Easter 4b

Preached: April 26, 2015

How Precious Is God’s Flock!
Acts 20:28-32

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit points us to Jesus is Acts 20:

Give careful attention to yourselves and all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has placed you as supervisors to shepherd the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood. I know that after my departure brutal wolves will come against you not sparing the flock and from among you men will arise speaking distortions to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore, stand watch, remembering that for three years day and night I did not stop instructing each one with tears. And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and give you the inheritance among all those sanctified. (Acts 20:28-32)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

The American Freshman Survey has questioned incoming college freshmen since 1966. Analyses of the data by psychologist Jean Twenge and colleagues has shown a rising percentage of students who describe themselves as being “above average” in individual abilities, such as, drive to achieve, academics, and self-confidence. And it's not that today's students are so much more gifted. For example, although more rate themselves as gifted in writing ability, objective test scores have gone down. Although more say they have a drive to succeed, fewer study for six hours or more per week. (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-20756247). How easy for us to think more highly of ourselves than we ought! All the children can't be above average unless, of course, you live in Lake Wobegon.

Are we each special, each gifted, each precious? A blanket, “No,” is not the right answer. But a simple, “Yes,” is only a half-truth. And a half-truth can be more dangerous than an outright lie. Think of the half truths that Satan told Eve: “... your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5 NIV84). Their eyes certainly were opened, and they now knew evil from their own experience, for they had become evil. Those half truths covered up the lie that they would be like God.

A. Purchased by his blood

How precious are you? Rather than listening to sound bites, let's listen to what God's Word says. In Romans 3 God declares, “All have turned away, they have together become worthless” (Romans 3:12 NIV84). How strong that word “worthless” is! No value. No importance. No virtue. No excellence. Worthless.

But didn't God make each of us? Doesn't that give us some sort of natural worth? But think of an expensive bottle of wine, one that some people would pay thousands of dollars for. How much would it be worth if some ne’er-do-well mixed poison with it? Although all of God's work is perfect and good, yet from the very moment of our creation within our mother's womb, sin completely corrupted us. Like poison penetrating every part, sin ruined us from the very start of our lives. We were filled with evil desires and empty of all good. We confess with David, “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5 NIV84). How worthless!

And sin makes all that we do useless. Our works can't add worth to us, because our works, in and of themselves, are worthless. Romans 3 also says, “they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 3:12 NIV84).

So who we were did not make us precious. What we are by nature does not make us precious. And what we do cannot make us precious. How worthless!

Yet you cannot listen to the words of the text here today and not realize how important and precious you are, dear Christian, to the almighty God himself. The Apostle Paul is speaking to the elders of the church of Ephesus. These elders were the spiritual leaders in the congregations throughout the city. They would be similar to pastors today. Notice how he refers to the people under their care, the members of the congregations. You, dear Christians, are God's flock. Taking care of you is so important to God that the Holy Spirit himself has given you shepherds or pastors to watch over you and over see your spiritual wellbeing. In fact, he calls you, “the church of God, which he bought with his own blood” (Acts 20:28 NIV84). How precious is God's flock!

But do you see where our value and worth comes from? It does not come from inside of us. It does not come from who we were or what we did. It comes from the price that God himself placed on you and me. Maybe think of an antique. Why is an antique valuable? It's not because of the material it’s made out of. What it's made of is only worth a couple of dollars, if that. Many antiques are not artistic. Their beauty at best is only in the eye of the beholder. Some may have historic value, but that's in a different category. More often than not, an antique is valuable only because of the price someone is willing to pay for it. If no one wants it, it's just junk. If someone is willing to pay a million dollars for it, how precious it is!

Look at the price God paid for you: not gold or silver, not cash or stocks, but his own blood, shed on the cross. The Father did not spare his own Son. The Son sacrificed himself in your place. The Good Shepherd laid down his life for his sheep. He died for you. How precious is God's flock! How precious are each of you, his sheep!

Why did he pay such a price for sinners like you and me? Again, not because of anything in us. Not because of anything we did or could do. We were junk, ruined by sin. But he paid that price because of who he is. He is the gracious and compassionate God. He is the merciful Lord. If we had been in any way lovable even in the slightest, then it would not be grace. If we had had anything to attract him to us even just a little, then it would not be grace. If there had been any sort of worth or value in us at all, it would not have been grace. Grace is totally undeserved. But despite what we were, despite our worthlessness, despite our sinfulness, nevertheless he paid the greatest price of all for you. His own blood. What a value he has given to you by grace alone! How precious is God's flock!

And see this in your fellow Christians as well. When the world tells someone they are special, it leads them to think that they are above average, a bit better than the next person. But God has placed the same astounding, infinite value on each of you. See others as those for whom God has paid the ultimate price. They too are purchased with his own blood. Rather than focusing on the faults in your fellow Christians or lamenting how they fall short, see them as fellow sheep purchased with the blood of God. Rather than treating your fellow Christians with indifference as you speed ahead with your own life, see them as fellow sheep purchased with the blood of God. Rather than ignoring them as they wander away and fall prey to wolves, see them as fellow sheep purchased with the blood of God. How precious is God's flock!

B. Protected by his word

How precious is God's flock! So precious that he protects you. He protects you with his word. As Paul speaks to the elders or pastors of the church in Ephesus, he thinks that he will never see them again in this life. The Holy Spirit is leading him on to Jerusalem, but the Spirit has also made it clear that prison and hardship await him there. So he tells these shepherds to keep watch and be on guard. Savage wolves who distort God's truth and twist his word will come. Some will come from outside; others will rise up from among their own numbers. So these pastors not only need to watch over the flock but also over their own hearts so that they are not led astray. They have the example of Paul himself, who worked among them night and day teaching and admonishing them from the depths of his heart.

Then Paul says, “Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32 NIV84). Notice how God and the word of his grace are placed right next to each other. For you see, his word of grace is how God shepherds us. Paul cannot commit them to God's protection unless he also commits them to God's word.

That's one lesson for us to learn here. If we want to live as sheep under the Good Shepherd's protection, we need his word of grace. Even Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice” (John 10:27 NIV84). And where do we hear the Good Shepherd's voice? In his word. Make his word a part of your daily life. Cherish it in your hearts. Think about it and put it into practice in your life. Treasure the word of his grace, and remember what we said about God's grace earlier. Grace focuses on who God is and what he has done for us, despite what we were. As you study his word, seek to know his grace better and better.

The second lesson for us to see here is the double blessing God's word brings. It protects us both by building us up in the present and by pointing us forward to the heavenly inheritance. His word builds us up in knowledge and understanding so that we can recognize and discern the wolves. His word build us up in faith and love so that we have the will, strength, and courage both to stand firm on his word no matter how savage the attacks and to keep on following the Good Shepherd even through the darkest valleys. His word builds us up in hope so that we remain faithful to the end with our hearts focused on the heavenly inheritance. For no matter how great our present suffering, no matter how heavy our cross, the heavenly glory far outweighs them all.

What an inheritance awaits you who remain faithful to the Shepherd's word! Why do we get the inheritance? Not because of what we were are what we did. An inheritance comes because of the family you were born into. God, in his grace, has brought you into the family of his flock. In Baptism you were reborn as his lamb. You were reborn an heir of eternal life. That's how precious you are to him! So remain faithful.

How precious is God's flock, purchased by his blood, protected by his word! Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313