Sermons, Uncategorized

After You Have Suffered a Little While

“St. Peter in Prison” by Rembrandt

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“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time He may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on Him, because He cares for you… And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you” (1 Peter 5:6,7,10).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Saint Peter, writing from Rome, addresses Christians in another part of the Roman Empire who are suffering because of their allegiance to Christ. Throughout this epistle we find Peter, himself in the hotbed of persecution in the city he calls “Babylon,” offering steadfast encouragement to those undergoing persecution for professing the fact of Jesus as truly Lord of all. Jesus, not Caesar, is the world’s rightful King who alone with the Father and the Holy Spirit is to be worshiped as God and Savior. Any title or honor that may have been conveyed to Caesar in the past, must now be heaped onto Jesus. Only Jesus is Savior and Lord.

Not only were these Christians professing their faith; they were living it! They refused to sacrifice to the Roman gods. And there were gods galore: household gods, family gods, city gods, guardian (tutelary) gods, regional gods, a pantheon of Greco-Roman gods syncretized with Egyptian gods and, of course, on top of the entire heap of deities (at least here on earth) was the divine Caesar, Nero.

Breaking a link anywhere in the chain swiftly brought troubles as the whole system was an interdependent web of obligatory superstition on which everything hinged; economics, politics, civil affairs, marital relations—everything. The Christians to whom Peter writes were not just breaking a link, they tossed out the entire chain which they believed kept the world in bondage to the darkness, the ignorance of superstitions, and the violent forces empowering it all.

And notice how they did it! Quietly and peacefully. They knew the Creator-God had visited humanity and reclaimed His throne over Jews and Gentiles. Jesus of Nazareth had conquered death and rose from the dead as the Lord of Life. There was no need for these newly converted Christians to immediately start smashing idols and throwing them into the fire. They simply left them in the dust since Christ had exposed them as nothing but bits and blocks of stone anyway. Jesus is the destroyer of the gods as the only true and living God. He proved in His death and resurrection that He is the world’s rightful Lord.

But that did not mean that all was smooth sailing. They were paying the price for their faith in the one true God. They were Christians; their culture was not. Their persecutions were, therefore, inevitable. Oppression came from every domain of life: spouses, family, employer, guild, community, and government… all the way up to those who governed in the name of Nero.

So, Peter writes to encourage them to remain steadfast in our holy faith:  

“Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice insofar as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when His glory is revealed. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (1 Peter 4:12-14).

Peter urges his fellow believers to see the fiery trial they are bound to experience as a test: an opportunity in their calling. Suffering persecution as Christians is a way to bear the cross of Christ, and the promise of God is that He strengthens us through affliction. Luther reminds us of this same thing: “God lays a cross on all believers in order that they may taste and prove the power of God—the power which they have taken hold of through faith” (LW 30:127).

Seeing suffering as an opportunity to bear Christ’s cross reminds us that in doing so, we share Christ’s sufferings—an honor for Christians, who know that our Savior suffered to save us. Before His death, Christ called His cross the moment of His glory (John 12:23-33), and Peter unites the “not-yet” glory of Christ’s return with the “now” glory of sharing in His cross, which results in joy when His glory is revealed, not only at the end of time, but in the present moment, as the Gospel’s effects are seen in the life and the witness of those who suffer for His name.

Suffering for Christ’s name is a particular sharing in His cross, the location in time and space of the insults He endured. Therefore when Christians are insulted for His name, we are blessed by God in the grand reversal of the theology of the cross. Christ transforms the world’s taunts into His blessing. Peter is speaking from personal experience. Christ also shares His glory as He shares His cross. When Christians are persecuted for His name, we are never alone, but empowered and blessed with the Spirit of glory and of God.

Peter adds a stern warning: “But let none of you suffer as a murderer or a thief or an evildoer or as a meddler. Yet if anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not be ashamed, but let him glorify God in that name. For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the Gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:16-17).

“Bearing the cross” is not suffering the effects of our own sin. We Lutherans talk often about “cheap grace,” that is, a self-justifying concept of a tolerant God, without a respect for the actual cost of God’s favor in the innocent blood of Christ. But we seldom talk about the other side of that coin, “cheap Law,” again a self-justifying concept of a God who is always on the side of believers who feel we have free reign to act as offensively as we please, and to chalk up everything we suffer as a result of the persecution of the world that is out to get us because we happen to be Christians. We must remember: sin has consequences! Christians are simul iustus et peccator—at the same time saint and sinner. And as sinners, breaking the Law of God still brings with it temporal consequences!

Such suffering is not identity with Christ’s wounds; rather it puts us on the inflicting side of those wounds! This is not limited to gross sins such as murder and theft, but even offenses in the communion of the Church that some might consider minor, such as being a meddler—a busybody, one who wants to supervise the affairs of others.

Suffering “with” Christ means being subject to both the very costly Law and very costly Gospel that unites us with His death and life. Suffering as a Christian brings an honor distinct from suffering for wrongdoing, and the proper response to such suffering is to glorify God by confessing Christ, even if it means death or adversity. Peter calls for judgment among ourselves at the household of God: both God’s judgment and our own. Repentance is the goal of such judgment, as we see the effects of our own sin, and even as God allows us to face consequences. Christians believe in the Gospel that saves.

The consequences of sin are not “crosses” that the Christian bears. On the other hand, suffering for the name of Christ is indeed a sharing in the sufferings of Christ. But what about other kinds of suffering? For example, when faced with a crippling illness, some faithful Christians may say, “It’s just a cross I bear.” When natural disaster hits, is this a sharing in the cross of Christ? Does illness or other affliction rise to the level of what Peter has in mind here?

