Summary: To challenge the heareres to identify themselves not always as the lost sheep but to see themselves as "lead sheep" or shepherds by caring and loving God’s "sheep", using Jesus Christ as their example.
Before we go to the Word, let us open with a word of prayer:
Gracious God, you are the Good Shepherd. As we come now to your Word, help us, your sheep, to hear your voice so that we may receive the message you have for us. Lord, I ask that you use me as your vessel, so that those who hear will recognize not my voice, for I am only the messenger, but instead let all of us hear your truths and your voice.
Today’s Word comes from the book of Jeremiah and although we need a little history lesson to help us understand the context of Jeremiah’s message; I’m going to start right with the text. It comes from the 23rd chapter and we will be looking at verses 1-6. (Read Text) – The Word of God for the people of God – Thanks be to God.
I must admit that when I first read this text it made me question my desire to go into ministry. I mean it starts right off saying, “Woe to the shepherds”. And as some of us may know, the Latin word for shepherd is “pastor”. As I read this passage, I was getting the idea that the “shepherds” were getting blamed for all that was going wrong and that the people seemed to be “let off the hook”. God is going to “attend to” the shepherds for their evil doings. I don’t know about you but “attend to” used in this manner doesn’t strike me as spending 5 minutes in the “time-out” chair. It sounds like serious business. And while the shepherd is being attended to, God will bring the sheep back into the fold where they will fear no longer (violins please). By itself, this passage seems to me a congregation’s dream passage. I mean, if any problems arise in the church and outsiders come in to help, say the district superintendent or even the bishop, all the congregation has to do is quote this passage, then point to the pastor and say, “It is the shepherd you must attend to, we are but sheep. Please help bring us back into the fold so that we may fear no more.” Now I’m not trying to take away from the responsibility of the shepherd, church leaders can and will be held more accountable if their teachings lead their followers away from God and the penalties will be severe, as quoted from Jeremiah 23:15, “I am going to make them eat wormwood, and give them poisoned water.” Now that’s what I call being “attended to”. But if we make a deeper investigation of this passage it shows us that, yes, the leadership during the time of Jeremiah was rebelling against God’s will, but we will also see that the sheep were not so innocent. But regardless of who was at fault for the condition of the nation, more importantly we need to see that what Jeremiah’s message is telling us is that finger pointing is useless. To God it does not matter who is at fault. What we will find is a God that reprimands the sheep (and shepherds) but never stops loving them. That no matter how the sheep and shepherds try to turn away from God’s covenants, they are reminded that it was God that made the covenants and that we cannot break them. We are also assured that the remnant of the flock will be gathered personally by God, and that shepherds will be made to rise over us, shepherds who will follow God’s commands of righteousness and justice. And, at the end of this passage, Jeremiah shares God’s promise to raise a righteous branch of David to reign as king, and who shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. Now, before we look at this with our New Testament eyes, let us first examine it in its original context.
Let me first start with the image of God as our Shepherd. Shepherding was one of humankind’s earliest occupations. Flocks and herds consisted specifically of cows, sheep and goats for the most part. The principal, however, owing to size and abundance, and usefulness, was the sheep. Possession of these animals indicated power and wealth. Job had thousands of sheep, camels and oxen and Abraham’s flocks were counted among his blessings. So, everyone understood this image of shepherd as leader in those days. But the image was probably a little different from how we see it. Let me explain.
The OT is full of references that portray God as our shepherd, but there is one that has become a favorite. Any guesses? Of course I’m speaking of the 23rd Psalm. I am going to read it, but while I’m reading I would like everyone to close your eyes and listen (Yes, I know this sounds a little touchy/feely to some of you guys out there but give it a try). And while you listen, try and develop an image in your mind: