Sunday, April 18, 2010
Easter 3 Good Shepherd Sunday Ezek. 34:11–16
For so says the Lord Yahweh, "Look, and I Myself will care for My sheep and grieve for them. As a shepherd cares for his flock on the day he is in the midst of his scattered sheep, so I will care for my sheep and I will deliver them from all the places which they were scattered there, on a day of clouds and darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and I will gather them from the lands and I will cause them to come to their land, and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the deep streams and in all the dwelling places of the land. In pastures–perfect I will feed them, and on the mountain heights of Israel it will be their pasture. There they will rest in a pasture–perfect, and a fattening pasture they will graze on the mountains of Israel. I, Myself will feed My flock, and I, Myself will cause them to rest," declares the Lord Yahweh. "The lost, I will seek, and the scattered I will return, and to the broken I will bind and the sick I will strengthen; yet the fat and the strong I will exterminate; I will feed them in judgment!
In Ezekiel's day, the shepherds God sent had not been doing a good job. Hundreds of false prophets told people what they wanted to hear–that everything was fine. It wasn't. The leading caste of priests were certain that their work in the Temple would continue on in perpetuity. It wouldn't. The kings were confident that God approved of their negligent rule. He wasn't. So God allowed them to go into captivity in Babylon for 70 years...but not without hope. He promised to send them a new Shepherd.
This new Shepherd would not be like the others. A time would come when God, Himself would be their Good Shepherd! He had grieved over Israel's plight when they had poor shepherds who refused to guide them in His way. So He chose to come down from heaven one day to Shepherd them Himself, directly! That's where Jesus comes in. He is God in the flesh, come down to be the Good Shepherd Who cares for His sheep and delivers them. He brings us, His flock, to a perfect pasture.
But how He gets us there is worthy of our consideration. As sheep, we aren't always very compliant. He wants us to lie down and rest in His perfect pasture, but sometimes we just don't want to do that. A shepherd sometimes had to take his rod or staff and whack the legs of a non-compliant sheep to get it to lie down. God does the same for you at times. To stop you from missing out on the perfect pasture of God, His harsh Law may cut you down, and humble you, stopping your defiance.
Then you find that Jesus has brought you to rest in the still waters of Baptism, where you may drink the living water He offers. You have sinned, and this water cleanses you of all your iniquities. You have thirsted for the righteousness you lack, and Jesus satisfies your soul in the deep streams of His holy righteousness given to you at the font. There, from the cross, He fills you up and restores your soul.
As sheep, we also tend to wander away from God, our Shepherd. You may find yourself following after the peoples of this world into which you have become scattered. The world's ways are cloudy, dark, and downright scary. You have strayed and gone the wrong way. You need to get back to God, but you find that it is impossible to find Him on your own. You can't seek Him. You are desperate.
So Jesus, your Good Shepherd, takes the initiative. He seeks for you, since you are the one who is lost. He finds you and gathers you back to the sheep-fold of His church. Though you were scattered far from Him, He has returned you to Himself. This is repentance. Not your effort, but God's work to convict you of your sinful straying, and to convince you of Jesus' rescue. You confess your straying to God, and in His name, you are forgiven of this and of all your sins, Absolutely!
As sheep, we get hungry, but have trouble finding good pastures. You look for what seems good, or what feels satisfying. But when you try to digest such things, you find that they are very unhealthy! You become broken and sick. Tempted by the tasty treats this sinful world offers, you soon find that you are no longer strong, no longer fat, no longer healthy. So you keep looking for more appealing pastures, yet end up even more unhealthy.
So Jesus, your Good Shepherd brings you to His perfect pasture. He wants you to graze on the food He provides there. He feeds you, His flock, with the soul-fattening food of His body, given for you. He gives you His blood shed for you to drink in the cup of Holy Communion. This is the perfect pasture God has come in the flesh to provide to you! He Himself feeds His flock with Himself in the Lord's Supper. Jesus shepherds you in His word of forgiveness proclaimed, and in His sacraments given.