Your Rod and Staff
Monday of Easter 3
16 April 2018
Some years ago, a pastor, who was in the pastoral conference I attended, decided to divorce his wife of twenty-five years. The more senior pastors of the conference counseled at great length and much patience with their brother. Finally, when he would hear no more counsel and would not be dissuaded from his spiritually perilous action, he complained to the pastors, "No one understands what I have gone through." One of the wizened old men of the cloth said very quietly, "It is true, brother, that we cannot know what you have been going through, but there is someone who does; the Lord Jesus does and He is your good Shepherd." The room went silent except for the bated breath of those waiting for something to happen. Then, with tears in his eyes, the man undergoing spiritual counsel simply got up and walked unsteadily out of the room.
The good Shepherd is there to deflect us from temptation. There is no greater help than to have the good Shepherd. Although He cannot be seen now in the church, He has not abandoned His sheep. He has sent us under-shepherds in our pastors. They have come with the shepherding Word of God, in which we receive the visitation of the good Shepherd. He protects us from our enemies, not with power or police, armies or threats, but with the abundant gifts of the Spirit and the gospel. Our Shepherd accomplishes everything with mercy. When we are faced with perilous spiritual temptation, we have a good Shepherd who calls us to faithful confession of His gracious care for us. We will never be tempted beyond our ability to withstand, because we have a comforting Shepherd who will always seek and save us poor sinners. And when we fall into temptation we will be recalled to His flock through the forgiveness of sins, as we pray daily in the Lord's Prayer.
Temptation will come. That He does not promise to alleviate. Suffering and trial under the cross of Christ will always be the hallmark of the Christian life, but that cannot overwhelm or defeat Christ. That suffering and trial cannot undo the Shepherd's compassion for His sheep. Our suffering never makes the Shepherd unable to save. His power to save is seen to be all the more glorious when we are found to be burdened by trials and temptations. Our weakness shows His strength. So despite the counter-intuitive nature of this thought, a sign of the Shepherd's presence is the weakness of the sheep. Our comfort then is never in ourselves, but in the rod and the staff of the good Shepherd.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me" (Ps 23:4).
"'The Lord,' David says, 'is with me, but not bodily so that I might see or hear Him. This presence of the Lord of which I am speaking is not to be grasped by the five senses. But faith sees it and believes surely that the Lord is nearer to us than we are to ourselves.' How? Through His Word. He says therefore, 'Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.' It is as though he would say: 'In all of my anxieties and troubles I find nothing on earth that might help to satisfy me. But then God's Word is my rod and my staff. To that Word I will cling, and by it I raise myself up again. I will also learn for sure that the Lord is with me and that He not only strengthens and comforts me with this same Word in all distresses and temptations, but that He also redeems me from all my enemies contrary to the will of the devil and the world.'
"With the words 'Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me' he returns to the metaphor of the shepherd and the sheep and would speak thus: 'Even as a bodily shepherd guides his sheep with his rod or staff and leads them to fresh water where they find food and drink and protects them with his staff against all danger; so the Lord, the real Shepherd, leads and guides me also with His staff, that is, with His Word, so that I may walk before Him with a good faith and a happy conscience, remain in the right path, and be able to protect myself against false doctrine and fictitious holiness. He also protects me against all danger and evil of spirit and of body and saves mefrom all my enemies with His staff. That is, with the same Word He strengthens and comforts me so richly that no evil can be so great, be it of spirit or body, that I cannot endure and overcome it.'
"You see, then, that the prophet is not speaking here of any human help, protection, and comfort. He does not draw a sword. Everything is done here in a hidden and mysterious manner through the Word, so that no one becomes aware of any protection and comfort but the believers alone. Here David lays down a common rule for all Christians, and it is to be well noted: that there is no other way or counsel on earth to get rid of all kinds of temptation than this, that a man cast all his cares upon God, take Him at His Word of grace, hold fast to it, and not let it be taken from him in any way. Whoever does that can be satisfied, whether he prospers or fails, whether he lives or dies. And in the end he can also stand and must succeed against all devils, the world, and evil. That is the way, I feel, to magnify the dear Word and to credit it with much greater power than the power of all angels and men. And that is the way in which also St. Paul magnifies it (Rm 1:16): 'The Gospel,' he says, 'is a power of God that saves all who believe in it.'" 

Martin Luther, Psalm 23, 23.4
Isaiah 40:1-9

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD's hand double for all her sins. A voice cries: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD; make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. And the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
A voice says, "Cry!" And I said, "What shall I cry?" All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, "Behold your God!" (ESV)
Lord Christ, I cast all my cares upon You. In faith, I take You at Your Word of grace, and hold fast to it. Let it not be taken from me. Let me be satisfied, whether I prosper or fail, whether I live or die. Cause me to stand and succeed against all devils, the world, and evil, that I might magnify Your dear Word. Amen.
For the faculty and staff of Memorial Lutheran School, that they might be strengthened in their calling to lead students to the good Shepherd
For the pastors of the church, especially Victor Atsinger, Ian Pacey, Christopher Ahlman, Robert Paul, Charles Wokoma, Charles St-Onge, Sagar Pilli, Clayton Campbell, and Scott Murray, that the Holy Spirit would continue to enliven their proclamation and keep them in the church's holy faith
For all those who hunger and thirst for righteousness that they would be fed on the body and blood of Christ, for the forgiveness of sins
Art: GRÜNEWALD, Matthias,  Resurrection (c. 1515)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2018
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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