Misericordias Domini – The Mercy of the Lord
April 30, 2017
St. John 10:11-16 The Good Shepherd
In the Name of the Father and of the X Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
As the words of the Gospel today indicate, listen as sheep who hear the merciful voice of their divine Shepherd.
Jesus teaches us today what it means to be a Christian and how He wants us to see Him. Being a Christian isn’t about possessing superior knowledge, as if we just knew more stuff than unbelievers. If that were the case, then our Lord would have said, “I am the Good and Wise philosopher. Follow me and you will learn a lot.” Instead He likens Himself to a Shepherd and says, “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” This is how Jesus wants us to see Him, as a kind and loving shepherd who cares so much for His sheep that He is willing to die for them. Jesus cares more about us than He does about His own life. That is why He offered up His life on the cross, to be an atoning sacrifice for our sins. He did not shy away from the beating, the mocking, the bruises, the cuts, the nails, or the death. He did it because He loves us and did not want to see us perish. Had He not undergone this suffering and death, we most certainly would have perished. We are sinful. God is holy. Without the covering of Christ’s holy blood, we could not stand before God. We would be consumed in His presence like dry leaves in a fire. We would not be able to stand here today because payment would still have to be made. God demands payment for our sinful debt. He demands recompense. He demands justice. Someone must be punished. The wages of sin is death. Sin, all sin, every sin is that serious.
But this death sentence was served by God Himself in the person of His Son, Christ Jesus. Payment has been made. Justice has been served. We stand here today forgiven in God’s sight, innocent lambs before Him only because God in His mercy gave up His only Son into death. We can approach God, address Him as our Father, pray to Him, expect good things from Him, and look forward to joining Him in heaven with all the saints, because God reconciled the whole world to Himself in His Son. All of this has become ours through Baptism—a free and clear conscience, freedom from eternal death and damnation, an approachable heavenly Father. None of it would have been possible except that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, laid down His life for His sheep.
This is the goodness of the Lord—that He does not hold you responsible for your sins. He does not count them against you. He requires no explanation, no excuses, no bargains or empty promises. Repent! He wants you to acknowledge who you are. You are a sinner. Repent, every one of you, but don’t despair or run away. Repent and look to Him for mercy and forgiveness. That is why the voice of the Good Shepherd is still heard today in churches all over the world. The voice of the Good Shepherd is there so that whenever you are afflicted in your conscience by some sin or vice, you may be free of it. God wants you to be free of your sins, not to punish you for them. This He has already finished in His Son.
This is how it works in the kingdom of heaven. God gladly and freely pardons you of all your sins. He gladly gives you a free and peaceful conscience, having acknowledged your sins to Him and being forgiven for them. And this He does for you in the Gospel preached to you, today. He has put His own word of pardon into your ears and hearts through your pastors’ lips. This was the lesson we learned last week in His words, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you—anyone whose sins you forgive, they are forgiven; but anyone whose sins you do not forgive, they are not forgiven.” This is the extent of authority that Christ has given to Called and Ordained pastors (as we saw this past Tuesday in the Call service, this sending and Calling into the Divine Ministry is still being accomplished in our day). And here is the charge from the Good Shepheard to all Called and Ordained pastors, under-shepherds—to forgive and retain sins; to open and close heaven through Jesus, to Baptize and wash people into the death and resurrection of the Good Shepherd, to forgive sins through the distribution of the Good Shepherd’s body and blood, and to preach the Good Shepherd’s words and deeds. Our authority is not over earthly matters, but over the consciences of men. We are not the Good Shepherd, we are only under-shepherds following the directions of Jesus.
We don’t have the authority to change the ordinances of God, to change essential, biblical doctrines, to make up soothing phrases or platitudes where the Scriptures do not speak, to wink at sins in the name of counterfeit love. Some under-shepherds and even sheep will suffer unpopularity and pressure from parishioners, family, co-workers, fellow students, and friends because of it. But it’s not yours to change. If the Shepherd suffered in this world, so will the sheep to some degree.
So let us learn this lesson well from the words of our Lord—“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” Christ has taken your place in death and punishment and offers His forgiveness freely to you in the Gospel, in the Sacraments, in the Words pronounced on you. You who hear this Word and believe that God has pardoned your sins in the death of Christ and wish to be rid of them have eternal life already now. Your sins don’t limit the power of God. Christ will hear your confession and pronounce forgiveness through His under-shepherds.
Learn from these words how we are to look upon God our Savior. We are to regard Him as one who cares for His sheep. He lays down His life for us so that we may be safe from the Evil One. He puts Himself in harm’s way, lets His own blood be shed so that the blood of His sheep might be spared. Since Jesus is our Shepherd, it thus follows that we are His sheep, his little lambs, whom He has rescued from the jaws of the ravaging wolf. Christ calls to us, speaks to us, so that we may remain with Him and not wander off into dangerous territory, so that we may not be cut off from his presence. And where else do we hear this voice of Jesus but in the Christian Church, where His Word is preached and His Sacraments given. This then is what it means to be a Christian, a true follower of Jesus—that we be like little lambs who hear the voice of their shepherd and follow it where He wants us to gather.
And as promised, the Good Shepherd leads us beside the still waters and gives us what we need to eat for our journey through the valley of the shadow of death–even His very Body to eat and His very Blood to drink. Through this valley of death, while listening to our Shepherd’s voice, we have a clear conscience, fearing no evil, His rod and His staff comfort us. And now He prepares a table before us in the presence of our enemies, and fills this blessed chalice with the wine of His mercy, His holy and precious blood. Through it, your cup now runneth over.
In Jesus’ X Name. Amen.