Sermon for Misericordias Domini
Text: John 10:11–16
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you from God the Father and Jesus Christ our Lord.
Perhaps the most controversial article of the faith is the doctrine of election. It’s true that some of the most heated debates in the history of Christendom have been on the issue of baptismal regeneration, or in what manner the Lord’s Supper is an eating and drinking of Christ’s body and blood. But behind those arguments is often a disagreement on the article of God’s choosing His people for salvation.
If pressed on the issue, most Christians today will fall into one of three errors. The first is that all people will be saved and no one will be damned, but this is a blatant rejection of Scripture’s warning of Judgment Day. The other two errors are historically associated with either John Calvin or Jacob Arminius. Calvin strayed from the scriptures in this regard by saying that if God has chosen some for salvation then He must have chosen others for damnation. Arminius countered by saying that since God would not choose some for damnation, but some are indeed damned, then those who are chosen for salvation must be chosen based off of some quality within themselves that earns God’s election.
Both of these errors destroy the conscience of believers. For we are left in terror that we do not ultimately know if God has chosen us for salvation or damnation, or we have to figure out what it is in us that God is looking for and then live in terror of losing that quality and therefore losing our salvation.
So it is that many people have identified the moment of salvation in their own lives. They identify when it is that they made their decision to follow Jesus and commit themselves to Him. The problem is that any amount of backsliding leads them to question their salvation. If God chooses you according to your commitment to Hims all it takes is one missed opportunity, one sin, and all is lost again. And so there are people who have been baptized not once or twice but several times because they keep realizing that they have failed in their commitment to Jesus.
Martin Luther would speak of the monster of uncertainty. Anything that keeps us from being confident that’s God’s grace is for us leads us to doubt and destroys faith. Calvin leads us into the uncertainty about whether God has chosen us for salvation or damnation. Arminius leads us into uncertainty about whether we will be able to maintain our faith.
Our Lord Jesus Christ comforts us by revealing the truth of God’s election. For He says, “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and My own know me.” And furthermore, “I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”
There is such comfort in these words because Jesus takes away our uncertainty. If we would but take these words to heart, all uncertainty would be put aside. For here our dear Lord Jesus Christ does not leave us in doubt, but comforts us. It is His voice that calls those who are His.
Stop looking to yourself as though Jesus would call you because of how faithful, or good, or clean you could make yourself. Therefore do not be ashamed of the third article in which we confess “I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to Him; but the Holy Spirit has called me by the Gospel, enlightened me with His gifts, sanctified and kept me in the true faith.” That is to say, The Holy Spirit works through the Word of the Gospel, as the very voice of Jesus to gather me into His flock of which Jesus promises: I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. I and the Father are one.
The Holy Spirit gathers you through the living voice of Jesus into the flock kept safe in that hand of God the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth. The Triune God has accomplished Your salvation, not because you have made yourself holy, but because of the love inherent in the divine nature.
We can rightly speak of love as being the nature of the triune God and the bond between the persons of the Trinity. We rightly sing of Christ, that He is of the Father’s love begotten. Jesus ,who exists eternally with the Father, is also beyond our comprehension begotten of the Father. They are coeternal ,and yet the Father is His source. From eternity the love of Father, Son, and Spirit binds them as one. Yet Jesus can speak of the Father’s love for Him as a result of His own sacrificial love for you: For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.
Christ lays down His life for the sheep, and He takes it up again. No hired hand does this, but the Shepherd to whom the sheep belongs gladly tastes death to spare His flock the bitterness of its bite.
Now in this life there is no shortage of suffering. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in His steps. Now apart from God’s Word suffering produces uncertainty. Does God love me? Can God take care of me? Will death be the end of me? We would all fall to the monster of uncertainty if we had nothing outside our own experiences and perception by which to judge God’s love.
But thanks be to God that He has given us a Word that comes not from our own hearts or understanding, but from the very mouth of His dear Son, who stood with Him at creation, by whom all things were made and without whom nothing was made that has been made. Our Lord says, “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.”
In Christ we have God’s answer to all our questions pertaining to salvation. He himself bore your sins in His body on the tree. Therefore count yourself as one forgiven by Jesus. By His wounds You are healed; therefore, know for certain that though you cannot heal yourself He has bound up your injuries and by His wounds You have been and will be healed.
The doctrine of election is not given in order that we can list those who will be saved, but in order that we might know that it is God’s work to bring us to salvation and that nothing will thwart His plans for you. When suffering raises doubts in your mind as to whether God’s love remains with you, see Your suffering in the wounds of Christ by which He bestows peace on His disciples. When He suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting Himself to Him who judges justly. So you too, when You suffer, do not doubt but entrust yourself to the Father who loves the Son for His willingness to suffer for you. And the Father’s love will be showered upon you not because You have never strayed, but because you have been brought back to the Shepherd and Overseer of Your soul.
There is one final implication of all this that I implore you to take to heart: Just as your salvation is not found in yourself, but in the Word of Christ by which He gathers you into your flock, so also your witness to Your neighbor is not your work, but the work of the Holy Spirit.
Too often we have fallen into the errors of Calvin and Arminius on election regarding evangelism. We either tell ourselves God will save whom He wants and He doesn’t need us, so that it doesn’t matter if we share the Gospel with others, or we think that it relies so much on us that we try to present the Gospel in a way in which people are persuaded to believe as though their choice in the matter was most important.
Jesus’ words have enormous impact on our witness when we take them in their plain sense. I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. In the realm of evangelism you are God’s fellow workers, but it does not depend on you. For it is Christ who brings them into His flock through Your words, not because you are persuasive, but because His sheep will hear His voice. You can stutter and stammer, but where the Holy Spirit is working through the Word of Christ, the Good Shepherd’s voice will be heard.
So take heart. Christ has died. Christ is risen. No wolf, no serpent, no devil, no death, no grave can stop your ears from hearing the voice of Your shepherd calling you into His flock.
Alleluia, Christ is Risen!
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
Soli Deo Gloria