“Silent witness: a wolf”
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.
When you think of fairy tale bad guys (and girls), who do you usually think of? If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably think of a witch, or an evil queen, or a wicked stepmother. You might think, for example, of part-human, part-octopus, all-evil, Ursula the Sea Witch from The Little Mermaid, or Sid Phillips from Toy Story, or Cruella de Vil from 101 Dalmatians. Like the song says, “If she doesn’t scare you, no evil thing will.”
But somewhere on that long list of evil story villains, you’ll probably also think of the big, bad wolf. In fact, he’s so bad, you’ll find him in quite a lot of fairy tales.
Take The Three Little Pigs, for example. Just as soon as those poor, little pigs built their homes out of sticks and straw, along came a big, bad wolf. “Little pig! Little pig! Let me in!” he said. “Not by the hairs of my chinny chin chin!” they replied. But when he huffed and he puffed, he blew their houses down.
Or how about Little Red Riding Hood? One day as she was out walking through the woods to visit her grandmother, along came a mean, hungry wolf. He said, “Where are you going so early, Little Red Riding Hood?” “To my grandmother’s, to give her some cake and wine,” she answered. Then when he told her she should first stop and pick some flowers, he ran on ahead to her grandmother’s house, where he not only ate her, he put on her clothes, and slipped into her bed, hoping to eat Little Red Riding Hood too. Thankfully, when a woodsman happened to pass by, he took care of that mean, old wolf with his big, strong axe. And with no more wolf around to hurt them, both grandma and Little Red Riding Hood lived happily ever after.
When you think of wolves, you think of something that’s dangerous, conniving, cruel, and manipulative. Though they might dress themselves up as good guys, as something that can be loved and even trusted, in reality, they’re the most wicked and dangerous of all.
Listen again to the words of today’s gospel reading, from the book of John chapter 10: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know My own and My own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father, and I lay down My life for the sheep” (John 10:11-15).
The words of John chapter 10 come near the end of Jesus’ life and ministry among us. In chapter 7, when the chief priests and Pharisees sent men to arrest Him, they came back without Him saying, “No one ever spoke like this Man!” In chapter 8, He said, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see My day. He saw it and was glad.” And He said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Then in chapter 9, just as soon as He smeared mud on the eyes of a man born blind and sent him to wash in the pool of Siloam, he could see again. Finally in chapter 12, He rode a donkey into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, then suffered and died.
Now here in chapter 10, He said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep...I know My own and My own know Me” (John 10:11, 14).
Now I’ll be one of the first to tell you that I haven’t spent a lot of time around sheep. But one thing I do know is that they’re not the smartest creatures on the farm. Taking first place, they tell me, is the pig, about as smart, they say, as a three-year-old child. Pigs are good problem solvers. Supposedly, they even know how to play video games.
Rats are smart. Older, more experienced ones learn how to shake a trap until it springs, then steal the bait. Some will even warn younger ones to avoid poisonous bait.
But coming near the bottom of the list, not far above the chicken, is the lowly, little sheep.
You’ve seen trained monkeys, trained elephants, and trained dolphins. But trained sheep? Probably not, and you probably never will. They’re just too simple-minded.
And when you think of sheep, you might think of clean, little, fluffy balls of cotton, like the ones they draw on greeting cards. But in real life, that’s just not the case, for sheep, by nature, are dirty and wayward. They wander off and, no matter how many times you bring them back, they’ll probably wander off again.
They’re dependent and defenseless--no claws, no fangs, no ink like an octopus or stink like a skunk. And to make matters worse, they’re top heavy and their legs are spindly. Running is just not a good option. And if a predator should ever come close, given the choice between fight or flight, they’re pretty much out of luck.
Just over fifty years ago, back in 1970, author Phillip Keller wrote a book called, A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23. And in that book, he had a lot to say about shepherds and their sheep. He said, “As long as there is even the slightest suspicion of danger from dogs, coyotes, cougars, bears, or other enemies, the sheep stand up ready to flee for their lives. They have little or no means of self-defense. They’re helpless, timid, feeble creatures whose only recourse is to run.”
