Third Sunday of Easter (Misericordias Domini)

Readings: Ezekiel 34:11-16 | 1 Peter 2:21-25 | John 10:11-16

Text: John 10:11-16

The name for this second Sunday after Easter is a mouthful: Misericordias Domini.  It’s also a strange name, unless you’re a Spanish-speaker.  Misericordias in both Latin and Spanish means “mercy.”  It’s from Psalm 33:5, which we heard in the introit as, “The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.”  But what is this “steadfast love” and “mercy”?  What does it look like, and how can we lay hold of it?  On this “Good Shepherd Sunday,” we have a picture of the Lord’s steadfast love and mercy.  He is the Good Shepherd, who calls and gathers His flock around Him.

But they are not just pristine, innocent lambs that He takes in His bosom.  They wandered into thorn bushes and thickets.  Without a shepherd, they have vied for power and shouldered the weak aside.  Some have been torn by wolves and left for dead.  Others have grown “fat and strong” on pastures they took for granted.  These are what the Lord’s sheep look like.  So, to look at the mercy of the Lord is to see how the Lord gathers His wandering sheep.

The reading from Ezekiel 34 tells how the Lord Himself will “seek out [His] sheep and rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.”[1]  This refers to the time when the Lord’s flock was gathered at the base of Mount Sinai:

16 On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled… 18 Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. 19 And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. 20 The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain.[2]

From Mount Sinai, the Lord gave His Law.  To that frightful sight, the people swore, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do, and we will be obedient.”[3]  But they didn’t, and they weren’t.  And they couldn’t.[4]  Just 40 days later, they were fashioning a golden calf, calling it the Lord, and bowing down to it.[5]  The only thing that saved them that day was Moses’ intercession, where he implored the Lord to remember the promise made to their fathers.

            But there was another mountain.  It was a mountain in the Promised Land, just outside Jerusalem.  The glory of the Lord once again appeared over this mountain.  Thick darkness covered it, and the Lord was at the top of this mountain.  But this time the threats were not against the people.  The darkness lasted for just three hours, and the voice of God did not thunder, but choked out His dying words:

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”… 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.[6]

On this mountain, the wrath of God against all human sin was satisfied.  “I am the good shepherd…I lay down my life for the sheep.”  God’s only-begotten Son laid down His life to redeem the flock of God.[7]

            Later in chapter 12 of John’s Gospel, Jesus would speak of the cross in this way: “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”[8]  This is center point of the Good Shepherd’s call.  He calls the wandering sheep of Israel—and truly of all nations—to the cross.  There, as Zechariah wrote, the shepherd is struck.  For a time, the sheep are scattered, but soon, the Lord says, “They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘They are my people’; and they will say, ‘The Lord is my God’.”[9]  The Good Shepherd’s call to the wandering sheep is to where He washes them from all their filthy sin and makes them His very own.  “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”

            In clouds and thick darkness, when God’s holy Law brings death and hell, sinful sheep are scattered and frightened.  They are helpless and hopeless until the Lord, their Shepherd, gathers them to His cross.  Only there, can the terrors of God be silenced.  Only the precious blood of Jesus can wash sins away.  “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”[10]  The Lord Himself restores His stained and diseased sheep, so that they live before Him in righteousness and purity forever.[11]

            This is the economy of God: those sheep who were stubborn, who were lost, who even scoffed at the Shepherd, who longed to rescue them—are absolved. No more are their pushing and shoving counted against them!.  The Good Shepherd has “laid down His life so that He may take it up again.”[12]  He laid down His life so that they might rise with Him.  They now hear their Shepherd’s voice and follow only Him.  “They will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”  Only the Good Shepherd can guide them to “good pasture, grazing on the mountain heights of Israel.”[13]  Only He can lead them has His redeemed flock, protected from the wolves and well-tended both in body and soul.

            But, the Lord also tells us, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”  His call from the cross continues to go out!  Now, He rules in heaven, the Lamb whom all the heavenly host adore, but His voice is still heard on earth.  It’s heard among His flock every time they gather for worship.  The Lord says, “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.”  This sets things straight when it comes to missions. It’s all too easily to manipulate people by the fear that people are going to hell if you don’t do _______. This is dishonest, and does not allow God to be the author of faith.  In the Word preached, in the Word washing, in the Word binding and loosing from sin, and in the Word eaten and drunk for the forgiveness of sins, the Good Shepherd cares for His flock.

            Ultimately, there will be one flock, even as there is one Shepherd.  All of us together hear His voice and listen—the flock of old in Israel, the flock in Lebanon, and the flock that will be.  What unites this flock is not the name of a church body like “Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod.”  It’s not the citizenry of a certain country.  It’s not in outward appearance and personality.  The Church is those who hear their Shepherd’s voice.  To put it another way, “Blessed are those who hear the Word of God and keep it.”[14]  They do not refuse Him who speaks,[15] but follow where He leads.  He calls His sheep, He cleanses them from their iniquities, He renews them, and He leads them to green pastures.

            At the Last, the one Good Shepherd will gather His flock all around Him.  They will be delivered from every evil of body and soul, possessions and reputation,[16] and they will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.  Amen.

[1] Ezekiel 34:12

[2] Exodus 19:16-20

[3] Exodus 24:7

[4] Romans 8:7

[5] Exodus 32

[6] Matthew 27:45-46, 50

[7] Acts 20:28

[8] John 12:32

[9] Zechariah 13:7, 9

[10] Isaiah 1:18

[11] Small Catechism, IV, “What does such baptizing with water indicate?”

