Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read; Jesus as our Good Shepherd. Amen.
Those blessed words of the 23rd Psalm. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen. As we hear those words again, these are words I know I have found so comforting in my own life. Words that remind me of my Lord’s care. Words that are wonderful to repeat in my head when I can’t sleep, sometimes helping me to drift off. Words that remind me that God wants what is best for me when circumstances seem to contradict His love for me, or my own doubt creeps in that I should trust Him for what is best. Words that comfort me when my doubt would cause me to believe that because of my great sinfulness the Lord would not desire my salvation. Yes the Lord is my Shepherd.
As Jesus says in the Gospel Lesson, He is not only our Shepherd, no He is our Good Shepherd. He is the One who is good, who is noble, who upright and beautiful in a moral sense, in His virtue. And to make the point of His goodness, to what does He contrast Himself?
He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd.
Yes, in contrast to Christ, our Good Shepherd, there is the hired hand. The hired hand cares nothing for the sheep. As soon as the hired hand sees trouble, he’s gone. He doesn’t care whether the sheep are eaten. He doesn’t care if they wander off and die. He’s got no skin in the preservation of the sheep. He’s just there for the paycheck.
As I was growing up, I worked both in a pizza restaurant in High School and doing demolition in college. In these roles, I saw people come and go in the work. And there were times you could see this mentality. You saw the people that came to the pizza restaurant that didn’t care what the pizza delivered to the table or to the home looked like. They didn’t care if the toppings were right. They didn’t care if the cheese was evenly distributed. They didn’t care if it slid around the box and got smooshed. They didn’t care. Likewise in working demolition. They didn’t care if they did the job right. They could have cut this hole as they were supposed to, or cut down that wall where they should. They didn’t care if it was because someone else could come and fix it. They were just there for their four hour shift, or their forty hour shift, so they could get their money and go home and do whatever they really wanted to do.
And of course you see this in the church. There are those teachers in the church who don’t really appear to care what they say about God, just as long as they keep getting paid. I just heard, for example, that Jim Bakker was bemoaning that he had been cut off from receiving credit card payments for his ministry after claiming to sell a cure for coronavirus. Now, to be fair, he did not claim this cure was sufficient for Covid-19, but due to the circumstances, his claim to sell a cure seems opportunistic. All the more, it is sad how many people send him their money who can hardly afford to. Apparently he’s only able to receive their cash now. The fact that he already has so much material wealth seems like he cares more about the money than he does the sheep, doesn’t it? It by all appearances seems that he is this hired hand. And this is sad.
Of course, ultimately, what Jesus is talking about here isn’t just people teaching in the Church, isn’t just pastors and preachers. No, when he talks about the wolf coming, what He’s referring to is the dangers of being in this sin fallen world, the dangers posed to His sheep of sin, death, and the devil. The attacks that come from them, that come as a result of these through our sinful natures, through the world, through the devil himself. And as these attacks come, what He is making the point to show us is that He is the One who has seen these wolves coming and He hasn’t fled.
Now, of course, in the midst of our circumstances, I keep making the point about these, that our Lord Jesus has won the victory over them. They have been defeated in His resurrection. They are now under His authority and He is able to direct them to His own ends which are good.
But in order to win that victory, what do we see? We see His life. We see that the devil, the great wolf came and thought he could devour Jesus as Jesus dressed in the clothing of a sheep. As Jesus speaks elsewhere of wolves in sheep’s clothing, we could say that the wolf, who so often dresses in sheep’s clothing was exposed and overcome by the Shepherd who disguised Himself in sheep’s clothing to win the victory. So we see that aspect of His life, His coming to us in the flesh of man. But what else do we see?
Although I’ve been sort of speaking in this disguise and clothing analogy, we see that Jesus actually came as God in the flesh of man of not actually disguising Himself as such, but revealing Himself. And the greatest revelation is the same way He showed Himself to be the Good Shepherd. When the wolf came for Him, He didn’t flee. No, He stood firm and He let the wolf devour Him. Think about how you hear this in the reading from Peter, from our Epistle. Peter describes Jesus as our Shepherd saying this: “He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. 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. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.”
Now of course, that language there comes so much from Isaiah 53:4-9. So much of that description is right out of that passage, in fact for homework, I encourage you to take some time and compare them in your daily devotions this week. Look at this comparison between I Peter 2 and Isaiah 53. But for our purposes today, I just want to make that point that in this laying down of His life, we see just how Jesus is that Good Shepherd. We see that He proves it because He didn’t flee. No, He didn’t run. Instead, where we deserved to be devoured, He put His own life down for us. He set it down and He was willingly nailed to the tree for our transgressions. He was scourged that by His stripes we would be healed. And in that He stood in our place in death, that we would have life in His resurrection. Christian, He stood in your place that you would have life in His resurrection.
Think, then about what that means. I read a book recently in which the narrator described love by saying, “I’ve reached the point now of sometimes thinking that love consists precisely in the right, voluntarily granted by the beloved object, to be tyrannized over.” Isn’t that what our Lord Jesus shows us? He was tyrannized over on the cross for us as the Good Shepherd.
As I say all of that, though, there is this point where we can say, so what? Sure this is comforting, and that’s all nice, but what does it matter? In particular, we can ask “what does it matter as we’re all stuck in our houses and there are people dying of Covid-19?” What does it matter when we can see that there’s such a disruption to the economy and possibly our own livelihood? What does it matter when we can see so many people struggling with their circumstances and their mental health in the midst of it?
I’m reminded of when Jesus is on the boat, and the storm comes. The waves are crashing over the edge of the boat, and it’s looking like the boat could be overcome and the disciples could drown. The disciples come to the back of the boat, there’s Jesus. He’s in the boat with them, but what’s He doing? They’re in this spot where it’s looking like they could drown, and here they know that Jesus is able to work all things, and what’s He doing? He’s asleep. And they yell to Him, “Don’t you care? Don’t you care that we could drown?” And Jesus wakes up and calms the storm, and says, “Oh ye of little faith.”
That word there when they ask Jesus if He cares is the same that Jesus uses to describe the hired hand that doesn’t care. The hired hand doesn’t care. But The Good Shepherd does care. He cares for you. He cares for your provision. He cares for your mental health. He cares for your well-being. He proves it because He has loved you and laid down His life for you. He proves it because He voluntarily granted that He be tyrannized over by you, by your sin, in His love for you. Willingly in the authority He has from the Father. And all the more He cares for your eternal welfare. In fact, He cares so much for your eternal welfare that He knows the benefit to that welfare in contrast to what you would desire in earthly happiness and comfort.
But that’s where those words of the 23rd Psalm are so comforting. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. His goal for us is that good. His goal for us is truly the green pastures. We might push against it, and He might smack us with His rod and snag us back with His staff, but He’s getting us to where we need to go. And we know that’s good. It’s good because He is Good, our Good Shepherd. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the Gospel Lesson, previously read. Amen.
Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. What a statement for John to make. In fact, he says at the end his Gospel that he has seen these things, and the many things that Jesus did. The things so numerous that “the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.” But these were written that you might believe. Think about the implications for that.
When we think of believing things we think about believing the things we observe. We think about that which I can touch, which I can see, which I can feel, taste, or hear. And in his first letter, John makes the point that he did all of those with Jesus there. He saw Him, He felt the concreteness of the body in which dwelt with us God in the flesh. He heard Him. Jesus was manifest concretely before John. But for us these things were written that we might believe. Of course our Lord says it’s a blessing that we would not see but yet believe, and so John wrote for us. But these things were written that we might believe.
