Sunday, May 1, 2016
John 16:23-33; James 1:22-27; Numbers 21:4-9
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
That you pray is not a suggestion, but it is a commandment. While there is a sense in which you are invited to pray, it is in the same sense in which you are invited to drive at the posted speed limit. To put it quite bluntly, to pray is to keep and to obey the First Commandment, “You shall have no other gods.” For, when you pray, you “fear, love, and trust in God above all things.”
Now, to be sure, your heavenly Father has attached some pretty spectacular promises to your prayer. In fact, your Lord Jesus promises you, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my Name, He will give it to you.” And this is key: Your heavenly Father will not give you what you ask because you pray, because of the words of your prayer, because of the eloquence of how you pray, because of your great sincerity in prayer, or even because of your faith, but He will give you those things that you ask in Jesus’ Name. Do not think that this means that you should simply end your prayer with the words “In the Name of Jesus.” That is indeed a salutary thing to do, but those words are a confession of your faith. They are worship of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They are not magical incantation that will cause God to give you what you want, as if He were some divine vending machine in the sky. No! Perish the thought!
But, the command to ask in Jesus’ Name means to ask for those things that Jesus has revealed in His life and ministry, in His suffering, death, and resurrection, in His Word, which is the Word of God. In other words, you are not to ask for Cadillacs and winning lottery tickets, but you are to ask for those things that God has already promised to give you: faith, the Holy Spirit, humility, patience, “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control." As your earthly fathers, who are corrupted by sin and evil, desire to give you things that are good for you, how much more will Your heavenly Father give you, not harmful and evil things, but the things that He knows are truly good for you His dear and beloved child? Moreover, He already gives you these things. So, why does He command you to pray? Your heavenly Father commands you to pray because He loves for you to call upon Him, to put your fear, your love, and your trust in Him, to keep the First Commandment, and because this is all extremely good, absolving, and life-giving to you. Your heavenly Father wants you to pray to Him, to ask Him in Jesus’ Name, because He is love and because He loves you.
Still, there is a great deal more in Jesus’ command to ask in His Name. To ask in Jesus’ Name is not merely to mutter the words “In Jesus’ Name,” nor is it merely to ask for those things that are in Jesus’ Name, that is, those things that are in accord with the holy will and Word of God. But, to ask in Jesus’ Name is, quite literally, to ask in Jesus, to ask as Jesus, as one who has been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection, as a member of Jesus’ body, the Church. Quite obviously, if you ask in Jesus, as Jesus, you cannot possibly ask for something that is not in accord with the holy will and Word of God. Moreover, your heavenly Father has promised to hear and to answer your prayer, even to give you precisely what you ask for. In this case, the tired saying that God always answers prayer with either “Yes,” “No,” or “Later,” is nonsense. Jesus says quite plainly and literally and truthfully, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my Name, He will give it to you.” So, if you ask and you do not receive, it is not that God did not hear your prayer, or that He doesn’t wish to give you what you ask at this time, or that you didn’t ask rightly, believe that He would answer, or anything else, but all that it means is that you did not truly ask in Jesus’ Name.
Now, I understand that this may come as a surprise to many of you. After all, you’ve heard countless preachers and teachers, you’ve read devotions and have attended Bible classes in which you have been taught that you’re simply supposed to ask God for whatever you want, that if only you “name it,” and truly believe, that you can “claim it” and it will be so. And, if you don’t get what you want, you have probably felt that you didn’t ask rightly, that you didn’t believe strongly enough, that God said “No,” or, maybe, just maybe, you even began to doubt if God was truly there at all. I say to you, that teaching is from the devil who desires only to lead you away from fear, love, and trust in God and into fear, love, and trust in yourself, and who seeks to rob you of comfort and peace. Your Lord Jesus suffered and died to release you from this bondage. Your Lord Jesus rose from the dead and ascended to the right hand of His Father in heaven to intercede and to advocate for you there. As St. James writes, “The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.” This is most certainly true, for that “righteous man” is Jesus, not you. Any doctrine of prayer that shifts your focus from Jesus to yourself, or to your works, or to your faith, or to your words, or to anything else, is from the devil who seeks only to deceive you, and to destroy you, and to rob you of Christ’s peace.
