Don’t Judge a Book By It’s Cover

A sermon preached on John 10:1-10 by Pastor Michael Johnson at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Sioux Falls, SD, on May 3, 2020.

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Don’t judge a book by its cover. You’ve heard that phrase before. A book might be plain and simple on the cover but have the most immersive, exciting tale within. Maybe you remember the story from John chapter 9 we had a month ago where a man was born blind. The disciples looked at the man and asked Jesus if he was blind because he or his parents sinned and were being punished. And Jesus basically says, don’t judge a book by its cover. The man was blind so that the work of God might be displayed in his life. Then Jesus healed the man.

Now everyone, especially the religious leaders, should have been excited and celebrated. Instead, the leaders threw him out of church. Why? They asked who healed him and the guy said, “I don’t know but he must have been from God because I was blind and now I see. The Pharisees wanted nothing to do with Jesus or anyone who followed him.

They were supposed to be able to see the Messiah when he came. They were supposed to help others see him. The Pharisees might have had perfect physical sight, but they were blind to the Savior. And chapter 9 ends with them scoffing, “what are we blind too?” The Pharisees claimed to be the best ones to teach and lead the people, but they were leading people astray. So we turn to chapter 10 and Jesus uses this picture to teach the people how important it is to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow him.

I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. 3 The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice…I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep… whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture.”

Jesus uses the picture of sheep in a pen with a watchman. A thief would not be able to enter through the gate. He would need to sneak in and then the sheep wouldn’t recognize him or follow him because they knew their shepherd’s voice. The shepherd and sheep have a close relationship. He calls them by name. The sheep trust that when the shepherd leads them out of the pen, he is going to feed them with good, safe pastures.

You and I are the sheep in this picture. Jesus said he is the gate. A shepherd has to go through him to get to the sheep and the sheep need to go through him to get to pasture. Now, if we’re the sheep; we want to know it’s a true shepherd leading us right? Well, Jesus gives us a way to know. Does he come through the gate? Does he know Jesus as his shepherd? Does he first listen to him before he invites the flock to come and follow him?

A true shepherd enters the sheep pen properly through the gate of Christ and his Word. That means teaching the sheep to follow everything God has commanded, not adding or subtracting from it. A true shepherd is going to keep on listening to the Good Shepherd and keep sharing him with his sheep. After all, it’s only through Jesus that I can have the spiritual peace of walking beside quiet waters or lying down in green pastures.

A thief might be able to promise these things…but he’s not going to be able to deliver them for long. Eventually, not only does the thief lead sheep astray; he steals things like peace and joy and ultimately our life with God in heaven.

So, dear sheep, we want to be on guard against that thief, the devil, and all his sneaky ways. If I’m going to be on guard, I need to remember that he never jumps out and shouts “Surprise! It’s me the devil!” He sneaks in quietly and causes as much harm as possible before we notice him. Have you caught him causing trouble in your life lately? If you think he hasn’t, could it be that he has snuck in and you haven’t recognized it? Or maybe you’ve blamed the trouble on someone else. The devil doesn’t enter through the gate. He sneaks in to get God’s people away from his Word and following their shepherd.

The longer these lockdowns go on, have you caught him causing trouble in your life? The more I am stuck under the same roof with my family, am I imagining throwing them out of bigger and higher windows more and more? Have you let your frustrations boil over and taken them out on your kids? Has alcohol become the way to numb your feelings and frustrations? Have you found yourself being done putting up with your husband’s attitude or his sex drive? Have you traded an intimate relationship for the glow of a cold screen? Satan will do anything to rip us away from our Good Shepherd.

So what is a sheep to do? Keep your eyes on the gate. Keep your eyes on Jesus and only listen to shepherds who enter properly through him. Why? Because it’s only through Jesus, our Good Shepherd, who we just saw lay down his life for us and we saw him rise again – it’s only through the Good Shepherd that we enter the heavenly gates and see things beyond our imagination. It’s only through the Good Shepherd that I see the forgiveness I have and how he has mended my relationship with God and I can forgive my family if they hurt me during these days of isolation. It’s through the amazing undeserved love of God that I can show love to my spouse when they don’t deserve it. It’s in thanks for all that my Good Shepherd has done for me that I can praise him with my body and say no to the allure of temptation in the quiet of night. Then one day, I will hear the voice of my Good Shepherd as he calls me and carries me through his heavenly gates.

Until then, I listen to the voice of my Good Shepherd and shepherds who come through the gate of Christ. I won’t judge a book by it’s cover. This Bible doesn’t exactly have an exciting cover. But inside it is the most important message ever told. Your Good Shepherd loves you so much he lived a perfect life for you and suffered to pay for your sins and all the times the devil has led you astray. Here, he shows you how he continues to care for your every need, even through a pandemic. There are many flashy preachers who claim to be shepherds, but many are just like the Pharisees, spiritually blind and rotten on the inside. Follow a shepherd who follows his Good Shepherd. And hold Pastor Werre and myself accountable to our Good Shepherd as your shepherds. Most of all, the sheep know their shepherd’s voice. This Bible, with its unremarkable cover, is the one place Jesus promises to speak to you. Get to know your Savior’s voice. Here, he talks to you. Here he tells you what he has done for you. Here he leads me by quiet waters and one day to my heavenly home. Amen