Pastor James Preus
Trinity Lutheran Church
April 18, 2021
To emphasize the importance of a job, when a job is more than a job, such as teaching, police work, farming, and health care, people say, “Oh, it’s not a job; it’s a calling.” Referring to a job as a calling adds meaning to the job, because it implies that God is calling that person to this very important task. The Bible refers to only two calls that God makes (we’ll call them divine calls): 1. The call into the Office of the Holy Ministry and 2. The call to be Christ’s Sheep, that is, the call to be a Christian.
Our Lutheran Confessions state in Article XIV of the Augsburg Confession, “No one should publicly teach, preach, or administer the Sacraments without a rightly ordered call.” And this statement is supported by Romans 10:15, where St. Paul asks, “How are they to preach unless they are sent?” And there are many other Scripture passages that teach that no one should enter the Office of the Ministry without being called (James 3:1; 1 Timothy 3; 4:14; Jeremiah 23:21). If a person decides that he wants to be a pastor, he can’t simply open up a church and start preaching, like one would if he wanted to open up a cake shop. A man must be called by God in order to be a minister of the Word. The apostles were called directly by Christ himself. Today, pastors are called through the Church.
A man who desires to be a pastor should feel an internal calling, but an internal calling is not enough. Through the Church, God calls pastors to preach the Gospel and administer the Sacraments. This is why when a man is called to be a pastor to a congregation it is called a divine call. It is for the sake of Christ’s sheep that only those who have been rightfully called should preach. Every pastor must preach the voice of the Chief Pastor, Jesus Christ. Jesus alone is the Good Shepherd.
The second and greater divine call is the call to be Christ’s sheep, that is, the call to be a Christian. This call likewise is from God and likewise is done mediately through the church. While the divine call into the Office of the Ministry calls only a few men who fulfill the Scripturally prescribed qualifications, the divine call to be Christ’s sheep calls all people who hear the Gospel. In order for a Christian man to be called into the ministry, he must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, and so forth (1 Timothy 3:1ff). Yet, the call to be Christ’s sheep makes no such list of qualifications. Rather, Scripture tells us that all we like sheep have gone astray. Jesus calls sinners to his fold. And he searches out those who have gone astray.
Jesus does not call the righteous, but sinners. He doesn’t demand that people reach certain qualifications before he will call them to be his sheep, rather he calls the weak, those picked on and abused, the wandering, the sick, the sinful. He calls them to repent of their sins and to believe in the forgiveness he has won for them.
Those who recognize the voice of their Good Shepherd and receive the call to be Jesus’ sheep do not do so because they are better than others or because they are less sinful. We were all children of wrath like the rest of mankind, born and even conceived in sin. The sin that dwells in our flesh is just as opposed to God, just as evil, just as damning as the sin that dwells in all mankind. Yet, Jesus’ sheep believe the voice of their Shepherd, which tells them that all their sins are forgiven for the sake of the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. One can only believe this and receive the call to be Christ’s sheep by the power of the Holy Spirit, who works through the proclamation of the Gospel.
The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Those called to be Christ’s sheep learn not to listen to any voice that does not preach that Jesus, the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. All we like sheep have gone astray. We followed our own way, that is, we followed our own sinful impulses. And we Christians continue to struggle with the impulses of our sinful flesh. Our Good Shepherd never committed any such sin. Yet, he knows our sin even better than we do. He tasted it when he drank God’s cup of wrath and died on the cross bearing the sins of the world. Jesus has felt the guilt of our sins more intensely than we could ever feel it. He knows our weakness. He knows how and why we fall. And he laid down his life in order to save us from it all.
Jesus knows his sheep and his sheep know him. He calls them by name. In your Baptism, Christ Jesus called you by name and made you his own dear lamb. You know him as him who bought you with his precious blood and washed you clean of all your sins. Through Baptism you receive the righteousness of Christ, so that you truly are without sin in the eyes of God. Yet, all this can only be received through faith. So, Christ’s sheep must continue to hear the words of their Shepherd. Jesus says that his sheep know his voice and follow him, but they will not follow the voice of a stranger. Why is this? Because they recognize the voice of their Shepherd, but they do not recognize the voice of a stranger.
