Easter 2-Misericordias Domini
Beloved. This Sunday has two names. Unofficially, it is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.” That’s because of the theme of Jesus as our Good Shepherd comes up in both the Gospel and Epistle. In the Epistle, St. Peter calls Jesus, the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. In the Gospel, Jesus tell us, “I am the Good Shepherd.” And why is He the Good Shepherd? “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” That’s what we remembered especially in Lent. And now that the Good Shepherd not only laid down His life for the sheep, but also took it back again as He rose in triumph on Easter, what is He doing? Again Jesus tells us: I also have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” The risen and ascended Lord is still our Good Shepherd who now is gathering people—the rest of the sheep—into His Church. “Then there will be one flock and one shepherd.”
The other, more “official” name for this Sunday is “Misericordias Domini” which comes from the first words of today’s Introit, Psalm 33, in Latin: “The goodness of the Lord.” The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. Of course, now, it is easy to see the earth being full of the goodness of the Lord as we again see God preaching to us through nature: all around us we see things coming back to life—trees getting ready to put their leaves, the early flowers and bulbs are giving us a show, the farmers are getting ready to get into the fields, the baby animals are being born. With this new life all around us, we see that God is showing us His loving kindness/ goodness in a very real and practical way—He is once again preparing to provide us with food. But not only is God “practical” and “merely” giving us what we need—but we see the “goodness of the Lord” in that He is also making beautiful things for us to enjoy.
So, yes, we see nature’s preaching to us and confess along with St. David in today’s Introit: The earth is full of the goodness of the Lord. But then we come to today’s Epistle and there, if you will, we see the other side of the coin: Indeed, you were called to do this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you would follow in his steps. We are shaken into the reality that although the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord, there is also much suffering and sorrow in this world. This is the reality that we need to be reminded of in this glorious season of Easter. Yes, Jesus, rose from the dead; yes, our spiritual enemies of sin, death, devil and hell are all destroyed; yes, our sins are forgiven us and we are heirs of heaven. But we still live in a world of sin; we still suffer. And we suffer precisely because we are Christians who strive to do the Lord’s will, who do the good and yet still suffer. In fact this doing good/ the Lord’s will and yet suffering for it is part and parcel of being a Christian. What does St. Peter say in our text? Indeed, you were called to do this. And what is the “this”? St. Peter had just written: But if you suffer for doing good and endure it, this is favorable with God and then our text: Indeed, you were called to do this. Even though the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord, because of sin and devil there will be wretchedness and suffering—even suffering for doing good. But our call as Christians is to do just that—suffer for doing the good/ the Lord’s will.
It is a false, mistaken notion that many have that once they become Christians they should be free from suffering. Actually that is a very works righteous notion: I have done my part and so now God has to do His part and bless me as I think He should bless me. Instead, we do the right thing, we do the Lord’s will, not for the sake of a reward we hope to get from the Lord but because it is the Lord’s will. As Christians we delight in doing the good/ doing the Lord’s will; it’s our goal/ aim. But just because we do the good, doesn’t mean that we will always be appreciated for it or that we will be rewarded for doing it. In fact, just the opposite is often the case when we do the good—we will suffer for it. Indeed, you were called to do this.
Suffering for doing good/ on account of the faith can take place in various ways. When we strive to live Christ-like lives in meekness and humility, when we don’t always insist on our way, when we continue to forgive that often works up the ire of the person or of others around us. On the one hand, they may think us a “push over” and walk all over us, taking advantage of us; on the other hand, they may very well feel our Christ-like love and actions like salt in a wound—they see us and Christ in us and are all the more accused of sin and condemned in conscience. Perhaps our suffering takes the form of some sort of division we must endure. Perhaps our suffering takes on the form of ridicule for our faith—maybe even in our own family. Perhaps that suffering takes the form of watching loved ones turn away from the Lord.
But, when we suffer for doing good we are simply doing what we have been called to do. St. Peter writes in our text: Indeed, you were called to do this, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example so that you would follow in his steps. We suffer for doing the good/ doing the Lord’s will/ on account of our faith in Christ because Jesus Himself suffered for doing the good. Jesus’ greatest suffering came right after He prayed [Lk 22.42]: Father, if it is Your will, remove this cup [of suffering] from Me; nevertheless not My will, but Yours be done. He did the good; He did the will of His heavenly Father—and He suffered. If Jesus suffered for doing the good, certainly we can expect the same. Not only is it as Jesus says [Mt. 10.24]: a disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master—He suffered so we, too, should expect it—but also following Him as His dear Christian, Jesus, in His life and suffering, left us an example so that [we] would follow in his steps. The example that Jesus left behind was that we would suffer and how we should suffer. We have seen clearly enough that we will suffer on account of our faith as we follow Jesus—and have certainly experienced in our own lives receiving evil for the good we have done. But how is it that we should suffer? St. Peter answers in our text: He did not commit a sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When he was insulted, he did not insult in return. When he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. The first point is that we are called to patient suffering and are to be without sin in the midst of it. When Jesus suffered innocently, He did so in the intent that we should follow Him in it, leaving you an example so that you would follow in his steps. Secondly, Jesus’ suffering was patient and peaceful as He entrusted the whole matter to His heavenly Father.
