††††††††††††††† If you read Jeremiah 23, you will hear that the Lord is concerned about the leaders of Israel.
††††††††††††††† "Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!" declares the LORD. Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: "You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing,Ē declares the LORD.
††††††††††††††† I must admit: I donít like this part of Scripture very much. Whenever God talks about faithless shepherds, scattering and losing sheep, failing to attend to them, it gets me.
††††††††††††††† I admit it. I donít like hearing any Word that so condemns. And it DOES condemn! The Law always does. It leaves me with no defense. I must confess: ďI have not let Godís love have its way with me, and so my love for others has failed.Ē The Word of God through Jeremiah brings that to my lips.
††††††††††††††† But why should I have all the fun?!
The Word of God today is aimed at ALL of us! The season of Advent begins this morning, and it is a season of penitence. That means, repentance.
What possible joy can there be in Jesus riding into Jerusalem as the faithful Shepherd King, the Son of David, Who attends to our evil deeds by dying in our place Ė if we arenít sinners? Everyone of us. REAL sinners, too!
What comfort do we have from Him Who gathers the remnant of His flock out of all the countries, through men He sends to make disciples of all nations, baptizing in His Name Ė the LORD Our Righteousness Ė and teaching them to hold to all He commands Ė if we have nothing to learn?
What joy will we take in the faithful shepherds He sets over us, who serve before His Table, where He gathers all the faithful to the Marriage Banquet of the Lamb in His Kingdom which has no end Ė if we have no room for repentance this morning?
If we have nothing to confess, He has nothing to forgive!
††††††††††††††† Dear Lambs of Jesus, you and I know better!
††††††††††††††† The Lord rides into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and we hear about it the First Sunday in Advent, because we ARE sinners, and we NEED His forgiveness. He comes to bring it!
††††††††††††††† Many thought He came to bring a different kind of blessing; a different kind of Kingdom. They had their eyes set low, on the affairs and conditions of this world. He had His face set toward saving us, for now and always.
††††††††††††††† Jesus did not fall prey to those who would make Him the wrong kind of King and Shepherd and Priest. He died for us and rose again. Then He put His ministry in place, by which the Living Lord brings the offspring of Israel together out of every tribe, nation and people on earth. Thatís why we are here today.
††††††††††††††† So, what is our repentance? Well, what was Israelís?
††††††††††††††† Iíve already told you how reading Jeremiah cuts me to the heart. I hear Godís rebuke of Israelís shepherds, who scattered Godís sheep; how they did not go after them. Itís easy to start wondering what I have to do differently, in order to keep people from scattering.
††††††††††††††† We should ALWAYS repent of getting in the way of the Gospel. I guess there are as many ways of doing that as there are people. But is what WE think of scattering and running off the same as what Jeremiah means? Letís see.
††††††††††††††† Israelís leaders and kings, her priests and prophets, even her people, were not dealing justly. They were scattering Godís people. They were leaving them untended.
If you stop to think about it, the problem wasnít that pastors needed to introduce upbeat music or an entertaining worship experience. People werenít scattering because the pastor was TOO concerned about doctrine. Just the opposite!
††††††††††††††† Israelís shepherds, her leaders, her kings and prophets and priests were unfaithful with respect to the Words and Promises of God. They were showing that they didnít know His Promise of the Savior. They were mixing themselves in with the ways of the world and borrowing from the worldís religion.
††††††††††††††† Jeremiah 2:8 - ďThe priests did not say, 'Where is the LORD?' Those who handle the law did not know me; the shepherds transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit.íĒ
††††††††††††††† See the problem? Itís not that Israelís pastors and leaders were TOO
concerned with doctrine. They were not concerned ENOUGH! They were
borrowing from the world, and so, the people began to stray.
††††††††††††††† Listen to this . . .
