18 June 2017

The Compassion of the Good Shepherd

The Lord Jesus comes to you with divine compassion.  It is that which moves Him toward you, in order to help you, to heal you, and to give you life.  And all of this He does and accomplishes for you by the way and means of His Word, especially by the preaching of His Gospel.

Without this preaching of Christ Jesus, you remain lost and helpless, troubled and tossed about, a sheep without a shepherd, subject to every predator that comes along seeking to destroy you.

It is the case, therefore, that you do need the preaching of the Gospel above and beyond everything else in this body and life, irrespective of your health or wealth or position.

Your Father in heaven can and surely will take care of your temporal bodily needs.  He daily and richly provides you with a place to live, with clothes to wear, and with food and drink.  The fact that you worry and fret, and work and agonize over these earthly concerns, as though it were up to you or within your power to provide them for yourself, goes to show just how deeply your sinful heart is ensnared by idolatry and unbelief.  You do not trust the Lord your God to do for you as He has promised, but you trust and rely upon yourself and the powers that be in this dying world.

But what you really need, if you are going to live — if you would abide as a child of God and have a home with Him forever in His Kingdom; if you would not be found naked and ashamed, but clothed and righteous and holy — what you need is the preaching of the Gospel of Christ Jesus.

So it is, then, because He loves you with divine and holy love, that with divine compassion Jesus calls and sends some of His disciples to be the ministers of His Gospel.  He sends them with His own authority, as you heard Him indicate last Sunday, in order to deal with you in His Name and bestow His Spirit upon you, by speaking to you as He speaks, and by doing for you as He does.

And those men whom Jesus sends, even to the close of the age, they preach and teach, they cast out demons, they heal diseases, and they raise the dead.  Not for this body and life, but for the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting of body and soul in the Kingdom of His Father.

The authority with which Christ Jesus sends His servants is the authority of His Gospel — that of His Cross and Resurrection.  It is the authority to forgive sins and thus to bestow life.  For where there is forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation; but without forgiveness, there is only death.

In and with the preaching of this Gospel of forgiveness, the Kingdom is at hand.  Indeed, it is here for you, right here, right now, on earth as it is in heaven.  It is freely given to be freely received in repentant faith, which is the only way that you or anyone receives it worthily.  That person is truly worthy who believes the Word of Christ, which does not depend on you at all, but only on Him.

Those who receive the preaching of His Gospel in faith, receive the blessing of His divine Peace, such as the world can never give and you could never have apart from His Cross and Resurrection.

This preaching of the Gospel is your best and only hope.  Apart from it, you will die forever.  To reject it is more dangerous and damnable than the perverse wickedness of Sodom and Gomorrah.

You are right to be concerned about the sexual immorality that is increasingly rampant throughout our country and modern culture.  And you should be even more concerned to repent and to flee from your own lustful thoughts, words, and actions.  Resist and avoid such temptations, and seek help for your addictions. But for all of that, do not underestimate the even greater danger to be found in the despising of God’s Word and in the refusal to hear and heed the preaching of Christ.  Rather, recognize the connection between such hardness of heart and the perversity of your sins.

The more you are invested in your own desires of the flesh, in your own passions and pursuits, and in the spending or stockpiling of what you regard as your own wealth, the less time, attention, and space you allow for the Word and works of God, by which alone you will ever and forever live.

But now, seek out, prioritize, and give your attention to the preaching and teaching of your pastors, whom your Lord Jesus Christ, the great Good Shepherd of the sheep, sends to you in His mercy.

When the called and ordained servants of His Word come to you and speak to you in His Name and stead, by His divine command and with His divine authority, you are presented with the most decisive choice you could ever be given.  Not just a matter of life and death, but of heaven or hell.

Nor does turning your back, neglecting, or ignoring this preaching of Christ get you off the hook; for that is simply the most passive aggressive and typical way of despising the Word of the Lord.

But when a preacher of the Gospel is rejected, and his preaching of the Word of Christ is refused, it is the Lord Christ Himself, and God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit, and the Kingdom of heaven, which are thus rejected and refused.  Not to the detriment of God, who needs nothing from you and is not out to get something from you, but to the tragic loss of all who will not hear Him.

When the preacher of the Gospel is driven out and shakes the dust of that place from his feet, it is entered as evidence for the final judgment.  What that place deserves is eternal fire and brimstone.

