The Good Shepherd & Zechariah 11

Excerpt from a recent sermon on Zechariah 11:4-17. Might be helpful to read the passage along with! 

Good Shepherd - Background2Looking at this passage 2000 years after the good news of Calvary, I can understand John Calvin’s comment from this chapter – he said that Zechariah was making clear the stupidity of Israel. Bold words, particularly with the connotation we give them today. But think about it – they were home! The exile was over, and they were free to worship God as he commanded!

And they rejected him… again.

As I was thinking about Calvin’s comment. It hit me and it broke me. Hindsight is 20/20. We get to hold all 66 books in our hands. We have the writings of 2000 years of Christianity’s brightest to lead and guide us… not to mention the foundation of it all – the God-breathed, Holy Spirit stamped New Testament of Christ that teaches, interprets, breaks down and builds up everything about the Old Testament.

Shame on us if we can’t at least get to the gospel with what we’ve been given.

But back in the day? I spent this week thankful that I live now and not then. Because if I lived then, I’d’ve been in the thick of the worst decisions ever made. I have my moments – moments where in my arrogance I think I might’ve withstood the temptation in the garden. I mean, come on! It’s a piece of fruit. I don’t even really like Middle Eastern fruit! I think humanity might have been fine if God chose me for the garden. Adam you fool.

Luck Charms1I have my moments – moments where in my arrogance I think I might’ve been able to hold out from complaining in the wilderness. I mean, come on! Red sea parted? Magical sweet bread from heaven every morning? It’s like having Lucky Charms, magically delicious, appearing from the sky EVERY DAY. Quail that just wander in to be eaten? Water pouring out of a rock? Seeing the pillar of cloud, the pillar of fire? Hearing that booming glorious thunder of God’s voice? I long to see things like that. I think Israel’s fate might have been fine if God chose me to walk there. Israel you fools!

I have my moments – moments where in my arrogance I think I would’ve been grateful to come out of the exile. I mean, come on! NO more Babylon? Freedom to worship? All those prophetic promises finally about to come true? I can read the promises. I think Israel’s future might have been a little more secure if God chose to bring me out of exile with the people. Israel you fools!

I have my moments – moments where in my arrogance I think I would’ve stood by Jesus as he was led to the slaughter. I mean, come on! All those miracles? Teachings? Mercy and compassion? That wisdom? Over 300 prophecies fulfilled? I love Jesus with all my heart! I think he would’ve had one friend at Calvary if God had chosen me to be one of the twelve. Foolish disciples.

I thought about Calvin’s words this week, and I was reminded of just how stupid I am.
If I was in the garden, we might have fallen faster.
If I was in the wilderness, another generation might have perished.
If I came out of the exile, Zechariah might have quit sooner, or maybe annihilated me.
And if I were one of the twelve… at best I might’ve been one of those who just ran way.
I might’ve been the one who denied him three times.
Maybe I would’ve been the one who sold the Savior of the world for the price of a slave.

Who knows? Maybe I would’ve been among those who beat him.
Spit on him.
Maybe I would have called for his crucifixion.
Maybe I would have held the nails. Or swung the hammer.
Or pierced his side with a spear.
Maybe I would have mocked him from the next cross over.
Maybe I would have been trading his clothes while he died a sinner’s death on behalf of those who stood among his enemies.

Instead, I sit here – 2000 years later, with every bit of evidence pointing to this Jesus as the Savior of my soul. The Redeemer of my wicked heart. Shame on me for thinking my heart is any better suited to the task than any of those who rejected God before. Our sin puts us all in the same big pair of shoes. Truth be told, we are all guilty in the rejection of God. Romans 1 reminds us of that. Apart from the precious grace of God, our fate is no different from that of the vilest offender in the passion of our Christ.

Jesus was delivered up for our transgression. He bore our sin on the tree. Every mockery, every insult, as his body was marred beyond human semblance, every blow upon him was the chastisement for my sin that brought me peace. If I claim the peace won upon the old rugged cross, I must also claim the iniquity that was laid on him there.

