Misericordia Domini 2021
The Christian's hope is the unfading pasture of heaven. In heaven, there is no such thing as fade or decay. There are no tears, no sin, no pain, no death. There are no wolves hunting the sheep, no hirelings who abandon the sheep in their time of need. There is only one flock, one Shepherd. Each sheep is called by name, each sheep lovingly, eternally carried in the arms of its Shepherd.
The unfading pasture of heaven is the Christian’s hope because earthly pastures fade. No matter how verdant the earthly pasture, autumn and winter are always near. This is more than the physical change of seasons. The earth’s pasture is always in the valley of the shadow of death. Yes, the Lord abundantly provides in this valley, giving green pastures and still waters, but evil is always nearby. The sheep must always be dependent upon their Shepherd, for He leads them with His rod and staff to those pastures and waters that give life. Were He not to lead them, they would wander into the tall grasses that mask the wolves’ den or drink from polluted waters that kill. So the Shepherd gently guides His sheep to those good places, but as they stop and are fed, He reminds them that this pasture, this stream is not their permanent home. He will lead them to that place where no evil exists—no wolves, no hirelings, no fear, no death.
These pastures are not physical; the grass and water are more than food and clothing, house and home. Yes, these things the Good Shepherd richly provides for His sheep, but He is concerned with greater things, things that harm the soul. The Good Shepherd does His work to keep His sheep free from sin and eternal death.
But Jesus is the Shepherd of sheep who are seduced by the allure and mystery of the wolf den of sin, who love to drink from the torrent of death. We sheep convince ourselves that we can dabble in these things and walk away unharmed. We come to believe that, though they are nothing but death and poison to our soul, the earth’s pastures really are green. Satan, the wolf that tends to these grasses of sin, shows them to be pleasing to the eye and good for food, and we eat. But all the eating, the sinning, makes us thirsty, and the devil leads us to his waters, the rushing torrent that sweeps us off to eternal death. Though it looks dangerous, he convinces us that the adventure will be fun. We intend merely to sip, but before we know it, we are swept away and can do nothing to escape the swirling flood. Had only we listened to our Shepherd! Had only we stayed in the safety of His rod and staff, His green pastures and His still waters, we would not be caught in the unyielding flood of death.
Into this flood dives Our Lord Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd because He gives His life for the sheep. He is no hireling who flees and lets us die. Instead, the Good Shepherd became a sheep and took our place. He died the death we ought to die, and placed us in safety. By this death, He made a great exchange, placing us back into the unfading pasture of heaven while enduring the death we deserved for leaving it. But the Shepherd could not die and let death continue to entice and threaten His sheep. So Jesus took up His life again and defeated death, showing him that he truly has no power over the Shepherd or His sheep.
Jesus will always be the Good Shepherd, protecting His flock which He purchased with His own Blood. He gathers all His sheep to His fold by His voice, heard in the Gospel. He leads you through the still waters of Holy Baptism and to the Altar, the table spread to strengthen your faith and preserve you against your enemies: death and the devil. His goodness and mercy, given in these Gifts, are with you all your days. Not only do these Gifts sustain you in this life, but they point you to the life of the world to come, the unfading pasture of heaven that is your hope. Each time He gives you His Gifts and forgives your sin, He reminds you that this world is not your permanent home, one day sin and death and the devil will forever be a thing of the past.
Your hope is the unfading pasture of heaven. In heaven, there is no such thing as fade or decay. There are no tears, no sin, no pain, no death. There are no wolves hunting the sheep, no hirelings who abandon the sheep in their time of need. There is only one flock, one Shepherd. There you are called by name, lovingly, eternally carried in the arms of your Shepherd.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.