4th Easter: He Makes Us Want to Be Better.
Recently I have been doing a lot of reading on the first days of our country. I read a really good book about the Founding Father, another one just on George Washington, and am just finishing a book of the War of 1812. I have on deck a book on Thomas Jefferson, one on Andrew Jackson, and McCullough’s 1776.
Most of these early American leaders were religious people in that they believed in God and trusted in Him to guide the country. They put “In God We Trust,” on our coinage. At the same time, most of them embraced a philosophy/theology that said God was distant from the individual. You might remember that they called this type of religion Deism. Simply put, Deism would say, that God created mankind and is available for major emergencies, but He doesn’t get involved with an individual person’s problems or even his or her life.
It is easy for us to fall into a form of Deism, particularly when we consider some of our Easter formulas. For example, we say, correctly, “Jesus died on the cross to save mankind from sin.” Or, “He saved us from the power of the devil.” True again. But if we stop there, we could easily become Deists worshiping a distant but uninvolved God. Jesus does more than just care for mankind in general. He cares for us as individuals. No one is insignificant to Him. There is nothing about any of our lives, no situation, no event, no concern, no fear, no joy that the Lord does not want to embrace. If we give it to Him, He makes our needs His needs. He loves all of us and each of us. He loves every part of each one of our lives.
To remind us of the Lord’s concern for each one of us, the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday of Easter is always taken from John 10, the Gospel of the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd cares for each one of His Sheep. He lays down His life for His sheep. Jesus didn’t just die for mankind in general. He died for you. He died for me. He knows His sheep. He knows you. He knows me. In fact, He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows everything that has effected our lives from the days when we were in our mothers’ wombs. He knows why we are more joyful or deeper grieved than others in various situations. He knows that this person who works hard on his temper is fighting off problems the person doesn’t even remember. He knows the reason why that person’s joy is greater than another’s, reasons deep within the person’s mind.
And He saves us from our sins. Each of us. You know, when I come upon that expression, “He saves us from our sins,” I’m tempted to limit this to something like “I can go to heaven because of the Blood of Jesus.” And that is true. But there is more, so much more to “He saves us from our sins.” We luxuriate in the Presence of Jesus Christ. We treasure this Presence. We want to remain in this Presence.
Every one of us is continually tempted to do really evil things, but giving into the temptation carries with it a huge cost. Giving in means giving up Jesus. And, by the Grace of God, we are just not going to do that. And yes we are tempted to go out and blow our minds on alcohol or some other chemical, but it costs too much, it costs shutting the special Presence of the Lord out of our lives. And yes, we are tempted to live a selfish lifestyle, use other people to satisfy our physical needs and behave more like animals than human beings. After all, the media presents this as normal. But for us, if hedonism is normal, we would rather not be normal. We are not going to sacrifice Jesus Christ for a few moments of pleasure. If TV and the movies portray it normal to be sinful, then we would rather be abnormal for the Lord. We would rather be crazy for Jesus in the eyes of an immoral world.
And this is yet another way that He saves us from our sins. He saves us from sinning. He means too much to us for us to squander His Presence. He means too much to us for us to become presumptive, to think that, well, “I’ll sin now and ask Him to forgive me tomorrow.” There may not be a tomorrow for us. Or, more likely, we may not value forgiveness tomorrow because we may have grown more in love with the sinful lifestyle than with the Lord.
He saves us from our sins. What would we be like without Jesus? Ask yourselves. Be honest. I shutter to think of the things that I would be doing. I consider the sins I commit now and am embarrassed to realize that if this is how I behave when I treasure Jesus’ Presence, how would I behave if I didn’t treasure His Presence? It is scary. Left to our own devices, left to focusing on ourselves, life becomes frightening.
Add to all this the effects of our sins on us. The Good Shepherd saves us from these too. Because we value His Presence, we are protected from the physical and psychological dependencies that could easily take over our lives. Those who are sober alcoholics know exactly what I am referring to. Having the Lord in your lives results in you having an all surpassing reason to fight off giving in to the addiction.
The Lord told the parable of the merchant who found the pearl of great price. Everything was sold to purchase that pearl. We have found the pearl of great price. Or perhaps, to put it better, the Pearl has found us. And now we, like the merchant, are willing to do whatever we can to hold onto that Pearl.
Alleluia, we proclaim at Eastertide. Alleluia. Jesus has risen from the dead. He shares His Risen Life with us. Alleluia, He has saved us from our sins. Alleluia, He is still saving each of us from our sins. He means more to us than anything the world can offer. Alleluia. Jesus Christ makes us want to be better than we are. Alleluia, He saves us.
Alleluia we proclaim. We are sheep. And the Good Shepherd has found us, every single one of us.