That is the complete opposite purpose for which Jesus commands you to pray. “I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace,” says Jesus. “In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” Notice how Jesus doesn’t sidestep tribulation. He doesn’t say that you might have tribulation, but Jesus actually promises you that you will have tribulation. Therefore, do not be surprised when things don’t go your way, when the world mocks and ridicules your faith, when everything you believe and hold precious and true seems to be at odds with the world and the culture around you, when you don’t fit in, when your faith and church appear to be irrelevant to the world, when no human wisdom seems to avail, when you don’t know how you’re going to make it much longer, when… etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. Your Lord Jesus told you beforehand that this would happen so that when it does you might remember and take comfort in His Words, “I have overcome the world.” It is Satan that wants you to worry and to be anxious, to fret and to despair. He will use these fears and dark emotions against you either to separate you from God and His Church through hopelessness and despair because you believe that you have failed, that it is your fault, or he will harden your heart against God and fill you full of pride and self-righteousness that you rail against God, claiming that He is loveless, merciless, a pitiless and harsh judge and master, or doesn’t exist at all.
Yes, you need to pray. You need to ask Him in Jesus’ Name. His command is good for you just as the First Commandment is good for you. He is God and you are not. To remember this, to believe this, to confess this, and to return to this, is good for you. God doesn’t need your prayers, but He loves it when you pray to Him and ask Him for good things, just as a child asks his loving father, trusting that he wants only good for his dear child. When you turn to Him in repentance, when you cry to Him for help and for strength and for the Holy Spirit and for faith, when you lift up your eyes to Him as the object of your faith, life, and salvation, you will be comforted, you will be healed, you will be forgiven, even though you are a victim of that serpent Satan’s poisonous and deadly bite. “Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.”
And, “Be doers of the word, and not hears only, deceiving yourselves.” You see, Satan and your own wicked flesh wish to separate these two things. Some will claim that all they need is to hear the Word of God and that, despite their works, despite the fruit they do not bear, they may be confident in their salvation. While, others will claim that works are most important, even all that is necessary, and justify their laxity in hearing the Word of the Lord and receiving His Blessed Sacraments. This, too, is of the lies and deceptions of your enemy, the devil. Thus, St. James rightly connects the two, faith and works, and show them to be two sides of the same coin. It is most certainly true that you are saved by grace through faith alone apart from works, but it is also true that true and living faith is never alone but is always fruitful. And, this too is a reason for your Lord’s command to pray and to ask. You are to ask for those things that are in Jesus that you might bear the fruits of Jesus for others, that they may have His peace also and that God the Father may be glorified.
And, take note of the emphasis here on hearing as opposed to speaking. This may seem odd as you likely consider prayer to be more about speaking than listening. What you need to learn here is that true and God-pleasing prayer originates in hearing, not speaking, that is, in hearing God’s Word. And, this takes us right back to where we began: When you pray, you must pray in Jesus’ Name. That is, you must pray in Jesus and ask for those things that are in Jesus and not for those things that are not in Jesus. How do you know what those things are? You hear, mark, read, learn, and inwardly digest the Word of God. The Word must be your sustenance, the very food for your soul. Therefore, regular hearing of the Word in this fellowship is central and crucial, along with regular reception of the Word made flesh, the Word made visible and tangible and edible, the body and blood of Jesus given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, for the strengthening of your faith, and for life both now and forevermore. This too is a necessary fruit, a doing, which corresponds to and flows out of your hearing.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, beloved children of our heavenly Father, your Father and God commands you to pray that you might return to Him in repentance and receive from Him all that He desires to give to you in His Son, your Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He would have you fear, love, and trust in Him above all else and, thus, it is the greatest good for you to pray, to ask Him in Jesus’ Name, and to receive from Him the things that give you life. And, when you have received, then you have also to give, for “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction,” that is, to is to humbly serve others as you have been served, “and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” This gift and promise of His Word He has left with you, and His Holy Spirit as counselor, comforter, helper, and guide, until He comes, that you may persevere.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, April 24, 2016
John 16:5-15; James 1:16-21; Isaiah 12:1-6
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
Sorrow, loss, grief, and pain are natural, normal, and human. Your Lord Jesus experienced all of these just as you do. However, your enemy Satan attempts to use these to keep you in your place, stuck, as it were, in a rut, unable to see beyond your present pain, robbing you of hope, peace, contentment, and joy, attacking and destroying your faith. So he did with Jesus’ disciples. Their sorrow, loss, grief, and pain would not permit them to see beyond their present grief at Jesus’ announcement that He would soon be leaving them. Seemingly, they could not hear the good news of His destination, that He was returning to His Father’s right hand in heaven, and that this would be a good thing for them. And so, they were afraid, they were hopeless, and they were despondent, and Satan used their sorrow, their loss, their grief, and their pain to tempt them to unbelief. And, he was successful, to varying degrees, with all of them. But with one of them, it literally cost him his life and, potentially, his salvation.
