The Rose of Sharon, Part Two
I continue my message from last week which I titled, “A Rose by Any Other Name.” And if you were here last week and you remember, I told you that phrase is from Romeo and Juliet. The entire phrase is, “A rose by any other name smells as sweet. And so, Jesus, by whatever Name or title we know Him – Christ, Son of God, Lamb of God, Messiah, Redeemer, Savior, Shepherd . . . by whatever name we know Him, and whatever we call Him – His fragrance is even sweeter, sweeter than that of the Rose of Sharon.
Here is our text: Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.” He *said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 16:13-17)
We looked last week at the two questions Jesus asked them: Who people say He is; and then He asked who THEY say He is. And once again, I will remind all of us: Jesus asks you and me today the same two questions.
According to the text, some in that first century were saying Jesus was John the Baptist; others said He was Elijah; Still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets. And according to recent surveys of adults, the responses to the question who THEY say Jesus is run the gamut from a magician and charlatan to a nice guy to the incarnate God.
Well, our answer ought to be – it MUST be if we hope to have eternal life – that Jesus is Jehovah God in the flesh of a man. And we saw only a few of the dozens of texts which give evidence to that fundamental truth.
In the Church and among those who seek to love and to serve our Lord, Jesus has many names and titles – Messiah, or Christ. Lamb of God. Shepherd. Lord. Savior, and so on. But whatever title we give Him and whatever is the name we call Him – His fragrance is and will always ge sweeter than the Rose of Sharon.
Last week we examined Him as Savior – saving us God's wrath against our sins – past sins and ongoing sins. Today I want us to look at three more names or titles by which we know Him: Shepherd, Lover, and Lord.
I memorized this text in Isaiah a long time ago because it spoke so deeply to my heart. Many of you know I never had a father who loved me. Even cared about me. The man whose genetic material I carry left when I was four. My second father, whose last name I carry – I don’t remember him ever even putting his arm around me.
And sadly, some of you in this room can identify with that kind of parent – typically it was a father, but more often than not, sometimes even a mother. Which suddenly now reminds me of another text I memorized a long while ago. God said to His people, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, or have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands. Your walls (meaning?) are always before Me.” (Isaiah 49:15-16)
So, having never had a father who cared about me, this text about a shepherd became a soothing balm over that open wound. And if you also can identify with my own past, I hope this text can become for you a soothing and healing balm: “Like a shepherd He will tend His flock. In His arm He will gather the lambs and carry them in His bosom . . . .” (Isaiah 40:11)
I love that word-picture. Jesus, who calls Himself the good shepherd, bends down and gathers me and you in His strong and mighty arm, and then pulls us close to His chest as He makes His way back home.
Listen! He told the story of the one lost sheep – He told the story to make a vital point to you and to me. The 99 were safe and content. Only the one was lost. Only the one was lonely. Only the one was frightened. And cold. And hungry.
And you will remember Jesus put proverbial shoe-leather to that story when He left the crowds gathering to see Him and hear Him – He left those crowds to sail across the Sea of Galilee to the country of the Gadarenes. Why did He do that? Because on the other side was a man plagued with demons, living naked and in caves. Howling in desperate agony. Cold. Hungry. Rejected by his family, shunned by former friends.
It was for THAT man that Jesus left the 99 – so to speak – and look for the one lost lamb.
Listen again to the word of God as Jesus calls to you and me who know we are in desperate need of a good shepherd, a kind shepherd, a loving shepherd: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:25-30)
Do you need a shepherd? Even in your old age, do you recognize this about yourself that the Good Shepherd calls you His lamb? His little lamb? And He so often gathers us in His powerful arm and pulls us close to His chest. Even when we are completely unaware of His presence and His strength and the warmth of His chest.
Do you remember this poem? “One night I dreamed a dream. I was walking along the beach with my Lord. Across the dark sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene, I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand, one belonging to me and one to my Lord. When the last scene of my life shot before me, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. There was only one set of footprints. I realized that this was at the lowest and saddest times of my life. This always bothered me and I questioned the Lord about my dilemma.
“Lord, You told me when I decided to follow You, You would walk and talk with me all the way. But I’m aware that during the most troublesome times of my life there is only one set of footprints. I just don’t understand why, when I need You most, You leave me.”
He whispered, “My precious child, I love you and will never leave you, never, ever, during your trials and testings. When you saw only one set of footprints, It was then that I carried you.”
Christian, please hear this. And yes, “I” too, need to hear this. Like a shepherd, Jesus has always and will always – in this life and in the next – Jesus will always be our Shepherd. He will always gather us in His arm and carry us close to His chest. Like a shepherd, Jesus will guard His children. And I hope to the bottom of my soul that one of these days perhaps I will be able to say with the apostle Paul: “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39)
And my self-recognition of my need to grow in grace and faith and trust is one of the reasons I wrote this poem a decade ago. I share it with you now because it speaks to closely to this Biblical truth about our Good Shepherd:
“When I finally leave this body and stand in the presence of my Father's glory, when He reaches from His throne and draws me to His lap, when I then understand what I could not understand in life – the enormity of His incomprehensible power, the limitlessness of His reign over every fiber of eternity, that no creature in heaven or on earth can open what he shuts or close what He opens, that the totality of creation throughout countless galaxies bow at His presence . . . I think my first thought – when I realize where I am and in whose arms I rest – my first thought will not be shrouded in sorrow for my many sins, for things I did or did not do in life. I think I will be most sorry that I didn’t trust Him more, when I had so many chances to do so.”
