August 13, 2023

The Shepherd's Rescue (Ezekiel 34:10-12)

Preacher: Bryce Morgan Series: Our Bible Reading Plan (2022-2023) Topic: One Lord: No One Like You Scripture: Ezekiel 34:10–12

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Children's Lesson (click here)

I. A Committed Relationship

When asked about their dating or relationship status, I've often heard people reply with this phrase, with this label: “I'm currently in a committed relationship.” Though I'm no expert on the topic, I assume that description is in contrast to someone who is in the early stages of a relationship, or dating around. But committed relationships are found beyond the romantic realm, right? Think for a moment about the committed relationships in your life and what they mean to you.

This morning, God wants to describe for us a committed relationship unlike any other. And in doing that, I believe he wants us to carefully consider that commitment, and how that relationship unlike any other can and should profoundly bring us a peace unlike any other. Let's do this by looking together at Ezekiel 34:10-12 (from Our Bible Reading Plan).


II. The Passage: “I... Will Search for My Sheep” (34:10-12)

Unlike Isaiah and Jeremiah, Ezekiel was not simply a prophet predicting the exile of God's people. He was a prophet living in that exile; ministering in that exile. Listen to his/God's words to the people of God who were now scattered throughout conquering Babylon. Verses 10-12...

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. [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.”

Now that message was delivered 500-600 years before the time of Jesus. But let's fast forward the tape and listen to a couple passages from the New Testament. As I read these, think not only about how these fit with Ezekiel 34, but how they all enhance one another. Luke 15:1–5...

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear [Jesus]. [2] And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” [3] So he told them this parable: [4] “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? [5] And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.

Now consider more of Jesus' word, this time from another Gospel, the Gospel of John, 10:11–16

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. [12] He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. [13] He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. [14] I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, [15] just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. [16] And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. [Let me add verses 27–28 from that same chapter] ...My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. [28] I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.

Hopefully it's clear how those Old Testament (OT) and New Testament (NT) verses are connected: all of them teach us about our relationship with God using this imagery of a shepherd with his sheep. The reason I chose to group these passages together right away has to do with the distance we might feel; or we could say, for the sake of relevance. Sometimes, when we talk about OT events like the Babylonian Exile, we can feel disconnected for many reasons: different time, different place, different ethnicity or national identity, different culture/language... different covenant. But when we as Christians, when we as disciples of Jesus, link passages like these, those vivid OT scenes and powerful OT themes, can make a different kind of impact.

So think we with me about Ezekiel's words in light of some of these shared themes. First...


1. We are Scattered by Sin

Our passage from Ezekiel used the image of scattered sheep to describe God's people in exile. Instead of being in the pasture of the Promised Land, the people's sin had resulted in a scattering among the nations. That was true for both northern and southern Israel over several centuries. In the same way, all of us, every human being, is not where he or she should be spiritually because of sin. As we read in the prophet Isaiah several weeks ago, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way...” (53:6). This is what Jesus confirms about the spiritual condition of the “lost”, the “sinners” with whom he ate in Luke 15, AND it explains the dangerous, sheep-threatening conditions described in John 10. We are spiritually scattered by sin. We also read here that God is teaching us something about...


2. The Danger of False Shepherds

That's the first thing we learn from the passage in Ezekiel: “Behold, I am against the shepherds”. Who were these shepherds? They were the leaders of the people during the exile. Why was God against them? Because they were not caring for the people spiritually. If the people were exiled as result of their pervasive and persistent sin, these leaders were failing to lead the people to humility and obedience. Instead, they were simply taking advantage of the people, proving they cared only about themselves and not the sheep. In both of the NT passages, Jesus is confronting the Jewish leaders of his day, those who criticized him and his efforts to save straying sheep. In fact, Jesus condemns these leaders as “hired hands” who cared more about a paycheck (i.e., their own gain) than the safety of threatened sheep. But in stark contrast...


3. God Pursues Lost Sinners

Have you ever heard better news than that? “God pursues lost sinners” (say it with me). Those languishing in exile must have recognized God as Israel's Shepherd. Didn't David famously sing about it in Psalm 23? “Yahweh is my shepherd, I shall not want.” But now that they were far away from their own land, exiled because of their sin, maybe they imagined that the Shepherd of Israel was standing in that Promised Land, just waiting for them to get their act together.

Maybe they imagined him saying, “Look at what you've done. Look at where you are now. Lost in the wilderness. Stuck on a cliff face. Exposed to the elements. Vulnerable to predators. Tired. Hungry. So... what are you going to do about it? When you figure it out, I'll be right here in this open field of green grass. Doesn't that sounds good? Yes? Well... then figure it out.” But that isn't what God said. And it's not what he's saying this morning. Look again at verses 11 and 12...

For thus says the Lord GOD: “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and [I] 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.”

God pursues lost sinners. And if we continued on in Ezekiel 34, we would discover even more about God's DIY rescue: v. 14, “I will feed them with good pasture... they shall lie down”... (15) “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep”... (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”. As we saw last week in reference to the “new covenant” in Jeremiah, Ezekiel also confirms that the fullness of what God began in bringing back the exiles was only realized when Jesus came to bring us back to God.


III. Your Shepherd is Near

You see, when we bring these passages together, we are reassured that 1) God really did fulfill his promise as Israel's Shepherd, AND 2) that Jesus Christ is none other than the God of Ezekiel. Jesus is the Good Shepherd who sought out his scattered sheep. If you belong to Him this morning by his grace alone, through faith alone, then he, like a devoted shepherd, laid you on his shoulders. How? By carrying, by bearing your sins right up to the cross... in order to bring you to the green pasture of a right relationship with God. How did Jesus express his commitment? “...And I lay down my life for the sheep”. Could there be a relationship partner as committed as the Good Shepherd toward his flock? The answer is no.

The deepest things we long for and ask for from all our committed relationships are only found in Jesus. So where are you this morning in terms of needing the Shepherd's rescue? Ezekiel's audience was in exile as a result of their sins. Jesus' listeners were, according to Matthew 9:36, “harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” But what about you? Will you respond to the voice of the shepherd this morning, maybe for the first time? Or maybe God wants to remind you this morning that the Good Shepherd's work isn't simply to find lost sheep (like someone finds a lost pet and hands it over for a reward). No. The Good Shepherd makes us a part of his flock, forever. Therefore, he is always, always, always watching over us. As the Apostle Peter would later write, “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (1 Peter 2:25)(later called the “chief Shepherd” in 5:4)

So let me ask that question again: where are you this morning in terms of needing the Shepherd's rescue? Feel like your emotionally stuck on a cliff face? Suffering under the leadership of worldly solutions? Feeling 'exiled' in terms of healthy relationships with others? Surrounded by the ravenous wolves of temptation and doubt? Rest assured, your Shepherd is near. He knows where you are. Listen for his voice this morning. The God who spoke through Ezekiel came in the person of Jesus Christ, and we can take incomparable, unshakable comfort in the fact that he still searches, he still seeks out, he still rescues his sheep! Will you trust Him today for the shepherd-ly care he offers and exercises in the lives of everyone who comes to him, no matter how scattered, no matter how far away you feel? Could there be a relationship partner as committed as the Good Shepherd toward his flock? Toward you? Let's go to him now.


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