You see, Satan uses your sorrow, your loss, your grief, and your pain to sidetrack you from your pilgrimage journey back to Eden, to paradise, to heaven with God. When Jesus first prophesied that He must suffer and die and be raised again on the third day, way back then, early in His ministry, His disciples, communally, did not understand, and they said “No! Never!” Jesus’ leaving them was a stumbling block for them. His suffering and death scandalized them. After hearing the first part of His prophecy, that He must suffer and die, their sorrow, their loss, their grief, and their pain prevented them from hearing the good news that He would rise again on the third day. Even on the night in which He was betrayed, even when Jesus told Peter directly that he would deny Him three times that very night, Peter did not believe that Jesus would rise, none of them did, and he was so overcome with grief and sorrow, hopelessness, and despair that he went and unwittingly fulfilled Jesus’ prophecy and denied his Lord, his Master, and his dearest friend three times before the cock crowed at dawn. Even after His resurrection on the third day, Thomas refused to believe until he could see and touch Jesus with his own eyes and hands. Thomas’ sorrow and grief, along with his reason and intellect, which Satan also uses against you, blinded him to the Truth of Jesus’ Word.
Dear Christian, you are on a journey through a barren and desolate wilderness. Like the children of Israel before you, you are an exile journeying to a promised land. Just as Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world, so this world is not your home. Your First Parents dwelt in paradise with God. Their sin and rebellion necessitated their, and your, exile. But Jesus, the Second Adam, has atoned for your sin and has justified you before God, and has returned to paradise with God as your Redeemer, your Lord, your Brother, and your Bridegroom, that where He is, you may also be.
Israel was redeemed from Pharaoh’s hell and was sent into the wilderness on their way to the Promised Land. They were exiled and were taken captive by the Babylonians and the Assyrians before being restored to their own county. Likewise, today, the Church of Jesus Christ lives in exile as a stranger in a strange land, having a different language and a different culture, different values, and different priorities which this world neither values nor shares nor tolerates. Yet, each of these exiles, each of these uncomfortable displacements, each of these wilderness pilgrimages are, and have been, fulfilled in Jesus’ own self-exile from His Father in heaven to make His way through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, that is this earth and world and your own human life and experience, that He might redeem you and lead you forth out of exile in death and hell and into the Promised Land of life everlasting life with your Holy Triune God.
How to get back to Eden and to God? That is the question. God answered that question and promised to provide that way almost immediately after our First Parent’s rebellion and fall. In truth, according to the inscrutable wisdom of God, He had it all planned all along. He would send His Son into the world of His own creation as a man to fulfill what He created man to do and to be from the beginning and to then offer Himself as the atoning sacrifice for man’s sin and guilt, to die the death man had earned and merited, and to be raised up and to return to His Father, blazing a trail for your own resurrection and return to God and heaven, to Eden, and to paradise restored.
