Saturday, April 25, 2020

Misericordias Domini - The Third Sunday of Easter (Easter 3)

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.
Whenever I hear a Christian say, “You’ve got to have a personal relationship with Jesus!” I admit that I have a physical reaction. My flesh crawls, my neck hairs bristle, I get angry, or I get depressed. I react this way because, bound up in this seemingly pious, faithful, and biblical statement, is our First Parent’s fall in the Garden of Eden, and every lie and deception of Satan from that point forward, even now. For, just as Satan tempted Adam and Eve to believe and to desire something that the LORD had not promised, instead of what He clearly had promised – The LORD promised that they were made “in His image and likeness” – so, in the statement, “You’ve got to have a personal relationship with Jesus!” Satan tempts you to believe and to desire something that the LORD has not promised, instead of what He clearly has promised – For, you already have a personal relationship with Jesus. In the Incarnation, the Word of God, the Word of Creation, God’s only-begotten Son, begotten of the Father from eternity, took up your human flesh and became a man, became one of us, became your brother. There’s nothing more personal than that! Moreover, the LORD did all of this wholly despite you and your will, and your intellect, and your decision, and your choice. That is part of the significance of the Virgin Conception and Birth. That is part of the significance that Jesus was conceived without the participation of a human father. Your personal relationship with Jesus is a relationship that the LORD chose to have with you when you did not know Him, when you denied Him, when you were serving Satan, while you were still sinners, while you were dead in sin and didn’t even know it. “You’ve got to have a personal relationship with Jesus?” You HAVE a personal relationship with Jesus, thanks be to God alone! Recognize this truth! Receive this truth! Believe this truth! That is to say, repent! But, don’t ever, never ever, rob God and try to take credit for it. For, that is a sure way to wreck it and to lose it.
The phrase “personal relationship with Jesus,” by the way, appears nowhere in the Scriptures. Indeed, this is the way the Scriptures speak of the relationship your God desires to have with you in today’s Gospel: “I am the Good Shepherd. Iknow 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. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Likewise, from today’s Old Testament lesson: “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, II myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” And, as the LORD continues, continue to pay attention to the subject of the verbs, listening for who is doing the doing: “And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. […] I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak. […] I will feed them in justice.” Who’s doing the doing? Who’s doing the seeking and the calling and the feeding? Who, I ask you? That’s right. It is all the LORD’s doing. You do not come to Him, but He comes to you. You do not find Him, but He finds you. You do not choose Him, but He chooses you. You are the lost, but the lost can be found. You are the transgressors, but transgressors can be forgiven. You are the dead, but the dead can be raised.
Of all the images our LORD provides us that we may know His nature and His intention toward us, the image of the Shepherd is, perhaps, my favorite. The Shepherd is strong, but He is also vulnerable. The Shepherd loves His sheep with a fierce and selfless love, but He is not their friend. The Shepherd will do what is necessary to protect His sheep, even to the point of sacrificing Himself for them, and He will seek and find the sheep that has strayed and will restore him to the one flock. In Jesus, the LORD says, “I AM the Good Shepherd.” There are many other shepherds. There are even many other good shepherds. But, there is only one Good Shepherd – the Shepherd that is the norm and ideal of what a shepherd should be – and that is the LORD, and your Lord Jesus Christ.
In contrast to all other shepherds, Jesus is the Good Shepherd because the sheep of His flock are His sheep. The Father has given you to Him, and Jesus has purchased and won you in His holy, innocent shed blood, and in His bitter suffering and death upon the cross on your behalf and in your place. When confronted by the wolf, Satan, seeking to devour you, your Good Shepherd threw Himself into the wolf’s jaws and permitted him to tear His flesh and to take His life that yours would be spared. That is why He is the Good Shepherd; “The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” In contrast, other shepherds are but hired hands. The sheep are not theirs, but another’s. They care nothing for the sheep, but only for the honor and prestige the flock may bring them, or for the paycheck they may receive for tending them. Therefore, when the wolf comes, they flee. They will not sacrifice themselves for sheep that are not their own. They will not lay down their lives for someone else’s flock. They care nothing for the sheep, or for the One who owns them, but they care only for themselves and their egos and their bellies.
The hireling shepherds Jesus had in mind were the Pharisees, and they knew it. It was their job, their divine calling, to shepherd the LORD’s sheep, the children of Israel. But, they would not. Though they were given the key to open the Scriptures for the people, the key to unlock the Gospel and set the people free from their sins through faith in the sacrificial Lamb of God’s self-offering, Jesus, not only did they refuse to proclaim the Gospel to the LORD’s flock, but they refused to make use of the Gospel for themselves as well! They had no love for the Father, the owner of the sheep, or for the sheep of His flock. But, their love was for themselves and for power and prestige and wealth. Therefore they played nice with the wolf, the Romans and the Judaizers and, yes, with Satan, in order to secure for themselves a comfortable living. And, when the Lamb of God, Jesus, came, they knew who He was, and they handed Him over to the wolves. It is expedient that one man should die for the people, and the whole nation not perish.
The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. Jesus laid down His life for you. It doesn’t get more personal than that. Your Good Shepherd went like a lamb, silent, to the slaughter, for you. “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.” In His death, the wolf thought that he’d made the ultimate kill. But, in His resurrection, your Good Shepherd broke the wolf’s jaws and knocked out his teeth. His greatest weapon, death, was defeated. Therefore, if even death cannot hold you, then what have you to fear? Nothing. Absolutely nothing! The Good Shepherd says, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch the out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.”
Yes, you have a personal relationship with Jesus, but not because of anything you felt or experienced, decided upon or chose, or even believed, but you have a personal relationship because of the Incarnation of God’s Word of Creation, His only-begotten Son Jesus Christ. Your Good Shepherd assumed your flesh and became a sheep, even the sacrificial Lamb of God, that He might lay down His life for you and die the death you earned, merited, and deserved for your sins. And, being innocent, Jesus took up His life again, destroying the power of death, that your life might be raised up out death too and that you might live with Him forever in a life that cannot die as sheep in His Father’s fold in heaven forevermore. Truly, there is nothing more personal than that. Even now your Good Shepherd is present with His flesh and His blood that He has raised up anew to share with you His victory over death and the grave, His eternal life, sonship with the Father, and a reign with Him over heaven and earth and all things. Here are the mountain pastures of Israel. And, here is the Good Shepherd to feed and shelter His sheep. It doesn’t get anymore personal than this.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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