The Seriousness of Shepherding
December 14, 2008 | Randy Smith
The Seriousness of ShepherdingJeremiah 23:1-8
Sunday, December 14, 2008
Pastor Randy Smith
I want to tell you a true story about the abuse of power.
At 3:30 p.m. on June 6, 2007, a 21-year-old man with muscular dystrophy named Ben Carpenter drove his electric-powered wheelchair down the sidewalk in Paw Paw, Michigan. As he approached the street crossing at the corner of Red Arrow Highway and Hazen Street, a semi truck came to a halt at the stoplight. Ben began to cross the street from the north to the south in his wheelchair just a few feet in front of the towering truck.
When the light turned green, somehow the 52-year-old driver of the truck did not see Ben in his wheelchair. With Ben still in front of the truck, the engine roared to life, and the mammoth vehicle pulled forward. When the truck struck Ben's wheelchair, the wheelchair turned, now facing forward, and the handles in the back of the wheelchair became wedged in the truck's grille. The wheelchair kept rolling, though, and Ben, wearing a seatbelt, was held in his chair. The truck driver was still oblivious to the fact that he had hit the wheelchair. The truck picked up speed, soon reaching 50 mph. Still the wheelchair and Ben were pinned dangerously on the front.
While the driver continued along in his own little world of the truck cab, people along the road saw what was happening. Everyone seemed to see the drama unfolding but the driver. Frantic observers called 911. People waved their arms and tried to get the driver's attention. Two off-duty policemen saw what was happening and began to pursue the truck. On drove the trucker. On the road behind the truck were two new parallel lines that marked where the wheelchairs' rubber wheels were being worn off.
Finally, after two terrifying miles, the driver pulled into a trucking company parking lot, still clueless to the presence of Ben Carpenter pinned to the front of his truck. Thankfully, Ben was unharmed (James Prichard, Michigan man in wheelchair takes wild ride after getting lodged to truck's front grille, Associated Press, 6-8-07.
Lives are affected when power is abused.
By God's sovereign design, He has appointed leaders over His people. We commonly call them shepherds. These shepherds become God's tool whereby He, through them, corrects and encourages and instructs the sheep in His flock. While the individual sheep are always accountable to God, the shepherds have upon them a greater accountability because of their greater responsibility. They have the potential to greatly help or extremely hinder God's work in a church. That is why we should not be surprised to see the Bible repeatedly address God's expectations for the shepherd.
The book of Jeremiah is no exception. Throughout the majority of the book we see God judging and condemning the nation Israel for their sin and disobedience. And in this stinging reproach seen throughout Jeremiah, the shepherds of the land are frequently singled out for their failure to properly lead the people.
They were like the truck that I spoke of earlier. They were improperly using their power to take advantage of those entrusted to their care. They were, so to speak, flying down the highway while others were helplessly pinned to the grille of their 18-wheeler. They were harming God's flock. Yet God is the defender of His people and He will not stand for the abuse and misuse of their authority.
For the past few weeks we have been dancing around the first 25 chapters of Jeremiah. It has been one gigantic condemnation of Israel. Today we will once again see another reason why the nation was guilty. But today we will also see something that is hard to find in these chapters. Today we will see some grace. Today we will see some hope. In the midst of the darkness, today we will see some light followed by a greater light. This morning we will observe the love of God for His people in both reproving false shepherds and providing true shepherds.
1. CONDEMNATION OF THE BAD SHEPHERDS
Let's begin in the first point with the condemnation of the bad shepherds. Chapter 23, verses 1 and 2: "'Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!' declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD God of Israel concerning the shepherds who are tending My people: 'You have scattered My flock and driven them away, and have not attended to them; behold, I am about to attend to you for the evil of your deeds,' declares the LORD."
While the word "shepherd" in the New Testament commonly refers to the pastor/elder, the word in the Old Testament encompasses a larger group. Since Israel was a theocracy, the kings and priests and prophets and others were all considered shepherds and all responsible for the spiritual care of God's flock.
