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Sermon for Palm Sunday

March 29, 2013 Leave a comment

Note:  So this sermon started out on paper earlier in the week and changed very radically even in the preaching of it.  In all, it wasn’t a very eloquent critique of what passes for Christianity today.  But it was accurate.  The written sermon and the preached sermon only match up through the first third or so of this text.   I think the preached version is far superior to what was written here but there’s some good stuff about Jesus as King in the text.  

The point I was trying to make, as I think back on it, was very simply that what typically passes for Christianity via The Bible show on the History Channel or as probably experienced Christianity in our American context growing up is radically different (different in the root of the two things) the faith of the Scriptures as heard and practiced by believers throughout Holy Week.  The Veggie Tales have a song called “God is bigger than the Boogie Man.”  The point I was trying to make is “The heart of God which we see most clearly in Holy Week in the Passion of Jesus is bigger than American Christianity as I’ve experienced it, mostly.”  Which doesn’t have quite the same ring and would probably make a terrible song.  Oh, and be a real Christian and come to Holy Week services!

Anyway, the audio is here as usual:  27 Sermon for Palm Sunday.mp3

 

Augustana, 2013

On Palm Sunday it might be good to stop and consider for a bit just what it is that Jesus did for us, entering Jerusalem that day knowing full well how and where it would end for Him and for His mission.  And to do so I want to set up two different views of Jesus.  Because I think there’s a view that’s out there, that’s prevalent, even in the minds of many churchgoers, even maybe some of us.  It’s certainly a view I’ve seen in the church and it’s a view I’ve held for a time too.   See if this sounds at all familiar to you.

God is in heaven.  We are here on earth.  This world in which we live is an unspiritual place, we might even say, an evil place and nothing good can come of it.  Our bodies in the end are not much, just shells really and what God really wants is our souls.  When we pray, God, way up in heaven, hears our prayers because our souls are talking.  Faith consists in understanding something about God, even if it’s only a little bit, it’s enough and when we believe, we’re saved.  Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are nice things that we do in the church and we have powerful doctrines about them but in the end their power, their effect comes because we have faith in them.   If we have enough faith, even if it’s only a little bit we’re saved, our souls will go to heaven when we die because, in general, the good in us, outweighed the bad.  And there’s probably more than one way to heaven.  That’s about the gist of it.  Oh, and I suppose we could add one more, the chief goal of the Christian life is to be nice to people.  Okay, that’s about it.  Does that sound more or less familiar to you?  Yes?  I think that’s pretty much what a lot of people, what even many Christians believe Christianity to be.  I want to make one thing abundantly clear this morning.  Whatever that is I just described, it’s not Christianity.  Palm Sunday and the rest of the events of Holy Week, which we will recount in the services this week, which I do hope you’re planning to attend, Palm Sunday and the events of Holy Week just don’t match up with the outlines of what I just sketched here.   Palm Sunday and the events of Holy Week are far too big, far too colorful for the bland and tasteless pabulum that passes for Christianity, even among us today, because this week is all about Jesus and His passion, His suffering and death for sinners, for you.

Palm Sunday clearly shows us who Jesus is and why He came to Jerusalem on that Sunday before His arrest and execution.  When we talk about who Jesus is and what He has was sent into the world to do, we typically use the shorthand, Jesus’ person and work.  Jesus’s person is of course that He is both true God, for whom there was never a time when He was not, and true man, that is, born into human flesh through the womb of the Virgin Mary.  Peter’s sermon on Pentecost is not that Jesus was an amazingly ethical man who healed people; it was “Jesus is Lord,” Kyrios, what Greek speaking Jews knew to take as saying Jesus is Yahweh, the God of Israel.  And Peter said, “Jesus is Christ,” that is anointed Messiah of God sent to redeem Israel.  Now already we are starting to see a blurring of the lines between person and work, who Jesus is blurring into what Jesus was sent to do in this world but that is as it should be.  Palm Sunday clearly shows us who Jesus is and why He came to Jerusalem on that Sunday before His arrest and execution.

