November 29, 2019- The Good Shepherd, God With Us- Ezekiel 34:11-24

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“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.

“As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats.  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?  And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

“Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad,  I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep.  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. Ezekiel 34:11-24 (ESV)

Ezekiel was a priest who was taken to Babylon in 597 BC as part of the Babylonian exile.  When he was in Babylon, he received a series of prophetic visions from God.  The first vision was of Ezekiel coming down in a chariot of fire to deliver God’s judgment to Israel and God commissioning Ezekiel to be His prophet.  The second was convicting the people of all the ways that Israel as a nation had violated God’s Law via idolatry and immoral living.  The third vision was that exile wasn’t the end of God’s people Israel.  At the end of Ezekiel’s prophecies we get the glorious image of dead, dry bones being spoken into life again.  (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

Here through the pen of Ezekiel, God speaks of a new nation that will come to be- the remnant of the faithful, God’s sheep, the new Israel.

More importantly Ezekiel points us to the Good Shepherd- God Himself, Who we know as Jesus, God in human flesh, the Son of David, will gather His sheep.

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.

God is the One doing the acting.  He is the Shepherd.  He makes us His sheep.  He seeks out His sheep.  He brings back those who have wandered away.  He brings strength to the weak, and He will bring down the strong who have taken advantage of the weak.

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? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

Do we gladly learn and share God’s word, and the material gifts He so lavishly gives us? Or do we keep all of that to ourselves and fail to acknowledge the needs of those around us?  None of us do that perfectly. We sin daily and sin much.

Lord, please help us to share your good news and good pasture with others, that we would be generous and truthful and gracious in our dealings with our neighbors.

All of us are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.  Do we trust in Christ that He will transform our hearts and minds to His will?

As the church year comes to an end and we enter into the season of Advent, we can take comfort and confidence that the Son of David, the Good Shepherd, God With Us, Emmanuel, is gathering His sheep.

 

September 10, 2018 – The Author and Perfecter of our Faith- Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Psalm 23

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By faith the people crossed the Red Sea as on dry land, but the Egyptians, when they attempted to do the same, were drowned. By faith the walls of Jericho fell down after they had been encircled for seven days. By faith Rahab the prostitute did not perish with those who were disobedient, because she had given a friendly welcome to the spies.

And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets—who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Women received back their dead by resurrection. Some were tortured, refusing to accept release, so that they might rise again to a better life. Others suffered mocking and flogging, and even chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth.

 And all these, though commended through their faith, did not receive what was promised, since God had provided something better for us, that apart from us they should not be made perfect.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Hebrews 11:29-12:2 (ESV)

“By faith,” the writer of Hebrews repeats several times in this passage. Faith by its very nature must have an object.  Faith in faith makes no sense.  Faith in fallible people will always disappoint. Even though the writer mentions some of the heroic tales such as the crossing of the Red Sea, and notable characters of the Bible, such as Joshua, Rahab, Gideon, Samson, David and Samuel, these stars of these epic stories were imperfect sinners just like the rest of us. Faith in Jesus- the founder and perfecter of our faith- is the only faith with a valid object, the only faith that will not disappoint.

It is amazing to contemplate what God has done, is doing, and will do in and through His people.

One must marvel at the faith of the people of God over the millennia, but we also must realize that faith is a gift of God. The witnesses before us were only able to accomplish the “races set before them” because the ability to do so was given to them by God.

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,

I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Psalm 23 (ESV)

We learn in the 23rd Psalm that Jesus is God with us- Emmanuel.  As much as we wish He would at times, He does not give us a pass from all the suffering of this world.  We carry our cross just as He had to. He does not carry us over the valley of the shadow of death.  We still have to walk through it, but we walk through it with Jesus beside us.

What comfort and what power there is in Jesus. We are powerless and helpless in and of ourselves no matter what we might want to think.

No matter what this world might throw at us, we have faith in Jesus- the real deal, the One True God, and we know we can endure anything because He lives in and through us, and in Him we have all we need.

November 16, 2017- Get On Board!- Zephaniah 1:12-16, Revelation 3:14-20

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At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps and punish those who are complacent, who are like wine left on its dregs, who think, ‘The Lord will do nothing, either good or bad.’ Their wealth will be plundered, their houses demolished. Though they build houses, they will not live in them; though they plant vineyards, they will not drink the wine.”

The great day of the Lord is near- near and coming quickly. The cry on the day of the Lord is bitter; the Mighty Warrior shouts his battle cry. That day will be a day of wrath—a day of distress and anguish, a day of trouble and ruin, a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and blackness—a day of trumpet and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the corner towers. Zephaniah 1:12-16 (NIV)

Old Testament prophets were sort of a buzz kill in their day. It seems everyone is minding their own business, doing their own thing, and maintaining the status quo, and then one of these guys shows up.  Someone like an Isaiah or Jeremiah- or in the case of today’s verses, one of the minor prophets, Zephaniah- shows up and sounds a warning.  Before the days of the printing press or telecommunication, God spoke to His people through the prophets. The prophets sounded the warning so that people might get it that things aren’t going according to God’s plan, and that God is making a way to change the pattern.  When the prophets show up, the message is usually something like this:

Hey, people, wake up! God wants you to know that he’s not pleased with the status quo.  God is a merciful God, but sometimes He needs to shake it up and get you on board with His program- for your own good.  It’s time to examine ourselves and get on board with God’s plan, before it’s too late.

It’s easy to confuse being a Jesus follower with being someone nice. But Christian and nice are not always synonyms. Sometimes the most Christ-like thing to do doesn’t seem nice at all.  Did Jesus look nice when He toppled the moneylenders’ tables in the synagogue? We want to visualize Jesus as the gentle Shepherd, almost as a milquetoast, and not as the Lion of Judah depicted in Revelation 5. Jesus is both the Good Shepherd and Almighty God, and sometimes we forget that His judgment is as real as His mercy.

We should be gentle and compassionate with each other and those around us, but gentleness and compassion are not the same as enabling others’ destructive behavior, or looking the other way at things we know are sinful and evil. This is hard because we are all sinners and hypocrites.  We must be discerning, and should always examine ourselves first before taking on the sins and faults of others.

Zephaniah was talking about those of us who get complacent and satisfied with ourselves. We certainly believe in a gracious and merciful God, but we also need to understand that He has a purpose for us and that He expects our lives to honor Him. He does not expect us to sit around bragging about how great we are.  How we treat others is a big part of trusting Jesus and relying on Him- are we really being loving (not necessarily nice) to those around us?

The prophets’ messages of judgment are not meant to scare us but to keep us aware and focused on who we belong to and who He created us to be.

“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!  So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.  Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me. Revelation 3:14-20 (NIV)

Are we as Jesus followers aware of our deep need for Jesus? The Laodicean church was called out because they were rather meh about God, and not aware of their need for Jesus.  They thought they were self-reliant, but in truth they were not.  We as a community of Jesus followers are nothing unless Jesus is the center of all we are and all we do.

Before we as Jesus followers can effectively reach out to the broader community, we need to reach out to Jesus constantly in prayers and petitions, we need to invite Him in, so He will bring us to repentance (which is simply for us to want to turn toward Him,) and ask for Him to shine His light on us so that He may make us more like Him.

Do we derive our identity and our being from Jesus? That is probably the biggest question we should ask when we encounter the doomy and gloomy messages from the prophets.

A wise Pastor once said: “Love God, and do what you want.” If we truly love God then it stands that we will want what He wants: for His Kingdom to be made as real here on earth as it is in heaven.  It is a process and a journey that has both failures and triumphs.  The good news is that Jesus is with us through it all.