Even so, what the preachers of the Gospel suffer for the sake of Christ and in His Name, is itself a confession, a witness, and a proclamation of the Gospel of His Cross.

Whereas without the Word you are a sheep without a shepherd, the shepherds who are sent to care for you, to feed and protect you, are sent to become sheep in the midst of wolves.  Just as the great Good Shepherd of the entire flock has become the Sheep led to the slaughter, the Passover Lamb of God who lays down His body and life and sacrifices Himself; who sheds His holy and precious blood for the atonement of His people and for the propitiation of the sins of the whole world.

He is the first One to be handed over and scourged.  He is also hauled before governors and kings.  He is mocked and scorned and put to death upon the Cross.  And all this pain and grief that Jesus endures — His holy Cross and Passion — that is the source and substance of the Holy Gospel, to the ends of the earth and even to the close of the age.  All so that the lost sheep of every tribe and tongue and nation might be restored, through the preaching of this Gospel, to the true House of Israel, which is the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ, His Body and His Bride — which is indeed the very Kingdom of heaven, even here and now in the midst of suffering, sorrow, sin, and death.

It is to and for this great salvation that divine compassion moves Christ Jesus, the incarnate Son of God: unto death for you and all people.  For those who reject or receive Him, He does it, that one and all may be redeemed and justified, and reconciled and sanctified.  Not by gold or silver, but by and with His own blood, shed for you and all upon the Cross, and poured out for you and for the many, for the forgiveness of all your sins, here at His Altar in the Holy Communion.

Bear in mind and take to heart, therefore, that as this precious Blood of Christ is far more precious than gold or silver, cash or credit, or anything that money can buy, so ought you prioritize and prize the New Testament in His Blood, the Cup of His Salvation, and the priceless Gift of His Holy Body, far and away beyond the wealth of this perishing world.

Not that you should despise the good gifts of God’s creation in this body and life, which He showers upon you in grace, mercy, and peace.  But do understand that these are His gifts and not your due; they are given to be received in thanksgiving, to be sanctified by His Word and prayer.

Whatever your occupation, and whatever treasures of this earth the Lord may entrust for a time to your stewardship, it is all to be turned toward the purpose of receiving, supporting, and extending His Kingdom through the Ministry of His Gospel.  By your contributions to His Church on earth, and by compassion and tangible charity to your neighbors, including those who sin against you.

Young or old, rich or poor, male or female, celibate, married, or widowed, parent or child, you are as responsible for the gifts of God entrusted to you within your office and station in life, as were the Holy Apostles for the Ministry of the Gospel to which they were called, ordained, and sent.

But whether you do your part or not, whether you live and remain within His Kingdom or wander far and wide from His pastures, the Good Shepherd continues to send His preachers to preach in His Name and stead to all the nations of the earth.  So long as it is day, until that night comes when no man can work — until that great and terrible day of judgment comes — the Lord Jesus sends shepherds to His sheep.  To give freely what cannot be bought.  To bestow the gracious blessing of His Peace and rest.  To announce that His Kingdom is at hand in this preaching of His Word.

It is by this Ministry of the Gospel that Christ Jesus loves you, and cares for you, and provides for your eternal well-being.  Do not despise His compassion by closing your ears, turning your back, and hardening your heart against this preaching of His Gospel.  Where you have done so, repent.

His Gospel is true, whether you believe it or not; whether you receive it or reject it.  It is true, either way, without any contingencies.  It is what it is, with or without you.  But the Lord in His mercy, with deep, divine compassion, would have you receive it in faith.  His Gospel is for you.

Be certain of this: There will come a day of reckoning, also for you, as it once did for Sodom and Gomorrah.  So hasten while you can to be found in Christ Jesus, and be at peace with God in Him.  Hear and heed His Word of the Gospel while it is spoken to you.  Receive it worthily, and do not despise it, lest it be taken away.  Behold, now is the acceptable time.  Now is the day of salvation.

Jesus’ little lamb, beloved sheep, do not despair.  Your Shepherd sees you, and He loves you.  He does not leave you distressed and dispirited.  Here He is at hand to shelter you with His Cross and to nourish you with His own flesh and blood.  He has not cast you away nor taken His Spirit from you, but by His grace He counts you worthy to receive His Peace.  All of your sins are forgiven.

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

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