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This past week we have once again been reminded how important it is to hold tightly onto the Word and Promise of God that does not fail us and that alone sustains us in the dark day.
We have been reminded once again that the great blessings of science and medicine have their limits, and that we dare not make idols out of them.
We have been reminded once again that death has no prejudice and cares nothing about age or innocence and that it will break the heart of everyone who loves – the more the love the deeper the break and the more death delight’s in the pain it inflicts.
Nor does death seem to care that this is the season of Easter, when our hearts are supposed to be filled with brightness and warmth and our mouths are to be bubbling over with shouts of victory and joy.
Once again we are reminded that we, who have been touched by death, dare not forget that we have also been touched by Easter. Our Lord has overcome death by giving Himself over to it on our behalf. He was SWALLOWED UP by death. But on the 3rd day He death was SWALLOWED UP in victory. And he forced it to cough up its victims so that “the mortal may be SWALLOWED UP by life.” (2 Cor. 5:4)
So here we are together, and we cannot say that our Easter joy is PURE JOY or that we are UNAFFECTED BY DEATH, or that we are ‘happy, happy, happy all the time because we have Jesus in our hearts.’
As long as we live on this side of heaven our life is always going to be a mixture of joy and sorrow, of peace and shattered peace, of confidence and doubt, of life and of death.
If we will be honest with ourselves, and if we will let the Scriptures be truthful with us, we must confess that as long as we live on this side of heaven, our life is always going to be MORE sorrow than joy, MORE turmoil than peace, and MORE doubt than confidence and MORE death than life.
This is to say, we live under the shadow of the cross and walk through the valley of the shadow of death, because the in-breaking of the NEW CREATION has not yet come.
Which means that we will always need to hold tightly onto our Lord Jesus Christ and His cross and let the announcement of the angel ring in our ears – “He is not here, for He is risen – just as He said.” (Mat. 28:6)
I would like to have preached a happy, Easter sermon to you this morning. But as St. Paul writes, “If one member suffers, all suffer together…” (1 Cor. 12:26). That’s the way it works in a body.
I am glad that this morning is “Good Shepherd Sunday.” The imagery of the Good Shepherd taking care of His precious sheep is a comforting one for we who have been reminded once again of our vulnerability and helplessness.
We need the Good Shepherd to both take care of us and defend us; to give us our daily bread and deliver us from all evil. And Jesus Christ is just such a Good Shepherd.
The 23rd Psalm is the text for our consideration, but I especially want to focus on these words, “He restores my soul.”
To say, “He restores my soul,” is also to say that my soul has been damaged and that it needs to be restored. You don’t ‘restore’ something that is just fine. What needs to be restored is what is what is broken or worn out… or weary and heavy laden.
The typical sermon would spend some time attempting to convince you that your soul really is in need of restoration. As strange as it sounds, the truth is, we usually need to be reminded of this if not convinced of it. As long as everything is okay and we’re ‘happy, happy, happy,’ we fail to see the need for ‘restoration.’
Our pride takes hold of us and tries to convince us that even though we may not be ‘WELL,’ we are not so sick or broken that we cannot handle things ourselves just fine. We don’t need a “Good Shepherd.”
And so we all need to hear the Law. The righteous demands of the Law require of us what we cannot do in order to show us our real condition before God and destroy our confidence that we will be just fine with or without Jesus.
But today, we don’t need to have our hearts broken by the Law preached. The Law has already done its job on us by bringing death upon our body and into our family. Nothing shows us the bondage of our will more effectively than our inability to save a life or revive a life, NO MATTER HOW MUCH WE MAY WILL IT.
Our hearts are open and we are more than ready to hear the Gospel. “He restores my soul.”
To “RESTORE” something, is to put it back to its original condition. We think of cars or furniture or houses that are ‘restored’ to their original condition.
To say, “he restores my soul” is to say that the Good Shepherd puts our soul back to its ‘original condition.’