But far beyond any enemy sheep may face, and there are many, the worst one of all, he said, is the wolf. He wrote: “One morning at dawn, I found nine of my choicest ewes, all soon to lamb, lying dead in the field. On several occasions, these cunning creatures came in among my sheep at night, making terrible havoc in the flock. Some ewes were killed outright, their blood drained and livers eaten. Others were torn open and badly damaged. Some had huge patches of wool torn from their fleeces. In their frightened stampede, some had stumbled or broken bones or rushed over rough ground, injuring legs and bodies.” And he said, “Yet despite the damage, despite the dead sheep, despite the injuries and fear instilled in the flock, I never once actually saw a wolf on my range. So cunning and skillful were their raids, they defy description.”
The Bible has a lot to say about wolves. Think of the words of Paul to the Romans: “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught; avoid them. For such persons do not serve our Lord Christ, but their own appetites, and by smooth talk and flattery they deceive the hearts of the naïve” (Romans 16:17-18). And Jesus said in Matthew chapter 7: “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15). And He said in chapter 10: “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).
“Like sheep among wolves,” He said.
Whether we like it or not, we Christians are like sheep, and the world is like a wolf. Wolves are predators. They run in packs and work together to sneak up and gang up on their prey. They’re ravenous and dangerous. Baring every single one of their forty-two teeth, they’re meaner, stronger, and faster than we ever could be. And if one of them and one of us were ever to meet up in the wild, you can put your money on the wolf every time.
Wolves cheat. Wolves deceive. They scheme. They destroy. They prey on the weak, the unsuspecting, and the vulnerable.
In the words of Charles Spurgeon: “Christians can never count on a moment’s peace. If we were of the world, the world would love us as its own, but because we as true saints are not of the world, the world hates us.”
No wonder the apostle Paul once warned the leaders of the church in Ephesus: “I know that after my departure, fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30).
It’s easy to say that flying is one of the safest ways to travel, yet it’s also one of the most feared ways to travel. And while most people aren’t afraid of getting into their car and driving to work or the grocery store where accidents are far more likely to happen, one out of every three people has a fear of flying.
And, I suppose, it’s easy to understand why. You are, after all, in a metal tube, some thirty thousand feet above solid ground, traveling close to the speed of sound. And if anything were to go wrong, there’s not a lot of hope for a safe landing.
But on the other hand, maybe some are afraid to fly because they’re not the ones in control. For once you get on a plane, you have no control whatsoever as to where you’re going, or how smooth the takeoff or the landing will be. You’ll probably never even get to meet the pilot. Your life is completely in the hands of someone you don’t know. And if something were to go wrong, you wonder if they can get you back safely on the ground.
We too need protection in our lives. We need Someone to save us. So we look for hope and help in the One, and only One, who is truly strong enough and brave enough to meet our desperate need.
As Jesus said: “He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them...I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know Me” (John 10:12, 14).
And all this is possible because of what He has done for us on Calvary’s cross. As the prophet Isaiah once wrote: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned--every one--to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
Men slapped Him and spit on Him. They mocked, scourged and crucified Him. There is no greater wonder. There is no greater love.
Henriette Louise von Hayn was a Lutheran who lived in the mid-1700s. When she was young, she taught at a girls’ school. When she was old, she cared for invalid sisters at a Moravian convent.
But the one thing for which she’s best known is that, over her lifetime, she composed some forty different hymns. And of all the hymns she wrote, there’s only one that appears in our hymnbook, but it’s her most well-known and best-loved hymn of all.
It goes like this: “I am Jesus’ little lamb, ever glad at heart I am; for my Shepherd gently guides me, knows my need, and well provides me. Loves me every day the same, even calls me by my name.” And she wrote: “Who so happy as I am, even now the Shepherd’s lamb? And when my short life is ended, by His angel host attended, He shall fold me to His breast, there within His arms to rest.”
What a comfort that is to know. Jesus knows you inside and out. He knows your needs. He knows your hurts. He knows the longings and struggles you feel in your heart.
And I hope you know Him too, not just as a Shepherd, but as a Savior who walks beside you every day.
“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus said. “I know My sheep and My sheep know Me.”
Lord God, heavenly Father, as we struggle with the problems and worries that this life brings, as temptations come and we so often go astray, grant that we may hear the loving reproach of our Savior, that we may walk, safe and secure, on Your path, for Jesus’ sake. Amen