As we say that however, we do see in this story the disciples in a position where they didn’t necessarily believe. And I don’t just mean Thomas. That’s certainly important in its own right, but no, all of the disciples. I mentioned this last week that we would see this, that we would see the disciples locked up for fear, and here it is. The night of the resurrection of Jesus has come, and they don’t properly believe yet either. They’ve heard the news, they’re likely hoping against hope that it’s true, but they don’t believe just yet.
And to be fair, in those circumstances they didn’t have good reason to believe, did they? After all, how many people have you seen rise from the dead? I’m guessing you haven’t seen any. Now, they had seen more than that. After all, they had witnessed Lazarus’s resurrection, they had seen the boy in the funeral procession in Nain. There was Jairus’ daughter. But Jesus had raised all of those people, and now He Himself was dead.
But there was hope. Peter and John had seen the tomb empty. Mary Magdalene had seen the Lord. I’m guessing that’s why they were gathering together. I’m guessing they were congregating to discuss what this might mean, if it could be real. But even with this glimmer of hope, what is their default? Fear. It is in fear they’re gathered together. Not only does John make the point that it’s fear, he drives it home with the statement that the doors are locked.
So here it is, Jesus has risen, but that’s not what their circumstances told them, that’s not what their observations told them, and it’s not what their feelings told them. Now if you know me, you know that I often speak of emotion in contrast to the faith. In America we have a very emotionally driven faith. One can know that their faith is genuine if it is felt. In particular, we call it heartfelt. One can know that they believe if they really feel it. And even beyond American Churches, if you feel anything with sufficient passion then that passion is sincere and cannot be questioned.
I’ve made the point before, but this is a shaky ground. And I’ve shown that with this story before, but I’ll say it again. It’s the theoretical example of the man and his wife who goes on the airplane. The man drops off his wife at the airport. They’re running behind, but she should be able to make it without too much problem. As he’s driving home, he’s listening to the radio where they interrupt to report that there’s been a crash on the runway. There’s been a plane that has caught fire and none of the people have survived. They then say which plane it is. It’s the one he dropped his wife off to catch. The man is devastated. Utterly crushed. He doesn’t know what to think, what to say. Immense and very real grief instantaneously overcomes him. Then he hears his phone ringing. It says that the call is from his wife. He answers it hopefully. On the other end his wife’s voice comes through. It turns out that she got caught in security and missed the plane. The man is now overjoyed. Consumed with such bliss that he can’t contain himself, such happiness that again he’s overcome.
Now these were both very real emotions that the man felt. He felt them based on the information that he had. But the one emotion was grounded in the false assumption that his wife was on the plane. It wasn’t an ungrounded assumption, but it was wrong. Likewise the joy that he felt at hearing his wife’s voice was influenced by that same assumption. It’s not wrong for him to feel that joy, but in the reality of what happened, it’s something that exists because of what he thought was true moments before.
And hopefully then you can see how emotions can be so easily falsified. But Jesus in our lesson comes and shows the reality of the situation to the disciples. Here they are in fear, and He shows them that this fear is not the reality. He shows them that the reality is His life. The reality is His victory over sin, death, and the devil, like I talked about last week.
In fact, in the Old Testament Lesson, we see such a great picture of this. There is this passage, the vision given to Ezekiel of the valley of the dry bones. In this, Ezekiel see all these bones there. And the point is made that the bones are dry. They are dead. There’s no hope for their life. They don’t have sinews and muscles and skin. No, it’s just bones. And bones don’t live on their own. And this symbolizes what the Israelites felt at the time of Ezekiel. It says it there, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’” It felt to them like there was no hope. Our hope is lost, our bones are dried up.
But then what? Ezekiel preached over those bones. He proclaimed God’s Word and the bones were brought to life by that word. They were raised and the sinews went back on them, and the flesh on the sinews, and the skin over the flesh. And then the Spirit breathed breath back into them, a play on words here as Spirit in Hebrew—and in Greek for that matter—is the same word as breath. When the Breath of God came through the Word, that Breath, that Spirit brought life into them. And how? Through the Word itself.
