“Symbols of an Everlasting Love: Shepherdly Love” sermon from 10/10/10, Jeremiah 23:1-8
Words are powerful! So much is behind words; so much can be done with just words. We have already seen in this sermon series we are in just how highly words are regarded by God. Two Sundays ago we saw how God’s people did not listen to God, take Him at His word, nor did they keep their word with Him. So in-turn God compared them to a dried up, good for nothing, spoiled linen loincloth that they had not sought to nurture and nourish and had taken and hid under a cleft of a rock. We saw last week in God’s action of Shaping Love how He as the Potter was determined to take His people, spoiled and marred as they were, and work, and build, and mold and shape them back up again. Making them useful again, remaking them, redeeming them; giving them new life again. God challenged His people, “Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.” There is amazing revelation in those words! God’s character, person, and being are in them. God performed this action for them (AND US) in Jesus Christ. In Jesus Christ Israel and humankind are redeemed and also at the same time being redeemed as we are continually being transformed into His likeness from one degree of glory to another (II Cor. 3:18).
Something else I believe we as humans appreciate considering words is someone who is a straight-shooter. Someone who tells, or will tell, it like it is. God is such a straight-shooter, and so is Jesus. The problem in our passage for today is not all people are/were. God and the people had appointed shepherds in Jeremiah’s and the peoples’ day however they didn’t act much like shepherds as their words/tongues brought only division and a driving away of God’s flock; the sheep under their care. Shepherds are to instruct, care for, lead, pull together, watch over, attend to, etc the flock under their care. The shepherds of God’s people in Jeremiah’s day didn’t live up to their calling. And now God had to intervene. One such straight-shooter of God’s in the NT, James has this to say about words and the tongue in his letter from 3:3-5, “When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. 4 Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. 5 Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts…”
So that gives a quick glimpse into the sort of things I will be speaking to you about from God’s Word today. Quickly again, before moving forward, we have been following a series based on the OT book of Jeremiah through the use of symbols in which God shows to Jeremiah that have messages to him and God’s people within them. The title of this series has been Symbols of an Everlasting Love for that is the message behind the messages. Jeremiah 31:3 says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness.” Behind all of God’s actions, everything He does and says, is His everlasting love. I have already mentioned to you some of what we’ve already talked about over these last so many weeks; one thing being the peoples’ and God’s Committed Love toward one another in how the people had let it become spoiled, dried up, ruined by not taking God at His Word, nor keeping their word to Him. Also I’ve mentioned that last Sunday I spoke on Gods Shaping Love in how He acts as a Potter over His people, the clay. Other messages included in this series have been how we are Deeply Known and Lovingly Called by God and how God desires a deep, devoted, Worshipful Love relationship between us and Him. This morning we again move forward and will be hearing about God’s Shepherdly Love toward His people. Let’s turn in our Bibles to Jeremiah 23:1-8 and read what God has to say there…
Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. 2 Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. 3 Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.
5 The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”
7 Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” 8 but “As the Lord lives who brought out and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he had driven them.” Then they shall live in their own land.
So again we have another parable of sorts given by God to Jeremiah to share with the people. As with all parables there are deep, rich, astounding truths intertwined within them. Truths that are hard to see on our own and must be given something in order to be able to see into them more deeply. To me, many movies can be modern day examples of parables (not necessarily all of them). It happens so often to me that I’ll be watching a movie and suddenly it’s like the Holy Spirit rushes through me and shows me something of the Gospel in it. For example, the Chronicles of Narnia series or Lord of the Rings are easy examples of this to me. And another movie I am sure you are all familiar with, Field of Dreams… Somehow mediums like these (parables) help display deep rooted truths better than much else. That’s what God is doing in these passages. Through symbols He is displaying things and messages to His people that have deep meaning. The hard part is we have to be looking, and we must be able to discern truth from falsity or even half-truths.
Today’s passage talks about shepherds. As I’ve already said, shepherds are appointed to instruct, care for, lead, pull together, watch over, attend to, etc the flock/sheep under their care. The symbol God uses within this passage is a righteous branch (this is about the best I could find. 2 functions here: shows a familial line/tree & could represent a shepherd’s staff). Our passage opens with God basically chastising the shepherds of that day. God says to Jeremiah, “‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!’ says the Lord.” The shepherds of that day had done the opposite of their appointed calling. The people were not better off for having them as their shepherds. They with their wild, self-absorbed tongues brought destruction, division, drove them away, and didn’t attend to them. Who is God talking to/about as the shepherds of His people? The kings who have served over Israel beginning with Saul and then David (Israel’s first shepherd king whose line God promised would always remain over His people and that Jesus is born from fulfilling that promise) and the many others going through the years. It is said of David in Psalm 78:70-72 “[God] chose David his servant and took him from the sheep pens; from tending the sheep he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel his inheritance. And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” Too bad those things couldn’t be said about all kings/shepherds of God’s people.
Now, God’s people in Jeremiah’s day had now been separated. They used to be one kingdom with twelve tribes under David. But sometime under King Solomon (successor to David, his father) a break occurred as the people turned to other nations and kingdoms and their gods. The people were split in two; a northern region still called Israel, and a southern region called Judah. As I’ve said before, Jeremiah was God’s prophet to the southern region, Judah. Many kings ruled over both regions. Some good and God honoring; many bad and more self-honoring. By this time in the book of Jeremiah, the northern region, Israel, had already suffered great defeat and had been taken into exile, and Judah was now under the shepherd-ship of their final king, Zedekiah, before they too would suffer a similar fate as the northern region, Israel. God’s warning to His people whom He led out of Egypt and asked for a king when He was to be regarded as their King alone had turned out just as He said it would (I Samuel 8). Now God through Jeremiah gives a message of hope amidst their present circumstance. He was about to come to His peoples’ aide/intervene Himself as He said to Jeremiah, “Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel (Israel as a whole), concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: it is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.” God was going to show Himself to be the True Great Shepherd of His people. He wouldn’t leave them in their misery. He declared that He, Himself would gather His people from all lands they had scattered, that He would raise up other shepherds, true shepherds over them, and they would be stronger than before without fear and dismay, and none of them missing. These are signs of a true, Great Shepherd. One that cares for, attends to, leads, gathers, seeks the lost (even the lost one out of the 99), gives of Himself for, feeds, secures, prepares, etc. God is this Great Shepherd!