Satan knew that God had a plan, but he didn’t know the details, the who, the why, the where, the when, or the how. How did Satan know? The same way that you and I know anything about God and His will and His ways – from His Word. Satan knew that a “seed from the woman” would strike his head. But, who? When? How? The answers to those questions Satan would have to learn, for he is no more privy to the mind and the thoughts of God than are you or I. Satan learned something about Jesus when he tempted Him in the wilderness. And, Satan learned something more about Jesus when He healed the sick, raised the dead, cast out demons from the possessed, and forgave sins. Still, Satan never could have guessed what would happen when he struck Jesus’ heel and sunk his venomous fangs into His flesh upon the cross. He thought he had won at last. But, he was wrong – dead wrong. For, what Satan didn’t know and couldn’t see was that Jesus was not merely the Son of God, which Peter had confessed before Jesus’ crucifixion, but Jesus was God Himself, which Thomas confessed after Jesus’ resurrection, who willingly laid down His own innocent life and satisfied the justice of God’s righteousness that had been transgressed by the sin of humanity. Righteousness had been restored, and Satan was the tool God used to make it happen. Now Eden and the paradise of heaven stands open to all who trust in the blood of Jesus and enter therein. That is the truth! All Satan can do is tell you lies, hoping that you will believe them and get sidetracked in your journey, and miss out paradise regained and restored.
Sorrow, loss, grief, and pain are natural, normal, and human. Your Lord Jesus experienced all of these just as you do. However, Satan attempts to use these gifts of the Lord against you to take your focus off of your goal, to attack and to destroy your faith. But, do not fear! Take comfort in this good news: You are not alone. Though you do not see Him, your Lord Jesus is with you, always, just as He promised. Moreover, He knows the way of your pilgrimage through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, for He has walked it before you, and He unlocked the gate of death and the grave that would keep you in so that they have become for you an open portal through which you may freely pass into His Father’s house, into Eden, into paradise, and the Promised Land forevermore.
You are not alone. Your Lord Jesus is with you. He walks with you on your way, He talks with you through His Word and through prayer, He washes, cleanses, and restores you through Holy Baptism and Absolution, and He communes with you and comforts you through His Body and Blood in the Holy Supper. And, He has sent you His Holy Spirit to comfort and to counsel, to help and to guide you, and to protect and keep you in faith. Indeed, it was necessary that Jesus ascend to His Father and leave you physically and visually that He might send to you His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit helps you, comforts you, and keeps you by convicting the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment. The Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning sin because He exposes the fact that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.” The Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning righteousness because “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” And, the Holy Spirit convicts the world concerning judgment because “the ruler of this world is judged.” Satan is defeated. He has no claim on you. His only weapons are lies and deceptions through which he seeks to deceive you and make train wreck of your faith.
Thus St. James exhorts you this day, “Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” Jesus and His Holy Spirit are the good and perfect gift of God the Father that will never change. Satan will try to deceive you into believing that this is not true. He will use your sorrow, your loss, your grief, and your pain to cause you to doubt God’s faithfulness, to doubt His love for you, to doubt that He is able to help you, and to doubt whether He exists at all. But the Holy Spirit, the Helper, the Counselor, and the Comforter will guide you and protect you. Open yourself to Him by making use of the means through which He works: The Word of God and the Blessed Sacraments. As you gather regularly with your brothers and sisters in Christ around these Means of Grace, the Holy Spirit comforts, counsels, guards, protects, and keeps you in faith, safe from Satan’s attacks and deceptions, and He preserves you in your pilgrimage back to Eden, the Promised Land, the Paradise of Heaven with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit forevermore. Come, now, and draw water from the wells of salvation, both now and forevermore.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Monday, April 18, 2016
John 16:16-22; 1 Peter 2:11-20; Isaiah 40:25-31
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There are many who believe that, if you are a Christian, well, things should generally go well for you – you shouldn’t experience any serious or prolonged pain, suffering, or sorrow in your life. The inevitable outcome of such thinking, of course, is that if you do experience some significant tribulation, then that is cause either to question the strength of your faith or the object of your faith, God. Where do people get such an idea as that? They certainly don’t get it from the teachings of Jesus or from the Word of God, for they clearly teach that pain, suffering, and sorrow are the result of sin (original, actual, or otherwise), and that both the believer and the unbeliever will be afflicted by them throughout their lives.
