Sixth Sunday of Easter (Rogate) (John 16:23-30)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Sixth Sunday of Easter (Rogate) + May 26, 2019

Text: John 16:23-30

Sunday after Sunday, there are many parts of the liturgy that are the same.  These parts are repeated, not because it sounds religious to repeat stuff, and not because the congregation is dull-witted and has to be told over and over.  Every Sunday, we repeat these things because they’re important to always hold before us.  One of these parts of the service is the Creed.

            Week after week, we rehearse the words:

I believe in Jesus Christ…

who for us men and for our salvation came down from heaven

and was incarnate by the Holy Spirit of the virgin Mary

and was made man;

and was crucified also for us under Pontius Pilate.

He suffered and was buried.

And the third day, He rose again according to the Scriptures and ascended into heaven

and sits at the right hand of the Father.

This is actually why we gather for worship at all—because of what God has done through His Son.  It is the foundation of our faith and our hope of eternal life.  It’s also the bedrock upon which all true prayer is built.  Jesus says, “In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father.”  Sounds like the Creed, doesn’t it?  We pray to the Father on the basis of what His Son has done to make us children of God.

            We know that the world is often looking for help.  Whenever there is a tragedy, like the tornadoes and floods in Texas and Oklahoma, the fires in the summer, or a senseless act of violence, many offer the comfort that the victims are in their prayers.  And it’s absolutely true that we need God’s help to recover from such disasters.  On a personal level, people will pray for someone who is sick with a serious illness.  And who better to ask for help than the Author of life?

But when people of the world ask for help, they’ve got other helps besides Jesus.  For them, prayer is just a way to hedge your bets in case all other options are exhausted—medicine, science, and intoxication.  It’s a last-ditch effort.  In our pagan-infused society, prayer is one option among many—prayer along with horoscopes, tea leaves, psychics, reiki,[1] and sweathouses.  It’s good to have a full toolbox, it seems to the world.

But prayer in the Name of Jesus is not just one option for help; it’s the only place that godly hearts look.  Sometimes we come to it early, like the centurion whose servant was ill: “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word, and my servant will be healed.”[2]  Sometimes we come later when we see God has taken everything away, like the woman with the flow of blood, “who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse” and who said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.”[3]  The godly realize what Paul wrote to Timothy, “There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”[4]  As the hymn “Abide with Me” beautifully says, “When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O abide with me.”[5]  So Jesus promises, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”

God will not tolerate our hearts being divided.  He is a jealous God, because He is the only One who delivers us.[6]  Are we struggling in our creaturely lives?  He is the Creator who loves us and remembers that we are dust.[7]  Do we grieve what has been taken from us?  He is the God who can restore what is lost and give abundantly more.[8]  But we cannot have it both ways—the way of the pagan world and the way of God’s children.  “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.”[9]  In our daily struggles of waiting, wanting, and longing, He refines us like silver so that we confess, “From where does my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.”[10]

            A Pew Research study in 2012 found that 76% of Americans agreed with the statement “prayer is an important part of my daily life.”[11]  This shows how much people want divine help.  So, there are outlets for prayer—a National Day of Prayer, the Presidential Prayer Breakfast, and community prayer services in times of trouble.  People come together in droves, and they pour their heart out in prayer.

With all the focus on prayer, the verse 2 Chronicles 7:14 is often quoted: “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”  If just enough people would get together and pray, what amazing things would happen!  And it’s true…in part.  But prayer is not effective because of our humility, or how sincerely we seek His face.  It isn’t any more powerful if 1 or 1,000 pray for it.  Prayer is about Who we are praying to.

The Lord said in 2 Chronicles, “My people who are called by My Name.”  These are the ones He has called out of the nations and placed His Name upon them.  Praying isn’t a privilege given to just anyone.  It’s a gift given to those who bear God’s Name on their foreheads—the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  So, when Jesus says, “Whatever you ask of the Father in my Name, he will give it to you,” He’s saying that you have access to God as Father because you bear God’s Name.  You are praying in your Baptism.  You are children of God, which is why you can pray to Him and He answers.

There are three things that Jesus teaches us about prayer.  “The Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God.”  First of all, God is not angry with you.  “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”  This verse from Romans 8:1 is familiar but very important to remember.  God’s Son has borne the wrath of God against all of your sins.  All of God’s anger was on Him, so that a sinner like you would have God’s love forever.

