New Years Day Sermon 2014/ Psalm 28/ Vicar James Preus/ Jesus is Our Good Shepherd Forever
To You, O LORD, I call;
my Rock, be not deaf to me,
lest, if You be silent to me,
I become like those who go down to the pit.
Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy,
when I cry to You for help,
when I lift up my hands
toward Your most holy sanctuary.
Do not drag me off with the wicked,
with the workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbours
while evil is in their hearts.
Give to them according to their work
and according to the evil of their deeds;
give to them according to the work of their hands;
render them their due reward.
Because they do not regard the works of the LORD
or the work of His hands,
He will tear them down and build them up no more.
Blessed be the LORD!
For He has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The LORD is my Strength and my Shield;
in Him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to Him.
The LORD is the strength of His people;
He is the saving refuge of His anointed.
Oh, save Your people and bless Your heritage!
Be their shepherd and carry them forever.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I would like to ask you to use your imagination. If this is something you don’t do too often, then I ask that you try to summon up what child-like imagination you can. Please, imagine that you are a young sheep, a lamb if you will. And you live with a flock of sheep in a pasture of green grass. Now one day you see a group of men come. As they get closer you recognize that they are shepherds with sheep dogs, yet you have never seen them before. A bit uncomfortable you keep your distance, yet you keep your eyes fixed on them. As you gaze at these new-comers the rest of the flock joins you in a circle around them in an almost hypnotic state of curiosity. Then, these shepherds open the sacks they brought and present you and the other sheep with delicious vegetables, you have never tasted before. And their words are as sweet as their treats. They promise you greener pastures; a meadow of endless green grass and sweet water from a gently flowing stream. You and the flock follow these strangers to this wonderful new pasture.
The shepherds lead your group over hills and through tree-lines until you reach a place you are certain that you have never been. Suddenly a shepherd strikes one of the sheep dead. You realize that the sheep dogs are not dogs, but ravenous wolves. They chase mother sheep away so that they may snatch young lambs to devour. The shepherds continue to kill sheep for their own food and to feed to their canine companions. The flock scatters in all directions like the shards from a porcelain dish dropped from a high shelf onto a hard floor. As the sheep flee they get entangled in the thicket and fall in ditches. Without shepherds to protect them wild animals, jackals, bear, and even lions snatch them as they try to flee.
You have fled through a thorn bush and tumbled into a shallow pit. Bruised, bleeding, and terrified, you sit in the dark alone. You are a helpless lamb. So you do the only thing a lost little lamb can do. You bleat.
Your bleating, while it expresses the distress of your heart is meaningless to your enemies. If they were to hear it they would mock you or even come to devour you. However, your true Shepherd, from whom you’ve strayed, can interpret the mournful sounds from your soul.
King David wrote our Psalm for today, Psalm 28, when he was hunted by his companions like a young lamb stuck in a thicket is hunted by carnivorous beasts. While his soul sought to express something too great for words, the Holy Spirit came and gave them meaning. As St. Paul writes in Romans: “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” And with the help of the Spirit of God, David composes a prayer from his bleating that when prayed in faith God cannot refuse to hear.
So out of our bleating, we pray a Psalm that has three petitions or three requests. In the first petition we pray: “To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit. Here the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary. Do not drag me off with the wicked, with the workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors while evil is in their hearts.”
In this petition, we pray a personal prayer for mercy. We pray that God would not judge us according to our wicked deeds. We confess that we have broken the 1st Commandment, which states: “You shall have no other gods before me.” We have followed false shepherds, who do not put God’s Word before their own. We confess that we, like the wicked have spoken peace to our neighbors, while evil is in our hearts. That is breaking the second commandment: “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God in vain.” This means that we should not curse, swear, lie or deceive by God’s name, but call upon it every trouble, pray, praise, and give thanks. We confess that we have broken the third commandment. We do not gladly hear and learn God’s preaching and Word, but we despise it and look for sweeter words. We confess that we have not acted any differently from those outside of God’s flock.
Yet, in this petition we pray that God would have mercy on us for the sake of his most holy sanctuary, the crucified body of Jesus, who was also raised from the dead. We pray that we would not be treated like those, who are justly dragged down to the pit of judgment. Rather we lift up our hands to Jesus, who suffered in our place.
The second petition that comes from our bleating is this: “Give to them (the wicked) according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds; give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward. Because they do not regard the works of the LORD or the work of his hands, he will tear them down and build them up no more.” This petition can sound disturbing. How can we pray for destruction of the wicked immediately after pleading for mercy for ourselves? The wicked are our enemies, but did Jesus not say: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.”?
