Good Shepherd Sunday

April 19, 2015

“Jesus: The Good Pastor”

1 Peter 2:21-25


For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: "Who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth:" who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sin, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. 1 Peter 2:21-25


Today is the second Sunday after Easter, the Third Sunday of Easter, or for the traditionalists among us, Misericordias Domini, which is Latin for the mercy of the Lord, from today’s Introit, which begins: “The earth is full of the mercy of the Lord.”  Most of us just call it Good Shepherd Sunday.  Today’s Gospel Lesson features Jesus as the good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.  The sheep listen to his voice.  They are united as one flock even as they all hear the same voice of the same good Shepherd.  Martin Luther, in the Smalcald Articles, one of our Lutheran confessions, provides the biblical definition of the church very simply as “the holy believers and lambs who hear the voice of their shepherd.”


We don’t see.  We hear.  I’ve been told that sheep don’t see very well.  But they hear quite well.  When Jesus said to Thomas, “Blessed are those who have not seen, and yet have believed,” he was talking about us.  We are not given to see what is ours as sheep of the Good Shepherd.  We are called to hear.


We confess in the Catechism:


I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but the Holy Spirit has called me by the gospel.


The gospel calls us to faith.  We hear and we believe what we hear, as St. Paul writes, “So then faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God.”  Here in the words before us today we are told that when we are called to faith we are also called to suffer.  We read:


For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps.


We are placed into a contradiction.  We hear one thing and we see something else.  The gospel we hear delivers us from every evil of body and soul and places us in the almighty and protective arms of our Father in heaven who shields us from all danger and guards and protects us from all evil.  That’s what we hear.  Then we look around and see what’s going on in our lives.  We see that life is not fair and the injustice is often directed against us.


The words of our text were first addressed to servants suffering under unfair treatment by their masters.  If you suffer for doing wrong you have nothing to complain about.  You’re only getting what you deserve.  But when you suffer for doing right you do have something to complain about.  Right?  No.  That’s not right.


Jesus bears injustice.  St. Peter tells us to follow his example.  This is what you might call counterintuitive.  It doesn’t make sense.  Justice is good and injustice is bad.  We should speak up for justice and condemn injustice.  When it is not fair we should say so and speak out.  Isn’t that the Christian way of behaving?  Solomon writes:


Open your mouth for the speechless,
In the cause of all who are appointed to die.
Open your mouth, judge righteously,
And plead the cause of the poor and needy.


It is certainly right to speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.  Think of all the unborn children who are legally killed.  They cannot talk, vote, lobby, or pressure the powers that be to give them the legal protection to which any human being is entitled.  Others must speak on their behalf.


But what about you?  Are you your best advocate?  They say that a man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client.  Christians learn from Jesus that their cause is better handled by someone else.


Jesus was innocent.  St. Peter writes: He “committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth.”  He was innocent in word and deed.  Yet how did he respond to unjust treatment?  St. Peter goes on,


When He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.


They lied about him.  They ridiculed him.  They whipped him and beat him.  The Jewish leaders engineered it.  The Roman soldiers carried it out.  They were brutal and cruel.  They were anything but just.  The worst injustice ever inflicted upon a human being was the injustice Jesus suffered.  He did not plead his innocence.  He did not threaten those who abused him.  He said not a word about the injustice he was suffering or the retribution his tormenters deserved.


He said nothing.  Who spoke for him?  Who vindicated him?  God did.  He did so by raising him from the dead.  Christ’s resurrection is divine proof of Jesus’ innocence.  But there was someone else who vindicated his suffering, defended his innocence, and spoke up on his behalf and did so immediately upon his death.  We read in Luke 23:47,


So when the centurion saw what had happened, he glorified God, saying, “Certainly this was a righteous Man!”


A Roman soldier knew.  How did he know?  He witnessed Christ bearing injustice without a word of complaint.  He saw an innocent man suffer in silence.  His silence revealed love of which a guilty man would have been incapable.  Jesus defended his innocence by remaining silent in the face of injustice.