So, when you pray, you don’t have to tiptoe and say, “Father, I just want this or that,” like He’s going to kick you out for asking too much.  Think of this: He loves you more than even your earthly parents ever could.  You will never annoy Him by praying too much.  (In fact, He’d be tickled to have you call on Him so much!)  “Love keeps no record of wrongs”[12]: He won’t hold a grudge against you for past sins.  Remember, He has taken His anger and your sins away—as far as the east is from the west.[13]  So, go right to Him with your prayers.

The next thing to remember is that your prayers don’t have to be anything fancy.  “The Father himself loves you.”  Simple or complex prayers don’t make a difference to Him.  They don’t need to be crafted ahead of time like the Collect of the Day.  One author explained it this way:

Instead of fearing and dreading God, we can approach God in prayer with confidence and love. Imagine that your child approached you and asked for the car keys. Which request would you listen to: “O Head of this house, you alone have the keys to the car. I humbly beseech thee to share them with me …” or “Daddy, could I please use the car?” Certainly, God is deserving of high and holy praise, but He also wants us to approach Him in love and intimacy.[14]

Sometimes our prayers don’t even have words, as Paul tells us in Romans 8, “The Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.”[15]

Finally, Jesus teaches us to pray for anything and everything.  Pray when you’re going to the doctor’s office, and pray when you’re looking for a parking spot.  Pray during a job interview, and pray when you’re looking for your lost keys.  Your heavenly Father is listening.  It doesn’t matter if other people think you’re foolish for praying for such things.  They aren’t listening in!  “Whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you.”  Ask even for your loved ones back from the dead and He will answer.

Finally, our Lord tells us that we will be driven to prayer by what happens in life: “Do you now believe?…I have said these things that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”  The tribulations that happen to dear children of God prompt us to run to our heavenly Father.  In the fire of those trials, He wills peace for you.  Even if there’s no sign of peace outwardly, He will strengthen your faith so that it becomes mature.  It matures from being a faith in the mouth to being a firmer faith in the heart.  Yes, we confess our faith week in and week out, and that is good and right, because in every change and chance of this life, the God we go to in prayer is always the same, always loving, and always faithful.  Amen.

[1] – A pagan healing technique based on pagan beliefs about the human body

[2] Matthew 8:8

[3] Mark 5:26, 28

[4] 1 Timothy 2:5

[5] LSB 878, stanza 1

[6] Psalm 33:16-18

[7] Psalm 103:14

[8] Job 42:10-17

[9] Matthew 6:24

[10] Psalm 121:1b-2


[12] 1 Corinthians 13:5 NIV

[13] Psalm 103:12

[14] Engelbrecht, Edward A. (2010-07-02). The Lutheran Difference: An Explanation & Comparison of Christian Beliefs (Kindle Locations 2291-2294). Concordia Publishing House. Kindle Edition.  (p 96)

[15] Romans 8:26

Fifth Sunday of Easter (Cantate) (John 16:5-15)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Fifth Sunday of Easter (Cantate) + May 19, 2019

Text: John 16:5-15

The Sundays of the Easter season remind us how it’s possible for Jesus’ disciples to continue to be in fellowship with Him and to glory in the resurrection for the long haul.  For four Sundays in a row, from John chapter 16, we hear our Lord speak reassuring words to us, His disciples of this day:

Now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, ‘Where are you going?’ But because I have said these things to you, sorrow has filled your heart. Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.

Parting is never easy, and nobody wants to.  Early on Easter morning, Mary wanted to cling to Jesus and treasure that moment where she was delivered from the tragedy of losing her Lord (John 20:16-17).  But in all love, Jesus tells us not to cling to that part of His ministry.  He has a bigger plan in mind: He must go away and ascend to the Father.

Now, in human movements, when the leader goes away, things fall apart.  After Martin Luther’s death in 1546, the Evangelicals started being led in different directions about fundamental parts of the faith.  Phillip Melanchthon, who wrote the Treatise on the Power and Primacy of the Pope[1] (refuting the pope’s claim to rule the church unquestioned and invent new doctrines), wanted to start compromising on worship and Communion practices to make peace with his catholic neighbors.  Andreas Osiander started teaching that we aren’t actually declared righteous on account of Christ, but that Christ’s divine nature dwells in us to the point that our sins are like a drop of water in the ocean.  It sounds like a sermon illustration gone terribly wrong.  But the point is when a human leader leaves, things usually fall apart.

But when Jesus leaves His disciples in the Ascension, it’s actually the greatest thing that could happen for the disciples—and for the world which will hear the Word of God through them.

I will send [the Helper] to you. And when He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.

