Our Good Shepherd preserves and protects His sheep
- Order of Service: Service of the Word, CW p38
- Lessons: Acts 11:19-26, 1 John 4:1-11, John 15:9-17
- Hymns: 154, 163, 144, 166
In the name of Jesus Christ, the Word made flesh.
Have you ever feared for your life? Maybe it was that time you lost control of your car and found yourself spinning out-of-control across lanes of on-coming traffic, as happened to me when I was in college. Or maybe it was when your plane suddenly experienced extreme turbulence. Maybe it was when the doctor sat you down and said, “I’ve got some bad news.” Perhaps it was that time when planes started crashing into buildings and people began receiving letters filled with anthrax. Maybe it was something else. Many things make us fear for our lives.
Do you think the apostles Peter and John ever feared for their lives? At the time of our lesson from Acts 4, they had just seen soldiers come marching into the garden where they prayed, and after Judas planted his treasonous kiss upon Christ, they saw Jesus dragged away. Then they witnessed the lethal power of the Jewish and Roman governments as their master Jesus was brutally beaten and murdered. Then those same Jewish officials called Peter and John before their tribunal and threatened them, perhaps with beatings, perhaps with death, if they didn’t stop proclaiming the good news of the resurrection. Do you think the disciples were afraid? Do you think they feared for their lives? Do you think they felt their gospel mission was in danger?
Whatever fears and anxieties the disciples may have felt, they certainly handled it well. In fact, they handled them in the very same way we can handle our fears and doubts about life and about the Gospel ministry of St. Mark and God’s Church in the world. They went to God. They prayed. They entrusted their lives and their ministry to the Lord.
Do you always handle your fears and doubts so well? Do you always cast all your anxieties on God, because he cares for you? Or do you sometimes say to God, “Hey, Lord, didn’t you see this one coming?” Or: “Seriously, Lord, I thought you didn’t give people more than they could handle!” Maybe despair kicked in: “You don’t want to hear about this one, God. You probably don’t even care.” Or worse, “There’s nothing you can do about this one, God.” Sadly, you and I must all admit that when problems come our way, when our life is in danger, we don’t always dash first and immediately to God, and it’s not always giving full faith and credit to God, the God who said things like, Do not worry (Matthew 6) and means it; and Do not let your hearts be troubled, you trust in God; trust also in me (John 14) and means it. Ignoring those words and promises slaps God right across the face. That begins a logical chain reaction. If you ignore God’s words that means you don’t trust God. If you don’t trust God, you have no hope. If you have no hope, then no faith. And if there’s no faith… then there’s no eternal life in heaven, you’ve just made the cross meaningless.
But it’s at times like that that our Good Shepherd runs over to us and guides us back onto the right path. We hear that word of our Lord in the lesson that was assigned for a couple Sundays ago, which we didn’t read because we were celebrating the festival of St. Mark. But now the Spirit reminds us of it, giving us a chance to hear Jesus’ own words and promises, His description of Himself:
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father (John 10:11-18, NIV84).
Jesus laid down His life for His sheep. By faith, we are His sheep. He died for our doubts and fears, for our lack of trust in Him. And He invites us to come to Him as His dear children, not prodigal sons, as beloved sheep, not annoying pets, with all our prayers. Joyfully, then, we respond to His sure love. That’s where our faith and trust are. That’s where the faith and trust of the Jerusalem believers resided in those first days of persecution after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Our lesson for today is the prayer of the Jerusalem believers when Peter and John were released prison. Those believers prayed to their loving Good Shepherd, their supreme Protector.
With one mind the believers raised their voices together in prayer and praised God, the Father of Jesus, the Savior of the World. With one mind the believers confessed that what happened to Christ was God’s will being done, just as much as what happened to Peter and John, and what might happen, was God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. Then they asked God to give them strength in the battles ahead, and to provide miracles and wonders through the name of Jesus to aid the spread of the Gospel! Oh, what a prayer!
Oh, let it be our prayer! As we go out into the world as gospel ministers – of both the called and uncalled variety – let us pray to our supreme Protector for peace of mind, knowing that He is with us always, ruling and guiding and working out all things for the good of those He loves, those He has called. Do we face temptation? Not alone. Do we face fears and doubts? Not alone. Do we face ridicule? Not alone. Do we face rulers and authorities? Not alone. Because our Good Shepherd, who laid down His life for us, who took it up again, preserves us and protects us in all things.
The Lesson for today is from Luke’s Acts of the Apostles, chapter 4:
On their release, Peter and John went back to their own people and reported all that the chief priests and elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God. “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heaven and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David: “ ‘Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth take their stand and the rulers gather together against the Lord and against his Anointed One.’ Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen. Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform miraculous signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.”
After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly. All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they shared everything they had. With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all. Amen.