In fact, Jesus was straightforward with His disciples, assuring them that because of their faith in Him, they would experience more intense pain, suffering, and sorrow than unbelievers. He told them that the world would hate them because the world hates Him. He told them that people would want to kill them because of Him. He taught them that the way of the disciple was the same as the way of the Teacher, and that is the way of the cross. He taught them that they must die to themselves and lose their lives in this world to save them in eternity.
And, dearly beloved, Jesus is no less straightforward with you today. “Truly, truly,” He says to you, “you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful.” You will endure pain, suffering, and sorrow, says your Lord, but it will come to an end, and then your sorrow will be turned into joy.
Jesus calls this time of your pain, suffering, and sorrow that is your life – that is the lives of your parents and grandparents, that is the lives of your children and your children’s children, that is the lives of all people from our First Parents to our last children – “a little while.” “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me.” “A little while?” Now, that causes us to ask, along with the disciples, “What does Jesus mean by ‘a little while’.”
The phrase “a little while” likely causes you some anxiety and frustration because it is indeterminate, indefinite. We’d so much rather have a definite answer so that we can prepare and manage for ourselves the pain, suffering, and sorrow during their designated time. We want to be in control. But that is precisely what your Lord would release you from: having to be in control, anxiety, frustration, and pain. For His words, “a little while”, remind you that He is in control: That is, He is in control of your life. He is in control of your pain, suffering, and sorrow. And He is in control of the fact that it will end and that your suffering will be turned into joy. Now, knowing this, do not His words “a little while,” then, give you something other than frustration, anxiety, and fear? Do not His words give you hope?
Your Lord Jesus, who has loved you by laying down His own life in death for you to set you free from your sin, and the frustration, anxiety, and fear that are its fruits, has also set you free from living in the bondage of frustration, anxiety, and fear and to pain, suffering, and sorrow in your life. You need not live as a slave to these things because Jesus has conquered them for you and has set you free from them. He has placed limits on both the extent and the time in which they may afflict you, and He has guaranteed you, not only that they will end, but that you will endure, and that you will have joy. But the most wonderful and marvelous gift is that, because of Jesus, you can have that joy even now, even in the “little while” of your pain, suffering, anxiety, frustration, and fear, knowing that your tribulations are conquered and that the Lord is their Master, and that He is in control, and that He uses these trials to discipline His children, to strengthen your faith, and to produce in you hope.
Now, no one looks forward to pain, suffering, and sorrow, but you can endure them and even find joy in them when you know that they are for but a little while, that they will end, and that the end joy surpasses the tribulation to the extent that it is but a faint memory. Thus, Jesus provides you the example of a woman in labor, who experiences pain, suffering, and sorrow, but who faces these trials with confident joy for the gift of her child that is the fruit of her labor. How many mothers, in the midst of their labor cry out “Never again!” but after the delivery, for the joy of the child would gladly do it again. “So you have sorrow now,” says your Lord, “but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”
Today we are gathered together, just like the disciples of our Lord before us gathered each and every Lord’s day, having basked four weeks in the Paschal joy of the Resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ. And today, hearken to Your Lord’s call that you live resurrected lives, even now, as you walk through the wilderness of this world, the valley of the shadow of death, where pain, and sorrow, and suffering afflict you and the Enemy would have you be filled with frustration, anxiety, and fear so that you lose hope. For, Jesus has conquered your Enemy and He has released you from slavery to His devices. Your Enemy has no power over you, that is, unless you give it to him, for Jesus has set you free; only you can put yourself back in the devil’s chains. Your Enemy the devil would fill you with frustration, anxiety, and fear as you face your pain, suffering, and sorrow, so that you forget that Jesus is Lord of these things, that Jesus is the Lord of your life, so that you lose hope and give way to anger and hatred, depression and despair. He is a liar, and he is the father of lies! The devil would have you, for fear of the labor, abort the pregnancy, and miss out on the new life.