The Holy Spirit—who was there in the beginning of creation, hovering over the waters—will begin His work of a new creation through Christ.  It’s a new creation that will require judgment and destruction of the old, but it will bring everlasting restoration for all who receive Him.  The Holy Spirit goes to work in those very areas that need the most desperate attention: He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement.

He will condemn men not simply for thinking and doing the wrong thing (because if He did that, He’d have to wipe out the whole human race[2]).  He will condemn men’s refusal to believe in who Jesus is and what His coming means.  The Spirit will condemn all human righteousness as worthless, because Jesus is the only man worthy to go to the Father: “O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart” (Psalm 15:1-2). The Spirit will also convict the world concerning judgement. While men are busy passing judgments on each other and cursing God for what they perceive as sleights and neglect toward the world, Satan seems to slip out the back door.  It was Satan’s temptation that brought this world of sin, death, and lifelong subjugation.  But God has not forgotten what He promised in the Garden after the Fall: “He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Gen. 3:15).  Satan, the instigator of all evil must be judged and all his works destroyed, especially rebellion in men’s hearts and false teaching.

This is the ongoing work of the Triune God, reclaiming and restoring His creation to Himself.  The work wasn’t over when Jesus died, or when He rose victorious over the grave, or even when He ascended into heaven.  His work will not be finished until the Last Day when the faithful are gathered around Him, singing blessing, and glory, and honor, and might to Him forever.[3]  The Lord Jesus continues:

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, for he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine; therefore I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you.

It’s the Holy Spirit Who continues God’s saving work.  He came at Pentecost, He came each time the Apostles and Evangelists wrote (2 Pet. 1:21), He comes in Holy Baptism (Acts 2:38), and He comes every time the Word of God is preached (Gal. 3:5).  And His work is done through the Word of God.  This is immensely important to understand—God wills to be found through His Word.  Everywhere else is a gray area.  For example, people might tell you about a dream they had, or an inspiring thought that came to mind.  They might even talk about a miracle that they witnessed.  But that is not where people are to seek God, because if those extraordinary experiences are from God, they are not for everyone.  If we have a dream or an idea, it must agree with Scripture.  If we see a miracle, that’s not the thing that will convince a person to believe (otherwise everyone would need miracles to believe, and Jesus said, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign.” Matthew 12:39)

From the beginning, Almighty God has chosen to interact with creation—with humanity, with you and me—through His Word.  Anywhere else you think you find God, you may well have found the devil.

God does it this way because He wants us to have certainty about Him.  Sin and the devil have only brought confusion, hearts that are afraid when they shouldn’t be, and at ease when they ought to fear God.  But when the Spirit guides us into all the truth, we can be sure of God’s heart and will for us.

One of the debates that plagues our time (and has for a couple centuries) is the question of whether the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God, or if it contains human errors that need to be sifted out.  A Lutheran professor from the early part of the 20th century, Franz Pieper, cuts to the chase: “The Jews [in John 8] heard Christ’s Word, but since they were not children of God, they could not recognize Christ’s Word as God’s Word, but revolted against it.  Christ here established the fact that acceptance of His Word as God’s Word is confined to the Christians.”[4]

The Holy Spirit takes what belongs to Christ and declares it to the world.  The Word of God glorifies the Son.  But that Word is only received by Christians.  If you hear someone arguing that you can’t trust the Bible as God’s Word, they are serving the devil, the Father of Lies.  Every branch of Christianity that has allowed for errors in the Bible has quickly lost what is Christ’s—the condemnation of unbelief, the righteousness that counts before God, and the exposure of the devil’s lies.  False teachers, under the banner of Luther, thought they were liberating the Church from stodgy, old-fashioned ways soon had lost the true Christ.  In His place, they had to put a message of social justice, tolerance, and equity on earth.  The Bible became nothing more than a patchwork of sayings to be mined for a given agenda.  But in the message of such false teachers, there is no salvation to be had, because they have blasphemed the Holy Spirit and spat in His face.  God, preserve us from such a terrible fate!

Jesus has ascended into heaven, and the Church commemorates this on the 40th Day after His resurrection.  But what He left us with is far greater than His local presence.  He has given us His Holy Spirit, Who brings us out of unbelief into faith, and who guards against the deceitful schemes of the devil and unbelieving men.  Yes, He has gone from us (for a time), but He is truly with us.  With the Holy Spirit’s aid, we hear His voice today just as clear as if He stood here Himself.  We receive His Body and Blood today in that same confidence, because as God and Man, He is able to fill all things—even this humble bread and wine.  How do we know?  The Holy Spirit has taken His Word and declared it to you.  Amen.