So, along with the title, “Savior” – as we saw last week, “Shepherd’ is just one more name or title of our Rose of Sharon. Here now is another: Love.
I know as Christians – even the non-believer – hear it so often that God loves us that we tend to lose the depth of that truth. It gets to be, in the minds of some, that God likes us a lot. And that is precisely what Satan wants us to think – God likes us a lot. When he cannot get us to thinking God is perpetually angry with us, or that God has turned away from us – then he will be content to get us to think God only likes us a lot. Why? Because our human experience has informed us time and time again that if someone only likes us – even if it is ‘a lot’ – that can easily turn into dislike, even rejection, when we do something particularly egregious.
We’ve all had that kind of experience – with former friends, with a child, with parents, even with a spouse who vowed to us to stay with us “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death do us part.”
Good friends, family, a spouse – those from whom we have the RIGHT to expect them to love us through thick and thin too often terribly disappoint our trust. And so, sometimes some of us have developed a deep-rooted distrust even of our Savior, our shepherd.
And yet, God tells us repeatedly, from Genesis through Revelation, that He loves us. And that NOTHING and NO ONE can separate us from His love. Here is St. Paul’s well-known encouragement to the Christians at Rome:
35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 Just as it is written, “For Your sake we are being put to death all day long; We were considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35-39)
And I am now reminded of the lyrics of a song sung by Mark Bishop. I’ve played it here in the past: “You can’t say He didn’t love us, when He loved us from the cross.”
We REALLY, REALLY have to get this into our spirits and our souls. I certainly do. God loves us. Until we really get this, then when life kicks us to the dirt, we might end up staying in the dirt. That could be a reason Paul prayed that the Christians at Ephesus: “[M]ay be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that [they] may be filled up to all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3:18-19)
And finally for this series, we’ve looked at the names and titles of Jesus our Savior, our Shepherd, and our Lover. Now we have to look at Jesus as our Lord.
I would not be a good bond-servant of Christ, a good and faithful slave of Christ, if I neglected drawing our attention to the eternally viral truth that Jesus is Lord.
The title represents the idea of Master to slave. May we never forget that or minimize that relationship. And may we never all into the pattern of Israel – God's chosen nation. Here is what the Lord said through Isaiah to Israel – and His warning to us: “Sons I have reared and brought up, but they have revolted against Me. 3 “An ox knows its owner, and a donkey its master’s manger, But Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” 4 Alas, sinful nation, people weighed down with iniquity, offspring of evildoers,
Sons who act corruptly! They have abandoned the Lord, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they have turned away from Him.” (Isaiah 1:2-4)
And we must not forget what Jesus warned regarding the final judgment – a warning especially to those who THINK they’re Christians, but have deceived only themselves; People who even routinely received Holy Communion each week, but were unworthy to do so because of their persistent sins:
“Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; 27 and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; Depart from Me, all you evildoers’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Luke 13:24-28)
We must never even consider exchanging the culture’s approval for God's approval. Such a decision WILL prove catastrophic and WILL result in hearing the Lord Jesus tell us at the Judgment: Depart from Me, you workers of iniquity. No surprise, then, that Satan’s children and workers in the media and in various church pulpit tell us that what St Paul wrote to the Christians in Corinth is outdated and uselessly old-fashioned. They say modern man has evolved in our morality. But here is what Paul wrote:
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate [i.e. male prostitutes], nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)
And by the way, don’t think for a moment that Jesus is not watching how we vote during our elections. For good reason the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to tell Timothy: “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.” (1 Timothy 5:22) In other words, what the apostle told Timothy was simply this: Don’t appoint anyone to service in the church without proper and thorough investigation of their character. Otherwise, Timothy becomes complicit in the sins they commit. And if that warning works for the Church, don’t you think it works also for governmental appointments? Of course, it does.
Jesus is Savior, saving us from God's wrath against the deadly wages of sin. Jesus is Shepherd, gathering the lost and lonely and frightened in His arms and carrying them close to Himself. Jesus is Lover – lover of our souls. That’s precisely why He did what He did on that cross. But in all those names and titles for the Rose of Sharon, we must never neglect the fundamental truth that forms the basis of our relationship with the Father through His Son; And that truth is this: Jesus is Lord.
And because He is Lord, He does not REQUEST we obey Him; He DEMANDS we obey Him. In all matters of entertainment, of business, of relationships, of lifestyles, of everything.
Better than even the Rose of Sharon – Jesus’ fragrance permeates time and space and eternity, itself. And He is, even now, this moment, reaching across time and space and eternity to offer you and me – and all who want to be gathered into His Shepherding arm – His offer of eternal life to those who obey Him.