So, how safe and secure are you feeling these days, little lamb of Jesus? How well do you sleep at night, and how carefree are your days? Are your heart and mind at ease? Or on edge?
Aside from whatever the particulars may be, which threaten your peace and quiet — whether in your own head; in your home, within your household and family, or in your other relationships; in your mortal body of flesh and blood; on the job, or in your neighborhood — aside from all of that, which threatens you up close and personal, the national news doesn’t help much, does it?
Gun law debates, brought to a fevered pitch by almost daily shootings. Terrorist attacks, or, who even knows any more what’s a terrorist attack, and what’s a random act of reckless violence. It makes little difference, if you’re the one getting hurt! Bombs and explosions from Boston to West, Texas. Accidents are indiscriminate, whether you’re simply going about your day, doing your job, or minding your own business, sitting at your dining room table, or sleeping in your bed, when the earth opens up beneath you, or the airplane falls out of the sky above you. It’s kind of scary.
In truth, there is nothing new under the sun, but there are times when all the darkness and dangers seem to accelerate, and whatever safety and security you may have imagined are shaken to pieces: That is a good thing, actually, because it tears down your idols and shatters your false gods, lest you put your faith in mortal princesses and princes and seek your salvation in this perishing planet.
Take heart, little lamb! Let repentance return you from the highways and byways, to rest yourself in Christ Jesus. He is your true Savior and Good Shepherd, who guards you and protects you, who leads you and guides you, and who holds you in the palm of His hand, forever and ever.
Your dear Lord Jesus loves you, and He knows you: not just your stats, your history and pedigree, but He knows you, your heart and mind, your body and soul, with an intimacy that goes beyond that of a husband for his wife, or a mother for her child. It is the loving knowledge of the One who created you; who formed you in the womb and fashioned your frame; who numbers the hairs on your head, and all your days; who became like you, and bore your sin, and suffered your death and damnation, in order to raise you up from death to life, to recreate you in His Image and Likeness.
In His steadfast love and faithfulness — in His divine grace, mercy, and peace — He lays down His life for you, and for all His sheep. And with His Voice, He calls you by name to follow Him.
So, that’s all great and wonderful! But, if you stop and think about this, it does raise a couple or three questions and concerns: For one thing, it’s all very noble and heroic, to be sure, but, if the Shepherd lays down His life and dies, who’s left to care for the sheep? What’s to become of them? That situation is all the more urgent and compelling, and seemingly precarious, given the call of the sheep to follow their Shepherd where He leads — since He is going to His death on the Cross.
Already you are surrounded, as He was then, with loud and demanding voices, both inside and out, competing with His own gentle Voice of the Gospel. If He is the Christ, your Savior and Good Shepherd, then, why doesn’t He tell you plainly? Better yet, why doesn’t He show you clearly? But, instead, He confronts you with His Cross, which crucifies, not only Him, but you, as well. And, apparently without care or concern, He permits the savage wolves to harass His little flock.
In point of fact, the Words and promises of Christ Jesus seem to stand in contrast with, and even in contradiction to, the actual experience of His Christians and His Church in the world. And to begin with, His own experience in the world, unto His death upon the Cross, does not appear to be very comforting or reassuring. The fact that He is crucified makes Him rather dangerous!
The “theology of the Cross,” as we call it, is the hidden and mysterious revelation of the one true God in the hurt and humility of His Christ, the Crucified: First of all in Him, and then also in His Church, and now in you. But this theology of the Cross, because it is a divine Mystery, can only be understood and received in faith by those who belong to Christ Jesus and bear His Holy Spirit.
The Word of the Cross can only be recognized and believed by those who are the sheep of this Good Shepherd, Jesus; which comes about by His Voice of the Gospel, that is, by the preaching of His Word and Spirit in His Church. You can neither hear nor comprehend His Word, except by the preaching of His Word; you can neither receive nor bear His Spirit, except by His Spirit. It is a circle, so to speak, which you cannot break into, but which the Father lays upon you in love.
