May 7, 2017 – 4th Easter Sunday The Substitute
During the time of Napoleon a young father was drafted into the French army. Because of the very young ages of this man’s children, a friend volunteered to go in his place. There was a provision in French law for a volunteer to take the place of someone who’d been drafted. The substitution was made, and sometime later this friend was killed in action. Through a clerical error, the young father was drafted a second time. “You can’t take me,” he told the officers who’d come to take him into the service. “I’m dead. I died on the battlefield.” The officers argued that they could see him standing right in front of them, but he insisted that they look on the list of the deceased to find confirmation of his death. Sure enough, the man’s name appeared there, with the name of his substitute written beside it. Not satisfied with this explanation, the officers contested the case until finally it went to the emperor himself. After examining all the evidence, Napoleon declared, “Through a legal substitute, this man has not only fought, but has also died in his country’s service. No man can die more than once. Therefore, the law has no claim on him.”
Christ is our substitute who has died so the law can have no claim on us. By taking our place, by being The Substitute, Jesus died in our place. He is the true ‘sacrificial lamb’. And now, just as a shepherd does for his sheep, Jesus Himself provides all that is needed for us. He’s become not only the lamb of sacrifice He’s also the shepherd who leads and guides us. St Peter today says – For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. We are His sheep and are in His care. He has substituted and sacrificed Himself for us and He now cares for us by leading us and guiding us.
We learn this from the gospel lesson today also where Jesus refers to Himself as the shepherd of the sheep of God. He’s the one way to heaven and He leads us there, as a shepherd leads his sheep. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.”
Ok, now, think a moment about the relationship of sheep to shepherd. I know not many of us have ever owned sheep or been around them much, but we know that sheep supply the shepherd with his livelihood… just by being sheep. They produce wool and provide food.
Just by being who they are, they are what the shepherd needs them to be. The sheep are to be looked after by the shepherd and not the other way around. But for the shepherd’s care to be effective, the sheep listen to the shepherd. Only by listening and following the shepherd are they led where they need to go. In listening to the word of the shepherd, the sheep are kept safe, fed, watered, and given all that they need to be sheep that are cared for.
That’s us! That’s what Christ died on the cross to give us – His care. We don’t have to earn it, we can’t earn it, instead we’re called to fully live in it, by faith. We’re given faith as a gift and that gift is what gives us the power to live fully, not the other way around.
We aren’t given a full life so we can earn our faith; we’re given faith so we’re free to live fully by the word of our Shepherd alone. Hear that again; we aren’t given a full life so we can earn our faith; we’re given faith so we’re free to live fully by the word of our Shepherd alone.
Through the power of the Holy Spirit expressed in God’s holy word, we hear our Shepherd’s voice directing and calling us to live a joyfully full life! And because of the faith that we’ve been given as a gift, we gladly listen and live in and by His word.
All this isn’t done to make us into shepherds, but it’s to let us be better at being sheep. God provides all that we need, to – be – His – people. He gives us true and eternal reconciliation with Him in the blood of Christ. In making us His own, in this way only, He gives us, to be fully what He created us to be. We can be what He designed us to be and not be bound under the slavery to sin that we were born in. We were made for a relationship of love with Him as we spoke of last week.
We’re to be His people not His replacement. We know we’re broken in our sin simply by trying to put ourselves into God’s rightful place in our own lives. It’s like, sheep trying to replace the shepherd with themselves. Sheep aren’t made to be shepherds. How foolish is that? But that’s what we’ve tried to do by our sin and by breaking the relationship God built us for. It’s important that we remain mindful of that.
It’s important to be mindful of our sin and confess it. Through repentance we are assured of being forgiven. That confession of sin allows us to be restored, by Jesus’ blood, to the right relationship with our Creator God that He designed us for. And everyone around us is in the same situation.
When we set out to ‘share the gospel’ with those around us, we must hold on to this truth – that’ll help them to understand what we know. By sharing that we too start from a place of brokenness and hurt, we come along side and bear witness that we all have messed up our relationship with God that no one can fix by themselves. That starting point must never be given up. We don’t buy into the idea that people are ‘basically good’. Jesus didn’t die on the cross for ‘basically good people’. He died for sinners.
He became our substitute in death because we owed a debt of death precisely because we are not basically good. And, ironically, that is good news. Because we’re broken, we can be mended. But only by the sacrifice of Christ. Because we have wandered off, like sheep who refuse to listen to their shepherd, Christ came to earth to be The Substitute and made the sacrifice needed to return us to the flock of God. We’re created for being in God’s flock.
I’ve heard a story that on trip in Israel a tourist bus was delayed by flocks of sheep getting water. The shepherds – after their sheep had gotten what they needed, separated their herds from one another simply by using their voices. They each had their own call and voices, and the sheep followed their own shepherds going off in different directions.
Now, listening to the word of our Great Shepherd, we live lives that are cared for and watched over. We live that way, because the Lamb of God, as we said, has taken our place as the sacrificial Lamb to take away our sins. As St Peter today tells us in vs 24, “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness. So much more than the man who substituted himself for his friend and died in his place in Napoleon’s army, Jesus has taken our place, the whole worlds sinful place, and died the death we all owed and then He rose from the grave to show that God accepted His sacrifice for us.
Now, in receiving His gift of forgiveness, we’re allowed to be the sheep we were created to be. And we can follow where Jesus leads. The life we live, we live fully because we are no longer burdened with the guilt, shame, or fear that sin can use to hold us captive. By the sacrifice of The Substitute, Jesus Christ we’re no longer bound to listen to the thief, the stranger, Satan – we’re free of that by hearing our true Shepherds voice instead. And now, now we are free to live life to the fullest that we can. We are free to, as St Peter tells us today, to “follow in his steps.”
We live by His word or we miss out on living the life Christ sacrificed Himself for us to have. Again, listen to what Jesus said at the end of verse 10, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” We can live our lives so free and full that it’s infectious to those around us.
Others can look at us and want what we have. That’s what happened in the first reading from Acts today, listen again to verses 46-47 “They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” They exhibited in the living of their lives together, the freedom won for us by Christ. And that drew people to them and to Christ.
Our freedom in Christ, the way we live out abundant living, that can be a powerful way of drawing others to want what we’ve been given by grace through faith alone. Living in the abundance that Jesus supplies us, that gives us the renewal we needed in our relationship with God our creator. That joyfulness that’s ours, others can then see and want for themselves.
We open up and truly live that forgiveness we’ve been given by The Substitute, Jesus Christ. We’re free to embrace the life of forgiveness only because He has first embraced us by His grace and mercy alone. God has declared it to be legally ours.
Just like Napoleon declared that young father legally dead, God declares us legally alive and free. God’s forgiveness and freedom in the sacrifice of The Substitute are ours by the power of the Holy Spirit to joyfully live in. So, in the name of Jesus, the Lamb of God, we live life so that others can know that His forgiveness is for them as well. All this is because, Christ is risen… He is risen indeed, amen.
Sermon #890 Rev. Thomas A. Rhodes, Pastor – Zion Lutheran Church, Bolivar, MO
First Reading Acts 2:42-47
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Epistle Reading 1 Peter 2:19-25
19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Holy Gospel John 10:1-10
10 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them. 7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.