Of course while this is a picture for the hope that Israel was to have, this is our hope to. We are dead in our trespasses and sin, but there is life in Jesus. Life in this resurrection that Jesus was proving to the disciples. And just as He showed them that life, that resurrection, that victory through His cross and through His being raised, He shows you as well. How?
These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. When the Holy Spirit inspired John to pen this section of His Gospel, He was doing that for you. In fact, as John says this is written, there is an authority that goes with that biblically. Look at Exodus where God writes down His covenant on the tablets for Moses, where Moses writes down God’s Commands. Look in Joshua 24 and I Samuel 10 where Joshua and Samuel do the same. There it is, this writing is authoritative for you.
So what’s the take away? Trust these words, trust this writing, trust this resurrection over and against what you feel right now. I have a friend on Facebook who recently lost her husband. It breaks my heart because he was only forty and died of a heart attack. It was so sudden, so unexpected. And now she’s living in the midst of this quarantine. You can see how difficult all of this is for her, but I so appreciate her posts. She keeps saying how thankful she is that her faith isn’t dependent upon how she feels. What a great example.
The reality of our security in this isn’t dependent upon how we feel about whether we’ll get the coronavirus or not. The reality of our provision isn’t dependent upon how quickly the economy is able to absorb the taxing it’s receiving. The reality of our fate in all of this isn’t dependent upon the fear that we know now. No, it’s resting upon the promise of our Lord Jesus that He has risen from the dead. It’s resting upon the resurrection of Jesus who has in that resurrection proven to us that He has overcome the world and all of the troubles in it. The reality of our fate, Christians, rests in the promise that you have been joined to Him in Baptism, such that you were buried there and are joined to the body of the One who’s head is already above ground and at the right hand of the Father.
Whether you feel this or not, doesn’t matter. It’s true. It’s objective. It’s reality. And it’s been written that you would believe. Yes Christians, these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. Believe, then, that Word and know that is true, life for you in Jesus Name, life for you in His resurrection. Life for you without fear. Amen.
Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed, Allelulia!
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and our Risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
A friend of mine sent me a quote in an email this week. You may have seen something similar to it floating around online. It makes the point that as used to worshipping on Easter altogether as we are, as much as we think of celebrating—and I would add rightly so, with joyous gathering and great singing and praises, there’s something we can identify with in relation to the first Easter. Think about what we see there. In John it tells us that the disciples were locked in the room, in fear. In a sense we are locked in in our fear too.
Now to be sure, there is an aspect to this that isn’t fear driven. There’s the aspect where we are trying to care for our neighbor, and that desire is a good desire. It is right to seek not to hurt or harm our neighbor in his body but help and support him in every physical need. That is good. But for many there is a fear aspect too.
And as we look at that fear, you see that there’s an enemy that we’re afraid of. Shifting from that connection from the email to a different point another friend of mine made, there is this invisible enemy out there. There is this enemy lurking about that is one that we don’t know precisely where it is, where it has been, or where it might be. But we know that it’s there almost like Peter describes the Devil, prowling about, looking for who it might devour.
As we celebrate today, though, we celebrate our Lord Jesus who has won the victory over a different, but connected invisible enemy. This invisible enemy is fatal. It’s the infection at the very root of all of our problems. Today we celebrate that Jesus has won the victory over sin. As He was raised from the grave, we see that sin is now forgiven. Your sin is absolved. In fact, we see that Jesus has not only overcome sin for you, but He’s overcome the consequence of sin. He’s overcome death. In this, then, He’s also overcome the power of the devil.
As we make that connection, then, what we can understand is that the enemy that we fear isn’t actually the coronavirus. No, it’s actually this trifecta of sin, death, and the devil. But Christians, today is the day we celebrate that those enemies have been overcome. Today is the day we celebrate that Christ has risen from the grave, and now He is the Victor over these powers. And today is the day that we celebrate that this victory is ours! Thanks be to God! Amen!
But as we celebrate locked up in our houses, as we watch a church service on a computer monitor or on a television screen, listening to preaching and music that clearly doesn’t sound the same as being here, but at best sounds like its coming right out of the sound system at Grace and at worst sounds like its echoing in a can, as we experience this, it doesn’t feel like Jesus has won, does it? It doesn’t feel like this is the reality for us, does it?
In fact, as I was preparing I kept thinking about the newspaper headline you would see from World War II: Victory!! That was real, the victory was won! But there were places where fighting continued after that. There were places where axis soldiers hadn’t gotten the memo. There were places where they still thought that they could maintain their positions and not have to face the music of their loss. In other words, that victory for the Allies was real, it was now, but the fulfillment was not yet.
That’s how we can understand this victory of Jesus. It is ours now, but the fullness of it is not something we experience yet. In fact, I think in our circumstances it’s helpful to look at the now and not yet of this victory with regard to each of those enemies of sin, death, and the devil individually. So, let’s do that.
First, sin. In his letter to the Romans, Paul says, “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” So by the one man’s disobedience, by Adam’s disobedience, we were all made sinners, but through Jesus, we are righteous. This promise is ours. The promise to you now is that you have victory over sin. As Paul says in the next chapter in Romans in connection with Baptism, “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” You are righteous in Jesus. Sin doesn’t have dominion over you. That promise is yours. So don’t use grace as an excuse for your sin. That’s not the way it works. However, the reality of the not yet is that you will still sin. You will still sin and you need to know that you have the freedom from the guilt that comes from sin. The devil will use your guilt to drive you away from Christ and into despair. So, when your Christian life doesn’t look as pious as you’d like for it to, know that in the not yet of the fullness of your freedom from sin, you are forgiven. Christ has won it all for you.
To make this a bit more concrete, think about an alcoholic. And I like this illustration because the reality is that just as we can think of addiction as a disease, it’s a reflection of all of our addiction to sin. So if an alcoholic were Christian, he could know that the promise of Jesus’ victory now gives him power over that addiction. Not power and strength of himself, but power and strength only in the forgiveness that Jesus has won. In a sense only in absolution. But if that alcoholic would fall and take a drink or get drunk in the not yet of this promise. He can still take comfort in that grace and forgiveness. In fact, I would advise him that the place to come is to the Word, to the rail, to Beichtstuhl as the Lutherans in Germany called it—to the confessional. There the fall can be brought to light and the Gospel the promise of forgiveness can be placed upon it giving grace where there is guilt, life where there is death.
As I say that, that moves us to the next enemy, the defeat of death. I think this can be especially pertinent in our circumstances with the coronavirus. Here in the victory over death, we as Christians know that the promise of resurrection is ours. We know that we have eternal life in Jesus. We know that these bodies that bear the death of sin have been buried in Christ’s tomb through baptism so that through His resurrection, we too will be raised. That’s the not yet, though. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15: “Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and every authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” Through His resurrection that we celebrate today, we know Jesus has won the victory over death. We see it. But death won’t be destroyed until His return. That means that we’ll still see it and its effects in things like the coronavirus until that day of His coming. But the victory is ours in Him.
To make this also a bit more concrete, I reflect on a common misconception I see about this in the American Church. That’s this idea that if we just believe enough or pray in the right way this can be avoided. In particular I think about a friend of mine I know from my vicarage congregation. I was talking to her right before things got really bad with the virus and she said how someone close to her spoke of praying Psalm 91 and claiming it for themselves as a response. Now to be sure Psalm 91 says, “Because you have made the Lord your dwelling place— the Most High, who is my refuge— no evil shall be allowed to befall you, no plague come near your tent.” But how do we understand this?
I would say pray that psalm. Pray all the psalms, and if it’s comforting you especially to pray that psalm in these circumstances, that’s great. But in this now and not yet, understand that this Psalm is specifically fulfilled in Christ. That’s clear when it says in the next verse, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” If you recall the Devil quoted that to Jesus in the temptation. That’s about the Christ. And so the promises of it are ours as we are in Him. And those promises will be fulfilled at His return. So, certainly, pray that psalm wholeheartedly in comfort knowing that the promise of Christ’s victory is yours. But in the not yet of that promise, understand that if you would get coronavirus, if you would even get it and die that doesn’t mean that you didn’t claim it with your whole heart. That doesn’t mean that you are so lacking in faith that you aren’t saved. See that’s the danger that concerns me with this idea that we can pray things and claim them for ourselves. If we don’t approach them like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did with God’s protection from the fiery furnace in Daniel 3, if we don’t say I know God can protect me, but if He doesn’t He’s still God and He’s still good, then should it be God’s will to get sick, we could fall into despair. Because you see in the not yet, these things will befall us, coronaviruses and pains and death. All the more in the not yet, our faith is always lacking. These things don’t come because of a lack of faith in a particular claim. No, because you see the Lord looks upon us in view of the perfect faith of Christ. And so that’s the now and the not yet of death’s defeat. We will know it fully when we are raised, but the promise of it is ours now.
Finally, the victory of Christ over the Devil. This is one where when we look all over the world, we can see it. We know that Christ has won the victory. We know that He has overcome the devil in His resurrection. We know that the devil is like a mortally wounded animal, we see it Revelation Twelve, in chapter Twenty there where Christ has cast the devil into chains for His figurative Thousand Year reign we are in now. We know that in the end the devil will be cast into the lake of fire because Christ has won the victory over him. As Jesus says, “take heart I have overcome the world.”
But in the not yet, we wonder why see so much that still reflects that work of the devil now. We do though. And that’s only something we can understand in view of Jesus’ victory. As it appears that the devil wins all over the place, with sicknesses and people falling from faith, and wars and pestilence, it’s something we can only take comfort in in view of the fact that Christ has defeated the devil by taking away his claim to dominion through the forgiveness of sins, and that He actually reigns over all that, working it to His good. But this is the now and the not yet
To conclude, then we can say that in this now and not yet, then we live in the knowledge that this victory is ours: victory over sin, over death, and over the devil. We live in the knowledge that even though we don’t experience the fullness of this victory yet, it is promised now. This means that even as we are in our homes, we do celebrate. We celebrate that Christ Himself has entered into this world, He has taken upon Himself sin that He could defeat it. And that He could in that forgiveness overcome death and the devil as well. We celebrate that Christ has even taken coronavirus unto Himself, and He has overcome it. What a blessing for us to know.
In view of that, the email that I mentioned at the beginning closes saying, “Alone in their homes they dared to believe that hope was possible, that the long night was over and morning had broken, that God’s love was the most powerful of all, even though it didn’t seem quite real yet. Eventually, they were able to leave their homes, when the fear and danger had subsided, they went around celebrating and spreading the good news that Jesus was risen and love was the most powerful force on the earth.” This will be us Christians. We will leave our homes at some point. And when we do, we have the joy of knowing at best that it will be to enter into the fullness of this promise of our Lord’s resurrection, where His love is proven to be the most powerful force. Or it will be to a life more akin to what we’re used to. But in any case, we live in that life knowing that Christ has won the victory for us. The victory over sin, death and the devil. Again that fullness of that promise is not yet known, but the promise is surely ours now. Ours by the Word of Promise from Him, ours by the promise of that Word in baptism where He has joined us to His death now, that we will surely be raised with Him in His resurrection. Amen.
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. This morning we meditate on the reading from our Passion procession from Matthew 21. Amen.
