EASTER 4, A – May 7, 2017

SCRIPTURES – Psalm 23; Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10

     [Christ] bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. 1 Peter 2

 

Boy, those were heady days for Christ’s believers, those days following His resurrection! They were few on Easter, but in less than two months 1,000’s were coming and devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching. How unlike today. Many come on Easter to hear the joyous news of Christ’s resurrection, but afterwards? The crowd thins greatly. Oh, if only! If only it were today as it was then!

Well, Jesus didn’t come so that you could glory in the past and say, “If only!” He came to give you a future and change your present. Peter put it this way: “[Christ] bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteous-ness.” Dying and rising… to live a new life, a holy life: this is what believing in Jesus as your Good Shepherd and following Him is all about.

So, if you want this new life with Jesus, start by dying! That doesn’t sound very pleasant; and, in many ways, it’s not. But, it’s necessary. Christ bore your sins in his body, not so that you could be unconcerned about them or comfortable with them, but so that you would die to them. Now, this doesn’t mean literally dying… yet. You will die one day, and then in Christ be raised to heaven, where sin will no longer trouble you. That is in God’s hands, not yours. But, you are to begin this now, while you live. You are to die to sin.

Begin by recognizing and confessing that sin is evil and brings death. Your sins, even the seemingly small and insignificant ones, are no small thing. Every one of your sins caused Jesus to suffer and die!

Ø  Do you know the TV show, CSI? The show begins with a murder. Then, the body of the victim is studied, for the wounds can tell the investigators how the person died and lead them to who did it.

Christ’s wounds lead to you and me! “[Christ] bore our sins in his body on the tree.” This is why, when we repent and confess our sins together in church, we say to God, We justly deserve Your present and eternal punishment.” We don’t blame the Jews, or the Romans, or anyone else. We – you and me – killed Jesus!

But, “by His wounds you have been healed.” Almighty God in his mercy chose to give His Son to be wounded and die for you. Jesus accepted this and offered Himself to wounds and condemnation in your place. Christ’s wounds are your healing, your forgiveness! It is because we believe this and desire His healing that we confess our sins. Christ’s death for our sins is our healing. It gives us life, and strength to live for God.

Living for God, for righteousness, means embracing what God calls good and then turning away from sins and what leads to them, just as you want only good food and get rid of spoiled food. But, sin is a sly and deceitful enemy. It disguises itself as good food, that people might welcome it as wholesome and not turn away from it.

How confusing and deceitful is our world today! Who knows what is good, and what is good to follow and do? There are so many, and contradictory, voices! – even religious ones. How many churches there are! And, there are probably as many different and contradictory teachings about God and what He says is good as there are churches. Who can you trust to lead you?

“I am the door,” Jesus says. “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” Follow Jesus! But, where is He? Those first Christians heard Jesus as they “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship.” The apostles then wrote down their teaching, that we, too, might hear Jesus and have Him as the heart of our fellowship. But, to be sure you are hearing Him, you must ask questions.

Ø  Is a church accepting the teachings of the Apostles, and all the books of the Bible, as the true and saving voice of Jesus? So many churches are not doing so, but are picking through the Bible and trying to find the voice of Jesus.

Ø  Does a church accept the clear meaning of the Bible’s words, or reject or change them in order to not offend people? Jesus and His apostles spoke the truth of God’s Word, even when it offended!

Jesus alone is the door to the good pasture of God’s blessing. He alone can bring you to God. You can trust Him to do so because He is the Good Shepherd. By His words and teaching He will never lead you into a bad pasture with little, or unhealthy, grass. Christ’s words will bring God’s healing to you and fill you with His life.

But, they will also bring you into conflict as you learn them and seek to follow them. “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps,” Peter says. He was opposed for His teaching, and so you will also be opposed, and even called evil, if you follow His teaching. Expect this! The One you’re following, even though what He did was good, was rejected, called evil and put to death.

“But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God,” Christ’s apostle says. God is your judge, and no one else. He is pleased and will reward you as you follow His Son. This is what matters. God will also be with you to strengthen you to do as Christ did. “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.”

Martin Luther was well acquainted with opposition and suffering for what he believed and taught. Take to heart his advice:

“If you are a pious Christian, you should tread in the footsteps of the Lord and have compassion on those who harm you. You should also pray for them and ask God not to punish them. For they do far more harm to their souls than they do to your body. If you take this to heart, you will surely forget about your own sorrow and suffer gladly.” (Commentary on 1 Peter, LW 30:86)

 

And how will Jesus respond when you are persecuted for your faith in Him? He is your Shepherd and Overseer. His eyes are constantly upon you, and so nothing will happen to you without His awareness. He will turn what is meant for your harm to your blessing: the strengthening of your faith and your life in Him. You will look back at the end and say, “Boy, those difficult days were heady days, a time of such growth and joy! How close I was to Jesus, and how He led me to God!” As David says in Psalm 23:

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

In the end you will see this to be true, for the Lord Jesus is your Good Shepherd. You will lack nothing! In His holy name. Amen.