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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
Title:Who is the Son of God to the people of God?
Text:LD 21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God The Son

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 23

Psalm 122

Hymn 52

Hymn 1

Hymn 61 & Psalm 79:5

Scripture readings: John 10, 1 Corinthians 12:12-26

Catechism lesson: Lord's Day 21

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved congregation of Jesus Christ,

In his book Habits of the Heart, Robert Bellah described a woman he once interviewed:

Sheila Larson is a young nurse who has received a good deal of therapy and who describes her faith as “Sheilaism.”  “I believe in God.  I’m not a religious fanatic.  I can’t remember the last time I went to church.  My faith has carried me a long way.  It’s Sheilaism.  Just my own little voice.”  Sheila’s faith has some tenets beyond belief in God, though not many.  In defining “my own Sheilaism” she says, “It’s just try to love yourself and be gentle with yourself.  You know, I guess, take care of each other.  I think he would want us to take care of each other.”

There are a number of interesting things in that quote, but for our purposes this afternoon, notice how Sheilaism doesn’t have a place for the church, for the people of God.  Sheila Larson is not alone.  80% of Americans believe that people should arrive at their own religious beliefs independently of any church.  60% go even further and say that churches are unnecessary.  They might be helpful, but you can get a lot of what you want out of religion through the TV and Internet these days.  I don’t think we need to belabour the fact that the church has fallen on hard times.

The question is:  how do we address this?  An even more basic question would be:  do we need to address this?  After all, maybe too much attention has been given to the church in times past.  Maybe the church isn’t necessary.  If we’re going to find solid answers, we need to go to the Word of God.  What does the Word of God say about the people of God?  This afternoon, we’re going to look particularly at who the Son of God is in relation to the people of God.  As I preach to you God’s Word, using the Catechism as our road map, we’ll answer the question:

Who is the Son of God to the people of God?

We’ll learn how he is their:

  1. Shepherd
  2. Head
  3. Surety

Lord’s Day 21 begins with an explanation of what we believe about the holy catholic Christian church.  We believe that Christ, the Son of God, is gathering, defending and preserving for himself, a church chosen to everlasting life.  I want to focus on those three words, “gathering, defending and preserving.”  What do those words tell us about Jesus Christ and his relationship to the church, to the people of God? 

Those words are essentially taken straight from John 10.  This is the classic passage where Jesus explains what it means that he is the Good Shepherd.  The fact that he is a Shepherd reveals that there are sheep.  You can’t imagine a shepherd without any sheep.  A shepherd is such by virtue of the fact that there are sheep under his care.  A shepherd without any sheep is an ex-shepherd or maybe a retired shepherd.

From John 10, we learn that the Shepherd has his sheep.  Notice how many times that expression is used in this passage:  verse 2, verse 3, verse 4.  His sheep.  And in verse 14, “I know my own...”  and verse 27, “My sheep hear my voice....”  The sheep belong to Jesus Christ.  The Shepherd is their Lord and master.  That tells us we don’t belong to ourselves, rather we belong to him, body and soul, both in life and death. 

The Shepherd is also the one who gathers the sheep.  In verse 16, he says he must gather in other sheep who aren’t yet in the sheepfold.  That tells us he is the one who gathers, but it also tells us we’re the ones who need to be gathered.  We don’t lead and guide ourselves into God’s flock.  Someone has to do that for us.      

The Shepherd is the one defends the sheep.  When he describes the hired hand in verses 12 and 13 of John 10, he says the hired hand fails to defend the sheep and protect them.  So, by implication, the good Shepherd goes out of his way to do what the hired hand fails to do.  He protects against wolves.  That tells us we also need his protection.  By ourselves we’re helpless and can’t stand for even a moment.  We have enemies – the devil, the world, and our own flesh, and they don’t stop attacking us.  We need a Shepherd and defender and we have one in Jesus Christ.    

The Shepherd is the one who preserves the sheep.  Thieves come to kill and destroy, but the Good Shepherd comes to bring them life in great abundance.  The Shepherd is the one who feeds the Sheep.  That means the flock will be preserved and it will increase in health and numbers.  The Shepherd is the one who preserves – that means left to our own devices, we’d flounder on that score too.  We are sheep and we need a Shepherd.    

Now it’s important for us to note the manner in which Scripture speaks elsewhere about the flock of God.  From the rest of the Bible, we learn that the church is the flock of God.  In Acts 20:28, the apostle Paul says to the Ephesian elders, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”  The church is the place where the Good Shepherd gathers his sheep.  The church is the place where the Good Shepherd defends his sheep.  The church is the place where the Shepherd preserves and feeds his sheep.  Wouldn’t you say it’s starting to sound as if the church is important after all?

The next question and answer of our Catechism deals with the article from the Creed about the communion of saints.  Here we want to see Jesus as the head of his people.  This comes out in the fact that “believers, all and everyone [are] members of Christ.”  That language, “members” is meant to call forth a picture in our minds of a body, even a human body.  A human body has parts or members.

That image also comes out of Scripture itself in passages like 1 Corinthians 12.  In that passage, it’s mostly the implications of what it means to be the body of Christ that are being drawn out.  Paul is interested in drawing the people in the church at Corinth closer together in unity.  He wants them to recognize how they’re one in Christ, they’re united to him, and thus also united to each other.  But being united to Christ doesn’t mean everybody is exactly the same in the body of Christ.  In fact, there is diversity in this unity.  Because every body has parts with different functions.  Feet, hands, and eyes, all do different things in the body.  But they’re still part of one and the same body. 

At this point, we should note how these words in 1 Corinthians are directed at a local church, the church at Corinth.  Paul says the church at Corinth is the body of Christ.  And actually, if you do a study of this on your own, every use of the expression “body of Christ” in the New Testament is in connection with a concrete, local church, not the church in some general, broad sense.  Sometimes people will use the expression “body of Christ” to refer in some general way to all believers everywhere.  But we have to be careful to recognize that when Scripture uses this expression it gives priority to the local church.  It’s the local church, first of all, where we find the communion of saints, the body of Christ.

The image of a body implies that there’s a head.  Here in 1 Corinthians 12 it’s not stated explicitly, but from what Paul says in Ephesians 5, we know Christ is the head of the body.  That means he is in authority over the body.  Christ is the head of the church.  Ephesians 1:22,23 puts it plainly, “And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.”  So, Christ is the head, which for us means that we acknowledge him as the head – we look to him for direction and guidance.  Since we have union with him, since we’re his body, we seek to follow him in everything.   

If we put that into practical terms and address the question with which we began, we can think about Christ’s attitude towards the church, and here we’re thinking again of particular local churches, not the church in some broad general sense.  Not many people realize this, but Jesus wrote seven letters in the New Testament.  Yes, we have the letters of Paul, we have some letters from John and from Peter.  But we also have seven letters of Jesus.  They’re found in the first three chapters of the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible.  In those seven letters we find Jesus’ attitude towards the church.  It’s readily evident in all these letters that he cares for these churches, that he loves them.  For instance, listen to what he says to the church in Philadelphia in Revelation 3:9, “Behold, I will make those of the synagogue of Satan who say they are Jews and are not, but lie – behold, I will make them come and bow down before your feet, and they will learn that I have loved you.”  Jesus loved that local church in Philadelphia.  And the love expressed here reflects the love of God, that love which was evident already in the Old Testament where God repeatedly tells his people that he loves them. 

How can anyone come along and then say the church is something we can be indifferent about?  If Jesus loves the church, if Jesus loves this particular church, how can we not?  How could we come along and say that being a member here, using our gifts, etc., that of all that is superfluous and unnecessary?  Loved ones, if you love the Lord Jesus, you’ve got to love what he loves or least want to love what he loves.  He, the head of the church, he loves his church, his local church.  Jesus Christ loves this church and we should too, and we should show that not only in what we say but also what we do.

Finally, we want to consider the Son of God as our surety.  “Surety” isn’t a word we hear very much anymore.  I tried to find a better word, but there isn’t, so we’ll just have to go with that and I’ll explain it.  A surety is someone who makes the guarantee, someone who stands up and says, “I’ll step in and speak up for and vouch for this person.”  In the context of question and answer 56, Christ as our surety is found in those four words, “because of Christ’s satisfaction.”