It’s helpful to think in terms of two distinct truths: (1) the enemies Christians face, and (2) the honor to which Christians are called. As Christians we face an unholy trinity of enemies: the world, the devil, and our own sinful flesh that leads us to death. When the world has us in its crosshairs, the Christian finds that the target on his back is shaped the same way, and receives whatever the world slings at him as a union with Christ on His cross. As Jesus says, “for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:12). Where the Gospel is preached in its purity, there will be Christ’s cross, for the devil hates it.

And while “sinful flesh” does not bear honor of suffering in the name of “sin,” Christians can yet bear the honor of suffering in “flesh,” for so Christ suffered. Suffering in the flesh can be sickness and any other affliction that weakens us in the eyes of the world or ourselves. Suffering in the flesh because of the evil or accidents of others, while a result of sin generally, is still suffering that God cares about, and He calls His children to bear up under such suffering patiently, waiting on Him for ultimate healing.

Not every affliction seems like a gift from God at the time, especially the initial shock of debilitating or terminal illness. But for those who can bear to hear it, even the sufferings we bear in this corruptible flesh can be an opportunity to honor God as the One who will soon vindicate the saints who bear His name, by completing what was sown in corruption by raising it to His imperishable honor.

Do you wonder why your life is often a struggle? Do you wonder why your problems don’t just evaporate even though you go to church and pray? Do you groan because of the carelessness, lovelessness, or recklessness of others? Do you wonder why you still find certain sins so fascinating even when you’ve been burned by them before? Well, says Peter, wake up and realize what you’re up against in your life: you have a fearsome enemy, the greatest of the demons, a dragon whose spiky tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky, that is, seduced other angels to join his rebellious conspiracy. What a dreadful thought—this evil, worldwide, powerful spirit is committed to dragging you off to hell too.

But here is the good news: the descendant of the woman, prophesied in Eden, has crushed the serpent’s head. His power to accuse (that’s what the name Satan actually means) is broken, for Christ has forgiven all sin. Satan’s power to control and manipulate is broken, because the Spirit of the Lord lives in the believers and shares His strength.

And now comes the great promise—Christ shares with you His power to rebuke Satan, and Satan has to obey you! As James says, “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you!” One little word can fell him, the Word of the Gospel, that there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Stand firm in that faith, and remember that as you suffer, it doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve done something wrong. Remember that your brothers and sisters over the world are suffering too as they wait for Christ to return and create a new heaven and a new earth.

The same God who called you to eternal glory through the Gospel will not let your sufferings go on one minute longer than He allows, and He already has His plan of relief ready to go. From God’s point of view, your sufferings last just a little while, for at the right time our loving Father will come with strength and restoration. He will make the hurtful times serve you and the Church by making you strong, firm, and steadfast. And you, in turn, will be a good counselor and witness for other people who struggle.

No persecutor can avail over the victory of Christ for His people. Even if death separates you from this world, it cannot separate you from the love of God and the redemption accomplished through Jesus Christ. The world’s rightful King, Jesus Christ came into this world for the very purpose of reversing the power of human sin and rebellion, the debilitating effects of illness and disease which lead to death. This is what resurrection life promises.

You may suffer for a little while, but “after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” (1 Peter 5:10). And the God of all grace does this through the promise of the resurrection of our mortal bodies. We know this to be true because Christ has been raised from the dead. Through Baptism, as Christ is, so shall we be.

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

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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Sermons, Uncategorized

Christ’s Kingdom Comes on Earth as It Is in Heaven

“Christ’s Ascension” by Benvenuto Tisi

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Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

A curious question from the Apostles sets up the Ascension event, its meaning, and implications. They ask the risen Christ: “Lord, will You at this time restore the Kingdom to Israel?” Jesus does not answer the question directly but tells them to remain in Jerusalem (praying and keeping watch) until they receive the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. Then, as they are looking on, Jesus ascends before their eyes, tipping us off to a double transition for Jesus: enthronement in Heaven but also His abiding Word-and-Sacrament presence with His people and the giving of the Holy Spirit who reveals this same Jesus is present with and for His people.

Now, if Easter is about Jesus as the prototype of the New Creation, then the Ascension is about His coronation as the One who rules forevermore on Earth as it is in Heaven. Easter tells us Jesus stands as the firstborn of the New Creation. His Ascension depicts Him running the New Creation in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We need to get this picture right in order to receive the true comfort to be found in Christ’s Ascension. The Ascension is not about Heaven, about thinking of Jesus in Heaven above calling the shots. Because as soon as we say, “Heaven,” most people today think about a timeless, nonphysical, immaterial place where spirits collect like thoughts in some mind “somewhere way up there.” That is not the biblical picture.

Rather, Jesus’ Ascension is when God the Father “seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. And He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:20-23).

When the Apostles, when the Church Fathers, when Luther and the Confessions talk about something “spiritual” they are talking about things that have to do with the world of God’s Spirit. And God’s Spirit works most definitely within, not apart from, the world of space, time, and matter in which we now dwell. So, when Luke recounts Jesus going up to Heaven in a cloud forty days after His Resurrection, and when Paul writes of Jesus being “exalted” to Heaven (Philippians 2:9-11), the one thing we should not think of is, after His death, Jesus is now “going to Heaven” and not seen until the Last Day.

In fact, that is the reason for the “cloud.” It is not the cloud of Jesus’ absence, but a New Covenant fulfillment of an Old Covenant type: the shekinah or glory cloud of the presence of the Lord. Norman Nagel explains the cloud as “a guarantee of the presence of God.” So, at the Ascension, a cloud is used to mark Jesus’ entry to the realm of God, which we can neither understand nor measure with our present little thoughts and limited experience.

Jesus did not travel thousands of miles like a rocket. He rose a little way above the earth and a cloud received Him out of their sight. Most of the artists throughout the centuries portrayed the Ascension in this way. Much like the cover on our bulletin, Jesus rose above the crowd a little and a low-hanging cloud enveloped Him. All that was gone was the sight of Jesus. He is still there. The cloud means He is no longer within our ordinary limits. Jesus is now present and does things in the whole range of God’s way of being present and doing things while remaining a man, but a man fulfilled and glorified.[i]

The Ascension, then, is essential to our Christian faith because, along with Pentecost, this signals a shift for how God, in Christ, is continually present with His people, with the Holy Spirit illuminating this reality through the gift of faith.

