Misericordias Domini (2nd Sunday after Easter) + Ezekiel 34:11-16 + April 10, 2016

Order of Holy Communion - Pg. 15
Hymn #210 The Strive Is O'er, the Battle Done
Hymn #431 The King of Love, My Shepherd Is
Hymn #193 Christ The Lord Is Risen Today

Readings
Ezekiel 34:11-16
1 Peter 2:21-25
St. John 10:11-16

Collect for Misericordias Domini (Easter 2)
God, Who by the humiliation of Thy Son didst raise up the fallen world, grant unto Thy faithful ones perpetual gladness, and those whom Thou hast delivered from the danger of everlasting death do Thou make partakers of eternal joys; through the same Jesus Christ, Thy Son, our Lord, Who liveth and reigneth with Thee and the Holy Ghost, ever one God, world without end. Amen.

Sermon on the Old Testament Lesson

Grace and peace be unto you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1)         Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” This is one of the most well-known metaphors Christ uses to describe Himself and His ministry. It has been immortalized in artwork and poetry. Churches are named after the Good Shepherd. But what does it mean when Christ calls Himself the Good Shepherd? What does it mean when the Christian says in faith, “Christ is my Good Shepherd?” This is an image of comfort. Christ says that He behaves toward His people as a shepherd behaves toward his sheep. The image also says a lot about us. If Christ is the Good Shepherd then this means that we are sheep. Sheep are not the brightest animals. To call someone a sheep today implies that they are blindly following a leader without thinking for themselves. On internet message boards it’s not uncommon for someone to call the masses “sheople” for listening to the media or politicians without using any sort of discernment. Real sheep are quite dumb. They stray easily and once they have strayed they hunker down in place because they are unable to find their way back to the fold.

2)         Yet this is how the Lord has often spoken of His own people. In Numbers 27:17 the Lord command Moses to ordain Joshua as His successor, lest the people of Israel “be like sheep which have no shepherd.” It is written in Psalm 78:52 that the Lord, “made His own people go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.” The Psalmist confesses his own sins in this manner in Psalm 119:176, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep.” The prophet Isaiah confesses in Isaiah 53:6, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way.” This is most certainly true. Like sheep, we easily stray from the path of righteousness. We lose our way in wildernesses of temptation, selfishness, and all sorts of great shame and vice, walking not according to the voice of the Shepherd, instead following the desires of our hearts and sinful natures. In this, Jesus is true. We are sheep, unable to lead ourselves, unable to save ourselves, and unable provide any good thing for ourselves.

3)         But HE is the Good Shepherd. With these words He wants us to recall His word spoken to the prophet Ezekiel in his thirty-forth chapter, which was read a moment ago as our Old Testament reading. In that chapter of the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord speaks beautifully about how exactly He Himself will shepherd His sheep. He says in Ezekiel 34:16, “I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment.” Though we are sheep, erring every day, sinning continually in thought, word, and deed, Christ is the Good Shepherd who “will seek what was lost.” All humanity is lost in the delusion that they can save themselves by being “good enough.” Everyone born of Adam is sinful though and can never be “good enough,” for the “good enough” God demands is holiness and perfection. No one can attain this by their own good works, pious thoughts, or moral strivings. But Christ comes as the Good Shepherd to seek what was lost. We cannot find God nor can we work our way toward Him. But God comes to us in Christ Jesus, who is God in human flesh. Christ assumes our full humanity and dwells with us so that He might lay down His life for the sheep on the altar of the cross and take up His life three days later. He seeks out sinners who are lost in their own transgressions and wander blindly in their own sin. He finds those who do not seek Him. He finds those who are not able to seek Him.

4)         He says, “I will bring back what was driven away.” What is the sheep that has been driven away? Luther wrote, “It is that despised soul that has fallen so low that all efforts to reclaim it seem to be in vain. Nevertheless, Christ would not have even such dealt with rigorously. He would not have his kingdom narrowed down so as to include only such as are strong and health and perfect.”[1] Those who are driven away are those who the world looks and sees souls that are unsalvageable. Those who are driven away are those whose sin has devoured them and led them into all kinds of places where they never intended to be. These Christ will bring back by giving them repentance and faith in the gospel. In Jesus’ earthly life He eats with tax collectors and sinners. And when He is questioned about sharing a table with those on the bottom rung of society He replies, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Mark 2:17). There is no one righteous among us who does not need Christ the heavenly physician. When He says “I did not come to call the righteous” He means that He is not here to teach those who think they don’t need Him. You only go to the doctor when you realize something is wrong. Those who do not feel the disease of their sin will not flee to Jesus for the remedy of the gospel. But to those who do, to all who flee to the Christ and seek mercy from Him, they will certainly find it, no matter their brokenness, no matter their affliction, and no matter how far they are driven away.

