Christ is risen!
He is risen indeed!
Today's theme is Jesus Christ as the Good Shepherd. Why this theme now in the Easter season? Of course, as our gospel says, John 10: 11-16, He gave his life for the sheep and is now our guide to eternal life. And more, says Saint Peter in our epistle, He is Pastor and Bishop of our souls.
The figure of the shepherd of the sheep had particular importance in the culture of the Jews. Father Abraham had his livestock. Moses cared for his father-in-law’s sheep for 40 years. King David learned how to kill Goliath with stones and a sling by defending his father Jesse's sheep against lions, bears and wolves. So, the shepherd of the sheep was the model for a king and a prophet. Jesus Christ is king and prophet too.
Well, why do we have pastors and bishops in the church today? Christ is the Good Shepherd, also Bishop of our souls. But, Christ Himself gave the apostles the authority to care for his sheep and commanded them to train successors in this work. We see the symbolism of the shepherding of the sheep after the resurrection in John 21 when Jesus appeared to the apostles on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. They had been fishing in their boat. On the shore Jesus said three times to Saint Peter, "Do you love me?" and Pedro replied, "Of course, I love you." And three times the Lord said to him, "Feed my sheep." Peter had denied Jesus three times in Pontius Pilate's court, so Jesus did that to reestablish Peter as an apostle.
Jesus instituted an office of preaching and administering the sacraments for the care of his flock until his second coming in glory. One of the words for this office in Greek is ποιμήν, or poimen, which means pastor in Spanish. Another word is πρεσβύτερος or prebuteros, which means elder in Spanish. And also, ἐπίσκοπος or episkopos, which means bishop.
In the New Testament, these three words refer to the same office. All men called by Christ and his church to preach the Word and administer the sacraments have the same authority, the authority derived from Christ and the Scriptures. Pastors may be assigned different areas of responsibility for good order in the church, but the Lord did not institute ranks in the pastoral office. All pastors have the same authority to forgive sins, not as in the Roman Catholic Church where some priests have the authority to absolve abortion, for example, and others do not.
However, in the fourth century Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. On the bright side, 300 years of persecution ended. But, on the other side, church leaders took on the attributes of civil government officials. Bishop came to signify the leader of Christians in a city or region, such as Jerusalem or Rome or Asia Minor. The bishops became princes, not servants of the church. From this environment the papacy developed.
There is no divinely ordained church structure beyond a pastor called and ordained to preach and administer the sacraments to the congregation. Normally, other pastors participate in the rite of placing the candidate in his office, but the laying on of a bishop's hands in an unbroken line back to the 12 apostles is not necessary. At that time of the Reformation, the churches in Scandinavia and the countries around the Baltic Sea did not change the structure of bishops and archbishops because the entire hierarchy accepted the Augsburg Confession without discussion. In Germany the bishops remained loyal to Rome and did not ordain evangelical pastors. Therefore, the Lutheran churches looked for another system to call and ordain pastors. But, what is important is a man should not preach by his own authority, or perhaps, by internal call, but by the call and ordination of the church. This is to ensure the teaching of sound doctrine.
Requirements to be a pastor are found in the first letter to Timothy and Titus. A pastor should not be a neophyte, a man with many women, or a lover of money, beer or wine. A pastor should be a trustworthy man and, above all, faithful to the Word of God. Otherwise he is a hireling who will flee when the sheep are in danger
Who can be a pastor, then? Because we are all sinners. If Christ is our model, who of us can lay down his life for all the sheep? But, Jesus Christ is the Shepherd and Bishop of the shepherds. With the help of Christ we can fulfill the mission of the church. This mission is to gather the sheep scattered in the flock of the church until the second coming of Christ in glory. On that glorious day there will be one Shepherd and one flock. Until then, the shepherd who preaches the Word of God speaks in the voice of Christ that the sheep will recognize. We do not speak on our own authority, but on the authority of Christ and His promises will never fail.
In this we have the peace that passes all understanding. Amen.
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