My Dear Shepherds,
When newly redeemed Israel entered the wilderness, God sent them first to Mt. Sinai where they would learn what it meant to be God’s holy nation. Now our people find themselves in a kind of wilderness, a good time again to remember that we are God’s holy nation and royal priesthood. But today good shepherds orient them again and again to our better mountain home, described in Hebrews 12:22-24.
“You have come to Mt. Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God.” Lead your brothers and sisters to this homeland they have never seen. When they feel like they live in dangerous dark alleys, we take them again to Mt. Stronghold, to the heavenly Jerusalem—their “foundation of peace.” And when they feel as though they live and work in a “barren and howling wasteland,” a land of the doomed and dead, we take them again to the city of the living God where light is like oxygen and life grows on trees.
“You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly.” It is hard sometimes to sing the songs of Zion in isolation but remind God’s people of the unseen company of the shining ones all around them, angels who never tire of heaven’s festival, who sang for joy when we were first found and who will help us sing now and forever. Teach them the angelic repertoire: “Holy, Holy, Holy,” “Worthy is the Lamb,” and the hallelujahs of heaven.
“To the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven.” It is hard for people fretting over our shuddering economy to remember how rich they are. Tell them again that they are as rich as God’s own firstborn Son, “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ.” Tell them that, though they are often only a number here, in heaven their names are recorded in the Book of Life.
“You have come to God, the Judge of all.” Take them to stand quietly in the courtroom of the Holy One. Tell them of the drama there—their relentless and eloquent Accuser and of his air-tight case against them. Tell them of the Judge’s unbending justice and of sin’s certain death sentence. Then tell them of the substitutionary atonement and justification. Tell them of the Judge’s genius in satisfying his own nearly impossible demands by doing the unimaginable —rendering sinners righteous without violating justice. And tell them that now they need not tremble before this Judge nor cower before this bar, but they are to come boldly to his throne where they “will receive mercy and find grace to help them in time of need.”
“You have come to the spirits of righteous ones made perfect.” Introduce them to that great cloud of now-completed B.C. saints, each one urging us, “fix your eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.”
“To Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.” Abel’s blood cried out for God’s justice but Jesus’ blood preaches mercy. When your dear people are muddied with guilt and failure or when they think that God has slammed the door on them take them again to Jesus our Mediator, the Guarantor of God’s love and his never-failing presence. Tell them the life-sustaining promise that “nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Preach, as God’s Wordworkers have always preached, “God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith” (Rom.3:25).
So, dear pastors, as you go about your work constantly orient God’s beloved people to that great mountain message, to our glorious gospel stronghold.
Be ye glad!