SHEPHERDING THE FLOCK OF GOD
Topic: Stand-alone Messages Passage: Ezekiel 34:01–34:24
“SHEPHERDING THE FLOCK OF GOD”
1 The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. 4 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. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. 6 My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.
7 “Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 8 As I live, declares the Lord GOD, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the LORD: 10 Thus says the Lord GOD, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.
11 “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 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. 13 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. 14 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. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. 16 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.
17 “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. 18 Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? 19 And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?
20 “Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, 22 I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. 23 And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken.
In the final chapter of his first epistle, the Apostle Peter exhorts his fellow elders, “Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory” (1 Peter 5:2-4).
Omar, we are here this morning to honor and to worship that “chief Shepherd,” our Lord Jesus Christ, as well as to recognize His sovereign call upon your life as the next pastor of Temple Hills Baptist Church. It has been a personal joy for me to witness God’s hand of grace upon you, providentially bringing you to “such a time as this” (cf. Esther 4:14). You and I have traveled many miles together—both literally and figuratively—and I have witnessed, as has this church, your maturation in Christ and your ability to lead. You have challenged and stretched me to persevere, and today I am here to challenge and charge you as you undertake your new role.
And while today’s message is directed toward you specifically, it is also intended for the entire church family who have gathered today and to all who will sit under your pastoral leadership and preaching for what, by God’s sovereign grace, will be many years to come.
The Lord has been pleased to bring you full circle. What began at this church ten years ago took you from us for a season...a season in which you have had the wonderful opportunity to sit under the preaching and teaching ministries of some truly gifted men of God. Now you have come “home.” But as Jesus Himself discovered, “A prophet is not without honor except in his hometown and among his elatives and in his own household” (cf. Mark 6:5). Although we install you today as the pastor of this church, I encourage you to be reminded daily that you must earn the trust of the people among whom you will serve.
As Peter exhorted those elders to whom he wrote, so I urge you to serve in a manner that honors the Lord who has called you and to care for and to love the people to whom you have been called. Never lose sight of the fact that the ministry is about people...people with spiritual, emotional, and physical needs. It is to people—not to programs, meetings, and agendas—that the pastor is to minister. The call to the pastorate is, and shall always be, a call to people.
Throughout the Scriptures, there are many references to God’s people as “sheep.” It is a fitting analogy. Although sheep may appear to be “soft and cuddly,” they are not known to be stubborn, going their own way, wandering aimlessly, and in need of capable leadership. Sheep need shepherds who will go before them and who will lead them to find rich and nourishing pasture (cf. John 10). But not all shepherds are good shepherds. Some seek only their own well-being and wind up fleecing the sheep rather than feeding them.
It has been jokingly said—and, yet, with an element of truth—that “No one is ever a total failure, because you can always be used as a bad example.” As we look into the 34th chapter of Ezekiel this morning, we find a perfect example of what it means to be a “bad shepherd.”. It is that example that I urge you to avoid.
When he played for the New York Yankees in the 1950s and 60s, Mickey Mantle was considered the greatest player in baseball. He possessed an abundance of talent and ability, and most experts believed there wasn’t a record in the book that would remain unbroken by the time his playing days were over. But his career ended prematurely because he recklessly abused his body to the point where he became a shadow of his former prowess. Shortly before he died from cirrhosis of the liver at age 63, he tearfully told a bank of reporters, “I was given so much and I blew it. Some people have called me a role model. I am a role model...a role model of what not to be.”
A few moments ago, we read from the 34th chapter of Ezekiel. I call your attention to that passage this morning. It is here that we find an example of what a pastoral shepherd ought not to be.
This passage begins in verses 1 through 10 with...
The Lord’s indictment of flawed shepherds (34:1-10).
There are three characteristics of these defective leaders highlighted in these first two paragraphs. In the first place, we note that their ministry was self-centered. Secondly, we read how they neglected the flock. And then third, we learn that they were severely judged for having an unfaithful ministry. Let’s briefly consider these individually.
First of all, their ministry was self-centered (verses 1-3). Notice specifically in verses 2 and 3, where we read, “Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep.”
These shepherds made certain that their needs were being met, but the health and well-being of the sheep was the furthest thing from their minds. Their number one concern was themselves...how much they could accumulate and how little they actually had to do in caring for the sheep in order to get by. Their own comfort was more important to them than in providing the sheep what they needed
It is always “the people in the pew” who suffer most from a pastor’s self-centeredness and self-indulgence. People, like sheep, need to be led and fed in order to maintain good health. Spurgeon wrote that “Churches are not held together except by an instructive ministry; a mere filling up of time with oratory will not suffice. Everywhere men ask to be fed, really fed.” Therefore, Omar, feed these sheep well, not with words of this world’s wisdom, but with the wisdom of God (cf. 1 Corinthians 1:20-25)...not as men-pleasers, but as pleasing God from the heart (cf. Ephesians 6:6-8).
