(Excerpt from a recent sermon based in Ezekiel 34. It would be helpful to read Ezekiel 34:17-31 before digging into the post!)
As I read this, I couldn’t help but think of Indiana Jones. Not the first movie… not the second one. Nope, not the third one. I know what you’re thinking: Bob, they never made that fourth movie. Oh, tell me it isn’t so!? They didn’t really make that ridiculous alien movie, did they?!
Sorry. It happened.
I think the people of Israel probably felt something like the stars of the fourth movie. And yes, most of the stars of the fourth movie were the stars of the other three… But they were older, and apparently they’d donated a portion of their better judgment to others in need, because bells should’ve been ringing when they saw the script. There had to be a loophole in the contract somewhere to get them out of that pickle.
I’m pretty sure it’s safe to say everyone was excited for that movie. That’s why it’s safe to say that everyone was disappointed. Maybe disappointed isn’t the right word. Upset. Frustrated. Hurt. Angry. Sad. Let down. Bummed. Did I mention angry?
It was a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad, bad. Movie.
At the end of the day, it was the producers & the directors that took most of the blame. Rightly so. It was their concept. Their direction. Their leadership. But if you watch the movie – painful as it was – if you really watch the movie? Nobody earned a pass. Even Indy was off his game. It just didn’t work. IMHO, everyone was to blame.
I put the Israelites in our passage on par with the cast of that bad, bad, bad, bad – movie.
They were in exile, they were hearing these words of Ezekiel. They were probably nodding. Maybe tossing out the random mmm-hmmm. I picture them whispering to each other… “I told you those shepherds were no good.”
Then Ezekiel reached into his big, prophetic bag – like Mary Poppins or Hermione Granger – he reached down deep and he pulled out a big mirror that said…
As for YOU, my flock. Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep.
Could it be that the people… God’s people… the flock… could it be that they were guilty too?
Sinful people deflect. It’s actually the first skill we picked up after the fall. They at the fruit, and boom – Adam blamed Eve. Eve blamed the serpent. God was the only one with a level and unbiased view – God blamed them all.
We still deflect today. And not just in matters of sin – we deflect in every arena of life.
The Steelers lose, and who do we blame? Well, we’re from Pittsburgh, we blame everyone. But in other cities? The coach. The GM. The owner. Maybe some players, but only the team leaders. It’s never a talent issue.
Our nation’s morality falls apart, who’s to blame? The media? Sure. The government? Absolutely. It’s not like we believet the lies or voted for those people?!?
Your marriage is stretched. Who’s to blame? It’s almost always the spouse. Tim Keller’s advice for married couples is spot on and honestly reaches beyond marriage into almost every category of life. If two spouses each say, “I’m going to treat my self-centeredness as the main problem in the marriage,” you have the prospect of a truly great marriage. Humility is key.
But the mirror is tough. Nobody likes the mirror. Especially after you hit 40 and your metabolism breaks down. (So I’ve heard.) But we need the mirror. We need to see our busted sinfulness if we’re ever to be humbled as the LORD calls.
Ezekiel pulls out the mirror to show them a harsh truth: Not every sheep of the flock belonged in the flock. Not every sheep belonged to the Master. Not every Israelite was part of the true Israel, the faithful descendants of Abraham. Not everyone who was outwardly circumcised was also circumcised on the heart. Only the Master could tell them apart.
Back in Psalm 23, we talked about the end of the shepherd’s day, when the sheep would return home to enter the pen. Each would pass under the rod of the shepherd, where he would identify them. A good shepherd would know them by name, would welcome them, comfort them. If one didn’t belong, he would know. God is a good shepherd. He knows his own. He always has.
In John 10, when Jesus claimed to be both the sheepgate and the shepherd, he made a very significant statement: I know my own… and they know me. God’s sheep enter through the gate of Christ, and are known, welcomed, and comforted by the Savior. Jesus said, I am the way, the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but by me. By grace through faith. Not by our works, so that none may boast. God is the sole judge of our faith. Only he knows the true sheep.
Just as the entire Old Testament drew a line of distinction between national Israel and the faithful remnant of Israel, I believe there is a line of distinction in the New Testament between sheep and sheep. The weeds and the wheat. The nominal and the faithful. Church attender and true believer. There has always been a line. And God has always been the only Judge.
According to Ezekiel, even sheep exploit. They tread down the pasture for others in order to feed themselves. They muddy the water, so long as they drink to the fill. The fat sheep who muscle & shoulder out the weak. These sheep are no better than their selfish leaders; they are just as responsible for their wickedness.
Earlier, Ezekiel spoke a verse that is big and often cited in matters of theology. Ezekiel 18:4 says “the soul who sins shall die.” This was a big deal. Every person, every individual, every soul, will be made to bear the responsibility for their own sin. In our American culture of rugged individualism, this makes sense. Me, myself, and I. Of course my sin is my responsibility.
But to Ezekiel’s audience, this was probably a bigger deal. So many viewed Israel’s identity as a corporate identity. Promises. Blessings. Curses. They belonged the people. Not the persons. Israel had to be reminded of the significance of individual faith in the revealed truth of God. Human sinfulness and the need for saving faith; the biblical terms of a relationship with God are the same for everyone. But everyone is responsible for their relationship with God.
Again, a big deal to national Israel. To turn the mirror away from the leadership, away from the corporate entity and onto the individual was a significant shift. But Ezekiel went there. And we go there too. Are you willing to take a look in the mirror? To stare down your sin? To bow to the only one who can rescue your broken life?