I praise God that sinful rejection is not the end of the story. Instead, the rejection of Christ is the beginning of life everlasting for those who take hold of his work by grace through faith. We stand clean before a holy God because the blood of Christ washes us. His disciples were restored. Mockers were made saints. Enemies became adopted sons and daughters, ready to withstand their own rejection in the hands of sinners.

As we mourn the death of the one we pierced, we are made new, born again of the Spirit of God into eternal life. We grow in holiness not by looking within, but by pressing into the victory that was won on our behalf at Calvary.

We take greater and greater enjoyment in Christ, not by moving beyond the cross into sanctification, but by returning to the cross by confession and repentance every day of our sinful lives until Jesus returns or calls us home. We look like him because we draw near to him.

We draw near him because He is the Good Shepherd of God’s sheep.
He is the Good Shepherd who endured rejection by the sheep for the sheep.
He is the Good Shepherd who is everyday expanding the fold of God through the gift of life.
He is the Good Shepherd who enables us to endure rejection because he has been rejected.

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The Good Shepherd & Ezekiel 34

(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.

Good Shepherd - Background2Back 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?

The Good Shepherd & Jeremiah 23

(Excerpt from a recent sermon based in Jeremiah 23 – we started by taking a peek at how God came to judge Israel’s bad shepherds… which means looking into how God’s leaders had led the people throughout the Old Testament.) 

Good Shepherd - Background2You might look at the Old Testament and think that maybe God couldn’t make up his mind when it comes to the methods of human leadership.

Throughout most of history, God has led man through men. He is the owner and the ultimate shepherd of the sheep, but he has employed undershepherds… men and women who have stood in a gap, preserving God’s people and paving the way for the Good Shepherd.

He used Moses, the shepherd-mediator, while they wandered through the wilderness. He stood – as a man – to intercede on behalf of the people. Moses grew to be so close to the people of God that he asked God to blot his own name out of the book of life so that God would not destroy Israel. Moses walked so closely with God that the book of Numbers says God spoke with him face to face, or more literally mouth to mouth. He was a mediator in every sense of the word.

After Moses, God raised Joshua, the shepherd-conqueror. God was with Joshua like he was with Moses.

After Joshua, Israel existed as a theocracy, with God as their divine King. As the sheep continually ran astray, God would raise Judges, the shepherd-deliverers. They would bring back the people of God, restore them to paths of righteousness… for a few hours.

Then came the kings. The sheep rejected God as their king, they demanded monarchy, with an earthly king. Because their desire for a man-king was a rejection of God, God started them off with the king they deserved – Saul. Tall, handsome, a mighty man… a terrible king, but whoo! What a man.

Saul’s reign was short lived, and then God showed the people his idea of a king. David. The shepherd-king. The man after God’s own heart, a sinner who sought the LORD in repentance and faith. David became the standard for future kings… a flawed standard, but a standard nonetheless.

All this time, God was raising shepherd-prophets to deliver his Word to the sheep.

He raised shepherd-priests as minister reconciliation between the sheep and their Master.

He raised shepherd-scribes to record and transmit his voice.

All of these were undershepherds, serving under YHWH the hero and true shepherd. Each human leader related God to the people in a different… and incomplete way. Each was a flawed picture of the one good shepherd. Jesus became the fulfillment of every leader, every intended relationship between God and man.

Jesus is a Mediator, better than Moses because he is both God and man.

Jesus is a Conqueror, entering not just the Promised Land, but the new heavens and the new earth by his death, burial, and resurrection.

Jesus is a Deliverer, restoring the people and bringing them back to paths of righteousness – not by external means, but by internal change, soul change, inscribing the very law of God on the hearts of believers, bringing life where there was certain death.

Jesus is a King, ruling and reigning in sinless perfection.

