Good Shepherd Sunday
"The Shepherd and Bishop of our Souls”
1 Peter 2:21-25
April 18, 2010
Jesus practiced what he preached. He said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you. (Matthew 5, 43-44)
He lived as he preached. They cursed him and he blessed them in return. They hated him and he died for them. They persecuted him and he prayed his Father to forgive them. That’s how Jesus lived and died. God calls his Christians to live and to die in imitation of Christ.
“For to this you were called.” We were called out of spiritual darkness. The One who died for us and rose again found us when we were lost. Left to ourselves we would have continued to wander in darkness. Like foolish sheep we would have remained lost forever. He called us out of darkness.
Darkness often seems like light. It feels good. It feels right. But it’s wrong. There’s a line in an old song, “It can’t be wrong if it feels so right.” But it can be wrong when it feels so right. The sheep follows his feelings. That’s how he gets lost. The essence of sin is not the outward word or deed. It is the feeling inside. It feels right to make ourselves to be like God. Following this feeling leads us straight into the jaws of the wolf.
It feels good to strike back. Payback is admired. He had it coming. They say that revenge is a dish best served cold. They say this, not to discourage vengeance, but to promote the more effective exacting of it. To argue, as does Jesus, that we should bless those who curse us is dismissed as impractical religious zeal. Sure, this is fine as an ideal for some. In the real world we look out for number one.
But Jesus practices what he preaches and in so doing he brings substance to his preaching. He was reviled. They abused him, insulted him, mocked him, and did their very best to inflict every kind of indignity upon him. He took it. He did not pay them back. He did not insult in return. He suffered silently. He uttered no threats.
Did he thereby approve of their disgusting behavior? The very idea is absurd. He was sinless. How could he approve of sin? He was love incarnate and he faced pure hatred. But love faces hatred with love, not hatred. Hatred cannot be overcome by hatred. Only fools who follow their feelings think it can. Only love can overcome hatred.
Jesus entrusted himself to him who judges justly. God judges. He judges justly. The civil authorities may be corrupt. The present circumstances might appear to leave no room for justice. There may be no plausible explanation of how justice will come out of the injustice we are suffering. Still, God judges justly. He is righteous. So are his judgments.
This does not mean that we may not avail ourselves of the protection of the law. We Christians have the right to use the civil authorities against those who commit crimes against us. We may testify in court, serve in the military, sue for damages, and call on the government to come to our aid in defense of our rights. Jesus does not teach pacifism. When his forerunner, John the Baptist, gave counsel to soldiers who came to him to be baptized, he said to them: “Do not intimidate anyone or accuse falsely, and be content with your wages.” Luke 3:14 He didn’t tell them to leave military service.
Jesus and his apostles do not teach us to withdraw from the world and live lives separated from the world with our own laws. That would be the easy way. We are to live in the world with all its corruption and injustice. We are to use the institutions of the world that are controlled by self-seeking and self-promoting sinners. We are to live our lives interacting with folks of every religion or none at all (though that’s hardly likely) and to do so in imitation of Christ. We may appeal for official justice. The Apostle Paul appealed to Caesar. God doesn’t forbid the use of secular courts. He forbids private revenge. Jesus entrusted himself to him to judges righteously.
Just after saying this St. Peter wrote, “Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree.” God’s justice did not deliver Jesus from the injustice of the cross. To the contrary: it demanded it. For if Jesus had not borne our sins in his own body on the cross then we could not have been forgiven of our sins, we could not have been delivered from their power, we could not have been healed. Love exercised authority over justice. Thus Jesus went to the cross.
Love overcame hatred on the cross. He bore the sin of the whole world, thus reconciling the whole world to God. As surely as he died, he bore all sins of all sinners of all time. As surely as he rose from the dead, all those sins of all those sinners of all time were forgiven, blotted out, washed away.
This is the gospel. This is the voice of the Good Shepherd, calling his sheep to safety. This is the voice that drives the wolf away. The gospel points us to when and where Jesus bore our sins in his body. The gospel brings death to sin and a new life of righteousness.
Dying to sin and living for righteousness is our life. Dying to sin is receiving forgiveness. Faith receives. Faith is born in repentance. Sorrow for sin and faith in the gospel that gives us forgiveness of sin is what it means to die to sin. Sin can’t touch us. It is forgiven. We are dead to it.
Dying to sin and living for righteousness go together. Sin is not forgiven for the sake of sin. Sin is forgiven for the sake of righteousness. God does not forgive sinners so that they will continue to sin. He forgives sinners so they will live righteous lives. How? How does a sinner live a righteous life? He dies to sin. He confesses his sin and is absolved. He returns to his baptism every single day. By dying and rising every day in Holy Baptism he dies to sin and rises to righteousness. Listen to the familiar questions and answers from the Catechism:
What does such baptizing with water signify?
It signifies that the Old Adam in us should, by daily contrition and repentance, be drowned and die with all sins and evil lusts and, again, a new man daily come forth and arise, who shall live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written?
St. Paul writes, Romans, chapter sixth: We are buried with Christ by Baptism into death, that, like as He was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
Contrition is sorrow. Our sins make us sad. We are sorry that we responded to the insult with an insult. We want to avoid paying others back for what they’ve done against us. We are grieved that we have failed to imitate the patience of our Lord Jesus. That’s what contrition means.
Repentance is contrition and faith. We believe. We believe that Jesus bore our sins in his body. We believe that by his stripes we are healed. We believe that God, for Christ’s sake, forgives us all our sins and promises us eternal life. We believe that Jesus is our true Shepherd and Bishop. Faith is not our achievement. It is not our decision. Faith is receiving what God gives. It is believing God when he tells us the gospel, for faith is the only way to receive God’s promises. He says it. We believe it.
St. Peter calls Jesus the shepherd and bishop of our souls. The church uses the word pastor to refer to the man who preaches and teaches God’s word, baptizes, absolves, and administers the Lord’s Supper. The word pastor means shepherd. As a shepherd feeds the flock under his care, so does a pastor.
The word bishop means overseer. The term has been used in the church to refer to a pastor who oversees other pastors, watching over what they teach and supervising their preaching, teaching, and administration of the sacraments.
In the Bible, however, the words pastor and bishop are used interchangeably. A pastor is a bishop and a bishop is a pastor. The same man who feeds the flock watches over the flock to protect it against wolves. In the Bible, there is no hierarchy among the pastors. All pastors are equal. They have equal authority because they all have the same authority. It is the authority of Christ Jesus himself, to preach his gospel, to pronounce his absolution, to baptize in his name, to give out his body and blood, given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. It is Christ’s ministry. It doesn’t belong to the minister. It belongs to Christ. Christ has given it to the Church. God calls men to be pastors through the call of the Church.
Jesus is the true pastor. Jesus is the true bishop. Jesus is the one who bore our sins. Jesus is the one who feeds us with the gospel of the forgiveness of sins. Jesus is the one who watches over us and guides us into the paths of righteousness. His ministers are no more than his voice and his hands. Jesus is the true servant, who gave his life as a ransom for us all.
We need a shepherd. But not just any shepherd. We need the Good Shepherd. Only the one who gave his life for us is worthy to feed us, to protect us, and to guide us. This is why we learn the pure teaching of the gospel. This is why we hold our pastors to it. We want only faithful shepherds and bishops who are devoted to the true Word of God. Only then can we be confident that they are speaking and acting for Christ, the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls. Your pastors, the undershepherds of the Good Shepherd, work for Jesus. Only when they take their orders from him are they fit to serve you, the sheep of the Good Shepherd. Amen