Posts Tagged 'good shepherd'

Exceeding Abundantly Above, Part 4

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In Ephesians 3:20, we read this:

Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us… (TNIV)

That’s really a remarkable verse when you think about what Paul is saying about God. Whatever it is you need, God is able to supply it, “exceeding abundantly above” what you may ask for. So far in this series, we’ve considered a few things God has done and is doing for us “exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.” Among them:

• God has supplied abundant grace (Romans 5:20) to make peace between God and man, and man and the world around him – the peace that transcends all understanding.
• God has provided abundant pardon (Isaiah 55:7) to forgive any sinner that comes to Him in faith.
• Total satisfaction is available to every believer no matter what the circumstances of his life may be because God supplies it in abundance (Psalm 36:8).

Living life under the Lordship of Jesus Christ is “easy living under the Son” because God cares for us He makes sure we have what we need to not only last us through all eternity, but to make this life worth living. That brings us to our next “exceeding abundantly above” provision, and it’s found in the Gospel of John:

The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. (John 10:10 KJV)

“Abundant life” is why Jesus Christ came to us. Not only life, but abundant life is what He brought us. There are all kinds of ideas floating around as to what Jesus meant when He spoke these words. Let’s look at them in context and you’ll be amazed at just what Jesus meant when He spoke about “the abundant life.”

At the beginning of John 10, Jesus is seen speaking to an audience made up of His disciples, a formerly blind beggar, some Pharisees, and other hanger’s on.

Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1 TNIV)

That’s a slightly confusing thing for us to read, but to the Pharisees who heard it, Jesus’ statement must have cut to the quick. You and I don’t see too many shepherds around, but shepherding was a part of life in Judea and those listening to Jesus were very familiar with shepherds and sheep pens. This verse, and the parable that follows, was really directed at the Pharisees in the group and the once-blind beggar, whom Jesus had healed back in chapter 9.

Two kinds of blindness

Jesus and His friends were walking along and they saw a man who had been born blind. That’s an important designation; he didn’t become blind through an accident or an illness, he was born blind.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?” (John 9:1, 2 TNIV)

That question reflected a common way of thinking during Jesus’ day which said that the sins of the parents were passed on to their children. Think about that for a moment. What a cruel image of God the Jews had at this time. The assumption that God would punish a child for things their parents may have done is so out of character with what we know about God. But, here it is. It’s what the Jews believed and it’s what Jesus’ disciples believed – in spite of their relationship to Jesus, their minds remained locked in their habitual way of thinking. But Jesus set His friends straight:

Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (John 9:3 TNIV)

This man born blind and his parents, Jesus explained, were both victims of a sin-cursed society in which, sadly, often the innocent suffer right along with the guilty. Yet, earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus and His disciples encountered a lame man, whom Jesus healed. Later on, He met up with that man and said something interesting to him:

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” (John 5:14 TNIV)

Yes, sometimes illness and sickness may be related to your sin or your sinful choices and lifestyle, but not in the case of the man born blind. This fellow was born blind because he was born into a sin-cursed and sinful world. Sometimes there is absolutely no connection between the misfortunes of a person and his own sinful condition. Truth is, good people are often the victims of a sick, immoral society through no fault of their own.

But God can take a bad situation and turn it around. God was not behind the blind state of this man, but he could certainly be rescued and restored to wholeness by God. That’s why we pray for people; that they may be healed and God be glorified.

And so our Lord healed the blind man. But because He did it on the Sabbath, the Pharisees were convinced the miracle didn’t happen. The implication was that the formerly blind man was lying. The Pharisees in this story are a perfect illustration of the modern American who thinks he knows everything and if something happens outside his ability to explain it using the knowledge he has, he dismisses it out of hand. The arrogance of human beings hasn’t changed much from Jesus’ day to ours!

The religious types quizzed and verbally abused this poor fellow about his healing, but he never backed down. In frustration, he said something truly remarkable:

If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.” (John 9:33 TNIV)

Here he was, an uneducated member of the great unwashed mass of society making one of the most profound statements ever. If Jesus were not a Man from God, then He couldn’t have worked His miracles. To this man, it was simple. His physical eyes had been opened by the power of God, but his spiritual blindness was also healed. All of a sudden, he knew something about Jesus that the Pharisees didn’t, or that they wouldn’t accept.

