David's heart struck him after he had numbered the people. And David said to the LORD, "I have sinned greatly in what I have done. But now, O LORD, please take away the iniquity of your servant, for I have done very foolishly." And when David arose in the morning, the word of the LORD came to the prophet Gad, David's seer, saying, "Go and say to David, 'Thus says the LORD, Three things I offer you. Choose one of them, that I may do it to you.'" So Gad came to David and told him, and said to him, "Shall three years of famine come to you in your land? Or will you flee three months before your foes while they pursue you? Or shall there be three days' pestilence in your land? Now consider, and decide what answer I shall return to him who sent me." Then David said to Gad, "I am in great distress. Let us fall into the hand of the LORD, for his mercy is great; but let me not fall into the hand of man."
So the LORD sent a pestilence on Israel from the morning until the appointed time. And there died of the people from Dan to Beersheba , men. And when the angel stretched out his hand toward Jerusalem to destroy it, the LORD relented from the calamity and said to the angel who was working destruction among the people, "It is enough; now stay your hand." And the angel of the LORD was by the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite. Then David spoke to the LORD when he saw the angel who was striking the people, and said, "Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father's house."
And Gad came that day to David and said to him, "Go up, raise an altar to the LORD on the threshing floor of Araunah the Jebusite." So David went up at Gad's word, as the LORD commanded. And when Araunah looked down, he saw the king and his servants coming on toward him. And Araunah went out and paid homage to the king with his face to the ground. And Araunah said, "Why has my lord the king come to his servant?" David said, "To buy the threshing floor from you, in order to build an altar to the LORD, that the plague may be averted from the people." Then Araunah said to David, "Let my lord the king take and offer up what seems good to him. Here are the oxen for the burnt offering and the threshing sledges and the yokes of the oxen for the wood. All this, O king, Araunah gives to the king." And Araunah said to the king, "The LORD your God accept you." But the king said to Araunah, "No, but I will buy it from you for a price. I will not offer burnt offerings to the LORD my God that cost me nothing." So David bought the threshing floor and the oxen for fifty shekels of silver. And David built there an altar to the LORD and offered burnt offerings and peace offerings. So the LORD responded to the plea for the land, and the plague was averted from Israel.
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Under-Shepherds of the King of Love
Thursday in Pentecost 10
6 August 2015
"Just love your people." This is the standard advice given by veterans of the cross to young pastors taking on their first congregations. This is pretty good advice, because it is God's own way in the world. "Love to the loveless shown," is always God's way. The gospel tells the story of an unaccountable love; a love given to those who could never deserve it, a love that is not merely warm feelings in the heart, a love that demanded God's most precious possession, His Only begotten Son. If our pastors are the signs of this God in the world, then they must also be signs of God's love in the world. Nor is this a matter of mere imitation, because God himself has commanded those who shepherd to love the sheep of His flock (Jn 21:15-18).
There are plenty of examples of this love in practice throughout holy Scripture. God always sent leaders to his people, that they might shepherd his flock and be signs of the coming good Shepherd, his dear Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. God's care for his people has always been personal; given by the people whom He sends, and of course, in the person of His Son, who was love incarnate among us. Even when the people had rejected all the shepherds and leaders whom God had sent them, he still sent his only Son (Mt 21:35-39). O unfathomable love!
The shepherds are to serve the people without considering how they would be benefited. They should not consider how they are to fleece the flock or to eat from their fat (Ez 34:2-3). Instead, they are to offer themselves without any thought to their return from the flock. Only then might there be a return to the pastors in love from the people. The Apostle Paul offered such love and sacrifice for the Galatians while he was with them, that he testifies, "If possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me' (Gal 4:15). His suffering moved them to such compassion for his eye problems that they would have offered their eyes to him. Pastors should not expect the return of the flock first, but give themselves by the unaccountable love that identifies them as under-shepherds of the King of love. God can take care of the rest.
"In every way Paul exhibited an unrivalled love for his disciples. At the beginning of all his epistles he starts with this. At the end with this he concludes again. For as an indulgent father loves an only and true born son, so Paul loved all the faithful. How else could he say, 'Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant (2Co 11:29)? Before everything else this is what the teacher ought to have.
"Therefore Christ said to Peter , 'If you love me, feed my sheep' (Jn 21:15-17). For he who loves Christ loves His flock. God set Moses over the people of Israel, when he had shown compassion toward them. David in this way came to be king, having been first seen to be compassionate toward the people. So much indeed, though yet young, did he grieve for the people, that he risked his life for them, when he killed that barbarian, Goliath. But if he said, 'What shall be done for the man who kills this Philistine?' (1Sa 17:26), he said it not to demand a reward, but out of a wish to have confidence placed in himself and to have the encounter with him delivered over to his charge. Therefore, when he became king after the victory, he said nothing of these things.
"Samuel too loved the people; so that he said, 'As for me, far be it from me that I should sin against the LORD by ceasing to pray for you' (1Sa 12:23). In the same way Paul also, but even in a far greater degree, had a passion for those whom he was leading. Because of this, he made his disciples so affectionate toward himself, that he said, 'For I testify to you that, if possible, you would have gouged out your eyes and given them to me' (Gal 4:15). God required the teachers of Israel above all things with this, saying, 'Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?' But they did the opposite. For he says, 'You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep' (Ez 34:2-3).
"Christ sets forth the rule for the best pastor, 'The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep' (Jn 10:11). This David did, on many other occasions, and also when God's fearful wrath from above came down upon the whole people. For while all were being slain he said, 'Behold, I have sinned, and I have done wickedly. But these sheep, what have they done? Please let your hand be against me and against my father's house' (2Sa 24:17). In the choice of those punishments also, he chose not famine, nor flight before enemies, but the pestilence sent by God, so that he should himself stand in the place of all the rest and be carried off, through which he hoped to keep all others safe (2Sa 24:13). But since this was not so, he cries out, and says, 'Let your hand be against me' or if this would not be enough, 'and against my father's house, for I the shepherd have sinned.' As though he had said, 'If they sinned, I was the person who should suffer the vengeance, as I did not correct them. But since the sin is mine also, it is I who deserve to suffer the vengeance.' For wishing to increase the crime he called himself their shepherd. Thus then he stayed the wrath and got the sentence revoked! So great is the power of confession. For the righteous is his own accuser first. So great is the concern and sympathy of a good pastor. For his stomach was in knots at their falling, just as when one's own children are killed. Therefore, he begged that the wrath might come upon himself. A leader ruler ought to be this way and grieve at the calamities of others rather than his own."
John Chrysostom, Homilies on Romans, 29
O Lord Jesus Christ, our great High Priest, You gave Your own life to be a holy and perfect sacrifice for us and for our salvation. Grant our pastors hearts zealous to love Your people and boldness to guide, comfort, admonish, and serve Your congregation with gentleness and wisdom. Fill Your undershepherds, with Your love that in Your name they will seek the straying and bear up the weak. Give them hearts never to grow weary in the service of Your flock. Amen.
For the pastors of the Texas District (LCMS), that they might be led by the good Shepherd into the love of their flocks
For the family of Harald Smits, who the Lord has taken to Himself, that they would mourn with confidence in the resurrection of the flesh and the life of the world to come
For Donald Saenger, that he might be built up in body and soul under God's gracious care
Art: Dürer, Albrecht The Adoration of the Trinity (1515)
© Scott R. Murray, 2015