June 16, 2013

Shepherding is All About Grace - June 16, 2013

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2 Samuel 24:10-17 (NKJV)

 10 And David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the Lord, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O Lord, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.”
11 Now when David arose in the morning, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Gad, David’s seer, saying, 12 “Go and tell David, ‘Thus says the Lord: “I offer you three things; choose one of them for yourself, that I may do it to you.” ’ ” 13 So Gad came to David and told him; and he said to him, “Shall seven years of famine come to you in your land? Or shall you flee three months before your enemies, while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days’ plague in your land? Now consider and see what answer I should take back to Him who sent me.”
14 And David said to Gad, “I am in great distress. Please let us fall into the hand of the Lord, for His mercies are great; but do not let me fall into the hand of man.”
15 So the Lord sent a plague upon Israel from the morning till the appointed time. From Dan to Beersheba seventy thousand men of the people died. 16 And when the angel stretched out His hand over Jerusalem to destroy it, the Lord relented from the destruction, and said to the angel who was destroying the people, “It is enough; now restrain your hand.” And the angel of the Lord was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite.
17 Then David spoke to the Lord when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, “Surely I have sinned, and I have done wickedly; but these sheep, what have they done? Let Your hand, I pray, be against me and against my father’s house.”


In July of 2005, 1,500 sheep jumped off a cliff in the Van Province of eastern Turkey.  450 of them died.  The other 1,000 survived because the pile of sheep at the bottom broke their fall.  Why did they run off a cliff?  The shepherds said that one ran off first and the others just followed it.

In 2010, 67 sheep were hit by a train in Germany.  Apparently, they were fleeing from two dogs and ended up running head-on into a freight train.  It was good that they ran; it was too bad where they ended up.

There are stories of sheep crowding so tightly together that they suffocate each other; sheep getting stuck is unlikely places; stories of sheep doing all sorts of foolish things that sheep do.     

How would you feel about taking a sheep and making him a shepherd?   Who would ever do that?  God would.  That’s what He did when He called a tax collector to be a disciple and evangelist.  This is what He did when He took the church’s most notorious persecutor and turned him into the church’s most famous apostle.  This is the God who saw our wretchedness and still chose us to be His own and then called us to shepherd His people.  These actions are not the result of logic.  These are evidence of grace.

Whether you are a called worker in the public ministry, or whether you are engaged in your private calling as a child of God,  one thing is true about every person in this building, It’s all about grace…   1. It’s all about grace that is needed because of our sins 2. It’s all about grace that is provided because of our Savior.

1. For David, this was a time of introspection and sad regret.  It was day three, and he stood helplessly  by, watching the consequences of his sin ravage the people of Israel.  As each new report came in, the pit in David’s stomach grew larger.  Finally, he prayed:   ‘Behold, I have sinned and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, What have they done?  Please let Your hand be against me and against my father’s house.’”

It is a little surprising that these words came from this man at this time in his life.  This was not a rookie mistake.  David was a seasoned veteran.  He had weathered enough problems and temptations that he should have known better.  He was even warned by Joab, of all people, that numbering the troops was an extremely bad idea.  And yet, he did it anyway.  And that tells us something.  We never out-live our need for God’s grace.   About the time we think we’ve got one temptation figured out, the devil comes with a different one. Our weaknesses may change over time.  So, Satan finds just the right temptation to send us jumping off a cliff or lunging in front an oncoming train.

What was behind David’s desire to number the army?   Maybe he was trying to divide his trust between God and the size and strength of his military.  Or, maybe it was pride.  Three chapters earlier, David was banned from the battlefield because old age had robbed him of his quickness and agility.  It’s bad enough when you have to take the car keys away from a senior citizen.  What happens when a mighty warrior is told that he is no longer needed, and, in fact, is a liability and should stay home?  The devil tempts him accordingly.  

When our military took over Iraq in 2003, it didn’t take the insurgents long to identify a weakness.   Despite our high-tech weapons, the armor-plating on the bottom of some of our vehicles was dangerously thin.  The enemy exploited that vulnerability by planting roadside bombs.  They were detonated by cell phone as the vehicles passed over the top of them. 

Satan found David’s weakness.  Where will he find yours?  All of us have to deal with pride, don’t we?  How much we’d all prefer hearing praise about our work than hearing something honest and critical that was meant to help?  Maybe you battle the same temptation I do, to let sermon preparation get pushed back to the end of the week.  When crunch time hits, you’d rather do anything – mow the lawn, clean the office – anything rather than the hard work of producing  a fresh message from God to His people.  Maybe, we are the type who like to win every argument or control everything that happens in the church.   Perhaps, it’s a secret addiction to alcohol or prescription drugs.  Whatever the weakness, Satan will find it and exploit it.

