With the Lord there are no accidents. He leaves nothing to chance. Just think how doomed you would be if something could catch Him by surprise. You get to the Judgment Seat and He says, “You know, I died to save you from all your sins I knew about. But I NEVER expected you to sin the way you did on July 30, 2011! So since I did not expect it, I did not pay for it. Therefore, sadly, I am going to have to say you have to depart from Me.”
Rest assured, that terrible conversation will never happen, not with our all-knowing Lord and Savior. Nothing surprises Him. The Lord is in control. Even during His earthly life, from the manger through the Cross to the Ascension, even when it seems as if everything is spinning out of control, Jesus is on top of it all.
We need to learn this, especially after a week of things we cannot control – like debt ceilings and death. The news of John the Baptist’s death had sent shockwaves throughout the region. King Herod had arrested John and then ordered, “Off with his head!” because John dared to preach against his adultery. When Jesus heard this, it caused Him to withdraw from the crowds who had listened to His parables.
I always thought it was to be by Himself. And then, poor Jesus, His plans for quiet time get disrupted by thoughtless people who cannot let the Guy have a moment to Himself. That just shows how much I need to learn that Jesus is in control at all times and never caught off guard. The crowds following Him and demanding His attention were all according to His plan. Jesus does not want them to go away because they are right where He wants them – so that He can do and speak and give the compassion His flock needed the most at the time of John’s death.
The sheep who followed the voice of their good Shepherd are far less prepared. They gave no thought to grabbing some bread and water for their journey – not even for the children. No sippy cups or baggies of Cheerios. They just came as they were – and Jesus knew that they would.
As prepared for stuff as we like to be, as self-reliant and in control as we think we are, as ready for anything that we try and make ourselves – what happens when we are not? When the unexpected disaster, disease or death catches us unprepared? What happens when we are out in the wilderness, that desolate place, and the sun is going down, and we have no place to go? What then?
Then Jesus has compassion. He does not lecture the people that they were dumb for not preparing. No common sense wisdom talk about the value of planning ahead, which is probably what the Disciples had in mind. Send the crowds away! But not Jesus, the Good Shepherd. He does not lead His flock into the wilderness unprepared. He is prepared at all times to care for His sheep. And this, His Disciples need to learn.
We need to learn this too. That when we are stuck in our wild and desolate places in our lives –feeling alone, forsaken, worried, vulnerable – that our Lord has not left us. And more importantly, that we are not in that place by accident. Our Shepherd has a plan for us precisely where we are at, in that unexpected place, to learn of Him and His care. That we would not to rely upon ourselves, but on Him. That we would trust that wherever our Shepherd leads us, it is good. It is what we need. For the Lord is still in control of it all, especially when it seems as if everything is going out of control.
The Shepherd tells His sheep to recline and rest in the green pastures by the quiet waters, and He spreads a table before them. Out here the troubles of John the Baptist are far behind. The hustle and bustle of life becomes a distant memory. Out here, worldly politics and power struggles do not interrupt the taste of Heaven that breaks into Earth. It is just the Shepherd and His sheep. And it was just five loaves and two fish. Yet that is more than enough for the God who “opens His hands and satisfies the desires of every living thing” (Psalm 145:16) on a daily basis. It is more than enough for the God who fed His people with manna for 40 years in the wilderness. It is more than enough – 12 baskets of leftovers after everyone had their fill!
When Matthew tells us the five thousand men, besides women and children, “were satisfied”, it means more than that they could not eat another bite. They were filled not only with earthly food, but with the Bread of Life. They were not sheep harassed and helpless. They were at peace. The flock at the feet of their Shepherd. There was nowhere else they would rather be.
Sometimes it takes the wilderness, the desolate places in our lives, to get us to understand that there is no better place to be than under Christ’s tender care. Certainly we hear this – we hear it from this pulpit, we read it from the Word during devotions. But do we ever really believe we are helpless until we have to face it? Until we have tried and failed to get ourselves out of the mess we are in? The hard truth that we try to deny is that we are just as weak and vulnerable and helpless when life goes well, when we are cozy in our beds, with full tummies and refrigerators. How easy it is to fall back into self-confidence and self-reliance. Looking to ourselves for what we need, instead of looking to our Shepherd.
And so out to the wilderness, the desolate times and places the Shepherd leads us – as individuals, as a congregation. Right where He wants us. Not to punish, but to have compassion. So that we can see we have nowhere else to go, and look to Him for all that we need. To turn the wilderness into green pastures, and the desolate times into His hour of blessing.
With the Lord there are no accidents. Nothing surprises our all-knowing Savior. Even when it seems as if everything is spinning out of control, Jesus is on top of it all. The Lord is spinning everything for us and for our salvation. As we heard last week, everything, even all that tribulation, distress, persecution and death stuff, along with the nicer things in life – everything is being worked by God for our advantage, weaved by God into a beautiful tapestry of good for those who love God. When He humbles us, it is so that He may exalt us. When He takes, it is so that He may give. He kills to make alive. He uproots to plant. He tears down to build up. To do all of this, God calls us to repent. To repent of our pride, our desires for control, our feelings of self-sufficiency and self-satisfaction. To repent of all that we are, for we are nothing without Christ.
And the Christ who leads us to this place of repentance does not send us away empty or leave us there to fill ourselves. He has compassion. He who will not leave His flock alone in the wilderness to fend for themselves, He goes alone to the desolation of the Cross. Not caught by surprise, not out of control, but in control, willingly, speaking of His free sacrifice ahead of time. For the purpose of taking our sin away from us, to give His life to pay for ours, so that we may not only avoid punishment, but also live – with sins forgiven and death defeated through the very same body and blood that feeds us in this life at this Table. That we may live knowing we are never alone with the Good Shepherd leading us through it all. That we may live not with bellies full here for a while, but live forever in Paradise, the Kingdom which has no end.
For one day Jesus will lead us through the valley of the shadow of our own death – and He will draw others out to the desolate place of your funeral, so that once they are away from the hustle and bustle of their everyday lives, Christ would feed them with His Word as He has fed you. And even during your funeral, He will be with you, and you with Him. This is the reason He came to our world, to come to you and go through death and into life for you, to bring you, His sheep, from death to life. That you may be His own, and live under Him in His kingdom, in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness. So rest in this peace, knowing that the Lord has left nothing to chance. Amen.