First Sunday in Advent. (Second sermon)
Thus saith the Lord my God: Feed the flock of the slaughter. Zech.11:4
And I will feed the flock of slaughter, even you “ O poor of the flock”. Zech.11:7
God had through the prophets often and in many ways warned the children of Israel of that misfortune which would undoubtedly come upon them because of their ungodly life, but those hardened ones did not lend their ears to the exhortation of the prophets and therefore did not repent but became angry at the prophets. "The Lord has not so spoken, the prophets speak into the wind, they do not have God's word." Because of this ungodliness and hardening, they become ready for the slaughter or to be destroyed as the fat sheep, whom the Lord has intended to destroy, in prophet Zechariah's time the ungodly people of Israel were already prepared for the slaughter, the destruction and end of this unfortunate people was very near. The sorrowles people of that time were like the fat sheep, whom the Lord has intended to destroy, therefore the Lord said to the prophet, "Feed the flock of the slaughter." But it is not written how he must feed the sheep of the slaughter, we think only from all indications of the matter that one sorrowless people who run open-eyed to destruction are like the sheep of the slaughter, of which another prophet has said that they are fattened as for the day of slaughter, and who is he who fattens them? Surely the right shepherds have not fattened them; but the enemy who is a man killer, who wants to destroy people, he has fattened the sheep for slaughter; they are already marked for slaughtering when the measure of sin is fulfilled; when they become very fat from the blood of the prophets and the Christians; then God gives them, into the care of Satan to be slaughtered. So anyway it went with the Jews before their country was destroyed, also then when the heathens brought them into captivity at Babylon and also then when the kingdom of the Jews was destroyed by the Romans, both times they were as sheep for slaughter, marked with the mark of the beast, as John saw them in the book of Revelations, all who did not have the mark of an angel on their forehead, they were marked with the mark of the beast. And so the Jews were like sheep for slaughter both at prophet Zechariah's time and also at the time of the Saviour, for which reason the Lord says, "Feed my flock, of the slaughter". Some expounders of the scriptures bring this to the time of the Saviour who also fed the sheep for slaughter, that is that they had to preach to them as to prisoners of death, which the priests prepared for death. That word,"Feed my flock of the slaughter" is therefore one commandment given to prophet Zechariah and also to the Saviour, that they must be preached to in a different way than to those poor wretched, who are lean, therefore are not fit for slaughter, to those sheep of slaughter must be preached as to prisoners of death but we know that some prisioners of death are so hardened that they will not receive anything from the Word of God; there are very few prisoners of death who the priests can so prepare for death so that they would be prepared, for most pris oners of death are so hardened, that they do not want to confess their evil deeds although the offense is proven in court through witnesses and the judgement has already fallen upon them, all the same they are so hardened, they do not want to even confess their sins to the priest. And when the priest encourages them to penitance, they blaspheme him and say, it is not necessary to confess, and they call the priest a black devil who encourages them to penitence. Such prisioners of death are like sheep for slaughter, who are forcibly dragged to the place of execution, who have such stiff necks that it takes four people to press their heads on the block. But such is depicted in the Bible, one sorrowless and hardened people, to whom the judgement is read from God's law book, and they still do not want to receive God's word. If one priest encourages them to confess their evil deeds and to regret their sins, they answer, "The Lord has not so spoken, the prophets speak into the wind, they do not have the Word of God". Such hardened ones look at the priests as black devils, hate their teachers and the Christians who encourage them to penitence. Such are the sheep for slaughter. And when the Lord said to prophet Zechariah,"Feed my flock of the slaughter", it signifies, you must preach to them like to hardened prisoners of death, who have received the judgement but still do not want to confess their evil deeds or regret their sins. Now what can a teacher do with such ones; he feeds them like sheep for slaughter, but he cannot so prepare them for death, that they would be prepared, but he must finally tie a black scarf over their eyes, give them over to the executioner and leave with a sorrowful heart. If someone asks of the priest, what kind of a feeling do you have of that prisoner of death? He has to say, there is no hope of his salvation, he went to death unrepentant and hardened.
