Good evening on this Fourth Sunday of Easter.
So last weekend, as you know, some of us gathered for the meeting of our first mission council. It was an exciting gathering because this group will help refine Crossroad's vision and then take steps to make that vision a reality.
Interestingly enough though, before the actual meeting began, as we were eating breakfast, some of us were talking about some of the disappointments and challenges we have faced over time in ministry, particularly those times and occasions when we have pursued things which we have clearly discerned to be part of God’s leading, yet things didn’t turn out quite like we expected or imagined. What was clear to all of us as we talked, and this was by no means a new revelation to us, is that being a Christian and following God’s leading does not mean that everything in our lives will be smooth sailing. Nor can we expect to be spared of disappointment or sadness.
But surely, this truth has been made clear throughout history, and this truth has been made clear in the Scriptures. We certainly see it in today’s Scriptures.
First in Acts, we see the woman named Tabitha die and we witness the women who had been the
benefactresses of her kindness and generosity gathering around her and weeping.
Secondly, in the Psalm, we see the writer David speak about walking through the shadow of death and being in the presence of those who trouble him.
Thirdly, in Revelation, we hear of the great ordeal undergone by those who now find themselves worshipping the Lamb who was slain, this ordeal most likely being the great persecution of
Christians happening at the time of the writing of Revelation, as well as the various persecutions of Christians that have happened throughout history.
Being called by God and following God did not mean a difficulty-free life for Tabitha and her friends, for David, or for the early Christians. Nor does it mean a difficulty-free life for us. Because of the sins of others and of ourselves, because of the brokenness and fallenness of the world, all of us – believers and nonbelievers – can expect sadness in this world. The awful bombings at the Boston Marathon, its aftermath on Thursday, the large explosion this week at a fertilizer plant in Texas, which left many dead, and the large earthquake in China which injured thousands, among other things that happened this week, are tragic reminders of this truth. What a sad, sad world we live in.
And friends, as Christians, we can actually expect additional challenges. Intentionally following Christ and seeking his kingdom will mean some spiritual backlash for some of us. In fact, the Apostle Paul warned Timothy of this specifically in 2 Timothy 3.
Friends, this is a hard reality to take in – there is no way around it - and if many of us our honest with ourselves, we really do want to despair about it.
But as much as we would like to despair, we must not do so. We must put our trust in God and remember that despite all this, there is good news. And the good news is this: Jesus is our Good Shepherd. You may have noticed that this is a theme that runs through 3 out of 4 Scripture passages we read today. Well, as our Good Shepherd, Jesus is forever for us and with us. Jesus knows us intimately and is present with us through our challenges, difficulties, and sad times.
Nowhere is this more apparent than in the well-beloved 23rd Psalm that we read today, where we are reassured that the Lord will provide for our daily needs; lead us to places of rest, peace, restoration, and nourishment; guide us in the ways of righteousness; and be present with us in the midst of
We many not avoid difficulty in this life – in fact we cannot avoid it, but we can trust that God is ever so near to us in these difficulties. He will never leave us or abandon us. Nor, will He let us wander too far from him. Like sheep, we may be prone to wander from Him, especially as times get tough, but like a good shepherd looking out for his sheep, Jesus will always seek us out.
And as Jesus seeks us out, as the Lord draws close to us, we can expect Him to be a truly understanding presence. We can trust that since this Good Shepherd is also the Lamb who was slain, who Himself has undergone great suffering, rejection, and pain. He is not distant from our pain. He understands it. He empathizes with us. And he can handle our strong emotions of anger, sadness, confusion, fear, and
grief. He wants nothing more than for us to open up to Him, the Healer, the Comforter, in the midst of our
This is good news, but friends, this is not the only good news about Jesus being the Good Shepherd.
Jesus is not just our comforter in our life right now, but he is also our savior who opens up eternal
life for those who believe. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who has laid down his life for His sheep, those people who hear and recognize His voice, respond to it, and ultimately put their trust in Him.