David’s sin brought grim consequences – primarily to the people he was called to lead.  The number of casualties was horrific: 70,000 men died, roughly 23,000 a day.  And for what?  For the vanity of their leader?

There is no way David could have foreseen the hefty price his sin would command.  But that’s how it works, isn’t it?  The price of sin is never posted where you can see it.  The consequences are more like a bomb than a bullet.  It’s not just the person who sins that pays. There is collateral damage all around. 

Imagine that you were David, looking at the carnage your sin has caused.  Or imagine that you were Paul.  How would you feel if you had dedicated your life to choking off the Christian faith -- and then, one day, you realized that you were totally wrong?  How could you ever undo the damage that your sin had caused?  Suppose, in your effort to eliminate Christianity, you even coerced some people to abandon the faith?

The very last thing that any of us wants, is for our sins to impact our people.  But that is the ugly reality.  If we neglect our children because we are too busy in our calling, there is a price that they and we may have to pay. If we talk ourselves out of making the difficult pastoral calls, someone may pay a price.  If we neglect our ministry, even for the most seemingly pious of reasons, consequences follow, don’t they?   All of us can understand the sentiment David expressed:  “I have sinned; I, the shepherd, have done wrong. These are but sheep. What have they done?” (NIV)

2.  Aren’t you glad that shepherding is not about getting what we deserve?  Shepherding is all about grace.  Grace that is desperately needed because of sin – and wonderfully provided because of Christ.

It’s amazing that God gave David a choice in his chastening.  He could choose 7 years of famine, 3 months on the run from his enemies,  or 3 days of plague from the Lord.  Why would God want David’s input? Because God was extending an invitation of grace.   Were it not for His mercy, the Lord would not bother to ask.  He would simply consume David and every other sinner in sight.  But He did ask, and David knew exactly what to do:  rely on the Lord’s mercy because God is the God of all grace.

David wished that the fallout of his sin could be charged to him and his family instead of letting it fall on his people.  And that is exactly what would happen.  A thousand years would pass, but the Lord would take the punishment for David’s sin and load it upon the shoulders of One from David’s line.   This time, instead of 70,000 paying the price of one man’s sin, one Man would pay the price of an entire world of sinners. 

David’s Son would be charged with the sin of numbering the army. He would be declared guilty of lust, adultery, murder, poor parenting -- of every mistake or deliberate sin that David had ever committed.  He would also be charged with pride, neglect of duty, addictions to alcohol or drugs or pornography.  Any sin that you can possibly name was charged to His account.  On the altar of His cross, He willingly bore the sins of every pastor, professor, teacher, or lay person.  When His grave was found empty on Easter morning, the message was powerfully clear: The payment has been accepted.  Because of Christ, you are hereby declared “Innocent of all charges!” by God above.

When we come face to face with the reality and magnitude of our sins,  then we begin to appreciate that shepherding is all about God’s grace.  This isn’t about how well we perform; this is about how well Jesus performed as our Savior.  Our ministry should not be driven by guilt or fear.  It should be driven by a message. The message is this: We have a Savior who loves us and pardons our iniquities.  God forgave the Church's most zealous persecutor and He's forgiven you and me, as well.  No  matter what we've done, God's grace is always larger and more abundant than our sin. We could never atone for a single misdeed, but Jesus already has atoned for them all!

The fact that God would choose sheep to be shepherds is a powerful testimony to His grace.  Paul described it in this way:  This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. 16 However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life.

What about the fallout of our mistakes? God’s grace can take a really bad situation and turn it into a blessing.  That happened at the end of this chapter.  David purchased the threshing floor on which to build an altar to God.  That small chunk of land would become home to the temple – a landmark of grace.   David could have had the property, the altar, and the sacrifice for free, but he insisted on paying for them himself.  He wanted the altar and sacrifice to cost him something personally -- not because he had to make up for his wrong – but because his heart was touched by God’s grace.

That’s what shepherding is all about.  It’s how the Gospel has changed our lives eternally so that we want to share that message with everyone we can.   It is a great story-line that God rescues a sinner like David, or Matthew,  or me, or you, and then uses us to do His work.  But it’s more than that.  It’s the effect that grace has on all who taste its sweetness firsthand.

I once read that the oldest known picture of Jesus was found in the catacombs of Rome.  It showed Him as a young Man with a lamb cradled over His shoulders.  It must have brought comfort to Christians, who were suffering for their faith, to know that their Good Shepherd was watching over and protecting them.

That’s the blessing we have.  All of us are sheep who love to wander, who do dumb things.  Instead of giving us what we deserve, our Shepherd picks us up, forgives us completely, and allows us to share in the work of His eternal kingdom.  Our shepherding is not about us.  It’s all about His grace.  Amen.

Sermon originally presented by Jim Albrecht, Pastor of St. John’s Evangelical Lutheran Church of Okabena, MN. 

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