The path to heaven is not a dead end!

When the Chief Apostle conducts a divine service in Mulhouse, France, he is practically “in his living room”. He had packed along plenty of comfort to bring the believers, and encouraged them in their struggles.

One of the most familiar Bible texts of all is surely Psalm 23. In his divine service on 20 October 2019, Chief Apostle Jean-Luc read the fourth verse from this well-known chapter: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me. Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me” (Psalm 23: 4). His message to the congregation: Jesus helps in affliction!

The Church leader illustrated this by way of various examples: “A shepherd knows the places where his flock can find food and water, and he leads them there.” This image from daily life made it clear that difficult and dangerous places may need to be passed on the way at times. The shepherd leads his flock and protects them from predators with his shepherd’s staff. “The psalmist uses the image of the shepherd in order to illustrate God’s loving care for His own. Jesus is our good shepherd. He cares for us and leads us into His kingdom,” said the Chief Apostle.

The valley of the shadow of death — a difficult path

The valley of the shadow of death likewise represents an unpleasant phenomenon of our time: Christians must endure trials and afflictions. Concerning this the Chief Apostle stated:

  • “When we are afflicted, Jesus is with us. Let us never think that He has forgotten or forsaken us. He shares in our sufferings!”
  • On the contrary, the good shepherd, Jesus Christ, leads His flock to its heavenly home — not to a dead end! “Jesus tells us how to make our way through difficult stretches without sustaining any harm to our souls.”
  • The Chief Apostle’s appeal to the congregation was as follows: “Let us trust in Him and follow His counsel, even if it does not appear appropriate to us.”

“Jesus defends us and looks out for us!” The Chief Apostle backed up this statement with the experiences endured by Job. God always looked out for Job, and saw to it that his trials never became too difficult for him. “In adversity we are at times inclined to retreat from God. But Jesus calls upon us to come to Him, to turn to His servants, and to remain in the fellowship of His own.” What ultimately remains is the feeling of comfort, encouragement, and peace.

Help in need — protection from dangers

Chief Apostle Schneider also went into details about the image of “robbers”: “During our pilgrim journey, we are also vulnerable to attacks from spiritual robbers. Yet, particularly in times of temptation, Jesus is there to help us: “He comes to our aid when we ask Him to do so.”

  • He leads His flock by “warning us of dangers and telling us how we can resist temptation.”
  • He is also its defender: “not only does He refrain from condemning us when we fall prey to temptation, but He even defends us.”
  • He calls upon the flock to repent, and “heals us by forgiving our sins.”

The flock = the church

Our concept of church was especially emphasised in the Chief Apostle’s sermon: “The image of the flock also applies to the church. The church goes through difficult times, for example, when the number of believers diminishes, when believers are persecuted, or when a minister or member displays inappropriate behaviour.”

His advice to the congregation: “Let us not allow ourselves to become shaken in such situations, and let us not grumble against God. Let us not waste all of our energy on grieving for the “good old days”! After all, Jesus is still the good shepherd, and He is still with His flock.

  • He is present in His Apostles, in His word, and in Holy Communion—and will remain present until the Apostles have completed their mission.
  • It is He who leads the church. “Even if we do not understand the path He allows us to follow, let us trust in Him—He will lead us to the goal!”
  • He watches over His church. Here the Chief Apostle recalled the words of Jesus to Peter: “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16: 18). “In the rigours of our times, the continuing existence of the Petrine office attests of Jesus’ care for His own, and of the permanence of His church.”

His conclusion: “As long as we remain with Jesus, we have nothing to fear. He cares for us and leads us securely into His kingdom—even in afflictions and temptations.”

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Peter Johanning
France, Chief Apostle, Divine service