Everything has already been accomplished and established, for you, by Christ Jesus Himself, the beloved and well-pleasing Son of the Father. He and His Life, in His own human Flesh, His Body and His Soul, are safely and securely in the Father’s hand. Knowing and trusting His Father, He lays down His life for the sheep; and so He shall take it up again, by faith in His loving Father.
His death upon the Cross is the Sacrifice that atones for His sheep (and for the world) in order to rescue them from the wrath of God, from sin, death, the devil, and hell: to save them, indeed, from the real savage wolves that would otherwise devour them, not only here in time, but for eternity.
And in the Resurrection of His crucified Body of flesh and blood, He Himself becomes the true, divine, eternal Temple of God: in heaven and on earth, both now and forever and ever. So it is, that His Cross and Resurrection are the true “Feast of Dedication” (that is, the true Hanukkah, which heretofore had celebrated the recovery and restoration of the “old” Temple in Jerusalem).
Jesus is the true Solomon: the true Son of David, the Lord’s Anointed, the Wisdom of God in the flesh, and the Peace of the Lord, who reigns in love, with equity, justice, and righteousness, in the midst of His City of Peace. And He, with His Gospel–Word and Sacrament, is the true “Portico” of the Temple, that is to say, already His Church on earth, even now, as it is also in heaven forever; wherein He spreads the Tabernacle of His own flesh and blood over His people, in order to shelter and protect them from the cold of winter and the heat of summer, from hunger, thirst, and pain.
You “see,” then, how, as in the beautiful 23rd Psalm, the Shepherd and His green pastures merge and coalesce with the Lord and His House and the cornucopia of Meat and Drink at His Table.
For Jesus Himself is not only the great High Priest, but also the Sacrifice and the Temple of God, as well as the sacrificial Meal (the Holy Communion of the Peace Offering that He has offered). And so, too, He is not only the Lord, your Good Shepherd, but also the Door, and the Sheepfold, Himself, in whom you are kept safe and sound: wherein you eat and drink, and rest in His Peace.
It is, again, by His Word and His works that He calls you to Himself, to follow Him — through death into Life: into the green pastures of His Paradise, and to His Table in His House, forever.
By His Voice as your Shepherd, which is to say, by the preaching of the Gospel of His Cross, and so also by the fruits of His Cross, by the water from His wounded side, and by His flesh and blood, the Father anoints you with the Spirit of His Son, Christ Jesus; and He also gives you to Him.
So it is, that you are among the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. You are held in the palm of His hand, as He Himself is always in His Father’s hand, even when He is crucified, dead, and buried. Therefore, no one and nothing shall even be able to snatch you away from Him.
His Cross is the Rod and Staff by which He guards and guides you; not simply as a past historical event, but as the Gospel that is daily being preached to you, for the forgiveness of all your sins. He guards you from the accusations of the devil, and from the condemnation of the Law, by the preaching of the Cross as your Atonement, and of the Resurrection as your Righteousness, Life, and Salvation. So does He guide you to the Father by His preaching of this Gospel, unto faith.
For the Good Shepherd causes His Voice to be proclaimed, and His works to be administered, in the Ministry of those whom He calls, ordains, and sends in His Name: As we heard in the case of St. Peter last Sunday, and now in the case of St. Paul and the pastors of Ephesus this morning; so also in the case of your pastors, as it has been, is now, and ever shall be. So that here within His Church, you are gathered around Jesus in His Temple, to encircle the Lamb who was slain upon His Throne: to worship and adore the Crucified and Risen One, and to have life forever in Him.
As you belong to Him, because He loves you, and He knows you by His grace, and He has given Himself for you, and He has risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity — so shall you also follow Him, even through the valley of the shadow of death, and even from out of the grave, into the Resurrection of your body and the Life everlasting of body and soul.
That, dear little lamb of Jesus, is your safety and security, come hell or high water against you. For Christ Jesus Himself is your Sabbath Rest, even now, in this poor life of labor; and He is your perfect Peace forever, such as this world could never give. Let not your heart be troubled; neither let it be afraid. For you are in Christ, and you shall not perish forever, but shall have eternal Life.
In the Name + of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.