When a pastor looks to his own needs and wants first, it is the sheep who suffer and it is the work of God that is hindered. Like the Good Shepherd, we undershepherds are called by God to lay down our lives for the sheep (cf. John 10:11). That requires sacrifice in terms of time, energy, resources, and personal desires. You will need to devote substantial time to prayer and preparation before you ever enter the pulpit to preach. And, even though it is God’s Word that you speak, remember that your sermons will carry only as much weight as your selfless life models.
We further notice with regard to these flawed shepherds that their ministry neglected the flock (verses 4-6). A faithful shepherd is one who provides full and complete care for all of his sheep. In verse 4, Ezekiel states five classes of needs that were going unmet: 1)“the weak” were not being strengthened, 2) “the sick” were not being healed, 3) “the injured” were not being bound up, 4) “the strayed” were not being brought back, and 5) ‘the lost” were not being sought.
One does not have to think very hard to draw out the spiritual parallels found within those phrases. In our churches today “the weak,” “the sick,” “the injured” (or broken), “the stayed,” and “the lost” are still among us. Believers need to be grounded and built up in their faith. They need to be faithfully taught and made capable of recognizing and avoiding doctrinal error. They need to be encouraged and strengthened in times of testing and doubt. They need to be sought after and recovered when they begin to fall away from the truth. And the lost—those who have never come to know Christ by faith—need to be faithfully and patiently exhorted to repent of their sins and embrace the Gospel of God’s saving grace.
The shepherds of Ezekiel’s day, and sadly some in our day as well, were merely “playing shepherd” but not fulfilling their charge at all. When that happens, the result is always the same. As verse 5 declares, the sheep will be “scattered, because there (is) no shepherd, and they (become) food for all the wild beasts.”
The “carcasses” of neglected sheep who were once members of Gospel-preaching churches are scattered across the ecclesiastical landscape of the 21st century. The Lord’s shocking indictment is intensified in verse 6 when, speaking through Ezekiel, He says, “My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.” Omar, your God-ordained commission is to not neglect the flock of God, but to love them and care for them...even those who are most resistant to you and the message you bring.
The shepherds of Ezekiel 34 were self-centered and their sheep were being neglected, but God would not let these overseers go unpunished. Verses 7 through 10 reveal that their ministry is severely judged (verses 7 -10). In this scene, the Lord, the righteous Judge, calls the courtroom to order. The unfaithful shepherds stand before Him as defendants. In verse 8, He repeats the charges against them, and without asking how they plead—for He alone knows what is true and right—He drops the gavel and pronounces them “guilty as charged.”
The sentencing is read in verse 10: “I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them.”
The Lord’s indictment and judicial verdict is harsh...and there is a reason for that. Whereas the reference is to “the sheep” at the beginning of this passage, from verse 5 on He calls them “my sheep” and later on “my flock.” To God, this is personal!
To each local church pastor, God entrusts the care of a gathered group of saints who live and worship in covenant with one another. They are His people, and the call is to His shepherds to shepherd them. It is a sacred and sovereign calling. It is a calling that, if not safeguarded, can be easily abused. May this serve as a warning that the Lord will not hesitate to remove an unfaithful pastor.
But also be aware, as Peter reminds us, there is an “unfading crown of glory” that awaits those who shepherd His flock well (cf. 1 Peter 5:4). Ministry is a marathon and not a sprint, and faithfulness in ministry is something that not observed but over the course of time. Paul understood this as he entered the final days of his earthly service and anticipated his heavenly reward. He told Timothy, “I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Henceforth, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that Day, and not only to me but also to all who have loved his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:6-8).
Brother, when I come back in twenty years to preach your anniversary message in remembrance of this day, I pray those words will continue to be ringing true of you
While we must be diligent in fulfilling the shepherding role to which God has called us, let us not fall into the trap of thinking that the ministry is somehow dependent upon us. Remember, the sheep belong to the Lord and He will care for His own even should we fail. Verses 11 through 16 speak of...
The Lord’s search for His scattered sheep (34:11-16).
God will not allow flawed shepherds to destroy His work of calling, gathering, and caring for His sheep. In verse 11, He summons our attention and says, “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.” It was our Lord Jesus who carried out that mission when, as “the Son of Man,” He “came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10). Since then, He has entrusted the proclamation of that message to faithful shepherds.
Fourteen times in verses 6 through 11 the Lord says that He will do something on behalf of His sheep. Not only will He “search for” them, He will “rescue them,” “feed them,” and bring them into “good pasture.” In other words, even if the faithless shepherds fail in their task, He will provide for and care for His sheep.