Jesus is Yahweh, King of Israel and He came to restore His kingdom and reassert His will on earth even as it is in heaven.  Three years of teaching and healing culminates in Jesus, God of Israel and Messiah of God, entering Jerusalem on a donkey like king David of old once did.  So again, we have another identification.  Jesus is now somehow king of Israel.  What did the Israel of Jesus’ day want?  They wanted a king, a messianic king, with enough power to throw out the Romans and restore the nation.  And so into Jerusalem, the city of Israel’s kings, He rode on a kingly mount.  With the people shouting greetings to Israel’s messianic king, “Hosanna, Lord save us!”  Blessed is He who comes in Yahweh’s name.  Even the king of Israel.”  Jesus’ person, king, is bound up together with his work, restoration of the kingdom of heaven on earth.  Make no mistake about it, Jesus is Israel’s true king, that is, Jesus is Yahweh, King of Israel and He came to restore His kingdom and reassert His will on earth even as it is in heaven.

What does any of this have to do with the picture of Christianity I sketched out at the beginning here?  I don’t know, and that’s the reason why it’s so inadequate.  First of all, none of what I sketched out earlier has anything to do with Jesus being king.  Lord maybe, but not king here on earth.  With Jesus come to earth into human flesh, God is not king far away up in heaven, unconcerned with the events going on down here.  Jesus’ ministry shows us God is not just concerned with our souls, He healed bodies of birth defects and drove away the sinful corruption of what God had created to be not just good, but very good.  Faith consists in far more than letting Jesus into your heart.  Ugh, why would he want to go in there?  Baptism is more than a symbolic washing, but in fact a death and burial into Christ’s cross and grave and a resurrection with Him.  If we wanted to continue the line of thought about kingship, Baptism is more akin to a ceremony to bestow a knighthood, a citizenship ceremony for the kingdom of God.  The Lord’s Supper is far more than just a remembrance of Jesus last meal with His disciples before He was arrested; it is rather the way in which Jesus intended to be with His people until the end of time.  We dine at the king’s table until that day when we dine together in the New Jerusalem.  And both Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are in fact real, tangible ways that Jesus interacts with us, ways that are able to be seen by everyone around.  Even someone with no faith, even the devil must admit, you were washed here in the water and the Word of God.  God cares about your body to take such pains to wash it and feed it the way He does.  But what do we do?  We turn away from the things everyone can see and admit have happened and are turn inward toward things no one can be sure happen, not even ourselves, because, truthfully, we are not convinced of our own faithfulness.  If we are, we are merely deceiving ourselves.  Faith is far more than what is going on in your heart.  Faith is about looking forward to that day when Jesus is the undisputed king on earth reigning from the New Jerusalem.  And until that day, faith in Christ, our God and Messianic king, is always active in love which is different than just being nice.  The true Faith is about confessing that you are who God says you are and doing what God says for you to do.  In other words, the Christian Faith is about your person and work.

Quite frankly, we have allowed an inferior version, a thin ghost of the true Faith, pass for Christianity for far too long.  And it hasn’t worked and it is dying.  The best way to live is not to be nice to others but rather to live in the kingdom of God.  And in rides Jesus on a donkey, God’s own king, absolute monarch of the created universe.  And He came to dispute with the religious leaders in Jerusalem for three days, celebrate Passover and turn it into a meal of His abiding presence with His people, be arrested and suffer and die, rest in the tomb, and be raised on Easter morning.  This is so much bigger than God in your heart; this is Jesus King of all mighty and active come to rescue you from sin, the curse of death, and the power of the devil.  It is in Holy Week that all this is made plain and we gather to hear it again because we need to hear it again.  We need to be turned away from our inward selves and back to the mighty work of Christ our king, accomplished for us in the mercy of God.  I do hope you’ll come.

Hosanna!  Amen.

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Sermon for Lent 5

March 29, 2013 Leave a comment

Sermon for Lent 5

Note:  From Chad Bird’s Blog, the Flying Scroll.  http://birdchadlouis.wordpress.com/2013/03/11/fool-me-once-fool-me-twice/

This was simply too good not to use.  I started out using just a part of it and then decided, hey, I might as well use the whole thing.  It’s far better than what I could have come up with this week, anyway.  And for those who may not know, Chad was a classmate of mine at Austin.  We’re all indebted to him this week.  The audio is here as usual.  25 Sermon for Lent 5.mp3

 

Augustana, 2013

”Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” So the saying goes. When someone tricks you, you’re supposed to learn your lesson the first time around. Those who fool you, trick you, fail you, are not to be trusted again. If they fool you twice, well, shame on you for giving them a second chance.

But the vineyard owner in the parable Jesus told, he evidently didn’t understand that old saying. For not once, not twice, but three times his tenants fooled him. In fact, it was far worse than that. For not only did they cheat him out of his rent, they beat up the servants he sent to collect the money. The first time this happened, it should have been enough. He had ample evidence that these tenants were scoundrels and thieves, with a penchant for violence, so the standard course of action should have been to fight fire with fire. Call the police and let them deal with these criminals—deal with them violently, if push came to shove. But no, the owner sends a second servant, who, like the first guy, stumbles home empty-handed and fully bruised. And a third servant, whom they beat and battered and booted out of the vineyard. Three strikes, but they still weren’t out.

Any reasonable man, at this point, would never have dreamed of doing what the vineyard owner did next. He asks himself, “What shall I do?” But instead of answering, “I’ll kill them all!” or, “I’ll teach them a lesson they’ll never forget!”, he says instead, “I will send my beloved son; perhaps they will respect him.” Not only does he give them a fourth chance; he risks the very life of his son in doing so. There lay three of his servants, with blackened eyes and broken bones, scarred by cuts and abrasions, and he imagines things will go better for his son? Seriously? Does he not foresee the danger? But send that son he does. And, indeed, things do go badly, the ingratitude and greed and violence escalate from a PG to an R-rated horror. For when they see the son approaching, the tenants say to each other, “This is the heir. Let’s kill him, so the inheritance will be ours.” Instead of respect, there is rage; instead of payment, pulverizing. The beloved son becomes a bloodied corpse.

Finally, the vineyard owner has had enough. After risking the life of three of his servants, and losing the life of his beloved son, he gives the tenants what they deserve—judgment. He destroys them and gives the vineyard to others.

What is most astounding about this story is not the perversity of the tenants but the patience of the owner; not their evil, but his good. This parable, at its core, is a story about the heart of God—the God of second chances, and third chances, and, yes, fourth chances and even more. He is portrayed as a man of business, to be sure, but he does not act according to the ways of the world, for he is not a Lord of commerce but a Father of compassion.

For we are these tenants, these ungrateful, violent men. There is no blessing of God which we cannot twist into self-serving instruments that hasten our own destruction. Instead of a million uplifting, truthful words we could and should speak with our mouths, we choose a few hateful, demeaning words to tear down others. Instead of using our hands to help someone in need, we use them to grasp at more and more for ourselves, though we already have more than we know what to do with. God comes to us, looking for good, and finds evil. Indeed, he finds tenants who become angry and violent when he asks for even the bare minimum of decency and selflessness. Do you see that in yourself? Do you see how like the tenants in the parable you are?

But more importantly, do you see, do you grasp, just how incredible it is that God has not given up on you? He does not say, “Fool me twice, shame on me,” strip you of his blessings, and kick you out of his kingdom. No, instead, he affirms, “You are my child, foolish though you are, and I will never be ashamed of you.” If the world has given you up for lost and washed their hands of you; if your friends have written you off and turned their backs on you; if even your family has disowned and discarded you; yes, if every single person in this world regards you as a hopeless, embarrassing failure at life, the Father of all mercies does not. He will search you out, find you, embrace you, kiss you, and shout to all the earth, “This is my beloved son! This is my beautiful daughter! This is my child, my heir, the apple of my eye! With you I am well-pleased!”

Jesus is that beloved son in the parable, cast out of the vineyard. But he who was cast out brings you backs in, alive with him. He is not ashamed to call you brother, sister, a fellow heir of his kingdom. That is why he came. Not to die for the righteous but for those whose lives are full of one failure after another, for his is a love that never fails. He came to die not for the clean but for the dirty, for his blood washes away even the filthiest of stains embedded in your soul. He came to search out not those who come running to him, but those who have fled from God, who hide in the darkness of their doubt and unbelief, to find you no matter where you are, to give you hope in place of despair, faith instead of doubt.

The way of God is the way of forgiveness. He keeps no record of how many chances he’s given you. For in the end, it’s not about how many times you’ve messed up, but how constant, how unwavering, is the Father’s love for you in Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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I’m not crazy.

March 13, 2013 Leave a comment
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Another one of those guys…

March 13, 2013 Leave a comment

…that I went to school with and knew then they were smarter than I was and look at them now.

Pastor Mark Surburg has done it again.  I read a piece by him a week ago that solidified in my mind where I had been in my mind and in my teaching and preaching over the past several years, but nearly as well said as he put it.

http://surburg.blogspot.com/2013/02/biblical-and-dualistic-worldviews.html

I consider this post to be required reading.  Creational, Incarnational, Sacramental, Eschatological.  This is the nature of our faith.

And then he goes again and nails the sacramental aspect of our faith with this piece on baptism in Romans 6 and the early church.  Really, it doesn’t get any better than this.

http://surburg.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-surprising-history-of-romans-6-and.html

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Sermon for Lent 4, Vespers

March 10, 2013 Leave a comment

Note: As I have mentioned previously, the Lenten sermons this year are from a series published by CPH a few years back, Our Suffering Savior.  We also had the joy of receiving tonight Pastor Kent Schaaf from All Saints’ Lutheran Church in Charlotte.  I’ll be preaching for Lent 5 at All Saints’.  Also, I’ve included a bit of the Vespers service from tonight too.  If you’re not familiar, what you’ll hear first is the responsory for the Word just read and then the sermon.  And after the sermon I’ve included the prayers, which tonight were the kyrie, a Lenten litany, and the benedicamus and benediction.

Just click here to listen 24 Sermon for Lent 4, Vespers.mp3

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Sermon for Lent 4

March 10, 2013 Leave a comment

merciful fatherLuke 15:11-32

Augustana, 2013

Note:  This sermon is less an exposition on the parable of the prodigal son and more of a proclamation of the central theme of the text.  See if you can pick it out.

Click here for mp3 audio 23 Sermon for Lent 4.mp3

 

 

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

God our heavenly Father joyfully receives repentant sinners.  That’s the central message of our Gospel reading today.  God is not like us.  We are like the older brother.  If someone sins against us, and they repent, we make them jump through all kinds of hoops to get back in our good graces and even then we may still hold a grudge.  Not so with God.  God is not like us.  God our heavenly father joyfully and gladly receives sinners who are repentant.

It is this joy, this heavenly joy that is most apparent in the readings today on this fourth Sunday in Lent.  Joy like the Israelites had when they had experienced the marvelous rescue through the Red Sea and watched Pharaoh and his chariots drowned.  “The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.”  Isaiah the prophet is quoting the song sung by the people on the shore of the Red Sea after their rescue from Pharaoh.  It is dripping with joy.  It is a joyous victory shout.  For Old Testament believers, this shout became as much a part of their culture as our Easter greeting, “The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed.”  Perhaps even more so.  And yet Isaiah the prophet knows this shout does not just look backward to a day in history but looks forward to that day, to the Last Day, when all the people of God will collectively give thanks to God and call upon his name and make his mighty deeds known among all people.  Isaiah is not just looking backward but forward to the day of the Lord’s final victory, the day of the Lord’s great joy completed into eternity.

Paul’s letter to the Corinthians picks up on the same joy, albeit in different terms.  For Paul, those who believe are, in fact, already now, new; they are a new creation.  We need not wait until some future day for the newness that God brings in reconciling us to himself.  If you are in Christ, you are a new creation.  Why?  Because the old life, a life as viewed from the perspective of the sinful world, is gone.  It’s hard for us to see that.  We are so beset by the world and what the world says about us.  We see nothing but our imperfections, our weaknesses, our sins that it is hard to see what God sees in us.  Even fellow Christians don’t see us the way that Paul says he sees us, the way God says he sees us, that is according to Christ.  There are some people out there, maybe, who are living lives of Christian perfection, but it’s not us.  And yet, what Paul says here is true.  “God has redeemed and restored the believer into a new sphere of existence, re-created as a person of faith in Jesus Christ who desires to live in and for Him alone.” [1]  Consider what Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians, chapter 2, “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” [2]  We are already now God’s workmanship.  We are already now remade in Christ for good works.  We are already now a new creation.  Oh what joy is this that we are already now a new creation in Christ Jesus and we have been made new again because of the reconciliation we have with God our heavenly Father.  What kind of reconciliation do we have with God?  Well, Jesus tells a little story.

It’s very familiar to you, I’m sure, even in the details.  The younger son wants his inheritance before his father dies to do with what he wants.  We know that essentially means he wishes his father was dead.  This is not just a tale of immorality, but yes, the prodigal goes off to live a fast life.  This is a story about rejecting God and all things of God in total.  Even the prodigal’s repentance is only a half measure; he wants to come home not because he thinks he only now rates a place as a hired hand in his father’s house, but because as a hired hand, he will still have his say and not be beholden to his father.  As I said, God is not like us.  When people sin against us, we’re so worried about how the world sees us, we’re so worried the world will think we’re chumps, that we don’t actually forgive.  We let the offender do time in a jail we construct for them and we might consider time off for good behavior.  But not God.  God our heavenly Father joyfully receives repentant sinners.  Look how the father shamelessly goes running for his lost son.  Look how the father even loves the older brother who had shamed the father by his behavior toward his brother.  God our heavenly Father joyfully receives repentant sinners; He joyfully has received you.

Dear Christian friends.  Do you see yourself in the prodigal son?  Most Christian people are for the most part, outwardly, morally upright.  It’s hard to see ourselves as redeemed from the slavery to sin that others may have experienced more recently.  Lent is a time to dig a little deeper and see underneath our own public face, to find the rot of sin.  It’s often less hard to see ourselves as the elder brother, holding others who have wronged us to some standard we have created for ourselves apart from the Word of God.  That could be our first way in to see ourselves as loved by God.  The father loves the elder son too.  And what is the nature of this love?

We’re told the father had “compassion” on the prodigal.  Students of the Bible know that this word is a special word, a word used in the NT, really only of God and characters in parables that act like God, like here.  This compassion then is not merely the sympathy that we might have for another experiencing bad luck but rather this is a special feature of the love of God.  It “represents gracious love beyond the human norm, understanding and reaching into the life of another.” [3]  Here we see something of the very tenderness of the heart of God toward us.  God risks being seen a fool.  He sends His own Son into human flesh, to suffer as human, to suffer human weakness and hunger, to suffer human sorrow and pain, to suffer human disgrace and shame, to suffer the common end to us all, death.  If I was writing a religion, it would not involve the shaming of the god I was supposed to honor.  It is not wonder so many today smugly insist that the God of Christianity, the One, True God, cannot be real; he’s not much of a god at all.  A god who endures the shame of his creation and dies?  They  don’t want a god who endures shame and dies.  They want a god who humiliates their enemies and kills them.  And to some extent they’re right.  God is indeed foolish and he is willing to be seen as foolish in order to show those whom he loves just how he loves them and restores them to their honored place in his household.  God our heavenly Father joyfully receives repentant sinners; he joyfully receives you.

God is not like us.  He does not restore us in half measure.  He does not restore to second-class status.  It is ours then to live in this new creation, this salvation given to us already, in joy and to share with those around us the mighty deeds of our compassionate God.  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus.  Amen.


[1] Edward A. Engelbrecht, The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 1987.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Eph 2:10.

[3] Edward A. Engelbrecht, The Lutheran Study Bible (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2009), 1748.

Sermon for Lent 3, Vespers

March 5, 2013 Leave a comment

Stray Sheep (Isaiah 53:6)

Note: As I’ve noted, I’m following a sermon series for Lent this year called, Our Suffering Savior, published a few years ago by CPH.  This sermon was significantly adapted from that material.  So much so that I feel confident publishing the text of the sermon as well as the audio.

Click here for mp3 audio 22 Sermon for Lent 3, Vespers.mp3

 

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Is there a member of your family who is a stray sheep? Such a person is different than the rest of the family.  He or she strays from what the family considers the proper or desirable course in life.  A stray sheep goes his own way instead of following others’ expectations.

We are a culture that in some ways celebrates the lost sheep and black sheep among us.  There is a very famous Marine Corps fighter squadron from World War II, VMA-214, nicknamed, Black Sheep Squadron.  The legends say that it was filled with aviators who were in and out of the big so often it was a wonder any of them found time to fly, including their commanding officer, Lt. Col. Pappy Boyington.  And yet, they were the most effective fighter squadron in World War II in both theaters.  Frank Sinatra’s famous song is, “I did it My Way.”  There is something about that kind of spirit we want to tap into and resonate with.