Do not be afraid! Live as people who are free. Fear God. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. You have been baptized together into Jesus’ death and you have been raised in Jesus’ resurrection. You have been born again of water and the Holy Spirit and nourished with the life and faith of Jesus through His body and blood. He is not dead, He is risen; He lives, He reigns and, in a little while, He returns for you. Now is the time of labor – and labor means pain, suffering, and sorrow – but in a little while, your sorrow will be turned into joy. And that assurance grants you Peace beyond human understanding, peace born from faith that confesses “I can do all things through Jesus Christ who is my strength.” “Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when He appears we shall be like Him, because we shall see Him as he is.” God the Father bestow upon you His Peace in Christ Jesus and keep you in the True Faith by the gracious workings of the Holy Spirit.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.
Sunday, April 10, 2016
John 10:11-16; 1 Peter 2:21-25; Ezekiel 34:11-16
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
If you are a sheep, you are meant either for the sacrificial altar, or for the dinner table. That’s what it means to be a sheep. To be sure, while you are alive, your wool is valuable and will be shorn from your body to make clothing and blankets, and your milk is valuable for men to drink and to make cheese, but still, you are a sheep, and you are meant to die. And, when you have been killed, you will become food for men, or for animals, or you may become a sacrificial victim on the altar of God, or gods.
Throughout your sheepy life, your trust is in your shepherd. You trust in your shepherd to lead you to food and to water. You trust in your shepherd to protect you from thieves and from wild animals. You know your shepherd’s voice and his call, and you listen to and follow your shepherd wherever he leads you. However, even the best of shepherds – those who feed you well and who give you clean, clear water to drink, even those who fend off the wolves and seek you when you go astray – even the best of shepherds are still shepherding you to your death – either to sacrificial death at the altar or to the dinner table.
A shepherd knows this. A shepherd knows this ironic truth that he will, ultimately, lead the sheep he has so devotedly cared for, nourished, and protected, to slaughter, to death. A hireling shepherd will gladly do this – it’s his job, it’s what he’s paid for, it’s what puts bread on his table, clothing on his back, and a roof over his head. It’s not that he hates the sheep, or that he despises the sheep, but the sheep are a means to an end, and he cares nothing for their welfare beyond that end. Thus, he will not sacrifice his own welfare for the sheep. Certainly, he will defend them, if he can, but, not because he cares for them, but because he cares for himself – it is not in his own best interest to let the sheep die before their time. Therefore, when the wolf comes, he will not put himself in the beast’s jaws in order that a few sheep might live, but he runs and flees.
That’s the way it goes with hireling shepherds. They may not be bad people, bad shepherds, but they’re working for a wage and they’re not going to risk more than they expect to reap in reward. They’re not fools, and they’re not shepherding for charity. However, there are bad shepherds. Such scoundrels not only care nothing for the sheep, but they care nothing for their master for whom they work. A bad shepherd will exploit and fleece the sheep for his own benefit. He will take a sheep and shear it for himself and then slaughter it to feed his belly. He will abuse the weaker sheep and pit sheep against sheep for his pleasure. A bad shepherd will not lead the sheep to pure water and good pasture but will allow them to eat and drink what is not good for them. He will not seek them when they go astray, and he will not defend them from the wolves and thieves.
Not so the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd actually lays down His life for His sheep – for one or two sheep, and for all of the sheep. He places Himself between you and the wolf. He lays Himself, willingly, into the beast’s jaws for you. The Good Shepherd does this because you are His Father’s sheep, you are His sheep. You belong to Him, and He loves you, and He loves His Father who has given you to Him.
