THE LORD SHEPHERDS HIS SHEEP Christian Education Sunday
Ezekiel 34:11-16 August 26, 2018
11 “For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice. (ESV)
See if you can complete this practical proverb: “If you want a job done right....” That’s right, “do it yourself.” We’ve all had the experience. A job needs to be done. You ask someone to take care of it, but you find that they didn’t do the job at all, didn’t do it very well, or didn’t do it the way you wanted it done. Sometimes its easier just to do it yourself.
This is the same experience our God had with his Old Testament people. The priests, the Levites, the kings were to be faithful shepherds of God’s chosen people. But they failed miserably. Instead of tending to the sheep they used the sheep for their own benefit. Finally, God had enough.
Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them. (Eze 34:10).
He will do the job himself. He will shepherd his sheep!
I. OF COURSE, THIS BEGS THE QUESTION, “WHY DO WE NEED A SHEPHERD?”
Sheep need a shepherd because without one, they will stray. This is the story of the Children of Israel, God’s chosen nation. When you look at the history of the Northern Kingdom, you see this clearly. There were no good kings, according to Scripture. From the beginning, when they broke away from the line of King David, they turned aside to idolatry. Finally the judgment of God fell. In 721 bc, Shalmaneser, King of the Assyrian empire captured the capital city of Samaria and exiled the nation, scattering them throughout the empire. The writer of 2 Kings tells us why:
This occurred because the people of Israel had sinned against the Lord their God,...and had feared other gods 8 and walked in the customs of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel, and in the customs that the kings of Israel had practiced. (2 Ki 17:7, 8).
The story was the same with Judah, the Southern Kingdom. There were some bright spots in the line of Davidic kings who ruled in Jerusalem, but eventually, this nation too succumbed to the lure of idolatry. In 587 bc, Nebuchadnezzar, king of the Babylonian empire, destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and exiled the people to Babylon. They needed a shepherd who would lead them in the right path and deter them from idolatrous ways.
It is no different today. Anthony Esolen, an insightful critic of our 21st century culture, describes this creation in which we live as the “un-world.” What God created in the beginning was filled with beauty, goodness, and truth. When sin took hold of this world, “the creation was subjected to futility” (Ro 8:20). Everything that God created was now corrupted. Man and woman lived no longer in harmony, but in conflict. The ground that once produced plentifully was filled with thorns and thistles. Childbirth was now pummeled with pain. Death descended upon everything. We live in this un-world every day, a world where everything is turned upside down. This is an un-world where a woman’s value and glory are centered in her career and what she can accomplish outside the home, rather than in the children she has been given to nurture. In this un-world a man’s work is of supreme importance, and the money he can earn is the mark of his success rather than in raising up his children in the knowledge of and faith in the true God. The un-world exalts pornography over a deep appreciation of the beauty of God’s human creation. This un-world prizes independence and sexual freedom and depreciates sexual purity, marriage, and commitment to one’s spouse. The un-world views children as valuable, only if they don’t cause trouble for others, don’t have any mental or physical defects, don’t interfere with parental aspirations. In the un-world, the poor and the elderly are of little value, and put a strain on our nation’s economy. And the list goes on. The real problem, however, is that we buy into the thinking of this un-world! We have been led astray by the glitz and glitter of the un-world. When we embrace the philosophy of the un-world, we stray from the God who gave us life. Our lives are a mess because of this. This is why we need a shepherd, a good shepherd!
II. SO GOD SENT INTO THIS UN-WORLD, HIS GOOD SHEPHERD FOR US
Jesus announced to his disciples and his opponents: “I am the good shepherd” (Jn 10:11). He did not come to simply show us a better way, he came rescue this creation from the corruption which sin had brought upon it; he came to redeem a lost and suffering humanity from it’s slavery to the false philosophy and the futility to which it leads. He came to undo the un-world. Throughout his ministry he revealed that purpose in his word and his deeds. His words challenged the empty philosophy of the world of his day and displayed the foolishness of the hired hands who cared nothing for the sheep. His deeds of healing thwarted the power of sin which left human lives broken, despairing, and dying. His declaration of forgiveness stripped Satan of his power to condemn those who had succumbed to sin.
But Jesus showed himself to be the Good Shepherd most clearly at Calvary, a hill outside of Jerusalem. There the true and only-begotten Son of God was nailed to a cross. There the sinless Son of Man who remained faithful to his Father from the moment of his conception until the moment he bowed his head and gave up his spirit, who entrusted himself to him who judges justly, was cursed by God and man, and was made the perfect sacrifice for idolatrous humanity. There the Good Shepherd—who “committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth” (1 Pe 2:22), who deserved life—laid down his life to redeem you and me from the sin to which we were enslaved. There, on that cross, the Good Shepherd purchased our freedom from the un-world we embraced in our sinfulness. And on the third day the Father raised that Good Shepherd to life to declare you delivered—delivered from the power of Satan, delivered from the false gods of this un-world, delivered from the curse of sin which consigned us to an eternity of death. What we could not do, what the false shepherds failed to do, God himself did through his Son, Jesus Christ.
“By his wounds [we] have been healed” (1 Pe 2:24b).
III. THAT IS WHY CHRISTIAN EDUCATION IS VITAL TODAY
In this congregation—in our Divine Services, in our Lutheran school, in our Sunday School, in our Adult Bible classes—we learn the truth about this un-world in which we live. We hear the truth about how God created this world in the beginning and what he intended it be—good and beautiful and filled with truth. We learn how Satan twisted the Word of God and deceived our first parents into embracing his false promises and bringing the power of sin into God’s good creation. The un-world cannot show us goodness, beauty, or truth, because it knows none of these realities; it lives under bondage to Satan, the Father of lies, and separated from its Creator. God’s people, redeemed by Christ, know and see the truth for our eyes have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit whom we have received in Holy Baptism. Our labors in Christian education of both young and old are focused on exposing the truth about this un-world that surrounds us.
Then, through this congregation and its educational ministries, the Holy Spirit teaches us the truth about our Good Shepherd and leads us out of this un-world into the truth, goodness, and beauty of the kingdom of God. In our classes, the Gospel is declared. In our Divine Services, the Good News of our Good Shepherd is proclaimed. In our proclamation sins are forgiven and sinners are restored to their heavenly Father. In our teaching and preaching the power of sin and Satan is broken and the kingdom of God triumphs.
What a privilege it is! What a privilege it is for Pastor Mueller and me to be a part of the work of this Good Shepherd, to preach and teach the Gospel of Christ to both young and old. What a privilege it is for our school teachers to have a role in the ministry of the Good Shepherd, to share the message of the Good Shepherd with children entrusted to their care. What a privilege it is for our Sunday School teachers to share in the labors of the Good Shepherd, to bring the Gospel of Christ to the young sheep in their classrooms. What a privilege it is for you parents and grandparents. Christ has entrusted children into your care. You have the joy of bringing the message of the Good Shepherd to those whom God has placed into your home and family.
And what a blessing for you and your children! You have the joy of hearing of your Good Shepherd whom God sent to guide you into the way of truth. You have the blessing of learning of your Good Shepherd whom the Father sent to redeem you from the world of despair, and usher you and your children into the eternal kingdom of joy and peace.
May God grant us the continued privilege and blessing of participating in his work and reaping the blessing of the kingdom of Christ.