5)         Next He says that He willstrengthen what was sick.” Who are the sick? The sick are those who lack good works, either externally or internally. Some have no outward good works such as patience. Instead they easily fall into anger at the slightest provocation. St. Paul tells the Ephesians “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice” (Ephesians 4:31). The apostle has to write this to them because even though they are Christians who have been baptized by Christ, they still struggle against the sinful flesh and its works. Others are plagued with selfishness and greed so that they are not moved by the need of their neighbor, much as was the rich man who ignored poor Lazarus at his gate each day. Still others are sharp-tongued, doing a world of damage with their unthoughtful words. So St. James says that “no man can tame the tongue. It is an unruly evil, full of deadly poison (James 3:8). There are also those who have no internal good works. These include a lack of chastity toward oneself, a lack of spiritual fervor for the Word of God so that one does not hold it sacred and gladly hear and learn it when one has opportunity, and all sorts of other internal sins. Still others are outwardly good people, civilly speaking, but internally they are sluggish in prayer, thinking they either don’t need to pray, or that God may not hear them.

6)         But Christ will not cast out sick sheep, nor will He discard those diseased with internal and external sin. If He did that, He would have no sheep in His pasture, for all are sinners! This is what He means when He calls Himself the Good Shepherd. He wants us to believe that “He will reject nobody, however weak he may be, but will gladly receive and comfort and strengthen everybody.”[2] As Luther wrote, “For you must not rob Christ of his characteristic, that in his kingdom abounding grace and mercy alone prevail, so that he helps those who realize their misery and wretchedness, and desire to be helped, and that his kingdom is wholly one of consolation, and that he is a comforting, friendly shepherd, who tenderly invites, and would induce, all men to come unto him.”[3] The image of Christ as the Good Shepherd is one that comforts us in every distress of conscience, because Christ has taken His life up again, rising on the third day, to forgive our sins when we repent of them. The image of Christ as the Good Shepherd enlivens our faith and fortifies the heart’s confidence in His mercy because He does not shepherd sheep by driving them harshly with rigorous demands of the law and checklists for living a better life. The image of Christ as the Good Shepherd is one for our consolation, that no matter our weaknesses, no matter our sins, and no matter what plagues us, Christ lives to justify sinners who repent of their sins and trust that He is merciful to forgive sinners and give them His righteousness as their own.

7)         He does not come for the fat and the strong. He says, “But I will destroy the fat and the strong and feed them in judgment.” The fat and the strong are those sheep who trust in their own strength, their own imagined-righteousness, and their own power. The fat and the strong are the sheep who will not have Christ as their Good Shepherd because they imagine they have no sins that need forgiving and no guilt that needs removing. They imagine themselves as strong when they are sick with sin, so they do not flee to Christ as their physician from sin. But to those who acknowledge their sin and repent of it and desire to be rid of it, Christ is the merciful Good Shepherd who promises to forgive sins and cleanse the penitent heart from all unrighteousness. There no weakness that will drive Him away. There is sickness of soul of which He will be ashamed. Rather, this is why He came into the world, and this is why He sends His under-shepherds to preach His gospel and administer His sacraments. Christ desires to show Himself to all as their merciful Good Shepherd, who laid His life down the sheep and took it back up again so that He might forgive all repent and believe on His name. This is what Christ means when He says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Amen.

May the peace of God that passes all human understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.


[1] Complete Sermons of Martin Luther. Second Sunday after Easter. Volume 2. Baker: Grand Rapids. 2000. Pg. 24.
[2] Ibid. pg. 25.
[3] Ibid. pg. 24.

--
Rev. Josh Sullivan (ELDONA)
Holy Cross Lutheran Church (UAC)
Kerrville, TX 78028
facebook.com/holycrosskerrville


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