Be ever mindful, therefore, that the ministry to which God has called you is not dependent upon you, but rather you will always be dependent upon Him. As you discharge your duties as the pastor of this local body, faithfully and consistently give heed to the apostle’s words to “Set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity...devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have...practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (cf. 1 Timothy 4:12-16).
By accepting His call, you are agreeing to be held accountable to the Lord Himself. But you will also need the accountability of others. I encourage you to surround yourself with likeminded brothers both within and outside of the church. Remain vulnerable and transparent before them, and give them permission to speak words of commendation and correction into your life. Do not be impressed with your own importance or take too seriously the praise of others. Never outgrow your humility or consider yourself to be the final authority. There is always One to whom we answer and will give an account. Never forget that.
There is an interesting shift in the text beginning in verse 17. Whereas the Lord has been directing His remarks to the flawed shepherds in the first sixteen verses, He now turns His attention to the sheep. “As for you, my flock,” He says, “Behold, I, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats.” In verses 17 through 24, we read of...
The Lord’s rescue of His chosen sheep (34:17-24).
First-century Christians would frequently encourage one another with the expression, “The Lord knows those who are his” (cf. 2 Timothy 2:19). Indeed, He does. Among those who gather in worship of His name, God is fully aware of those whose hearts are right with Him and those whose hearts are not. Just as there are flawed shepherds, so are there flawed sheep. The Lord’s condemnation rests upon the sheep that are not truly His.
In verse 20, the Lord declares that He “will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.” The distinction He makes is between those who are strong and arrogant and those who are weak and helpless. In Ezekiel’s day, it was the powerful and prosperous individuals who were greedily taking and consuming for themselves while denying any benefits to the less fortunate. The weak were forced to fend and to find food wherever they could. Circumstances had become completely out of balance and the Lord promised to intervene on behalf of the weak.
He would “rescue” them by the “one shepherd” that He would put in place to lead them. We read of this One in verses 23 and 24: “And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken.”
David was a great shepherd-leader of Israel, a pattern for every other earthly king the nation would have. But even David recognized that his authority rested with Another...one upon whom he was dependent. “The LORD is my shepherd,” he declared (cf. Psalm 23:1). Our Lord Jesus is the “greater David” and the One of whom the Lord speaks here. Jesus Christ is “the good shepherd” (cf. John 10:14). He is “the great shepherd of the sheep” (cf. Hebrews 13:20). Indeed, He is “the chief Shepherd” (cf. 1 Peter 5:4). It is upon Him that our eyes must remain fixed.
That Shepherd will always fight on the side of the spiritually oppressed. Those who are the poorest spiritually are often the ones closest to the heart of God. That is because they see and feel their plight and are most willing to call out to the Shepherd who promises to lead and feed His sheep. Jesus has told us that “If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture” (cf. John 10:9). His invitation is open to all, and especially to those who are most vulnerable.
Because verses 17 through 24 are addressed to the “flock,” this part of the Lord’s message is for those who make up the people of God...in New Testament terms, the Church, and by way of specific application to us, Temple Hills Baptist Church. As fellow members of this local body we are reminded from 1 Thessalonians 5:12and 13 to “Respect those who labor among you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work.” This morning we are welcoming a new shepherd to this flock. I exhort us from the outset of his ministry to recognize him as the one upon whom God’s hand has been placed to lead us forward into the coming days.
At the same time, I urge you first and foremost to keep your eyes fixed upon “Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (cf. Hebrews 12:2), the One to whom we all—shepherd and sheep alike—must one day appear.
Omar, my brother and my son in the faith, be ever true to your calling. God is about to place into your hands the spiritual well-being of a select group of people. And while this is a distinct privilege, it is on that comes with an awesome responsibility.
Nearly thirteen years ago, when the Lord first called me to serve this local body, I prayed for a “Timothy,” one into whose life I might invest myself, even as I grew into the role of a pastor. Three years later, you showed up and, as they say, the rest is history. I can think of no better charge to leave with you than the one given by Paul to his “Timothy.” Before I ask you, Stephanie, and your children to join Terry and me on this platform, I want you to hear with a renewed sense of application these words:
“I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill the ministry” (2 Timothy 4:1-5).
As you know, there is a verse that has served to motivate me in ministry from my Bible college days until now. As I pass along the rod of shepherding this flock to you, I do so with this same word: “See that you fulfill the ministry that you have received in the Lord” (Colossians 4:17).
Now I would like to ask my wife Terry and for you and Stephanie to join me on the platform.
(Pledges/charges to the pastor and the church).