In John 10, Jesus tells us he has come to shepherd us and to be our good shepherd. He is good because he lays down his life for the sheep, that is for us, of his own accord. He lays down his life for the sheep because the sheep belong to him; he knows them; they are his own, and they know his voice.
But, from where to where has Christ come to shepherd us sinful sheep? He guides us from death to life. He knows the way because he has been there before.
Psalm 23 and Martin Luther’s explanations of the Apostles’ Creed found in his Small Catechism pair well to show us how God shepherds us. Out of his fatherly, divine goodness, and mercy, he makes us his own through his Son. Through his Holy Spirit, calls us by the gospel that he may daily and richly forgive our sins and on the last day raise us from the dead and give us eternal life.
Psalm 23 begins, “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” We see the Psalmist’s beautiful and comforting images enfleshed in Luther’s down-to-earth explanation of what it means to believe in God as our Father.
While a god by definition is mightily above all things and even numerous non-Christians recognize a creative intent to the heavens and the earth, to believe in God as Father goes beyond such descriptions. The Almighty Creator is our true and dear Father who gifts us with life itself. He bestows our body and soul, reason and senses. He works through parents and siblings, spouses and children, friends and neighbors to richly and daily provide us with all we need for this body and life. As Timothy Wengert comments, “God’s care for us goes right down to our shoes!”
And far from a set-it-and-forget-it-God, he still takes care of us and his gifts. He defends, guards, and protects us. He works through those in government and other authorities to provide and preserve peace and order that our daily needs may be met and kept. With God as our Father, we shall not be in want. He shepherds us to green pastures and brings us beside still waters.
The Creed and Luther’s explanations of it could have described God in high and lofty terms hard to grasp; instead, they describe him in the concrete terms of fatherhood and gift. Here we see that God our Father gifts himself to us in the material goods of this life including our very lives themselves and the lives of our neighbors through whom he delivers these goods and sustains our lives.
And, “All this he does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in [us].” Thanks be to God, our Father.
Psalm 23 continues, “He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” We see the Psalmist’s words brought to life in Luther’s explanation of what it means to believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord.
In the first article, we saw how God the Father shepherds us through our everyday physical needs without our merit or worthiness. Now, in Jesus, God’s own Son, we see how he goes above and beyond, how completely he pours himself out for us and holds nothing back from us.
The depths of God’s fatherly, divine goodness and mercy displayed in Jesus’ person and work are found in the word “Lord.” This tiny term encompasses all Christ has done for us, all he did to make himself our redeemer and Lord. The eternal Son of God took on mortal human flesh and entered the valley where we walk to purchase and win us from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil. Not with monetary gifts or animal sacrifices, but with his own death. His body and blood beat them off like a rod and pull us to safety like a staff that we may be his own and live under him in his kingdom with him as our Lord.
By his death and resurrection, Jesus, our Lord shepherds us, his sheep through the valley of the shadow of death to eternal life and restores our souls. Just as he is risen from the dead and lives and reigns to all eternity, he leads us in the path of his everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness which he freely gives to us.
He gives all this to us, even himself, so that he is with us, and so we fear no evil.
Psalm 23 closes, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” We see the Psalmist’s departing descriptions reflected in Luther’s explanation of what it means to believe in the Holy Spirit.
In the first article, we saw how the Father shepherds us through our everyday needs. In the second article, we saw how Jesus shepherds us through the valley of death to make us his own and become our Lord. Now, in the third article, we see how the Holy Spirit shepherds us through this life and daily delivers to us what Christ won for us.
The Holy Spirit does what his name implies. He makes us holy. We believe in Jesus Christ, our Lord, and come to him only by the Holy Spirit who calls us with the gospel. Our own reason and strength are not enough. But how is our faith delivered and Christ’s gifts given that we may be made holy?
The Holy Spirit does so through the holy catholic church, the communion of sinner/saints who gather around the table he prepares before us in the presence of our enemies: sin, death, and the devil. At the table, we receive Jesus’ body and blood under bread and wine. He also anoints our heads with the water and word of Baptism, by which he unites us to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Here in the church, he makes us holy by the forgiveness of our sins – sins daily and richly forgiven freely on account of Christ.
This goodness and mercy, this gospel pursues us all the days of our lives until the last day. Then, he will resurrect our bodies and grant us life everlasting, and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. This is most certainly true.