The Third Sunday of Easter
Faith, Not Fear
Fear can paralyze us. Or fear can send us into a frenzy. I don’t envy the shepherd who has to shepherd the sheep who know about the wolves or who fear the dark valley or the rushing waters. In the face of the possibility of danger, will his sheep refuse to move? Or will they scatter in a chaotic frenzy? The sheep who trust their shepherd will walk along without fear even in the face of fear.
Do not let your life be paralyzed – and do not engage in society’s hyper frenzy – at the fear of death, or at the fear that life will not measure up. There is a fear of death. And there is a fear of a short or unfulfilled life. Both fears do not trust the Shepherd who leads us.
We’ll focus on two passages briefly today. John 10:11 – “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” And Psalm 23:1,4 – “The Lord is my shepherd… though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”
Jesus is your Good Shepherd who shepherds you through the valley of death. Therefore, you need not fear.
Many people could, perhaps, shepherd you and me up to the valley of death. God could send anyone, or even an angel, to hold your hand, speak words of comfort, or ease your pain up to the edge of that valley. But only your Good Shepherd, God’s Son, Jesus Christ, was able to enter that valley for you to be your shepherd through it.
Jesus does not just shepherd you up to death, but enters into that valley of the shadow of death with you and ahead of you. The Good Shepherd has laid down His life into death for the sheep. He shepherds His flock through the valley of the death, staying with them and going on ahead of them to make the way safe. The Lord is my Shepherd – I will not fear.
In a person’s heart, the tragedy of death might be that their life is being cut short. Or the tragedy of death may be the pain of it – or that it’s a dark unknown. So, death is feared.
But the true tragedy of death is not that life is cut short, nor is it the temporary pain or fright. The true tragedy of death is that death is the wage of my sin. “The wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23].
The true tragedy of death – and the underlying fear of death – is the fear in my conscience. I am created by someone – by God. My life was given to me. When I die, I will give an account of my life to God as my judge. I have not kept His law. With this body He has created for me, I have sinned. With this mind He has created for me, I have thought evil thoughts. With the mouth He created, I have cursed Him and my neighbor.
The life He gave me I didn’t use for Him. I have not worshipped Him as I ought. I have not acknowledged God truly as my God – I have lived for myself instead. Even if I have done some right, I haven’t done it for Him – and I have done evil. The tragedy of death is that I am guilty and I now am about to face God against whom I’ve done wrong.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life – who died this frightening death – in place of the guilty flock of mankind. Jesus is the only guiltless, sinless man. Only His life can atone for sin. Jesus is the Son of God. Only His life is a sufficient sacrifice for all. He laid it down for you, guilty though you are.
Jesus shepherding you through the valley of the shadow of death means that He went ahead of you and died your death for your sin. Your sin has already been died for in the death of Jesus your Shepherd. Jesus, the one righteous man, died the death of sin for all.
Jesus, the Innocent One, carried the sin of the guilty into that valley – stood before God dressed in man’s sin – suffered hell and God’s judgment in your place to free you from it. Jesus walked through the valley of the shadow of death to shepherd the sorry sinner through it safely.
“The Lord is my Shepherd… I will fear no evil” – not even my own. He has laid down His life to pay for it. I am forgiven. He has spared the life of His wandering sheep.
Now, Jesus, having passed through the valley of the sinner’s death, has come out the other side, risen and alive. Death could not hold Jesus forever. On Easter morning He rose from death, is alive again, and lives forever. Death did not win. Which means death cannot now win over you.
Jesus has shepherded you through the valley of death to keep you safe through it and to give you life on the other side of it. And, in fact, through faith in Christ, you are now already being made alive in the new life of Christ’s resurrection. By baptism you’ve died to sin’s death and are being raised again to newness of life [Romans 6:3-5].
New life in Christ begins now and lasts into the ages of ages. Death is now but the gate of life immortal. “Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die” [John 11:25-26]. Even in that valley, you will have life. “The free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” [Romans 6:23].
Fear of death, and fear of losing this life, can paralyze us or can send us down misguided paths. The sheep who trust their Shepherd need not be afraid. Don’t be a people of fear, but a people whose lives display confident trust in the redeeming work of the Good Shepherd.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve all been asked to “stay-at-home”. Over the next few weeks, we’re all going to be asked to start getting back to our lives, step-by-step. Let’s not rush forward foolishly – but, also, let’s not remain paralyzed in fear, afraid to move forward.
Let’s move forward, wisely, as appropriate, calmly, overcoming our fears, because we live by faith in the One who has even overcome death in our place – our Good Shepherd who laid down His life for ours. Amen.