As a result of this laying down of the Shepherd’s life and also of his taking it up again, Jesus has ensured that His sheep will never perish. They will never be snatched away from the Father. Their eternal destiny with the Lord is certain.
And what will this eternity look like, friends? Well according to Revelation, it is an eternity marked by fervent worship of the Lamb by people of all nations, tribes, and tongues. It is eternity in a place where hunger, discomfort, and tears do not exist. As I mentioned a couple weeks ago, it is an eternity in a place of tremendous beauty, abundance, intimacy, and purpose.
There is a wonderful, hope-inspiring future that lies ahead for all us who believe in Christ, all because the Good Shepherd has laid down His life and taken it back up again for his sheep, all because Jesus, the Lamb, has died and rose again.
Friends, I do not know how you have responded to the tragedies of the week. I know for me that the events of this past week, coupled with other things going on in life, put me in a somewhat sad state of mind. And when I find myself in such a frame of mind, it is hard for me to celebrate the joys of the Resurrection, the joys of the glorious future that lay ahead for believers. But isn’t this what I encouraged all of us to do a couple of weeks ago – to keep up this spirit of celebration in Eastertide?
Yes, that is what I did. And I still do! We need to celebrate! But you might ask, how can we do that in the midst of such sadness as we have experienced this week?
Well friends, we must remember that we live between the time of Jesus’ first coming and his second coming, and in this between times, we live with tension. Death and evil still exist, yet at the same time we know that Christ has triumphed over that very same death and evil. The war with Satan and sin has been won even if little battles and skirmishes continue on now.
It is kind of like the time between D-Day and V-E Day in WWII. You may be already familiar
with this analogy, but I find it so helpful. It was not until V-E Day that the War was finally over, but it was clear that the war had been won on D-Day, the day that the battle of Normandy began. Even though some battles and deaths still occurred after that time, it was already clear who the victors were.
Well, in our case, we know who the victor is too. Christ is the victor, and there are signs of His victory everywhere. Foretastes of our glorious future are around us. We must be on the lookout for them. And
when we do look out for them, this is what we will find.
On occasion, we will see people like Tabitha, who we read about in Acts today, be raised from the
dead, reminding us that even though we die, we believers will all one day be resurrected to new life.
Additionally, we will see people who are hurt spiritually, emotionally, socially and/or physically be
healed, restored, made whole.
We will also see families, friends, nations, and races in conflict with each other come together
in love, repentance, and forgiveness. We will see parts of creation ravaged by our own
selfishness and sin make miraculous comebacks.
And finally and most importantly, we will see people who are far from God and mired in their own sin
be reconciled to him through Jesus and transformed slowly but surely into Christ’s very image.
All because Jesus has died and rose again, inaugurating a new creation, causing the inbreaking of the Kingdom in our fallen world!
So yes, even though we grieve over the Fallenness of the world, particularly thinking this week about the Boston bombing tragedy, and yes, even though we are real with each other and with God with the range of our emotions experienced in the midst of this Fallenness, we do not despair. Rather we rejoice in all
the Resurrection promises and accomplishes, not just in the future but in the present.
And then we go out and engage the world. It is important that we don't withdraw from the world, just biding our time until heaven. Rather, we look for the signs all around us that God is redeeming the
world, we point others to these signs and to Jesus himself. We ask God to invite us to be part of His redemptive plans. And finally, we thank God for being the Good Shepherd, for comforting us, for giving up his life so that we might be saved from sin, for giving us eternal life, and for providing foretastes even
now of the wonderful heaven, the glorious future that waits for us believers, a future that no one, not even Satan, can ever steal away from us.
As Jesus says to all his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the
world. We rejoice in this good news friends. We rejoice in the Lamb who was slain who is also our Good
Shepherd. We rejoice in the Resurrection, And for this reason, on this Fourth Sunday of Easter, we once again say Alleluia. Alleluia.