God Raised Your Great Shepherd from the Dead

A Farewell Sermon

On January 27, 1980 I preached my candidating sermon at Bethlehem on Philippians 1:20, “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death.” The title was: “Magnifying Christ in Life and Death.” On February 13, the church voted 149 to 17 to call me as pastor. My official employment began July 1 and on July 13, 1980 I preached my first message as your pastor. So as I conclude my ministry on March 31, 2013, I have served in this role for 32 years and 9 months.

There are many personal things to say. I spoke 20 of them to the staff on Tuesday. Twenty reasons I am overflowing with thankfulness. I will say some more on April 14 at Grace Church in Eden Prairie. I hope you can come.

But this is the Lord’s day. And it is highest day of the year, Easter Sunday. And this is a service of worship. And it has been our commitment in all these years together to preach not ourselves but Jesus Christ as Lord (2 Corinthians 4:5). People ought not to go to church to hear the sentiments or the ideas of a man, but to hear the word of God.

An Unshakable Hope

So I invite you to turn with me to Hebrews 13:20–21. There are five reasons why I chose this text.

  • First, because it is Easter and the text speaks of God raising our the Lord Jesus from the dead.

  • Second, because it refers to Jesus as your Great Shepherd and I want to leave the truth ringing in your ears that earthly shepherds come and go, but you have a Great Shepherd who will never leave you or forsake you.

  • Third, it is a benediction, a doxology, and therefore has the ring of Christ-exalting finality about it.

  • Fourth, because in it there are six great, God-centered truths that beam magnificent, unshakeable pillars of our life together for 33 years.

  • And fifth because it is in the Bible and I would not dare to claim any authority for this message if it came from anywhere else.

So follow along as I read, and see if you can pick out six God-centered pillar truths of Bethlehem.

Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.

I’ll mention the six pillar truths of this text and then we will, with some fitting sense of nostalgia, linger among these pillars and let their grand old familiarity fill us with sweet thankfulness and unshakeable hope for the future.

  1. God is the absolutely existing God.

  2. God is a reconciling God.

  3. God is a covenant-keeping God.

  4. God is a shepherding God.

  5. God is a sanctifying God.

  6. God is a Christ-exalting God.

1. God is the absolutely existing God.

The benediction begins with God. “Now may the God . . .”

And that is fitting because everything that is not God begins with God. There is nothing before God. And therefore nothing above God. God gives an account to nothing. He is measured by nothing. Nothing sustains, or improves him, or in any way contributes to his value. He is absolute being, and absolute value. All other being depends on his. And all that has any value has it because of him.

Therefore, as I said Thursday night nothing in all the world or in all the universe or in the gospel can be known in its true relations and true proportions until one knows first that the value of God compares to the value of the universe (and everything in it) the way the value of White house compares to the value of a speck of dust on the President’s desk.

Behold, the nations are like a drop from a bucket, and are accounted as the dust on the scales; behold, he takes up the coastlands like fine dust. . . . All the nations are as nothing before him, they are accounted by him as less than nothing and emptiness. (Isaiah 40:15, 17).

Twenty years ago I preached a message called: “God is a Very Important Person.” I pleaded with pastors and teachers to stop thinking of God merely as the foundation of the building of their life, because foundations are hidden, forgotten things. Foundations are taken for granted while people love the food of the kitchen and sex in the bedroom and the family in the den — too often the real gods of our lives while we pay token tribute to the unseen, unloved, uncelebrated, unexalted cement block foundation in the basement called God Almighty.

And my point was: God does not like to be taken for granted. The heavens are not telling the glory of God because he likes to be taken for granted. From him and through him and to him are all things, to be conscious, hourly glory (Romans 11:36). Almost every page of the Bible sparkles with his presence, not his assumption. God created the universe to be known, and treasured, and enjoyed, and glorified. He means to be the aroma of the toast and bacon in the kitchen, and the deepest savor of holy sex in the bedroom, and the very air that the family breathes with joy in the den.

As a young pastor I dreaded the indictment of Albert Einstein. I still do. Charles Misner wrote:

He must have looked at what the preachers said about God and felt that they were blaspheming. He had seen much more majesty than they had ever imagined, and they were just not talking about the real thing. . . . He simply felt that religions he’d run across did not have proper respect . . . for the author of the universe. (Quoted in First Things, Dec. 1991, No. 18, p. 63).

When I read that 22 years ago I bowed my head and prayed (and I pray now), O God, never, never, never let me speak of you so that Albert Einstein would say: “He simply hasn’t seen the glory.”

So if you have heard around Bethlehem terms like Godward and God-centered, and God-besotted, there’s a reason.

2. God is a reconciling God.

Verse 20: “Now may the God of peace . . .”

Our absolutely existing God is a peace-filled and a peace-making God. Behind the beauty of God’s peacemaking is terrible reality of our sin that alienates us from God. “Your iniquities,” Isaiah says, “have made a separation between you and your God” (Isaiah 59:2).

But this book of Hebrews rings with God’s movement to overcome this alienation. Hebrews 1:3, “purification for sins.” Hebrews 2:17, “propitiation of sins.” Hebrews 5:1, “sacrifices for sins.” Hebrews 9:22, “forgiveness of sins.” Hebrews 9:28, “bearing the sins of many.” Hebrews 10:4, “take away sins.” Hebrews 10:19, “offering for sin.” This is the God of peace moving in history to make peace with his enemies by the sacrifice of his Son.

Romans 5:10: “If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” And when God makes peace with himself through Christ, he give us peace-making power. Ephesians 2:14–16,

He himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility . . . to reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility.

We have known our breakdowns in peacemaking in these 33 years together. But O Lord, how I rejoice and am filled with thanks as I look back over the amazing measure of peace we have enjoyed together! And even in the breakdowns God has given grace to preserve us — our church, our souls. And you know this is a work of the God of peace, because warm-fuzzies are not in John Piper’s repertoire. The flaws of this church are easy to trace to me. The peace? That goes to God.

3. God is a Covenant-keeping God.

Hebrews 13:20: “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant. . .”

This is the right way to read this verse. By the blood of the eternal covenant God raised Jesus from the dead. The covenant that Christ secured with his own blood secured his own resurrection. What was this covenant?

It was the covenant described in Hebrews 8: 8–12:

I will establish a new covenant . . . I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. . . . They shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more.

Forgiven sins, knowing God, God being our God, and the law of God — the revealed will of God — written on our hearts. This is what Jesus bought for us. Luke 22:20, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood.” The blood of the covenant is the blood of Christ shed to secure the promises of the covenant. God is covenant keeping God at the cost of the life of his Son.

And perhaps the best summary of what he bought for us is Jeremiah 32:40. I preached on this at the 125th anniversary of our church June 16, 1996. “I will make with them an everlasting covenant, that I will not turn away from doing good to them. And I will put the fear of me in their hearts, that they may not turn from me.” Christ died to guarantee for us that God would never turn away from doing good to us, and that God would never let any of his children finally turn away from him.

O how we have reveled in this truth together! All the promises of God are yes! in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). He bought them. All our security is yes in Christ Jesus. He will not let us turn away. All future grace is guaranteed by the blood of Jesus. “He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32). Every need met according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:19). No good thing withheld (Psalm 84:11). All things working together for our good (Romans 8:28). Over every calamity of our lives are written the words to Satan and to our adversaries, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).

God is a covenant-keeping, promise-keeping God. And the seal over every promise is the blood of the eternal covenant raising Jesus from the dead to guarantee every blessing in the heavenly places. Which leads us to . . .

4. God is a Shepherding God.

Hebrews 13:20: “Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant. . .”

Here is where this message started. It’s Easter. And it’s the last day of my office as shepherd in this flock. We could not have chosen a better day to finish. God raised your Great Shepherd from the dead!

The most important thing about an earthly shepherd is that he faithfully points to the Great Shepherd. So Bethlehem know this: I have loved shepherding this flock — feeding you, interceding for you, protecting you, caring for you. There have been books here and there. There have been conferences here and there. But week in and week out Bethlehem has been my life. And for me it has been so good. Christ has been a merciful Chief Shepherd to me, very merciful.

But now the point of this text is not about me or about Jason. It’s about Jesus. Verse 20: God “brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep.” Surely the point is clear: You have a great living Shepherd. And this Shepherd is not me and not Jason. It is Jesus. And he is more alive and more present than we are. More alive because he is the source of life and because he cannot die. More present because by his Spirit he is always with you. “I will be with you always to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

We visit you in the hospital. He never leaves your bedside. Never. We grieve with you over your lost children. He carries them to himself, and heals your broken hearts. We tell you how you were born again. He witnesses by his Spirit that you are a child of God. We give you precious promises of everlasting joy. He seals you for the day of redemption. We counsel you with fallible wisdom. He guides you personally with his eye upon you. We warn you to fight sin. He knows your frame and fights for you.

Do not grieve at my departure, because not only has God unmistakably raised up Jason Meyer, as your under-shepherd, but God raised up Jesus from the dead as your Great Shepherd. Trust him.

5. God is a sanctifying God.

“Now may the God of peace . . . equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ.”

In one sense I view all my preaching as an effort to apply this miracle to your lives. Notice how doing the will of God — doing what pleases him — happens. First God “equips you with everything good that you may do his will.” God does not expect us to make bricks without straw. We are not required to do what there is no provision to do. He gives us what we need to do his will (see 2 Corinthians 9:8; 1 Corinthians 10:13).

But that’s not all. He does more. He moves in: “working in us that which is pleasing in his sight.” Literally it goes like this: May he “equip you with everything good that you may do (poihvsai) his will, doing (poiw◊n) in us that which is pleasing in his sight.” We do it because he is doing it in us (Philippians 2:12–13). No. “Because” is not the right word. We do his will and find that in the doing he is the doer. In our doing, he is doing. His is not first and ours second. His is first, and ours is first, because his is ours.

How many times have I quoted with you 1 Corinthians 15:10, “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

This is the mystery of sanctification. God at work in you, so that all your doing of the will of God, all your doing of what is pleasing in his sight is God’s doing in your doing.

Don’t ever leave this mystery. Spend the rest of your life going deep into what it means to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for God is at work in you.

6. God is a Christ-exalting God.

Hebrews 13:21: May God “equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.”

All God’s sanctifying work he does “through Jesus Christ.” With his blood Christ bought the new covenant promises that the law would be written on our hearts. And as the risen shepherd he is actively involved in seeing that it happens. And therefore to him be glory forever. God planned it that way, and therefore he is a Christ-exalting God.

This is where I began my ministry almost 33 years ago. This is where we will end. My text then was: “It is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death” (Philippians 1:20). My aim and my prayer was to be a God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated pastor. My closing word now is “To him — to Jesus Christ — be glory forever and ever. Amen.

Let’s pray: Father, I ask that you would be for Bethlehem the absolute, unshakable existing one; that in Jesus Christ you would be fully reconciled to this flock and they to you, and they to each other in your blood-bought peace; that you would keep your covenant with them and fulfill every promise in your word; that you would sanctify them, wholly working in them all that is pleasing in your sight; and that your Son would be for them a great Shepherd; so that all their lives they would be satisfied in him above all things, and he would be glorified in them. In the name of Jesus, our risen, living, Great Shepherd. Amen.