The Ascension of our Lord teaches us how Heaven and Earth are not separated by the expanse of the universe or an impenetrable brass ceiling. They overlap and interlock and finally will be visibly joined forever. The whole point of Jesus’ identity, all along, asserts He has been a one-man, walking Temple—the place where Heaven and Earth overlap, where grace and nature meet, where the invisible is made visible, where eternity and time are manifest in a single person whose blood atonement perfectly avails. So, Christ sits at the right hand of God with all the authority of Heaven and Earth given to Him. Having undergone the transformation process called “Resurrection,” Jesus embodies where people on Earth encounter the life, power, and authority of Heaven.

Heaven and Earth are not the same kind of space. They are not merely continuous, like Minnesota and South Dakota or houses next to each other on the same street. Heaven permeates the Earth. Heaven will be on the Earth and the Earth will be permeated with Heaven; so that the terms become synonymous.

So, if Jesus is now in “Heaven,” He is present to every place on Earth. Had He remained on Earth in a non-resurrected Body, then He could not be present more than one place at a time. The Ascension following the Resurrection—which gave Him a transformed human body capable of moving seamlessly between Heaven and Earth—enable Him to be present everywhere Heaven breaks through according to His promise and probably many other points as well.

But where Jesus has most certainly promised to break through is in the holy Gospel, Holy Baptism, and Holy Communion. This should give every Christian great comfort because it eliminates guess work in trying to find Jesus. He is here, like this, for you, just as He promised, and in those things, He welds Heaven to the Earth. For something so full of mystery, at least this aspect of the mystery is gone: He is here for all who seek Him where He promised to be found—in His Word and Sacraments. The Ascension didn’t take Jesus away from the Earth; it brings Him closer! As we pray in the prayer that our Lord has taught us: His Kingdom does indeed come on Earth as it is in Heaven.

The Father “seated [Jesus] at His right hand in the heavenly places… and He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:20-23).

To be sure, this a great mystery. And just as is true with other great mysteries of God, our Lord’s teaching that Jesus now “fills all in all” has been met with confusion and doubt and opposition. “How is it possible,” some ask, “that Jesus, since His Ascension, can be with us not only spiritually but also physically?” It’s just not logical! The risen Christ is in Heaven. Human bodies cannot be more than one place at a time, so Christ’s Body cannot be here on Earth with us. “The finite cannot hold the infinite,” they say. “Jesus only promises to be with us spiritually.”

Doubting God’s clear Word is not unusual. After Jesus spoke of other great mysteries of God, the disciples responded: “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” (John 6:60). Many of the truths of Scripture are difficult to accept; some are hard to understand. They don’t fit the common sense of our Old Adam. But whether God’s great mysteries are logical or reasonable to our limited minds is unimportant. Our Lord doesn’t call you to understand everything He says or teaches. He calls you to trust His holy Word. He calls you to believe in His Son as your Lord and Savior. The important thing is that God has spoken this great teaching for your benefit: The Father “seated [Jesus] at His right hand in the heavenly places… and He put all things under His feet and gave Him as head over all things to the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all” (Ephesians 1:20-23).

You might be wondering: “Why is Jesus’ presence so important to us? Why worry about where Jesus is right now, so long as He someday returns for us? This mystery is connected directly to Christ’s bodily presence in Holy Communion. Those who believe Jesus traveled to a far-off location at His Ascension also believe that, in Holy Communion, Jesus is not bodily present but only “divinely present” or “spiritually present.” Therefore, they believe, when you receive the bread and wine in the Holy Supper, you are not actually receiving Christ’s Body and Blood. It is only symbolic, a way of remembering Him. You are only communing with Jesus in your mind.

This would be like saying that when you receive medicine from the doctor, this medicine does not actually have the power to work in you, to cleanse and heal you, but that the medicine is only something for you to think about. A placebo.

In truth, if you believe Jesus is only spiritually present, but not actually bodily present in, with, and under the bread and the wine, then your unbelief in His Word will prevent His blessing of cleansing and healing from working within you (1 Corinthians 11:27-29). In fact, those who eat and drink without recognizing the Body and Blood of the Lord are sinning against the Body and Blood of the Lord and bring temporal judgment upon themselves. So you see, it makes a day-and-night difference as to how you read and understand this teaching of Christ’s real presence. It’s a matter of spiritual health, perhaps even physical health.

To be sure, this is not an easy thing to believe. Human logic and reason cannot comprehend such a mystery. It can only be accepted through faith, which is the gift and work of God.

That’s why Jesus created and gave us more gifts. He gave the Office of the Ministry: apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (Ephesians 4:11). Just think, without preaching and Sacraments, Jesus would still fill all this creation and universe (we know that He does—it says He does!), but He would fill it invisibly, silently. Jesus would still be here, but He would not be here for our benefit, like the way that water is everywhere, in the air we breathe, in the clouds above, underground, but we can’t drink this moisture that is all around us until it manifests itself in a place, in a way that we can receive it.

Water is everywhere—it’s in the air; it’s even in you, but you go to the sink or water fountain to drink it. You go to the bathtub or shower to wash dirt off in it. You must go to the place where it is available in a form that you can use.

Jesus’ preaching and Sacraments are like a faucet—it’s where Jesus shows Himself in mercy, and it gushes out. It’s where you can see Him, hear Him, touch Him with your own hands. In Word and Sacraments, you can hear and touch and taste God Himself, the Mighty One sitting on the throne in Heaven.

