Misericordias Domini—Easter 3, 2016
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
Last week, we looked at the institution of the Office of the Holy Ministry and how God, desiring you to receive the peace that Christ’s sacrifice and death earned, how God sends pastors to forgive sin.
That’s all right and good, but…
Lest pastors get the wrong idea about themselves, Jesus says today: “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. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:11-16).
No pastor is exempt from this examination.
In his life and doctrine, a pastor must be above reproach.
In 1 Timothy chapter three, St. Paul writes this, regarding the qualifications for the office of overseer. He writes: “An overseer [pastor] must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:1-7).
These are clear words, but perhaps they’re not so clearly understood.
Above reproach, for example, doesn’t mean sin-less. It means that “a good shepherd lives according to God’s Word, and demonstrates his doctrine with good examples of his life, enters into marriage, receives the food provided by God and gives Him thanks, guards himself from offense, and does what’s right. A…hired hand, however, teaches the opposite of God’s Word, lives in manifest sin, makes many rules and keeps few, ties all his works to specific times, places, [and] persons…and with false doctrine and ungodliness makes all men stumble” (The Christian Year of Grace, p.182-3).
Clear words. But, again, perhaps not so clearly understood.
Another example: “husband of one wife.” That doesn’t mean that a pastor whose wife has died can’t remarry. But “husband of one wife” is quite different than “wife of one husband.”
In the same way that fathers, by definition, cannot be mothers, women are not pastors.
With the word “one,” St. Paul also forbids divorced and/or remarried men from the office.
All kinds of theological gymnastics try to ignore that.
But St. Paul is clear. And we must listen and obey.
That a pastor must be sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, apt to teach, and not a drunkard is very clear. But, these are traits that describe a life lived over time—not, unfortunately, every moment.
After a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day, no pastor is all of the things he should be.
But does he confess his sin? Does he repent? Does he seek to do better? Those are the necessary questions, for the examination of all Christians, today, especially pastors.
Jesus says what He does in John chapter ten and St. Paul in 1 Timothy chapter three, to put pastors in their place.
To keep them humble.
But also so the sheep aren’t scandalized.
We all know too many examples of pastors, Lutheran and otherwise, who’ve disgraced themselves and the Office, their families and Christ.
We know that a pastor’s scandal scandalizes his sheep.
The hired hand, caring nothing for the sheep, flees when the scandal breaks.
But the Good Shepherd values your life more than His own. He values true doctrine more than the opinion of wolves.
A good shepherd’s life doesn’t distract you from the teaching of the Good Shepherd.
But Jesus says what He does, also, that a pastor’s doctrine would be examined.
“A good shepherd visits his people…preaching Holy Scripture…the Law for terrifying, the Gospel for comfort. John the Baptist, Christ, and the Apostles all did the same.
“A hired hand, conversely, [not above reproach,] may well preach the Law, but…[teach] that one is justified through…works… He also preaches the Gospel according to the text, but then he covers it with his own slobbering…” (The Christian Year of Grace, p.182).
In Jesus’ description of Himself as the Good Shepherd who lays down His life for the sheep, we see these things to be true:
- The pastor’s life should be free from scandal. Not because it saves him or you, but so that you’re not distracted from the doctrine, the teaching and the faith, that does save. It is a scandal if the pastor is not above reproach, as St. Paul teaches.
- The pastor’s doctrine should give you Jesus alone.
So here He is:
Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
We are the wayward sheep.
Ezekiel writes: “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 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. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 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” (Ezekiel 34:11-16).
David prays: “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” (Psalm 23:1-3).
He is with me (cf. Ps. 23:4).
And Peter writes: “Christ…suffered for you…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. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:21, 24-25).
It’s in the nature of wolves to devour wayward sheep.
Did you know that the word for devour and destroy is a cognate of the word for wayward and lost?
Lost means set apart for destruction.
Lost sheep are perishing sheep. They’re sheep on the road to destruction, sheep bound for hell.
It is the unfailing doctrine of the Good Shepherd to which we hold fast and believe unto life everlasting.
Last week, Jesus sent the apostles to forgive sin—and from that we believe that the pastor speaks God’s forgiveness, and we rejoice.
But…so that we don’t lose our minds, Jesus teaches us today that He is the Good Shepherd.
Don’t rely on your pastor for your salvation.
Hold fast, instead, to Christ, His Word, His teaching and doctrine.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
He lays down His life for the sheep.
The wolf meant to devour us all but is himself swallowed up in the death of Christ.
What destroys the wolf and the devil saves sinners—the given and shed Body and Blood of Christ.
The Lord is our Good Shepherd.
And yea, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we fear no evil, for our Lord and Christ is with us.
He has searched for us with His Word, rescued us with the Gospel, brought us through the waters of Holy Baptism into eternal life.
He bore our sins.
He is poured out for our forgiveness.
By His wounds you have been healed.
And goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your lives, and you shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever!
Not simply because I say so, though what I say is true.
But because Jesus, the Good Shepherd, says so.
And we know and listen to His voice.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!