Rev. Jacob Sutton, Pastor
+ In the Name of Jesus +
Bad shepherds are not bad because they use the wrong techniques, neither are they bad because they are not winsome or friendly in personality, not humorous or well spoken, not good looking, or because any other such quality is lacking. As a matter of fact, the bad shepherds typically have these qualities the world wants to see and hear.
Bad shepherds are bad because they do not do what God calls them to do. Listen to God speaking at the beginning of Ezekiel chapter 34:
“Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts.” (Ezk 34.2-5, ESV)
Bad shepherds do not feed nor care for the flock of God! They take care of themselves first.
Bad shepherding started with Adam, who failed to protect his wife, allowed the attack of Satan, ate of the fruit, hid himself from God, and constructed fig-leaf clothes for himself and his wife. Cain killed his brother Abel rather than watching out for him and rejoicing with him in his right worship of God. Saul fails to serve God and Israel’s people time and again, looking out for his own interests. David steals Uriah’s little lamb, Bathsheba, and murders her rightful husband to fulfill his lust. Solomon cannot be satisfied with just one wife, nor with the worship of one God. The kings and priests of Israel fail time and again to resist the sinful flesh. They were truly sons of the old Adam.
The Pharisees and Chief Priests of Jesus’ day were also continuing the line of bad shepherds in Israel. Many sinners they perceived and treated as lost – such as the tax collectors and prostitutes – when they were actually just broken and in need of repentance and forgiveness and mercy – mercy the Pharisees were unwilling to give.
How often we fail in our vocations to love our neighbor as we ought! How often we all act as a bad shepherd to our children, our family, our fellow Christians! How often we allow ourselves and our children and family and other neighbors to dabble in false doctrine and the drivel of false preachers and teachers, in so many ways – listening to the culture of this world, and the idolatrous voice of this world in television, movies, popular music, and internet, sometimes even listening to false teachers in other churches, in their books, on the television. And it is easy to join the hypocrite Pharisees as well, giving up on people, whether the militant unbelievers, the morally repugnant, or those who struggle with sin, and not hoping and praying for their salvation, the same salvation we are so dearly in need of. We too are sons of the old Adam – bad shepherds! We fail within the daily vocations God gives us to lead others according to God’s will, we fail to go in His ways ourselves.
“So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts.”
God has seen our terrible, wretched state. He did not do what the bad shepherds do. He does not take the easy road and forsake the weak, the injured, the sick, the lost. He does not turn His back and look out only for Himself. God loves His flock too much to do that.
“I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” Jesus fulfills His Father’s will perfectly on our behalf, and so, not only does He lay down His life for the sheep, but He also takes His life back up again, in order that His sheep would share in His resurrection life.
Good news: there is the one Good Shepherd. He has come into our world, done His work of salvation on our behalf, and gave Himself as the ransom for the forgiveness and life of His flock. Here, in His Church, Jesus Christ gladly receives and comforts and strengthens all sinners. He deals with you graciously, out of love for you. He comes to you with mercy and peace, the forgiveness of sins He won by giving His life for the flock.
Jesus fulfilled His own Word to Ezekiel: “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down” in the green pastures of His Word, beside the still and saving waters of Holy Baptism, in front of the table He sets with His own body and blood given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. Here, with the Gospel, at His living voice, the Good Shepherd seeks the lost, brings back the strayed, binds up the injured, strengthens the weak, reminding you time and again that your sins are wiped away and forgotten and forgiven, that the punishment for sin is taken care of freely, that each lamb of His flock will live with Him forever in His eternal sheepfold.
The sick and hurting, the weak and broken, the lost and straying: they need to hear of and know Jesus as their Good Shepherd. They need His Gospel. It is the power of God unto salvation. The Gospel will turn the hearts of repentant, contrite sinners to Jesus, they need not be forced, coerced, or driven under the rod of the Law.
The Gospel “graciously invites and makes men willing, so that they desire to go to Jesus [through faith] with all confidence. And it begets a love for Christ in their hearts, so that they willingly do what they should, whereas formerly they had to be driven and forced. When we are driven [by the Law], we do a thing with displeasure and against our will. But when I see that God deals with me graciously [as my Good Shepherd does], He wins my heart, so that I am constrained to fly to Him; consequently, my heart is filled with happiness and joy.” (Luther, ibid., pp.25-26)
Pray that by God’s grace, you do not act as bad shepherds within the vocations God gives you each day, who rule poorly and selfishly, who fail to love and tend and nourish, and so drive away your neighbor. Do not forsake the hurting sinners around you, pray for them, encourage them, bring them to the services of God’s house. Do know that the Lord forgives you for when you’ve failed. And do be wise to know that in God’s Kingdom, in our congregation and community and in our own families, there are only weak and sickly people, the broken and contrite, the lost and straying, even as we ourselves are. Realize that the Church, God’s Kingdom, and even our own families are, as Luther says, “nothing but a hospital, where the sick and infirm, who need care, are gathered.” (Luther, ibid., pp.26)
J.S. Bach set the following confession of faith concerning the Good Shepherd’s Gospel Word of forgiveness to music in a cantata for this Good Shepherd Sunday, first sung in April, 1724:
“Yes, this Word is the food of my soul, a refreshment for my breast,
The pasture, that I call my delight, a foretaste of heaven, indeed my all.
Ah! Gather together now, O Good Shepherd, us who are poor and gone astray;
Ah let our path soon be ended and lead us into Your sheepfold!
Happy flock, Jesus’ sheep.
The world for you is a heavenly kingdom.
Here you already taste the goodness of Jesus and hope for the reward of faith
After a sweet sleep in death.
The Lord is my faithful shepherd to whom I entrust myself completely,
He leads me, his little sheep, to pasture in beautiful green meadows,
He guides me to fresh water to revive my soul mightily
Through His blessed Word of grace.” (Cantata BWV 104, movements 4-6)
His Word of Grace. The forgiveness of sins. The essence of the New Testament. The gift of the Good Shepherd, who cares for His flock, who cares for you. Thanks be to God!
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit +