23. April 2023
“A hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep.”
In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.
When Jesus calls Himself the “Good Shepherd,” He also tells you there are bad ones. And by “bad shepherds,” He means those who are not of God, who alone is good. Shepherds who are not of God come without the Father’s authorization and speak contrary to the Son’s Word and by a different and demonic spirit. These three criteria—authority, Word, and Spirit—are given to you so that you may recognize, reject, and refuse the hireling, the false teacher, and the bad shepherd.
This discernment is a matter of life and death. Only Jesus the Good Shepherd leads the way to the Father by speaking the truth that gives life. All other ways and words cannot save from death. This discernment is a matter of unity. Many shepherds, with their many voices, lead in many ways (think: religions). None else can save or redeem or forgive. There are not many ways to God, any more than there are many true Words or many ways to live eternally. Discerning the voice of the Good Shepherd is essential to faith and life.
Before we go too far, we must note that Jesus the Good Shepherd instituted the Office of the Holy Ministry. Jesus sends these men to you under His authority, with His Word, and by His Spirit. And of this Office, Jesus says, “Whoever receives you, receives Me. And whoever receives Me, receives Him who sent Me.” When Jesus speaks of bad shepherds, hirelings, or strangers, He’s not speaking of the pastor (Latin for shepherd). He has called and ordained a man to speak in His Name, according to His Word, and deliver His instituted gifts.
To reject the under-shepherd from Jesus is to reject Jesus the Good Shepherd, given that the under-shepherd pastor is faithful to the Office Jesus has put Him in. You can try to run away from the faithful pastor and congregation, seeking someone whose personality is more to your liking, tickles your ears a bit, or whose style is compatible. And maybe you’ll find someone that fits the ticket or a congregation more idyllic. But God-willing, Jesus will still seek you out, call your sin to account, bring you to repent, and forgive you in His Word of absolution attached to another preacher, baptismal water, and bread/wine.
But what Jesus warns against is the folly and treachery of such wandering. The world is full of liars and thieves, deception and evil. This world has been given over to the Deceiver, and he is its prince. Thus, there’s no one more mimicked than Jesus and no institution more subverted than the church. The false shepherd is always an imposter. He will use the tone and demeanor of Jesus. He will twist and turn Jesus’s Word for his own use. He will claim to be Jesus for you without authorization, without the Word preached and taught in its truth and purity and without the Sacraments administered according to Jesus’ institution. As an imposter, the bad shepherd will lead along the primrose path with words of cunning and crafty deceit and drag you and any else who will listen into death and hell.
These false Jesuses, false Messiahs, or false Christs disguise themselves as angels of light. They come claiming to know the way that will lead out of death. They claim to save you from viruses, economic collapse, or climate change. They claim the secret knowledge and wisdom to bring you health, peace, and security. Their words are unassailable, even when demonstrably false because they bear the title or tiara. They stamp their edicts with royal seals and the imprimatur of the presider, judge, general, doctorate, Nobel laureate, or Pulitzer prize. “Follow us, and you will live!” Or, “Do this, and you will never die!” They claim to have the office given to the founding Fathers or the authority of the elders. They speak with the people in the spirit of the age, a fickle ghost that cannot be grasped any more than the wind.
Of course, emulating Jesus isn’t enough. These bad shepherds—who cannot forgive, give life, or save from death—build up institutions to support themselves that are modeled after Christ’s church. They preach and teach Hope and Change contrary to and without Jesus’s Word. They administer sacraments of sin that lead to death, euphemistically called the right to choose death for children in utero or elderly and infirm. They disguise their tyrannical rule under more lies called “the greater good.” They call their places of worship hallowed halls and man-made rituals unassailably God-given.
Bad shepherds will look, sound, and act like saviors, messiahs, or Christs. But their words cannot save, their sacraments cannot forgive, and their churches are white-washed tombs. When push comes to shove, they will abandon, fleece, or devour you. They care nothing for you but only what robs away Jesus’s glory. And that’s the key to discernment. Has Jesus sent them to speak in His stead and by His command? Do their words lead to Jesus’s cross and resurrection for forgiveness, life, and eternal salvation? Do they call, gather, enlighten, and set you in Christ’s church by the Word of Jesus and His Spirit? Or do they lead you to trust in their world-building plans, science and innovation, and promises of a progressive utopia here on Earth? If it’s the latter, they are false shepherds, evil imposters, and their lies are false hopes, dreams, and vanity.
If nothing else, listen to the Words of Scripture today and how they are given in liturgy, hymnody, and prayer. See how Jesus orders everything in this Christian church to forgive your sin, raise you from the dead, and give you life and contentment in everything. Be fed with His green pastures and the living waters of His Word. Follow Jesus where He leads and receives the Shepherding He gives. And you will be safe and secure today and always.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin