In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
There is a reason the 23rd Psalm is a favourite at funerals. It is because people instinctively get what it’s about. The Lord is my shepherd. Even in death. Especially in death. “Yea, thou I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.” (Ps. 23:4) I will not be terrified. I have not been terrified—can not be terrified—by death, “for thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff they comfort me.” The two pieces of wood by which He shepherds you. They comfort you. Two pieces of wood to which He was nailed. On which He died. That comforts you, child of God. For you know that even in death, even when you make your bed in the depths of the earth, He is there. (Ps. 139:8) Even when you go down to Sheol—to the grave—He is there. His rod and staff comfort you. Encourage you. Lift you up. For what makes Him your Shepherd? Some good advice? Knowing the lay of the land, so that he can get you to the stream from time to time? NO. What makes Him THE GOOD Shepherd is that he lays down His life for His sheep. (John 10:11)
His cross makes Him good. His presence at every moment of your life. His presence even in death. His having taken on your flesh, inhabited your skin, tented among us (John 1:14), lived this life to the full, (John 10:10) known its suffering and sorrow. And though He knew no sin, He carried our sin for us on that cross. (1 Peter 2:22, 24) So that His cross is always a comfort (Ps. 23:4)—a reminder that by His cross He understands you. He knows your struggles. He takes away their guilt and shame. He gets it. He’s been with you even there. Even in that place you don’t want to admit to any one else. Even in that dark spot in your life that you don’t think anyone else knows about. Those shameful things you’ve done. Those things that have been done to you that make you feel filthy, unclean, unworthy, defiled. He knows it. He’s taken it on Himself. Taken it from you. It is His and not yours any longer. For He who did not commit any sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth—who when He was reviled did not lash out in return, who when He suffered did not threaten anyone with the same—suffered at your hand for He carried your sins. (1 Pet. 2:22-24) On the wood of the cross. So that they have been removed from you. You are healed. That you should not live in those sins. Not live in their guilt, in their darkness, their doubt, their uncertainty. But that you should live in Him who is your life. Your hope. Your fresh start. Again and again. (1 Pet. 2:25; Ps. 23:3; Eze. 34:16) For He took your sin and put it to death. And He has granted unto you life. Restoring your soul. Repenting you. Returning you to your shepherd and overseer. Just as He is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true. For Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
So Christ is your Good Shepherd. He shepherds you, comforts you, feeds you by the word of His cross. The word of His cross is how He feeds His sheep on mountain pastures of Israel. (Ezek. 34:13-15) For on that glorious Mount of Calvary He made a feast of the finest wine and the sweetest meat. (Isa. 25:6-7) For there He gave you His own body as your bread and His own blood as your drink. There on a day of great darkness and cloud (Ezek. 34:12) that sought to scatter His children to the winds He set a meal before you in the presence of your enemies. (Ps. 23:5) In the ever present shadow of death here below. (Ps. 23:4) That meal is your life. It is your comfort. It is Christ to you and for you. For the Old Testament said that the life of the body is in the blood (Lev. 17:11) And Christ has poured out His blood for you that by the mighty working of His word He puts that blood shed on the cross into His chalice for you that His life might be in you, and that you might live. Free. From sin and its shame. This freedom does not mean that you won’t sin ever again. But when you sin your Good Shepherd covers over your sins with His blood, grants you new desires, and wages war against the sin that lives within. So what can sin do to you? Nothing. Can it rob you of your salvation? No. For your Good Shepherd seeks you out and calls you to repentance. (1 Pet. 2:25; Ps. 23:3; Eze. 34:16) He turns you from your sin and to Himself in faith.
He does all of this by His mighty word of forgiveness. That word of repentance and forgiveness of sins for His name’s sake (Ps. 23:3) calls you out of the places you have been driven to. (Ezek. 34:13) It calls you into His sheepfold. It calls you—inexplicably. (John 6:44) It draws you unto Him. He seeks you all the days of your life with the Word of His mercy. (Ps. 23:6) For once you’ve heard His word—His message to you—that your have in life in His name, it stalks you the rest of your days. It won’t leave you. Even though you like a sheep are prone to wander, led by your stomach here and there, He repents you. He calls you. For that’s why He sent out His Holy Spirit by this word: to call, gather, enlighten, & sanctify you into the holy Christian faith. Just as He does for all believers in Christ. The Holy Spirit does this by the word. The word of your forgiveness. The word of His mercy to you. To all sinners. And that mercy creates faith. And this faith is hard to get away from. For even when you have stopped believing, when you have turned your back on Him, and like a sheep have strayed and turned to your own way (1 Pet. 2:25; Isa. 53:6) His mercy continues to follow you. (Ps. 23:6) It continues to hunt you down like a lion. For He seeks you diligently like a Good Shepherd. (Ezek. 34:11-12) He does it with His Word. That word that’s gotten inside you and won’t quit pestering you. Chasing you into faith even when of your own devices you haven’t got the energy to believe anymore.
For on a day of cloud and deep darkness (Ezek. 34:12)—when you were lost, scattered to the nations, not gathered into the Holy Christian Church—Christ died for you. (Luke 23:44-45a) His Father turned His back on Him. (Ps. 22:1; Mark 15:33-34) The sins of world were swallowed up in Christ as He drank the cup of wrath against all sin. (Matt. 26:36-39, 42; John 18:11; Ps. 75:8) He did away with your sin. And by His death He comforts and shepherds you. Because of His resurrection by His word He still visits you. Guides you. Oversees you. (1 Pet. 2:25) By His meal He sups with you and strengthens you.
And in all of this He gives an example for us to follow. (1 Pet. 2:21) That we too can be long suffering. That we too can eat the sins of others. That when they revile you, you may stand your ground and stand up for what is right, but you do not revile in return. (1 Pet. 2:23) When they mock you, you do not mock in return. When they threaten and do violence to you you do not threaten back, but turn the other cheek. (Matt. 5:38-39) For by death Christ overcame death. By worldly violence and their sin against Him He overcame sin. For you. For me. For all. By His cross He shepherds you. You shall not want. You shall not lack for any good gift. For every good and perfect gift comes from Him. (James 1:16) And one day every good gift will be yours when His flock is united in the Day of the resurrection of all flesh. And all who have gone before into that valley of the Shadow of Death, shepherded by Him, will be there. For He led them through. And there will be one flock—of both the living and the blessed dead—shepherded by one Shepherd. (John 10:16) Our Good Shepherd.
Christ is your hope. In life. In death. For Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
—Pastor David Haberstock
Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church