And ‘original condition’ is as it was IN THE BEGINNING – perfect, holy, pure, sinless, no longer a confusing mixture of joy AND sorrow, of peace AND shattered peace, of confidence AND doubt. But HE RESTORES MY SOUL to its original condition of PURE JOY and PURE PEACE and UNMIXED ASSURANCE that God loves me and takes care me and gives me all that I need for this body and soul – EVEN DELIVERENCE FROM DEATH.
This, my fellow lambs, God has done for us through His Son, Jesus Christ by giving Him to us to be our Good Shepherd.
He comes and finds us when we go astray.
If we’re big, grown up sheep, He carries us on His shoulders.
If we’re tiny little babies, He carries us in His arms and holds us SO CLOSE TO HIS HEART that we can hear the beat of DIVINE LOVE in Him and rest secure.
He washes our soiled and wounded and damaged soul in His holy and precious blood.
He tells us over and over again, “I forgive you all of your sins.
I love you with all of My heart.
I give you My life which is eternal, and all that I have is yours.”
And then, as a guarantee and pledge, He gives us His very own body to eat and His very own blood to drink as food for the soul.
And we say, “You restore my soul.”
There are always going to be lots of other voices, wooing us, barking at us, claiming that they have other ways, better ways to restore our soul – drugs, alcohol, sex, a new dress, a new house, a new spouse, chocolate.
But we dare not confuse momentary pleasures and escapes from reality with a RESTORED SOUL.
But the fact is, WE SOMETIMES DO confuse these two. As long as we live on this side of heaven, we will be a confusing mixture of believer and doubter, heart set on things above and heart set on things below. What James refers to as “the double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8). Which only means that we will always need to listen attentively to His Voice at all times.
To all who will listen, Jesus promises to be heard. “My sheep hear my voice.” We hear Him say to us, “I am the Good Shepherd.” And the sound of His voice restores the soul of the lost, the wounded, the frightened, the grieving.
He calls His sheep, “by name,” first, because He knows each and everyone one personally, individually, from the moment of conception. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” (Jer. 1:5)
And second because He has redeemed each and every one personally, individually from the moment of baptism. “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 19:14). A father takes his infant son, finds some water, and says, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
He says, “you are mine and so precious to Me, because I bought you for a price – and not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with my holy and precious blood. I am the Lamb of God – and I laid down my life for my precious little lambs.”
“His sheep hear Him and they know His voice and they follow Him.” I think that it’s important to remember that there is NOTHING IN ALL CREATION that is able to prevent the voice of the Good Shepherd from being heard. Books may be burned and programs may be censored and meetings may be banned. But the voice of the Lord goes out and HIS SHEEPN HEAR HIM. And wounded and weary sheep confess, “you restore my soul.”
I think that it is also important to remember, especially today, that not even death and the grave can prevent the voice of the Good Shepherd from being heard. Jesus says, “Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.” (Jn. 5:25). And wounded and weary sheep confess, “you restore my soul.”
The same David who is credited with writing the 23rd Psalm is also the author of the 51st Psalm. David comes to the Lord with his crushed and wounded soul, and pleads for Him to restore it. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.” (Ps.51:10-12).
This is the kind of prayer that the Good Shepherd loves to hear from His sheep, and that sheep who know the goodness and grace of their Shepherd are quick to pray. David is simply asking for what the Lord has promised to give.
Is anything too great for the Lord?
He who restored the man’s withered hand (Mat.5:13),
and restored the flesh of the 10 leprous men,
and restored the eyes of the blind,
and restored the ears of the deaf,
and restored the health of the sick,
who restored life to widow’s son,
and the Centurions’ servant and
His friend Lazarus,
has already restored your soul.
David responds to the Lord’s grace and love in the only way appropriate. He tells his own soul to give thanks to the Lord who has renewed and restored him.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.” (Psalm 103:1-5)
This past week we have once again been painfully reminded that we walk under the shadow of death.
But let us also be reminded that we also walk under the LIGHT OF THE WORLD. Christ is risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia!
So, we fear no evil, for our Good Shepherd is with us, and He has overcome death, and He leads His sheep into life. “He restores my soul.”