That’s the purpose of Christ’s Office of the Ministry—that He gives human hands to baptize us, a mouth to speak in every place, now, on the earth, at the same time, and that He would still take bread in His hands, bless it, and give it to you to forgive you. In the same way, He uses common ordinary things like water, bread and wine, Jesus uses a common, ordinary man to bring you the forgiveness of your sins. It is His work with a man in His office. Jesus preaches. Jesus baptizes. Jesus communes you.

That’s the miracle and wonder of the Ascension and the purpose of His sacramental ministry for us. The Divine Service, this Divine Service—all this is Jesus and Heaven on a Thursday night in May 2020, and each Lord’s Day, for your benefit. Christ really is among [us] as one who serves” you (Luke 22:27)—the fullness of the Godhead, dwelling bodily (cf. Colossians 2:9). Jesus’ Kingdom comes on Earth as it is in Heaven.

So Luther is exactly right to say that the Lord, sitting in Heaven and at the right hand of God (which is everywhere!), thrust even you under the water with His own hands and promises you forgiveness of your sins, speaking to you upon Earth with a human voice by the mouth of His minister.

That’s how absolution is explained in the Small Catechism: “We receive absolution… from the pastor as from God Himself, not doubting, but firmly believing that by it our sins are forgiven before God in Heaven.” That’s why the pastor will ask someone during private confession, “Do you believe that my forgiveness is God’s forgiveness?” For Jesus does not lie; it is His Body; it is His Blood on the altar; it is His Word of Absolution. In these means, we find Christ Himself, ascended to be present here for you.

Here in this very place, Christ’s Kingdom comes on Earth as it is in Heaven. Christ is graciously present for your forgiveness. The finite is still very capable of holding the infinite, wherever or whenever God wishes to limit Himself. What God desires most is to be with you forever, wherever you are now, whatever is happening now. And most of all, so that you will be where He is forever.

The Ascension brings Jesus’ human, risen, saving Body, even to us. This is why the Ascension, forty days after the Resurrection, is so important and marvelous! This is why we Lutheran so long to be together for worship. This is why, while we thank God for them in times when we cannot gather in person, online worship services will never replace corporate worship services. Even while Christ sits at the right hand of God, He comes here to be with you in His means of grace. So you may believe and never doubt—you are forgiven of all of your sins in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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[i] Nagel, Selected Sermons, 145

Sermons, Uncategorized

The Same Old Same Old

“The Last Supper” by Jon Mcnaughton

Click here to listen to this sermon.

[Jesus said:] “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him. You know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you.

“I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Yet a little while and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. Whoever has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:15-21).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Quite a few folks have mentioned how with the Stay-at-Home order it is hard to keep track of what day of the week it is. They all seem to run together. Not much new happens. It’s the same old same old.

The same old same old. It’s an old, but useful idiom to describe situations where the same thing is always done or always happens. It generally implies that such a thing is boring, monotonous, tedious. It never changes.

We Lutherans are often accused of never changing. There’s an old joke: How many Lutherans does it take to change a lightbulb? The punchline: Change??? Lutherans don’t ever change. It’s often trotted out at conferences where the speaker is teaching about the latest techniques, programs, and best practices to grow your church. It sets up a strawman, a false dichotomy, insinuating that if you’re not going to follow their suggestions and guidance, you’re a backward Luddite stuck back in the old days and ways, as if all change is good and all refusal to change is bad.

The same old same old. If there is one thing you do not want to be in our cultural setting, it is sameness. We tend to treasure that which is unique. Different. In the marketplace, advertisers highlight what makes their product different. In the mediascape, celebrities emphasize what sets them apart. In politics, diversity is one of its chief tenets. In society, individuals celebrate diversity. Even in the spiritual landscape of our country, churches differentiate themselves from one another by emphasizing the uniqueness of their style of worship, their preaching and teaching ministries, or their missional niche. Diversity is something our country cultivates and lauds. Diversity sells.

Which is what makes the words of Jesus sound so strange to us this morning. Jesus is not celebrating diversity or difference. He is promising sameness. A repeat of what has happened before. A continuation of what has always been. The same, but even more of the same. The same old same old.

In our Gospel, Jesus is preparing to leave His disciples. Their world is going to change quickly. Their Master will die upon the cross. Three days later, He will rise from the grave, conquering death and giving them a glimpse of the new creation. After 40 days, He will ascend into heaven and leave them here on earth. But Jesus promises He will not leave them as orphans. He will not leave them alone to fend for themselves and figure out how to carry on His work here on earth.

Jesus tells His disciples, “I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Helper to be with you forever” (John 14:16). The Greek word for “Helper,” Parakletos, literally means someone called to a person’s side to help. The term applies particularly to help in legal matters, so “Counselor” or “Comforter” are also appropriate translations. Jesus will not leave the disciples alone. They will have another Helper, another one like Jesus—the Spirit who will come alongside them and continue the work of Jesus.

It is not that the eleven do not already have the Holy Spirit in their hearts when Jesus speaks these words. “You know Him” is true even in its present sense. No saving faith was ever wrought, even in the Old Testament, without the Spirit and His work of calling, gathering, enlightening, and sanctifying. Throughout His ministry, Jesus Himself has planted the Spirit in the hearts of His disciples; their experience of the Spirit has already begun. And yet all their contact with the Spirit has been only through Jesus and through Him as being visibly present. Now, He will be with them in a new way. And this not silently and secretly but openly, miraculously, spectacularly on Pentecost. The disciples will have a wondrous new knowledge of the Spirit.

The unbelieving world cannot receive this Helper because it cannot see Him, cannot know Him. This world also did not know Jesus, who is the Word. Those who neglect Christ’s Word isolate themselves from God and His gifts and comfort. Through the work of the Holy Spirit, Jesus Christ reveals God’s grace in His Word, dispelling our fear and unbelief.