To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. (John 9:34 TNIV)

That’s right. They threw him out of the temple. Essentially, the man born blind had been healed by Jesus and that got him kicked out of his religion. Oddly, that was the second best thing to happen to him. Religion does nothing good for anybody.

Our Lord is a compassionate Savior. He knew what had happened to the man He healed, and Jesus seeks him out and we read this interesting exchange:

Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” “Who is he, sir?” the man asked. “Tell me so that I may believe in him.” Jesus said, “You have now seen him; in fact, he is the one speaking with you.” Then the man said, “Lord, I believe,” and he worshiped him. (John 9:35 – 38 TNIV)

This formerly blind man, who had made that stunning declaration about the Man who healed him, didn’t recognize Jesus because when Jesus healed him, he was blind! But just look at the remarkable faith this man had: He was ready to believe without having seen. Now that’s faith.

For this man born blind, his healing marked the new beginning of a new personal relationship. Gone were the old relationships with his impotent religion and heartless family; he was now committed to Jesus Christ. He was now part of a new society, a new family.

Christ, the Shepherd and the Gate

That’s the background to chapter 10, and that’s why Jesus told this parable:

Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:1 – 5 TNIV)

That’s a parable that has a couple of applications, but the one we’re interested in the obvious one. Christ is the Shepherd of the flock of God. He is also the “doorway” through which one passes to become part of the flock of God. Nobody can become part of God’s flock any other way. You can’t climb over the wall. You can’t sneak in. If you want to be a sheep under God’s care, then you must pass through Jesus Christ. For His part, Jesus a few chapters on states explicitly what He’s saying here implicitly:

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 TNIV)

That’s essentially what Jesus is getting at here in chapter 10, except that He’s using a parable. Why didn’t He just come right out and say it? Because Jesus is trying to prove a point: the Pharisees, the very people who claimed to have all this spiritual insight, were in fact the ones who were blind. They didn’t understand the what Jesus was saying. Why should they? The Pharisees were confident of their own position; they were proud of their knowledge and of the influence they had over people. They had such an elevated estimate of themselves that they couldn’t see the truth of what Jesus was saying: They were the thieves and the robbers; they were the ones stealing – or trying to steal – God’s sheep.

The thief – the Pharisees – had tried to discourage the man born blind by verbally harassing him and abusing him. That’s how all false shepherds treat sheep. They aren’t kind. They aren’t patient. Given a chance, false shepherds would just as soon kill a sheep than help it. But not Jesus; not the Good Shepherd.

And all that background brings us to our fourth “exceeding abundantly above.”

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. (John 10:10 TNIV)

The thief (false shepherds, the Pharisees) come to take life, but the Good Shepherd (Jesus Christ) came to bring abundant life to the sheep under His care. The whole purpose of Christ coming to earth was to give life. John got exactly what Jesus meant, and when he summed up his Gospel, he wrote this:

But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:31 TNIV)

God’s purpose and plan are to not only save man from eternal death and destruction but to give man a good life in the here-and-now. That’s not insignificant. The Good Shepherd wants His sheep to experience the best that life has to offer. That’s what the “abundant life” is all about. It’s not that God wants you rich and good looking, but the new life we have in Christ is just that: a new life; a better life; a life filled with hope and optimism; a life of possibilities; a life of joy, peace, and contentment. You can’t find that outside of a relationship with Jesus Christ. All manner of false shepherds are trying to get you to follow them by offering you what only Christ can deliver. You don’t need a false shepherd. You just need the Good Shepherd. You need Jesus Christ.

7 Side Benefits of Grace, Part 1

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Our favorite definition of God’s grace goes like this: God’s unmerited favor. Grace is God’s agape love in action, treating redeemed sinners better than we deserve to be treated. We almost always think of God’s grace in relation to our salvation. We didn’t deserve to be saved, but out of the abundance of His grace, God saved us. True enough. But there are many “side benefits” of grace that are at work every day in our lives. Some of them may seem obvious, some might surprise you, but all are cause to stop and praise Him for His amazing grace.

