1. This Gospel lesson presents to us in a picture and parable that which is elsewhere taught concerning Christ’s kingdom and the office of preaching in the Church. The same topic, is continued in the Gospel of the good shepherd immediately following our text. Both portions distinguish the different kinds of teaching that claim to point to heaven; and from these words we may correctly judge which are the true teachings of the Holy Spirit. There are three distinct kinds of teaching here considered. Only one of them can save the soul. The first is the teaching of those whom Christ calls thieves and murderers; the second, that of the porter of the sheepfold; the third, that of the true shepherd, to whom the porter opens and whom he permits to enter. John says that the disciples did not rightly understand this parable until Christ explained that he himself, and he alone, was the door of the sheepfold and that he was likewise the shepherd. We, too, would not understand it if he had not shown us the interpretation.
I. THE FIRST CLASS OF PREACHERS — THIEVES AND MURDERERS.
4. They are called thieves because they come stealthily sneaking, and with smooth speech, as Paul says in Romans 16:18; and they come also with imposing airs, and in true sheep’s clothing, especially advertising their faithfulness and their love of souls. But these are the very marks by which, as Christteaches, they are to be known; they do not enter by the door, but climb up some other way, or, as Christ himself explains, they come before him and without him, not pointing and directing to him as the only Shepherd and Savior.
5. For the words “came before me” do not refer to those who preached before Christ; nor only to those who undertake to preach without a call and secretly sneak into the fold, who are certainly no better than thieves and murderers. But the words refer in general to all those — yen to them who have a true call and are regularly installed in office — who do not begin with and adhere to the doctrine of faith in Christ as the chief article of Christianity, but mislead the people, directing to their own holiness and their own worship, which ignores faith in Christ. If it were not for this error, such teachers would never harm with their doctrine; for all doctrines concerning works would be harmless if they did not teachfaith and trust in works as being sufficient to merit the forgiveness of sins. But in no case is to be tolerated the teaching that we are to place in them our confidence and faith, for it should be centered alone in Christ; nor that we esteem them to be a special service to God when they are without the Word of God.
6. We could also without wrong keep all the commandments of the pope and of his councils if they be not in opposition to God’s Word — when they refer only to outward order and the observance of certain times — the use of certain clothing, meats, and the like; as in other things a person may follow custom. Yes, such outward and immaterial things were without harm if they did not claim that they are necessary to salvation or serve to promote it. Just so the greater part of their priestcraft and monkery is mere unprofitable, useless jugglery and simply child’s play, appropriate to a Shrove-Tuesday carnival performance or to a puppet show. But that they should command man to do such works at the peril of being lost, and say, He who fails to do them shall fall under the wrath and displeasure of GodAlmighty and of all the saints, and be condemned to hell — that is the wolf-like and murderous voice of the true Antichrist in Christendom.
7. Now, these destructive thieves and murderers are the great multitude; they are always in the majority in the world. And they cannot be different since they are out of Christ. The world desires such wolfpreaching, and is not worthy of anything better since it will not hear nor respect Christ.
8. True, the sheep may at first and for a time be deceived by the false appearance and actions of thieves and robbers. Such has been the case hitherto under the papacy when all the pulpits and churches were filled with the false and only a few sheep heard the voice of Christ, the true shepherd; as Christ declared in Matthew 24:24, saying, that they would lead astray, if possible, even the elect. Yet, at last he shall help them to hear the voice of the true shepherd and follow him. And many such have been snatched out of the errors of papacy even on their death-beds, and have laid hold of Christ and died in him.
9. Now, these are the first class of cursedteachers and preachers who directly oppose Christ and only mislead and ruinsouls. These he sharply distinguishes from himself, and passes judgment, teaching that we are not to hear them at all nor tolerate them, and that they who, themselves out of Christ, point the people elsewhere, are only thieves and murderers.
II. THE SECOND CLASS OF PREACHERS — PORTERS OF THE FOLD.
10. There are other preachers, who advocate God’s law and commandments, not devised of themselves, but taken from the Scriptures.
