A circle of friends on pilgrimage for the love of God

Easter – The Lord is My Shepherd

The Good Shepherd by Sieger Köder

Easter 4 C 2022
Rev. Doug Floyd
Acts 13:14b–16, 26–39, Psalm 100, Revelation 7:9–17, John 10:22–30

I was sitting in one of my last college classes, studying famous thinkers who left the faith. For the last several weeks, God’s presence seemed to wane in my life, and I felt a threatening darkness. This class only added fuel to the fire. I could see my own life slipping into doubt and unbelief. In an odd moment of prayer, I silently asked the Lord to send me a word of encouragement in the mail. As far as I can remember, it is the only time I ever prayed such a prayer. When I got home that afternoon, I had a letter in the mail from a girl I barely knew. She writes the following:

Dear Doug,

This card reminded me of you. I send it to you in hope that it will encourage you. I have no way of knowing what trials or problems you are experiencing but I do know that the Lord is concerned about you every moment of every day. A scripture that helps me is Habakkuk 3:17-19. Thank you again for the many times your positive attitude has encouraged me.

                                                                                                            Sara Kay

Here is the reading from Habakkuk:

17         Though the fig tree does not bud
and there are no grapes on the vines,
though the olive crop fails
and the fields produce no food,
though there are no sheep in the pen
and no cattle in the stalls,
18         yet I will rejoice in the Lord,
I will be joyful in God my Savior.
19         The Sovereign Lord is my strength;
he makes my feet like the feet of a deer,
he enables me to go on the heights. [1]

In a time of desperation, the Lord addressed me through another person. He reminded me of His absolute faithfulness and gave me strength to endure the struggles at hand. These struggles would last for almost another year, but that letter would continue to bring renewed encouragement to rest in God’s faithfulness.

The Revelation of Jesus Christ is a vision of encouragement for God’s people across the ages. As we read the various sections, we must remind ourselves that this is a vision of encouragement to the seven churches. These are actual church communities in different cities: Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea. At the same time, these seven churches come to represent the church as a whole. Each church is facing a different set of challenges from persecution to false teaching to idolatry to lovelessness. The Lord is addressing His people, encouraging them to remain faithful, to turn to Him, to rely on His strength, to enter His victory.  

Today, we are reading about the Great Tribulation, but I want to keep in mind that this message continues the ongoing image of the Lord encouraging these churches to persevere in Christ and discover the absolute faithfulness of God.

Instead of limiting this great tribulation to a one-time future event, let us read this passage as encouragement during great afflictions. We might read this chapter as The Great Affliction, The Afflicted, The Afflicted One.

As Revelation 7 opens, the four angels are holding back the four winds. The four winds appear throughout Scripture as an image of judgment or blessing. In Zechariah 6, we see four sets of horses going to the four winds for judgment. In Ezekiel 14:21, we hear of four judgments,

“For thus says the Lord God: How much more when I send upon Jerusalem my four disastrous acts of judgment, sword, famine, wild beasts, and pestilence, to cut off from it man and beast![2]

The four winds, the four judgments, and the four horses all reflect a sense of comprehensive judgment from the four corners of the earth. At the same time, God can also bring comprehensive restoration. In Ezekiel 37:9, we read,

Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”[3]

The four judgments come upon the earth as a result of idolatry and the dehumanizing acts that accompany it. In Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, we hear judgments upon Jerusalem and the surrounding nations for their unfaithfulness. As we follow the judgments upon Jerusalem, we discover that the godly suffer alongside the unrighteous. They are taken into captivity. Yet even in the midst of the judgments, they bear witness to God. Consider the story of Daniel, of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. All of them bear witness in the midst of persecution for their faith.

With this in mind, we return to Revelation 7. God’s faithful people are described in varying ways: as the 144,000, as the numberless multitude, as those who have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. God’s people face affliction.

Sometimes it is life-threatening persecution like those in the church at Smyrna, or North Korea, or those in Afghanistan. Affliction can also take the shape of false teachings, seductive idolatry, internal division, or even physical illness. We live in a world where the winds of judgment blow. A world of sin and death. We do not live this life untouched by pain or death.

In the midst of the afflictions, we are reminded that God is faithful. He will not abandon us. He has sealed us just as the ancient Hebrews were sealed with the blood on the door posts from the angel of death. We are sealed in the blood of the Lamb. We bear His righteousness. We are sealed by His Spirit and await the promised resurrection.

In Revelation 7:9-10, God’s people celebrate His faithfulness not to abandon them in the midst of affliction:

After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” 11[4]

Consider the palm branches in their hands. What does it make you think about? On Palm Sunday, we waved palm branches and celebrated, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” The ancient Israelites waved palm branches during the Feast of Booths. They built temporary dwellings known as booths and resided in them for seven days in Jerusalem, waving palm branches and singing of God’s faithfulness. They were actively remembering God’s faithfulness in leading them through the wilderness.

The Romans also waved palm branches when a ruler was coming into town. They welcomed Caesar as their salvation. In Revelation 7, the numberless multitude wave palms branches and proclaim, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” The Lord Jesus Christ and not Caesar is our hope and our lasting salvation.

The angels and elders and four living creatures join in this anthem, praising God for faithfully preserving His people through great afflictions. They sing,

Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever! Amen.[5]

This worship is directed to God the Father who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. Why is the image of Lamb used? Jesus Christ enters into the sin and death of the world. Jesus Christ enters into the four winds of judgment. He is innocent but he dies the death of a sinner and thus enters into the death of humanity. He is the sacrificial lamb that completes all sacrifice. The Father does not forsake Him in the grave but calls Him forth to resurrection. In His resurrection, we are resurrected.

In Christ, we encounter the faithfulness of God. The Lamb becomes a shepherd. He will not forsake us. He enters into our suffering and leads us into life eternal. With this in mind we return to Revelation 7. It ends with images of the New Jerusalem, of our resurrection hope in Christ, of God dwelling with man.

15 “Therefore they are before the throne of God,
and serve him day and night in his temple;
and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence.
16 They shall hunger no more, neither thirst anymore;
the sun shall not strike them,
nor any scorching heat.
17 For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd,
and he will guide them to springs of living water,
and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” [6]

Here is a description of our eternal hope. We anticipate the faithfulness of God in Christ. The Lamb is our Good Shepherd. With this passage in mind, I want to close by reading Psalm 23 as a vision of this future hope. We taste this hope even now in the Eucharist and in the communion of God’s people.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
forever. [7]

[1] The Holy Bible: New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1984), Hab 3:17–19.

[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eze 14:21.

[3] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Eze 37:9.

[4] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 7:9–11.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 7:12.

[6] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Re 7:15–17.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 23:1–6.


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