Tuesday, April 19, 2016

You're in good hands. . .

Sermon preached for Easter 4C, by the Rev. Daniel Ulrich, on Sunday, April 17.

          Jesus is referred to by many names throughout Scripture: Lord; Immanuel; Savior; Son of God; Son of Man; King of the Jews; the Way, the Truth, and the Life; Messiah; Christ; and the list can go on and on.  Each name tells us something about Jesus, who He is and what He does.  Today, we focus on one specific name that Jesus gave Himself...the Good Shepherd. 
          This name conjures up many images and thoughts.  It brings to mind the comforting words of Ps 23, “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Ps 23:1).  This name paints the picture of our Lord holding a lamb in the security of His arms, an image beautifully sculpted in the Good Shepherd statue that stands here in the front of the sanctuary.  This name tells us a lot about Christ our Savior, and it also tells us a lot about ourselves, because we’re the sheep of the Good Shepherd.  GOD HAS PLACED US INTO JESUS’ FLOCK AND HE KEEPS US SAFE IN HIS HANDS. 
          In our Gospel, some people came up to Jesus and asked Him about one of His names.  They wanted Him to answer plainly, was He the Christ?  Was He God’s chosen One who would save His people?  Jesus responded, “I told you, and you do not believe.  The works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not part of my flock” (Jn 10:25-26).  Jesus had already answered this question plainly.  The words that He spoke and the miracles He performed testified to the fact that He was the Christ, the Son of God, come to save God’s people. 
          The sole purpose of Jesus’ incarnation, the very reason why He became Immanuel, God with us, was for Him to perform the works necessary for our salvation, the very works that proclaimed Him the Christ.  Like a good shepherd who goes after his straying sheep, to rescue them from danger, our Good Shepherd came after us who’ve strayed in our sin. 
          We willing follow the hunger of our sinful bellies and wander off in search of grass to feed on.  We indulge ourselves on the fleeting pleasure of this life, making them the most important thing.  We desire to go our own way instead of following after the Shepherd.  We leave the security of His Word and go after false words and ideas that sound pleasing and good, but only lead to our destruction.  We continually wander down misleading paths and become lost in sin, guilt, and death, with no hope of saving ourselves, with no hope of finding our way back to Jesus’ flock. 
          But our Good Shepherd has come after you and rescued you from your wandering ways.  He didn’t leave you lost.  The Good Shepherd came and laid down His life for you to save you from your sin.  He quietly endured the revilings, mockings, beatings, and death of the cross to save you from you lost sinful condition.  He died so that you will live.  He was wounded to heal your wounds.  And with the God given gift of faith, He places you into the security of Jesus’ flock. 
          On our own, we can’t know Jesus.  We’re so completely lost and turned around in our sin that we can’t find our way back to Him.  We can’t see or follow Him.  It’s only through the gift of faith that God the Father gives to us that we can know our Shepherd.  Only through the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God can we believe in Him. 
          The people who questioned Jesus in our Gospel didn’t believe in Him because they weren’t part of His flock.  But we believe because we are.  This belief isn’t something that we produce on our own.  This faith and trust isn’t our doing, it’s from the Lord.  Our place in the flock is given to us.  We’re given the gift of faith and given into the good hands of the Good Shepherd.
The image of being held in good hands is a very comforting one.  We all want to be held up and protected.  When children are frightened, sad, or hurt, they run to their mothers and fathers to protect and comfort them.  It’s instinctual for us to run to good hands. 
          Allstate Insurance has capitalized off this desire to be in good hands.  They call themselves the good hands people and their logo is two hands cupped as if they were holding you up.  I must admit I find Allstate’s commercials quite entertaining, especially the Mayhem commercials.  In these commercials, the Mayhem character, a man in a suit with cuts and bruises, causes all sorts of accidents.  These accidents are so extremely outrageous, destructive, and caused in humorous ways that they can only be described as mayhem.  After he has causes all sorts of trouble, the Mayhem character suggests that we better get Allstate insurance in order to be protected from mayhem like him.  And then, one final question is asked, “Are you in good hands?”  This question suggests that if you buy Allstate insurance you’re in good hands, you’re protected from all sorts of chaos.  Now, I’m not sure how you would answer this question in regards to your insurance policy, but when it comes to being a part of the Good Shepherd’s flock, the answer is a most certain “yes”.  You’re definitely in good hands.
Your Good Shepherd has made you a promise.  He said, “I give [my sheep] eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.  My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.  I and the Father are one” (Jn 10:28-30).  No one and nothing can steal you away for the security of your Shepherd’s hands.  No tribulation, distress, persecution, danger; neither life nor death, nor angels nor rulers, nor present things nor future things; no mayhem, no sin, no person, absolutely nothing can steal you away from Christ, because He is greater than all.
Jesus is one with the Father who gave you life and who placed you into Jesus’ care.  You can be assured that nothing can snatch you away, because Christ has already conquered everything that tries to steal you away.  He’s overcame Satan, sin, and death with His perfect life, atoning death, and victorious resurrection from the tomb.  All your enemies have been defeated, Christ has conquered all, and your Good Shepherd leads you to the good things, to forgiveness, life, and salvation in His name.
          He leads you to the green pastures of His Word, where He gives you life.  As you hear Scripture read and preached, your faith in Him is refreshed and strengthened so that you can continually see Christ and look to Him for life.  He leads you to the still waters that cleanse your soul.  At the still waters of baptismal font, your Shepherd washed you clean, and then every time you hear His absolving words, He washes you again.  And He leads you to the table He has prepared, to eat the meal that sustains you into everlasting life, the meal of His body and blood laid down for you.  There are no better things in life than these, because life only comes through these.  Life only comes through the Good Shepherd who is the Life.
You’re in good hands, the hands of the Jesus, the Christ, the Good Shepherd, and He’ll never let you go.  He holds in His arms and protects you from all danger, from Satan, sin, and death.  These three can’t get you, they can’t snatch you away because the Father has placed you into Jesus’ flock.  Through the gift of faith, through the hearing of His Word, through the waters of Baptism, through the eating of the Lord’s Supper, you’re placed into the good hands of your Shepherd, the hands that were pierced on the cross for your salvation, and nothing can snatch you away.  In Jesus’ name...Amen. 
Christ is risen! (He is risen indeed!)  Alleluia!  (Alleluia!)

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