We complain against injustice, not because we are innocent, but because we are guilty.  We may not be guilty of that for which we are blamed.  If considered in isolation from the rest of our lives, we can make a case in our defense that we didn’t do what they said we did and don’t deserve blame for it.  But we cannot make the case that we don’t deserve what we are getting, unless we want to argue that we, like Jesus, committed no sin nor was any deceit found in our mouths.  And we cannot make that argument, can we?  So we really can’t complain when we suffer, even for things we didn’t do.  If we didn’t do them we did something else.  We confess in the Catechism under the Fifth Petition to the Lord’s Prayer, “For we daily sin much and indeed deserve nothing but punishment.”


Christ suffered and so we suffer.  He gave us an example to follow.  But his suffering is different than ours.  His suffering takes away sin.  Ours doesn’t.  As St. Peter writes:


Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sin, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed.


It is precisely because he bore our sins in his body on the cross that we can die to sin and live for righteousness.  We are Christ’s sheep.  We hear the voice of our Shepherd that justifies us, that forgives us.  Jesus who bore our sins in his body on the cross, rose from the dead, and spoke to his disciples the words that justify sinners.  That’s what we call the gospel or good news.  It is Christ’s words that tell us we are righteous because we are covered in his righteousness.  We die to sin.  We are crucified with Christ.  We share in his death.  We share in his resurrection.  We die and rise.  Having his righteousness as a robe covering us and making us righteous, we live for righteousness.  His wounds provide us healing.  The punishment he received that he did not deserve is our deliverance from punishment that we do deserve.


The great country western singer, Marty Robbins, won a Grammy with his song about his longsuffering wife.  It included these words offered as a prayer:


When she reaches that river

Lord, you know what she’s worth

Give her that mansion up yonder

’Cause she’s been through hell here on earth.


He was a great singer but a poor theologian.  It’s a popular sentiment that we earn heaven by our suffering here below.  Jesus earned heaven for us by his suffering.  We earn nothing.  That’s not to say that we don’t benefit from it.  When God smashes our idols he perfects our hearing so that we can recognize the voice that will take us to heaven.  The idol who most persistently vies for our affection and devotion is our own pride.  It is where God permits us to be humbled that he shows us how much he loves us.


Jesus is the shepherd and bishop of our souls.  In the Bible a shepherd is a bishop and a bishop is a shepherd.  A shepherd feeds sheep.  Jesus feeds his sheep through the preaching of the gospel.  The food of the sheep is the word of God.  It is the source of their faith and their spiritual life.  People these days talk about spirituality rather than religion, thinking, I suppose, that whatever they feel within is their spirituality.  For the sheep of the good Shepherd, their spirituality comes from the word of Christ.  He is the shepherd of our souls.


A bishop or overseer is one who watches over the church.  He oversees the church by feeding the church.  Genuine spiritual oversight consists in teaching God’s word.  Teaching God’s word is how spiritual oversight takes place.  Jesus is the true pastor and the true bishop.  His undershepherds are pastors and bishops only as they speak his word.  All ministers of the Word are equal.  They all have the same task: to preach the gospel and administer the sacraments.  There is no divinely ordained hierarchy in Christ’s church.  God does not place a bishop over a parish pastor.  In the Bible, a bishop and a pastor are the same thing.


Jesus alone is the pastor and bishop of the whole church.  He is the pastor and bishop of every Christian.  No one but Jesus can lay claim to the title, “Pastor and Bishop of the whole Church.”  Christ alone, who gave himself for the sheep, can claim such an honor.


And it is.  Christ is honored by coming to wandering, lost, dirty, and helpless sheep, and bringing them to safety through his word.  Christ is glorified by his undeserving sheep acknowledging their sins to God and trusting in the Good Shepherd who gave his life for them.


This is how our suffering can bring us great benefit.  When we are humbled by our sufferings in life and we come before God in genuine repentance, it is there in our weakness that our good Shepherd raises us up to heaven.  We don’t rest on our pride or our worthiness.  We lay claim to no status we can provide for ourselves.  We rest in the wounds of our Savior and hear his voice.  He tells us that no one can tear us out of his hands. 


Rolf D. Preus


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