11. These teachings in themselves do not oppose Christ, but they who make use of them to teach the people to trust in themselves and in salvation through the works of the Law, are thieves and murderers like the others; for they also hinder and restrain the sheep from coming to Christ.
15. It is, however, opening the door to Christ when we thus teach the Law, as we said. God requires us to keep these commandments at the peril of our eternal condemnation. And though you have kept them as perfectly as you can, you must know that you will neither be justified nor saved thereby before God; for you can never fulfill them, as you are indebted to do. And if you were to fulfill them, still you would not thereby merit that God should give you mote than he has already given you, for which you are in duty bound to obey him; as Christ says: “Even so ye also, when ye shall have done the things that are commanded you, say, We are unprofitableservants; we have done that which it was our duty to do.” Luke 17:10.
Therefore you must, after all this, have Christ, the Lord, for the true shepherd, who gives you his fullness and riches, and you must be fed, pastured and saved by him.
18. Therefore, Christ calls himself the door by which the sheep go in and out. For, as he is the shepherd and also the sermon through which he comes to us and by which he is made known, so faith in our hearts, by which his power and work are experienced, is simply Christ dwelling and working in us, making us in our life and work complete in him. So all goodness goes forth from him and is received through faith in him; we are pleasing to God only because of him, and are not dependent upon anything else, neither have we comfort from any other source.
19. With the same figure in which Christ speaks of his of-rice, which he administers through the Word, he speaks also of his sheep, telling how they are to conduct themselves in his kingdom — when the door is opened to him, they at once hear his voice and learn to know it. It is truly a comforting, cheering voice, whereby they are released from terror and fear and brought into liberty, where they can look to God in Christ for grace and all comfort. And where they once recognize this shepherd, they confidently hold to him alone and do not listen to the doctrine of any other.
For they have, as the nature of sheep is, very keen ears, that respond to a very soft voice, and are very docile, recognizing and distinguishing the voice of their shepherd from all others who pose as shepherds. For now the experience of their own consciences and the witness of the Holy Spirit in their hearts testifies that no other doctrine or word can console the heart nor bring man rightly to trust in God and call upon him, except the voice of this shepherd, Christ. Therefore they reflect upon it without any doubting or wavering whatever. They do not gaze in wonder at what others teach or do, at what the world likes or the councilsdecree; if there were not a single person upon earth to agree with them, they would still be assured that they hear the voice of their true shepherd.
20. Yes, and they are of admirable intelligence; if they were, without fear or danger, given the choice, each pious soul would rather follow his conscience and plant himself upon Christ and his grace than upon his own works, even if he had an abundance of the latter. For of his works he is doubtful. Yea, he knows that they cannot stand before God’s judgment; as David and all the saints say: “Lord, enter not into judgment with thy servant; for in thy sight no man living is righteous.” <19E302>Psalm 143:2. But he knows that grace is assured to him; for it is God’s Word and truth.
21. What mean Christ’s further words: “And he calleth his own sheep by name and leadeth them out”? All hear the harmonious voice of Christ — the preaching of the Gospel: faith, baptism, hope and salvation they all have in common and in equal measure. The grace that Magdalene has is the same as that of the VirginMary, and that of Peter the same as the dying thief experienced.
22. But there is a difference when he begins to call by special names those who are in the same grace; as a shepherd has special marks for each sheep and calls one “Brownie,” another “Blackie,” or such names as he will.
Likewise Christ produces special works in each individual when he comforts, admonishes, and helps him in his needs and cares, through his Word. Also he distributes to men his gifts: to one a stronger faith than to another, or more understanding; gifts to teach and explain the Scriptures, to preach, to rule. Again, he uses an individual for a special work, to accomplish more and greater things than another; he visits one with much suffering and another with little; he extended the Gospel farther through Paul than through the other apostles; he called Peter and led him to suffer in a different way than he did John.
