************ Sermon on Ezekiel 34:1-10; John 10:11-18 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on May 29, 2005
Ezekiel 34:1-10; John 10:11-18
"Shepherds and Sheep"
The third largest fleet in the world is the famous "mothball" navy; it is made up of 768 ships anchored in various American harbors. In an emergency these vessels can be readied for action in less than three months. To preserve them, each has been repainted and treated with a protective coating. All openings have been blocked. Steel and aluminum "igloos" have been built over exposed equipment. Inside the various compartments, dehumidifiers hum and work. Outside, rust and corrosion are combated by electrodes ringing the hulls with a continuous electric current.
Go to the Mojave Desert and you will see the second largest airplane fleet in the world – hundreds of planes are parked in the desert, sealed in airtight plastic, awaiting new owners or an upswing in airline travel.
Sad to say, many believers also seem to be in mothballs. Anchored in some ecclesiastical harbor, they forget that spiritual war wages. The church should never be inactive or in mothballs. Rather, using her gifts, she should be on the high seas fighting the foe.
On this installation Sunday I want to spend some time looking at how God blesses the church with shepherds to guide her and lead her in the fight against sin and evil and Satan. These shepherds, of course, don't include just Ron and myself but also and especially those who are called to church office as elders and deacons.
What is a shepherd? What are those who are shepherds called to do?
A little girl at a wedding was introduced to the minister. She asked him, "Are you a pastor or a preacher?" Taken aback by the question, the minister asked, "Do you know the difference?" She thought for a moment, then answered, "A preacher thinks more of himself, but a pastor thinks of his people."I disagree, of course, with what this little girl said about preachers, but I think she hit the nail on the head about pastors – a pastor (we can use the word "shepherd") devotes himself to the flock.
As we examine our two portions of Scripture we will find out that the true shepherd guides, feeds, and guards the flock of God. A true shepherd devotes himself to the flock. Those who are shepherds are called upon to oversee the spiritual lives of others and care for their spiritual needs by teaching and guiding them toward maturity.
I Jesus as our Shepherd
A When we discuss shepherds we must first of all look to the Lord Jesus. After all, He calls Himself "the good shepherd" (Jn 10:11). The ending benediction of Hebrews calls Him the "great Shepherd of the sheep" (Heb 13:20). And, Peter calls Him "the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls" (1 Pt 2:25) and "the Chief Shepherd" (1 Pt 5:4).
B Jesus is the good shepherd. He tells us this twice in John 10 (vs 11, 14). He is the good shepherd in contrast to the bad and wicked shepherds of Israel – the Pharisees, priests, scribes, kings, rulers, and magistrates. Those who were to function as the shepherds of God's flock failed to feed the flock and actually scattered them. Instead of looking after the flock, they used and abused the flock of God for their own wicked purposes and aims. Through the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord condemns this kind of shepherd:
(Ezek 34:2,8-10) "Son of man, prophesy against the [shepherds] of Israel; prophesy and say to them: 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the [shepherds] of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not [shepherds] take care of the flock? ... because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, (9) therefore ... (10) This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.
C In contrast to these shepherds Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd." Jesus points to three things He does as the good shepherd. First, Jesus says,
(Jn 10:11) "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. A shepherd has to guard and protect the flock even at some risk to his life. Think of David. When his flock was attacked by a lion and a bear he defended the sheep under his care, even though he was but a boy (1 Sam 17:34-37). For His sheep Jesus lays down His life. For His sheep Jesus goes to the cross and the grave. He is the good shepherd Who cares for the sheep.
Second, as the good shepherd Jesus knows His sheep. Jesus says,
(Jn 10:14) "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me ...The shepherd of Palestine knew his sheep. He had a favorite name for each one of them. Likewise, Jesus knows His sheep and calls them by name. As the good shepherd He has a shepherd's concern for each one of His flock. He searches them out when they are lost. He knows who belongs to Him and knows when one of His flock is missing or straying!
Third, as the good shepherd Jesus "leads" His sheep (Jn 10:3). The shepherd of Palestine had to guide and lead the sheep to green pastures and quiet waters. As the good shepherd, Jesus guides and leads His sheep to life everlasting. He gets them to drink the living water and eat the living bread from the Word of God.
D Jesus is the good shepherd. About this there can be no doubt. But what does this have to do with those who are shepherds today? Today's shepherds must follow after the example of Christ Jesus, the good shepherd of the sheep. In fact, no shepherd can ever go wrong in imitating Christ Jesus the good shepherd of the sheep. Like Jesus, shepherds today – elders, deacons, pastors – must guard the sheep, know the sheep, and lead the sheep.
II Shepherds Today
A One of the main jobs of a shepherd is to lead or guide the flock. David mentions this in the Shepherd's Psalm – Psalm 23 – when he says about the Lord,
(Ps 23:2) He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters ...When Isaiah thought about the coming Messiah, he portrayed the Messiah as a shepherd who leads or guides the flock:
(Is 40:11) He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young. Shepherds – whether it is the Lord, the Messiah, or David himself – lead or guide the flock.
A couple of weeks ago I was told I wasn't a very good shepherd – by the members of the cycling club. I always count heads at the start of a ride and during a ride to make sure we haven't lost or dropped anyone. If someone is missing I usually go back for them to make sure everything is okay.