We’ll look at seven side benefits of grace, although there are more if you scour your Bible for them. All seven of these side benefits of grace serve mainly to do one thing: They help you overcome fear. For example, the author of the letter to the Hebrews understood this, so he wrote this word of encouragement and explanation –

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14, 15 NIV)

Fear of death is a fear common to everybody anywhere in the world. Yet we are told specifically that Jesus Christ – from His Incarnation to His death – not only provided salvation from sin but also deliverance from fear of death. That’s why no Christian should fear death, ever. Christ died to remove that fear from you. Jesus Christ tasted death so that believers wouldn’t have to. If you fear death, that’s the Devil trying to gain a foothold in your soul. Don’t let him! Take control of your thoughts! That fear is gone, so you have no business entertaining it.

That sounds like something a “name-it-and-claim-it” preacher would say, but in this case the truth is the truth no matter who says it. Still, it’s easier said than done. Maybe you struggle with lingering fear. Perhaps not necessarily fear of death, but maybe you fear other things. You are fortunate that the Bible is there to help you overcome those fears! Jesus Himself once said this –

Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows. (Luke 12:7b NIV)

Jesus spoke those words to His disciples and the context clearly indicates He was refering to a time of coming persecution. At such a time, His followers might be tempted to fear their persecutors. Jesus makes the point that such fear is a waste of time; all man can do is kill them. But God always has His eyes trained on them – He never stops noticing them or taking care of them. Jesus then compared something of infinite value – a human being – to something worth very little – a bird. If God takes the time to notice a bird, how much more is He paying attention to you?

Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground outside your Father’s care. (Matthew 10:29 NIV)

Our Lord chose the most common of all birds to teach what may be the most profound truth of all: God’s incredible care for us. David noticed this side of God and he wrote about it –

When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made them a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. (Psalm 8:4 – 5 NIV)

Here’s how much God cares for us:

He names His sheep, John 10:3

The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. (John 10:3 NIV)

This verse is part of a parable addressed primarily to, of all people, a group of Pharisees –

Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.” (John 10:1 NIV)

Why in the world was Jesus telling a parable to Pharisees? This parable is actually linked to an incident in chapter nine, where Jesus healed a blind man. For the man who was healed, Jesus offered words of comfort and strength, but for the Pharisees who had witnessed the miraculous healing, Jesus’ words were of condemnation and judgment.

The parable explains our Lord’s role as both the gate to the kingdom of God and His role as the Shepherd who regulates the coming and going of sheep between the sheep pen and the pasture. As the gate, Jesus is the only way into the pen and He is the One who decides who enters – who is actually part of His fold, or the family of God. But we are more familiar with His role as the Great Shepherd, and that figure was something very familiar to the listeners of His day. The Jews were a very pastoral people and throughout the Old Testament, the figure of God as their Shepherd was well known. In Ezekiel 34, we read about shepherds who represented the leaders of Israel. But not in a very good way –

Son of dust, prophesy against the shepherds, the leaders of Israel. Say to them, ‘The Lord God says to you: Woe to the shepherds who feed themselves instead of their flocks. Shouldn’t shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the best food and wear the finest clothes, but you let your flocks starve. You haven’t taken care of the weak, nor tended the sick, nor bound up the broken bones, nor gone looking for those who have wandered away and are lost. Instead, you have ruled them with force and cruelty.” (Ezekiel 34:2 – 4 TLB)

That’s a terrible way for God’s people to be treated, so one day, He’s going to take charge –

For the Lord God says: “I will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places they were scattered in that dark and cloudy day. And I will bring them back from among the people and nations where they were, back home to their own land of Israel, and I will feed them upon the mountains of Israel and by the rivers where the land is fertile and good. Yes, I will give them good pasture on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in peace and feed in luscious mountain pastures.” (Ezekiel 34:11 – 14 TLB)