When Jesus ascends to heaven, He will request that the Holy Spirit be sent to the disciples as another Helper. But that does not mean that Jesus will be gone from them forever. Jesus will not leave them as orphans with the Holy Spirit as foster father, but He Himself will come back to them. Only a little while will they be orphaned. The unbelieving world will not see Him again, but His disciples will. Then Jesus will return to them for a higher and richer union than they had before His death and resurrection.

Jesus is not just speaking of His appearances to the disciples during the 40 days after His resurrection. Those were for the purposes of proving His actual resurrection and glorification. No, with the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, Jesus will also come to be with them, but in a far higher manner, using all His divine attributes, having received all authority in heaven and earth according also to His humanity, He promises: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20).

This Spirit will not only do the work of God for them—comforting them, strengthening them, encouraging them—but He will also do the work of God through them. He will dwell with them and be in them as they continue to make more disciples in His name (John 14:17). The Spirit will lead them to keep the commandments of Jesus. The sacrificial love of Jesus becomes the sacrificial love of His disciples and the world will know God’s people by the love they have for one another and for the world.

In a culture which celebrates diversity and difference, today, Jesus encourages us to rejoice in something that is the same. Jesus sends us another Helper who continues God’s work among us and extends God’s work through us. Having been brought from death to life, having been brought from sin to salvation, now we will continue to live in the life of God, following the way of Jesus, empowered by His Spirit to show love. It’s the same old same old.

In many ways, we find great comfort with the same old same old. How many of you have a particular pew or area of the church in which you like to sit each week? A favorite chair at home? How many of you get uncomfortable when your standard routine is upset? Studies show that children grow and learn best in households with established routines. Those who grow up in inconstant environments often experience higher levels of anxiety and fear.

I think a case could be made that our affinity for sameness goes back to being created in the image of God. Have you ever noticed how the Lord seems to have a fondness for sameness? The sun rises in the morning and sets down in the evening every day. The earth makes a trip around the sun every 365 ¼ days. About every 29 ½ days the month makes it journey around the earth and waxes and wanes through all of its phases.

Scripture is full of reminders of the sameness of the Lord. The psalmist writes: “You are the same, and Your years will have no end” (Psalm 102:27). In Malachi 3:6, we read: “For I the Lord do not change….” The Lord Himself asserts that He will never change. He continues to condemn sin, but His mercy also endures forever. The author of Hebrews reminds us: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

Sometimes, sameness is not just something desired. It is essential. In the recent COVID-19 pandemic, there has been a desire for more of the same—more ventilators, more test kits, more hospital beds, more masks, more health care workers. This was not a time for diversity or difference. This was a time of mass production, to make and to share that which was essential. Sameness—in bulk quantities—would save lives.

In a similar way, John’s Gospel encourages the Church, today, to celebrate its life-saving sameness. The love of the Father in the Son in the Spirit in God’s people. There is one Lord, Jesus Christ, and one work of salvation that brings eternal life. If you are part of God’s people, you will not be an orphan. Jesus will send His Spirit, another Helper, to lead you in the ways of God.

The Holy Spirit brings you into and incorporates you into the Church through hearing and continuing to hear God’s Word. In Holy Baptism, He gives you faith, forgiveness, and eternal life. In the Lord’s Supper, you receive the very body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins and strengthening of your faith. Time after time. Day after day. Week after week. Year after year. It’s the same old same old.

And what a blessing that is! In these means of grace, the triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—keeps coming to you with His good gifts.

You cannot by your own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called you by the Gospel, enlightened you with His gifts, sanctified and kept you in the true faith. In the same way He calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth, and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one true faith.

In this Christian Church, He daily and richly forgives all your sins and the sins of all believers. On the Last Day, He will raise you and all the dead, and give eternal life to you and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.

You who are loved by the heavenly Father, go in the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. Let the Holy Spirit dwell in you richly with His gifts. Love one another and keep His commandments. Serve your neighbor with joy. Tell of His wonderful mercies and His steadfast faithfulness. You are never alone. You are forgiven for all of your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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It’s Not about How, but Who

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“Thomas said to Him, ‘Lord, we do not know where You are going. How can we know the way?’ Jesus said to him, ‘I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:5-6).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Are you a “how” person or a “who” person?

Let me explain what I mean—especially for all you “how” persons, who are wondering how this all fits with today’s text.

It was remarkable, the way that Bill and Joanne each approached their surgery. Both were having the same operation: Knee replacement. But each of them approached it in a different way. Bill is a “how” person. He wanted to know all the details. He read up on the surgery and consulted with his physician. He investigated the manufacturer of the knee replacement parts, tuned into YouTube and watched videos of the procedure. He knew exactly how it was going to be done, how long it would probably take, what he was going to be doing for rehab, and what sort of pain he could expect; and that knowledge gave him some comfort, perhaps even a sense of control.

Joanne was different. She did not know the details of the operation. She is a “who” person. She simply knew her doctor. She trusted her to recommend a surgeon. What the doctor and the surgeon said was enough. Now, she simply waited in trust.

Obviously, when it comes to how you handle your health care, either approach may be appropriate. Some people want details, so they are well-informed. Others would rather not know and, instead, put their trust in their doctors. Either way is appropriate as we approach our health care. But what about when we approach our God?

In our Gospel reading, Jesus addresses His disciples who are facing the dawn of a “new normal.” Up to this time, they have always felt secure, assured, and unafraid because of Christ’s personal presence. They have been eyewitnesses when He has proved Himself before the people with mighty sermons and signs. As a result, they all had to respect Him. Even the chief priests and the elders had to be cautious because they worried that the whole nation might rise in revolt against them if they laid a hand on Jesus.

Therefore, the apostles went their way free of care and fear, trusting that Jesus could provide for them. Jesus’ authority and power had gained at least a grudging respect even from His enemies. They reasoned: “So long as the Son of Man lives, we have no cause for worry; for He can easily protect and preserve us.” It was this belief that makes Peter so bold as to volunteer and venture to go into death with Christ, even if all the other disciples would deny Him.

