Sermon on Hebrews 13:7-8, 17-21 for Pentecost 8 (Pr 11) July 15, 16 & 18, 2021
- Today’s readings all have a shepherd theme. We’re used to the shepherd theme on the Fourth Sunday of Easter—then the Gospel is always from John chapter 10, where Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Today’s readings focus also on those who shepherd with the Good Shepherd—or at least those who are supposed to. Jeremiah lamented the bad shepherds who destroyed and scattered the sheep of the pasture. He is talking about the kings of Israel and Judah. Those in the north led the people in the worship of idols. Those in the south wavered in faithfulness—sometimes there would be a good king, but mostly kings who wanted to serve themselves. So God speaks about shepherding his people himself and sending a “righteous Branch” from the house of David. Fast forward about 600 years from Jeremiah to Jesus, who gets off the boat on the Sea of Galilee and sees people “like sheep without a shepherd.” “His heart went out to them.” He had compassion on them. “[And] he began to teach them many things.” He saw those without a shepherd—so he shepherded them.
- Shepherd is really a word-picture for Savior. In Psalm 23, the shepherd provides for all needs, that’s what “I shall not want” means. He leads us when we don’t want to be led. “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” “He restores my soul.” “Restore” means that something was wrong, doesn’t it? Someone has to fix or heal to put things right. “He guides me in the path of righteousness” because sheep and people are very good at finding trouble. We need to be led.
- Verses in the reading from Hebrews are used in our burial service because they have an Easter theme. “Now may the God of peace—who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, in connection with his blood, which established the eternal testament—may he equip you with every good thing to do his will, as he works in us what is pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.” This describes Jesus’ work as shepherd. Isaiah said, “We all have gone astray like sheep. Each of us has turned to his own way, but the Lord has charged all our guilt to him.” (Isaiah 53:6). This is why the writer of Hebrews calls Jesus “that great Shepherd of the sheep.” The writer also describes Jesus’ shepherding work for us. He establishes us. He equips us. He works in us and through us.
I. He establishes us.
After the writer calls Jesus the great Shepherd of the sheep, he says “in connection with his blood, which established the eternal testament.” The sacrifice of Jesus is the eternal covenant or testament. Covenants and testaments are really promises—biblical covenants and testaments are like contracts in which God binds himself to do something. Jesus’ blood established the eternal covenant of God’s love, a covenant of forgiveness. Jesus on the cross is also Jesus as “the great shepherd of the sheep,” because there he was doing what he said. “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. … I lay down my life so that I may take it up again” (John 10:11, 17). By Jesus sacrifice, we are brought to God. By Jesus sacrifice, we are established as God’s children—his forgiven, holy people.
II. He equips us.
- When Jesus saw the crowd “like sheep without a shepherd,” “He began to teach them many things.” He didn’t leave them without any guidance. He gave them guidance. He guided the people with a purpose. That’s in the Twenty-Third Psalm, too. “He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.” He shows me what is right so I can glorify him. The blessing from Hebrews shows us that same purpose. “May he equip you with every good thing to do his will.” He equips us. He gives us the tools we need. And the purpose is so that we can do his will. Think of Isaiah’s statement about sheep that have gone astray. That is really the sad state of humanity. Paul described human nature as being enslaved to sin (Romans 6:16-22, 7:14). What can we do? The catechism sums this up by saying by our own thinking or choosing we can’t believe in Jesus Christ as Lord or come to him. We are powerless—powerless to truly do good or do what is pleasing to God. But “he equips us with everything good to do his will.” As he did with the crowd, he does with us. He teaches us many things. He teaches us about our nature, and our need for him. He shows us our sin, and our need for him. And then he teaches us who he is—Shepherd, Savior, Sacrifice for sin. The Way, the Truth and the Life. Our path to the Father. Our open door of heaven. He shows us his great love—how he gave himself for us.
- The love of Christ is the chief thing that equips us with everything good to do his will. The sacrificial love of Christ is what has taken our sin away. That’s the covenant. That’s the atonement. The love of Christ is our example to follow—but it’s much more than an example. It is empowering. There are times in a Christian’s life when we know what to do, but feel too weak to do it. We hear that call of Jesus, “Love your neighbor” (Matthew 19:19, Matthew 22:39), and maybe we think of a certain neighbor who is hard to love. Maybe we feel so weak in love, we think we just don’t have it in us. The love of Christ is also an empowering love. “We love because he first loved us,” John wrote (1 John 4:19). Why love a difficult neighbor? Because Jesus loved you and me, even when we were difficult (Romans 5:8). His seeking love pursued us anyway.
III. He works in us and through us.
- And “he works in us what is pleasing in his sight.” His work in us is to change us, as David said in Psalm 51, “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” His goal is also to work through us. Last week Pastor Heyer told us about the Call—the divine Call to service, as the prophets and apostles were called by God to proclaim the Word to God’s people. Every Christian has the call to faith. Every Christian also has the duty to let the light shine in all we do—doing everything to God’s glory. This is also the way God works through us. Christ is in our mouths as we encourage one another. Christ is in our hands as we help one another. The good we do, we do empowered by him, and we do it to his glory, not our own.
- This lesson began by pointing us to our human, earthly shepherds: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Carefully consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” It seems that all the outstanding servants of God I’ve met have a deep sense of humility. Tell a teacher, “What a wonderful Bible lesson!” and the teacher responds, “Oh, it’s the Lord who is wonderful! His gospel is wonderful!” Tell a musician, “What wonderful music, singing or hymn playing!” “I’m just using the gifts God has given me.” That shows both God’s work within a person—and his work through the person. So, as we think of Jesus, the great Shepherd of the sheep, establishing us, equipping us, and working within us and through us, we see that all the work is his. “To him be glory forever and ever.”
Hebrews 13:7-8, 17-21
Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Carefully consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. … 17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls as men who will give an account. Obey them, so that they may do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no benefit to you. 18 Pray for us, because we are sure that we have a good conscience, and because in everything we want to conduct ourselves in an honorable way. 19 I urge you to do this even more, so that I may be restored to you quickly. 20 Now may the God of peace—who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, in connection with his blood, which established the eternal testament—21 may he equip you with every good thing to do his will, as he works in us what is pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ. To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.
 An ancient Christian poem says, “Christ has no body now [on earth] but yours, feet, eyes, hands.” https://catholic-link.org/quotes/st-teresa-of-avila-quote-christ-has-no-body-but-yours/