To me is given of the Lord also this commandment, Feed the sheep of slaughter, and I feed them for the sake of the poor wretched ones. Here it is heard what the prophet's intention was, that he would not have otherwise fed the sheep for slaughter but because of the poor wretched ones. How do you now understand these words of the Bible, you wise of the world who always say, surely we can see for ourselves from the book? When now the expounders of the scriptures say so, that these words pertain especially to the Saviour, who feeds the fat sheep because of the poor wretched ones, but have not said who the sheep for slaughter are or what kind the poor wretched ones are, so we must then ask of the wise of the world who say, we can see for ourselves from the book, how do you understand this place? The natural intellect says thus; When people are compared to sheep then it can be surmised that the fat sheep are understood to be such people, who are acceptable to the Lord, as also it states in the Swedish Bible of the fat sheep, that the Lord protects them and restores them although in the Finnish Bible it states: The Lord will destroy the fat sheep. If now this place had been translated right in the Swedish Bible, that the Lord restores the fat sheep, then it follows that the fat sheep are such people who are very acceptable to the Lord, as in a natural sense fat sheep are in people's minds better than lean sheep who are no good for slaughter. But turn now your intellect to this parable of the sheep and think if you were one of the sheep and you had the understanding that the fat sheep would be slaughtered first but the poor wretched would be saved, then you would always want to be a poor wretched sheep, for the poor wretched sheep can live.
And think now you wise of the world, who has understood better, the old testament which says that the Lord restores the fat sheep, or that which says the Lord will destroy the fat sheep. I think that he, himself was a fat sheep who said that the Lord restores the fat sheep. We understand so that the fat sheep are those sheep for slaughter who are already appointed sheep for slaughter.
When now the expounders of the Bible have said that these, the Lord's words to Zechariah 11:4 Feed my flock of the slaughter, pertain to the Saviour, so we must today observe how the Saviour feeds the sheep of slaughter for the sake of the poor wretched ones. But are there now poor wretched sheep here for whose sake the sheep of slaughter must be fed? Now where are those poor wretched sheep, which that Good Shepherd pities, where are the miserable and poor wretched sheep, whom the Good Shepherd of Israel must carry, where are those lambs who He feeds with food and gives milk to drink. Where are those poor ones who are in such depression they cannot follow the flock? Where are you poor wretched sheep, whom the fat sheep have butted, do you have such poor pasture that you are not able to keep up with your mother. I know that the Shepherd pities you, he will not leave you to die on the road but will lift you up from the muddy bog, into which you have sunk and will carry you in His arms and will give you milk to drink so you will be able to follow the flock. Hear Shepherd of Israel the pitiful cry of the poor wretched sheep when they cry unto you. Our Father, etc.
The gospel Matt.21:1.
Today's gospel is taken from Matthew, 21st chapter, where the evangelist writes how Jesus rode upon the female ass. But Luke has written more of this matter from which we hear that Jesus drove out the buyers and sellers from the temple, upset the exchange tables, drove out from the temple the two-legged and four-legged creatures who drank and dunged there, and all the children began to shout in the temple Hosanna to the Son of David, then the pharisees became offended at that shouting, but the mooing of the animals in the temple did not offend them, nor did the pharisees become offended at the din of the buyers and sellers or at their cursing: but when the children and the disciples began to cry out in the temple for honor to the Saviour, then the pharisees got an earache and the voice of the children bothered them. This zeal of the Saviour indicates to us, how He feeds the sheep of the slaughter, because of the poor wretched sheep, for the Jews were already in the Saviour's time sheep for slaughter, they were because of their hardening near their end. John said to them, "The axe is laid at the root of the tree." God's punishment is at the door, but these hardened ones did not believe that they were that unfruitful tree at whose root the axe was laid. They did not believe that they were those sheep for slaughter who Jesus feeds, when He took a scourge and drove the sheep for slaughter out of the temple. Let us observe through God's grace, how Jesus feeds the sheep for slaughter because of the poor wretched ones. But if the sheep of slaughter knew that they were appointed from above, sheep for slaughter, the wretches would not be so bold to butt the poor wretched sheep so much.
