THE FOURTH SUNDAY OF EASTER AD 2018
TRINITY EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCH
REV. KURT E. REINHARDT
Acts 4:1-12 And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand.
On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
1 John 3:16-24 By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers. But if anyone has the world's goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God's love abide in him? Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.
By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from him, because we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.
John 10:11-18 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. 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. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.”
As I stood in the pulpit looking at the 4 faces in the front pews and the one at the piano bench in the gallery, the wind was howling outside, the sky was thick with clouds and the ice was pelting the stained glass windows. I could claim victory that I finally got someone to sit near the front of the Church, but they were my family and so I guess it doesn’t count, because I not only had access to my authority as their pastor but as their husband and father as well. Not that either necessarily has more pull than the other, but the combined weight of both offices can hold more sway at times. Other than the saints and the angels who had joined us with the Lord Jesus, who, according to His promise, was truly with the handful of us who had gathered in His name, the place was empty.
As our Lord looked out over the crowds He felt compassion for them because they were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd. As I stood in the pulpit looking out over the all but empty pews I had compassion for Jesus, not because He is harassed or helpless, but I knew what it was to be a shepherd without many sheep. I have known this feeling many times over in my years as a pastor - which is simply Latin for shepherd. I have known it when some or many have had more important places to be on a Sunday morning, and I am left with Christ looking out in sadness over their empty seats, as I have known it when some have wandered away for good. I remember all their names. I see all their faces, and my heart aches with grief whenever I think of them.
Last Sunday of course there wasn’t much that the sheep could do. The way was not open for them to get here. Ice and snow made it unwise, unsafe and irresponsible to be on the road. Christian duty in that case called on God’s children to stay at home. Yet, how often in life do we leave Jesus standing there like a shepherd without sheep while we wander. He is the Good shepherd. He has told us so. All that He wants to do is shepherd us. All He wants to do is tend us, care for us, lead us, guide us and protect us. If we have any doubt about it we only have to look at the cross and see His scourged body hanging there, gasping out His dying breath, groaning in agony, crying out to a silent heaven as He becomes a curse and is forsaken for us.
Good shepherds would look after their sheep - lead them to good pastures for grazing and still waters for drinking. Good shepherds would stand between the sheep and the wolf with a staff, or with a sling like David did, to guard and protect them, but what kind of Shepherd is this, who goes empty handed to meet death, hell and Satan and lay down His life for the sheep. A good shepherd wouldn’t run from the wolf, but he would use all his might to beat him off. What Shepherd is this then, who runs to meet the wolf and uses all His might to be overcome by him? What kind of shepherd is this, who saves the sheep by giving Himself to fill the wolf’s belly to bursting? A good shepherd might die trying to protect his sheep but what kind of shepherd would choose to die for His flock?
Not just a good shepherd but the Good Shepherd. The Best Shepherd. The Top Shepherd. The Shepherd from whom all other shepherds get their name. And that Shepherd is none other than the Lord God of Israel. When Jesus claims to be the Good Shepherd, He is not only revealing His caring heart to His disciples. He is revealing His love and just how far it will go for them, but at the same time, He is revealing whose heart it is that feels that love. He does this by claiming not only the title of the Good Shepherd, but also claiming ownership of the sheep. Any Jew knew that the Lord was his shepherd - King David had made sure of that, as the prophet Ezekiel had made sure that he knew, that one day the Lord Himself would come to shepherd his sheep and make them lie down.
The beautiful thing that the Lord reveals to us today, is that He was made man for just this purpose - to be our Good Shepherd - so that HE could lay down His life and take it back up again for us. The laying down of His life clearly reveals Jesus not only as a good shepherd but the Good shepherd. Now how about the taking back up of it again? In these Easter days there’s much to think about here, beloved. What the Lord touches on is a deep divine mystery. Clearly the Lord’s taking back up of His life after He dies, shows that He was not overpowered or overcome by our enemies but willingly gave Himself … offered Himself … sacrificed Himself for us. Sin, death and hell could not keep what they did not take. They had no authority to take Him and so they could not keep Him.
Christ’s taking back up of His life shows that He and He alone had all the authority all along, which further reveals the depths of His love for His sheep. But what we need to grasp in these Easter days, is that Christ chose to take back up His life in our nature. He didn’t have to. He had satisfied death, sin and hell by His sacrifice on the cross. The Son always had His Divine nature. He didn’t need His human life to continue to exist. He could have laid it aside when His work was done. But because He is our Good Shepherd He takes it up again for our sake. It does not diminish Him at all as God, but He does it to share His Divine life with us. Taking up our life again, means that the He can share His nature with us. Can there be any question then, beloved, that Jesus is the best shepherd?
All that He wants to be is your Good Shepherd. You are His own. He has claimed you in the waters of Holy Baptism. He has made you members of His flock and brought you into His fold. He has done all He can to reveal His goodness to you and show His love for you and, yet, how easy it is for poor sinners to treat Him like He is a hired hand who cares nothing for His sheep. How easy it is to go off into a corner to lick your wounds, when others hurt you and let you down, rather than bringing them to Jesus so that He can bind them up and relieve them. Bringing them to Him means letting them go, where we would so often rather hold on to them, even though they only breed bitterness in us as they fester away.
How easy it is to excuse or justify your sins, rather than, bringing them to Jesus so that HE can take them away with His forgiveness. Coming to Jesus with your sins, means that you have to own them as your own. You can’t blame someone else for them in front of Him. You can’t claim that anyone else made you do it - not even the devil. He knows all the secrets of your heart. You can’t hide anything from Him. Before Him you must confess: by my fault, by my own fault, by my own most grievous fault. Justifying, excusing, denying, blaming won’t work, beloved, what’s hidden will always be exposed in the end. What’s rotten continues to rot and smell to high heaven, no matter where you hide it.
Christ just wants to be your Good Shepherd. He just wants to tend and take care of you. He has shown you that He is trustworthy and true. And yet how easy it is to doubt Him, to allow worry and care to rule our hearts and to let fear control us. How easy it is to forget about His love, when trial and trouble come upon us. How easy it is to try and stand on our own, even when we keep falling down over and over again. If we look to Him, we know that He might lead us where we might not want to go. He might give us want we don’t want. He might ask us to let go of things we’d like to keep. But the Good shepherd alone, knows what is best for the sheep and there is no good life for them apart from Him.
Jesus just wants to be your Good Shepherd. He wants to bind up your wounds, forgive your sins and lead you to the good life of the green pastures and still waters of a life lived in and with Him. That you might know and believe this and live in it’s truth, He prepares this table before you in the presence of your enemies. In the very presence of sin, death and hell, the Lord Jesus prepares the feast of His body and blood for you, so that you, and they, might know that they have no hold on you because HE laid down His life and took it back up again for you. Here, the laying down of His life as the taking back up of it again, is undeniably connected up with you, as He gives you His body with the bread and his blood with the wine. “Here is the forgiveness that I won for you by laying down my human life,” He says, “and here is my Divine life that I am here to share with you because I took it back up again. Now come my precious lamb, listen to my voice, and come lie down at my feet in peace, and let me carry you.” Amen.