That paragraph refers to the Jews specifically, but in it we see God the Father’s character painted with bold colors. And in John 10, His Son picks up the same idea. He is the Good Shepherd – He possesses the same character as that of a shepherd. He is the One who functions as our Shepherd. We belong to Him as any sheep belongs to any shepherd. He has complete authority over our coming and going. He leads us. He guides us. He protects us. He is also completely responsible for our welfare, and He, like a shepherd who cares for sheep does, names us. Think about that. Jesus Christ attaches a name to every believer. We’re not just a number to Him. He names us. That’s significant. You name something important to you. You choose a name that suits it. Jesus names each and every believer in His care.
There is a relationship between Shepherd and sheep that is based wholly on the nature of the Shepherd. He knows us. He leads. He guides us. He names us. It’s all Him for our benefit. This must have meant so much to the man who had just been healed of his lifelong blindness. Remember him? Here’s how the Pharisees treated the poor sod –

To this they replied, “You were steeped in sin at birth; how dare you lecture us!” And they threw him out. (John 9:34 NIV)

The Living Bible is a bit more graphic –

You illegitimate bastard, you!” they shouted. “Are you trying to teach us?” And they threw him out. (TLB)

He had been excommunicated from his synagogue and family, but now he was a member of another family – he was a follower of the Good Shepherd and part of His fold, His family.

And there is a wonderful exclusiveness about being a member of God’s flock – there is only one Voice we need to hear, only Way for us to go, only one Will we need to be concerned about. Life is complicated, it is said, but for the sheep of the Good Shepherd, for the members of God’s great family, there is only peace of mind, focus of purpose, and one Love that really matters. Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, never lets us down.

He numbers the hair on our head, Matthew 10:30

And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. (Matthew 10:30 TNIV)

The old joke that goes along with that verse is, “And for some of you, that’s not hard to do.” But the truth is that’s actually a very serious statement of fact made by Jesus. It’s no wonder the French critic Joseph Ernest Renan, expert on all things having to do with the Middle East, said this about Matthew’s gospel:

It is the most important book which has ever been written.

Why is this Gospel so important? One reason could be the way it portrays our Lord. Here is Jesus, who cares so much for us that He has taken the time to number our hair! He’s already encouraged His disciples when He talked about those sparrows. One sparrow was worth at most a cent in His day. Even though they weren’t worth much from a commercial standpoint, not a single sparrow could fall to the ground without God noticing. It’s not the sparrow that’s important in Jesus’ illustration, it’s God. It’s impossible for the finite to grasp God. Only infinity can explain such a concept as the care and concern of God. Finite minds like ours cannot. It takes a “leap of faith” to not only believe in God but to believe His care and compassion is just as infinite as His Person is. That’s why Jesus taught this. He’s not teaching us about birds. He’s trying to do justice to God; He’s trying to help us understand Someone essentially un-understandable.

To make it a little more personal, Jesus turned to hair. Something almost everybody has. Hair is commonplace, and if you’ve ever swept your bathroom floor, you can see how much hair you lose every day, yet it continues to grow (for most of us).

At this point in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus told His disciples this –

I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” (Matthew 10:16 TNIV)

Rough times were on the horizon for them. They would face possible persecution from both religious and civil authorities. But Jesus told them to be cool headed; to fear God and not their persecutors. Even more than that, there was this –

Everyone will hate you because of me, but those who stand firm to the end will be saved. (Matthew 10:33 TNIV)

This is our Lord’s admonition to His followers then and now. True disciples of Jesus don’t give up in the face of persecution or some discouragement. No matter what the circumstances, Christians are to “stand firm.” And we can stand firm no matter what because of God’s attentiveness. He’s watching us. He cares about us and cares about what happens to us. The fact that He has numbered the hairs on our heads is an indicator of how well our Father knows us.

The Lord’s loving care is linked to your relationship with Him. You have to be in one! Stand for Him because He knows you that well. And why wouldn’t you acknowledge the Lord when you know how much He cares for you?

Jesus Cleans House

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Luke 15 may be one of the most famous chapters in the New Testament. It contains several very famous stories, including the most famous of all, the story of the prodigal son. The three parables Jesus told in Luke 15 share a common idea: there is great joy when something lost is found. There is an old Jewish proverb that our Lord was probably familiar with, and it goes like this:

There is joy before God when those who provoke Him perish from the earth.

That may or may not be totally accurate from a theological standpoint, but Jesus paints a very different picture of God in Luke 15: God rejoices over the return of the penitent more than over the many who are safely in the fold.

