Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fourth Sunday of Easter

Fourth Sunday of Easter (B)


April 29, 2012

Text: Ps. 23; John 10:11-18

He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!

Jesus Christ our Lord is our Good Shepherd, precisely in this way: He lays down His life for the sheep (John 10:11, 15). He lays down His life as our Substitute. The Good Shepherd is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, your sin, and mine. In this way, He is the Shepherd par excellence, the Shepherd who gives meaning to all other shepherds. The Latin word for “shepherd” is pastor. And so this is what I mean: Jesus is the Good Pastor who gives meaning to all other pastors. Jesus is THE Good Shepherd. All others are only under-shepherds. Jesus is THE Good Pastor. All others are only under-pastors. And then there are the hirelings that Jesus mentions in our text. They are the unfaithful ones who are only in it for the money or the honor or the whatever. They say they care for the sheep, but in reality, they only care for themselves. Not only will they NOT die for the sheep, but when the wolf comes prowling, the hirelings flee.

Not so, Jesus. It is the mark of the Good Shepherd, our Good Shepherd, Jesus, that He lays down His life for the sheep. No less than five times out of eight verses in our Gospel lesson does Jesus make this point, that He lays down His life for the sheep. He lays it down because it is the will of the Father to save the sheep in this way. And no one forces Him to lay it down. At any moment Jesus could have called the whole plan of salvation to a halt, commanded the holy angels to annihilate His enemies, sent us all to hell, right into the jaws of that old wolf, the devil, and Himself gone back into heaven. But that’s not what He does. Instead, He willingly gives Himself into the hands of His enemies. He willingly submits to the death of the cross. He willingly lays down His life. For the sheep. For you. For me. For all people. For our forgiveness, life, and salvation. And then He takes His life back up again. He has authority to do so, authority from God the Father. He has the authority to lay down His life as payment for our sins, and authority to rise from the dead for our justification and eternal life. That is our Good Shepherd, Jesus.

You and all believers in Christ are the sheep, beloved. Luther says in the Smalcald Articles, “Thank God a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is, namely, the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their Shepherd [John 10:11-16].”[1] You are the sheep. The sheep-fold is the Church. Our crucified and risen Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has appointed under-shepherds to tend His sheep in His stead and by His command. These are the Christian pastors. By means of their ministry of preaching the Word, baptizing, absolving, and distributing the Supper, the Lord Jesus Himself tends His sheep. But some are not true under-shepherds. Some are only hirelings. And of course, the problem is, you can’t always tell who is a true under-shepherd and who is a hireling. The distinction only becomes evident when a pastor has to put his life on the line to do battle with the wolf. Hirelings avoid that battle. So when the wolf, the devil, comes along with his false teachings, his lies, his seductive question, “Did God really say?…” then the hireling is all too willing to capitulate. The hireling jumps on the bandwagon so that he doesn’t put his own job or his own neck at risk. The people like the false teaching. They seek out teachers who will scratch their itching ears (2 Tim. 4:3). Hirelings do what is popular and profitable, successful in the eyes of the world, even if it ultimately puts the sheep in mortal danger. A pastor should never do that. If he is to be a faithful under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, your pastor also must be willing to lay down his life for the sheep. Your pastor should always preach and teach the Word of God in its truth and purity, even when it’s unpopular, even when it turns people off, drives people away, is reflected negatively on the bottom line of the offering plate. Your pastor should preach the Word of Jesus in season and out of season, reproving, rebuking, and exhorting with complete patience and teaching (2 Tim. 4:2). And your pastor must not only teach you right doctrine. He must also expose false doctrine and condemn it for what it is, even when it’s not politically correct to do so. Beloved, the plain fact is, your pastor should be willing to be beaten, imprisoned, put to death in the battle against the wolf. For you. Because that is what the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, has already done for your salvation, and that is what the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, calls His pastors to do.

Of course, no pastor in the holy Christian Church ever measures up to Jesus. Pastors, including and especially this pastor, are poor, miserable sinners who are selfish and weak and incompetent, but who, by God’s grace alone, without any merit or worthiness in them, have been called by God to tend the flock as under-shepherds, who are covered by the blood of Jesus Christ that forgives all their sins, and who are not sufficient in themselves to claim anything as coming from themselves, but whose sufficiency is in God alone (2 Cor. 3:5). Weakness in a pastor is not what makes him a hireling. Every pastor is weak. God uses the weak things of this world to accomplish His mighty will (1 Cor. 1:27-29). What makes a pastor a hireling is his false teaching, by which he feeds the sheep poisonous weeds and betrays them into the hands of the wolf. Strength in a pastor is not what makes him a true under-shepherd of the Good Shepherd. Pastors have no strength in themselves. What makes a pastor a true under-shepherd of Jesus Christ is the Holy Spirit, working by God’s Word in the pastor to keep him in the one true faith of Jesus Christ and to keep him faithful in doctrine and life, so that he may tend the flock.

The same Holy Spirit, working in the same Word of God, and in the holy Sacraments, has made you sheep in the flock of Jesus Christ. And this is what it means to be a sheep in Jesus’ flock (our beloved Psalm 23 says it so well): With the Lord as your Shepherd, you want for nothing, for all things are yours in Christ Jesus. He makes you to lie down in the lush green pastures of His holy Word, to rest in the Scriptures and preaching as you meditate on your Lord’s Word to you. He leads you beside the still waters of your Holy Baptism, where you were made a sheep of the flock in the first place. He restores your soul by leading you in the paths of His own righteousness, which God credits to your account. This is called justification: Christ’s righteousness counts as yours. He does all this for His Name’s sake, because His Name is on you in Holy Baptism, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Christian. So now here is the promise: Even though you have to walk through the valley of the shadow of death (and we all have to walk through that valley… Every one of us will die physically unless the Lord returns first), still, we don’t have to fear, because Jesus, our Good Shepherd, who has already walked through that valley and come out the other side alive, will guide us through when it is our time to pass through the valley, and bring us out the other side alive. You won’t go it alone in death. He is with you, comforting you with His rod and staff. And in the meantime, He prepares a Table before you, the Table of His true body and blood, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sins, right here in the presence of your enemies, the devil, the world, and your own sinful flesh. It is a foretaste of the feast to come, the marriage feast of the Lamb in His Kingdom. He has anointed you with the Holy Spirit and filled your cup to the overflowing. So you know that the goodness and mercy of the Lord will follow you all the days of this earthly life, and that you will dwell in the house of the LORD for all eternity, because in Jesus Christ, your Good Shepherd, you have eternal life.

Because He laid down His life for you. He shed His blood for you. Having paid such a high price for your salvation, He who died and has now been raised from the dead will never let you go. He will never surrender you to the wolf. And even if your pastor turns out someday, God forbid, to be a hireling, know this: Even when a pastor turns out to be faithless, Jesus Christ, your Good Shepherd is ever and always faithful to you. It is He who shepherds you in His Word and Sacraments. It is He who has restored you to the Father by His death and resurrection. You know His voice. Listen to Him. Follow where He leads. For where He leads is always for your good. And He is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia! In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] SA III XII:2, McCain.


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