In the beatitudes, our Lord Jesus tells us “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.” Of course that’s not what we’re taught in this life, is it? And in worldly terms that makes sense. The world owes us nothing. It is a dog eat dog world since the fall. We see around us how there is a threat around us on every side. All over there are the factors that would seek to take from us because of the scarcity of resources that exist and in that scarcity would prevent our abundance. And as we are aware of this hardship, as we’re aware of the fact that the world doesn’t owe us anything, on the one hand that’s good for us to grasp. As we grasp it, it helps us not to take on a mentality of victimhood. With this understanding, then we can expect that hardship is the reality and it’s not that person’s job there to make sure I respond in an appropriate way. In that, we learn responsibility for ourselves. On the other hand, if we’re not vigilant, it can also create the understanding that if we want anything we can only get what we take from others. In either case, pride can and often does come about.
If it’s up to me and not someone else, then whatever I get I got because of MY ingenuity, I got because of MY hard work, I got because I have been that much more responsible than someone else. And in this pride, I am not humble. I am not meek.
The crowd who surrounded the Lord Jesus that first Palm Sunday wanted that kind of king. They wanted the kind of king who was going to take back by force what was theirs. They wanted the king who was going to rally the troops up to take back the kingdom of Israel from the Romans. That’s what they thought the Messiah was going to do. They thought He was going to bring about this earthly kingdom, where there would be autonomy for Israel for an extended reign.
And earthly kingdoms are what we expect too, aren’t they? By that I don’t mean that we literally expect that we will be given a kingdom, but we expect that we will have earthly benefits. Look at how we are all responding to the various aspects of our current circumstances. The government responded too quickly, they didn’t respond quickly enough. Our freedoms are being restricted too much, they should have things be stricter. The needs of protecting people from getting sick need to have priority, the needs for the economy must have priority. The states should have autonomy in this, the federal government needs to take the reins. What do we expect?
If we’re being honest, we expect the same thing that crowd expected: we expect God to give us this earthly kingdom, to give us all the comfort and security and health and wealth we could ever want. And if we can’t have that, we expect, that He will at least give us the clear roadmap so that we’ll know how to get it, or as close to it as we can.
I have a friend who is a pastor who posted on Facebook this week, I think making this point. If I understood him correctly, he was rightly lamenting that as pastors we are in a position where we can’t do the job we are called to do. Our job is to preach the Word and to administer the Sacraments of our Lord Jesus such that His sheep are nurtured in them and given faith and the forgiveness of sins through them. Why? Because where there is the forgiveness of sins, there is life and salvation. And in the midst of this crisis, we’re not being permitted to preach that Word that you all can gather around it. I’m thankful for the way we can disseminate that Word as we’re able, but it’s not the same. Then there are those pastors who have sheep of their flock who nearing their admittance in the eternal kingdom have no earthly under-shepherd to speak that comfort in their ear face to face.
It was interesting as my friend was making this point, though, because a part of it was to say that so many have ideas as to how this should work then, without real regard for the sadness of the situation. So what did people say on his comments? “Oh well, Pastor, if you would just do it this way, or that way, it’s all good.” But my friend is right. It’s not good! It won’t be good! And in this life we think it will. Don’t get me wrong, there is an abundance of blessing, and I don’t want to minimize that. We are surrounded by blessings all around, as Job said, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh, blessed be the Name of the Lord.” So to be clear, I am not ungrateful. Or maybe it’s better to say I am not as ungrateful as I perhaps sound. I’m just trying to make the point that our expectation for this life is paradise.
And that’s the king the crowd wanted. They wanted the paradise king. They wanted the king who would give them that paradise now. The king who would help them take it in a glorious storm of pomp and royal regalia so that they could rule. But that’s not this King Jesus. No. Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
And Jesus is meek. He is the meek King who rides into Jerusalem on the meek, the humble donkey. Why? Because He is the King who shall inherit the earth. And how? Through riding that donkey on a battle campaign and overrunning the powers that be? No. But by turning His cheek and taking the scourging for sin. By being crowned with thorns and mocked in a false purple robe. By being nailed to a cross, suffering for the rebellion of humanity against the God who had given them paradise on this earth.
