Separation brings Unification
7 “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!”
declares the LORD Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered,
and I will turn my hand against the little ones. 8 In the whole land,” declares the LORD,
“two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. 9 This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’”
There are three circumstances in life that cause us to be separated from our loved ones. There may be more, but these three all start with the letter “d” so I am going to limit it to them. The first is distance. When families move away from each other or friends go in different direction, the distance between them brings separation. The second “d” word is divorce; this touches most of our families in one way or another. When a divorce happens, there is separation between husband and wife, parents and children, friends and in-laws. The third word you may have already guessed, it is death. Distance and divorce do not always mean permanent separation, but from a human point of view death brings permanent separation from loved ones.
We understand this concept especially in the area of death. So the idea that separation brings unification is a little hard to believe. But in the case of God’s plan of salvation it is absolutely true. The Lord almighty is speaking and he announces that he will strike down the Shepherd, his only begotten Son. They would be separated when the sin of the world was laid on Christ and he died as a punishment for that sin. But by doing this he would bring unity between himself and the sheep, his people. As we consider these verses today think about these thoughts, separation brings unification. The Father was separated from the Son. We are now united to God.
In chapter 13:1 the Lord describes a fountain that is opened to bring cleansing from sin and impurity. This is a picture of the cleansing we have in the blood of Jesus. The fountain is filled with his precious blood. That blood washes away all of our sin. In chapter 13:7 the Lord describes how that fountain was opened. “Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the LORD Almighty.” The Lord Almighty is speaking and he summons the sword against the shepherd, the man close to him. This is the Father deciding to separate from his only begotten Son, by sending him to the cross to die.
On that cross the Father struck the Son with many blows. He laid on him the sin of the world. He abandoned him on the cross. We hear Jesus cry out on Good Friday, “my God my God why have you forsaken me.” The Father and the Son were separated because he had what did not belong to him, our sin. He was suffering for all the guilt that we heap up with our sin. He was separated from the Father because of us. He suffered the worst death ever when he was punished for our sin.
This was all in God’s plan. It is inconceivable to us that the Father and the Son would agree to this separation. It is unimaginable to see the Father turn his back on his Son who he loved. But this was God’s plan because he did not want us to perish. He wanted to end the separation between him and sinful mankind. He did what was needed to make that happen and keep his promise. The Son took our place in the cross.
When we talk about Christian service we use the term “Gospel motivation.” We are motivated to serve and to give because of what Christ has done for us. The Gospel is the good news that Christ was separated from God so we don’t have to be. We use Bible passages like, “We love because he first loved us.” “This is how God showed his love among us; he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.” “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us.” “While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” We are motivated to serve because Christ saved us. But Christ’s Gospel motivation was different. He saved us because of his love for the world and us even though we are sinners.
This is part of what makes this separation so amazing. Jesus quoted verse 7 to his disciples the night he was betrayed. It came true; they all deserted him, even Peter who was convinced he would not. And Jesus died for them all. Verse 8 describes the reaction of this world to the separation that the Son suffered. “In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it. The majority of the people in this world want nothing to do with the love of Jesus. His own people deserted him and continue to do so today. And yet he still was separated from the Father for us all.
Christ was separated from his Father for people who did not love him first. But because he was, we are now forgiven. And we are described in these verses. Along with all of God’s people we are the one third who are left. We are the ones that the Lord has called to faith. We are the ones that he has made to be his children in the waters of Baptism and we are the ones who have been given the title of “Heir of Salvation.” Because the Son was separated from the Father for our sin, we are now united with our God and we will be forever. Separation brings unification.
But here is the tension that we experience as believers. We hear and believe the promise of salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. Yet we are still struggling in this sin filled world and with our sinful flesh. We heard Jesus describe our life in the Gospel lesson for this morning when he said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” Denying ourselves and taking up a cross and losing our life are not easy things to do. Jesus is not calling on us to become martyrs, or to lives as hermits and to give all that we have away. He is asking us to separate ourselves from the things of this life by focusing on him and eternal life.
Jesus’ first disciples said they were willing to do this. But their actions showed they were not. They all deserted him. What about his disciples today? In some ways it is a struggle for us to get here on a Sunday morning. Family, work, vacation and other factors can all make the commitment to attend worship a challenge. There are people not here this morning that lost their struggle. But we are here. We have taken up our cross. We are losing our life for the sake of spending time with our Savior. But will it really last through this service, or will we be longing that communion would go a little faster. Will it last past this afternoon? What about Bible study this week and worship next? Will it last into the conversations we have this week? Will we defend others and refuse to gossip? Will it last into the entertainment choices we make this week? We will turn the channel, skip the website, close the magazine? Will it last into the family struggles we face this week? Can we admit our sin? Will we be patient with others and forgive as we have been forgiven. If past performance is an indication, we are quick to drop that cross and find our life. We are quick to fall into the sins we commit so well. The Lord does not turn his back on us, but we are quick to separate from him and the unity we enjoy through Christ. We know it and we know those sins earn eternal separation from our God.
But in verse 7 the Lord did not say, “Strike the sheep.” He said, “Strike the Shepherd.” And he did more than say it. Christ was separated for us. He was separated from God, and from his life to pay for our sin. He was struck down under the awful load of our sin. He was separated so that we could be and are now are united to our God forever. That is the joy of spending time with him and one another. We marvel at the separation that brings us unity.
Seeing our sin and our Savior is how our faith is strengthened. In verse 9 the Lord describes a refining process for his people. “This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” This refining comes through the preaching of specific law and specific Gospel. This refining takes place as we face the challenges of life and the Lord leads us to trust more and more in him. This is how the Lord unites us to him and each other.
God’s people have always gone through this. They have spiritual and physical challenges in life that strengthen them. Peter who denied the Lord and who faced many struggles with sin and persecutions wrote in 1Peter 1:6 & 7. “In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” This happened for Peter as he faced struggles inside and outside. It happens for us because it is God’s promise. He refines us. He leads us to call in his name. He calls us his children and he moves us to believe and express that he is our God. Separation between the Father and the Son has brought unification between the Father and his children, each and every one of us.
In some of my devotions lately I have used Romans chapter 8. In that chapter is the familiar and often quoted verse, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him.” What is so good about surgery and sickness? What is so good about pain and suffering? Do these really serve to unite us to God? They seem like they separate us from loved ones and cause us to doubt God’s love.
All things work for good because all things in the life of a believer are used by our God to bring us home to heaven. He has already given us that gift. In Baptism he made the promise. In communion he assures. In the Word he comforts. At the end of Romans chapter 8 Paul wrote, “Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, nor anything else in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Neither distance nor divorce nor death can change the unity we have with our Savior. In fact God uses these and will finally use our death to bring us to unity with him forever. May God comfort us with this truth! Amen.
Pastor Matt Brown
Our Redeemer Lutheran Church (WELS) of Union City, Tennessee, Rooted in the WORD