The most common picture of Jesus in the gospels is found in Luke 15, that of the Good Shepherd. It’s a beautiful picture of the caring, hardworking, determined Shepherd of the sheep who would go out into a dangerous wilderness to track down a stray sheep and return him to the safety of the fold. Obviously, our Lord wants us to see Him that way. He is the One who would give, and indeed did give, His life to save His people.

Even the Son of Man did not come to be served. Instead, he came to serve others. He came to give his life as the price for setting many people free. (Mark 10:45 NIrV)

The fold is that place of safety where Jesus hides and protects those who belong to Him. Or the home where the prodigal son is always welcome. Or the jewellry box where a woman stores a precious coin. Whatever metaphor He used, His idea is very clear: Jesus protects His own.

Give praise to the One who is able to keep you from falling into sin. He will bring you into his heavenly glory without any fault. He will bring you there with great joy. (Jude 24 NIrV)

That’s quite a comforting thought, isn’t it? Jesus saves us and then He does everything He can (to put it in human terms) to help keep us saved!

And yet, in spite of that, some of the Good Shepherd’s sheep like to leave the safety and protection of the fold. When he does that, the Shepherd goes to bring him back.

Everyone the Father gives me will come to me. I will never send away anyone who comes to me. (John 6:37 NIrV)

Our Lord; such a Good Shepherd!

When he finds it, he will joyfully put it on his shoulders and go home. Then he will call his friends and neighbors together. He will say, ‘Be joyful with me. I have found my lost sheep.’ (Luke 15:5, 6 NIrV)

And yet, if you picture Jesus as always looking for the lost, searching out sinners, welcoming the lost back, you don’t have the complete picture of our Lord. He is not always going to be the Shepherd, or the Savior. Sure, today He’s the Shepherd doing what He can to find His sheep, but someday He’ll be the Judge who will reject them. Today He brings sheep into His fold, but one day He will go into His fold and take some out. It’s a side of Jesus you don’t hear a lot about, but let’s consider these two very different sides of the Son of God.

Jesus as Shepherd

First, let’s consider our Lord’s role as the Good Shepherd. What is His purpose in bringing the straying sheep into the fold? Why does Jesus, the Savior, seek the lost soul, save the lost soul, then place the now-redeemed soul into His Body, the church? The simple, short answer is so that they will remain with Him until the future when He brings them to their final reward. The pen isn’t the final destination for the sheep any more than the church is the final destination for the Christian.

Our Lord came to save sinners. He works through the Holy Spirit to bring them repentance and then pardons their sins so that they may walk in newness of life instead of continually committing the sins of which they were guilty of before.

By being baptized, we were buried with Christ into his death. Christ has been raised from the dead by the Father’s glory. And like Christ we also can live a new life. (Romans 6:4 NIrV)

In a very real sense, that “new life” starts at the moment of salvation. It’s immediate. But in another sense, the “new life” comes on us gradually, as we come to grips with the frightening reality that sin is always trying to reclaim us, and as we wrestle with temptation and overcome the urge to sin, our “new life” becomes more and more a present reality. In yet another sense, our “new life” is wholly in the future. What we are right now is not what God intends for us to become.

God planned that those he had chosen would become like his Son. In that way, Christ will be the first and most honored among many brothers. And those God has planned for, he has also appointed to be saved. Those he has appointed, he has made right with himself. To those he has made right with himself, he has given his glory. (Romans 8:29, 30 NIrV)

The Lord will save me from every evil attack. He will bring me safely to his heavenly kingdom. (2 Timothy 4:18 NIrV)

Jesus as the Savior, and metaphorically as the Good Shepherd, brings the sinner back to Himself, in a state of forgiveness, and therefore, innocence. So then, the redeemed liar is brought back to the truth and Christ expects him not to lie again. The drunkard is brought back to sobriety and is expected to never return to his drunken state. The adulterer is brought back to fidelity and is expected to remain that way. The apostle Paul explained it this way:

You were taught not to live the way you used to. You must get rid of your old way of life. That’s because it is polluted by longing for things that lead you down the wrong path. You were taught to be made new in your thinking. You were taught to start living a new life. It is created to be truly good and holy, just as God is. So each of you must get rid of your lying. Speak the truth to your neighbor. We are all parts of one body. (Ephesians 4:22 – 25 NIrV)

The “behaving” part of the deal must follow the “believing” part. Jesus does His part and we respond with belief, and then must do our part and behave like the forgiven sinners we are. When we do that, our Good Shepherd does what He can to help us – to keep us within the pen of His Body.

