THE SHEPHERD OF ALL SHEPHERDS
Dear friends in Christ,
Have you ever been in a room with a bunch of computer nerds? Oh yeah, we are! I noticed that someone said in the survey of what we need in our new pastor that he could be more technologically savvy than our present one. And you thought that I didn’t read any of that! I have twiddled my thumbs listening to computer nerds talk the alphabet soup language of computerese - DDI or DIMS, ECP or EEP; the terms like Ram and bytes and megabytes and gigabytes mosquitobytes and motherboards.
In Tennessee I have neighbors I understand. I asked my neighbor about getting some help from a certain source. He said “NO!” He said if you put all their brains together it would still be so small that you put that collective brain on the very edge of a razor blade, the brain would think it were on a superhighway. Now I understand that.
The Bible was written from 1500 BC to 100 AD. Society was a bit different then. People knew the outdoors, not the inside of a computer. Society was agrarian in nature. What people saw outdoors became what God used to illustrate truths in the Word. Livestock, soil, fruit, land, wildlife and crops became the subject of illustrating truth. If I asked if anyone nowadays if they have ever seen a flock of sheep and its shepherd, many would say “no.” Yet the good Lord teaches us from these very subjects. Today he teaches us about “THE Shepherd of All Shepherds.”
Ezekiel lived at a time of extreme upheaval that was going on in the world. I have talked to people who lived in Germany during World War II. One woman said she was twelve years old when an allied artillery cannon was parked in their backyard. Another said her father was taken to a prison camp because he refused to join the Nazi Party. I have talked to people who lived in London when the German Luftwaffe bombed London for fifty six out of fifty seven days. I thank God, we all thank God, that we have been spared of any foreign army invading our soil.
So it was in Judah and Jerusalem during Ezekiel’s time. Three nations were vying for world power. Judah was caught in the middle. There was Assyria, the nation on the way out. There was Egypt, the wannabes but never really had a chance. There was Babylon, powerful Babylon! They conducted three deportations of citizens from Jerusalem to Babylon. Ezekiel was marched away in one of them. God wanted Ezekiel in place to minister to his people there.
Judah had taken a hard fall from what it had been when David was king. Why? Ezekiel 34 explains why. “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.” Many years ago I talked to a father about encouraging his son to go into the ministry. The father said there was not enough money in it. You don’t go into the ministry to buy an island in the Caribbean to retire there. It’s all about Paradise in Jesus.
In Ezekiel’s day, the spiritual shepherds were more interested in padding their bank accounts and expanding their homes rather than caring for the precious souls of people. Jesus gave all people this warning, including pastors, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”
This past week televangelist Benny Hinn had his offices invaded by 40 to 50 IRS agents. They took all kinds of computers and files. He had a mega church in Orlando, two and a half miles from where I served. I thought it strange that he built a wall around his church with security guards at the gate. It didn’t appear to be that welcoming. Hinn is a faith healer and prosperity Gospel preacher. He was once sued because he grabbed a man in a wheel chair and commanded to walk. The man did a face plant. Terms were not disclosed. The Orlando Sentinel did some investigative reporting. Not so long after he moved to Texas. His church operation (notice I am not saying ministry) nets $100 million a year. He has been investigated again. He was in Paris when the IRS agents showed up.
I read comments on the story. One man fed up with religion because of Hinn wrote, “I have zero sympathy for the people who are fooled out of their money by these leaches unless they are too old or sick to really understand what they are being taken for….The leach preachers should all to a one be thrown into jail for graft/robbery/theft.” Over the past forty years, in the public eye, pastors now rate in the area of used car salesmen and government representatives in terms of respect.
Hinn, like so many, preach a “prosperity gospel,” a belief system that teaches devotees they can achieve personal, physical, and financial success through a combination of Christian faith and giving money to their church. Listen again to what God said through Ezekiel, “Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock.”
