“Making Known Christ’s Security”
April 17, 2016: The Fourth Sunday Of Easter
Acts 13: 15-16; 26-39/ Psalm 23/ Revelation 7: 9 – 14/ John 10: 22 - 30
Bishop Ariel Cornelio P. Santos
Our readings for today, especially Psalm 23, would tell you why in many churches, it is called the Good Shepherd Sunday. This explains also the gospel and the other readings. Jesus is The Good Shepherd and to me, the best reason for this is because He Himself is a sheep, a lamb. He went through our experience and became one of us. He sympathizes and empathizes with us. He knows what we go through because He went through them Himself.
Hebrews 4:15, “We don’t have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses.” Jesus Himself knows our weaknesses. He became incarnate so that He can better sympathize with us and better help us as High Priest so that He can offer sacrifices for our sins. This is also why in CEC, we have the married clergy so that they can better understand what and how it is to handle a family.
In Ephesians 5, it has a command for husbands to love their wives and wives to submit to their husbands among others. St. Paul wasn’t really talking about a husband and wife marriage. He was talking about Christ and the Church kind of love. It was the Father’s will for His Son to get married, and He wanted Him to marry somebody in particular. But before He does marry, He has to do certain things by becoming human. He will go through the same experience that His bride goes through. He will be dependent on parents that God created and experience how it is to be helpless as a baby, to mess up diapers and let people change his diapers, to struggle learning how to walk, to get spanked, to get hungry, to thirst, to feel pain and to be tempted. He will all experience this just like a human being, just like His bride-to-be. Only, it will be worse because not only will He experience what they experienced, but He will be unappreciated even if He does it out of love. People will hate Him and He will be persecuted. He will be betrayed, abandoned, tortured, suffer and will be killed by the very bride that He is trying to please, to love, and to save.
Probably, in the mind of Jesus, these thoughts were going on, “Oh, this bride must be Miss Universe caliber. This bride must be very, very deserving of the requirement My Father is telling Me for marrying her. This must be a great catch.” But the Father tells Him, “I know what You are thinking. No, she is not the Miss Universe caliber and least deserving of what You will do for her. In fact, she looks ugly. She has spots, wrinkles, blemishes, but she has great potential and You can do something about her appearance. You will need a lot of patience, a lot of forbearance, and You will have to sacrifice for her and eventually and ultimately, You have to give Your life for her. But she will not appreciate that, at least in the beginning. This bride is grouchy. She will stubbornly resist You in the beginning, and it will be up to her to decide when, if she does, she appreciates what You do for her. You will be able to make her spotless and without wrinkle. Remember the requirement: You will have to give Your life for her.”
Jesus tells the Father, “Let Me get this straight. You want me to marry somebody who is ugly and doesn’t know it, and for whom I need to give My life; and she won’t appreciate it. This also means that I have to leave the glory of Your side and the glory of heaven and I will take upon Myself a human body.” Jesus gets ready to leave heaven and before He leaves, He is accompanied by some music, by some angels, to the tune of a song, “Humanap Ka Ng Panget.” (Look for Somebody Ugly) This was Jesus’ mission – to look for somebody ugly and to truly love. Jesus did just this and who is this ugly somebody? It is us, the Church. This is the essence of Ephesians 5. Beauty does not have a bearing on the husband loving the wife. Actually, anything does not have a bearing on Christ’s decision to love. Whoever and whatever the wife is, the husband is to love the wife.
This is exactly what Jesus did for the Church. In fact, I don’t know of anything worse than Jesus’ bride that He died for her. Jesus told the choir of heaven, “She may not look right now like she could be – spotless or without wrinkle; but watch Me make her new, minted, restored and in shining splendor and brightly bear the likeness of the Lord, which she originally had, but she fell at a certain point.” Jesus added, “Actually, she is beautiful, but became ugly because of sin. The most important thing is that she needs a Savior. She needs somebody to love her and love would restore her to the beauty, to that image and likeness of her Creator.”
In the scene in Revelation 7, the people in white robes had palm branches in their hands. They were reenacting the first Palm Sunday in the gospel. The difference was that during Palm Sunday, the people were worshipping emptily because five days after, they were pointing fingers at Jesus and accusing Him of certain things. They abandoned, betrayed Him and did not believe Him anymore. They stopped praising Him. The difference in Revelation is that these people with palm in their hands with white robes on had washed themselves with the blood of the Lamb and they served Him night and day. Their worship, this time, is real. It is not empty, clouds without water or without substance. They did not worship Him or seek Him because they get bread from Him. They worshipped Him because they learned to deny themselves, to take up their crosses, to follow Him, and to die with Him. They served Him night and day. To them, the Lamb will be Shepherd and they found joy in serving Him.
In John 10, Jesus said, “They (His sheep) will have eternal life because I will give it to them and they will never perish and no one can snatch them out of My hand.” This is talking about security and insurance. It is free with no expensive premiums. If serving God does not bring us joy, I don’t know what will. Maybe, we can find something that will last a few minutes or a few days and probably a few weeks. But true security only comes from what Jesus can give to us from the Father. If we complain, obviously, there is no joy.
