Sermon: Listening for Our Master’s Voice.

 “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” [John 10:9]

Today’s lesson, about fifty years ago, would not be a difficult lesson to teach.  It would have been self-explanatory and readily acceptable to all in the pews.  That dynamic has radically changed.  This lesson is no longer one that many Christians, and I dare say, clergy, accept as true.  It is one where Christ makes absolutely clear that He is the ONLY way, the ONLY truth, and the ONLY life.  And that makes this passage no longer politically correct.

We are all used to Jesus describing Himself as the Good Shepherd, but in our Parable for today, He is NOT the shepherd; He is the GATE:

This parable spake Jesus unto them: but they understood not what things they were which he spake unto them. Then said Jesus unto them again, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, I am the door of the sheep.”

Again, we have an instance when the disciples did not understand what Christ was trying to tell them.  It is one of the things in the Gospel that, to my way of thinking, proves how devoutly those who recorded the Gospels were to the truth.  They included those things which are unflattering as well as flattering, and why?  Because the truth of the Gospels is so important that the writers were not willing to change any small detail.

There was an Scottish nobleman and archeologist whose name, I believe, was Sir William Mitchell Ramsay.  Sir Ramsay was a product of 19th Century education and believed that the Gospel of Saint Luke was written in the mid-third century.  He also could not believe that the man who traveled with Saint Paul in Asia Minor could have accurately written anything that transpired in Palestine.

His goal as an archeologist was to prove that the Gospel of Saint Luke and the Acts of the Apostles were historically inaccurate at best and false at worst.  As he did his archeological exploration, however, he was taken aback.  The historical truth that he discovered contained in these two books not only convinced him that they were one of the best and most accurate historical records of the time, it also convinced him to become a Christian. And again, the fact that the disciples didn’t understand much of what Christ was telling them at the time bears witness to the truth of these documents.

But, in our lesson for today, I cannot fault anyone for not understanding that Jesus is the GATE in this Parable.  But His role as the gate is pivotal in our understanding of our faith:

“I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

If Jesus is the door, this means once again that He is the only way.  As Christians, we are mandated to believe that Christ IS the only way for people to be saved. This is what Christ, Himself has told us on several occasions.  Again, it is not our duty to judge whether others will be saved, but it is our duty, knowing what we know, to tell as many as we can of Christ’s saving power and love.  And it is also our duty to follow what Christ has told us to do.

But there is something more to our lesson for today, and to understand it, we have to look again at this Parable:

“Verily, verily, I say unto you, he that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth, and the sheep hear his voice, and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him, for they know not the voice of strangers.”

The main thrust in this parable seems to be, not a warning, but an indication of a fact.  Christ is telling His disciples that there have been many false prophets before Him who claimed to be the Messiah.  They were the thieves that have climbed over the fence. 

But there is also an implicit warning that the thieves do not stop once Christ has come.  They will continue to climb over the fence with the sole purpose “to steal, and to kill, and to destroy.” And Christianity since its inception has had its share of thieves climbing over the fence.

In our First Lesson from the Acts of the Apostles, we have the martyrdom of Saint Stephen.  But, we also have another interesting reference:

And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.

One of these Deacons, Nicolas, became apostate.  If you remember the article I wrote on the Seven Churches of Revelation, and specifically the churches in Ephesus and Pergamos, we had reference to the Nicolaitans.  They were followers of this same Deacon, who became a Gnostic and came to espouse that, in order to understand sin, one must indulge in it.  His followers had a casual attitude towards idolatry and sexual immorality.

Now, let’s be clear, the fact that Nicolas was a proselyte, the fact that all the disciples chose him, or the fact that he was ordained a Deacon by the Apostles did NOT prevent him from becoming Gnostic or apostate.  And for us living in a post-modern Age, this fact should be painfully apparent.

Over the years, we have seen people in positions of authority who have espoused beliefs that are inconsistent with orthodox Christian beliefs, the most prominent being that Christianity is only one of many ways in which to be saved. 
This is a valuable lesson for all of us.  The thief comes in all sizes, shapes, and methods.  The ONLY thing they have in common is that they all came over the fence, NOT through the gate.  In other words, they come without a true belief in Christ.  So, the question for each of us is, if someone like Nicolas, or a Bishop or a Priest can be a thief coming to destroy or rob, how can we protect ourselves?

Sheep are some of the dumbest animals in the world.  An acquaintance of mine and her husband decided to start a sheep farm in Maryland.  She told me that sheep are so dumb that, during a thunderstorm, if the shepherd does not go out to stop them, the sheep will become so frightened that they will hurtle themselves against the barb-wired fence until they kill themselves trying to escape from the thunder.  But, as dumb as they may be, Jesus tells us something very factual about sheep;  they really DO recognize their master’s voice and will not follow another.

We must become like sheep in that we too must recognize our Master’s Voice.  It is not a matter of being smart enough, or wise enough, or gifted in discerning the true.  No.  It is a matter of first, recognizing His voice and, second, not being told to ignore the difference. 

In order to recognize our Master’s voice, we must study the Gospels.  We must read what Christ has said, and then take it to heart.  As we try to live good, Christian lives and as we study Scripture, Christ’s voice will be imprinted upon us.  We will be able to recognize what is consistent with Christ’s message, and what is not.  And this will help to protect us.

But life in this post-modern age convinces me that this is NOT enough.  Our thieves have become VERY clever.  They now tell us that we are wrong; we are not “really” hearing our Master’s voice, but another voice.  This type of misinformation confuses many a good Christian and may eventually lead them to fall away or accept the thief’s lies as truth.

As I have said before, quoting Christ, we must be as wise as serpents, but as gentle as doves.  And, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.  We can no longer be naïve or ignorant.  We must be wise.  We must cultivate our spirit of discernment.  And if something is being espoused that we know to be contrary to Scripture, we must recognize the danger that lies there.

I am sorry to say that this is not a very upbeat message, but it is something of which we must all be aware.  And actually there IS something that is upbeat about our lesson for today:

“I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.”

For we who listen to Christ’s voice, there is life and hope and love.  There are green pastures and safe paddocks.  And there is a Good Shepherd who will protect us and give us more abundant life.  And all we need do is enter the true door and listen for our Master’s voice!

 

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