I am sending this letter to you who have been chosen by God. You are loved by God the Father. You are kept safe by Jesus Christ. (Jude, verse 1 NIrV)

Jesus as Judge

That’s now. But it won’t always be like this because Jesus won’t always be the Good Shepherd. At some time in the future, Jesus will become the Judge and He will separate the bad from the good within His fold. He will closely examine His sheep and will identify and pick out all the sheep that don’t really belong to Him; the diseased sheep that threaten the healthy ones, and He will cast them outside of His pen.

The day will come when our Lord will stop calling sinners to Himself and placing them in His church and will, instead, turn His attention TO His church and examine those IN His church. If He finds anyone who has not changed his ways; who continually goes back to his unregenerate state; who has given no evidence of progress in the “new life,” He will toss him out.

We have an Old Testament illustration of Jesus’ role as Judge. In Joshua 7, we read about Israel being led by Joshua into the Promised Land. Here is what God told the people to do:

‘Make yourselves pure. Get ready for tomorrow.’ (Joshua 7:13 NIrV)

What was going to happen “tomorrow?” They were to be led into the Promised Land, their final destination. The people had to do the one thing their leader, Joshua, couldn’t do for them: They had to make themselves pure. In the KJV the word is “sanctified.” The people had to sanctify themselves. They were IN Israel, but in order to enter into their final destination, they had to make an effort to sanctify themselves. They had to do this because all was not well in the fold of Israel.

Joshua spoke to Achan. He said, “My son, the Lord is the God of Israel. So give him glory by telling the truth! Give him praise by admitting you have sinned! Tell me what you have done. Don’t hide it from me.”

Achan replied, “It’s true! I’ve sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. Here is what I’ve done. I saw a beautiful robe from Babylonia among the things we had taken. I saw five pounds of silver. And I saw a gold bar that weighed 20 ounces. I wanted them, so I took them. I hid them in the ground inside my tent. The silver is on the bottom.” (Joshua 7:19 – 21 NIrV)

Good old Achan had sinned in what he had done, and then he tried to cover up that sin by hiding the stuff he never should have had. He sinned and then compounded that sin. What happened to Achan is what happens to anybody who thinks they can hide their sin from God and the rest of the Body of Christ:

Then all of the people killed Achan by throwing stones at him. They also killed the rest of his family with stones. They burned all of them up. (Joshua 7:25 NIrV)

Pretty severe, but Achan knew. He gambled that he could get away what he’d done. He lost. What happened to Achan served to sanctify, or if you will, purify, Israel. The figurative “black sheep” had been dealt with.

When Jesus gathered His friends together for the Last Supper, there was a tense moment when Judas, the betrayer, stood up and walked away from Jesus the others. When he did that, Jesus said a curious thing:

After Judas was gone, Jesus spoke. He said, “Now the Son of Man receives glory. And he brings glory to God. (John 13:31 NIrV)

Just before that, Jesus was “troubled in His spirit,” verse 21. But the very moment the betrayer, the phony disciple, left His presence, His glorification began.

And so it is now, as it will be in the future. Jesus is glorified when sin is dealt with. As long as evil exists within the church, as long as there are sinners in the church that will not change; that will not submit to Jesus Christ, our Lord remains, “troubled in His spirit.” As long as unconfessed sin riddles His church, His glorification will be spotty at best.

But it won’t be this way forever. When the great Day comes, when Jesus Christ assumes His role as Judge, just as Joshua sanctified Israel and led his people into their Promised Land, so our Lord will purify His people by casting out from among them all the pretenders; all the Achans, and lead us into our Promised Land. On that Day of days, we will see the ultimate, final glorification of the Son of God.