Serving God day and night equals joy. We are all full time ministry workers for the Lord. Day and night, we are to serve God, not because He is a slave driver, but because He wants us to discover the joy that is derived from serving Him day and night. All of us are full time ministers, but some just happened to be paid for their work and they stay in a certain office in the Church. Others work outside, but they, nonetheless, are in full-time ministry. God wants us to discover the joy of 24/7 service to Him.
Psalm 23 is the voice of a thankful sheep to his Good Shepherd. In Colossians 2:7, “Walk in Him just as you were instructed and do it with overflowing gratitude.” It is not with overflowing negativity; not with overflowing misery and problems that you imagine that are not there. The day we stop being thankful to God is the day we lose our joy. Even if we receive blessings, if they don’t stop coming, we won’t recognize them and we will not derive joy with them.
When Jesus was in Jerusalem, the religious leaders were not happy. I thought that the Psalms says that in the presence of the Lord, there is fullness of joy. How come certain people did not have joy and the fullness of it? This is because they did not recognize the blessing. They did not recognize the day of their visitation. Who had fullness of joy? It was the sinners, those who were forgiven. Those who had fullness of joy were those people who recognized the blessing of the day of their visitation. They were those who were healed, delivered; those who were raised from the dead; and those who understood their forgiveness like Mary Magdalene and St. Paul. But the religious leaders, all those who look into the negative fault in Jesus, missed the blessing of the presence of the Lord. They were always angry, not overflowing with gratitude, like that harlot who washed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped His them with her hair. Jesus told the Pharisee in whose house He was, “He who is forgiven much, they love much and appreciate much. But those who don’t recognize the blessing of their forgiveness, they don’t receive the blessing.”
In the Diocese of Northern Mindanao, they had a Convocation where I was in attendance and their theme was: One Family; One Church; One Father. Their lives are simple, but they have joy. We have a lot of things here in the city which they don’t have. I told them, “You may look to Manila and think that they are more blessed than you are. Stop and realize how much you have. Do not ever take them for granted. Never! God has given you gifts. Blessings are not malls or a fast food chain in every corner. Blessings are what you have.” I could see it in their worship, in their serving and in their singing. I told them, “Not to take your blessings for granted. Don’t ever, ever stop being thankful. Don’t ever be deceived that this negative thing on one hand outweighs all the blessings in the other hand. Don’t lose your joy.”
Colossians 2:8 gives us the instructions, “See that you are not deceived by traditions, by the thinking of men,” because it is a trick. Deception is deceptive. We do not know that we are already being deceived. How can we avoid being deceived? Walk just as instructed and walk overflowing with gratitude. A big part of this instruction is in Colossians 2:2 which says to be knit together in love and so attain the full understanding and knowledge of God so that no one can delude you with persuasive argument. Have you ever been fooled and deluded by persuasive argument? We have this in our nation every six years. Somebody said, “What is the opening line of fairy tales? It is “Once upon a time.” In the Philippines, fairy tales start with, “If elected, I will do these…” Persuasive argument deceives us and if it does, did you know you have been? It takes a while, perhaps, a long time and it is not the next day that we realize it. How do we guard ourselves from this? It is by walking just as instructed and overflow with gratitude!
Jesus said, “My sheep hear My voice; those who do what I just described are the sheep who respond.” We are not deceived by a stranger’s voice. There is this principle in 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 about giving, “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly; he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must do just as he purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” God’s will is for us not to obey under compulsion. What God wants is what we have purposed in our heart and we obey willingly and cheerfully. This is exactly why He gave us free will. God would want us, with our free will, to obey Him not under compulsion because God loves a cheerful giver.
This does not mean that it will all depend on us on to whom we will give, how much we will give, and to the extent that we will give. There are instructions and we are to follow instructions. The question is: do we follow willingly? There is a set of commandments from God. He doesn’t give us a choice of twisting, revising or editing His commandments. What He wants us to do is willingly obey them, and this is what we purpose in our hearts. It is not whether we fully obey or change or redefine His laws, but it is whether we purpose in our hearts to willingly obey Him. How does He make us give or respond voluntarily and cheerfully? It is by making us realize the blessings.
God would patiently wait. It took some time before some religious leaders in Jerusalem obeyed. In Acts, it said that many of the priests afterwards also repented and joined the disciples at that time. The harlots and the tax gatherers only happen to go ahead and see the kingdom of God ahead of the others. It took them some time, but they realized God’s blessings. They realized Jesus blessing them by the giving of His life for them.
This is our prayer for us that we would realize such security, but more importantly, the price paid to provide such blessing. David, in Psalm 23, said, “Surely goodness and lovingkindness will follow me.” He realizes the blessing; it will follow him and so, in response to that, he will dwell in the house of the Lord forever – on a full time basis. Another translation says, “I will serve God forever.” This is 24/7. May we not forget none of His benefits and the price paid to give us benefits so that out of gratefulness, we may respond willingly to His goodness and His lovingkindness forever.
In the Collect for today, we asked God, “To grant that when we hear His voice, we may know Him who calls us each by name.” Jesus is the Shepherd who gave His life for us. May we recognize His voice, but we will only recognize it when we realize what He did for us because when we do, we will know who He is in our lives. Out of a grateful response, we would follow where He leads because this is exactly the way it is in the very kingdom of our God.