Jesus is a prophet, not just speaking the Word of God, but walking as the triumphant Word made flesh.

Jesus is a priest, delivering the one sacrifice of his own body and blood to satisfy the wrath of God and bring reconciliation to those who believe.

Jesus brought clarity for the voice of God, which was muddied by sinful human misunderstanding.

And it is from Jesus that today’s undershepherds find their calling, their strength, their example, and ultimately their forgiveness.

The Good Shepherd & Psalm 23

Excerpt from a recent sermon on the Psalm Immortal. 

Good Shepherd - Background2As if there weren’t enough reason IN Psalm 23 to draw us TO the Psalm, I want to add one more thought. Consider the Lord Jesus for a moment.

I’ve spent time in this Psalm before. I’m sure I’ve taught on it before at some point. But it was only this week that I found myself considering the incarnate Lord Jesus, walking the earth as the fullest revelation of the Word of God. And I asked myself, “I wonder what Jesus, the Good Shepherd in the flesh, thought about this Psalm?” I also found myself asking, “Could it be that Jesus found the same comfort in this Psalm as did David, and as we do today?”

It is easy to fall into the trap of imagining Jesus as God walking around 1st century Israel, holding the Old Testament as if it were a checklist. Born in Bethlehem? Check. To a woman? Check. Who is a virgin. Impressive. Check. Bruise the head of the serpent? In progress. Heal the blind… Hmmm… someone bring me a blind man! We forget that Jesus was also a man who knew the Father. A man who knew the Scripture, not just memorized, but knew how to apply them in every situation.

Andrew Bonar once said, “the church has so exclusively applied this Psalm to herself, as almost to forget that her Shepherd once needed it and was glad to use it. The Lamb was once led along by His Father.”

In the gospel of John, Jesus said, “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” (10:14b-15a) In other words, in the same way Jesus knows his sheep, he was known by his heavenly Father. Jesus could stand in the flesh and say, with superior confidence,

YHWH is my Shepherd… I shall not want.”

We must remember that Jesus walked as both God and man. Incomprehensible. But this meant that he read, understood, and leaned on the Scriptures in a way we cannot begin to fathom. He called out to his heavenly Father.

He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me.

In the 16th chapter of John, as he made his final preparations for the cross, Jesus said, “And yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me.” As his soul faced the trouble of the wrath of God, walking alone as both Shepherd and Lamb through valley of darkness, fear could not shake him – for the Father was near!

He prepares before me a table in the presence of my enemies.
He anoints my head with oil. My cup overflows.

Consider the table the Father prepared for the Lamb. The last supper. The greatest table of all. In Jerusalem, surrounded by the crowds that would call for his death, Jesus approached the table, broke the bread and poured the wine. Satan took possession of Judas at the very table the Father arranged. The enemy was indeed in the midst. And yet the anointed of the Lord persevered, his cup overflowing.

Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life;
and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

The promise. The covenant made before time began. The Lord Jesus knew that goodness and mercy would certainly follow him, even though he had to walk through the valley to return home. In knowing his own eternal position as the King of kings, Jesus carried on in great strength, and he secured our eternity with him.

I believe this is the kind of Psalm that would have brought comfort to Jesus in his darkest hours. And now he sits enthroned on high as the Good Shepherd-King – the one who seeks lost sheep and returns them to the fold of God. All praise, glory, and honor be to Jesus for evermore!

As John Newton said, “He guides, protects, feeds, heals, and restores; and he will be our guide and our God even until death. Then he will meet us, receive us, and present us to Himself, and we shall be near him, and like him, and with him forever.”

This is our Shepherd. This is Christ the King. If you are thirsty, come. Repent of your sin, turn from your shame and brokenness. Trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Savior and Master of your soul. He alone can embrace you with eternal arms of grace, cleanse you of all unrighteousness, seal your adoption as a son of God Almighty, and usher you into the very presence of God.

He alone is the fountain of goodness and mercy. His is the eternal presence we so desperately seek.