Ps. 23; Acts 20:17-35; Rev. 7:9-17; John 10:22-30
Snatch, “My sheep hear my Voice, and I know them, and they follow me … and no one shall snatch them out of my hand.” (vv. 27, 28b)
Last Sunday the church was pictured as “a great draught of fish”, snatched out of Leviathan’s sea-realm by God’s apostolic net and brought into Christ’s boat, the church. By God’s capture we have been brought out of dark, chaotic waters into the light of salvation. Being “sea-snatched” speaks to our baptismal exodus to the Father’s shore (Jn. 21:1-14).
The post-resurrection “great draught of fish” signaled the Apostle’s return to being “fishers of men” (Lk. 5:10). If Peter and his brothers had continued being fishers of fish, they would have dried, salted, and smoked the catch for preservation and savory taste.
The Church preserves her catch of men and women as well. Christians are salted and smoked to a savory presence in the world (Mt. 5:13) before God. Today’s Apocalypse speaks to salt and smoke “sealing” into the 144,000, God’s militant new Israel, “coming out” of these end-times tribulations (Rev. 7:4, 5, 8, 14).
John’s sea-story anticipates today’s “Good Shepherd” Sunday. Jesus and Peter departed breakfast on the shore; Jesus’ changes his description of the church, no longer as fish, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these? … Feed my lambs … Tend my sheep … Feed my sheep” (Jn. 21:15-19); Jesus segued to sheep-flock talk.
By this morning’s apocalyptic vision we are to behold the “countless multitude” before God, the church triumphant united with 144,000 “male virgins”, the church militant, (Rev. 14:4) sealed for battle on earth as Jesus opens the seven-sealed scroll from God.
The twelve tribes of new Israel, 144,000 gather around Jesus, God’s new covenantal Ark proclaiming the Lion of Judah’s righteous victory; as we, his army, behold him the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world reigning with God.
What then is our “sealing” assurance in Christ, that “no one shall snatch [us] out of [his] hand”? Christian sealing begins with baptismal capture out of water and anointing in the HS to for receiving God’s Name; but that is only the beginning, there is process: washed and stripped of sin, salted, smoked, and exercised in tribulation from faith to faith.
St. Paul explained, on his way to Jerusalem he was concerned for the church, particularly those congregations of Ephesus suffering persecution from an idolatrous populous. Paul gathered these pastors for encouragement, just as Jesus urged Peter, to care for the flock “obtained with Christ’s blood”(Acts 20:28).
Paul warned, as did Jesus (cf. Jn. 10:12), that wolves would arise in the congregation to prey on the sheep; and some pastors would fall from the faith handed-on, and congregations would call to themselves some who teach “twisted things” for drawing disciples to themselves (Acts 19:29, 30).
Now we discern Jesus’ imperative to tend, care for, and feed his sheep snatched from the gates of hell at the price of gospel blood. Salting and smoking the Baptized in the church consists in attending and hearing the Shepherd’s Voice having captured us out of Leviathan’s thrall for ears opened to repentance and faith.
The church salts us by her teaching of apostolic law and gospel; we are smoked for eucharistic reception of Jesus’ crucified whole burnt offering to God. With salted mouths, and ears, hearts and minds smoked in Christ, we cry-out with him, “I thirst” (Jn. 19:28) for Living Water proceeding from his heart (Jn. 7:37).
By our ongoing Shepherd-flock relation, the church seals her slippery catch from reverting to wild waters and avoiding teachers who would pervert the church’s faith.
Last Sunday, “Seven Apostles” failed to comprehend, as many today, that Baptism, a singular event, continues in lasting effect. Baptism is the initiating Sacrament into the Boat, where we are dragged flipping and floundering, stripped of sin, salted, and smoked. This is our “sealing” on Way sometimes being dragged to heaven’s shore. Jesus assures, “My sheep hear my Voice, and I know them, and they follow me … and no one shall snatch them out of my hand”.
Paul recognized that some pastors would fall away from the faith to become wolves, guilty of Jesus’ blood (Acts 20:26, 27); thus, always and in current days. So where is the certainty of our salvation, that Satan, the world, and our flesh will not snatch us out of God’s Hand? Is it not in this; that word and Sacrament promises our purification, virgins into the 144,000 gathered to the Lamb for our atonement?
By the church’s pure teaching and delivery of Christ’s word and Sacrament we are those who receive election’s promise, “My sheep hear my Voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” The Christian congregation gathers, Lord’s Day-to-Lord’s Day, where time and eternity join the victorious “countless multitude” in the Lamb’s slain righteousness before the throne of God.
Our union in word and Sacrament, gives us to take the appearance of God’s Lamb, as “the sheep of his hand” (Ps. 95:7). As Christ’s new Israel, 144,000 militant virgins, we confess our faith by God’s law-gospel from Pulpit to Altar for a new purity in Christ.
In repentant faith we believe in Christ, the substance of the church’s one holy catholic and apostolic faith. In his promises is all Truth and surety. Amen.