Not all shepherds of the sheep are the same. Some are perhaps bolder, more rigid, others more sensitive and attune to the needs of the sheep. There are shepherds who never seem to miss a thing, they remember every sheep by name, while others seem more detached and observe things from a distance. Shepherds are not identical or interchangeable but in their own way and with their own gifts and personalities they strive to do what is best for the sheep of their flock, to care for them, to protect them, to lead them to the good green pastures. But then there are the unfaithful shepherds, the ones who have no intention of caring for the flock, no intention of leading them to the safe pasture, and they lurk around and intermingle with all the other shepherds. At times perhaps they may even be indistinguishable by all outward appearances, yet they are truly wolves in sheep’s clothing.
Through the prophecy of Ezekiel God calls out the false shepherds. In fact, He says to them, “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” (Ezekiel 34:4). The people of God were caught in bleak and dark times. They had been abused by the authorities over them. They did not know who to trust or who to turn toward. The false shepherds had so wounded the sheep that their hearts and souls were being corrupted. They began to lose hope and simply say, “Well this is the way it is, the way it always will be. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Those in power lord it over those of us with no power. You might as well get used to it.” Without hope, things get ugly fast. Without hope, love recedes, compassion pulls back, and kindness is reserved only for those who deserve it.
The false shepherds had destroyed the hope of the people of God, but God would not stand for it. He began to root them out, to expose what they had done. In so doing He breathes new life into their aimless lives. He creates hope again and so shines a light into the darkness of their world. How we need that light! For the false shepherds can so easily twist our world upside down, to keep us in the dark and strip us of hope. The best description I have ever heard from someone struggling with depression was it was like waking up every day in a well. The walls all around you are dark and hopeless. But as you look up you see the light of the opening. Some days it is not that far away, it might not take much to climb up to reach it. But other days you are so far down the light is barely visible, and then the darkness seems all consuming. So, imagine what would happen if they boarded up the well while you were down there. That is the corruption of the false shepherds.
So, in Ezekiel chapter 34 God makes a stunning and life changing promise for all His children. He says, “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out” (Ezekiel 34:11). God Himself says, “I’ll do it! I will seek my sheep. I will rescue them. I will feed them on the mountain. I will bring them to the good pasture. I will do it. I will be the shepherd of my sheep. I will seek the lost and bring back the strayed. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. I will be the judge. I will rescue my flock. Light floods into their world. The promises of God’s shepherding ushers in the hope the flock needs. No more false shepherding, no more aimless lives of misery. There is hope, there is salvation, there is safety and security in the Word of the Almighty God who promises you He will take the lead. He will do it. God will be your shepherd.
This is the promise of your God. The Creator of the heavens and earth, the one who spoke all things into being, the one who stands outside of time itself, the great I Am, the unmoved mover who set all things in motion, will be your shepherd. He will find you and gather you and care for you. He will bring you into the light and fill you with hope. The question that remains is, “Do you believe this?” Do you believe God is your shepherd, that He will do what He promised? See, it is easy to say we believe this when times are good, when things are looking up, when our families are doing well, our jobs are secure, and our outlook is positive. But when things come undone, when it gets really hard and bleak and messy, when the voices of the false shepherds grow so loud it is all we hear, why then, it is difficult to trust in this great promise.
After all, where is the booming voice from Heaven that shakes us out of our slumber and reminds us of His care and love? Where is the intercession and willing answer to every prayer that constantly reminds us, we will not be forgotten or forsaken in this world? Why do we look around at the sheep of our flock and find there is so much suffering, so much heartache and fear? Why has the veil of depression and anxiety not been lifted from the eyes of the people of God? Why do we still know division and hostility, experience doubts and confusion about where we are going and what this is really about?
Next Sunday the Church begins what is called the season of Advent. Advent comes from the Latin word adventus which means “arrival.” As it happens, it is focused on the arrival of our Good Shepherd. It is a time when we celebrate the great fulfillment of this promise of God, that He will do this work Himself. He will be the shepherd. It is first introduced to the people of God in the arrival of David as their king, one who would begin to bring them again out of the darkness and into the light. He would establish a great kingdom, bring peace and security to the land, and begin the building of the Temple. But this was only the beginning. That great and faithful king was only a shadow of the actual arrival of the Shepherd, David’s son, yet David’s Lord, the one born of Mary in the town of Bethlehem. Jesus Christ is God incarnate, God with us, a Shepherd who walks among the sheep.
Therefore, Christ is the center of the promise of God. Christ is the answer to the questions of how and when God will rescue the flock, find the lost, and lead them to the good pasture. When God says, “Behold, I, I Myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out,” it looks like our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. One who comes to have mercy, to be the finals sacrifice, to bear your sin upon His shoulders and He pays for every one of them on the cross of Calvary. But death does not hold Him, for this Shepherd of yours leads to the light, leads to life, leads to the rebirth of hope for you all. So, He rises and continues His great work.
This means that where we find our Lord, there we find our Shepherd, there we are reignited with the hope we need to endure, to press on, and lift our heads in the joy of something more than this age. And your Shepherd still comes to you. He still does His shepherding work. Not with thundering voices from Heaven or miraculous healings, at least not all the time. No, He comes regularly and predictable where He has promised to be for your in this age. He comes to you in His living Word, in His gifts of promise. He comes in the washing of Baptism, in the giving of His Supper, and in the proclamation of forgiveness. He is here in your midst in these things; to hold you, love you, and forgive you all your sins.
Martin Luther once famously asserted, “God be praised, a seven-year-old child knows what the Church is: Holy believers and ‘the little sheep who hear the voice of their shepherd.’” Your Shepherd’s voice speaks clearly to you today. He says, “You are mine and you will live for all eternity, for I have done it all for you.”