But now things have changed drastically. Jesus has just spoken of a frightening future, His betrayal, Peter’s denial, Jesus’ departure, and of troubled times head; so now His disciples reasonably have questions. Ask any teacher. It is always good to have someone in the class who is willing to ask the questions that everyone else has, but which they are afraid to ask. Peter and Thomas seem to often be filling that role when Jesus’ class is in session.

Peter asks, “Lord, where are You going.” Jesus replies in a way that is less than specific: “Where I am going you cannot follow Me now, but you will follow afterward” (John 13:36). Thomas wants to know “how.” He argues that, if they do not know where Jesus is going, and how they get there, they will never know the way (John 14:5). For these disciples, there is comfort in the details. Faced with a problematic future, they want more than promises. They want specifics. They want times and places. They would like a clear set of directions so they know how to navigate whatever might come.

Jesus, however, simply offers them a promise and His presence. His promise is He is working on their behalf. Without giving explicit details, He says He is preparing a place for them and promises to come back and take them to Himself. When pressed further, Jesus moves from this promise to His presence. He says to Thomas, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

This teaching is exclusive. Take away Jesus and there is no way to the Father. Take away Jesus and there is no saving truth. Take away Jesus and there is no spiritual life. What a contrast to the popular teaching that says all religions reach God, but just follow different paths. Jesus teaches us that there are no other paths. “No one comes to the Father except through [Jesus].” Anyone ever lost in a forest or wilderness knows that taking the wrong path makes a person even more hopelessly lost. So it is with the spiritually lost. Only one Way leads to safety, to salvation—Jesus. It’s not about how, but Who.

Jesus sees His disciples facing future uncertainty and responds not with details about dates and times and procedures to follow, but with His promise and His presence. It is not about “how” but Who. Jesus—He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. The disciples may not know where they are going, but, as long as they are with Jesus, they know they are on the way. With His promises to comfort them and His presence to guide them, they can face the uncertain future. “Let not your hearts be troubled,” Jesus says. “Believe in God; believe also in Me” (John 14:1).

Today, our Lord still invites you and me to live in trust.

Viral pandemics create uncertainty. We are not sure where we are in the timeline as the virus unfolds. We are not sure how we can recover from the suffering. With all sorts of conflicting opinions and competing authorities, we’re not sure whom we should be listening to. We’re not certain whether things are getting better or getting worse. We’re not sure of the right way to proceed. Do we hunker down in our bunkers and ride it out until an effective cure or treatment is found? Or do we work to get back to normal as soon as possible because the collateral damage from all of us staying at home seems to be worse than the effects of the virus for the vast majority of the population. The way forward is hard. We want some assurance of where we are going, how we will get there, and precisely what will happen along the way.

But, today, Jesus answers our prayers not with specific details. Instead, He calls you to a life of trust. It’s not about how, but Who. In the midst of a world that is perplexed, anxious, and confused, Jesus says: “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in Me” (John 14:1).

Jesus doesn’t mock you in your worries, dismissing you and your fears. He doesn’t peddle phony comfort that has no basis in fact. He doesn’t simply give you a pep talk, as though if you just try a little harder to be brave and carefree, it will just happen. He knows that you cannot by your own reason or strength calm your fainting heart. Jesus, knowing the crisis in the hearts of His hearers says: “Let not your hearts be troubled.” Then He delivers the solution to your troubles, the answer to your worries and fears, sorrows, temptation, and crises: “Believe in God, believe also in Me.” Just like in Genesis, that Word creates what it calls forth.

Jesus first says these words at the darkest moment to His followers who will suffer greatly. It’s the night of His betrayal, arrest, and trial. He gives them the antidote to despair: “Believe also in Me.” It’s not about how, but Who. And when it comes to Who, Jesus is very specific. He is the one to be trusted. He is the one to  believe in. He is God, the God, our God. He explains precisely why we are to believe in Him. It’s not about how, but Who. It’s all about Jesus and what He is doing. All our teaching and faith must revolve about Christ and be centered in this one Person and His work of salvation.

First, He goes to prepare a place for you. It’s a bit ironic, isn’t it? He had no place here! At His birth, He was laid in a feed trough. In His ministry, He had no place to lay His head. In His death, He was placed in a borrowed tomb. He was a stranger and alien here, a sojourner. He came from heaven to have no place here for a while, precisely to prepare a place for you in the Father’s house forever!

It’s not about how, but Who! The Lord of all the cosmos wants you to be with Him now and forever. He’s prepared the place for you. Not only will He come again at the end of our days to take you Himself as you live and trust in Him, but also now. He comes in His Word and in His body and blood to give you a place at the Father’s table even now.

Second, Jesus is, in the midst of these uncertain times, the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. Here is light for your darkness, comfort in these gray and latter days, and assurance in the confusion that swirls around you. It’s not about how, but Who. Jesus. He is the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. Whatever happens here and now, He is there with you, and will be always.

Third, “No one comes to the Father except through Me.” The general rule is that no one comes to the Father. We were, after all, conceived and born dead in our trespasses and sins. But thanks be to God that there is this blessed exception: “except through Me.” One path of escape is enough, and Jesus is it. It’s not about how, but Who. Jesus came for you, calls you to repent and believe, forgives you who cry out to Him for forgiveness, remains with you in death’s valley, conquers the Evil One, defeats death, and guarantees that you will rise again.

In His death and resurrection, Jesus has shown you the depth of His love. In His ascension into Heaven, He has shown you the breadth of His rule. While you may not know what is going to happen or how these things are going to happen, you do know Who is in control of it all. You do know you are in the hands of a God who loves you. Out of love Jesus came for you, died for you, rose for you, rules for you, and promises ultimately to return for you. His way is long enough that it leads through all suffering.

