The Fourth Sunday of Easter (C)
“Shepherds Come and Go, But One Remains”
May 12, 2019
Sermon Text: Acts 20:17-35, John 10:22-30
Peace be unto you from our risen Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
Dearly Beloved of the Lord,
His work there was done. And for one last time, St. Paul speaks to the called and ordained shepherds who have taken over the ministry in Ephesus… the “elders of the church” who were carrying on… continuing on where he left off… providing Word and Sacrament to all of the precious men, women and children who, at great cost, confessed Jesus Christ to be their Lord and Savior.
St. Paul declares to them, “And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again.” (Acts 20:25)
This shepherd… an apostle of the Lord no less… goes on to share with these pastors two important things. He reminds them of what he did during his time there… during his ministry there (for it was Paul who had established the Christian Church in Ephesus under the guidance of the Holy Spirit). And He also warns these pastors of what is coming, what they will face in the months and years to come. Fighting the good fight of faith was tough then… and it would only get tougher. Indeed, such is the life of a Christian at any point in time and certainly in these end times… our lives lived out under the cross of Jesus
Paul reminds his brothers in the ministry saying to them, “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:18-21)
Paul did not shrink… he did not shirk… back off, back down, back out… from carrying out the ministry to the people of Ephesus, even though that ministry was filled with “tears and trials” and much humility.
It wasn’t easy… and it never will be… for a good portion of a pastor’s work will not be well received. “I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Whether in the public square or in homes and in the house churches scattered around Ephesus… wherever to whomever… regardless of whether the person was a Jew or gentile… Paul preached, taught, applied God’s Holy Law and Gospel… what he here refers to as “repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”
I have had the joy and great privilege of participating in a number of rites of ordination over the years as men like Kurt Ulmer, Andrew Packer and Christopher Gillespie entered the Office of the Holy Ministry. And invariably, the Bible passage I share with pastors-elect is from the Book of Ezekiel, where the Lord God Almighty declares,
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die for his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezekiel 3:17-19)
Blood on one’s hands… or the lack there of. It could not get more serious than that with eternal implications no less. And the fact of the matter is,
St. Paul was well acquainted with this portion of Holy Scripture and lived by it. That is why he tells the shepherds at Ephesus, “I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all of you, for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:26-27)
The whole counsel of God with its two major messages – the Law that shows us our sins and the Gospel that shows us our Savior, Jesus Christ.
There is nothing more important. It is central to the ministry, central to the Christian faith. Central… and essential. It is what these shepherds, whom St. Paul addresses, are to deliver. The WHOLE counsel… not just part of it… not just what they like… what the sheep want to hear… that which is pleasing to the ears… but ALL OF IT… every bit of it. That which will be harder and harder to do as the darkness of sin increases in Ephesus… in Lockport… in all the world.
St. Paul passionately urges these shepherds, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be alert.” (Acts 20:28-31)
How much more, my friends, are we to be alert… shepherd and sheep… as the Day of the Lord approaches… as the days in which we now live are far more evil… sicker than ever?
But notice that even though St. Paul knows that the future will be tough for these pastors and their flocks, he is at peace as he commends them all “to
God and to the word of his grace.” (Acts 20:32)
St. Paul is at peace confident that although he soon will be out of the picture and eventually all of the pastors standing before him, there is one Shepherd who always remains, is always there… one Shepherd who will always look after His sheep and lambs… the very same Shepherd who died for them and has risen to always be with them… to always love and protect them, seeing them through all of the spiritual and physical perils of this time and throughout time.
We hear the wonderful words of our Lord, the Good Shepherd, in our Gospel lesson, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” (John 10:27-28)
Regardless of the circumstances, Christ’s own… those He graciously claimed and named in the waters of Holy Baptism… follow Him. Although the shepherds He sends to preach, teach, baptize and feed, will come and go. He… Jesus… remains. He… Jesus… is with them… with us… always… to the end of the age. We know His voice and we faithfully follow Him to heaven and our eternal home.
So, my friends, enjoy the same peace that was Paul’s… peace in Jesus. It is there for you… HERE for you… in Word and Sacrament. We continue on in this Easter Season giving all glory, honor and praise to Christ our Lord who has triumphed over the grave… over sin and Satan. And we rejoice that His triumph is ours… His victory, ours. Thanks be to God. Amen.
May the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, unto life everlasting. Amen.
“Shepherds Come and Go, But One Remains” 5/12/19 The Rev. Mark H Hein, St. Paul’s Ev. Lutheran Church, Lockport, IL.