19 November 2011

The Love of the Good Shepherd for His Sheep

Your salvation hinges on two things: the Cross & Resurrection of Christ, and your attachment to Him by faith. For He has atoned for your sin and gotten victory over death by His death upon the Cross, and He has opened the way of life to you in His Resurrection from the dead; so, 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 judgment has already been determined by the Cross of Christ, and the verdict has been openly declared in His Resurrection: for you and for all people, for the world and for all nations. In Him, crucified and risen, there is no more condemnation or punishment. But, so too, apart from Him there is no salvation. The judgment rests entirely upon Him, and it is by His authority that you are judged: either righteous and alive with His righteousness, or else wicked and dead without Him.

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 the glory of His Kingdom and His Righteousness 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 the whole world. His Resurrection, therefore, is His vindication, the declaration of His Righteousness, and the justification of all those who belong to Him — of all who believe and are baptized into Him.

Thus, because He desires all people to be saved, He reigns in love from His Cross and calls all people to Himself by the Gospel. He sends His messengers — His Holy Apostles to begin with, and His undershepherds after them, that is, the pastors of His Church in every time and place, even to the end of the age — He sends these messengers to make disciples from all nations by the way and the means of Holy Baptism and the ongoing catechesis of His Word. It is by these means of grace, by the Ministry of the Gospel, that He gathers the lost and wandering sheep to Himself, unto life.

The preaching of His Word — the preaching of repentance in His Name, unto faith in His free and full forgiveness of your sins — that is the truth: the sure and certain verdict of the Lord your God, now and forever. Though you are crucified and put to death with Him, so are you also raised up, in and with Him, to a brand new life. In Him, the old has passed away, and you are a new creation.

Repent of your sins, therefore. Repent of your unbelief, idolatry, unfaithfulness and lack of love. Turn away from sin and death, and live unto righteousness in Christ. Receive and trust His Gospel, and live by that grace of God in Him. Fear Him as the Lord, your King. But so also trust in Him as your great Good Shepherd, as your merciful and great High Priest, as your dear Savior and Redeemer. 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 your God, your highest good. Love Him, not to get something from Him, but because you receive every good and perfect gift from Him. Love Him, not to curry or manipulate His favor, but because His favor and His righteousness are yours. Love Him righteously, by faith, because you are justified by His grace.

It is entirely by His grace, because, in truth, He does not need anything from you; neither is there anything at all that you need, which is not already yours in Him, freely given to be freely received, with no strings attached and no conditions or contingencies upon His mercy.

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 being not at all self-conscious. It is the good fruit that Christ Jesus bears in you by the tree of His Cross in your life. For by His Cross, He brings you through repentance into the faith and life of His own Resurrection. He brings you to God the Father, in and with Himself, and He gives to you His own relationship (His sonship) with the Father. So does He likewise give to you His own relationship of love with your neighbor. For as you live in Him, He now lives in you.

Therefore, you live in love toward your neighbor — in particular toward your brothers and sisters in Christ — because this is the life of Christ, which He also lives in love toward you: He daily and richly provides you with food and drink for your hunger and thirst; with safe shelter and sanctuary from the cold, from darkness and death; with clothing for your nakedness; with comfort and care in all adversity; with good health in place of all your illness, and with release from your prison.

So, then, as for 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. Not only the occasional extraordinary act of kindness, charity and mercy toward someone you barely know or rarely encounter, but the steady and faithful care of those who are set alongside of you, day after day. Learn to see Christ in your neighbor’s frailties, weaknesses and needs, as also in the duties and demands of your vocation toward your parents, your spouse, your children, your siblings. For it is precisely in His poor and needy ones, in the weak and lowly and despised, and in His little ones of every age and every kind, that you find your Lord and serve Him in love.

For 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 abandoned by His friends, and left to bear the burden alone. He has been imprisoned, stripped naked, tortured, mocked and cruelly punished — for your sins. He has been sick with the sickness of the world, even unto death upon the Cross.

Consequently, 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.

Not only that, but, as He has taken your place in His death upon the Cross, so does He give you His place in His Resurrection. And here is what that means for you: His Righteousness is yours. His works of love are yours. His life and His salvation are yours. All because the Atonement, the forgiveness, the reconciliation and the peace of His Cross are yours, by His Word of the Gospel.

Hear this Word, and take it to heart, for it is already in this preaching of the Gospel that you truly hear and receive God’s verdict concerning you: You are forgiven all your sins. You are righteous. You are 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 fully clothed with Christ. You are fed with His Body and His Blood. You are blessed and beloved of His God and Father, and you are welcomed into His Father’s Kingdom, who is now also your God and Father in Christ Jesus, your Savior.

That is the significance of the church on earth, and of this congregation: Here eternal judgments are declared and delivered. Here the Son of Man exercises His authority to forgive sins, and with that forgiveness He gives you life and salvation. Here He sits upon His glorious throne — with all His angels round about Him — and here He gathers you to Himself: to feed you, to clothe you, to heal you, to set you free. Come, then, blessed of the Lord; enter into His peace, and rest.

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

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