Our Risen Savior Still Acts:
He Shepherds His Flock
A sermon based on Acts 20:28-32
Sunday, April 29, 2012 – Easter 4B
Rhonda had a few errands to run. They wouldn't take long. Maybe an hour or two. So she grabbed her keys, her purse, and her coat and she went out the door. Meanwhile, an acquaintance of Rhonda's got out of work early. So she went over to Rhonda's house. And you can imagine her surprise when Rhonda wasn't there, especially since Rhonda was supposed to be watching her son and six other kids all under the age of four. But while she went to run her errands, she left all 7 kids home alone with no adult supervision.
Rhonda Piehl of Wausau, Wisconsin is no longer in the childcare business. After doing jail time for her negligence she's no longer able to get her childcare license, a license, by the way she never got in the first place. And good thing, right? She's not fit to take care of children. Can you imagine if there were a fire or an accident? Can you imagine if one of the kids found the shotgun left on the floor of her 14 year-old son's room? Her neglect could have caused some very serious harm.
But Rhonda's not the only one who does a poor job of caring for those under their care. In a certain sense, God uses childcare too. He hires, not nannies, but shepherds to watch his children. To care for them spiritually. To keep them safe from harm. But some shepherds don't take care of God's flock. They fleece the flock as they take care of themselves like hired hands. Or worse, they feed off the flock like vicious wolves.
But Jesus doesn't sit idly by. Our risen Savior still acts. He still shepherds his flock. He made them his children when he bought them with his blood. And he cares for them with good shepherds who feed and protect them. Listen to Paul's charge to those called to oversee God's flock, recorded for us in Acts 20:28-32, and hear how the Good Shepherd still shepherds his flock…
28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.
32 "Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified."
I. He Bought You with His Blood
Do you like being called a sheep? It's not usually very complimentary is it? It usually means you're a mindless follower, one who can't think for himself. In fact, in Greek, the word for sheep is literally translated, "forward moving thing." That's about how bright they thought sheep were. To be called a sheep makes one think of mindless wandering, as Isaiah put it (in 53:6), "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way…" To be called a flock of sheep makes us seem vulnerable and weak.
Not always a compliment, but pretty accurate isn't it? We do wander into the same sins again and again without giving much thought to what led us there. We do mindlessly follow the devil's suggestions, the influence of the world around us, and our own sinful nature's every whim. And we are weak and vulnerable against them. Those unholy three circle around us in a pack, hunting us down, eager for a kill. And on our own, we're about as helpless as an infant without a provider.
And too often we're apathetic about the whole thing. Oh, we pay lip service to how important spiritual things are to us, but the way we spend our time shouts otherwise. We say we're serious about the spiritual battle that rages around us and for our souls. But we rarely pick up the one weapon—God's Word—that has the power to drive the enemy away.
In fact, where the NIV says, "Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth," the Greek literally says, "Even from yourselves men will arise speaking twisted things." In ourselves, we sometimes say, "Okay, so I'm not perfect. But I'm not that bad. What's the big deal? So what if I step out just to run a few errands? So what if I let down my guard for just a little while? So what if I don't take care of my soul? It'll all be okay, I'm sure."
And for our apathy we deserve to be devoured. We deserve to be duped by the false teachers, the ravenous wolves, that long only to feed on us. For not testing what he hear against the Word of God we deserve to fall for distorted truths and twisted teachings. For caring for our own souls about as much as Rhonda Piehl cared for the children under her care, we deserve to be satan's prey for all of eternity in hell.
That's what we deserve. And that's what we'd all get for our apathy and negligence and carelessness if we were left to ourselves. "If…" But we're not. We have a Shepherd who cares for us perfectly. We have the Perfect Shepherd who takes care of his flock.
Rhonda Piehl didn't want to suffer inconvenience in her day to take care of the kids entrusted to her care. But in contrast, the Good Shepherd, Jesus, was willing to suffer hell to take care of the souls that God entrusted to him. Listen again to what he said in John 10(:10-18): "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… I am the good shepherd… and I lay down my life for the sheep… I lay down my life—only to take it up again… I lay it down of my own accord. I… lay it down and… take it up again." Our Good (Excellent! Perfect!) Shepherd willingly gave his life for us! He endured hell, separated from the Father, for us. That he might buy us out of hell.
Did you see how God inspired Paul to put it? "Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood." God bought the church with his blood. Your sin costs a lot—nothing less than the blood of God himself. But God, in his great love for you, eagerly paid the price. "For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect." (1 Peter 1:18-19)
Does your Shepherd love you! You bet! And he does even more. He didn't just pay to make you his own, but he provides the very best care for you too. He provides Shepherds that take care of his flock, guarding you and feeding you still…
II. He Guards You with His Shepherds
Listen again to Paul as he holds himself up as an example to the elders at Ephesus: "Be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears." What a great pastor they had! He did the tough work of warning and admonishing his brothers in Christ. He did so with great patience—over the course of 3 years! He did so with great persistence—never stopping day or night! And he did so with great love—with tears in his eyes he cared for his people so much! What love God showed the Ephesians in providing them such pastoral care! And when Paul had to leave for Jerusalem, God provided other shepherds, elders and overseers.
Now your shepherds that you've had at Grace and the shepherd God's given you now, may not be as good of a pastor as the Apostle Paul. But that doesn't mean that God hasn't blessed you by them. All of your pastors here have fed you. They've given you the Word. They've served you with the sacraments. All of the pastors here have led you. They led to you the Good Shepherd. They have watched over your souls. And one of still does actively care for you, maybe not for three years yet, and maybe not always night and day, but he does care about you. He longs to feed your faith and nourish your soul and to guard you from the wolves. And yes, sometimes even with tears in his eyes.
I don't tell you this to boast or to hold myself up, and I'm certainly no Paul, but I want to show you God's love for you in caring for you, in shepherding you though his under-shepherds. And it really is he who has brought me here. I didn't choose Kenai. You didn't choose me. But "the Holy Spirit has made [me] overseer…" here. The Good Shepherd loves you so much that he doesn't leave you alone after purchasing you with his blood. But he gives you shepherds still to guard you, to watch over you, to shepherd you.
And I do for you as Paul did for the Ephesians: "Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified."
I can't fight off satan for you. I can't keep the world's influence at bay. I can't keep you safe from your sinful nature. But God can. Your Good Shepherd has. And he will. So I commit you to God. And your Good Shepherd feeds your soul by his Word. So I commit you to the word of his grace.
You are forgiven. You are perfect and sinless in God's sight because your Good Shepherd laid down his life for you. Now, you are Jesus little lamb whom he knows perfectly, whom he guides and feeds.
So be glad at heart! Trust in God to keep you safe from the wolves and commend your soul to him. Listen to your shepherd. Don't run away when he comes with loving admonition. Hear him and believe him when he comforts you with Jesus' absolution. And make every effort to stay in the Word of grace, both here in worship and on your own. For only God through that word of grace can keep you safe from the wolves.
Yes, rejoice, friends! Jesus is not like Rhonda Piehl. He has not left us alone! He promises he'll never abandon us to the wolves. He promises to defend our souls. He promises to meet us in the Word. He promises to give us shepherds to fight for us, to come to our aid when satan seems to have the upper hand. To counsel us and comfort us, speaking the Word of Jesus. Rejoice, friends, that our risen Savior still acts! He still shepherds his flock. In the name of our Good shepherd, amen.