The First Sunday of Advent November 25, 2012
2 Samuel 7:11b-16
705 [TLH alt. 68], 63, 55, 657(1,4)
The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me (Psalm 23:1,4 ESV).
Dear fellow sheep—you who long for the return of the Good Shepherd:
We recognize and celebrate Advent as a time of preparation—a time to prepare our hearts not only for our celebration of Christmas but also as part of our continuing struggle to remain ready and prepared for our Lord’s final return on Judgment Day. Our Advent services, therefore, serve as a special designated time for us to do what might otherwise get lost in the holiday shuffle.
The challenge is that we tend to become numbed to any warning or encouragement that is repeated. Every Christian has heard the warnings many times and has been encouraged to remain alert and watchful many times. Everyone has celebrated Advent in the past. Yet, the fact that our Lord has magnanimously granted mankind another year of grace should never serve as a sleeping pill. Countless souls have undoubtedly been won during this past year. Yet God’s patience should never become Satan’s tool.
In an effort to avoid clichés and the mindless repetition that often works against us, we tend to order our preparation around a central theme that highlights a particular gift or aspect of our God, and thereby direct our thoughts and meditation according to a fresh perspective. This year the plan is to organize our Advent sermons around that simple, child-like prayer that many of us were taught from infancy: “Jesus, Tender Shepherd, hear me!” By doing so we are drawing special attention to the fact that Jesus is our Good Shepherd and the provider of all that we—His sheep—need. Today we ask our Tender Shepherd to hear us and to come with His rod.
Our devotion is based on the Word of God recorded in 2 Samuel, chapter 7:
Also the Lord tells you that He will make you a house. “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his Father, and he shall be My son. If he commits iniquity, I will chasten him with the rod of men and with the blows of the sons of men. But My mercy shall not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I removed from before you. And your house and your kingdom shall be established forever before you. Your throne shall be established forever.”
These are the very words of God—words that God gave us to clarify our thoughts and to increase our understanding and appreciation for all that he has and will do for us. That our God would so bless us this day, we pray, “Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth.” Amen.
One of the things that Christianity demands is reality. In society we tend to play games with reality. We look at what could be or should be or what we would like to be, and we pretend that this is what actually is. So we find ourselves pretending that men and women are just the same, that women are as suited for things like combat as are men, that homosexuality is not unnatural and a perversion, and that certain minorities still need unfair advantages or preferential treatment to succeed in our society.
The obvious problem when we play such games is that society develops the attitude that nothing anyone says can really be trusted. Christians, above all others, can’t afford to play that game. That doesn’t mean that every personal opinion falling from our mouths is the end-all for every debate, but it does mean that Scripture is again proved right when is tells us we are to speak the truth in love (cf. Ephesians 4:15), and it reminds us of our calling to be messengers of God’s Gospel.
What does this have to do with “Jesus, Tender Shepherd, hear me”? Just this: We are not dealing in reality when we portray or project ourselves as anything greater or nobler or stronger or more courageous than simple, ignorant sheep—silly creatures in constant need of our Shepherd.
Yet, forget we do, which is why our Good Shepherd has to allow reality to knock us down from time-to-time and thereby strip away the illusion of strength and courage that we create for ourselves. The fact is we are always weak, always needy, always totally dependent on our God for every single thing.
I recall a conversation I had several decades ago with a rather seasoned Christian teacher who scoffed at and actually ridiculed the notion that any adult would continue to use the “Jesus, Tender Shepherd” prayer after maturing to adulthood. I disagreed then, I disagree now. In fact I still use the prayer to this day as a reminder that age doesn’t change either our human weakness or our constant need for our Good Shepherd’s care and protection. That is also why we begin our Advent series by asking our Tender Shepherd to come to us with His rod.
All of you are familiar with Psalm 23—part of which we read at the opening of this sermon. All of you are, therefore, familiar with the statement: “Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23:4). What might not be readily apparent, however, is how or why the Shepherd’s rod comforts us, or for that matter, just how a shepherd used his rod in his dealing with his sheep.
The shepherd’s rod in Old Testament times was both a weapon used against enemies in the defense of the flock and an implement of punishment used to chastise individual sheep. David undoubtedly referred to both uses in Psalm 23 since David was himself a shepherd. In other words, he recognized both the enemy without and the enemy within. While it would come as no surprise that a weapon in the hand of your greatest ally would serve as a great comfort when that weapon is used to defend you from your enemies, that same sense of comfort is a bit more difficult for those who realize that that same rod can and will be used to punish them. How or why, in other words, should I be comforted in knowing that I myself can be beaten with my Shepherd’s rod?