The first consideration: Who are the sheep for slaughter? We understand well that the sheep for slaughter are one sorrowless and hardened people, whose end and destruction is very near, so it was with the people of Judah in Zechariah's time, so also with the people in the Saviour's time, but the wretches did not believe that their end and destruction was so near, they did not believe that they were those sheep for slaughter, who were already appointed by God, sheep for slaughter. And when do the sorrowless believe that their end is so near? But how now does the Shepherd feed the sheep for slaughter? Yes, He takes a scourge and drives them out of the temple and says, "It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but ye have made it a den of thieves."
In what way do the sorrowless and hardened make the house of prayer into a den of thieves? Yes, when the sorrowless come into the prayer house, they then mock the Christians tears, also laugh in the church, show their foolishness in the prayer house, some there fly behind the corner like owls hunting for mice. Is this life of the sorrowless better than the life of the Jews, when they kept sheep for slaughter in the temple and traded with them? But very severely the Saviour rules these sheep for slaughter, he does not speak to them in meekness, he does not beg them and say, "dear Jews, do not keep ungodly life in the temple and around the temple! But stop now your ungodly life and make repentance." But he only took a scourge, drove them out of the church and upset the wine-merchant's exchange tables. Was he not then in pride when he took a hold of them so. We do not know. The Pharisees anyway complained greatly about the zeal of the Nazarene and asked with whose power do you do this? Who has given you the authority to do thus? The pharisees also became offended at the children crying in the temple as these Pharisees became offended at the voice of God's children in the church. That crying of the children in the church is so horrid that the pharisees cannot stand to hear it. But let us observe for what reason the Saviour so severely rules and feeds the sheep for slaughter or why He is so severe and harsh to the sorrowless people, why he reproaches and condemns them and barks at them as being an adulterous generation, a generation of vipers and whited walls? The sorrowless of this time say that such barking and condemning does not belong anywhere. By it the people only harden and become worse. So they do, they harden through judgement and become worse. So also did the Jews, they hardened at the condemnation of John the Baptist and the Saviour and finally become so hardened they gnashed their teeth and stopped their ears when one Christian Stephan began to upbraid them, "ye do always resist the Holy Ghost, as your fathers did, so do ye". And for that reason the Saviour said to them "fulfill the measure of your fathers", Now therefore the Jews can say to John the Baptist and the Saviour, you have made us hardened with your harsh judgement, you have condemned us to hell, so answer now for our souls. But was it the teachers fault that the Jews hardened? When the Bible says, let him who is unjust become more unjust. A person must become a devil, but if he through this hardening comes to realize and know his devilish nature, the devil would become distressed, but the hardened heart swells from day to day, the longer he lives, the more terrible and horrible he becomes, finally the devil of hatred turns their eyes around that they look at God as satan and satan as God. The Saviour becomes a Samaritan in the eyes of the hardened, a disturber of the people and a blasphemer of God, in the eyes of the hardened the Christians become proud, devilish, false prophets and wild spirits. But whores, thieves, murderers, drunkards, cursers and fighters become beloved Christians. And the apostles of the devil become the best priests. Behold, so the shepherd feeds the sheep for slaughter, very severely He rules them. And for what reason is he so harsh and severe to condemn them? Yes, only because of the poor wretched sheep he so condemns the sheep of slaughter.