Because of Christ’s redeeming work, God will no more remember our sins.  In Micah 7:19, we read, “He will again have compassion on us; he will tread our iniquities underfoot.  You will cast all our sins into the depths of the sea.”  And in Psalm 103, we read that God removes our transgressions far from us, as far as the east is from the west.  When it says that God will no more remember our sins, that means our sins will no longer be an obstacle to fellowship between us and God.  The same goes for our sinful nature with which we continue to struggle our entire life.  All the obstacles are cleared away and we can have a friendly healthy relationship with God.    

Instead of remembering our sins and sinful nature, God graciously grants us the righteousness of Christ, so that we would never fall under his judgment.  This is the gospel!  All the righteous deeds of Jesus Christ are given to us, imputed to us.  And all our wickedness has been given to him, imputed to him, so that he could bear it on the cross and remove the curse from us.  This is what Martin Luther and others have called “the Joyous Exchange” or the “Sweet Swap”:  Christ took our sin and gave us his righteousness.  And that means our sins are forgiven – we are released from the debt we owe to God.  All because of Christ, all because of grace. 

And we see that in John 10 as well, don’t we?  The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  Note how it says that four times in John 10 and each time it’s active.  He lays down his life.  Over the years some have said that understanding Jesus’ death as a substitutionary atonement is a problem because it makes God the Father out to be a cosmic child abuser.  He vengefully takes out his wrath against sin on his Son, his Son becomes the helpless victim, the whipping boy.  But that isn’t the biblical doctrine of substitutionary atonement – it’s a caricature.  Jesus made atonement by being our substitute, but he did this willingly and out of love.  The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  John 10:17-18, “For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”  Through Christ’s actively laying down his life, he became our surety, the guarantee of the forgiveness of our sins.

Before our Lord Jesus ascended into heaven, he entrusted the declaration of the forgiveness of sins to his church.  He said in John 20:23, “If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.”  What that means is that the church has the power to declare the forgiveness of sins – it doesn’t mean that the church actually forgives the sins itself.  Only God can do that.  But the church can and must declare God’s forgiveness.  It is God’s mouthpiece.  And how this all happens is through the means of grace, through the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments.  Through the means of grace, the forgiveness of sins is brought home to us authoritatively by Christ himself through his church. 

So, here too, when we talk about the forgiveness of sins, we need to have the church in view.  The church is the place where the forgiveness of sins is announced by Christ’s ambassadors.  The church is the place where the forgiveness of sins is visibly portrayed with water, bread, and wine.  The church is the community of the forgiven.  The church is the place where the forgiveness of sins lives.    

This is the reason why we confess in article 28 of the Belgic Confession that there is no salvation outside of the church.  That simply means the church is the place where one normally finds the forgiveness of sins, the administration of salvation.  This is the reason why John Calvin and others have said that he who would have God for his Father must have the church for his mother.  You need a mother to nurture you and help you grow and for believers that mother is the church – that point was made by Paul in Galatians 4:26 when he speaks about “the Jerusalem from above which is the mother of us all” – that’s the place in the new covenant era where God makes his name dwell, it’s the church.  The church, and again we’re talking about the local church, the assembly of believers, the church isn’t optional.  It’s not just a nice thing to have, it’s an absolutely essential part of God’s plan for our salvation.

When we look to the Son of God, we also see how he relates to the people of God.  He gathers, defends and preserves them in local congregations of believers.  He is their head, uniting them in one body, leading and guiding them with his Word, also leading them with his Word to love the body, to love the church as he does.  He is their surety, the one who has guaranteed the forgiveness of their sins and who announces that forgiveness through his church.  When we see Jesus Christ, we see the church’s one foundation and we realize that the church matters after all and matters supremely.  AMEN.    


Our Lord God in Heaven,

Father, we thank you for your Son, our Lord Jesus.  We thank you through him we have the forgiveness of our sins.  Lord Jesus, we thank you for laying down your life for the sheep.  Thank you also for being our Shepherd, for gathering, defending and preserving your people.  Saviour, we thank you for being our head, and for uniting us as your body.  Teach us, lead us and guide us with your Word.  Help us with your Holy Spirit to love your church, also this local church where you have placed us.  We pray that you would bless our church and help us to grow in unity, holiness and love.   

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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