1 Peter 2:21-25
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia.
In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
So God the Father let His people be utterly humbled. He had warned them in the Old Covenant that He would not protect them when they ceased to follow Him and return to Him. And so He let them be destroyed by foreign powers. First the 10 northern tribes of the nation were parceled off and scattered in the 700s BC. And by the time of Ezekiel in the 600s the final calamity was upon them and they were carted off by a foreign power to a foreign city.
Watching your culture and nation unravel around you is sad for every generation that has witnessed such things, but this was doubly sad for this was a special nation. God had chosen them as the womb to birth the world’s salvation. He had promised them, and them alone as a nation with their government, kings and armies, that He would prosper and protect them, in order to crush the serpent of sin’s head. If He allowed them to be crushed, what hope was there for the world?
They did not realize that God does not abandon His own, nor give them up. He is always faithful to His promises. But they had abandoned Him so He gave them enough rope to hang themselves, allowed them to reap what they had sown. The same destruction that the powerful had wreaked upon all the nations around them came down on them. There is nothing historically noteworthy about this. The same pattern has played itself out again and again in history. No one would have noticed if this nation state had not been God’s people. For God to allow this to happen to them seemed as though God had abandoned them. But the truth was, they had abandoned God.
Their spiritual leaders had ceased to be shepherds. They fed God’s sheep on falsehood. They had not called them back to God when they strayed. They no longer knew God’s voice, because it had been so watered down for so long. The flock of Israel had been scattered throughout the nations. Many Israelites had been destroyed physically by the sword and spiritually by unbelief.
It is the same for us. We have watered down God’s Word. We have not wanted to hear all of it. We rarely open it up for ourselves. And fall into habits of hearing His Word proclaimed in Church less and less often. We are ignorant of what it even says. Yet more often than not we act like we are experts on what God is about so that we judge our God and His Church by our “wisdom” trying to fit His Word into our schemes. We have been embarrassed by the unfashionable bits, following the trend lines in our society rather than our Shepherd. Repent.
Ezekiel prophesied that on day of clouds and darkness God, their Shepherd, would gather them together, would unite them in safety as His flock, would bring them together in faith, and feed them with His Word, protecting them from eternal death. This happened when from noon till 3pm Our Lord suffered on the cross, and the sun hid its face, deep darkness covered that place while God the creator died. Since so few humans did, Creation itself shuddered and wept that her Maker had suffered and died for her. By His death the Good Shepherd shepherded His flock to the eternal pastures of His Father.
After three days the Good Shepherd rose ushering in an era of new shepherds who call out with His voice—the message of salvation in Him. They call the dead to turn away from their death, to turn away from themselves. And lo and behold, the dead who are unable to do anything, turn. They rise. For these shepherds declare, “Repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. For He is Your God who has conquered death and He is your Good Shepherd who gave His life for the sheep.” This message has life for all, and those who are His thrill to its sound. They recognize its source. They know His voice. A voice that strengthens the weak in faith, binds the wounds of the hurting and sorrowful, and brings back those who have strayed from the faith.
Now, shepherds in our world are by the nature of their jobs like the hired hand Our Lord mentions. They shepherd sheep in order to sheer them and eat them. Sheep are their livelihood. The death or fleecing of a sheep means life for a worldly shepherd. It means mutton in the mouth, and nice rack of lamb for special occasions. It means a good cable knit sweater for the cold times, a nice wool suit for the good times. Sheep are a means to an end in this world of death. Sheep are to be slaughtered and fleeced.
But the Good Shepherd defies the logic of this dog eat dog world. He becomes a lamb. He is slaughtered for you. He gives His righteousness as pure wool to cloth your nakedness. He lays down His life at the foot of the cross so that you need not be slaughtered or shorn as the sheep you are. He gives those who need the meat of life His own flesh; those who need new life and cleansing His blood; those who need make amends for what they have done His Lamb’s coat of righteousness; those who have been fleeced by others His own skin. His flock then is full of wolves in sheep’s clothing and mice who would be men. It is full of devourers and thieves who have stolen, killed, and destroyed, laid waste to all the good around them and mice who have passively sat back doing nothing while the world trod upon them. But those wolves and mice in new clothes are converted by the voice of their Good Shepherd!
He is good for He dies in their place. He takes their sin and dies their death. Those whom He calls unto faith know His voice, the voice of their salvation. They rejoice to hear it. Their ears perk up. They quit their aimless wandering. They follow in His footsteps. They do not lift up their heads. They do not need to. For they walk by faith not by sight. That is to say that they walk by the ear, led by His voice. His voice is His message of salvation. They hear Him in that and follow where His voice leads. Even through difficult places; even through the death we must die to sin, to ourselves, to the way of this world, and the thinking of this world. His sheep know His voice. His voice gave them faith. They know Him through it and He knows them through it. Through His Word in their ear, He lives in them and knows them intimately. Just as He listens to His Father and is known by His Father. He never departs from Him, though He left heaven behind, but always goes where the Father leads Him, even to the cross. He did not lift His face to look up at cross. He set His face like flint to follow the Father. He listened. He followed. Strengthened by His Father’s voice of love. Even when His Father had to abandon Him on the cross to make Him the true sacrifice for sin.
Ezekiel spoke of a day when the Israelites would be gathered by their Good Shepherd from amongst all the nations their foreign oppressors had scattered them. This happened some 500 years before Christ. But the true fulfillment of that prophecy came not in the return from exile of the scattered Jews 500 years before Christ but on a day of darkness when He died for their sinful wandering, their aimlessness, their selfish purposelessness. It came when their God, their Creator, laid down His life for them and sent out shepherds—that is what pastor means—to preach this ingathering. This preaching has gathered in you, and me, and people of all nations. For our Good Shepherd calls, gathers, and sanctifies the whole Christian Church on earth through His Gospel and keeps us with Him in the one true faith. Amen.
Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON