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The Shepherd of My People Israel

Merry Christmas everyone. 


We will look today at Matthew’s version of the Christmas story. I want to say something before we begin. 


This year has been a different year. The weird economy, the obvious decline of our culture and society. The breakdown of many of our country’s institutions and bureaucracies.  War in Ukraine, and then there is the recent terrorist attack in Israel, and now the war in Gaza. We live in a serious time in history, and platitudes to just not worry, be happy, really are not a help in any way. 


But the Bible is a help in many ways. It can match the level of curiosity and need within the reader. It is layered wisdom, meaning this: You can get as much out of scripture as you want or need. So, this advent I am squeezing as much out of the Bible as we have time for. 


While I have always said I am not as dumb as I look, one of God’s sweetest blessings for me, as with all believers, is that I am Spirit led. My sermon’s come through the revelations that I receive from the Holy Spirit. Todays’ headlines are in the Bible. The truth is there for all of us to see and understand. Enough shop talk, let’s get into our Christmas text today, Matthew 2:3-8, this is just after the Magi had asked Herod for directions to the king of the Jews.


“When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 


‘In Bethlehem in Judea,’ they replied, ‘for this is what the prophet has written: (now this next verse, verse 6, is drawn from the prophet Micah 5:2) ‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’’’


Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’”


Now we all know that Herod did not want to worship Jesus, he wanted to kill him. The Magi did find Jesus, but they did not inform Herod of his whereabouts. They were warned in a dream, and went home by another route, completely avoiding Herod.


Let’s look at the key verse again, taken from Micah, verse 6,


“But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.”


Understand that Herod hears this and he understands that there is another great ruler from Judah for him to compete with. Herod believes this king to be a political adversary. Israel hears this, and they understand one word, Messiah. The prophet Isaiah also foretold of a shepherd. Isaiah 40:11, will give us some insight.


“He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.”


Whatever you say, the shepherd that Isaiah is describing is a loving caring shepherd. This is an important point, because the people of Israel have had lousy shepherds. Throughout their history, leaders have been corrupt for the most part. It’s like the Panthers and their owners and coaches. Lousy for a long time. How lousy, this lousy, Ezekiel 34:1-5, this is God speaking through his prophet Ezekiel.


“The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds in Israel (corrupt kings, princes, officials of the government and corrupt prophets): prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourself with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.”


It is a bad thing when God says woe to you wherever you are. Can I get an Amen? But see, when God speaks to us through scripture, time is not relevant and binding, and it is also connectable to future events. Scripture can weave throughout our lives and our history.


Here today, December 18th, 2023, God can speak to us through Ezekiel, who lived around 590-570 BC, 2700 years ago. 


Like Israel in Ezekiel’s days, we have had some terrible shepherds over the church of Laodicea. God is saying woe to the leaders of the United Methodist Church, woe to the shepherds of the many mainline denominations within Christendom, woe to the leaders in government who foment racist hatred against the Jewish nation of Israel. Woe to our leaders here in the United States that allow all of this to continue. There is plenty of woe to go around the world. 


I love old westerns. When there was a corrupt sheriff in a town, the western would always end after a bar fight or two and a couple of shoot outs, with a new, caring and brave sheriff. Well, what does this all mean? It means we’re getting a new shepherd.


We are due for a new shepherd. Listen to God, again speaking through the prophet Ezekiel, Ezekiel 34:7-16,


“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 (judgment). 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 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 strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”


Now, we know that when we see Jesus, we are seeing God. So, that as God is speaking to Israelites through Ezekiel’s words, so to us today, born again believers of the Christian Church, we hear Jesus speaking through Ezekiel. This now is the beautiful part, Jesus will return, when both Jews and Christians hear Jesus speaking when we read or hear the words of Ezekiel. Because the Jews then will have given their hearts to Jesus Christ as their Savior.


Take no substitute for Jesus as your shepherd. False prophets will try. The spirit of the antichrist will try. Institutions and bureaucracies will try. Here is a clue for discernment: The ancient shepherds of Israel led the sheep from the front. If you look around and don't see Jesus, you are in the wrong flock. Psalm 78:52-53,


“But he brought his people out like a flock; he led them like sheep through the desert. He guided them safely, so they were unafraid; but the sea engulfed their enemies.”


Modern day shepherds contain their flocks and drive them from behind. Jesus, as our shepherd, he will lead us from the front. You will notice his presence. John 10:11 & 14-15, this is Jesus speaking here.


“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 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.”


Jesus has laid down his life for the sheep. He did so on the cross at Calvary.


This is Luke 15:4-7, this is good shepherding described by Jesus himself.


“Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’ I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over the ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.”


Just as the people of Israel were the sheep of God’s flock, Christians of today are the sheep of Christ’s flock. During Ezekiel’s time Israel had God appointed spiritual under shepherds, just as we have had denominationally led shepherds of today. Both groups of leaders became lost.


It is time for us to look for lost sheep again. It is time for us to care enough about people that we will tell them the truth of the Good News to be found in Jesus Christ. Sin is not OK. The path to eternity with God lies on a narrow path of confession and forgiveness that leads through righteousness under the guidance of a faithful shepherd.


And, just like Paul told the Ephesian elders in Acts 20:28, it is time to,


“Keep watch over yourselves and all the flocks of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.”


It's time that we shake off bad habits and begin shepherding the way Jesus wants us to.


Do no harm, do good, and stay in love with God.


Merry Christmas.


Thad Brown

Opportunity House

and Harmony Church

Concord

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