Listen to the sermon here:
Scriptures: Jeremiah 23:1-6; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:11-20; Luke 23:33-43
Jesus is all these persons: lamb, shepherd, king. Jesus is our sacrificial lamb, dying once to save all people. No more sacrificial animals which needed to be perfect in order to work. “Work” meant removing the sins of people. The lamb assumed the multitude of sins of a person or family as the lamb was sacrificed in a precise way – according to the rules for that procedure.
Jesus is our shepherd, caring for us in every way possible. Jesus is our mediator. We don’t need another human being as our mediator. We may find that Jesus helps other humans to help us but other humans cannot remove our sins. We can each assume that our sins are forgiven by God when we ask. We as humans, ordained or not ordained, can declare that our sins are forgiven once we have confessed them to God and therefore Jesus. But the very good news is that we can confess and receive forgiveness directly, ourselves. It is one of the grand and glorious beliefs that come with being a Christian.
Jesus, as shepherd, guides us and protects us and rescues us. Do you agree? Has God rescued you from circumstances that are not good? God is still rescuing me from circumstances which are usually my own fault. Have you felt that curve in the staff around your neck saving you gently from a nasty place? Have you felt the hands of Jesus placing his arms around you whipping you from your enemies, be they people or situations? The word “whipping” seems as though Jesus is angry to be whipping us. Picture instead a train coming along the tracks onto which we have just fallen. Just in the nick of time, we feel our body being lifted to safety, our body being whipped suddenly and decisively from danger. It is like having a nightmare and suddenly waking to realize it was not real. Yes, Jesus our shepherd.
How about King? Jesus as King. Can you picture Jesus giving the sermon on the mount wearing a crown? It does not compute as we say now-a-days. Jesus was a humble person. He walked most places. He did ride a donkey on his way to the cross. Take note that it was not a white horse which would be more king-like. Having walked most of his life everywhere and anywhere, this ride on a donkey was symbolic. It was designed to show the humility that was the essence of Jesus.
Heading toward the cross on a donkey. Hardly king-like. Yes, this Son of God, took his humility to the cross and died there with two criminals. Remember “the first shall be last and the last shall be first” theme that runs through all of scripture? Here we are again seeing this theme in action. The donkey, the cross, personifying the “last.” But this humble, healing, teaching Son of God meekly goes through the posture of humility. Did Jesus know exactly what was going to happen? Something like sneaking through a pasture in which a bull roams loose; trying to be unnoticed, creeping ever so slowly, making sure to be wearing dark clothing. This is Jesus sliding into Jerusalem, even weeping for Jerusalem, I think to save the people, not the city – the people.
Did the bull catch him? Yes, we know that Jesus was gored by nails; nails which fastened him to the cross so that suffocation gradually happened while the pain increased. Jesus did not escape being “nailed” by the bull in the pasture. He knew the pasture with the bull was the only path to the place he was expected to go? Who was the bull? Aha! Do you recognize yourself? Do I recognize myself? How can we possibly be like a bull?
Is it our nature to charge ahead with our own plans without thinking how our actions will affect someone else? Have you ever undermined the person in charge? Have you ever unknowingly and unintentionally hurt someone by your words directly to the person’s face or brought a shortcoming of another person to the attention of a supervisor? Afterward, we feel awful, something like a rotting orange. What can we do to restore ourselves to being a fresh, juicy, lovely-smelling orange?
Look to the cross! This person who hangs on the cross under a sign that says, “This is the King of the Jews” is the one who can restore our souls. This Jesus, the King, can give us a sweet fragrance and rewarding restoration of our minds and hearts and souls. The nutrition of the orange, the nutrition of our souls, is once again useful and desirable.
This humble king restored one such rotten orange who hung beside him on another cross – a criminal. This one criminal cries, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus, the restorer of rotten oranges, replies, “Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” We the readers of this account in the twenty-first century, cling to this word, “today.” Yes, today you will be with me in Paradise.
First, it means that Jesus, this suffering king, had this assurance for his own soul that today he would be in Paradise. Second, this suffering king, was being a shepherd right there on the cross. Jesus was rescuing a sheep who was repentant after being a sinner. And are we not all sinners? Even one unkind word or thought is sinful! Probably, no one in this world can claim to have never had an unkind thought about someone else or hurt someone in some way. It may help if we think of ourselves as the criminal on the cross beside Jesus the Shepherd King. Hearing those words would be the greatest gift in life.
Would we not all like to have the assurance that we will be in Paradise when our life on earth is ended? Think how blessed this criminal is: the lowly sinner being lifted from stifling mud to the light and freedom of Paradise with assurance. The Messiah, this promised one, was recognized as such – as God with us – by this criminal. The criminal knew that Jesus was real. He says to the other criminal, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.”
“The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’ ” Are you wondering how this writing fits our focus today? This writing comes from Jeremiah 23:1-6. It is one of the gems in the Old Testament which enlighten the reality of the New Testament.
So this man on the cross, this king, this shepherd, this Savior, is the reality of “The Lord is our righteousness.” Jesus promoted and lived peace and gentleness and living rightly or righteously. “The Lord is our righteousness.” In being this king of righteousness, Jesus did not rule from a court. Jesus ruled by prayer and by example. Righteousness does not come upon us by court order. This righteousness gradually becomes part of us. Righteousness – being what God wants us to be and do – does not come to us suddenly when we declare that we believe that Jesus is our salvation. Being righteous, being holy, does not happen overnight. It takes time. It takes good examples. It takes prayer. Again, it takes time.
The secret is the focus. It is not placing ourselves in chains or in a locked space. Gradually becoming righteous, holy, sacred, and peace-filled is a life-long desire. It is not fasting for a week. It is not living in a cave. Becoming righteous is to place our lives into the hands of Jesus; the hands which bore the nails; the hands which blessed people, healed people, calmed people, rebuked people.
To become part of this kingdom of righteousness we need to take the medicine. Some medicine is unpleasant and a nuisance but usually the prescribed medicine makes us healthier. In becoming a faithful member of this kingdom, the medicine is prayer and reading the Bible and getting out of our comfort zone to share our strength and finances and side-by-side compassion with persons who are having a tough time in their lives. The secret formula is wanting to be an invited member of the kingdom of righteousness.
Let us not worry about being perfect. It is the striving that counts. It is the repenting that counts. It is the acceptance of forgiveness that counts. It is loving God and loving our neighbor that counts; that matters. Matters to whom? Matters to this King, this Shepherd!
Do righteousness and peace relate to each other? Will righteousness bring peace? Will peace bring righteousness? I am declaring “yes.” Following the example of King Jesus, obeying the rules given by God to Moses on the mountain-top, yearning toward holiness bring us to the point where peace dwells. This point is more like a “yield” place in traffic than an intersection. If we are on the road of righteousness, in training like a runner or a gymnast, we will glide onto the highway of peace. Why do we need to yield instead of ignoring the sign and the danger? We need to yield because unexpected things sneak upon us. Things that are fast and strong! They can wipe our humble vehicle into an unpolished bit of scrap metal with their power.
How can we yield? How can we handle the choices that come along with strength and power? Listen. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains shake in the depths of the sea; though its waters rage and foam, and though the mountains tremble with its tumult.” “The nations rage, and the kingdoms shake; God speaks, and the earth melts away. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.” “Be still then and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations; I will be exalted in the earth. The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold.”
Let us pray. O God, our true life, to serve you is freedom, and to know you is unending joy. We worship you, we glorify you, we give thanks to you for your great glory. Abide with us, reign in us, and make this world into a fit habitation for our divine majesty, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.