[2] Psalm 14:1-2, Psalm 143:2

[3] Revelation 5:13

[4] Christian Dogmatics I, 299

Fourth Sunday of Easter (1 Peter 2:11-23)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Fourth Sunday of Easter + May 12, 2019

Text: 1 Peter 2:11-23

Two words describe the Christian: a sojourner and an exile.

In the Old Testament, these were freighted terms.  The idea of sojourning in a foreign land began with Abraham who was a foreigner in the land of Canaan, meaning he had no blood or legal claim to the place where he was dwelling—the land which God had called him to and promised to his descendants.  He was a temporary resident.  As a sojourner, that status got handed down to his children, Isaac and Jacob.  Even though they had influence and great possessions, they had no lasting claim to the place where they lived.  When his wife Sarah died, Abraham even pleaded with the native people, “I am a sojourner and foreigner among you; ggive me property among you for a burying place, that I may bury my dead out of my sight.” (Genesis 23:4)

This condition of sojourning expanded when the sons of Jacob went to live in Egypt.  Even though they were gifted the region of Goshen, it was clear they had no permanent claim on that.  After the favorable Pharaoh died, they became slaves.  “Now there arose a new king over Egypt, ewho did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, “Behold, fthe people of Israel are too many and too mighty for us. 10 gCome, hlet us deal shrewdly with them, lest they multiply, and, if war breaks out, they join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them ito afflict them with heavy jburdens.” (Exodus 1:8-11)

Later, when Israel crossed the Jordan and received their promised inheritance, the Law of Moses reminded them of where they came from, and commanded, “You shall not oppress a sojourner. You know the heart of a sojourner, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)

Sojourners had a place near and dear to God’s heart because that was the condition of his people—temporary residents of a place, putting down tent stakes, but only for a time.

Then there’s “exiles.”  This isn’t exile with the sense of judgment that 587 BC brought with the destruction of Jerusalem.  The word used (parepidemos), which means someone who is “passing through” but who still makes relationships with the people they live along side.[1]  While sojourner refers to legal status, exile or pilgrim (1 Pet. 2:11 KJV), has the sense of destination.  You are here today, but one day you’ll move on toward your goal.

But there is a similarity to the Babylonian exile in what the prophet Jeremiah told the Israelites in chapter 29: “Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, to all the exiles whom I have sent into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon:

nBuild houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat their produce. Take wives and have sons and daughters; take wives for your sons, and give your daughters in marriage, that they may bear sons and daughters; multiply there, and do not decrease. But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and opray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare…

10 “For thus says the Lord: tWhen seventy years are completed for Babylon, uI will visit you, vand I will fulfill to you my promise vand bring you back to this place. 11 wFor I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare2 and not for evil, xto give you a future and a hope. 12 yThen you will call upon me and come and pray to me, yand I will hear you. 13 zYou will seek me and find me, when you seek me awith all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, declares the Lord, band I will restore your fortunes and cgather you from all the nations and all the places dwhere I have driven you, declares the Lord, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile.” (Jer. 29:4-7, 10-14)

To be a sojourner and an exile means belonging to God, even while you live among those who do not.  It would be natural to want to isolate oneself and wait it out, but that is not what God’s desire was for the Israelites living in Babylon.

It’s with this in mind that St. Peter addresses us: 11 Beloved, I urge you has sojourners and exiles ito abstain from the passions of the flesh, jwhich wage war against your soul. 12 kKeep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, lthey may see your good deeds and glorify God on mthe day of visitation.”

As sojourners and exiles, Christians are resident aliens in the present world.  We do not have any lasting claim on it (in fact, we know that any such claims will be superseded by the Day of Christ’s return).  All buildings of stone, contracts among men, nations and wonders, even the stars of the heavens—are passing away and will one day be laid waste.  As for us, we have no permanent claim even upon our place in this world that we work so hard to sustain.

So, while the people of the world around us scramble and fight and toil to get every last penny they can, we know that what we have, we have today, but our present and future belong to God.  As the Apostle encourages us, Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say, ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?’” (Hebrews 13:5-6)

We are just “passing through” this world.  And like the Jews in Babylon, we are to make homes, take spouses, multiply and live.  We are to pray for the welfare of the nation in which we live, even while our benefit from it is only for a time.  It’s not that we live fatalistic lives, unmoved by the evils around us, focused only on escaping this evil world in the end.  Together as the people of God, we live lives that are built on the bedrock of promises from the almighty, eternal God.  When the world suffers, we suffer with it.  When our fellow human beings suffer tragedy, it’s right to feel it with them and to walk alongside them.