 

Ezekiel and the False Shepherds

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Ezekiel 34:11 – 30

God wants very much to bless; He takes no pleasure in cursing.  However, both blessing and cursing are part of how God dealt with Israel.  Both are elements in His covenant arrangement with His people.

Even though we as Christians are not under any of His covenants per se, God has not changed how He deals with His people.  Obedience is rewarded, disobedience carries with it unpleasant consequences for the believer.

Ezekiel’s prophecies and sermons were given with God’s covenants in view.  It might be helpful to understand those covenants as we proceed to look at Israel’s glorious future.

1.  A God of Covenants

(A)  The Abrahamic Covenant, Genesis 12:1-3

This covenant is really God’s declaration of how He wants to bless the world.  Through one man, Abram, God would establish a nation – Israel – and through that nation God would bless the entire world.  This is the covenant that is in focus from Genesis through Joshua.  The Hebrew people became a nation in Egypt, during their captivity.  Israel’s government was established at Mount Sinai, after they left Egypt.  They acquired their homeland after the conquest of Canaan, being led by Joshua.

(B)  The Mosaic Covenant, Exodus 20 – Numbers 9, Deuteronomy.

The covenant Moses and the people entered into with God was a detailed expansion of the Abrahamic covenant.  This one gave Israel it’s national constitution and its laws, both civil and religious.  This covenant, though, carried with it a caveat.  Incredible blessings would fall on Israel only so long as they lived up to their end of the covenant.  If, at any time in her history Israel rebelled and disobeyed the stipulations of the covenant, she would find herself a nation without a homeland.  That’s why she found herself in exile in Babylon.  God was faithful in how He dealt with His people.  He warned them in the covenant (Deuteronomy 27, 28) and He sent prophet after prophet to warn them.

(C)  The Davidic Covenant, 2 Samuel 7:12 – 16

This covenant is a little different than the previous two.  Here, God promised David that one of his descendants would always – forever – sit on his throne.  It was to be an eternal throne in an eternal kingdom.  This is where the Jews get their concept of “Messiah.”  Each king was, in essence, their “messiah,” their “anointed ruler.”  But the Davidic covenant went a step further promising a “final son” of David who would rule over the world from David’s throne.

(D)  The New Covenant, Jeremiah 36, 2 Corinthians 3

A lot of Christians think the New Covenant was first mentioned by Jesus, and later by Paul, and is all about them.  That’s not entirely wrong, but when understood correctly the New Covenant takes on profound meaning.

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”  (Luke 22:20  TNIV)

The New Covenant may have been established by the sacrifice of Jesus, but it was first announced by the prophet Jeremiah!

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.”  (Jeremiah 31:31  TNIV)

This New covenant, by name, would take in parts of the Mosaic covenant and, instead of being recorded on stone or parchment, it would now be inscribed on the hearts of the people.  This New covenant though would be a great improvement over the other ones in all ways because now, for the very first time, all sins would be forgiven once and for all by the Messiah and the Spirit of God would be poured out all those who believe.

As Ezekiel preached, he always had these covenants in his view.  Because the people had not been faithful in respect to the Mosaic covenant, they would lose their homes and homeland and would be scattered among the nations.  This happened when Jerusalem finally fell.  The Israelites were now a people without a country.  But God didn’t want His people to think He was done with them and that it was all over!  In addition to dealing with them – exiling them temporarily – God promised to deal most severely with the nations surrounding Israel that had oppressed her.  We can see the results of this in history.

2.  Rotten shepherds

What was Israel’s biggest problem?  They were stiff necked and rebellious to be sure, but their biggest problem were the false shepherds that continually led them astray.

Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: `This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? [5] So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.  (Ezekiel 34:2, 5  TNIV)

No nation can survive long with leaders who don’t look out for the well-being of the people under their care.  It was all the worse for Israel given their divine origins.  Essentially the Israelites lost the land because of these false shepherds.  The sheep – the people – became lost, distracted souls looking for the light but finding only darkness.

Not every Israelite was rotten and rebellious, but the punishment was national.  Fortunately, the faithlessness of some cannot nullify the grace of God.

