The Good Shepherd
Today I feel the need to preach Jesus. Why is this? Well, first of all, I believe that I am called to preach Jesus. Secondly, I feel ill at ease right now, with all that is happening in the world and in our country. Looking to Jesus is good for all of us, especially, and selfishly for me, and prayerfully for you too. Finally, we are rapidly approaching Christmas, I want to be preaching about Jesus, amen?
God led me to a great scripture that bridges our look at poor leadership and Jesus, along with the Christmas story. Our scripture today is from the Old Testament, the book of Ezekiel. But before we dig into scripture, let me give you some back story to Ezekiel.
Ezekiel was a member of that group of talented Jews that were exiled to Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar. So this was not a happy time. Ezekiel was called to be a priest-prophet (he was from a priestly family) to this sad lot of exiles. They had experienced first hand the lousy leadership of Jewish kings and they were now suffering as slaves in a foreign land.
Listen to our scripture for today, beginning with Ezekiel 34:11-16,
“For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains in Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”
These words of Ezekiel are a great promise to a people led down to defeat by their leaders. The reference at the end to the sleek and the strong who will be destroyed is a direct reference to the leaders who took advantage of the people of Israel during their decline and defeat.
God will be their shepherd, their leader. All of these passages of scripture are promising that God will take care of all the Israelites, just as a good shepherd would. God is promising first to gather all of the Jews scattered from the defeat and subsequent exile. Then he mentions several times he will bring them back to familiar pastures in the mountains of Israel. God also promises to search for the lost, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak. Finally, God will shepherd the flock with justice, something these people had not seen happen for centuries.
How this message had to resonate with the Jews in exile, homesick for their native land. The leaders of Israel, through the slow decline of the Jewish nation, had all grown fat by oppressing God’s people. Back in the first book of Samuel, God, through the prophet Samuel warned the Jewish people what would happen when God granted their desire to have a King rule over them.
However, God still loves his people. Today, as things seem to be declining in our society and culture, we need to remember, God still loves us. As a shepherd loves all of his sheep. Sheep are not that smart. In fact, they’re dumb animals. I regret to inform you all that humans are not much smarter than sheep. Oh, we like to think we are, we really do. But when it comes down to history and humans repeating the same failures over and over and over, we resemble sheep. We keep falling into the same ravine. We keep making the same mistakes. The Jews understood that they needed a shepherd. God would be their shepherd. We need a shepherd.
Let’s look at what else God says through Ezekiel to his flock. This is Ezekiel 34:20-22,
“Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep (corrupt leaders) and the lean sheep (Jewish people). Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another.”
God will not continue to allow the corrupt and poor leaders to continue to bully the weaker sheep.God will protect the weaker sheep. Now here comes the really good news. Can you maybe guess who it involves? Ezekiel 34:23-24,
“I will place over them one shepherd (like) my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant (like) David will be prince among them, I the Lord have spoken.”
This is good news. For the Jews in exile, and for those of us who are children of God 2600 years later. Ezekiel is referencing the coming of the Messiah around 600 years after giving this prophecy. Does this good shepherd prophecy of Ezekiel remind you of any New Testament scripture? Let’s go to the book of John, chapter 10:11. These are the recorded words of Jesus.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Jesus is referencing the difference between him and your average shepherd. The average shepherd does not have to die for his sheep. Jesus must die for his sheep. Jesus will die for us, and he does so willingly. John 10:14-16,
“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me--just as the Father knows me and I know the Father--and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
So as it was for the Jews in exile, so it is for us today. We have a shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for us. We have a shepherd who did lay down his life for us, Jesus Christ. We know him, we even recognize the sound of his voice. More importantly he knows us.
Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.
and Harmony UMC