Yes, we are to pray for our enemies and those who persecute us. And God says: “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live” However, we are not praying in this petition for personal vengeance. Rather, we pray in this petition for divine justice.
When we pray for mercy, we are not asking God to forsake justice. We are not asking that God make what is wicked be good, so that we can continue in our wickedness. When we pray to God for mercy, we ask that he would forgive us for Christ’s sake. By lifting our hands up to God’s holy sanctuary, we plead for mercy for the sake of the punishment Jesus endured for our sins. We do not plead for an acceptance of sin. Quite the contrary: when we repent and ask for forgiveness, we pray that God would destroy what is evil. It is like a drug addict or a prostitute, who has been rescued from an opium den or a brothel. These individuals wish for cleansing and healing. They also justly wish that that house of sin, which held them captive would be destroyed, so that it would not capture them or any other victim again.
When we confess our sins to God, we confess that we hate our sin. We do not wish that the Law be abolished, but that our sins would be washed away in Jesus’ blood, so that the Law cannot accuse us anymore.
In this 2nd petition, we pray that God would destroy the works of the devil. We pray that he would halt the words of the false shepherds. These false shepherds either want us to believe that our sins are not sins or that we can be perfect without Jesus, according to our works. They teach that behavior that God has condemned is perfectly acceptable. They say that those who practice homosexuality, or who have sex outside of marriage, or who wrongfully divorce their spouse do not need to seek forgiveness from Jesus. Instead they proclaim that it is arrogant to call these things sins. Other false shepherds claim that we can make it to heaven by trying our best, by improving our life, or by acting like “Christians.”
These false teachings lead people astray. Saint Paul warns against one false teacher: “Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message.” We pray in this 2nd petition, that God would carry out judgment and destroy the teaching of the false teachers, who seek to destroy Jesus’ sheep.
Finally, from our bleating comes forth a 3rd petition: Blessed be the LORD! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy. The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him. The Lord is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed. Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever.”
This petition compliments the first petition’s pleads for mercy. In this petition we confess with the full assurance of faith that God has heard our pleas for mercy. We confess that the LORD is for us everything a good shepherd can be. He protects us. He helps us. When we are in trouble, he seeks us out and brings us to shelter. The prophet Isaiah describes the LORD this way: “He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.”
And also, like a good shepherd, the LORD cares for the whole flock. The Psalmist cries, “save your people and bless your heritage!” because the LORD cares for the whole flock. When he rescues one of his sheep, he brings that little lamb back to the entire flock. While we have a personal faith and no one is saved by another one’s faith, we confess with the Whole Church that Jesus is our true Shepherd.
Jesus is Immanuel, God with us. He is the true Son of God from eternity who took on human flesh. Jesus is the LORD. This is why Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Yet Jesus does something that no shepherd, not even a good one would ever do. Jesus lays down his life for the sheep! Jesus’ needed to die on the cross for our sins. This is because, Jesus is not just defending his sheep from earthly enemies, like wolves and lions. In our sin, we have become an enemy of God’s Law. The only way we can be saved is if the punishment for our sins is paid. Jesus paid it. Jesus paid for all our sins. He paid for the idolatry, when we followed false shepherds. He paid for every lie we ever told. He paid for the times we despised God’s Word. Jesus suffered for those who fall into sexual sins. Jesus bore the burden of every failed attempt on our part to fulfill God’s Law. There exists no sin that Jesus did not pay for in full on the cross. This is why we have assurance of God’s mercy. According to what Jesus has done for us, we are innocent. Justice has been served in full.
As we look back on 2013, we may think of the times we fell short. When we didn’t trust in God, when we didn’t uphold the truth, when we didn’t meet the goals we set for ourselves at the end of 2012. Looking forward to 2014 can seem daunting. Word’s may fall short to express our anxiety. Yet, Jesus, our Good Shepherd hears the bleating from our anxious hearts. He gives us assurance that our past sins are forgiven and that he will continue to be gracious to us. He finds us, the little lamb stuck in the lonely ditch, and he takes us to himself. He cleanses our wounds. He speaks truth to us and does not lie. And he carries us back to his fold, where he gives us true food, water, and rest. Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He will carry us through 2014. And he will carry us forever.
Let us pray:
Lord, keep us steadfast in your Word; Curb those who by deceit or sword would wrest the kingdom from your Son and bring to naught all He has done.