God’s Relentless Love In Christ
In The Hands of God
—When Martin Luther was in the throes of the Reformation and the Pope was trying to bring him back to the Catholic Church, he sent a cardinal to deal with Luther and buy him with gold. The cardinal wrote to the Pope, “The fool does not love gold.” The cardinal, when he could not convince Luther, said to him, “Do you think the Pope cares for the opinion of a German boor? The Pope’s little finger is stronger than all of Germany. Do you expect your princes to take up arms to defend you-you, a wretched worm like you. I tell you no. And where will you be then?” Luther’s reply was simple: “Where I am now. In the hands of Almighty God.”
Isn’t that powerful? There are many situations going on in our world, our communities and our individual lives that are beyond our control, that make us feel utterly helpless. Yet the truth of the matter is that we are in God’s Almighty hands. I’m here to tell you that no one can snatch us out of his hands. God will shepherd us through the Spirit, and through Christ, through the Word and Sacraments. We serve a Shepherd God. Our passages today come from the 34th chapter of Ezekiel and the 15th chapter of Luke. Much of the language in both of these passages is that of a shepherd tending to his sheep. That’s what our good Lord does. By the time we get to the 34th chapter of Ezekiel, he has been living in Babylon, in modern day Iraq, for several years. The Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem and deported many of the Jews to Babylon. The people who lived around Jerusalem made up the southern Kingdom, and the folks who lived in Samaria made up the northern kingdom. Today that area is known as the West Bank, in Palestine. This is crucial to the story because the 10 northern tribes of Israel have been scattered all over the globe; no one knows what really happened to them after the Assyrian Invasion, the army that came before Babylon. They literally disappeared from history. All kinds of theories have been made up as to who today’s descendants of the tribes are, including the Japanese people, the Afghanis, and many others in the East. But what we do know is that God would not forsake his own people, for his own name’s sake. He is our Shepherd God, and we will see how God Himself promised to rescue his lost sheep.
English Standard Version
The Lord God Will Seek Them Out
11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 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.
We see the Lord is contrasting himself with the shepherds of Israel, the priests, high priests and elders, those who were supposed to lead the nation with righteousness and in holiness.
So God said, my leaders aren’t doing their job. They are supposed to feed my people with my job. Now I have to do their job. Doesn’t that sound familiar? The 80/20 rule? 20 percent of the people doing 80 percent of the work? Well, try one God, delivering and executing his plan of redemption for the nation of Israel and for us, all by Himself.
So what do we do with this story?
we are in a familiar predicament, we were needing rescue, and the rescuer demanded perfection from us. We were exiles from the presence of God ever since the Garden days.
But ever since Adam and Eve covered themselves with fig leaves, God has taken it upon himself to cover us with the very life, and blood and body of another. That other is Christ Jesus, God’s uniquely existing Son. 2 Timothy 2:13 – if we are faithless, he remains faithful— for he cannot deny himself. I remember the story about those Somali pirates—-they took over a ship and kept the crew for ransom. A Navy Seal team took them out and rescued the crew. You think the Seals asked the crew how much sin they had in their personal lives? No! Rescuers just rescue. What? That would be crazy! We’re in the middle of the ocean, surrounded by pirates that we can’t see. But they are constantly trying to take us hostage. But Christ Jesus, our Shepherd God, he is a Navy Seal, Green Beret, Delta Squad and Avengers all in one.
Zephaniah 3:17 English Standard Version 17 The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.
Zephaniah 3:17 NLT
For the Lord your God is living among you. He is a mighty savior. He will take delight in you with gladness. With his love, he will calm all your fears. He will rejoice over you with joyful songs.”
So you can rest. Not because there aren’t storms. Not because there aren’t pirates. But because of Christ, who is with you in the boat, in the ocean. He is mighty to save. Our Shepherd God is mighty to rescue.
Our take away is to come away with our Shepherd God, Christ Jesus, into places of quiet and rest in Him. Rest in His promises. That’s the application. We don’t dig deeper into ourselves. We don’t look inward, we look outward; extra nos, outside of us, to the Father, Son and Spirit. Yes, the Spirit of God lives in us, but he is an extraterrestial. He is from someplace outside of time and space, which God only knows. If you thought you were supposed to go home after this sermon and try harder to be Holy, you thought wrong. Placing our faith fully in Christ is what justifies us. These three, as one, shepherded you before the foundation of the world. Before you were born, Jeremiah 1:5 – “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” – Even though Jeremiah indeed had a special call, each of us are being led by the voice of our Shepherd God, Yeshua. He has a unique calling and vocation for us all. He has called you to preach the gospel in your marriage, to your children, at work, at Starbucks, the person who cut you off in traffic, and even to those annoying telemarketers. They DEFINITELY need Jesus! And so the Lord, speaking of the future through Ezekiel, says this….