The rest of our passage then is about something even greater. Not only was God going to act as the Great Shepherd, but He was going to send the Good Shepherd. Here’s where the Righteous Branch comes in. God says to Jeremiah, “The days are surely coming says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous branch, and He shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which He will be called: ‘The Lord is Our Righteousness.’” Now we look at that Scripture and we probably see Jesus in it quite easily. But the people in Jeremiah’s day wouldn’t have completely. God did give some hints, though. Remember I said there are elements of a parable in our passage for today? The name “The Lord is Our Righteousness” would have had interesting connotations to God’s people in Judah. You see, there is a parallel here that is aligned with Judah’s current king of this day, Zedekiah. Remember, I said he was their last king and would be the one who would lead them into their impending judgment. Well, his name meant “The Lord is My Righteousness.” This would have meant so much to the people of Judah. Zedekiah was anything but righteous in his reign. He, he was more out for himself. See the word “my” in the meaning of his name? That is the opposite of a Good Shepherd’s concerns. A real shepherd has his flock on his mind and how he can best care for them, keep them safe, lead them in righteousness, etc even before himself. God was going to raise up this sort of shepherd, a Righteous Branch from the line of King David which He had promised long before this, and he would be “The Lord Our Righteousness.” Why is this important? Well, this covers all the bases; it covers all that’s needed. In Jesus Israel, Judah, I, we find a righteousness outside of ourselves. II Corinthians 5:21 says, “For our sake He (God) made Him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” Israel, Judah, I, we have been led, and have followed, so far away from God the Great Shepherd. God, being the Great Shepherd He is, was going to gather us all in; lead us through other shepherds that we needn’t fear, be dismayed, or left missing; and send a Good Shepherd to stand and be Our Righteousness, and lead us in righteousness. That’s Shepherdly Love! One who tends in all fashions for the sheep under His care.
And the way our passage for today ends is significant too. God says to Jeremiah, “Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said ‘As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,’ but ‘As the Lord lives who brought out and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the land of the north and out of the lands where He had driven them.’ Then they shall live in their own lands.” God was in the process of making an even bigger name for Himself among the people (if you recall from Psalm 23, He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake). He was going to eclipse His former reputation of being the Lord who brought His people up out of the land of Egypt and stand as the Lord who brought out and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the land of the north and out of the lands where He had driven them. God was going to once again outdo Himself, which He is so famous for doing! We even sang about this in one of our hymns for this morning. The hymn Gods Leads Us Along #696 goes “In shady, green pastures, so rich and so sweet, God leads His dear children along. Where the water’s cool flow bathes the weary one’s feet, God leads His dear children along. Some thro’ the waters, some thro’ the flood, some thro’ the fire, but all thro’ the blood…” Did you hear that? “Some thro’ the waters, some thro’ the flood, some thro’ the fire, but all thro’ the blood…” Throughout all of history God has made a name for Himself. He is the Great I Am; the Lord, A God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. As we’re hearing this morning too, He is the Great Shepherd!
How has God made a name for Himself in your life? Where/how do you NEED Him to make a name for Himself in your life? God still does this! And I believe He wants to in your life, in everybody’s life here. And truthfully, God has made many names for Himself in just my life alone. There’s a newer Christian song that I am quite fond of that I think of here. It’s called God of This City, and it’s originally by band named Blue Tree but Chris Tomlin has a version of it as well. I want to play just the beginning of Chris Tomlin’s version for you quick… What this song says is, God wants to make a name for Himself here, and really everywhere! He is the God of this city, the king of this people, the Lord of this nation, the light in this darkness, the hope to the hopeless, the peace to the restless. There is no on like our God! Greater things are still to be done!
We are not all that unlike the people of Israel and Judah in Jeremiah’s day. There is great division among us, both here and everywhere. There have been those who have been appointed as shepherds but have not led the flock rightly. We in many ways are in exile even today, for we long to be with the Father, to be home in the Promised Land, but we are waiting for God’s intervention, for Jesus, The Lord Our Righteousness, to return yet again. But we, just like Jeremiah and the people as well, needn’t fear, be dismayed; nor will any be missing… Why? Because God is a/the Great Shepherd, and we know the Good Shepherd!
Jesus, The/Our Good Shepherd: (John 10)
Jesus says of Himself in John chapter 10 starting in verse 2, “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The Gatekeeper (God) opens the gate for Him (Jesus), and the sheep hear His voice. He calls on His sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all His own, He goes ahead of them, and the sheep will follow Him because they know His voice…” Jumping down to verse 7, “[Jesus says,] ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before (the bad shepherds; the Kings) are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by Me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture…” And lastly, in verses 14-16 Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know Me, just as the Father knows Me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one Shepherd.” God has sent other true shepherds, truer than those that were before to shepherd His people and to gather all his people in. You, me, we have all been gathered in by such people God used to show us the Gospel. He has also sent the Good Shepherd! It is the Good Shepherd and His voice that we must know above all others and all other great boasts of tongues in the world. In order that we may be led along the right path, and that God will make a name for Himself in, and that through Him (The Lord Our Righteousness) also become the righteousness of God.