Jeremiah 23:1-6

 

The Old Testament readings for the last three Sundays have been about shepherds and how they got to be shepherds.  Spiritual shepherds, that is.  First it was Ezekiel.  God gave Ezekiel a hard head and told him to stand before the people who were rebellious and wouldn’t listen.  Amos was the prophet last Sunday.  He claimed when told to “get out” that he wasn’t a prophet or a prophet’s son but a shepherd and a tender of sycamore-fig trees.  Today we have Jeremiah the prophet.  Actually, he was Jeremiah the shepherd.  The Lord God spoke to him about good shepherds and bad shepherds.  These words are scary for anyone who claims to be a shepherd.  (By the way, the English word pastor actually means shepherd.)  

 

All God’s shepherds care for all of God’s sheep.  It is the Chief Shepherd who holds present shepherds accountable.  You can hear this when you hear him say the words, “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done, declares the Lord.

 

TRUE SHEPHERDS CARE

1. Sheep---God’s sheep---have needs

2. Sheep---God’s sheep--- have fears

3. Sheep---God’s sheep---have a future

 

1. Sheep---God’s sheep---have needs.

In this discussion we need to know and repeat one basic fact.  These are not the pastor’s  sheep.  They are the Shepherd’s sheep and that is spelled with a capital S!  The people are Jesus the Good Shepherd’s sheep.  That is the main point that Jeremiah bludgeons through.  Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.  In all these words you can hear the Lord’s concern for his sheep.

 

He does have shepherds though.  They are under him.  He is the Chief Shepherd.  He has under-shepherds.  This is the way he chooses to work.

 

The primary work of a shepherd in the employ of the Shepherd is to care for the sheep.  “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them…”  He twice speaks about the shepherds “tending” the sheep.

 

In the readings for today there are enough examples of needs sheep have.  Psalm 23 is full of perceived needs: quiet waters, a table with food on it, protection from enemies, a guiding and correcting staff, comfort and companionship on dark days, hope of heavenly pasture.  In the reading from Mark today, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, looked at the multitudes of people and noted that they were like sheep without a shepherd.  They needed care that only he could give them.  It says here that “he began to teach them many things.”  They had not gone out to be fed with bread, although he being the Good Shepherd gave them that too.  They went out into the wilderness with him to be taught many things which only he could teach them.  They went out to get spiritual food.  

The true and righteous food that enters through the sheep’s ears is always more important and harder to come by than the food that enters through the sheep’s mouth.  This was Jesus’ primary  provision for the most important need of his sheep in this world.  He “taught them many things” that no one else could teach him.  He even taught their later shepherds many things so these shepherds could in turn give these precious and priceless things to his sheep.  When he taught them about a manger and a cross and nails and thorns and empty graves and light and truth and heavenly bread and courage and hope and heaven…when he taught them about all these things, he wanted them in turn to continue to teach these many things to his sheep.  This was the sheep’s greatest need.  This was also the shepherds’ greatest need.  

 

Sheep---God’s sheep---have needs.

 

2. Sheep---God’s Sheep---have fears

Sheep also have fears.  I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.

 

How many times God has to tell us this.  “Don’t be afraid.”  Sheep are this.  Things terrify them.  And the Lord knows…and feels.  So he appoints shepherds who are aware of the fears of their people.

 

Darkness scares the sheep.  Dark times are fearful.  The prophet Joel spoke about that awful and scary day, “Let all who live in the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming.  It is close at hand---a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness.”  And the shepherds say, “Don’t be afraid.  Jesus is the Light of the world.”

 

Dogs scare and terrify the sheep.  Dogs delight in running in packs and wantonly killing sheep and lambs.  Sheep fear dogs.  Even Jesus as the Lamb of God feared dogs.  It says in Psalm 22, “Dogs have surrounded me, a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.”  And with the dogs that attack are the other satanic critters…lions the prowl to and fro looking for someone to devour, big snakes that slither and say, “Did God really say?”  Sheep fear these things, but shepherds point to Jesus the great Protector of his sheep.  And sheep hear him say, “I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.

 

Fear of depredation and lack.  So shepherds repeat to the sheep the words of Shepherd David, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not be in want.  He provides…everything for time and eternity.  He does it.  And Jesus himself says, “I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.

 

Sheep---God’s sheep---fear censure and criticism.  Mocking laughter is just as bad as snarling or snapping.  But the shepherds say, “If God is for us, who can be against us?”  And God really is for us.  He really does stand behind his messengers and his shepherds.  You can see him flexing his muscles.  You can know once more that his authority is unstoppable.  You can hear Jesus say once more, “I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.”

 

And death.  Sheep fear death most of all.  There is that awful sting.  There is that stink.  There is that hopelessness.  There is that looming Valley of the Shadow.  But not to be terrified and fearful here either.  Jesus is with you.  Jesus will be with you.  And Jesus says, “I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord.

 

3. Sheep---God’s sheep---have a future

The days are coming.  It says that to all sheep…and shepherds.  All have to deal with that.  The future is all important.  Never mind how things are with you now.  How are they going to be with you in the future?  In eternity?  

 

Surely when God speaks about the coming days, he doesn’t want you to despair.  He wants you instead to be delighted.  He wants you to calm down.  He wants you to smile.  He wants your pulse to slow and your demeanor to lose its furrows and frowns.  You are Jesus’ sheep.  He wants you to look to the future and trust and hope and even…laugh!  Your shepherd is with you.  But more importantly, your Shepherd is with you!  He will be with you.  He has something in the picture for you for the future.  Just listen to the wonderful words from this same under-shepherd Jeremiah, ““For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.  Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.  I will be found by you.”  Jeremiah 29:11-14

 

When God talks to shepherds and sheep and their future, he ends up talking about his Son.  That is the last section of the reading.  “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.  In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety.  This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteousness.”

 

David was a wonderful leader, but he wasn’t the Shepherd.  It wasn’t in David that the God’s people found their future.  No shepherd is the source of comfort for his people’s future.  The shepherd needs to join the stampede to the Shepherd.  Jesus is that Shepherd.  And Jesus’ great work as Shepherd is to provide a future for you his sheep.

 

The sheep of God’s pasture (all of us!) are different from any other flock or fold.  We are there grazing  on the pastures of God’s Word and promise to us all.  He and his Spirit stand guard.  The Father blesses and keeps.  And there is that banner that floats over us all.  It does it all the time.  Have you looked up at it lately?  Stop what you are busy at right now and look up at it.  It is a wonderful banner.  It says it all to us all.  It assures us of our future.  

 

THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS!  Amen.