So the question is: What exactly did these guys do wrong? We cannot avoid the serious tone of their condemnation that bookends verses 1 and 2. At the beginning of verse 1, God pronounces a "woe" upon them (similar to the seven "woes" Jesus pronounced on the spiritual leaders of His day). And at the end of verse 2, God is prepared to punish them severely. I believe as a church it would be wise to learn from their error so that we may know what to expect from our shepherds here at the Grace Tabernacle.
So what did they do wrong? As I examined this verse and the surrounding verses in Jeremiah, I observed three failings that brought about the Lord's displeasure.
Their character was corrupt
First of all, these men were corrupt.
God expects the highest moral conduct from His leaders. Obviously, this should qualify all of God's children, but it must definitely mark the ones we choose as leaders. For God's leaders are not dictators, they are shepherds. They do not drive the flock from behind; they remain in front and lead the flock by example. Therefore, the primary standard for their qualification is not their skills or their charisma or their education or their appearance but their character.
This was not the case for Israel's leaders. In Jeremiah 6:13 our Lord said, "For from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for gain, and from the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely." These people ruled with a heavy arm. They were not servants. The only thing these leaders sought to serve was their own greedy ends. There was dishonest gain, extortion, deceit and hypocrisy (Jer. 8:10; 22:17). In 23:11 the prophet says they were "polluted."
Their teaching was false
Second, the shepherds failed to proclaim God's Word.
The mark of a true shepherd is his desire to feed God's flock the Word of God regardless of what the people may prefer (2 Tim. 4:1-4). Jeremiah 23:29 describes God's word as "fire" and a "hammer." Scripture is the breath of a holy God, and a confrontation will happen every time it is proclaimed to sinful people. Unlike the false shepherds, Jeremiah proclaimed God's Word, and it resulted in verbal abuse (Jer. 18:18), rejection (Jer. 18:18), beatings (Jer. 20:2) and threats of death (Jer. 26:11; 38:4). He was accused of being a trader (Jer. 32:2) and a liar (Jer. 43:2). They placed him in the stocks (Jer. 20:2), confined him in prison (Jer. 32:2) and threw him in a cistern (Jer. 38:6). Yet despite what the people wanted and how the people treated him, Jeremiah was a faithful mouthpiece for God. He spoke God's Word!
By way of contrast, the false prophets did exactly the opposite. In order to be accepted they catered to the demands of the people. The people cared not for a message of repentance, so they preached a message of permissiveness. Jeremiah 23:17, "As for everyone who walks in the stubbornness of his own heart, they say, 'Calamity will not come upon you.'" Rather than the true message of judgment, they preached a message of false peace. Jeremiah 8:11, "They heal the brokenness of the daughter of My people superficially, Saying, 'Peace, peace,' but there is no peace" (cf. Jer. 6:14; 14:13). No wonder Jeremiah said, "They have lied about the LORD… The prophets are as wind, and the word is not in them" (Jer. 5:12). No wonder God said, "An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy falsely; and the priests rule on their own authority; and My people love it so" (Jer. 5:30-31; cf. 14:14)! Unfortunately in their effort to please man, they failed to please God. And in failing to warn about God's coming judgment, they incurred God's judgment upon themselves.
Their devotion was misguided
And third, these shepherd turned their hearts away from the Lord.
As we have learned in Jeremiah, God desires not just obedience but obedience that delights in following His ways (Jer. 2:13). For the greatest way God is glorified is when His people are most satisfied and most content in Him. Therefore the greatest offense to our spiritual husband is to commit spiritual adultery with other gods whereby other interests (idols) occupy the primary place in our affections. These false shepherds' hearts turned away from God and in doing so they ascribed to Him a vote of no confidence.
Jeremiah 2:8, "The priests did not say, 'Where is the LORD?' And those who handle the law did not know Me; the rulers also transgressed against Me, and the prophets prophesied by Baal and walked after things that did not profit." Can Jeremiah 10:21 be any clearer? "For the shepherds have become stupid and have not sought the LORD."
Listen beloved, shepherds are called to lead and feed and protect and care for God's people. Instead, these false shepherds of Israel became the most destructive influence on the flock. Who needs wolves when you have shepherds like that?