17 “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet? 22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.
Now, the Lord doesn’t just pile all the rebukes on the shepherds. Starting at verse 17, he starts to go after the sheep themselves! That’s right, the sheep aren’t immune to rebukes, either. He’s saying look, you all have good pasture? Are you going to ruin things for everyone else? God says he will judge between the fat and lean sheep. They are pushing and ramming each other until the weak ones are scattered. God’s gonna rescue them himself. He will judge between sheep and sheep…..that’s really good. He’s going to set his servant David over them, one shepherd. He will feed them and be their shepherd. God will be their God, and David their prince. I have spoken, he says.
Clearly, the Lord has beef not just with the leaders, but with the congregations also. He is saying people spend so much time getting full of the Word, that other people can’t even eat. What do I mean? Well, look at us here in the west. Look at Western Christianity. Lutheran pastor Brian Wolfmeuller wrote a book about it, actually. “Has Western Christianity Failed?” In this book, Pastor Brian kind of wonders just what we are doing here in America. We are very, very blessed and comfortable. The worst thing that has ever happened to most of us is that our mayors and governors canceled our public gatherings. Do you know how many places there are in the world where Christianity is illegal? There are places where Christians are tortured, mutilated and martyred, today in 2022, just for being Christians. At best, there are places where people have to pay a tax or they are put in prison. But in places like Nigeria, Sudan, North Korea, Indonesia, and many others, to be Christian is to be a dead person walking. What are we doing?
Let us not be so stuffed with our blessings here in the US that we don’t care about our neighbor next door. My boss if Aghani Muslim. My neighbors are Sudanese muslims. You bet I pray for them. God doesn’t need our good works; but our neighbor does. When we stay petty, when we refuse to forgive each other and grow up spiritually, we create a toxic environment for other sheep that want to be fed, for those who were lost that God drags in through the Gospel. It reminds me of 1 Corinthians 11
1 Corinthians 11:28 A person should examine himself first, and in this way let him eat the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For the one who eats and drinks without careful regard for the body eats and drinks judgment against himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and sick, and quite a few are dead.31 But if we examined ourselves, we would not be judged. 32 But when we are judged by the Lord, we are disciplined so that we may not be condemned with the world. 33 So then, my brothers and sisters, when you come together to eat, wait for one another. 34 If anyone is hungry, let him eat at home, so that when you assemble it does not lead to judgment. I will give directions about other matters when I come.
It is hard, it is extremely difficult. But under the influence of the Word and Spirit, we can be transformed into more and more selfless people. For the sake of our brothers and sisters in the Lord. For the sake of our community, and those we are praying get influenced by the Gospel. You see, our Shepherd God, Christ Jesus, has a special place in his heart for those lonely, destitute, outcast, marginalized people. That’s exactly the kind of life shepherds lead. It is lonely. Freezing cold or smoldering heat. There are wolves. There are bears, lions, snakes, scorpions, and hawks that snatch up baby lambs and small dogs. Out on the pastures, the shepherds would be armed with slings, small daggers, rods and staffs. We think of a shepherd’s work as being extremely boring. But not so. Shepherds literally put their lives on the line.
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 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. …
Quite literally, sheepfolds would be oval-shaped enclosures, surrounded by stones. Once all the sheep were inside, the shepherd would then lay prone across the entrance, becoming the door. That’s what our Shepherd God has done for us. He has physically placed His own body between us and the righteous indignation of the Father. Christ has placed his body between us and our own sin. You see, when the wind, and scorching heat, and snow, and wolves come, the Shepherd himself takes the blows that are meant for the sheep, the wounds and the scars. Look at our Shepherd God again. Look at what he took for us.
You see, all of us should do more for the persecuted church. We love our comfort. We love our security. But our security doesn’t really exist. There is a thin veil between American Christians and our Egyptian brothers and sisters. The veil is called God’s grace. That’s the only reason we are being slaughtered on our side of the planet. It’s just a matter of time, and timing.
However, the beauty of it is the fact that in spite of how spoiled we sometimes act, the Good Shepherd, the Chief Shepherd, loves us dearly. So much so that he did exactly that…he laid down his life for his sheep. In our mud, and mess, and everything. Just as we are, he took us. If I ever become a pastor or leader over young men pursuing the ministry, I will give them all a shepherd’s staff, to remind them.
Now, just like God spoke through Ezekiel about God Himself being the shepherd of Israel and the world, we see the fulfillment in the Son of God. Listen, as Jesus proves he is the true Shepherd of the souls of the entire world….
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him.2 And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”3 So he told them this parable: 4 “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? 5 And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
We see here that the Pharisees and scribes are grumbling because Jesus is eating with tax collectors and sinners. They do not approve.
What’s happening is Jesus is exposing the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and scribes. There is another place in Luke, specifically in Luke 5, where something very similar to this story takes place. In Luke 5, Jesus says he has come to call the sick, and not the righteous, to repentance. 15:1–10 THE LOST SHEEP AND THE LOST COIN Overview: The Pharisees and scribes were grumbling because they would not accept that Jesus became human so that he might save publicans and sinners (Cyril of Alexandria).
Arthur A. Just, ed., Luke, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 243–246.
See, we’ve all acted like Pharisees, knowingly or unknowingly.
And yet, there is hope for the Pharisee in us all:
Our failures don’t have to define us. It all depends on how we respond. If we curse our luck, blame others, and fail to take responsibility, we’ll continue to fail. But if we face the facts, accept responsibility, and humbly get back on the right path, our failures can lay the groundwork for future success.”
That’s the beauty of this Christian walk, this Christian faith, this Christian life. We are Christ-ians, Christ-followers. The burden of responsibility is not on us. The one thing I would perhaps add to Mr. Osborne’s last quote is that through the drawing power of the Spirit of God through His Word and Sacraments, we are convicted, and only through the Spirit’s power can we face the facts, accept responsibility, and humbly get back on the right path. We must keep in step with the Spirit like Galatians says, and walk with Him every step of the way. He is the wind in our sails. Without wind, the breath of God, the Spirit of the Living God, we’d all be lost at sea, lost in this sea of Life.
But aren’t you glad Jesus sent us a Comforter? He didn’t leave us as orphans, Jesus said. The Spirit of God is alive in us, moving and working to purify the church, because she is the Bride of Christ, without spot or wrinkle. There is a lot of already/not yet language in the Bible:
Hebrews 10:14 For by one offering he has perfected forever those who are being sanctified.
This is a beautiful mystery. But what about the mysteries contained in the parables of Jesus? Let’s look at another….
8 “Or take another illustration: A woman has ten valuable silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and look in every corner of the house and sweep every nook and cranny until she finds it? 9 And then won’t she call in her friends and neighbors to rejoice with her? 10 In the same way there is joy in the presence of the angels of God when one sinner repents.”
The woman has 10 costly coins and loses one. She scours her home, every inch of it, for that coin. She rejoices and throws a party when she finds it! This woman calls her friends and neighbors to rejoice as well. The same thing happens in heaven with the angels–they throw a party when even one person forsakes their sins and turns to God.
The Pharisees and scribes were grumbling because they would not accept that Jesus became human so that he might save publicans and sinners (Cyril of Alexandria).
– see the thing is, we all need repentance daily. Hourly, even. It’s no wonder that Christ and Paul encourage us to carry our crosses on a daily basis.
- Galatians 2:20 (NIV)
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
- Luke 14:27 (NIV)
And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
— Ambrose: St. Luke did not idly present three parables in a row. By the parables of the sheep that strayed and was found, the coin which was lost and was found, and the son who was dead and came to life, we may cure our wounds, being encouraged by a threefold remedy. “A threefold cord will not be broken.” Who are the father, the shepherd and the woman? They are God the Father, Christ and the church. Christ carries you on his body, he who took your sins on himself. The church seeks, and the Father receives. The shepherd carries. The mother searches. The father clothes. First mercy comes, then intercession, and third reconciliation. Each complements the other. The Savior rescues, the church intercedes, and the Creator reconciles. The mercy of the divine act is the same, but the grace differs according to our merits. The weary sheep is recalled by the shepherd, the coin which was lost is found, the son retraces his steps to his father and returns, guilty of error but totally repentant. Exposition of the Gospel of Luke 7.207–8. The Lord’s Patience for the Lost.
Our shepherd God has given us the beautiful pasture of these parables to chew on. He has given us His Body and Blood to eat and drink every Sunday. Luther said Christ secured our salvation on the cross, the Word and Sacraments are some of the means God uses so the benefits of the cross can be distributed to us. We can’t get up on the cross with Jesus, so he comes down to us every time we hear the Word. Every time we pray in faith. Our brothers and sisters in the Lord are a means of grace, in the way of offering themselves, their time, resources and love to us and each other. Don’t we serve a wonderful God? I’ll leave you with Psalm 23.
English Standard Version
The Lord Is My Shepherd
23 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
3 He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.4 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.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
Can you just pause for a minute and reflect on that…dwelling in the house of the Lord forever? What is it gonna be like? I mean do you ever think about it?