In fact, this is the witness that we still have to our family and friends who have drifted away from their faith to follow the course of this world.  They go without the means of grace God gives in this place, because their friends told them retirement was about finally living for yourself; because the basketball coach told them their kids wouldn’t qualify for a scholarship if they didn’t dedicate everything to the team; because someone told them “nothing happens in Church” and it was all empty ritual and after all you only have so much free time on the weekend.  But the hope of the world is empty, and its rewards are fleeting.

Sometimes in our status as sojourners and exiles, Christians are reminded of how little we belong to this world.  Just as Abraham had no legal right to the place where he was dwelling, and just as the sons of Israel had their freedom taken from them, so it sometimes happens to Christians that they are mistreated—even though they belong to the God who desires the salvation of all people.  Case in point is the bombings on Easter which took place in Sri Lanka (which is featured on the front of the bulletin).  These Christians were celebrating the triumph over sin and death of their Lord, and yet they were treated like enemies.  And that’s just one particularly bloody and gruesome example of the world’s rage against those who belong to Christ (one that happened to make it on the news).

St. Peter writes to us because he doesn’t want us to be surprised when we are treated unjustly, discriminated against, or hated for our faith.  When we are (and it will happen more and more in our own borders), Peter reminds us that this is the calling of one of who follows Christ—“For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 23 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.”

When persecution happens, it is wrong, it’s not fair, it’s painful.  But if the Lord is your helper, what can man do to you?  “And take they our life, Goods, fame, child, and wife,

Though these all be gone, Our vict’ry has been won; The Kingdom ours remaineth.”[2]  Persecution tests the genuineness of our faith—do we believe that our hope is not in this world, but in the world to come?  It’s a palpable way that God is teaching us to renounce the things of this life and look forward to eternity.  As our Lord said in Mark 10, “Truly, I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or lands, for my sake and for the gospel, 30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)  May God preserve each of us in the true faith unto life everlasting! Amen.

[1] Strong’s Greek 3927 –

[2] “A Mighty Fortress is Our God” (LSB 656:4)

Third Sunday of Easter (John 10:11-16)

Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR

Third Sunday of Easter (Misericordias Domini) + May 5, 2019

Baptism of Lincoln Thomas Vorderstrasse

Text: John 10:11-16

Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” But what is meant by “good”?  When you want to find out more in Holy Scripture, you go to the original languages—Greek in the New Testament and Hebrew in the Old.[1]  In His wisdom, God chose these languages to record His Holy Word for generations.[2]  So, to learn what is meant by “Good Shepherd,” we go to the Greek.

In Greek, the Holy Spirit directed John to use kalos in this passage.  Kalos means noble or virtuous.  There’s another word for good, agathos, which is more descriptive of qualities or moral convictions a person has.[3]

But kalos—noble or virtuous—is used here.  It’s also what describes the wine at the Wedding in Cana (2:10), and later in chapter 10 of Jesus’ good works.  Kalos is about meeting an objective standard, a code of conduct, of someone fulfilling the highest and best he can be.

It may seem pretty rudimentary to be analyzing what “good” means, but we live in an environment where anyone is free to make his or her mind about what is good.  Good could mean pleasurable, helping me meet my own personal goals, or having qualities that are popular at moment.

As a result, people can’t agree on what is good or evil, virtuous or base.  The argument goes that pleasure is good, so you should pursue whatever is pleasurable to you as long as it doesn’t immediately impact other people.  Whether its to use drugs or not, who to pair up with and how long, whether to provide for yourself or mooch off others—all such things are left up to individuals and no authority dares to call their bluff.

It sounds much like what the Lord said through Isaiah about the people of his day: Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness” (5:20). Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were an objective, unchangeable standard for good, an ideal to which we strive and model our life?  From God there is a template of what is noble and virtuous versus what is depraved and gross.

Today, into this foggy human mess of selfish ambition, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.”  He first establishes who He is, the I Am.[4]  He is God who made all that exists—visible and invisible—including us as creatures.  “Oh come, let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand.” (Psalm 95:6-7)  He is our Maker, and He has every right to determine what those made in His image ought to be like.  It’s sad proof of our wretched hearts and minds that we question and ignore the very Word by which we exist and have life.