Unfortunately there is a fascination with these people by far too many. So often I hear God’s faithful people say, “Why can’t we get those kinds of crowds when we have the truth?” Remember what the inspired apostle had to say in answer to that, “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”
The Lord complains that there “were sheep who were injured and no shepherd willing to take time to heal them.” Lots of times when we talk about doing mission work, we think immediately of going to the jungles of Africa to search for the lost. There are many under our very noses. They live next door. They are in prisons and hospitals of all sorts. They are in nursing homes. As I have gotten older, my thoughts have turned to those who need care in their old age. Judy and I have long term care insurance in case we need the nursing home. But many nursing homes don’t provide the long term care that everyone needs – Jesus, the Good Shepherd. My eyes have been opened in serving the five facilities I have gotten into. A son who said he was a Universalist (any God will do) brought his mother to a home I serve. According to the staff that was the last time he saw her. Do you think he cared if she was getting fed with the Bread of Life? She has since passed away. Believe me, I could give you many other examples. I pray that after I am gone, more of you would take an interest in some of these people to read a devotion, hold their hand and say a prayer or sing. They love singing, even when I do. They need Jesus, the Good Shepherd!
Ezekiel writes, “As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. That word “my” is so powerful. The Good Shepherd says that those who are gathered into his flock are “my” sheep. Judy and I go to McDonald’s on Thursdays and Fridays at 6 AM to have a little breakfast and talk. We meet some of the regulars. We have met a man who was originally from Jamaica. He has a son that is a good football player. He went to Chattahoochee High School and West Georgia College and played football. He is very fast. Pro teams have tested him and like what they see. He feels strongly that he will get a pro football tryout. He tells us about him every day we see him and gives us an update. He just beams when we talk about his son – “my son!”
Isn’t it incredible that our God would call us “my sheep?” When Ezekiel was writing he wanted them to know that as a nation they would be brought back to Jerusalem. Yet there was something much greater and better going on here. “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.”
Our Lord says he will search for the lost when times are tough, when there were days of clouds and darkness.” God, in his mercy, had Ezekiel waiting for them when they were marched to the land of Babylon. How true it is that on the dark days when people are on the valleys they start looking up. That’s why the valleys and dark days are such a blessing.
Look where the Lord searches. “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 of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land.” While Judah was captive in Babylon many probably wondered, “Do you remember me, Lord? Have you forgotten me?” The Lord knows everything. He knew where they were.
Where did he come to search for us? It is amazing how many parts of the world our little family of Messiah came from. Many of us came from homes where Mom and Dad brought us up in the Lord. For others, we met and married a Christian spouse. Some of us might have strayed away for a few years but he brought us home. Everyone has his own story that includes how the Good Shepherd sought us out. It was not fate or destiny or luck; it was God’s grace.
He says further, “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.
How does he care for his flock? With the Word and Sacrament. I pity those sheep whose shepherds don’t teach and remind God’s flock what Baptism means and the blessings that the Good Shepherd imparts to us through Baptism. He took us from being on the outside of a relationship with him and brought us into a relationship with him through Baptism. He washes away sin. He gives us the Holy Spirit. Every time we come into church and see the Baptismal bowl, we are reminded of the promise God has bound himself to with us.
I also pity the sheep whose shepherd says the LORD’S Supper is only a meal to show you are obedient and to confess they are his. Hey, it’s more…so much more. The emphasis ought not be on what you do but what the Good Shepherd gives – his body and blood shed for us. He individualizes forgiveness by giving each the proof of forgiveness, his body and blood in such an intimate way. That’s how he tends the flock! That’s how he cares for his sheep.
And then there is the Word. Over and over he pledges that he is a forgiving God who pledges full fellowship between us. “Come to me all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” The guilt of sin – it’s gone. He bore it on the cross! Condemnation…there is no condemnation to them that are in Christ Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
The comparison to a caring shepherd is so compelling and comforting for his flock. General MacArthur, renown leader of Pacific forces in World War II, once said to his family, “I’d never had made it but for God’s care and the prayers I know were being said for me. I often repeated the passage, ‘The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not be in want.’ It was amazing how it worked.” During World War II Secretary of the Navy Knox said he could hardly sleep when American troops were invading North Africa. He told people the only thing that would allow him to sleep was that he recited the Twenty Third Psalm. Let the good thoughts of the Shepherd of all Shepherds comfort you too.