“THE LAMB IS THE SHEPHERD”
Fourth Sunday of Easter (Mothers' Day)
May 12, 2019
Bethel Evangelical Lutheran Church
“The Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their Shepherd, and He will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Revelation 7:17 (ESV)
If you look up the word "host" in a dictionary, you will find that it has several meanings. A "host" could be an army or a multitude--a very large company of people. "Host" could also mean a person "who receives and/or entertains guests socially or commercially." Or it could refer to "an animal or plant on or in which a parasite lives." Another definition for "host" is "the Eucharistic bread." You may or not know that the reason why Communion wafers are called "hosts" is because their use is related to two of the other meanings of that word. When we come to the Lord's table Jesus Himself is our Host--the One who invites us as His guests and at whose expense we are received and welcomed. But He is also the One in whom we live and on whom we feed to gain our spiritual nourishment and strength. It defies human reason, to be sure, but in the Sacrament of the Altar the Lord is both the One who invites us and the Food that we consume.
We find something very similar in the text before us this morning. The words "lamb" and "shepherd" are used here in ways that far exceed our limited human understanding. We normally think of a shepherd as being one who takes care of sheep and lambs and yet we are told here that the Lamb is the Shepherd. That's right: The One who identifies with the helpless (those who need to be led and provided for in every way) is in fact the One who leads them everywhere and provides them with everything that they need. What's more, as "the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29), Jesus the Good Shepherd is also the One who was offered in sacrifice to God in place of those to whose care He is committed. On this Fourth Sunday of the Easter season, commonly known as "Good Shepherd Sunday," we examine this text from Revelation to see how our Good Shepherd provides for us and how He protects us. Incidentally, we can see a human parallel to this kind of care in motherhood, which we also celebrate today.
What the Good Shepherd has provided for us is clearly revealed here in the expression "springs of living water." This expression refers to everything that we will ever need for the survival and growth of our spiritual life: the forgiveness of our sins, the free gift of everlasting life, and salvation from the condemnation and punishment that we deserve because of our sin. It is called "springs of living water" because it never runs out. It is not to be confused with the things of this world, which give us, at best, only temporary or momentary satisfaction. It is the same water that Jesus was referring to when He said to the Samaritan woman who came to draw water from Jacob's well: "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you 'Give Me a drink,' you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water" (John 4:10). This "living water" is ours because Jesus Himself purchased it for us with the shedding of His own innocent blood when He suffered and died for us on the cross.
But Jesus did more than just make this "living water" available to us. The passage before us states that "He will guide [His sheep] to springs of living water." Through His Holy Spirit, the Good Shepherd who laid down His very life for His sheep also leads them to the riches that He has gained for them. Face it: Without His leading the blessings of the Gospel would be wasted on us. Being "dead in . . . trespasses and sins" (Ephesians 2:1), we would have neither the desire nor the strength to receive as our own the blessings that our Good Shepherd has acquired for us at such a dear price. But by the power of the Holy Spirit, given to us in Baptism, the gifts of God made possible by Christ are also given to us so that we might make use of them and benefit from them.
Our Good Shepherd not only provides for us; He also protects us--not necessarily from everything that might be annoying to us or unpleasant or even painful, but from everything that could be genuinely harmful to our spiritual life. Jesus wasn't trying to be poetic or sentimental when He described His relationship with His disciples in terms of a Shepherd and His sheep. The truth of the matter is that we are as helpless and vulnerable in this perilous world as sheep are. We wander into danger as often and as stubbornly as they do. And just as various wild animals stalk sheep with every intention of doing them harm, so Satan stalks us. The assurance that our Good Shepherd gives us in the face of this threat is that He is with us and will protect us from the enemy. But we don't always appreciate His protection. Following the pattern set by our very first parents in the garden of Eden, we often have so much confidence in ourselves that we resent the guidance of the One who knows all and who has our best interests at heart. What we need to understand is that when the Shepherd nudges us away from the various worldly things that enchant us and capture our attention and demand our commitment, it's not because He doesn't want us to have fun; it's because He loves us and because He wants us to be aware of the devil's traps and to avoid them so that we might continue to enjoy our fellowship with the One who cares for His sheep.
The protection given to us by our Good Shepherd is expressed with great tenderness in our text when John writes of the Shepherd's sheep: "God will wipe away every tear from their eyes." Life in this fallen world certainly can be and often is a tear-filled experience. It offers us grief and disappointment, anger and sorrow, pain and suffering, and inevitably death. It is so difficult, in fact, that many people despair of the grace and mercy of God, wandering around aimlessly in unbelief and chaos. The sheep of the Good Shepherd don't have things any easier in life than anybody else. Because we also are sinners living in a sinful world, we have the same trials and tribulations that all people must endure, and in addition to that, we have our various crosses to bear as we bear witness concerning the redeeming love of God revealed in Jesus Christ. But because we know Jesus, we know also that all of our grief and disappointment and anger and sorrow and pain and suffering and death actually mean something, because we know that in Christ we have a compassionate God who wipes away our tears and heals our hurts.
What all of this tells us is that Jesus Christ--our Good Shepherd--is the all-sufficient One. He is the One who has redeemed us from sin and death with His own blood and has sent His Holy Spirit to us in Word and Sacrament so that we might receive in faith all of the blessings of salvation that He has purchased for us and gives us. And what He has done for us in the past gives us all the assurance we need that He will be with us and will aid us now and in the future as well. He is the One who meets all of our needs and calms all of our fears--the One who keeps us in the fold--the One who promises us: "I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment." (Revelation 21:6).
May the God of peace, who brought again from the dead that great Shepherd of the sheep, our Lord Jesus, by the blood of the everlasting covenant equip you thoroughly for the doing of His will. May He work in you everything which is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, our Lord, to whom be honor and glory forever and ever. He who calls you is faithful, and He will do it. Amen