A Sunday School teacher decided to have her young class memorize one of the most quoted passages in the Bible – Psalm 23. She gave the youngsters a month to learn the chapter. Little Rick was excited about the task – but he just couldn’t remember the Psalm. After much practice, he could barely get past the first line.
On the day that the kids were scheduled to recite Psalm 23 in front of the congregation, Ricky was so nervous. When it was his turn, he stepped up to the microphone and said proudly: “The Lord is my Shepherd and that’s all I need to know.”
Who could argue with Ricky? I think he got it right and might not even know how right he was! How different life is when we live knowing and believing that the “Lord is my Shepherd and that’s all I need to know.”
Today is known as the Reign of Christ Sunday or Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the Church Year. Next Sunday, Advent begins, and that’s our Christian New Year. We start with waiting for Christ to come. On this last Sunday of the Church year, we reflect back upon the mighty acts of God proclaimed every Sunday of the year. We celebrate the fact that Jesus Christ is truly God. That He is King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
When we think of the word “king”, we think of a king safely seated in the palace, safely separated from God’s subjects, carefully guarded by security. Scripture teaches us God’s kingdom where Jesus is King is not like that.
We have in Ezekiel 34 another image, a powerful image: the image of a shepherd. We notice in Ezekiel 34 that God comes as a shepherd. God appointed shepherds over the people of Israel but the problem was that they failed in their shepherding because they didn’t care for the people.
The prophecy happened when the nation of Israel had been captured and the people had been taken into exile. The shepherds which would have included kings, religious leaders, prophets, priests, were not being good leaders and that was part of the reason for the exile happening. As shepherds, they were given the responsibility of caring for the flock and the king especially was seen as an under-shepherd to God so to speak. However, that wasn’t what was happening.
There were three things the Lord had against the leaders:
First, they exploited the people. There wasn’t anything wrong with them eating curds, clothing themselves with wool and eating meat. But the problem was that their whole focus was on themselves and they were doing that by exploiting the people, taking all the advantages and perks and giving nothing back.
Secondly, they showed no care or compassion for the people. They showed no care for those who were weak because of sickness or for those who were simply weak in themselves; they didn’t care for those who had broken bodies or broken lives; they didn’t bother with those who wandered off but left them to fend for themselves. As if that wasn’t bad enough, they also ruled the people harshly and brutally.
Thirdly, and as a consequence of the poor shepherding of the leaders, the sheep were scattered. This chapter in Ezekiel 34 describe what happened when the nation was captured and the people were sent into exile. No one protected them or searched for them. Yes, they were responsible for what happened because of their own disobedience and faithlessness. But the shepherds also carried responsibility because they failed to lead the people carefully.
And so God declared that he would judge the shepherds. They would be done away with, which literally happened because there were no more kings of Israel after the exile. What the shepherds forgot was that the people were not their own to do with as they wanted in order to serve their own selfish ends. The people and the kingdom belonged to God and it was their responsibility to lead and rule in a way that reflected him and what he would want.
The Lord is my shepherd and that’s all I need to know.
God had an answer to the poor shepherding of the leaders. He w2ould be the people’s leader. Twelve times in these verses God says, “I Will” or “I Myself”.
He would lead his people and be their shepherd.
He would take affectionate charge of (look after) the people.
He would search for the lost and rescue them, bringing them back to their own land and provide them with good pasture.
He would care for them and help the weak.
This is a picture of what happened at the end of the exile when God led the people back home again, the nation was re-established and the temple rebuilt. This was done through men like Ezra and Nehemiah who were good leaders and shepherded the people in a way which reflected God’s shepherding.
Verse 16 paints a wonderful picture of God and how he is with his people. The idea of God as shepherd is most likely something with which most of us are familiar, especially from John 10 where Jesus talks about himself as being the good shepherd.
The Lord is my shepherd and that’s all I need to know.
Who is the Lord, your Shepherd?
As the Good Shepherd, he laid down his life for his sheep and his sheep know his voice and follow him
He searches us when we are lost, to save us and to show us the way to eternal life
He is our Rock, mighty to save
He is our provider, our healer, our protector
We do not need to live in fear or despair. He makes our life abundant.
In a world that desperately needs shepherding, we the church are called to shepherd well. I don’t know if we’ve noticed the cover of our bulletin each Sunday. It says, “Enter to Worship – Depart to Serve.” We are not to get comfortable about coming in to sing, pray and go home but to live out our calling. To join God in the search, in the great shepherding work. Our God is a wandering God willing to engage in the nasty, challenging, dangerous work of shepherding. God wants us as his followers to go and search for the lost as well.
We also see God bringing to judgment those who have taken advantage of the weak sheep. In Ezekiel 34:16 god says: “… the fat and the strong I will destroy.” God gives the grounds for judgment in verses 21 and 22: “because you pushed with flank and shoulder and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. “Then God will feed them with justice.”
We are called to defend the weak sheep at our peril against the fat sheep who trample them underfoot. Jesus lived this out. When God came in the flesh, he spent all his time gathering the weakest sheep and speaking words of warning to the fat sheep. It is no surprise that when Jesus describes his own judgment in Matthew 25, his standard for separating the sheep from the goats is: How well did you go forth and tend to the weak? Truly I tell you just as you did it to the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me. Truly I tell you just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.
The Lord is my Shepherd and that’s all I need to know.
May we have the courage and the desire to serve, to shepherd well in a world that desperately needs shepherding.
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