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  • Writer's pictureRev. Chris Brademeyer

Sheep and the Shepherd




God’s Sheep

Misericordias Domini, the 3rd Sunday of Easter – 4/14/2024

Ezekiel 34:11-16

Rev. Christopher W. Brademeyer

 

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed Alleluia!

That portion from God’s holy Word for consideration this morning is our Old Testament lesson from the book of the prophet Ezekiel in the thirty-fourth chapter with special emphasis on verses eleven through thirteen which read as follows:

 

“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.”[1]

 

Thus far the Scriptures.

 

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

                Sheep are notorious for being stupid. I mean, they are not the absolute dumbest animals on the face of the planet, but a sheep is not going to be winning any contests for intelligence any time soon. But, more than stupid, sheep can be painfully oblivious. They can be easily distracted. They can wander into all kinds of trouble by mindlessly pursuing the next bite of grass. Now normally a sheep likes to keep near the flock, as they tend to have safety in numbers. However, sometimes sheep follow foolishness until they are lost.

                This is a common image in our readings today. The sheep are lost. The image here is a pretty straightforward comparison: God’s people are these scattered sheep. Some are no doubt lost because of their own foolishness, sin, and chasing after fleshly desires. Others may be scattered around by the devil, the world, or some other great terror that drives them away from the flock of Christ. At the end, the reasons why are not that important, the image is the same. It is dangerous to be outside the sheepfold, to be apart from the shepherd.

                In historical context, this passage was prophesied during the Babylonian captivity. That is to say, Ezekiel was giving comfort to the people of Judah who had been hauled off to a foreign land, who had been scattered by the hand of the Babylonian Empire. He was assuring them that even though they had been thrown into the wilderness, so to speak, God Himself would gather again all His lost sheep. Indeed, that God would not trust His flock to hirelings or servants anymore, but would Himself be their shepherd and their caretaker, the protector and provider. No longer would His people be instructed and fed by prophet and priest, but He Himself would provide for them and would ensure their everlasting care.

                And, historically speaking, this indeed happened. The faithful remnant of Judah was gathered again to Jerusalem. The city was rebuilt, the Temple reconstructed. The sacrifices of the Old Covenant resumed.

                If you remember last week, I mentioned that Old Testament prophecy often has two related sets of outcomes. The first, and historically nearest focuses on something in the Old Testament. Not all prophecies come to pass this way, but many do as this week’s and last week’s passages from Ezekiel both demonstrate in the historical event of the people of Judah returning from exile to the promised land and the city of Jerusalem therein.

                But this prophecy is not fully settled in this event alone. God did not come to Jerusalem to shepherd and care for His people. Indeed, though he provided the means of their return and blessed them to rebuild, God did not Himself shepherd them or bring them to Himself. Just as with last week, we see that the prophecy is not fully brought to completion in this restoration.

                However, Jesus does accomplish this. All prophecy in the Bible hinges on and points to Christ. If anyone teaches or presents a prophecy as not in some way tying to Christ, he has missed the point and has robbed the Scriptures of their center. In brief, a shorthand way of identifying false teaching is to notice that a preacher or teacher does not keep everything centered on Christ. The Scriptures are first and foremost about our Savior, by way of promise in the Old Testament and by way of showing us the fulfillment of these promises in the New Testament by our Lord Jesus Christ. Even those texts which foretell the end of the world and the return of our Lord Jesus still focus on Him. It is only through Christ that we find the truth of Scripture and our place in God’s will and salvation.

                In other words, our Lord Jesus, God in the flesh, became man to do exactly what Ezekiel describes here: gather in the lost sheep of His house and bring them to the everlasting sheepfold of His holy Church, to keep them and care for them and provide for them until we have fully what we now only have in part: the promised rest  and peace that come by Christ.

                This is certain and sure for us in Christ Jesus, guaranteed by His death, resurrection, and ascension. However, we only now have it in part. We have peace and security by Christ presently in this age, but we do not have it perfectly. The world, the devil, and the sinful heart all conspire against us to lead us away, but into the wilderness, to scatter us anew. But Christ is the Good Shepherd, foretold from ancient days, and daily, moment by moment He gathers us to Himself.

                He does so by the power of His Word, which the Holy Spirit uses to make faith, that is, to give us belief and trust in Christ. And our Lord constantly calls us to Himself by these, continuously seeking to keep us in the sheepfold of His Church.

                That is to say, there will certainly be harm that comes against us in this world: illness, accident, broken relationships, even death, but we are in Christ. This means that He keeps us safe in eternity in the forgiveness of our sins. There is no power on earth capable of taking us from the safe pasture of the Lord’s favor. And, even if we were to fall into unbelief and sin, our Lord does not ever stop pursuing us. He is always trying to bring all men home to His salvation, calling them to Himself. And He promises that all His sheep will hear His voice and follow Him.

                Dear friends, we, like ancient Judah, are sheep of the flock of God, part of the same Church and Kingdom as they are. And, like them we too were gathered together into the Lord’s own keeping, they by deliverance from Babylon and faith in the promised Messiah, we by faith in the Messiah Jesus who has come and saved us and will come again. And so, but the precious death of our Savior, we have life and salvation in the care of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

 

In the holy Name of + Jesus. Amen.

 

The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.


[1] English Standard Version

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