The answer is because I recognize that I am Jesus’ little lamb. I am a sheep and as such I am silly, notional, short-sighted and prone to wander into trouble. Same with you, I suspect, which is also why we pray every day: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” You and I pray these words because we want our Good Shepherd to do whatever is necessary to keep us on the path to life and to lead us back whenever we wander. That’s what the shepherd’s rod was all about.
While it may sound cruel, the shepherd would actually use his shepherd’s rod to break the leg of a particularly stubborn or rebellious sheep. Obviously, to do something like that without cause or reason would be barbaric, but that’s exactly why we refer to Jesus as our Good Shepherd. That’s also why David said, “Your rod and your staff comfort me.” David wasn’t comforted by just any old weapon in the hand of any old shepherd. He was, on the other hand, comforted beyond measure by the rod in the hand of his Good Shepherd.
He was comforted because—like any good sheep—he knew and trusted his Shepherd to know and understand his true condition and needs better than he knew them himself. He was smart enough to know that there was much he didn’t and couldn’t know. There were dangers that he didn’t recognize and troubles that he didn’t know to avoid. That’s exactly why his loving Shepherd’s implement of correction was such a comfort. He knew that his wise and loving Protector did know and understand the dangers as well as his own weaknesses and ignorance.
Today’s text is a great example of just why David knew to trust the wisdom of his Shepherd/Savior. The text is a message from God Himself to David through the prophet, Nathan. The setting was this: After David’s enemies had all been subdued and God had given him rest and comfort after so many years of struggle and turmoil, David resolved to spend his remaining years and his fortune in thanking his God by building a permanent temple in Jerusalem.
Who could ever imagine that this was anything other than the will of God Himself? Even Nathan, when he first heard David’s plan, offered his wholehearted support and encouragement: “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you” (2 Samuel 7:3). That sealed the deal, of course, and David proceeded to build his God a magnificent temple as his gift of thanksgiving.
Only that’s not what happened, is it? In fact, we read in the verses before our text that when Nathan went back home he had to be corrected by his Lord on this subject, and the message was unequivocal: “Thanks, but no thanks.” This is what Nathan was commanded to tell David: “When your days are fulfilled and you rest with your fathers, I will set up your seed after you, who will come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for My name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” [vv.12-13] Even in something like a thank-offering, something that you and I would consider a no-brainer, even then neither David nor the faithful prophet Nathan was qualified to determine what God wanted and didn’t want.
That’s why, today, we ask our Lord, our Tender Shepherd, to live among us with His rod of correction. You and I simply haven’t the faintest idea which of our natural ideas or inclinations are good or bad, pleasing or displeasing to our God. We don’t and can’t know which fit His master plans and which do not. We need a word from our God to be sure. We need, therefore, His correction.
There is more in our text that causes us to plead for his rod. Our text continues: “When he (David’s heir) commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, but my steadfast love will not depart from him.” [vv.14f, ESV]
You remember that David’s son—the one to whom God here referred—was Solomon. You will also recall that God made Solomon the wisest man alive. Yet, even though he walked through life as the smartest guy in every room, Solomon still sinned, still wandered badly from the path his God would have him walk. In fact, his unsurpassed wisdom often tended to cause him more harm than good. His intellect took him places he had no business going. He had to taste everything that the world had to offer, including the foreign idols that his countless wives and concubines carried with them into the King’s household. It was not a matter of if Solomon sinned, but when. So said God in our text. If the smartest man alive needed the Shepherd’s rod, how much more you and I.
Nor did our text leave us in doubt as to God’s ultimate goal: “…And I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever… And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.” [vv.12,16 ESV]
God knew that the nation of Israel would soon be permanently divided and that the vast majority would fall away. He also knew that a descendant of David would not sit for the rest of time on an earthly throne. This promise, therefore, referred to a very different sort of throne—one that would indeed last forever and on which a Descendant would sit for all time and eternity. That descendant is Jesus Himself. Jesus is always the big picture—which is also why we beg Him to live among us at all times with His rod. This life holds no lasting promise other than the life to come, and no one can inherit that eternal existence except those who believe that forgiveness and redemption are ours through faith in Jesus Christ alone. So also we plead with our Tender Shepherd to bring whatever discipline is necessary into our lives to keep our feet on the path to life or to return us to that path if ever we wander. To this end we pray: “Jesus, Tender Shepherd, hear me. Exercise your loving discipline in my life, as only you are able to do. Amen.”
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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