How difficult/ impossible for us that patient and peaceful suffering on account of the faith as we follow in Jesus’ footsteps is! We have our old sinful nature that wants with every fiber to insult in return and make threats; to stand up for ourselves and not to receive suffering for doing the good/ striving to follow our Lord; and we have the sinful world around us, egging us on. Really, if we are striving to do the good and to be Christ-like and in our suffering for it, we lash out and don’t patiently endure the suffering, aren’t we then just undoing any good and any Christ-likeness? Certainly we are not following in Jesus’ footsteps.
But this suffering on account of Jesus, suffering on account of doing good, suffering on account of following in Jesus’ steps, this patient endurance of injustice is all part of God’s plan for the Christian. The holy apostles said [Acts 14.22]: We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God; and a while after our text, St. Peter writes [5.10]: And the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. We, dear Christian are heirs of heavenly glory but it is a way of much tribulation. But our sufferings are not sufferings in the true sense of the word. We read of the Apostles [Acts 5.41]: The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for [Jesus’] name. What we suffer on account of doing the good/ doing the Lord’s will/ for following Jesus is, in Jesus, transformed from misery into privilege. No one likes suffering—not even our Lord who asked if there was a way that the world could be saved from its sin without Him having to drink that cup of suffering—certainly we’d rather not suffer on account of our faith in Jesus/ for doing the good. But our suffering is transformed from misery into something good. We see with our suffering for doing good that the Holy Spirit is in us, leading us, strengthening us. We see that we are following in Jesus’ footsteps and as He has gone into heaven, we too will follow Him. We look around and see that our fellow Christians today and throughout history have endured the same. And we see that our faith is being purified and strengthened as especially in times of suffering we turn all the more to the Lord and cling to Him and to what is vital. We are strengthened in faith as we are encouraged that our faith is seen and noticeable enough to receive some blowback.
Again, even though by faith Jesus transforms our sufferings from misery into privilege, they are still sufferings. But, in grace, our dear Lord gives us the strength to endure what we do. When it comes down to it, our ability to bear injustice, to suffer for having done good, is the atoning power of Jesus’ suffering and death. Our text: He himself carried our sins in his body on the tree so that we would be dead to sins and alive to righteousness. By his wounds you were healed. The purpose of Jesus’ death on the cross is so that we would be dead to sins and alive to righteousness. With Jesus having gotten rid of our sins by suffering for them on the cross and bringing us forgiveness of sin and reconciliation with God, with our sins having been dealt with once for all—and that’s what Easter so gloriously proclaims—we now strive to live our lives in accord with God’s holy will. Faith in Jesus and His saving work—His saving work that brings us the forgiveness of sin, eternal life and peace with God—frees us and liberates us; it turns our eyes away from ourselves and toward God, our gracious Savior. Trusting in Jesus and His work, we then are empowered to live in true holiness of life. We love, above all things, the Savior who loved us and was wounded so that we might be healed. Recognizing and knowing who He is and what He has done for us, we live for Him. Anything we suffer on account of our faith in Him and the good that follows, we think of as nothing in comparison to the great heavenly gifts and treasures He obtained for us and richly and freely gives us. We see our sufferings for Him as nothing in comparison to His suffering for us: By his wounds you were healed.
What is even more glorious is that Jesus did not just die for all people but that He now seeks us out, like the Good Shepherd that He is! Our text: For you were like sheep going astray, but you are now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. As our Good Shepherd, Jesus sought us out and by His Word and Baptism brought us to Him and to His flock, the holy Christian Church. As the Good Shepherd leads, we follow. As He went through suffering, we will go through suffering. As we go through our suffering on account of our faith, for doing good and yet suffering, we are not suffering alone! Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has also suffered; and He is with us in our sufferings. And Jesus as Overseer does what only He can do—look into our soul and take care of it. He sees the faith He has given us and works to tend it and help it grow with His word and sacrament and purify it by what we suffer. As Christians we are called to follow Jesus into suffering for doing the good; but suffering for being Christ-like is a great grace and privilege Jesus grants us. INJ Amen.