Overall, the leaders failed to live up to their responsibility as they compromised their character and their teaching and their devotion. When the assigned leaders over God's children act this way, the result of their actions is fairly easy to predict. As our primary text this morning indicates in verses 1 and 2, they destroyed God's flock and they scattered His sheep. Again this condemnation is throughout the book: "Many shepherds have ruined My vineyard" (Jer. 12:10). "My people have become lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray" (Jer. 50:6). God's people were neglected, betrayed and deserted. They were without direction, example and assistance. With no uncertain terms, judgment rested upon these shepherds (cf. Jer 14:15-16; 22:22; 25:34-37; 51:23).
2. COMING OF THE GOOD SHEPHERDS
Now it is true that the shepherds caused God's flock to be scattered. And it is true that an ultimate scattering was about to take place as Israel would be led off to Babylonian captivity. But as we move to the second point we begin to see a message of hope. God will not forget or abandon His covenant people. It is also true that God will gather His people from Babylon who were once scattered. And it is also true that He will provide over them true shepherds to keep His flock from scattering again.
First let's look at verse 3 of chapter 23: "Then I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply."
The nation will be led into Babylonian captivity. But God as the Great Shepherd Himself promises to lead His people back to the Promised Land. There will be a literal scattering, and there will be a literal regathering. The grand return is spoken of in verses 7 and 8: "'Therefore behold, the days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when they will no longer say, 'As the LORD lives, who brought up the sons of Israel from the land of Egypt,' but, 'As the LORD lives, who brought up and led back the descendants of the household of Israel from the north land and from all the countries where I had driven them.' Then they will live on their own soil.'" After the filth is purged, the nation will once again receive His mercy. God may discipline His sheep, but He will never neglect them.
And evidence of His love for His sheep is seen when He provides over His flock good shepherds. Verse 4, "'I will also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing,' declares the LORD."
Unlike the bad shepherds that were removed, these shepherds would properly care for the sheep. They would provide a safe environment. They would tend to the needs of the flock. They would leave the ninety-nine to search after the one. Ultimately they would declare God's Word through their words and actions (cf. Jer. 1:7, 9; 17:16; 26:15). Jeremiah 3:15, "Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding."
Scripture and historical sources testify that God fulfilled His promise. After Israel was led off to captivity in 586 BC, according to prophecy they began to return under the Persian ruler Cyrus in 537 BC (Isa. 44:28; 45:1). Also according to prophecy the Jews reconstructed the Temple in Jerusalem seventy-years later in 516 BC (Dan. 9:2). And also according to our prophecy mentioned here in Jeremiah, God provided faithful shepherds over the people in the likes of Zerubbabel, Ezra and Nehemiah.
But God was not done. As good as human shepherds may be, they are still sinful and limited and weak individuals. And regardless of how hard they try, they are unable to live a perfect example and understand the hurt of every heart. If only God's people had an ideal shepherd, one that was fully God (to meet our deepest needs) and one that was fully man (to understand all our weaknesses). God blesses His people by providing good shepherds; but what we really need is a Great Shepherd!
3. COMING OF THE GREAT SHEPHERD
Point number three, verse 5, "'Behold, the days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'When I will raise up for David a righteous Branch; and He will reign as king and act wisely and do justice and righteousness in the land'" (cf. Jer. 33:15).
In Jeremiah 33:17 we read, "For thus says the LORD, 'David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel.'" The promise is throughout Scripture that Israel's greatest king, King David, will always have someone from His lineage on the throne (2 Sam. 7:12; Psm. 89:3-4; 132:11, 17-18; Isa. 9:6-7; 11:1-5).
Let's recall Israel's history after David's rule. The kingdom divided. David's line then continued through the kings of Judah. The final four kings of Judah (after Josiah) were all wicked and poor shepherds as we have already learned this morning. The nation was exiled to Babylon. The nation returned to the land but no Davidic king ever regained the throne. Did God fail to keep His promise?