But typically when we think of black sheep and stray sheep were tend to go a little further than rebels who do well.  We tend to think of those folks who can’t seem to do a good turn.  They would sooner find an Eagle Scout and rough him up than attempt to be one.  We certainly don’t think of ourselves as stray sheep, it’s others who need to return to the fold.  And yet in the words of our reading for tonight,

“All of us like sheep had gone astray; each of us turned to his own way.  But Yahweh caused to fall on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).  Does that sound right to you? Look around at society today.  Look at our own community.  Look at our own lives.  We have to confess that we are, at times and in various respects, like ancient Israel in the time of the judges: “Each person would do what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

In America we value individualism, freedom, and pluralism, even to the point of autonomy and anarchy.  Instead of emphasizing common values, our mutual dependence on each other, and the universal and absolute standards of right and wrong according to God’s Law, we more highly prize our right to go our own way.  As a result, in some ways, we are like a flock of sheep with no shepherd.  We all scatter as we pursue our own agendas.  Instead of sticking together as one flock united by common bonds and a common commitment to follow the same path, we disperse over the hills as we each seek our own greener pastures.

That’s just an example of how we act in terms of civic righteousness.  What about in terms of seeing ourselves according to the righteousness of God?  There the answer is even clearer.  The pope has been in the news quite a bit lately, of course with his retirement.  And there’s all manner of misinformation too in the news about who the pope is and what Roman Catholics believe about the pope.  One thing is true, however, and that is that the pope has final authority on the interpretation of the Word of God.  And Protestants just recoil at the very idea.  “Who is this mere man that he would have final authority on what the Word of God means?”  Right?  But what is this but a rejection of authority, and ultimately the authority of the Word of God too?  Because now the case is that it’s not just one man who has the authority to determine the meaning of the Word of God but seemingly every Christian and are we any better off?  We have now literally thousands of denominations and splinter groups each grasping their own authority, people who have no training in Biblical languages act as if the plain literal sense of the Scripture is as clear to them as to anyone who has studied.  And in rejecting one pope, we have made everyone pope.  In fact, we have made everyone God.  The tempter’s lie is alive and well, “Did God really say?”  And as Jesus Sermon on the Mount plainly shows we do the same kind of thing to all of the commandments, not just the first, breaking them all, one by one, unaware that God’s authority has been supplanted by the hermeneutic of happiness.  After all, God wouldn’t want me to be unhappy, would he?

Judged by God’s Law, each of us is a stray sheep.  We may find ourselves wandering around in life.  Instead of following Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd, we may turn away to follow our own idea of happiness at the time rather than the order for which we were created.  We may find ourselves stranded on the edge of a precipice, or we may even fall prey to the hungry wolf.  It is a good thing we are not alone.

We are not alone in being stray sheep.  Jesus Christ too was a stray sheep, though in a very different sense from us.  Jesus did not conform to the expectations of His contemporaries.  The people of His time had certain ideas about how the Messiah was supposed to act and what the King of the Jews was to accomplish.  Jesus paid no attention to human traditions and expectations.  Instead, He chose to follow the will of His Father—and did so without ever straying from it in any way.  He chose a path in life which no one else had ever trod, perfect obedience to the Father.  He fulfilled the prophecy of our reading.

Many of Jesus’ contemporaries thought of Him as a stray sheep—a friend of sinners, a blasphemer, a nonconformist who deserved to be crucified.  But Jesus was, in reality, the sinless, unblemished, perfect Lamb of God.  God the Son became one of us—a sheep, in order to be sacrificed for our salvation.  Whoever heard of a Shepherd who humbled Himself to become a sheep, destined for slaughter? Yet that is what Jesus Christ did.  He took the form of a Servant and was obedient to death (Isaiah 53:7; Philippians 2:6–11).  The Good Shepherd became the sacrificial lamb—the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.  “Yahweh caused to fall on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).

In an earlier chapter, Isaiah prophesied, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).  That is the kind of sheep we are now in God’s eyes.  We are no longer blemished, stained sheep—the kind God in the Old Testament declared unacceptable to be brought to the temple.  Rather, our wool has been washed clean so it gleams, white as snow.  God deems us to be like the Lamb of God Himself—Jesus Christ, the sinless, unblemished, perfect Lamb of God.  We are scrubbed spotless by Him, cleansed by His blood, adorned with His righteousness.

We may have wandered around in life.  We may have been “like sheep going astray, but now [we] have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of [our] souls” (1 Peter 2:25).  Jesus has led us into the fold of His salvation.  Our Good Shepherd calls to us by name and leads us through life toward heaven’s pasture.  We recognize and respond to His voice.  He leads us in the paths of righteousness for the sake of His name.  He brings us to green pastures and restores our souls.  Now we have purpose and direction for our lives, as we follow the Lamb once slain.  Amen.

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