22 April 2018

Sharing the Life and Love of Your Good Shepherd

In His great love for you, the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s own dear Son, your great Good Shepherd, has laid down His life for you.  He has given Himself into death, and He has spent Himself entirely for you and your salvation.  And He has taken His life up again by His exercise of perfect faith and trust in the Word and promise of His own God and Father; for He and His Father are one.  Thus does He raise you up, as well, from sin and death to faith and love and everlasting life with God.

By His Name — by the preaching of the Gospel in His Name — by this Ministry of your Good Shepherd, who cares for you — you are healed and made well.  You are raised up to stand in peace before God.  You are made strong and whole, and so shall you live with Him forever.

Live, therefore, the life that He has obtained for you and given to you by His grace.  Do not pursue and persist in your sins, which lead to death, but live the Life that is yours by faith in Christ Jesus.

Keep His commandments, and live according to them.  Follow Him, as He leads and guides you with His Word, and walk with Him in the right pathways of faith and love, for His Name’s sake.

Believe in Him, the Son of God, your Savior and Good Shepherd.  Believe that He was crucified for your sins, and that He has risen from the dead for your justification; that death no longer has any mastery over Him, and so it shall not master you.  Listen to the voice of your Good Shepherd, and trust His good Word.  Receive His good Gifts.  And live.  Do not fear death, but live in Christ.

So, also, love your neighbors, especially your brothers and sisters in Christ.  For you cannot love the Shepherd without loving His lambs and sheep, whom He calls to Himself by His Word.

But do you wonder what love really is?  What it means, and what it entails.  What it looks like.

You are given to know what love is, to receive and experience true and lasting love, in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd who has willingly laid down His life for you and all His sheep.

You, then, love the Lord and your neighbor by laying down your life for the Body of Christ.  That is what you are to do.  Give yourself and spend yourself entirely for others, especially for those whom the Lord has placed alongside of you in this body and life.  Do not be afraid that you will overdo it or love too much.  Do not flinch at the prospect of giving yourself away.  If you die by loving, what have you lost?  If you lay down your life in love, the Lord shall raise you up again.

If you see your brother or sister in need, then use whatever means and abilities the Lord has entrusted to your stewardship to help and serve and provide for your neighbor.  To love.  But if you do not see or know your neighbor’s needs, then open your eyes, and pay attention, and find out.

Do not speak of the Resurrection and the Life without living.  Do not speak of God’s love and Christian love without loving.  And do not speak of the Gospel and forgiveness without forgiving.

The forgiveness of sins is at the heart of God’s divine and holy love for you and for all in Christ Jesus.  He loves you by forgiving your sins, and by His forgiveness you know love and what it is.  It is an act of divine and utter charity, according to His mercy and His steadfast loving-kindness.  No one takes it from Him, but He gives it freely to all, by grace alone, by the Gospel of Christ.

To forgive those who trespass against you, as your God and Father in heaven forgives you — not for money or merit, but solely for mercy’s sake — that is to live and to love as God Himself does.

The Father has given His Son for you, and the Son has laid down His life for you.  In this way God has known you and loved you with the divine intimacy of the Father and His Son in the Spirit.

The Lord has not held your sins and failings against you, but He has given Himself to deal with them, to suffer the consequences of your wrongdoing, and to set things right for you at the cost of His own body and life, by the shedding of His holy and precious blood in death upon the Cross.

He has not allowed your enmity and lack of love to dissuade Him.  He has not returned tit-for-tat in petty retaliation, as you have so often done in response to your neighbors.  He has not treated you or dealt with you as you have treated others, with impatience, irritation, and spite, but, in spite of your nasty unpleasantness, He has actually befriended you in grace, mercy, and peace.

He has sought you out, His lost and wandering sheep, in order to restore you to His fold, to care for you as your Good Shepherd, on earth as it is in heaven.

Consider what that means, as even little children know what a shepherd is and does for his sheep.  He guards and protects you from the ravenous wolves and roaring lions who would devour you.  He leads you and guides you by His Word, steering you away from the dangerous temptations of sin, and bringing you into the lush green pastures of His Gospel.  He feeds and waters you in safety and in peace.  He calls you gently to Himself by name, that you should follow Him and live.

Indeed, He leads you into His House and seats you at His Table.  In the face of sin, death, the devil, and hell, He has prepared a Feast for you in His Kingdom, that you should live with Him forever.  He has called you by His own Name, that you should be His own, and all that He has is now yours.

He has made of you a child of His own God and Father, and He has poured out His Holy Spirit into your heart through the forgiveness of all your sins by His Gospel, that you should have peace and hope and confidence in Him.  What is more, not even His own Law, nor your own heart, nor anyone else may condemn you, for He has satisfied the Law entirely on your behalf, He has atoned for all your many and various sins of thought, word, and deed, and He has risen from the dead for your justification.  He is your righteousness and holiness, your innocence and blessedness, forever.

So it is that you live, now, by faith in Him.  Already now, you live with Him in His Resurrection.  As your heart and soul are at peace with God in Christ, by faith in His forgiveness, so does your body also live and work and rest in peace, regardless of what you may face in this life under the Cross.  You live and you love, as your Good Shepherd does, to the glory of your God and Father, and for the benefit of your neighbors in the world.  For your life is hidden with Christ in God.

It never is by your own reason, wisdom, or strength.  You live and love by faith in His Word, as you hear His Voice in the preaching of His Gospel, and as you receive His Life and His Love in the ongoing significance of your Holy Baptism and the ongoing Feast of His Body and His Blood.  For by the Ministry of His Means of Grace He continues to give His own Life for His Sheep; no longer by dying, for He shall never die again, but by living unto God in righteousness as a great and merciful High Priest.  He ever lives to make intercession for His Church before the Father in heaven.  But so does He live to serve His Church on earth at His Font, His Pulpit, and His Altar.

To this end, He calls and sends, not hired hands and mercenaries, liable to cut and run at the first sign of danger or difficulty, but faithful shepherds after His own heart, who care for His lambs and sheep with their very lives, preaching His Word and working His works in His Name and stead.

And where His called and ordained servants deal with you according to His divine command — as He Himself did all that His Father commanded Him — so does He deal with you and care for you in this way.  Wherever His Gospel is preached in its truth and purity, and wherever His Holy Sacraments are administered in harmony with His Gospel, there He is with you, knowing you and loving you, and teaching you to know Him and to love Him by faith in His Word and promises.

Thus you may be certain that He is here with you in the green pastures of His Word, with which He feeds you unto eternal life, and by which He leads and guides you in righteousness and truth.

Here, too, is the water of His Baptism, the anointing of His Holy Spirit, by which He has made you His own, to which He daily returns you in love, and by which He leads you in quietness and peace.

Here at His Altar is the Holy Cross, the Rod and the Staff of His Gospel, by which He has atoned for your sins and redeemed you, and by which He has defeated death and the devil for you.  So it is that you shall not die but live forever in Him.  And so it is that death no longer holds any power over you, and the fear of death no longer drives you into selfishness or shamefulness or sin.  For by His Word of the Cross Christ absolves you, and with His forgiveness He gives you His Life.

Here then is the Table that He spreads before you in His House, and here is the Cup that overflows for you with His holy and life-giving Blood; that by this Feast you may belong to Him and abide in His Body forever, in His goodness and mercy all the days of your life, unto the Life everlasting.

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

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