[12] John 10:18

[13] Ezekiel 34:14

[14] Luke 11:28

[15] Hebrews 12:25

[16] Small Catechism, III, 7th Petition

Second Sunday after Easter (Quasimodo Geniti)

Readings: Ezekiel 37:1-14 | 1 John 5:4-10 | John 20:19-31

Text: John 20:19-31

On the evening of the Resurrection, the disciples—at least ten of them—saw the risen Lord! Sometimes we get to thinking the disciples must have had an easier time because they had Jesus in the flesh. After all, what quality of teaching! What a strengthening of faith to see the healings being done, the demons cast out, even the dead raised. On Palm Sunday, John comments that many of the crowd had come because Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead.

Many times, Christians have thought of the time of the Apostles as the “glory days” of the Church. They were so close in time and space to the events which we only get to hear about over the centuries and miles! Even the book of Acts has a certain luster about it, because the eyewitnesses were proclaiming—and sometimes thousands became believers at once. It’s so appealing that many times movements start in the more modern Church that want to get back to those “glory days”—ones like the Pentecostals, the Church of Christ, and communist utopian colonies.

And so in these “gray and latter days,” we can hope that we had a confession that was more visually convincing. If only we too had Jesus physically present with us, then perhaps people would believe and be saved. If only our own congregation had something more appealing, then we could reach more people, worship with more, sing more vibrantly…

However, the truth is that the apostles and the disciples afterward experienced the same amount of resistance to the ministry of Jesus. As was mentioned last week on Easter itself, some of those who saw were the harshest critics. At Nazareth, “[Jesus] could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them” (Mk. 6:5).

Even His own disciples proved to be an obstacle when, “they were bringing even infants to him that he might touch them. And when the disciples saw it, they rebuked them” (Lk. 18:15). This should bring even more clarity to the truth that God’s ways are higher than our ways [Isa. 55:9].  Last Sunday, too, the women saw the empty tomb and heard the message of the angel, but at first “they said nothing to anyone because they were afraid” (Mk. 16:8).

So also, here in today’s Gospel, we find the disciples locked up as if man had prevailed.  Thomas, who had once boldly said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (Jn. 11:16) and saw Lazarus raised from the grave now refuses to believe that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life [Jn. 11:25].  These are the “glory days” of those closest to the Lord?

In fact, they remained timid even with the Resurrected Lord with them, going about their daily business as if not much had changed with His Resurrection.  You would think that this great ordination of the apostles to be “sent as the Father has sent Me” combined with Thomas’ awe-struck “My Lord and my God!” would yield some transformation. But, immediately after this climax, the disciples are right back to going fishing, as if it were “Monday morning” and time to get back to work.

So, if those who saw the Lord were still so darkened in their understanding, why would we long for that? Hear the Word of the Lord Jesus: “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

We are those who hear the Lord. The disciples saw the Lord (v. 20), but ever since the Ascension, the Church hears Him speak (v. 21).  We are a Church that is built firmly and solely on the Word of God.  By the Word, the heavens and the earth were created [2 Pe. 3:5], and by that same Word the peop0le of God now live and breathe.

He has given us the reliable eyewitness of the apostles.  They did see the Lord, and they were witnesses from the beginning, as Peter said when Matthias was appointed: “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection” (Acts 1:21-22)  In their preaching and their writings—which are the New Testament—they made repeated reference to the fact that they were first-hand witnesses of what the Lord had done,[1] and they were appointed by Him to write these things “that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (v. 31).

This Word is no ordinary babble of man. We’re surrounded by words—even listening to words this moment—but the Word of God is living and active. The Risen Lord, to whom “all authority in heaven and on earth has been given” (Matt. 28:18) imbues His Word with His power to make disciples and teaching them, and keeping them steadfast in this faith unto the end.

He has given us His Spirit: “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (Jn. 14:26), which is better for us, because the Lord also says, “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” (Jn. 16:7).  It was by the power of the Spirit with the Word that “more than ever believers were added to the Lord” (Acts 5:14).

But just because we don’t see Him with our eyes does not in any way mean He isn’t present with us. Often, people get into trouble when they look for an assurance of the Lord’s presence outside of His Word. Consider these dead ends:

  • Looking for the Lord’s presence in circumstances—when things are going well, the Lord must be with us.  When they aren’t, He must not care. Not so for the Lord, whose “steadfast love endures forever” (Ps. 136:1)
  • Looking for the Lord in emotions or experience, when we have a certain feeling that we equate with His presence. So many of our fellow Christians are led to believe that by the popular and shallow events which are called “times of worship.” But feelings are always changing. Rather, “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24-25) And that foundation of Rock comes from the Word, not from our fickle feelings.

The promise and the promise is with the Word of the Lord: “Peace be with you” v. 19: By these words, the Lord opens the gates of heaven and slams the pit shut on Satan and all of your sins.  His death and resurrection to eternal life have freed you.

“Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld” He still sends His Holy Spirit by speaking in our midst here.  As He speaks to us and through us, that peace which looses sins comes to those who hear and believe—here in corporate worship, at home with your family, with strangers you meet.  He lavishes the forgiveness He won through us.

You are blessed because it is completely by His work that you believe.  It wasn’t because He took away all your problems; it wasn’t because you had a feeling He was with you; and it wasn’t because the lighting was just right. It is because the Holy Spirit has given you faith that your sins are forgiven and you are in His Kingdom forever.

But if you believe His Word, believe also the signs He gives: Baptism and the Lord’s Supper.  His Baptism saves and His Supper truly is what He says.

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

[1] Acts 2:32, 5:32, 10:39, etc.