Lambs for Life
Did you feel silly singing that children's song? The only animal more helpless than a sheep is a lamb, yet if you want to live now and forever you need to be a lamb.
A lamb is wholly dependent on the shepherd for protection and provision. Lambs aren't protected by their mother or father. How could they be? Even adult sheep don't bite, claw, or kick. Cows will gather together and kick at coyotes. Sheep won't even do that. If the wolf is going to be driven away, then a lamb needs a shepherd with a rod and staff to do it.
Sheep need protection and provision. Psalm 23 isn't just poetically beautiful. It's biologically correct. When it speaks of lying down in green pastures that refers to how well fed the sheep are. Sheep lie down when they've had enough to eat. Green pastures refer not only to a place of plenty of food but good food. Some plants are poisonous to sheep. They will eat them if they are led into pastures that have them. A good shepherd leads his sheep to pastures without them, or he goes into the pasture ahead of time and roots them out.
Lambs need not just food but water. They need quiet or still waters. They need water that's not obviously running or flowing. Sheep won't drink from flowing water. It has to be still. Sheep don't have a homing device to find still waters, so the shepherd must lead them there.
Be a lamb and you will live protected and provided for by the Good Shepherd. As a lamb you're less likely to stray. You've probably noticed that in a petting zoo a lamb is even more timid then a full grown sheep. It presses up against its mother. It doesn't want to stray from her side. This is good because there's nothing but certain death apart from the flock where the shepherd is.
A lamb listens to the shepherd's voice and follows. This isn't just poetry either. They've done experiments with sheep. They can tell their shepherd's voice from a stranger's. The flock won't follow the stranger. And the following part is true too. You drive cattle, but you must lead sheep. What happens when you try to drive sheep is shown in those scenes from England where a car tries to get through a flock on a highway. The sheep go every direction at once. Sheep follow, but they only follow the voice of their shepherd.
When the going gets really tough or the animal is hurt, the shepherd can easily carry a lamb. Lambs are small. What safer place is there than the hands of a shepherd? What can snatch them out of the hands of a shepherd? Can death or life, angels or demons, things present or past, height or depth, can anything in all creation snatch a lamb from the hands of a good shepherd? I think not.
How beautiful and comforting! We are Jesus' little lambs! Only of course we're not. We're Billy Goats Gruff. Whose voice do we really follow? We have no trouble paying attention to a newscaster blathering on about the news we already know, yet we can't pay attention for 30 seconds when our Lord speaks. He says the spouse I've given you, the family I've placed you in, the job you work at are your green pastures and still waters, but the grass is greener to us someplace, anyplace, everyplace else. He gives us His Word and Sacraments, His very Body and Blood, to feed us, yet we insist on eating the poisonous word and sacraments of the world around us, i.e. whatever makes us feel better, livelier, more successful.
Rather than being carried by our Good Shepherd, rather than being fed by His hand, what do we do? We bite the hand that feeds and carries us. Ever lovingly pick up a small dog or cat and they bit you unprovoked? I'll bet you didn't lovingly place the animal down. You probably dropped it and called it all sorts of names. That's the sort of lambs we are.
A seminary classmate of mine could draw. One day we happened to pair the Greek word for hostile (exthron) and the one for sheep (probaton) getting "hostile sheep." Then he sketched the beast. It was shocking and ugly. The gentle, tender face of a sheep had its mouth opened in a roar and large, pointed fangs dripped salvia. This is a lamb that's really a goat. You can see such a creature in our text. Jesus is announcing He is the Good Shepherd, and the Jews act as if it's all Jesus' fault that they don't believe Him. If Jesus would just say these exact words or do this exact thing, then they'd believe. As it is, they can't be blamed for not believing. But Jesus says they're not sheep because they don't listen to His Words; they're not sheep because they don't follow Him.
No matter how we might blame Jesus because we don't hear His Word, follow His voice, or eat and drink what He provides, we're still responsible. Those who refuse to hear, eat, and drink aren't lambs of Jesus. They're hostile sheep. And hostile sheep don't stop at playing the blame game with Jesus. Our text ends with Jesus graciously telling the hostile Jews that He gives His sheep eternal life and has them in His powerful hands. The very next verse reads, "The Jews picked up stones again to stone Him."