Anyways, we started off the ride with 12 people. The ride ended with only 2 of us. This shepherd lost most of his sheep as we rode 90 miles and climbed 14,000 feet.
To do his job of guiding and leading the sheep, the ancient shepherd used a rod and a staff. When a lamb entangled its foot in the underbrush, the shepherd hooked the staff around the lamb's leg to tenderly ease it out of its prison of thorns. When a sheep or a little lamb would wander from the path or the flock, the shepherd would hook his staff around the sheep's neck and pull it back, or he would wave his rod to direct it back to the path. Though the rod was wielded against hostile beasts that sought to devour the sheep, it was also used to beat a path through briars, thistles, thorns, and weeds that stood in the way.
Today's shepherd needs to also guide and lead the sheep. He needs to beat a path through briars, thistles, thorns, and weeds. His rod and staff is the Word of God. So, in a day when everything is relative, the Christian shepherd points to the absolutes in the Word of God. In a day when the ultimate good is tolerance, the Christian shepherd will not tolerate sin and evil. In a day when people think it is their right to marry and divorce, the Christian shepherd calls Christian youth to marry only in the Lord and to remain faithful within that marriage relationship.
B A shepherd also guards and protects the flock. David knew about this first-hand. To King Saul he said,
(1 Sam 17:34-36) Your servant has been keeping his father's sheep. When a [lion] or a [bear] came and carried off a sheep from the flock, (35) I went after it, struck it and rescued the sheep from its mouth. When it turned on me, I seized it by its hair, struck it and killed it. (36) Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear ...
To keep wild animals at a distance, the shepherd carried a sling, which he learned to use with great skill. Think of David killing Goliath with one little stone. And, a shepherd wielded his rod like a club against wild beasts that attacked the flock. Undoubtedly, this is what David used against the lion and the bear.
Today, more than ever, shepherds are needed to protect the flock and people of God from the enemy. Jesus warned of false prophets who are wolves in sheep's clothing (Mt 7:15). And Paul warned the Ephesian elders,
(Ac 20:28-31) Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. (29) I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. (30) Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. (31) So be on your guard!
Perhaps you have noticed the advertisements in national news magazines for the Baha'i Faith. There is nothing Christian about this faith. Yet, because it talks about God, love, and the unity of mankind many naive Christians are taken in. Think of the thousands taken in by the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Mormons, Christian Science, the New Age movement, the Moonies. Many Christians today are taken in by these wolves in sheep's clothing. Many Christians need to be protected and guarded by shepherds who watch out for their spiritual welfare.
I remember the time when a woman from one of the previous churches I served opened her home to a Jehovah's Witness for a weekly Bible study. I did not know about this until afterwards. One of the elders who found out about this visited her and kindly but accurately told her the errors and heresies of this faith. By being this kind of shepherd he protected a fellow church member in her faith.
It is impossible for me as pastor to keep an alert eye on all 450 of our members. Thus the need for other shepherds in the church – elders and deacons and our youth director.
C Lastly, we can say that a shepherd also feeds the sheep. He leads them to green pastures and beside quiet waters. Through Jeremiah God said that the shepherds of His people were to feed them "with knowledge and understanding" (Jer 3:15).
Three times in the New Testament the verb form of pastor or shepherd is used, each time with the meaning of providing food. First, when Jesus restored a sorrowful and repentant Peter, He said, "Feed my sheep!" (Jn 21:16). Second, Paul exhorted the Ephesian elders to "be shepherds of the church of God" (Acts 20:28); the word for shepherd here is the same word Jesus used when He said to Peter, "Feed my sheep!" The same word is again used when Peter says to the elders, "Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care ..." (1 Pt 5:2). In the Greek the word "shepherd" comes from the verb "to feed." Literally, a shepherd is the "feeder of sheep."
Within the church, those who are shepherds must feed the people of God. They feed them, of course, from the Word of God.
D Leading the flock, guarding the flock, feeding the flock – that's what a shepherd does.
The need is so great for faithful under-shepherds. Adult singles who move away from home, to attend college or because of work, need someone to shepherd them. Many junior and senior high students often turn to someone other than their own parents for direction. New Christians or members can so easily drift away or become disillusioned. Those facing loss – of a job, a child, a spouse – they need a shepherd's care. Those with illness or disability often seek direction. Those with sin or heresy in their life need someone to correct them. And, the list goes on and on.
It isn't only pastors and elders and deacons and youth directors who are to lead the flock, guard the flock, and feed the flock. This is the calling, of course, of every single Christian parent and grand-parent. But this is also the calling of Christian teachers at school or Sunday School, youth leaders, Cadet Counselors, GEMS counselors, and Bible Study leaders. Whenever someone new to the Reformed faith joins our church we appoint mentors. The job of these mentors is to shepherd people in the faith. They open the Bible and Catechism with them and teach them the basics of the Reformed faith so that they grow and mature in Jesus Christ.
Again I say what I said before: it is impossible for me as pastor to keep watch over all 450 members. We need Council members – elders and deacons – who will shepherd the flock with me. The Lord knows that. That's why He has appointed office bearers in His church.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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