21 November 2008

The Love of the Good Shepherd

Your salvation hinges on two things: the Cross & Resurrection of Christ, and your attachment to Him by faith. For He has opened the way of life to you in His Resurrection from the dead, and whether you stand or fall in the final judgment depends entirely on where you stand in relation to Him.

Are you on His right or on His left? Are you a sheep or a goat? Will you live under Him in His Kingdom in everlasting righteousness, innocence and blessedness? Or will you be forever cursed and die eternally with the devil and his wicked angels?

The verdict has already been determined by the Cross of Christ and openly declared in His Resurrection: for you and all people, for the world and all nations. In Him there is no condemnation. Apart from Him, there is no salvation. The judgment rests entirely upon Him; and by His authority, you are judged.

This is what it means for Jesus, the Christ, to be "the Son of Man," to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to judge the living and the dead.

He has come into His glory by the way of His Cross: His vicarious self-sacrifice of Atonement as the Propitiation for all of your sins and for the sins of all the world. His Resurrection, therefore, is His vindication, the declaration of His Righteousness, and the justification of all those who belong to Him.

Thus, because He desires all men to be saved, He reigns in love from His Cross and calls all men to Himself by the Gospel. He sends His Apostles, His ministers, to make disciples of all nations by Holy Baptism and ongoing catechesis. It is by these means of grace, the Ministry of the Gospel, that He gathers His lost and wandering sheep to Himself, unto life.

The preaching of His Word, the preaching of repentance in His Name, for faith and forgiveness, that is the truth: the sure and certain verdict of God, now and forever.

Repent of your sins, therefore. Repent of your unbelief, idolatry, unfaithfulness and lack of love. Turn away from sin and death. Come unto Christ and His Gospel. Trust Him and live. Fear Him as the Lord, your King. Trust Him as your Shepherd, your Savior. Believe His Word to you as the judgment of God. Love Him with all your heart.

Love Him, not selfishly, but gratefully, because He is your Savior and God; He is your highest good. Love Him, not to get something from Him, but because you have received everything from Him. Love Him, not to gain His favor, but because His favor and His righteousness are yours.

In truth, He needs nothing from you, and there is nothing you need, at all, that is not already yours in Him, freely, with no strings attached and no contingencies. Love Him, therefore, because of who He is, and because He loves you faithfully forever.

Love Him, by loving and serving His Christians; love them in His Name and for His sake. Such love is the evidence of your faith and life in Christ. It is how faith lives, without keeping score and not at all self-conscious. For if you are in Christ, you are a new creation (here and now, in heaven on earth). You live and abide in Him, as He lives and abides in you.

So this is how you live in love toward your neighbor, in particular toward your brothers and sisters in Christ, because this is the life of Christ toward you: Food and drink for your hunger and thirst; shelter from the cold, from darkness and death; clothing for your nakedness; comfort and care in all adversity; health for your sickness, and release from prison.

So, you, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the poor, visit the sick and imprisoned. Do it for Jesus' sake. Do it in His Name (as He does so for you). Do it all, as unto Him. For it is in His poor and needy ones, in the weak and lowly, in His little ones of every age, that you find your Lord and serve Him in love.

See, this is how He has come to you and served you in love: He has been hungry and thirsted. He has been the stranger and the outcast. He has been imprisoned, stripped naked, and punished (for your sins). He has been sick with the sins of the world, even unto death upon the Cross.

Thus, it is not only in your neighbor's weakness that you find Him, your Lord and God, your Shepherd King. But He is with you, in love, in your weakness and shame, in your nakedness and pain, in your hunger and fear, in your sickness and at the hour of your death. He is with you as One who has been there before you. And He is with you, as your Redeemer, in the Judgment.

As He has taken your place in His death upon the Cross, so does He give you His place in His Resurrection. His Righteousness is yours. His works of love are yours. His life and salvation are yours. Because the Atonement, the forgiveness, the reconciliation and peace of His Cross are yours, by His Word of the Gospel.

It is already in His Word of the Gospel that you hear God's verdict concerning you: You are forgiven all your sins. You are righteous; not guilty, but innocent. Thus, you are set free from the prison house of sin and death. You are healed of every disease. You are clothed with Christ. You are fed with His Body and His Blood. You are welcomed into His Father's Kingdom, who is now also your God and Father.

That is the significance of this church and congregation, and the reason for our celebration of its presence in this place (for 85 years now). Here eternal judgments are declared and delivered. Here the Son of Man exercises His authority to forgive sins, and with that forgiveness to give life. Here you enter into heaven to eat and drink with Him forever.

Here the Lamb sits upon His glorious throne, and all His angels with Him, and gathers you to Himself: to feed you, to clothe you, to heal you, to set you free. Come, blessed of His Father, enter into His peace and rest.

In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.