But this isn't about those Jews, it's about us. We think turning up our noses at His food and drink, turning a deaf ear to His words, isn't that big of deal. It is; it shows we're neither lambs nor sheep, and therefore, we won't live forever; we will perish eternally, and we are not in the hands of our Savior. But the answer is not to become more lamblike. The answer is not to promise to do better or to make excuses like the Jews in the text. The answer is Jesus. He is our Lamb for life.
I Peter describes Jesus as a spotless, unblemished Lamb. Rather than needing to be told you had better be more spotless and less blemished, you need to hear that Jesus was. He was born a perfect Lamb. The unbelief, the hatred, the lust that are natural to fallen men, weren't in Jesus. He was absolutely perfect in what He did, what He said, and even in what He thought. Moreover, He lived a perfect life. You know how many things you've messed up in your life. You know how you've strayed from the Good Shepherd, rebelled against His leading, feeding, and carrying. Jesus did not. Whether the path of God went to green pastures, still waters, or into the valley of the shadow of death, Jesus followed.
So when the devil comes seeking a spotless life from you, and he will, point him to Jesus. When others come seeking an unblemished life from you, and they will, don't offer them anything of yours, offer them Jesus. When your conscience comes demanding a sinless life, don't start sifting through yours, flee to Jesus' life.
If we're going to be saved eternally, pastured evermore, and dwell in the house of the Lord forever, we can only do so based on the spotless, unblemished life of the Lamb of God. But we don't just need a perfect Lamb, we need a sacrificial one. We need a Lamb who was led before the slaughters and did not speak up. We need a Lamb who was willing to take upon Himself our sin and guilt though innocent. We need a Lamb who was willing to be guilty not just before men based on trumped up charges but guilty before God based on our very real guilt.
The Old Testament pointed to the need for such a Lamb. On the Day of Atonement 2 goats, which are related to sheep, were brought before the high priest. On one he confessed all the sins of nation. It was led out to the wilderness to bare all those sins for the rest of its life. The other goat was sacrificed and its blood poured onto the lid of the Ark of the Covenant to make atonement for those sins. Jesus the Lamb of God is both goats to us. He is the Lamb of God that carries away the sins of the world. He is the Lamb of God whose blood is an atoning sacrifice for not only our sins but the sins of the whole world.
There is another lamb in the Old Testament, the Passover Lamb. The blood of this lamb was painted on door posts, so the angel of death, would pass over, and not kill the people living in that house. This lamb too pointed only to Jesus, God's Lamb for our life. Paul plainly says, "Christ our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed." In the Proper Preface for Easter the pastor says that we are chiefly bound to praise God because Jesus "is the very Passover Lamb which was offered up for us and has taken away the sins of the world."
Our Lamb was sacrificed for us on the tree of the cross. God the Father raised Him from the dead proving that He had actually and completely paid for all our sins. Before going to the cross though, the Lamb of God left us His Blood in Holy Communion. He didn't leave it for us to paint on our doorposts, but to drink for forgiveness. The effect however is the same; the Lord's judgment passes over us for the sake of the blood of the Lamb. You see this in heaven too. The only way sinner's robes are made white before God is by being washed in the blood of the Lamb.
You won't live; you can't live by trying your best to be a lamb. You can only live before God in Jesus the Lamb of God. Only in Him, whether clothed by Him in Baptism, or bodied and blooded to Him in Communion, only in connection with Jesus are you safe from the wrath of God against sinners. And only in Him can you know the true God. Revelation shows you that too. You always see Jesus the Lamb of God before the throne of the Father. Jesus is our connecting point to the Father, to life, to salvation. If we're in His hand, Jesus says we're in the Father's hand. In fact, the only way to know if we are really in the hand of the invisible Father is to be in the hand of the Son. And who does Jesus say are in His hand? His sheep.
Suddenly "I am Jesus Little Lamb" doesn't sound childish. It's bold; it's graphic; regardless of your age it's a comfort in life and in death to be Jesus' little lamb. But let's make this concrete. You're in the invisible hand of the Father if you're in the hand of Jesus. But isn't He too invisible? Not here; not now in this Bread and Wine. When "I am Jesus' Little Lamb" was first written in 1778 it was placed in the hymns for Holy Communion. Being Jesus' little lamb was connected to Communion because here we see the Lamb of God again, and having Him not only in our hands but in our bodies we're assured He has us in His. Amen.
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Fourth Sunday of Easter (20070429); John 10: 22-30