His truth is clear enough that it reveals whom to trust. His life is strong enough that it brings you to a new creation. With Jesus as your Way, your Truth, and your Life, you have enough. Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. You are forgiven for all your sins.

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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A Shepherd to Lead You through a Dangerous Life

Photos by Tim & Linda Erickson

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1[Jesus said:] “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. 2But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what He was saying to them.

7So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the Door of the sheep. 8All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the Door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:1-10).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

I suppose, you could make the case that in a perfect world, there would be no need for shepherds. The sheep could just blissfully roam the gentle hills eating luscious grass and drinking from cool, clear spring-fed streams. But in our world, there are many dangers to sheep. Predators like coyotes and wolves. Parasites like lung worms, wire worms, liver flukes, coccidia, lice, ticks, and mites. Diseases like listeriosis, brucellosis, leptospirosis, tetanus, foot and mouth disease, rabies, ringworm, pregnancy toxemia, enterotoxemia, and bloat.

And sheep don’t exactly help themselves. Ewes don’t always claim their lambs. Lambs don’t always figure out how to suckle. Sheep get lost and in trouble easily. They’re not the smartest creatures in the animal kingdom. You’ll never hear someone say, “as clever as a sheep.” For that matter, you’re not going to hear, “as fierce as a ewe” or “as mighty as a lamb,” either. Sheep don’t generally strike fear in the hearts of their enemies. They have few defenses against predators. They’re not built for speed or endurance. Their teeth are made for munching grass, not tearing flesh. Their soft skins are covered with wool not with scales, armor, shell, or thick hide. No, it’s not easy being a sheep; it’s a dangerous world.

A shepherd’s life can be extremely hard. The shepherds have said it a thousand times. It’s the last thing a man should devote his life to. You spend the whole summer wandering about in the suffocating heat of the sun, climbing like goats along the rock walls that burn when anyone touches them, and sleeping like dogs between the stones as hyenas laugh their wicked laugh or the coyotes call to one another in the moonlit night. You never let go of your sling and club, and always look with suspicion at anything that lives or moves around you. There’s always reason to be concerned as an animal disappears behind a stone wall in any of the winding ravines. And then the long winter nights, freezing in the cold and waiting hour after hour for the first bleak streak of dawn to peak through the hills. No, it’s not easy being a shepherd; it’s a dangerous world.[i]

In a place and time where everyone has at least a rudimentary understanding of sheep and shepherds, Jesus tells a parable, actually a couple of extended metaphors, to explain His work of salvation using the figure of the care and nurture of these wooly ovine creatures.

Jesus refers to a sheepfold, to one of the Middle Eastern pens for holding sheep, usually overnight. This is a yard with a high stone wall to keep out wild animals as well as other intruders. There is a gate or door that is guarded by a watchman. Obviously, anyone who tries to enter the sheepfold in any other way than the door is up to no good. He is not really a shepherd, but either a thief whose intention is to steal quietly, or a robber, who will not hesitate to use violence to accomplish his purposes.

A true shepherd needs no such schemes. He comes to the gate of the pen openly, and the guard will open the door for him, because he knows the shepherd and his intentions. And when the heavy gate is unbarred, the shepherd needs only call to the sheep and they’ll respond at once. He has names for each one of the sheep entrusted to him, and they can distinguish his call from the others. If there are several flocks in the corral overnight, the sheep will only respond to the voice of their own shepherd. And when all the sheep that belong to his own flock have come out of the sheepfold, they will follow the voice of the shepherd as he leads the way. But the sheep fear and flee from a stranger, since his voice is not known to them. They have not learned to trust him as they do their own shepherd.

As Jesus speaks, we might expect His audience to understand at least some of His figurative language. But the Pharisees, who had just boasted, “We see,” fail to completely comprehend, because they’ve already rejected Jesus. The presentation is clear enough, but it takes the eyes of faith to see the inner reality of its meaning and to make the proper application.  

The sheepfold is the Church of God of all times. The sheep are the members of the kingdom of God, the believers of the Old and New Testaments that put their trust in the promise of the Messiah. But the men who were to be their shepherds, their leaders, have from olden times been divided into two classes. There are some to come to the door openly, that have the call and duty to take care of the souls entrusted to them, and that carry out their difficult calling with all faithfulness. They are undershepherds of the great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, and it is His voice that calls through them. The sheep thus hear the voice of the true pastors (the word “pastor” having come from the Latin for “shepherd”), and this they recognize and know perfectly, this they heed gladly. And if they are truly His sheep, they will pay no attention to those who try to imitate the voice of the true Shepherd but will fear and flee from them.

In the sheepfold of His Church, Jesus is the Door. Only through Him and His work of salvation, shall any man have access to the sheep. Only through Him can the sheep find access to the fold. Only by faith in Christ is admittance to the fold gained. All real pastors will preach only of this one Door, of this one Way to heaven—through faith in Jesus and the redemption through His blood.[ii]

There were those among the Jewish religious leaders at that time, and had been even before this, who had assumed for themselves the function of bringing people into communion with God and into heaven in a different manner, unlike the prophets of old that had always pointed forward to Jesus only. But all those that claimed to be what Christ is in truth, that promised to give to men the certainty of salvation through the keeping of their traditions and works righteousness were thieves and robbers. They came without Christ’s authority.

Fortunately, the real sheep, the true people of God among the children of Israel, had given no heed to their words. For Christ is the Door; through Him if a person enters, and through no one else, he will be rendered safe. The only way of salvation leads through Christ. He Himself is that Way, and everyone that knows Jesus as such may enter into the fold of the Church and go out on the pasture of the Gospel, and always have fullness and plenty, the mercy and goodness of the Lord.

Note how when Jesus reveals Himself as the Shepherd, He opens the eyes of His disciples to see how dangerous their world truly is, how much they need a Shepherd. He calls attention to the false shepherds and the hired hands, to the thieves and the robbers, not to mention the wolves which surround them. It is during danger that Jesus chooses to reveal Himself as our Shepherd, the One who came that we, “may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).