Good Shepherd”—We must learn from Him what good is, because our fathers and us have believed the Serpent’s lie—“you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).  It’s not just the corrupting influence of unbelievers; the evil lies within.  We say we have “good common sense” but all too often our Creator finds us fighting for and making excuses for seems right to us, but is evil in His eyes.

The very reason you are here, gathered into the place where God and His Good are known is by the powerful working of His Spirit.  “Where shall I go from your Spirit?” the psalmist wonders, but truly, “Even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with You.” (Psalm 139:7, 12).  God shines through the darkness of your heart.

So if we are to learn anew from our Creator what truly is good, let us look to Jesus, the Good Shepherd.

“The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”  This is the perfect act of devotion that it took to bring us back to God.  This is what we just meditated on in the death of Jesus—from His agony in the garden, betrayal, cruel mockery, pain, to His death—for Him it was all intentional, done for our sake.  This is the cause for great joy, the alleluias, the hymns of praise, because Jesus our Shepherd has done this for us and gathered us into His fold!

Remember how kalos is the word for virtuous?  In contrast to this virtue is the self-serving cowardice of the hired hand.  He has no dedication because he has nothing to lose.  But the Good Shepherd holds nothing back and places everything on the line, becomes one with us.  He refuses to let His creation be debased by Satan, sin, and death.  He counts them enemies for the sake of saving His creatures and He tackles them head on.

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”  Not only does He sacrifice all for the sake of gaining life for us, but He knows us.  Here again, the original languages are helpful.  Know in Scripture means more than head knowledge of facts.[5]  It means to have an intimate, shared bond.

“Adam knew his wife, and she conceived a son.” (Gen. 4:1)  Husbands know their wives (or they should), and wives know their husbands.  Sure it includes what to get her for mother’s day or her birthday, but it’s really about thinking of and acting in the way that best serves the other’s needs, setting aside what would serve your needs for the sake of theirs.

When our Good Shepherd says knows His own, our human knowing only gives us a faint glimpse.  He knows us intimately, incarnationally—“Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.” (All of Psalm 139 is a beautiful meditation on this knowing.)  He has intimate knowledge of each of us—our joys and pains, how we think, what our strengths and weaknesses are, our past and our future.  Nothing escapes His notice. What an incredible wonder that this doesn’t make Him forsake us!  Instead, because He laid down His life for the sake of His sheep—for you—He draws all the closer because He earnestly desires for you to have life eternally.

He also says, “My own know me.”  His Spirit has enlightened your minds and hearts to know Him with that same intimate bond.  It’s not too much or blasphemous to say you know what God thinks of you.  Yes, He sees all your sins which make you unworthy to stand before Him, but you also know His extraordinary, divine love which atoned for your sins and sought you out!  You know how God thinks, what God delights in, and what is pleasing in His sight.  Pore over His Word, leave behind the laziness of your weak flesh, so that you can know Him better each day of this life!  Look forward to the Day when God’s enemies and yours—sin, death, and Satan—lie in ruins. “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor. 13:12)

This morning, we witnessed a beautiful thing in God’s sight.  Before it, we sang, “Dearest Jesus, we are here, Gladly your command obeying; With this child we now draw near In response to Your own saying That to You it shall be given As a child and heir of heaven.” (LSB 592:1)  This is truly a good thing—a noble and virtuous thing—for parents to bring their child to Jesus in faith, trusting the Word He has spoken: “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of God. 15 Assuredly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will by no means enter it.” (Mark 10:14-15 NKJV)  It is also a noble thing for parents to raise their children in the faith—what the world calls brainwashing and empty tradition, Jesus calls good.  It is a noble thing to sacrifice time and love to drag oneself out of bed on the weekend, because however good sleep seems, the faith that is created and strengthened here is better.  It’s the easier thing to stay home, but it turns out that’s the basest thing, because it results in your children being swept away by the Devil and the unbelieving world.

So repent and bear noble fruits.  Let the good shepherd gather you into His fold.  Hear His voice of forgiveness, and be made new for noble and good things in the sight of your Creator.  Amen.

[1] Portions of Daniel and Ezra are in Aramaic.

[2] Hebrew was the language of Eber and his descendants (Genesis 10:24, 11:14-15)

[3] Agathos is used in Nathanael’s snarky comment about Nazareth (1:46), the judgment (5:29), and human opinion of Jesus (7:12).

[4] Exodus 3:14

[5] Hebrew is YDA (yadá). This was brought into Yiddish as “yadda” and the phrase “Yadda, yadda!” means “You know the rest.”  Ironically, this phrase is usually used to brush off insignificant details.