Ezekiel 34:11-16, 23 & 24
Text: “‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.’”
Some of the more familiar words of Jesus are found in John 10 where he said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) What a beautiful picture. When we hear these words, we are likely reminded of Psalm 23 where David wrote, “The LORD is my shepherd.” The picture of the Lord as our shepherd is a familiar one in the Bible. So also here in Ezekiel the picture of the Lord as a shepherd is used. Today we are going to look at the beautiful promise the God makes to us. THE LORD PROMISES, “I MYSELF, WILL BE THEIR SHEPHERD.” 1. A Promise We Need Because We Often Go Astray. 2. A Promise God Himself Stands Behind. 3. A Promise Fulfilled In Jesus.
The book of Ezekiel holds an interesting place in the Bible. The first half of the book was written by Ezekiel before the Babylonians conquered the Kingdom of Judah. It prophesied the fall and destruction of Jerusalem. Because of this message, Ezekiel was hated. The second half of the book was written by Ezekiel after the Babylonians had conquered the land. He was one of the exiles who was taken to the land of Babylon. The second half of the book is full of comfort and the promise of restoration. There are also promises of the coming Savior.
Our text for this morning is found in the second half of the book, where God comes with his message of comfort. He shows this love for his people, his flock, and makes this promise, “I myself will be their shepherd.”
The people of Ezekiel’s day needed to hear that beautiful promise. They needed to be reminded of it, because they had been scattered. In the first four verses of our text, God speaks of searching for his flock. He speaks of rescuing them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness (verse 12). He said that he would bring them out from the nations (verse 13) and that they would feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel (verse 14).
This, of course, would be a reminder for the people living in Babylon, that they were away from their homeland. The city of Jerusalem had fallen on that day of clouds and darkness. Many more days of clouds and darkness followed as they sat in exile.
Some may have wondered why this had happened to them in the first place. Prior to our text, God catalogued a long list of sins that his people had committed against him. He speaks of merely hearing his word, but the people failed to put them into practice. He speaks of empty words, words that sounded nice, but they were meaningless. His flock was scattered, not only because they were in Babylon, but, more importantly, because they went astray, following their own paths, seeking to fulfill their desires, rather than staying under the protecting care of their shepherd.
If we are honest with ourselves, we have to admit that we all too often go astray. We follow our own desires, rather than doing things the way that God wants us to. Sometimes we are just like the Israelites, who said all the right things, but didn’t mean them or carry them out. We say that we are going to give God our very best, but, in reality, we give to God what we feel we can do without. We say that we are going to forgive others from the heart, but, all too often, we find ourselves nursing grudges against other people. We must confess, as Isaiah does in the 53rd chapter of his book, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.” (Isaiah 53:6)
God, in his justice, could have let us stay scattered and unprotected, so that the roaring lion, the devil could devour us. God could have said that ‘since they don’t wish to be with me during this time on the earth, they can be without me for all eternity.’ On the Last Day, we would certainly have faced a day of clouds and darkness.
But, praise be to our God that he did not just leave his flock scattered. That is why so often in our text he speaks of having his flock gathered from the nations, of bringing them back to the land of Israel. Note that this is such an important job that he would entrust the task of gathering the scattered flock to no one, but himself.
God says in verse 11, “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.” In verse 15, he said, “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down.” Finally, at the conclusion, God says, “I, the LORD, have spoken.” (Verse 24) God has such a special interest in his flock that he will entrust the job to no one, but himself. He is going to make sure that the flock is brought safely home. He, himself, is going to tend the flock and protect it. Not only does God make the promise that his scattered flock will be restored, he stands behind that promise.
He also told the people of Israel and us, as well, how he will fulfill this promise. He told his flock in verses 23&24, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.” When you think of people in the Bible who were shepherds, David comes quickly to mind. When he spoke to King Saul before defeating Goliath, he spoke of God’s help when he defended his flock. He was out tending the flock when Samuel came to anoint him as the next king of Israel. He is the one who wrote the 23rd psalm. So, it’s only natural to think of David, when shepherds are spoken of. God says that David would shepherd his scattered flock.
There is a problem with that, however. David had died 400 years before Ezekiel wrote these words. Therefore, Ezekiel/God cannot be talking about David, the one who fought Goliath. This, obviously, must be referring to someone else. This is a prophecy regarding the Son of David, namely, Jesus Christ. He is the one that God is talking about. He, alone, can bring the scattered sheep back to God’s flock.
The way that he brought the sheep back was told to us when Jesus called himself, “the good shepherd” in John 10. He said, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11) In order to protect his flock, a shepherd would be willing to lay down his life for the sheep. That is exactly what Jesus did for us, the sheep that loved to wander.
When Jesus suffered and died on the cross, he did so for the purpose of regaining his sheep. Earlier we made mention of a verse in Isaiah 53 that said, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.” That verse continues with the words, “The LORD has laid on him [Jesus] the iniquity of us all.” (Isaiah 53:6) God took all of your sins and my sins and the sins of the whole world and placed them squarely on the back of Jesus. As Jesus suffered and died on the cross, he paid for every single one of those sins. They have been completely forgiven. As further evidence of God’s acceptance of Jesus’ payment for sin, Jesus rose from the dead. Our good shepherd laid down his life for us, his wandering sheep, only to take it back up again.
He further shows his love by seeking the lost sheep. He doesn’t just let the sheep wander back when they want to. Rather, he actively goes out to find us. He made sure that the Gospel has continued to be spread throughout the ages. He made sure that you were brought to faith through the washing of baptism and through the Word. He continues to feed you with his Word and the Lord’s Supper. The promise that God made in Ezekiel 34, where he says, “I myself will be their shepherd,” is fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. He is our good shepherd.
As our shepherd, Jesus continues to protect us. He keeps his flock safe from the devil. Jesus continues to feed his flock with the rich food of his Word. He continues to search for the straying sheep so that they might be brought into the flock. Finally, on the Last Day, he will separate the people of the world as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Then he will take his flock home to heaven where they will dwell in safety and security for all eternity.
Of the many pieces written by Johann Sebastian Bach, a particular favorite of mine is entitled, “Sheep may safely graze.” With the various melodies blending together, it paints a picture of peace and quiet, as well as bold confidence. The reason that we, God’s flock, may safely graze is not because of our own strength, but because of the promise that God has made to us, “I, myself, will be their shepherd.” With that, then, we can rest secure because our God does tend and care for us, his sheep. May that knowledge fill us with confidence as we face all the days ahead of us until we are safely home in our Father’s sheep pen, heaven. Amen.
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