Into a dangerous world, where strangers climb into sheepfolds and hired hands run away, the true Shepherd comes. And the beauty of His coming is that the Shepherd calls to His sheep and He knows them by name. Even when we do not know a thing about shepherds, Jesus still calls to us in a voice we recognize. He gathers us together and leads us in His way. The one thing that saves us is not what we know about shepherds but that our Shepherd knows us. “He calls His own sheep by name and leads them out” (John 10:3).

For Jesus, this world of thieves and false shepherds was not imaginary. It was real. He was betrayed by a thief, crucified under the rule of false shepherds, and buried in a tomb. But He rose from the dead to assure us that he is the Door, and the true Shepherd who leads us to everlasting life.

Right now, we are, perhaps, more aware than ever that we do not know what lies in store for us. Two months ago, no one would have imagined our life would be the way it is now. We prayerfully deliberate and carefully navigate how to move forward. But we have one thing which will never change. We have a shepherd who knows us by name and who promises to speak to us in all of life’s situations.

Jesus knows the agony of suffering. He endured the loneliness of death. So, He knows how to speak to those who are suffering. He walked the twisted, confusing roads and lived through the choices that confound. So, He knows how to lead those who have lost their way. He is present today. He enters this strange landscape with a familiar voice, with promises that endure. He will not leave you alone. He comes to you, calls you, and leads you in His way.

 What matter today is not how much you know about shepherds and sheep. What matters is how there is a shepherd who knows you: Jesus. He has something for you. He speaks to you… now! In the Word that is read, the hymns that are sung, and the sermon that is preached and pondered, the Lord your Shepherd speaks. Even when we are not able to gather together in person, He is assuring you that God has a will and a way in this world. And it is a good and gracious will and way for all the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. It is the way of Christ, God’s love and righteousness for you.

Though you may feel you are far away from the world of the shepherd, there is no place in this world where the Shepherd is not close to you. He is close enough that He can speak, and you can hear Him.[iii]

Dearly beloved in the Lord, fellow sheep: Jesus leads you by His voice. He first taught you to recognize His voice at your baptism. Through the Word and blessed Sacrament of the Altar, He continues to teach you and lead you through this sinful and dangerous world with His voice. But you must learn to distinguish His voice—the word of Holy Scripture—from the cacophony of loud and alluring voices of our day. We live in a dangerous world, and the greatest dangers are not those that could happen to us in this life, but those that have eternal consequences.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leads you, His sheep, through this dangerous world. His voice calls you to repentance, to the anointing of your head with the oil of Holy Baptism, to feed on the lush pastures of His Word and at the table of His life-giving body and blood spread before you even while Satan, sin, and death surround you. Notice in Psalm 23 that all the important actions happen by the Shepherd’s work, not yours. He makes, He leads, He restores, He leads.

But watch out for there are plenty of wolves and thieves who would teach you that Holy Baptism is your work, instead of God’s—something you do to show yourself to be a sheep rather than the mark the Good Shepherd puts on you to make you His own. As if a sheep could mark itself! There are those who want to teach you the Lord’s Supper is not the table of the Good Shepherd’s body and blood, but a symbolic supper by which we think fondly on what Jesus did for us. As if a sheep could feed itself! There are those who would turn you inward to your believing, to your piety, to your feelings, to your works, to yourself, and away from Jesus and His blood-bought gifts. As if a sheep could shepherd itself! There are those who tell you that they can give you success, popularity, wealth, and health if you just do this or that. As if a sheep can turn himself into a sleek and successful sheep!

“Flee from them and do not follow them,” Christ says. As Martin Luther wrote, “If you wish, therefore, to be richly supplied in both body and soul, then above all give careful attention to the voice of this Shepherd, listen to His words, let Him feed, direct, lead, protect, and comfort you. That is: hold fast to His Word, hear and learn it gladly, for then you will be well supplied in both body and soul.”[iv]

And your Good Shepherd will never abandon you. He will lead you through this dangerous world and into eternal life, abundant life, in His loving care.

David, who faced death many times, calls us to pray: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4).

As He is with you in life, Jesus is with you in death. He went through it first for you to open the way to life. Jesus is with you in mourning. He wept at Lazarus’ tomb. Jesus is your Good Shepherd who comforts you. He sends goodness and mercy to joyfully nip at your heels. He leads you right into His house today and will keep you who follow Him in His house forever.

Sheep that are separated from the flock are easy pickings for the poachers. Christians don’t go it alone. Experience teaches that people without a congregation tend to believe in a little bit of everything, and so in truth wind up believing in nothing at all. Sheep who don’t learn the voice of their Shepherd will soon follow any voice. Outside the church it’s dangerous; it’s cold and deadly—there’s no forgiveness, no life there. But in the Lord’s flock, the Lord restores the joy of salvation to your soul, the Lord brings you back rejoicing, the Lord binds up your wounds, the Lord guides you in His righteous way, the Lord is with you and comforts you even under the dark shadows of death.[v]

We may not know what the future holds, but we do know what is in store for us for eternity. We have one thing which will never change. We have a Shepherd who knows us by name and who promises to speak to us in all of life’s situations. Jesus leads you through this dangerous world, to everlasting life. For His sake, you are forgiven for all of your sins. In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

[i] Giertz, Bo (2017) With My Own Eyes (translated by Bror Erickson). P. 15-16. Irvine: New Reformation Publications.

[ii] Kretzmann, Paul E. (1921) Popular Commentary of the Bible: New Testament, Volume I, p. 466. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.

[iii] Smitt, David (2020)

[iv]  Luther, M. (1999). Luther’s works, vol. 12: Selected Psalms I. (J. J. Pelikan, H. C. Oswald, & H. T. Lehmann, Eds.) (Vol. 12, p. 157). Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House.


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