The bad shepherds are the ruthless King’s of Israel described in Ezekiel’s prophecies, they are the scribes and the Pharisees in Jesus’ day, and they are the pastor’s, religious leaders, and false teachers today who fleece the sheep, the people they are called to shepherd and to care for, by promising them blessings for money, by embezzling their charitable gifts, and by squandering their donations on wicked, fleshly indulgence and depravity. They are those shepherds who keep the sheep in bondage and abuse them by teaching righteousness by works according to the Law, while ever raising the bar of what they must do. They are those shepherds who will not defend the sheep from false teaching predators who would lead them into apostasy or complacency, so that they no longer repent of their sins and, therefore, do not receive absolution. They are those shepherds who kill and devour the sheep themselves by teaching them lies and deceptions and by withholding the Gospel grace and mercy of God revealed in the Good Shepherd Jesus Christ. They are those shepherds who care nothing for the sheep and do not serve the sheep but desire only to be served by, and make a feast of, the sheep. And, often they are not shepherds at all, but they are wolves who infiltrate the flock by coming in the guise of sheep’s clothing, deceiving the sheep in order to lead them astray or to devour them.
Not so the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd, Himself, seeks out the sheep that the wolf has scattered and He rescues them. The Good Shepherd brings them together into the fold from all the places they have been scattered and have wandered, and He feeds them and gives them drink in good pasture, in their own land, in their own country. The Good Shepherd leads them to rest from their laboring to provide for themselves righteousness by works according to the Law, and He binds up the injured and He strengthens the weak. The Good Shepherd is not a hireling motivated by self-interest, but He is the Father’s seeking love incarnate. He is not a wolf in sheep’s clothing, but He is the Good Shepherd in sheep’s clothing. He is God in human flesh, become what you are that you may become what He is.
The Good Shepherd seeks you and lays down His life for you precisely because He is the Good Shepherd and you are His sheep. He does it because He is good. And, He is not good because men judge Him to be so, but He is good, and He is the measure and judge of all goodness. Through the mouth of His prophet Ezekiel He says, “It is not for your sake, O Israel, that I am about to do this, but for the sake of my holy Name" (Ezek 34:36). You belong to Him, and so, He takes back what is His. This He does for the sake of His Name and because of the kind of God and Shepherd He is.
The Enemy, the predatory wolf, Satan, has sought to scatter and devour God’s people since their creation. He was successful with our First Parents in the Garden. He was successful as the children of Israel were enslaved in Egypt. He was successful as the kings of Israel served as wolves in sheep’s clothing to lead the people into apostasy, idolatry, and unbelief. He was successful as the Babylonians and the Assyrians scattered the people in exile. And he was successful as the scribes and the Pharisees, the shepherds of Israel, lead the people astray into complacency or despair by withholding from them the Good News of God’s salvation in His Shepherd Messiah who was coming into the world.
On a day of clouds and thick darkness, on a Friday that we now call Good, it appeared to us that the Enemy had finally won once and for all. The Good Shepherd gave Himself into the jaws of the wolf and died. But, in His death, Jesus broke Satan’s jaw and crushed his teeth, and on the third day He rose again having defeated death and having removed the stone of sin and guilt that kept you in your graves. The Good Shepherd takes back what is His for the sake of His Name. To God, you are His precious sheep. You are worth sacrificing for. You are worth dying for. To lose you or to give you up to an usurper is to be something other than who God is; it is to not be God at all. God is love, and the greatest possible expression of love is self-sacrifice, laying down one’s life for another.
And, “to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in His mouth. When He was reviled, He did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.”
On a day of clouds and thick darkness, our Good Shepherd, Jesus, was raised up in death that He might draw all men to Himself and to life. He has sent forth His Spirit to call, gather, and enlighten all His sheep whom the false shepherds have scattered all over the face of the earth so that there is one flock and one Shepherd.
But, still you are a sheep, and death is part of what it means to be a sheep. Therefore, your Good Shepherd Jesus came as a sheep that He might lure and be attacked by the satanic wolf and so defeat him by His sinless and guiltless substitutionary death. Now you follow your Shepherd through death into His eternal life in His Father’s House. Death has lost its sting. It can no longer hold you. But, it has become an open door into life that cannot die. Because He has blazed the trail before you and has been raised the firstfruits of those who die in faith in the Lord, He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life.
Even now, as you pass through the valley of the shadow of death, your Good Shepherd leads you and guides you, cares for you, and protects you. He has prepared a meal for you in this life and world, in the presence of your enemies, that you might persevere. And, He leads you through death and the grave into His Father’s pastures where sheep may safely graze.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.