We are recording this episode of Ask Pastor John at the very end of March. You’ve been a pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church in the Twin Cities now for nearly 33 years and on Sunday of this week you preach for the final time as a pastor. Your final sermon falls on Easter. What’s going on in your mind right now as you think ahead to this capstone sermon?
Well, the irony of that question is that it is Thursday of holy week, and I will preach on Easter. I will start preparing my sermon tomorrow. I am laboring like crazy to get ready for the Gospel Coalition right now and for my Maundy Thursday talk tonight.
I have chosen my text. It is from Hebrews 13:20–21, and I do have an idea where I want to go. That is why I chose the text. So, I can say a word about what I am thinking, though how I am going to say it and what I am going to say is not ready in any detail at all.
I chose that text, number one, because it is Easter. It begins, “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep” (Hebrews 13:20). So I chose it, first, because God brought again from the dead our shepherd. But I chose it, second, because I am a shepherd, and I am leaving my flock. I want to say to them, “You have a great shepherd.”
“You cannot put your final hope in any man. But you have a great shepherd.”
Jason Meyer and John Piper are both going to be dead someday. You cannot put your final hope in any man. But you have a great shepherd. I just love that phrase, “great shepherd” — “God brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep.” He knows there are a lot of sub-shepherds — pity, little, sinful, fallible, and failing sub-shepherds — that cause all kinds of trouble in the church as well as bring some blessing.
People have a shepherd, and he has been raised from the dead. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Wherever they are in the world, whatever their circumstances, whatever people have failed them, whatever disappointments they have in the church, they have a great shepherd, and he is alive on Easter and forever. Therefore, John Piper can go; Jason Meyer can go; Jesus will never ever go. That is the gist of what I want to say.
Excellent. One of your heroes in the faith, Jonathan Edwards, who pastored in Northampton for 24 years, he preached a farewell sermon — under much different circumstances of course. Are you taking and cues from him on how to do this?
I am not looking to Edwards for clues on how to do this because our situations are so different, but now that you have mentioned it, I might go look at it.
I said to Noël, one of the great ironies of this last week is that almost all my tension and all my energy is thinking beyond Easter. I wish that weren’t true in a way. I wish I weren’t under such pressure to get ready for what is coming in the week after Easter so that I could sit here and savor more the ending of this 33 years.
“Whatever your circumstances or whatever people have failed you, you have a great shepherd, and he is alive.”
Though I said to the Lord, “You know, I don’t know why you set it up this way, but, in a way, it feels very gratifying because it feels like is not a big, cataclysmic end.” I am not asking, “What will I do on the first of April when I am unemployed by Bethlehem?” It feels like I am bouncing up and down on a diving board, and I am ready to do a double gainer into a new pool. And I just happen to have to preach at Bethlehem one more time in the process. So, it is ok. I think the Lord will give me enough grace tomorrow when I give myself wholly and emotionally and intellectually to framing that last sermon. I think I will be able to savor this moment very deeply.