††††††††††††††† Jeremiah 3:1 Ė "If a man divorces his wife and she goes from him and becomes another man's wife, will he return to her? Would not that land be greatly polluted? You have played the whore with many lovers; and would you return to me? declares the LORD.Ē
The Greek version of this text uses "shepherds" in place of "lovers." The people do what they want. They are unfaithful. They only know how to follow their lusts and passions. And then they want to go back to the Lord, as if they have no need of repentance! As if you can just hop in and out of bed with different lovers, or - in and out of the pews of different churches - cohabitating with truth and lies, interchangeably. You can't!
††††††††††††††† Today, we hear that pastors drive people off because they are too concerned over things like divorce, or sexual immorality or faithfulness in what we confess - not only with our hearts but also outwardly, with our lips; by where we worship. People want the pastor to relax about such things, to lighten up!
Israel's shepherds WERE lax. And Godís people seem to like it like that. More freedom. A longer leash. God condemns people and shepherds alike, driving them all into exile. Thatís where we hear Him speaking today!
But God does not abandon His people. He says that He will bring them back. He promises: ďI will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding.Ē Jeremiah 3:15.
See? God doesnít call us to repent for holding nothing but the TRUTH before His people. He calls us to repent for holding ANYTHING ELSE before them!
Israelís leaders gave Israel the impression that doctrine doesnít matter. That Godís Word is not the Truth. That His Service and Ministry arenít something to LIVE from and something to teach us to LIVE!
So, Israel wandered; straight into exile.
Part of the problem for Godís people Ė then and now - is recorded in Jeremiah 10:21 Ė ďThe shepherds are stupid and do not inquire of the LORD; therefore they have not prospered, and all their flock is scattered.Ē
Iím afraid Godís people know as little of Godís Word and doctrine and faithful practice before His altar and faithful living before each other Ė because their shepherds are stupid.
PASTORS donít know Godís Word and doctrine. How can the sheep?
Itís true. Many pastors donít seem to know that all God gave to Israel
was pointing to Christ. They donít understand the Law & Gospel, Baptism, Absolution, or the Supper. They canít show you from the Bible how all of what we do each week is living from the GOSPEL! And Closed Communion? They have no idea what it means to call Godís people to repentance and faith!
No wonder Israel scatters. Stupid shepherds think that they will keep sheep close by giving them whatever their itching ears want to hear. They cater to the flock, but donít lead them, especially not in repentance and faith.
God promises to sweep such shepherds away like the wind. Read Jeremiah 22:22. Then comes Jeremiah 23. ďWoe to the shepherds!Ē
Thank God for the Shepherd KING, Jesus, who rides into Jerusalem, lowly and faithful. He does not come with all that people desire.
People want a parade. He gives us His passion. He dies in our place. He sets up a cross as His throne and bleeds out His life. He prays for the scattered who unite for His murder.
See what a TRUE Shepherd is like?
Before He did that, He set this Meal in Place. It is His Body in bread and His Blood in Wine. Yes, I know that will drive people off. So be it. Jesus means only to gather, but if people will not have the TRUE Shepherd, He will not be a PRETEND one. He's the real deal, and Heís all there is!
If that is not enough, He Himself will scatter and drive. Read Jeremiah!
But the FAITHFUL Shepherd IS here! He is here with His justice. With His Life in our place.
He is here to forgive your sins and mine. Here, He bathes sinners, even infants. More scattering? Iím afraid so. He lets such people go, who donít want Him as He is. He will even drive them into exile. Thereís a church for them on every corner. Who knows what theyíll be getting. But for the helpless? The hopeless? Real, bona fide sinners? He is a real, bona fide Savior!
If you are like I am - someone who can only hear God's Word today and plead forgiveness, then here Christ is exactly what you need: "The Lord our righteousness." The ONLY reason you and I are saved. The ONLY reason God will ever smile on us. The ONLY thing we have to offer anyone who comes.
Happy beginning of Repentance and Faith. In Jesus' Name, Amen