From the vicarage October 2010
When Bishop Clive conducted our confirmation service on 12th September, he pointed to his crook as a sign of what he does as a bishop; he’s a shepherd in the church or an under-shepherd of Christ. It reminded me of the selection conference (interview) I had for the Church of England where I was asked what I thought the role of a vicar is? My answer focused on God’s promise to shepherd his sheep in Ezekiel chapter 34:
I (the Lord) 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 34:14-16)
The shepherds of Israel at that time, the priests and rulers, made themselves fat by not serving the people of Israel but feathering their own nests. Jesus, the good shepherd, served his people, even with his life, and God tells us that he shepherds us in seven ways and my role as a vicar must be aligned with what Jesus does:
1. He feeds the sheep on good pasture (v14).
When Jesus fed his sheep he did it by teaching them. In reply to Satan, the deceiver, Jesus said, “man does not live by bread alone but by every word that comes form the mouth of the Lord” (Matt 4:4). Throughout his ministry on earth, Jesus taught his disciples and the crowds which gathered around him. At the end of this ministry, Jesus appointed Peter to feed his sheep and God continues to work in this simple way as he gives some to be pastor-teachers in his church (Eph 4:11) to feed hungry people with the word of God. We must listen to God in his word and yet it is tempting to focus on other tricks and techniques to grow the church. But if we turn away from the teachings of Jesus, the church will not grow to be the beautiful bride of Christ he intends as he washes her by water and the word (Eph 5:26) but some mutant sub-Christian club or society.
2. He gives us rest (v14-15)
I’ll make them lie down, they will find rest. Jesus said “come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28). By his death for our sin, Jesus gives us rest from striving for God’s approval and acceptance, rest from activism, rest from enemies and the blessing of eternal rest. Jesus is not a shepherd who burdens his sheep by driving them hard from field to field or hillside to hillside. He is gentle.
3. He seeks the lost (v16)
Jesus had compassion for the people of Israel because they where like sheep without a shepherd (Mark 6:34). When Amanda and I were on honeymoon in Ireland we walked past a little lamb lying in a ditch. When we returned two hours later it was still there. I picked it up and carried it on to the hill. As I approached the flock of sheep they all ran away, except one which stood its ground. I knew this was the lamb’s mother and they were reunited. We can so easily be like that lamb, completely lost. When we go through life without direction, feeding on whatever takes our fancy: a bit of fun here, some satisfaction there, some achievement or entertainment, we get lost. Jesus comes to find us and bring us home to God.
4. He brings back the strays (v16)
Even when the good shepherd finds the lost, our nature, like sheep, is to wander away again in search of greener pastures. When we walk away, Jesus won’t give up on us. We should not give up on each other.
5. He binds up the injured (v16)
As a lad growing up in the Scottish Borders I had a few friends who lived on sheep farms. I discovered that sheep are easily injured and need care. We not only need healing for physical injuries and sickness, but we injure ourselves spiritually too. Only Jesus can bind up the wounds of guilt, shame or grief as he cares for us. He also has authority over sickness and disease and can bind up our physical injuries.
6. He strengthens the weak (v16)
We can be weak physically and our faith can be weak. Jesus gives us strength. As we trust in him we find great strength. God is strong, we are weak and in our weakness he is strong: “be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might.” (Eph 6:10). Indeed, we must remember that God didn’t choose strong people to build his kingdom, but “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong.” (1 Cor 1:27).
7. He destroys the fat and the strong (v16)
Not all that the shepherd does is good news for his flock. Those who are selfish, self-serving, ungracious or ungenerous members of the flock, and that includes priests and leaders, will be destroyed by Jesus. Anyone who does not have the same attitude as Christ, who lead by serving and gave his life to reconcile the broken relationship between sinful people and our holy God, will face the justice of the shepherd. We must warn each other if we act this way to check our motivations.
As I reflect again on these verses it’s good to remember that Sundays are the main time during the week that Jesus feeds his sheep as a whole flock. He feeds us individually as we read, reflect on and take-in his word in personal devotion. And, as we work toward growing the number of our small groups the first six actions of the shepherd should be seen amongst us as Jesus feeds, rests, finds, returns, heals and strengthens his flock. It’s also a helpful reminder that some small group leaders might be self-serving and we all need to guard against that.
Come Lord Jesus, come