The second consideration: Who are the poor wretched sheep? The Lord says, Feed the flock of the slaughter and I feed the flock of the slaughter for the sake of the poor wretched sheep. Here we hear that the shepherd would not feed the sheep of slaughter if there were not these poor wretched sheep, who need the help of the Shepherd. No doubt now all understand that with the sheep for slaughter are understood the sorrowless and hardened, whose end is near. The sheep for slaughter are the fat sheep, whom prophet Ezekiel says in the Bible trample the pasture or overlook the Word of God, and foul the springs, that is the sacraments, as for example many in this congregotion overlook the Lord's Supper but not only that, that the fat sheep trample the pasture and foul the springs but they butt these poor wretched sheep, that is, they despise the penitent, mock their tears and persecute the penitent souls with spiritual hatred. This butting is also that wrong doctrine which the fat sheep for slaughter proclaim, when they twist and turn the Word of God with the wrong mind; by which the sorrowless can draw upon themselves the mill, simple ones are led astray and wavering ones begin to doubt which doctrine is right, the pharisees or the Nazarene's doctrine. But all these sheep for slaughter should be so severely restrained because of the Word of God so that they would not have room to twist and turn the Word of God so that simple, penitent, wretched or doubting souls would be led astray, through the wrong doctrine from the right ordinance of grace. Even as here some thieves of grace twist Luther so that they could thereby topple this Christianity and make wrong the whole foundation of salvation; but Luther was not such a man who would topple this Christianity, but they who imagine they get allowance from Luther for drinking, dancing, finery, doing away with confession of sins and spiritual joy or that movements are wrong and of the pope; they read Luther like the devil reads the Bible, And such are the sheep for slaughter, who the Shepherd feeds because of the poor wretched cheep, and very severely we see he rules them, when he drives them out of the church with a scourge and overturns the money-changers tables so that the money falls to the ground. Otherwise the Nazarene would not have needed to contend with the pharisees and scribes, who were hardened but because of the poor wretched, because of the simple ones, because of the doubting ones he had to contend with the cross, that the seeds of the serpent would not pervert the scriptures and through wrong doctrine get simple ones to doubt if Jesus the Nazarene's doctrine could be the right doctrine. For that reason He often warns the disciples of the leaven of the pharisees and of that wrong doctrine which they proclaim to the simple people.
He feeds now, that Good Shepherd, the sheep of slaughter for the sake of the poor wretched sheep. And so we must also tend the sheep of slaughter for the sake of the poor wretched sheep, for here are many sheep for slaughter who trample the pasture, foul the springs of water, and butt the wretched sheep with hatred, persecution, wrong doctrine and despising the Word of God. Some are so hardened that they make mockery of the Word o God, and overlook the sacraments, some also go as Judas to the Lord's Supper to confirm themselves with dead faith, these are all sheep for slaughter, marked with the mark of the beast on their forehead and so are under God's condemnation, not truly in creation appointed as sheep for slaughter, but only then appointed as sheep for slaughter when they become very fat and begin to trample the pasture, overlook and put to wrong use the Word of God and the sacraments, then has the Lord intended to destroy the fat sheep but save the wretched sheep. And I feed the sheep of slaughter because of the wretched sheep. Where now are the wretched sheep? Where are you sorrowful and doubting, penitent and wretched who because of depression are not able to follow the Shepherd of Israel, when He calls you with His sweet voice, because of your misery He has compassion on you, — is it because of lack of food that you have become so wretched and miserable that the Shepherd must carry you, when you are not able to walk; He must give you to drink, since the fat sheep have fouled the springs; He must feed you since the fat sheep have trampled the pasture. He must refresh you when you become tired. He must bind up your wounds when the wolf has torn and ravaged you. He has had to find you when you were lost. He has had to cry out when the wolves were howling, He has had to pity you, you wretched sheep, when you are so miserable and so wretched in His eyes. Your wretchedness effects so much that the Good Shepherd of Israel has compassion on you, he cannot kill you no matter how poor wretched and miserable you would be. Hear you wretched sheep, the Shepherd calls, where are you wretched sheep? The Shepherd travels those heavy and troublesome steps and seeks the wretched sheep on Mt.Sinai, near the river Jordan and along the shores of the Red Sea, calling the wretched sheep, where are you? Come to the Shepherd you miserable sheep the Shepherd cannot bear to kill you because you are not fit sheep for slaughter, as those fat sheep. He will try yet to feed you one winter, so that He could bring you to verdant meadows and the best pastures when summer comes, when the flowers of eternity begin to grow, then He will wash your wool snow-white in Jordan's stream and protect you from all beasts which are heard here, and finally He will bring you to the eternal habitations in the valley of Sharon and will give you to drink of the water of life and will heal your wounds now and forever. Amen.