“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I Myself will search for My sheep and will seek them out. 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. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I Myself will be the Shepherd of My sheep, and I Myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. 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, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice” (Ezekiel 34:11-16).
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!
Scripture presents a story of human pride and sin—and of the constant and repeated attempts by God to save man from the consequences of His waywardness and to restore man to communion with God. For man was made to be with God and to live with God as friend and guide (Genesis 1:26-30; 2:5-15). Man, like a sheep in green pastures, is placed in the garden of paradise. But things go wrong incredibly early. Man listens to a voice other than God’s and, like a sheep that leaves the green pastures, is cast out. Man becomes as a sheep scattered.
And a cycle of scattering and ingathering is repeated throughout history.
Sin and rebellion manifested itself in the descendants of Adam and Eve. An angry Cain killed his brother Abel, then “went away from the presence of the Lord and settled in the land of Nod, east of Eden” (Genesis 4:16). The generations after the flood, who, following Adam, wanted to be like God, were scattered, for “the Lord dispersed them over the face of all the earth” (Genesis 11:9).
But God would gather His people. God would give His people a new home. God promised Abraham a land, a blessed people, and a Savior. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3). Abraham packed up his house and headed to the Promised Land though he never lived to see the promises come true in his lifetime.
After four hundred years in Egypt, God brought the descendants of Abraham back to the Promised Land to “a land flowing with milk and honey” (Exodus 3:8). This was paradise for God’s sheep, a land for green pastures.
God directed His sheep to the way home. “Obey My voice and keep My covenant” (Exodus 19:5). “You shall have no other gods before Me …” (Exodus 20:3). “You shall be careful therefore to do as the Lord your God has commanded you… You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess” (Deuteronomy 5:32-33).
Another four hundred years passed during which Israel repeated a cycle of scattering and ingathering. First, Israel strayed from the Lord. Then another nation invaded to oppress Israel. Next, Israel cried out to the Lord for deliverance. And finally, the Lord provided a judge to gather His people back to Him. Then, the cycle would start all over again.
Rejecting the Lord God as their King, Israel demanded to have “a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5). When Saul failed to follow the Lord, God replaced him with David, “a man after His own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). Through Nathan the prophet, the Lord told David, “I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over My people Israel… I will make you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth… When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish His kingdom. He shall build a house for My name. and I will establish the throne of His kingdom forever. I will be to Him a father, and He shall be to Me a son… Your throne will be established forever” (2 Samuel 7:8-17).
Unfortunately, God’s sheep and shepherds proved often to be faithless. The kingdom was divided following Solomon’s reign. With a few exceptions, the ensuing kings proved to be progressively worse, and the people followed their poor lead. Just as the Lord threatened, Judah and Israel were scattered to Babylon and the nations because of their idolatries and uncleanness (Ezekiel 36:16-21).
This great scattering pictures God’s people of every age—ours included! —scattered by sin. One needs only to check the daily news and you quickly see how sin divides and diminishes. When leaders abuse their high callings, the people begin to abuse one another. Families and communities fall apart. Since Israel’s shepherds weren’t protecting the people, the Lord must assume the role of judge.
If we fail to be good shepherds in our families, in our country, in our congregations, we can expect our constituency, our family members, and the rest of the congregation to start trampling the pasture, muddying the water, and shoving and taking advantage of the weak. Sinful humans do such things if they are not constantly pointed to the Lord and His way. This is the obligation of those in leadership positions. But alas! Too often we fail. We are faithless.
But the Lord is faithful. God Himself will come to gather His people. Since Israel’s shepherds weren’t doing the job God had called them to do, God promised to do two things. First, He would remove those wicked shepherds who were taking advantage of the flock. And then He would personally provide for the needs of His flock. He Himself would search for the lost, bring back the strays, strengthen the weak, and punish the proud and unrepentant.
In a world in which it is increasingly difficult to find Christian leaders in any area of life, it is comforting to know the Lord has promised to get personally involved in caring for the needs of His people when those who should be providing leadership aren’t doing their jobs. When you think about it, that’s much better anyway. He is a faithful Shepherd. It is more comforting to put yourself in His care than in anybody else’s hands!
Since Israel’s shepherds had not been safeguarding the welfare of God’s people, God promised to send a Shepherd who would. This Shepherd would be the Lord’s servant David. Since King David had been dead for more than four hundred years when the Lord made this promise through Ezekiel, we know this is a reference to the Messiah who would rise from David’s royal line. This new Son of David would bring peace and unity, just as David had done to a land constantly plagued by war and dissent. Under His reign, God’s people would live securely.
From a New Testament perspective, we know Jesus of Nazareth was from the house and line of David (Luke 3:31). In fact, the angel had indicated to His mother He would occupy the position of David: “The Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David… His Kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32-33). A promise reminiscent of God’s covenant with King David.
When the people listening to Ezekiel heard these verses, they received the comfort of knowing the Lord had a special Shepherd-Prince who would reign forever (Elijah 37:25) and who was going to tend them. It became obvious to them that this promised Shepherd had to be more than just a human being. He had to be God. Many years later, Jesus claimed to be the fulfillment of God’s promise here. When He claimed to be the Good Shepherd, His hearers understood clearly that He was also claiming to be God. And we are told that when He said this, His opponents picked up stones to stone Him, the ancient Jewish penalty for blasphemy (John 10:27-31). Only we know that it is not blasphemy; it’s true!
Jesus is our Good Shepherd. He seeks, rescues, brings us home. He lays down life for the sheep” (John 10:11). The Lord, our Shepherd, cherishes each and every one of His sheep, so much so that if one goes missing, that one sheep becomes of singular importance. He has come to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). Our Shepherd continues to seek out wandering and lost sheep—us and those for whom we pray—to bring them into the fold of His merciful forgiveness, won by His cross and eternal protection. And thus, there is indeed one flock and one Shepherd (John 10:16).
So, we are now on that way home—gathered into His body, the Church, through Word and Sacrament. The triune God has gathered by us by Baptism—the great Sacrament of ingathering. “Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the Word, so He might present the Church to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish (Ephesians 5:25-27). Baptized into Christ Jesus, we have been baptized into His death and resurrection. Our old self was crucified with Him so that we might no longer be enslaved to sin (Romans 6:1-11). Led by the Spirit, our new man arises to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” In Christ Jesus, [we] are all sons of God through faith… Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise (Galatian 3:26-29).
One Baptism, one faith, one God (Ephesians 4:5-6). One Holy Christian and Apostolic Church (Nicene Creed).
The Lord gathers us here in the Lord’s Supper—the great Sacrament of feeding in green pastures. A foretaste of the eternal feast to come. A new Israel ingathered and secure (John 6:1-13; Revelation 7:4-8) from all nations and tribes by the King Himself (Revelation 5:9; Ephesians 2:11-22). The cup of blessing that we bless is a participation in the blood of Christ. The bread that we break is a participation in the body of Christ. Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. One bread, one cup, one with Christ (1 Corinthians 10:16-17).
Gathered by the Good Shepherd, you are safe in His fold. Continue to hear His voice, to be fed by His gracious hand, to be led on the paths of righteousness. Go in the peace of the Lord and serve your neighbor with joy. Share the Good News of your salvation. For the sake of Jesus Christ, our Shepherd, you are forgiven for all your sins.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.