A sheep does not need to know the different voices of strangers in order to know not to follow them. A sheep simply needs to know the voice of its shepherd. We, Jesus’ sheep, need to know Jesus’ voice. This means we need to continue to listen to Jesus’ voice. There are hirelings who will pretend to be Jesus’ under-shepherds, who seek only to fill their belly. They’ll satisfy themselves, but they don’t care for the sheep. They’ll run when the wolf comes. They will provide the sheep with no protection from the enemy. Wolves will come to snatch the sheep and scatter the sheep. And so, there will be false teachers, contrary voices to the voice of the Good Shepherd, which will try to draw you away from Christ’s fold. How can you protect yourself from them? How will you be able to recognize that they are strangers and enemies of Christ? By listening to Christ’s voice and learning from him. Those who listen to Jesus are his. Those who do not listen to Jesus do not belong to him.
What does Jesus call his sheep to? God calls men into the Office of the Ministry, so that they can be his stewards and tend his sheep. He calls them to preach the Gospel, baptize, instruct, forgive and retain sins, administer the Sacrament, and comfort the sick and distressed. What does Christ call his sheep to do? He calls them to follow him. Jesus’ sheep are called to listen to his Word, to repent of their sins and believe in the forgiveness he declares to them. Jesus leads his sheep to green pastures and feeds them, so Jesus’ Christians should gather to eat from Jesus’ hand his body and blood given and shed for them and to listen to his words which are more precious than any food for the body.
Jesus calls his sheep to follow his example and to suffer rather than fall away from him. Jesus did not deserve any of the suffering he received, yet he bore it willingly for our sake. And he has left us an example to not be scandalized by the suffering that God permits us to bear, because when anyone suffers as a Christian, he suffers to the glory of Christ by shedding the glory of this world and placing a firmer trust in Christ. We follow Christ by forgiving those who have sinned against us; by being patient and kind to others. We follow Christ by serving our neighbor and humbling ourselves before one another in love.
We do not follow Christ to become rich or powerful here on earth. We do not boast over others, because we are Christ’s sheep or because we think we are better sheep. Rather, we recognize that we have all gone astray like stupid sheep. And if it were not for our Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for us in order to forgive our sins and who called us out of sin and into his pasture, we would continue to stray and get devoured by wolves, that is, be devoured by Satan and be damned to hell.
Jesus says that the thief comes to steal, kill, and destroy, but that He came so that his sheep might have life and have it abundantly. Jesus laid down his life, so that we could have abundant life. He had the authority to take his life up again from the grave, and so he has the authority to take our lives up again and make us live forever. This is why we follow him. It is to this end that we follow him, so that we can live with him forever. Jesus says, “My sheep hear my voice, I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” We follow Jesus, because he is the only way to eternal life. He is the only one who can save our souls from death and hell. He is the only one who can give us peace with God, and he has done it through his death and resurrection.
Jesus calls some of his sheep to be under-shepherds in the Office of the Ministry. They are not better than the other sheep. They are still sinners, who need forgiveness and need to constantly listen to the voice of their Shepherd and feed from his hand. They are held to a higher standard, because they must be able to teach Jesus’ sheep and must not scandalize them by sinful living, but rather set an example. But those called to preach are not to set themselves up as the Good Shepherd. They must rather point Christ’s sheep to the true Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who has won for them salvation.
Why does a preacher preach? Because it’s a job? No. Because he is called by God to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the Gospel. Why do Jesus’ sheep come to hear preaching? Because they are called by God to hear. God has called you. You are called by God to listen to the voice of your Shepherd, so that you can be fed the food of eternal life and be kept safe from the hirelings, wolves, and thieves. Every one of us has a divine call from God to listen to the voice of our Shepherd, to follow him, to eat what he gives us to eat, to go where he bids us to go, and to flee from any voice that would bid us to do otherwise.
The calling to be Christ’s sheep is the highest calling in the world. It is more important than being a teacher, farmer, or doctor, father or mother. It is by following the call of Christ that we fulfill our purpose in our other stations in life. And it is only by following the call of Christ that we will reach eternal life. May our Good Shepherd keep us in his fold, well fed and safe by the power of the Holy Spirit, so that we may enter the green pastures of heaven to live with our God forever. Amen.