But you see this inheriting the earth, isn’t what we would think. It’s not this kingdom that rules over the world. No His kingdom is not of this earth, just like He told Pilate the day He died. His goal isn’t to overtake Rome or Greece or Persia. No, it’s to overtake the real tyrants, sin, death, and the devil.
And in the resurrection of this King, we see that’s just what He’s done. This Jesus has won over them. He’s won over the occupants in this world who have taken it by force, so that these enemies will become His footstool as it said in the Psalm we read Wednesday.
At my previous congregation, we had a cross over the altar that was Jesus on the cross, but it wasn’t Him naked and wearing the crown of thorns. Obviously, I appreciate that, I appreciate the reminder that a crucifix is, but this was a good reminder too. It was Jesus on the cross with a glorious crown, wearing a chasuble, a stole and an alb. This was to make the point that Jesus reigns from that cross. He reigns there with the forgiveness of sins, and He reigns as that forgiveness is given through His called ministers, those wearing the stole and robes who speak that forgiveness in the ears of His people.
Of course, all of this, then is to point the New Heavens and the New Earth that this Jesus will inherit as the meek King. And as I say that, I want to make that point. When we look at eternity in the Scriptures, so often we think about our soul being in heaven with Jesus. Or worse than that, we just think of our soul living in this eternal joy with our loved ones, with no consideration for our Lord. But that’s the picture Scripture gives us: we are with Jesus in the New Creation. Our bodies will be raised from the dead, and we’ll live with our Lord. That will be our paradise. But, as we’re not to expect that this will be paradise here, we have the certainty and the sure hope that as Jesus promises His goodness and forgiveness to us now, then we will reign with Him in that Kingdom, we will reign with Him in that New Heaven and the New Earth.
So as we say that, we have to make two points from this. First, this is so comforting for us. It’s comforting not just because it brings to our realization that this hope is eternal. While that is the real joy, the joy of knowing that what we endure now is temporal and what will be then will last forever. Temporal is short, eternal is long because it’s forever. There’s comfort there. But because we’re so oriented toward our experience now, this is comforting, because we know that this Humble King who loved us so much that He died for our sin now reigns as King in Heaven. He now rules over all things. And that means that when we endure the struggles and trials of this life. When we endure sickness and tribulation, we do so under the King whose love is so deep, we can know that He will never leave us nor forsake us in the midst of it. In other words, the comfort comes because there is a real assurance of Christ’s reign now, and that is a reign over us in His love. That’s first.
The second point is to ask how we might obtain this. And how is this ours? How will we be able to obtain this paradise that we so desire now. Well, we obtain it through our own death like our Lord’s death, through our own cross. To be clear, by that I don’t mean that we have to be crucified on a literal cross like Jesus was. No, but I do mean that we have to die to ourselves. We have to die to our sin. We have to die to our pride, we have to die to our rebellion against this God. This means that we die in faith. I don’t mean merely that we have to die believing in Jesus. We do. But I also mean that this faith is our death. As our Lord Jesus baptizes us, He speaks His Spirit into our hearts, and joins us to His death. Our death is there in His tomb. But our humility, our meekness must be such that we acquiesce to the reality that our sin is offensive to God, that it deserves His temporal and eternal punishment. It also acquiesces to the reality that if we would rise to new life and the inheritance of the earth it comes by nothing we can do, but by what Jesus Himself has done. And as He speaks that faith to us in His Word and feeds it to us in His body and blood, we die even more to be given life all the more in Him. But this is in the humility that trusts not our own ability. No it meekly trusts His Word, His Work, and His promises.
You see this is our King. This is Jesus. The humble and meek King who rode into Jerusalem that first Palm Sunday. And as the meek are blessed in that they will inherit the earth, He has been the meekest of all. In that He has won the Kingdom for us. By His grace, we give thanks that He blesses us not only in His humility, but in His grace. In the lack of paradise that we have, may He draw our eyes always to this goodness and His kingdom, the meekest of all. Yes blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. Amen.