Sermon on Zechariah 13:7-9
Text: “Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!” declares the LORD Almighty. “Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones. 8 In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it.
9 This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’”
How do you describe something to someone that they have never seen before? You have to use terms and situations that the person knows. Then, they can, at least, get a picture of what you are describing. With that being said, how do you describe God to someone? He is so far above our understanding or ability to comprehend. For that reason, God often will use pictures so that his people can get an idea of whom and what God is. A picture that God uses is one that brings comfort to his people is that of a shepherd. How many people have the Twenty-third psalm as their favorite portion of God’s Word? It starts with those familiar words, “The LORD is my shepherd.” (Psalm23:1) Jesus says of himself in John 10, “I am the good shepherd.” (John 10:11) The picture of a shepherd was to bring the picture of peace and comfort for God’s people. As we study this portion of God’s Word from the book of Zechariah, we, also, see a picture of a shepherd, and we are reminded, THE LORD LOVES HIS SHEEP. 1. He Sacrifices His Shepherd For Them. 2. He Calls Them To Salvation. 3. He Leads Them Safely Through Trials.
Normally, the picture of a shepherd is one that is of guiding, protecting, and providing. However, the words of our text are anything but serene. “‘Awake, sword, against my shepherd, against the man who is close to me!’ declares the LORD Almighty. ‘Strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered, and I will turn my hand against the little ones.’” (Verse 7) Here, the life of the shepherd is being called for and by no one less than the LORD himself. He will suffer and he will die. This is not just any shepherd, but “the man who is close to me.” This is no stranger. The shepherd has a close relationship with the Lord Almighty. It is clear from the rest of the Scriptures as to whom this is speaking about. It is Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Jesus, as he met with his disciples in the Upper Room, the night before he would be put to death, quoted this verse and applied it to himself. He, the Good Shepherd, would be stuck down, be put to death by the Lord Almighty.
This statement begs the question “why?”. After all, hadn’t the Father, on more than one occasion said of Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love?” What would move him to put his own Son to death? For the answer to that question, we need to shift our attention from the shepherd to the sheep. In speaking of this flock, we read in Isaiah 53:6, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way.” We, like sheep, have wandered off from the shepherd. The devil lures us into thinking that there is better pasture away from the Good Shepherd. He puts the pleasures and treasures of this world in front of us, making them look so much more desirable than what God has to offer to us. He whispers that we deserve to have something fun, for once, rather than following all of those rules that God has. Unfortunately, all too often, we have listened to the devil. We strayed away. We have sinned. When we do this, we don’t realize that, though it may look tempting, there is only death there, an eternity of separation from God’s love.
It was for this reason that the Lord sacrificed his Shepherd. This was the only way that humanity could be saved. It required the sacrifice of the perfect shepherd. He had to give his life so that the debt of sin might be paid for. Rather than punishing humanity that deserved it, he punished his Son in our place. As Isaiah 53:6 reminds us, “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” By the Good Shepherd’s perfect life, innocent suffering and death, and glorious resurrection, our God has provided salvation for all people of all time.
Our text continues, “In the whole land,” declares the LORD, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish; yet one-third will be left in it.” (Verse 8) Here we read a startling fact. In spite of what would happen to the Good Shepherd, that he would be stuck down for those wandering sheep, “two-thirds will be struck down and perish.” God uses the number “two-thirds” to represent a majority of the people. In other words, in spite of the fact that the Good Shepherd came to rescue those wandering sheep, a vast majority of people will still be lost. They will be eternally separated from God’s love. However, the Good Shepherd’s sacrifice will not be in vain. “One-third will be left in [the land].” There will still be those who are rescued from punishment. They will spend their lives here and all eternity with the Good Shepherd.
Why is this true? Why will there be so many who perish while others will live? The answer is that there will be those who will reject what the Shepherd has done for them through unbelief. They will look for other avenues to get right with God. They fool themselves into thinking that all roads lead to heaven. They ignore their consciences and continue headlong into eternal punishment. Even though Christ has paid for their sins, they refuse to believe it and, thus, lose any of the blessings that the Good Shepherd wants to give to them. Unfortunately, a vast majority of the people who have lived on this earth or who will live on this earth will be lost for all eternity.
What is the difference between the group that is lost and those that are saved? It certainly isn’t that one group is less sinful than the other. It is purely by God’s grace. Through the working of the Holy Spirit, faith has been created sustained in their hearts through the Means of Grace, the gospel in God’s Word and the Sacraments of Holy Baptism and Holy Communion. It is through this faith that we receive all of the benefits of Christ’s saving work. Your sins are forgiven. Eternal life is yours. None of this is yours because of what you have done. It is completely the undeserved love of God that has saved you. That’s how much the Lord loved us. He did everything so that we would be forgiven and spend our eternity with him. His love made you and me a part of this flock.
One would think that, being a member of God’s flock would mean that our lives would be ones of green pastures to graze in and smooth paths to walk upon. However, you and I know that this is the farthest thing from the truth. We face many difficulties in life. It might be an illness. It might be financial difficulties. It might be the loss of a loved one. There are family problems. The list goes on and on of the trials that we face in life, even as we are following our Good Shepherd. At our moments of frustration and pain, we may find ourselves asking the question “Why?”.
First of all, let’s take a few moments and talk about why it is not. When you go through trials in this life, God is not punishing you. He is not getting even with you for a sin that you have committed. Jesus was punished for your sins. Now, through faith in him, your debt has been forgiven. There is no longer any punishment for sin for the believers.
Since this is true, then, why does God have his sheep go through the trials and tribulations of this life? God, himself, gives us the answer to this question in verse 9, “This third I will put into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” The first thing that we notice is that these trials come from God. “I will put into the fire,” he said. You don’t just have a spell of bad luck. God is allowing this trial to come into your life.
However, he gives us the reason why he allows these things into our lives: “I will refine them like silver and test them like gold.” God uses the picture of a refining fine. Gold ore is valuable. However, in order to remove all of the impurities of that gold ore, it must first be crushed. Then, the crushed ore goes into a refiner’s furnace. It is heated to extreme temperatures. In this way, all of the impurities separate from the gold. When the refiner’s process is completed, what you are left with is pure gold. God allows these trials to come into our lives to drive us closer to him. As an elderly woman that I used to visit in a nursing home would often tell me, “God puts us flat on our backs so that we remember where to look.” If you are lying flat on your back, what is the only direction you can look? It’s up. In addition, God doesn’t leave you to go through these trials all by yourself. God promised us in Hebrews 13:5, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” God safely leads his faithful sheep through the flames and brings them out stronger, purer, and purged of their sinful desires. We see that this was all for the benefit of his sheep in the exchange at the end of verse 9, “I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’” As God’s sheep are led through these trials, they can see God’s loving hand in their lives. As a result, the next time that they face a trial, they are reminded that the God who helped them through the last trial will, also, help them through this trial. God promises to never forsake us and he has said of us, “They are my people.” Because our God has shown his love to us in so many ways, we respond, “The LORD is our God.”
So, what concept of God does he reveal to us about himself in his use of the picture of the shepherd in our text? It is, quite simply, “love.” God loves us. He doesn’t just say that he loves us. He put his love into action. In spite of whom and what we are by nature, God chose to love us. He loved us so much that he sacrificed his only Son so that our debt of sin would be forgiven. He showed his love to us in sending the Holy Spirit, who has created the faith in our hearts, so that we might receive the benefits of what the Good Shepherd did for us. He continues to show his love to us by strengthening our faith through his Word and the reception of Holy Communion. That love moved him and moves him to care for us, to defend and protect us, to comfort us with his presence. His love is also evident in the fact that he leads us safely through the trials of life and brings us out better on the other side. We thank our God for using this picture to reinforce the wonderful fact that he loves us, his sheep. May the Lord fill us with this confidence and peace and we follow him through this life, until we are gathered to our Good Shepherd for all eternity. Amen.
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