It’s really easy to create a religion. Really, we’ve been doing it since the fall. The Norse gods promised to keep us safe from ice giants. So far so good. Muhammad claimed to take the moon from the sky, put it between his legs, then put it back into the sky so quickly nobody could see it done. He’s right. I missed it. An atheist told me this whole creation is a cosmic accident, never mind the odds of it happening are so slim that you need to imagine an infinite number of parallel universes to make the idea that this was chance seem like even a possibility. Clearly if there was such a thing as God, He’d be at our beck and call to do parlor tricks whenever we demanded it. That He doesn’t do what we tell Him is obviously proof He’s not real. Just like when my puppy won’t come when I call him, he ceases to exist. That’s how things work…sure.
I’m not advocating for these beliefs. I’m just saying by all accounts the circular reasoning stands. It’s really easy to make a religion that makes sense. The measurement of the faith is always something I’m in control of. It’s easier to trust the things you’re in charge of. The standard for my religion is what I say it is. The gods I invent clearly want to do things my way. Everyone else is wrong, and you can tell by the lack of ice giants.
The problem arises because all of your religions disagree with each other. They don’t just have different standards. They contradict. They can’t all be right if they disagree. And if you’re going all in on one of them, how do you know which one to choose?
It doesn’t help our cause that when folks look around the sheepfold, it’s a lot easier to find the robbers than the Lord. Jesus says “the thief comes to steal and kill and destroy.” That part I see. That part we can’t miss. The death. The destruction. The evil that doesn’t just persist in a world of chance where storms and plagues come and go. There’s the evils men do to each other. Sometimes even in the name of religion.
Christianity promises life and peace. It’s real honest about how things are supposed to be. How we’re supposed to behave. It’s a tougher sell when everything promised so clearly doesn’t match up with what we see, and the people who claim to represent it fail to live up to the law’s demands. At least I don’t see any ice giants. It’s dark in the fold, and when all you want to look at is the thieves, it gets darker. That might be why God tells us to look to something else.
Our Lord never contends the robbers being present. He warns us about them. Expect them. They’re actually a sign you’re in the right place. That He won’t chase them out is the cause of all kinds of frustration, but He promises something even more peculiar. He promises that God speaks, even to the sheep.
“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
You have a God who actually speaks. You don’t have to wonder. His will is not hidden. It’s spoken. It’s something you can recognize. It’s the scriptures. They teach you the voice of the shepherd, and that leaves every other religion exposed for what it is. There are only two real religions in this world. There are only two voices. One says do these things, and you will be rewarded. Call it karma, a cosmic scale, or Odin’s reward. It’s the law. It paints a wonderful picture of how things are supposed to be. It does nothing to get us there. Because I may not see ice giants, but I still see death, and even if you blame it on men not appeasing the gods, it does nothing to help.
So our God speaks words of the other religion. The sheep hear the voice of our Shepherd. We hear Jesus. He preaches the gospel. The bible is not about us. It’s about Jesus for us. The whole of this speech is about Jesus. He is the shepherd. He is the door. He is the one who cares for the sheep. He leads us through the only door to salvation. He leads us from the cross to the empty tomb. And He does so by going there first.
Jesus doesn’t stand back from what’s wrong. He doesn’t demand we earn His favor to fix it. He doesn’t promise a perfect world. He promises the cross. He promises to come to the sheep. To rescue them. To carry the lost and bind up the wounded. He comes to make the dead live. He comes to bear the cross, not for the righteous, but for sinners. He came to die for you and for me. He came to be the lightning rod for everything wrong so we could finally stop pretending things were fine, blaming each other for what’s wrong, and desperately trying to fix it without success. We cast each sin and evil upon the cross where God bears them to the bitter end for us. And we hear the voice of the shepherd. It is finished. Your sins are forgiven you. Death is destroyed. And Jesus is risen from the grave.
There are plenty of thieves in the sheepfold, but the shepherd isn’t gone. Look to where He promised to be. Everyone has trouble with the Christian church because it seems like it’s easier to find the robbers than the Lord. But what if Jesus wants them there too? He dies between two of them. He dies to forgive them. The measurement of the church is not the presence of the robbers but the voice of the shepherd. He speaks from the cross, hung between sinners. Your sins are forgiven you. Christianity isn’t being better than the world. Christianity isn’t building a perfect sheepfold. It’s the Shepherd who sacrifices Himself for robbers and sheep alike. It’s the voice that death can’t silence.
Understand what the resurrection means. It is an apologetic of hope. Stand firm against the evils of the sheepfold and call them what they are. Evil that Jesus died for. Evil that raged as hard as it could and still failed to keep Jesus dead. The apologetic of Christianity is the resurrection, not wealth or success, not the sheep but the shepherd. This is a religion carried forward on the backs of martyrs not afraid to die because they saw someone prove it’s not so permanent. They died alone and afraid. They saw what the robbers and thieves could do. And they sang hymns about the shepherd while they died at the hands of the thieves. And even here, Jesus lead them through the door. From the cross to the empty tomb. He rose. They live. And that’s beautiful. And it’s something that we can still hear today. The shepherd still speaks. He sends his undershepherds. He promises them something strange enough we should be used to it by now. If you speak beautiful things, you would be as My mouth. Preach the gospel. Speak of Jesus, the door to the sheep. There will still be others. Robbers. Don’t hear them. They speak of not Jesus. But we’ll sing hymns to them no matter what, because the beauty of the sheepfold is the love and the life that’s found in it, even for sinners. Even for you.