Cheney United Methodist Church
Monday, January 22, 2018
Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World

November 26, 2017


Ezekiel 34:11-16.
“God Is The True Shepherd! “

You might be wondering why on Christ the King Sunday, Ezekiel has us talking about Shepherds? Ezekiel was born during the Babylonian exile and this chapter looks back in history and projects to the time of the return to Israel and beyond to the time of the restoration and the coming of the King.

In this prophecy Ezekiel refers to shepherds as the kings of Israel and Judah. In the first section God is not pleased with the kings and their treatment of God's people. In verses 1-6 Ezekiel points out that the shepherds took the best sheep for their own table. and the best wool for their profit. That is not totally out of line--if the shepherd did reciprocal work and care for the sheep. What was even worse was they slaughtered the best, scattered the weak, gave no care to the sick --and did not move them to fresh green pastures. Let me read verses 3-5 to give you the tone of God's rebuke of the shepherds.

You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 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. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. (NIV) The accusations against the kings of Judah and Israel are well documented.

Now in all honesty I have to say the history of the Christian church mirrors the shepherds of Israel. People entrusted with leading God's people have always been exposed to the temptations of ‘fleecing the flock’ for their own advantage in terms of money or status, rather than the genuine and costly work of caring for the lost, the sick, the wounded and the strays. The corruption of political and spiritual power is well described by Ezekiel in his sketch.

Ezekiel’s prophecy changes at verse 6, with the words, “my sheep.” God declared these people are mine! Kings and leaders can't claim ownership over people. God has a prior claim that supersedes all other claims that the people belong to Him!

Vs. 11, “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.” God wants to lift up the spirits of His people in exile. Better days are coming-- in the future God says: “I myself” will get involved. God lays out what He expects a shepherd to be like and what they should do. First, God the shepherd rescues the sheep that have been scattered, God promises there will be a time of regathering. A shepherd gathers the sheep to protect them and lead them to safety. Yahweh, himself will be the shepherd and as Jesus said His mission was “to seek and save the lost,” meaning the lost sheep of Israel.

Secondly, the True Shepherd cares for the sheep properly by tending to their needs and providing green pastures.

Verses 13b-16, “I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 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. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 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.” Some of what I just read builds on the shepherd image presented by David in Psalm 23. Verse 16, is a very powerful and personal proclamation -- I want you to notice God's promises: I will seek the lost, I will bring back those who strayed, I will bind up the injured --God is getting involved in a deep personal way, with you and me. The verse continues; I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy, [the fat and the strong represent those who are ruthless and oppressive] The verse finishes with God saying, I will feed them, (the sheep) with justice. All that the unfaithful shepherds had failed to do--the True Shepherd, would do and more!

Thirdly, Yahweh the True Shepherd will restore justice. The promise of justice offers good leadership, restoring their good name, and creating an opportunity to succeed. Ultimately justice is the vindication of the righteous and punishment for wicked as Jesus promised the separation of the sheep and the goats. When Jerusalem fell in 586 BC that represented the end of David's Monarchy. After the exile and people returned to Israel and God established a theocracy, which was managed through the use of Judges though there were a few exceptions like King Herod.

The Church is a theocracy of sorts, since Jesus is the Head of the Church. At the same time there is a place for human leadership, exercising gifts of the Spirit for the benefit of building up the community of faith. Such leaders are as Peter put it, ‘shepherds of the flock’ but under the authority of Christ, the Chief Shepherd. Peter drawing from Ezekiel’s imagery warns under shepherds to fulfill their pastoral duties willingly, not greedy for money, but eager to serve not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

Now then it is the theocratic and eschatological circle of ideas that surround the metaphor of shepherding the flock. When Jesus made his stunning statement in John 10:11, “I am the Good Shepherd.” Jesus claim wasn't about being nice to poor lambs. Jesus was standing on the vision of Ezekiel and Israel was like a flock without a shepherd -- that is they had no true king. He stated that those who were ruling them were “thieves and robbers,” just like the rogue shepherds of Ezekiel’s prophecy. But, listen Jesus was claiming to be the true King of Israel -- the rightful king to sit on David's throne! He was claiming the role of the prophesied shepherd of Ezekiel.

Verses 23-24, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.” Let's look a little closer at the True Shepherd, the Davidic ruler. Here are three things to remember. One, He will be one shepherd, which points to the future unity of God's people. Two, He will be my servant, a term of honor and yet humility, which had already been conferred on the historical David. Remember David was a shepherd boy before he was anointed as king.

Three, “He will be prince among them.” The term king is avoided here because of the negative exposure of poor kings before the exile. The True Shepherd won't “lord it over the sheep.” He will rule in their midst where the sheep see and know the shepherd --they recognize His voice and follow Him. This Prince in his divine rule will know no end. He will be a shepherd who no longer lives off the sheep, but He lives for the sheep, even those who labor and are heavy laden (Mt. 11:28). He will seek the weak and the lost, the sick and hurting, the confused and those needing guidance, even as the Good Shepherd does. This is none other than Jesus, the Lord, ‘great David’s greater Son’ Christ the King!

Rather we know it or fully understand it, we long for the True Shepherd to come--to bring peace, joy, faith and love into our hearts and lives. We want a shepherd that leaves the 99 who are safe and secure to come looking for us. We want a shepherd who relentlessly pursues you and me with His grace and mercy. THIS is the Shepherd that loves you so much he laid down his life to save you. Now we celebrate Him as Christ the King. Christ Is our King and He is coming soon! We long to hear the Good Shepherd tell us “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow you all the days of your life and you shall dwell in the House of the Lord forever!

May it be so for you. Amen!