a true shepherd. But we
have heard enough on this point for the present.
II. CHRIST ILLUSTRATES HIS OFFICE AND KINGDOM BY COMPARING THE GOOD
SHEPHERD WITH THE HIRELING.
25. Now, he contrasts the good shepherd with a wicked one, or a hireling,
"The good shepherd layeth down his life for the sheep. He that is a
hireling, and not a shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, beholdeth the
wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth, and the wolf snatcheth
them and scattereth them: he fleeth because he is a hireling, and careth
not for the sheep."
26. In the strictest sense, he alone is the shepherd; and yet, as he
alone is Christ but nevertheless calls us by the same name--Christians--even
so, though he alone is the shepherd, he designates all those who exercise
the office of the ministry among Christians by that name also. In like
manner in Matthew 23, 9 he forbids us to call any man on earth father,
for one is our father, even he who is in heaven, yet Paul calls himself
a father of the Corinthians when he says: "I begat you through the Gospel."
I Cor 4, 15. Thus God acts as though he alone would be our father, and
yet he attributes the name to men also, so that they are called fathers.
But they have no right to this name in themselves; only in Christ is it
theirs: even as we are called Christians though we have nothing of our
own, but all we have has been given to us, in him. Now, "the hireling,"
says he, "whose own the sheep are not, beholdeth the wolf coming, and leaveth
the sheep, and fleeth," etc. That is a hard saying, indeed, that some who
truly preach and administer the Gospel and strengthen and heal the sheep,
finally allow themselves to be carried away and leave the sheep when they
are most in need of help. As long as no wolf is in sight, they are active
and tend the sheep; but when they see the wolf breaking in, they forsake
the sheep. If the sheep have been well kept, till they are strong and healthy
and fat, they will then be all the more acceptable to the wolf, for whom
they have been kept.
27. How does that happen? Well, says Christ, in my kingdom, whose whole
object is to strengthen the weak, heal the sick, comfort the sorrowing,
and so forth, the holy cross will not be wanting. For, if we preach that
Christ alone must receive, strengthen, heal and help us poor sheep, and
that we cannot, by our own strength and works, help ourselves, and that,
therefore, all works and whatever else the world pretends to offer in its
many religious services are of no avail, the world cannot abide such preaching.
Hence, it is but natural that the Gospel should bring with it the holy
cross, and that they who confess it before the world should risk their
necks in so doing.
28. Because this is so, the good shepherds are thus distinguished from
the hirelings. Whoever is a hireling will preach the Gospel only so long
as they say of him that he is a learned, pious and good man; but when he
is attacked, and men begin to denounce him as a heretic and a knave, and
challenge him to a dispute, he recants or runs away, and abandons the poor
sheep in their distress, and things are in a worse state than they were
before. For what advantage has it been to the poor sheep that they had
once been well kept? Had the shepherds been faithful, they would have sacrificed
their bodies and lives for the sake of the sheep, and would have given
their necks to the executioner for the Gospel's sake. Accordingly, they
are never true shepherds who, in preaching, have their own popularity,
profit and advantage in view. They are surely hirelings; for they seek
their own advantage, even when they dispense the true doctrine and Word
of God. Therefore they continue only as long as they are honored and praised.
Hence they retract, and deny the Word, when the wolf comes, or flee and
leave the sheep in the lurch. The sheep bleat for pasture and for the shepherd
to protect them from the wolves, but there is no one to succor them; thus
they are deserted when they most need some one to help them.
29. Such will be the result when men once begin to lay hands on and
persecute us in earnest. There will be preachers who will hold their tongues
and flee, and the sheep will be pitiably scattered, the one running here
and the other there. God grant that there may be at least some who will
stand firm and risk their lives to rescue the sheep. Thus Christ has here
portrayed the hireling. He then proceeds:
"I am the good shepherd; and I know mine own."
30. There is a great deal contained in these words, far too much to
be exhaustively treated here. He speaks here of his own peculiar calling.
"I know mine own," he says, "and mine own know me." How is this to be understood?
That he explains further when he says:
"Even as the Father knoweth me, and I know the Father."
III. THE SPECIAL OFFICE CHRIST ADMINISTERS EXPLAINED.
31. How is he known of the Father? Not with an earthly, but with a heavenly,
knowledge. Of that we have spoken more fully before, and the substance
of it is this: Christ recognizes us as his sheep, and we recognize him
as our shepherd. Now, we have heard what a good shepherd is, and also who
the weak sheep are. He knows us to be such sheep as are weak, sick and
broken. That is: It does not make any difference in his regard for them
that they are weak and sickly, and he does not despise and reject them
on that account; but he pities and heals them, even though they be so diseased
that the whole world concludes they are not his sheep. Such is the world's
knowledge, but that is not the way that Christ distinguishes them. He does
not look upon their condition, but looks to see whether they are sheep,
whether they may be designated sheep. He looks at the sheep, not at the
32. Now, they are good shepherds who imitate Christ and know the sheep
in the same way; who look at the person, not at the faults, and know how
to distinguish between the sheep and the disease.
33. Even so the Father knows me also, says Christ, but the world does
not know me. When the time comes for me to die a shameful death upon the
cross, all the world will say: Well, is that the Son of God? That must
be a malefactor, owned, body and soul, by the devil. And thus the world
will look upon and know me; but my Father will say: This is my beloved
Son, my King, my Saviour. For he will not look upon my sorrows, nor upon
my wounds, nor upon my cross and my death, but he will see the person that
I am. Therefore, though I were in the midst of hell and in the jaws of
the devil, I must again come forth, for the Father will not desert me.
And thus I know my sheep and am known of them. They know that I am the
good shepherd and know me; and therefore they come to me and abide with
me, and they are not afraid because they are weak and sick, for they know
that I will receive such sheep. He now concludes and says:
"And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold; them also must
I bring, and they shall hear my voice; and they shall become one flock,
34. Some have explained this passage in such a way as to make it appear
that it will be fulfilled shortly before the last day, when the Antichrist
appears, and Elias and Enoch. That is not true, and it is the devil himself
who is responsible for this belief of some, that the whole world will become
Christian. The devil did this that the true doctrine might be so obscured
so that it might not be understood, Therefore be on your guard; for this
passage was verified and fulfilled shortly after Christ ascended into heaven,
and is still in process of fulfilment. When the Gospel was first proclaimed,
it was preached to the Jews; that nation was the sheepfold. And now he
says here: "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also
must I bring." Here he declares that the Gospel is to be preached to the
gentiles also, so that they also might believe in Christ, that there might
be one Christian communion, composed of Jews and gentiles. This was afterwards
brought about through the apostles, who preached to the gentiles and converted
them to the faith. Accordingly there is now but one church or communion,
one faith, one hope, one love, one baptism, etc. And this continues to
be so at the present day, and will continue until the day of judgment.
Hence, you must not understand this to mean that the whole world, and all
men, will believe in Christ; for this holy cross will always be with us.
They are in the majority who persecute Christ, and therefore the Gospel
must ever be preached, that some may be won for Christ. The kingdom of
Christ is in process of growing and is not something that is completed.
This is, in brief, the explanation of this Gospel.