23. Paul, in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6, says: “There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit,” etc. As in the same house there are many kinds of work, many occupations, but all the workers are members of the same fami1y, having the same kind of food; and as there are many members in the same body and each has its special work and use, and yet all are of the same body and the same in health, deriving a common pleasure from the food and nourishment: so in Christ’s kingdom there are many kinds of gifts, of works and sufferings, distributed to each according to his capacity and calling; but all are sheep of the same kind, sharing all his blessings, and one is as dear to him as another. He says further: “He leadeth them out. When he has put forth all his own, he goeth before them” etc.
27. That is the Christians’ life under their shepherd. Christ ever rules, leads and guides them. They remain with him in the liberty of faith, wherein they walk, following his example in obedience and good works, of which example Peter says: Christ has “left you an example, that ye should follow his steps.” 1 Peter 2:21. And Christ himself says in John 13:15: “I have given you an example, that ye also should do as I have done to you.”
Christ’s kingdom, as I said, was not instituted that we might indulge the lusts of our flesh; but that we, released from the captivity of the Law, under which we could not in sincerity do anything good, follow Christ forward cheerfully and with a good conscience in our lives and works. And each responds as Christ calls him, a special instrument for Christ’s use.
28. To follow the advancing Christ means that our whole lives and all our works be in the faith of Christ — a constant exercise of faith, wherein we recognize and are assured that because of this dear shepherd we have favor with God. Thus our works and lives, weak and imperfect in obedience as they are, are also under the wings of the mother hen, and are pleasing to God because of the shepherd. In this confidence we now begin to be obedient, to call upon him in our temptations and needs, to confess his Word and serve our neighbors. And thus, both in the inner and the outer life — which Christ here calls “going out and in” — we are to find pasture; that is, comfort, strength, help, the increase of faith, and everything good. To this end a Christian constantly needs the Word of Christ as his dailybread; he needs to learn from it and to exercise himself in it. Therefore, Christ says again, in concluding his words on the sheep that 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.”
29. That means, they know now how to keenly distinguish doctrine, faith and life; for they have the standard of the Word, which teaches them to cling alone to this shepherd, and thus be enabled to rightly judge everything offered to them and shun and condemn that which directs and leads them otherwise. Therefore, under this shepherd they abide indeed safe, undeceived and rightly led; they are excellent, intelligent, well sheltered, contented, secure and blessedsheep.
30. Notice that this parable pictures so beautifully to us Christ and his sheep that we see the inner life of his kingdom and the treasure we have from him. And it finely symbolizes how we should teach the Law and faith and works in the Church. But the Pharisees and their blindleaders and the false saints understand naught of this; as John here says: “But they understand not what things they were which he spoke unto them.”
31. Yes, although Christ even interprets and illustrates these things in plain words, yet his hearers do not understand them. They consider and estimate his words from the low plane of their own reason, which learns nothing beyond the doctrine of the law of works, and seeks the fulfillment of the same by its own strength; as Paul, in Romans 10:3, says of them: They seek to establish their own righteousness, and do not subject themselves to the righteousness that avails before God. Hence, when they hear the doctrine of our salvation, how our lives must be hid in Christ alone and nothing avails without him, they begin to blaspheme; as they say of him at the end of this sermon in verse 20: “He hath a demon, and is mad; why hear ye him?” So in our day they revile the doctrine of faith as heresy, and say that we forbid good works; but thereby they candidly reveal their own blindness — they do not understand what Christ, faith and good works are.
32. We, however, who have — God be praised! — the true knowledge, should learn from this Gospel two things: First, that nothing should be taught in Christendom except that which pertains to this one shepherd, Christ — and every individual should guard against all that does not point to him for enlightenment of the conscience and for strengthening the hope of salvation; or that is not enjoined and commanded as necessary to keep.
Therefore, Christ calls himself the door, through whom alone we must go out and in; and true doctrine and faith, and life proceed only from him, lead to him and are found in him.