What if some were unfaithful? Will their unfaithfulness nullify God’s faithfulness?  (Romans 3:3  TNIV)

The people were stuck in Babylon for the foreseeable future; there was nothing they could do about that.  But all was not lost!  God had not given up on Israel, and He HAS not given up on His people.  A faithful and just Shepherd will come – the Messiah – and will completely restore Israel’s fortunes and glory and the world will be blessed by her.

3.  What God will do for His sheep

(A)  He will search for them.

For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.”  (Ezekiel 34:11  TNIV)

In the context of Ezekiel’s sermon, God will search out and find all the Israelites scattered among the nations.  He knows where they are and He will find them.  But there is a wonderfully comforting feeling you get from reading this verse, especially when we compare it to what Jesus said of Himself:

For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.  (Luke 19:10  TNIV)

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  (John 10:11  TNIV)

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.  (John 10:27  TNIV)

The good news is that Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He is looking for lost sheep.  As far as the exiles were concerned, even though they had been led astray by the false shepherds, they were responsible but God would seek them out and would lead them personally.  It’s good to know that Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, has loving concern for people gone astray and who are willfully rebellious.  He never gives up!

(B)  He will rescue them.

As shepherds look after their scattered flocks when they are with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.   (Ezekiel 34:12  TNIV)

The Good Shepherd doesn’t just stumble upon a lost sheep, He is out there actively searching for them and He will do whatever it takes to get hold of that sheep and save him.

God would find His people, wherever they were, and would restore them to their land no matter what.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep.  (John 10:14-15  TNIV)

(C)  He will bring them.

I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land.  (Ezekiel 34:13  TNIV)

Again, all this what God WILL DO for Israel.  It has yet to occur; it will happen in the future, when the Messiah comes in glory.  There is no way God is close to being finished with Israel!  It has a glorious future.

(D)  He will feed them.

I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.   (Ezekiel 34:14  TNIV)

One day, in the future, all their needs will be met.  Hunger, food shortages, all the things that have plagued mankind since the dawn of time will be taken away.

As Christians we are able to enjoy a foretaste of this kind of divine provision today.

And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.  (Philippians 4:19  TNIV)

(E)  He will give them rest.

I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.  (Ezekiel 34:15  TNIV)

When the Messiah comes, there will be no more wandering around for Israel; no more threat of attack.  She will finally and forever be a nation at peace.

Thank God as Christians we have the promise of peace right now!  One of the benefits of a relationship with the Good Shepherd is an abiding peace.   It’s in us because it is a fruit of the Holy Spirit, and if you’re born again, then you are full of the Holy Spirit and you are able to access that supernatural peace any time you need it!

(F)  He will bind them (heal them).

I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.  (Ezekiel 34:16  TNIV)

God will restore the nation in every way and justice will finally prevail.

(G)  He will rule over them.

I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd.  I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.  (Ezekiel 34:23-24  TNIV)

Here’s an allusion to the David covenant.  God would forever deliver Israel from all her enemies and distress.  No more poor, directionless leadership!  A final, Good Shepherd would come for His people:  the Messiah, whom Ezekiel refers to as “my servant David.”  Really, that’s another term for “a descendant of David.”

(H)  He will make them a blessing.

I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing.  (Ezekiel 34:26  TNIV)

Here’s an allusion to an earlier covenant.  When Christ, the Good Shepherd, comes as Messiah, Israel will finally be the conduit of blessing she was always intended to be.  God will bless them and will make them a blessing to the whole world.

3.  A prelude to the Millennial Kingdom

The similarities between John 10 and Ezekiel 34 are so strong that it is obvious that Jesus had Ezekiel’s sermon in mind when He said, “I am the good shepherd.”  When Jesus spoke those words and gave the teaching in John 10, He was telling the Jews with discernment who He really was.  He was the Shepherd of whom Ezekiel spoke.

Spiritually, we may enjoy a full and satisfying relationship with the Good Shepherd today.  We don’t have to wait until the Millennium to have the Messiah reign in our hearts.    The promises made to Israel are real and awaiting fulfillment.  But we who are born again are already part of the Good Shepherd’s flock!  We know His voice.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  (Romans 5:8  TNIV)

The Good Shepherd gave His life for us, the lost the sheep.  How will you respond?

 


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