Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)
Call to Worship
“There is none like the Lord our God, in heaven or on earth, who sets his throne so high but deigns to look down so low.”
— Psalms 113:5-6
Gracious Father, You continue to amaze us in Your willingness to accept us into Your presence. As we probe our depths again this day, we can think of many reasons we should be turned away … yet You instruct us to come. How we praise You, not only for Your provision but for Your willingness to know life through Jesus’ time on this earth. Accept our thanks and gratitude for His courage and example … amen.
Today's Message: Of Shepherds and Sheep
Scripture Reading: Ezekiel 34:1-24
The Lord Will Be Israel’s Shepherd
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “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? 3 You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. 4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. 5 So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.
7 “‘Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, because my flock lacks a shepherd and so has been plundered and has become food for all the wild animals, and because my shepherds did not search for my flock but cared for themselves rather than for my flock, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 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.
11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is 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. 13 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. 14 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. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 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.
17 “‘As for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? 19 Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.
Our story today begins at a very sad place. In the previous chapter to the one that shall receive our focus this morning (chapter 33) we read these words;
In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month on the fifth day, a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has fallen!”
— Ezekiel 33:21
Surely this news should not be a surprise to us, or for those exiles living in Babylon during that time. We have described at length over these past few weeks the sorry plight of the ancient Hebrews during this time in history …
The turning of political fortunes of Hebrew nation as the Assyrians, followed by the Babylonians, exerted their military might to the extent that the Hebrew nation no longer possessed the ability to determine its own destiny;
The ill-advised overtures from the current King of Judah toward Egypt in an attempt to throw off the Babylonian influence.
The equally disastrous decline of the nation of Israel characterized by mistreatment of their own people (mostly the poor and needy) and a casual neglect of their unique worship of Yahweh.
In spite of all of this, there had been hope that the worst could be avoided … but the news received that day from the Jerusalem escapee would indicate that, alas, such was not the case. Their beloved city Jerusalem (“foundation or possession of peace”) had fallen and the Temple would be torn down. What was Ezekiel to do next?
Indeed, Yahweh has a message for him to share. For the first time in a major way, there is a message for the Hebrew leadership, the “shepherds” of the people. Verse 4 forms the major indictment that Ezekiel is meant to deliver;
You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.
You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost.
You have ruled them harsh and brutally.
As we analyze this message, we begin to understand part of the cause of the deep malaise that had contributed to the present state of affairs. The leadership, both political and religious, had failed the people. They had not “strengthened” or taken hold of the “weak”, indicating a type of merit system had arisen, which resulted in the neglect of those who, in the opinion of a few, could no longer meaningfully contribute to the society. It was apparent that basic medical care had been affected as well (i.e. healed the sick) which may be comparable to the type of factory health care that so often plagues the western world today, that is certainly more economical but lacks the personal or “pastoral” touch. The phrase bound up the injured in v. 4 could be translated “bound up the stumbling ones” indicating that not much attention was being given to those who were falling behind, which reminds us a little of our time when those in the middle class and below seem to be having the same experience financially. The phrase “You have not brought back the strays” may refer to the ad hoc meeting we witnessed in Ezekiel 11, where those left behind in the homeland were content to “get on with life” without those who had been exiled, their neighbours and friends. Finally, Ezekiel was to tell the story of the “lost” or the erring ones”, which may have a lesson for the local church. When people, especially those who may have been amongst us at one time, end up worshipping the wrong things, what is our attitude? Do we let them fall away or do we, at least, pray for them or, at best, establish some form of ongoing connection?
Our hero and faithful prophet, is instructed to suggest a word of hope for the challenges listed above. In v. 11 we see it …
For this is what the Sovereign Lord says:
“I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.”
In spite of the dearth of good leadership in Hebrew society the people will not be left without guidance. Yahweh Himself will enter into the picture in an astounding way. What a wonderful reminder of the natural order of things in our spiritual lives. At this point I’m reminded of the comments of the Christian mystic Meister Eckhardt … “God lies in wait for us.” In spite of the sin problem, where we distance ourselves from the Father, He does not await our overtures … instead, He makes the effort to bring us home. The words of the apostle Paul still ring true today … You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly (Rom. 5:6). As we will celebrate in a few weeks, the story of the sending of Jesus the anointed is that of a loving Father still searching for His flock. Because of this love we need not despair due to poor leadership … a loving Father is still searching and offering encouragement if we but open the door.
But the current problem is not just one of leadership … as we have seen before, the decline of the Hebrew society involved the behaviour of the “rank and file” as well. As Yahweh suggests to Ezekiel in v. 17, He couldn’t help but notice what is happening “between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.” It seems that a kind of selfishness had made its unseemly entry into their everyday lives;
Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture?
Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet
Is it not enough for you to drink clear water?
Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? (v.18-19)
This verse reminds me a little of my life as a farm kid, watching our animals at feeding time … not a pretty sight! Let’s just say the rules of table etiquette my parents were trying to teach me, my two brothers and my younger sister did not apply in the barnyard! But we see numerous examples of “people behaving badly” in our society today, from consumers crowding our big box stores to the “not in my back yard” philosophy to people in leadership espousing the mantra “make OUR country great again” when other nations want and need the basics that we in the privileged world take for granted. Do we think that our society is somehow exempt from the rot that had invaded Hebrew nation? Former statesman Hubert Humphrey was so right … “The first sign of a declining civilization is bad manners.”
But, as disappointing as these developments were to Ezekiel and others who were concerned about the Hebrew people, Yahweh again responds …
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 Yahweh have spoken.
The reason that the figure of David is so important here is that, before he became King, he served the role of shepherd, a special role that incorporates both leadership ability and that of a “get-your-hands-dirty” labourer. That part of the job is drawn out in the other descriptive word used in our passage above, that of “prince.” In our minds a prince is a position of privilege … but the base meaning of the word adds a bit of nuance. My handy Hebrew lexicon describes prince as “one who lifts or carries.” Any farmer knows this … that when one of your animals has to become “doctored” or is disabled to some extent, some sort of lifting has to happen. It’s what Jesus embraced in “lifting” from us our sins and the sins of the world. Yes, He sits on the throne today as Prince of Peace … but His real strength was revealed in the cross, ending once and for all sin’s dominance in our lives. These were indeed prophetic words from Ezekiel. Jesus now plays that Davidic role, a promise shared so long ago with the exiles.
It’s a great arrangement, really. Yahweh would do the seeking … and Jesus would act in what we might call the Davidic role of shepherd. And now, because of this new covenant, there is good news … for those who feel they’re being left behind as well as for those who thought they were ahead, only to discover that what they had pursued is unworthy of their effort. Welcome to the new kingdom!
Our Father, as we read the struggle of an ancient people we are, once again, amazed at Your care for them … and for us. You made a way for this exiled nation to recover … and You have done the same for us, assuring that we need not live a life of harmful self-centredness. The words of one of our precious hymns “O what a wonder that Jesus loves me” express our sentiment on this day.
We come to this worship time keenly aware of the occasions when we have failed You over this past week. We have known the power of the kingdom in our own lives and so, wish its power for others as well. Turn our eyes away from our own needs, unto others who may have not yet started the journey of faith.
Finally, eternal One, we pray for Your empowerment in the living of these challenging days. We confess that it seems we’re in survival mode … in fact some could be heard saying “let’s just get through this.” But this time, as hard as it is, is a blessed gift, just like all the minutes, hours and days we’ve received from Your hand before. Remind us that Your Spirit continues its work in the advance of Your Kingdom … and that these are indeed special days. We pray in the name of the One who gave His all … even Jesus. Amen …
” … he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.”
— Psalms 121:3