Galatians 4:4, "But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law." And the Gospel writers in the New Testament go through great pains that this very child born to the Virgin Mary was along the bloodline of David (Mt. 1:1). Luke 1:32-33, "He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end." He said it of Himself in Revelation 22:16, "I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star."
Jeremiah's prophecy is clear. Though it appears that the dynasty of David is finished, though it appears that the royal family is like a dead stump, a single branch will arise (Jer. 23:5; cf. Isa. 11:1-5; Zech. 3:8). A righteous branch will spring forth from the Davidic line. And the Person's name will be … Jesus Christ.
In contrast to the false shepherds mentioned in Jeremiah, this Good Shepherd will honor God. Verse 5 says He will "reign as king." He will "act wisely." He will "do justice and righteousness in the land." In contrast to the false shepherds mentioned in Jeremiah, this Good Shepherd will not scatter God's sheep but gather them and care for them.
In Jesus' own words from John 10, "He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me... I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; I must bring them also, and they will hear My voice; and they will become one flock with one shepherd." (Jn. 10:12-14, 16)
But how can a holy God enter such an intimate relationship with us while sin still remains in the life of humans? Well, this Good Shepherd came for the primary purpose to die for the flock. This Shepherd was born to lay down His life and make atonement for the sins of His people. In John 10 Jesus also said, "I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep… Even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep" (Jn. 10:11, 15).
Matthew 1:21, "She will bear a Son; and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins." The baby born in the manger was appointed to die on a cruel cross. He was appointed to take the sins of His people upon Himself at Calvary and then experience the wrath of God in their place. And while our sins were transferred to Him, His perfect righteousness was transferred to us. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul said, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him."
Jeremiah also makes this point at the end of verse 6: "In His days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely; and this is His name by which He will be called, 'The LORD our righteousness< (Jehovah Tsidkenu)'"
Not only is Jesus referred to as God (Jehovah) here, He is also referred to as "our righteousness." Zedekiah was the final king of Judah. His name means "The LORD my righteousness." He was anything but that. However, Jesus, the final king over all creation here is called, "The LORD our righteousness." He is the ideal shepherd who truly lived the righteous life before God. And it is His perfect righteousness that qualified Him to be our substitute, and that perfect righteousness is transferred to us when we receive Him by faith. When Jesus Christ is our Lord and Savior, God the Father sees us clothed in His righteousness. We are then forgiven and welcomed as His children.
In Romans 3 Paul makes the declaration that there is no one righteous (Rom. 3:10; 23). But then he immediately speaks of the one who is made righteous through faith in Christ (Rom. 3:21-22). Because as he says, God has taken away sin in the Person of Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:25), so that God can remain just (in rightly punishing sin) and still justify the sinner who comes to Him for mercy (Rom. 3:26).
The nation of Israel fell away from God. In part it was due to dreadful shepherds. But the Lord in His grace rose up faithful shepherds to minister to His people. Best of all He raised up the promised Messiah from David line, the greatest Shepherd who would care for God's flock though His love and compassion demonstrated by His death on the cross.
So this time of year we reflect upon the promised arrival of Jesus Christ. And as we gaze upon that little baby in Bethlehem, may we remember the One with all power and authority who served not Himself, but the needs of God's people. Can we ask for a better shepherd? Can we welcome a better gift?
Closing Song: Welcome to Our World
Tears are falling, hearts are breaking
How we need to hear from God
You've been promised, we've been waiting
Welcome Holy Child
Welcome Holy Child
Hope that You don't mind our manger
How I wish we would have known
But long-awaited Holy Stranger
Make Yourself at home
Please make Yourself at home
Bring Your peace into our violence
Bid our hungry souls be filled
Word now breaking Heaven's silence
Welcome to Our world Welcome to Our world
Fragile fingersent to heal us
Tender brow prepared for thorn
Tiny heart whose blood will save us
Unto us is born
Unto us is born
So wrap our injured flesh around You
Breathe our air and walk our sod br> Rob our sin and make us holy
Perfect Son of God
Perfect Son of God
Welcome to our world
Chris Rice ccli#2317391 1995 Clumsy Fly Music (Admin. By Word Music Group, Inc.)