Having been asked to recant his books and the so-called errors in them, it was on April 18th, 1521, a Monday, that Martin Luther responded with the now famous, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.”
He said, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Scriptures or by clear reason (for I trust neither in the pope nor in councils alone, since it’s well known that they’ve often erred and contradicted themselves), I am bound by the Scriptures I have quoted and my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not retract anything, since it is neither safe nor right to go against conscience. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
That’s what he said on Monday.
But—interestingly, for us today—that was the Monday after the Third Sunday of Easter—the Monday after today—and so Luther and any church-goers present would’ve had in their minds these words of Jesus from today’s Gospel lesson:
“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them” (John 10:11-12).
These words are axiomatic.
They’re particularly true—uniquely true—and obviously true of the Good Shepherd and His self-sacrificial love.
The normal shepherds aren’t this way.
And neither are bad shepherds.
The hired hand, the wage worker, the money maker, he cares only for himself and nothing for the sheep.
But the Good Shepherd loves you.
There’s only one who’s Good—and that’s God.
There is only one Good Shepherd—and that’s Jesus.
We’ve been celebrating every possible Reformation-related anniversary for the last several years—and that’s good and right to do, and we’ll continue to do so, I’m sure—but for the sake of your inquisitive, non-Lutheran friends, let’s be sure to say both of these:
1. Luther wasn’t the Good Shepherd.
2. Nevertheless—he followed the example of Jesus—who is an example for us.
That’s how St. Peter writes: “For to this you have been called…” (1 Peter 2:21).
And here, Peter means that we’ve been called to endure sorrows for the sake of what is good and right, to suffer unjustly and remain faithful to God.
“To this you have been called,” Peter writes, “because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:21-23).
We are not the Good Shepherd.
And—we occasionally have opportunity to follow the example He left—to emulate the Good Shepherd—to make His confession our own.
Knowing what was to come, Jesus entrusted Himself to the will of His Father and our Father, God Almighty.
And at the appointed time, when He would confess the truth of the Word of God—or deny it—when He would die for the sins of the world—or live and let die—Jesus was asked by the High Priest: “Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” (Mark 14:61).
And Jesus said, “I am. And you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power, coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:62).
Knowing that it meant His death, He confessed the truth of the Word of God. He could do no other.
So He bore His cross—and bore it well—to win the world away from sin, death, and satan.
“Here I am,” said Jesus.
And “Here I stand,” said Luther, and I wonder if he considered Jesus’ words, that the hired hand, who’s “not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, [who] sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, [such that] the wolf snatches them and scatters them” (John 10:12-13), having heard the Gospel, I wonder if Luther considered how Jesus didn’t flee the wolf.
That—in fact—the wolf and death itself have been swallowed up by death—when God reconciled the world to Himself in the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ His Son.
The hired hand flees because he’s a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
He’s not in Christ, and there’s no truth in him.
But Jesus doesn’t flee—because He is the Good Shepherd—because He gives all that He has to redeem the sheep, to redeem you.
And if He’s given all that He has to redeem the sheep, the world, and you and me—and if He calls us forth to carry our own cross and follow Him, if He has left us an example, how could we abandon Him with our lips or life?
Jesus says, “Everyone who acknowledges me publicly here on earth, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 10:32-33).
Right now, generally, wherever you live—it’s easy to say you believe the Bible.
You just hope no one asks you what it says.
Right now, generally, wherever you live—it’s easy to say you believe in God.
You just hope no one asks you which one.
It’s easy to surround yourself with Christian symbols, Christian slogans, Christian music, Christian flair, Christian t-shirts, and Christian accessories.
You just hope no one asks you what it means.
It’s easy to say that unborn babies are more than a clump of cells, but it’s quite difficult to live your life caring even about the use of fetal stem cells.
It’s easy to say that marriage is between one man and one woman, for the procreation of children, for life, but let me make a mental list of all the exceptions and exemptions for my friends.
It’s easy to say that you care about the education of your children, but what—exactly—are your children learning?
Other than myself sometimes, I have no particular person or place in mind when I say these things.
This is just true of Christianity as it exists today.
Like hired hands we’re quite willing to look the part when it’s easy and to flee the wolf when the going gets tough.
Martin Luther is, sometimes, a really good example for us to follow, and on April 18th, 1521 his example was perfect. He could do no other.
Even so, Jesus Christ is always a better example.
As He did, entrust your days and burdens to Him who judges justly and even to the Righteous Judge Himself, Jesus Christ.
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:24-25).
He knows His own, and His own know Him.
The sheep know the voice of the Good Shepherd.
And blessed are those who hear His words, do them, and can do no other.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Misericordias Domini (Easter 3), 2021
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt