Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Woe to the Shepherds



Jeremiah 23:1-6

      Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings, says the Lord. Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing, says the Lord.
     The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: "The Lord is our righteousness."


Sermon: “Woe to the shepherds”

In the book of Jeremiah God calls him to be His prophet and to stand up against the false prophets of the day. God tells him that, “They have spoken falsely of the Lord, and said, ‘He will do nothing. No evil will come upon us, and we shall not see sword or famine.’ The prophets are nothing but wind, for the word is not in them.”5:12-13 He is called to stand up to the leaders of Israel and Judah and call them whores. He tells them how disappointed and angry God is with them for breaking the covenant that he had made with Israel. He even tells them that God is sickened by their pretentiousness at calling Him their Father since they have so blatantly turned from His teachings.3:4-5

Jeremiah is nearly all about how God was going to remove his hand from the land and let their enemies over run them and carry them off to captivity in distant lands. But God holds out a hope that He will be able to instruct a new generation and they will recreate the broken relationship between God and His people. Again and again He begs His children to repent calling out, “Return, O faithless children. I will heal your faithlessness.”3:22

The prophet Jeremiah lived about six centuries before the birth of Jesus. His writings were about the troubles he saw in his own time. He (through the power of God) laid the blame for all the problems on the very people tasked with leading them. Six hundred years later Jesus made the same observations in His time on earth. And a simple look at our own time shows that the same things are still occurring. God’s people are being lead astray by the very people who should be leading them to God.

In Jeremiah’s time there were “prophets” who were telling the people what they wanted to hear; that all was well and good and there was nothing to fear. Jeremiah, on the other hand, was prophesying about the coming dispersal of the Jews to other lands and the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Not only does Jeremiah predict this, he also (as the voice of God) lays the blame on the supposed religious leaders and people in power. God says, “Their houses are full of treachery; therefore they have become great and rich, they have grown fat and sleek, they know no limits in deeds of wickedness, they do not judge with justice the cause of the orphan, to make it prosper, and they do not defend the rights of the needy.”5:27-28 For from the least to the greatest of them, everyone is greedy for unjust gain, and from prophet to priest, everyone deals falsely.”6:13

Through his prophet, God also gives the good news that He will gather His people from every land and will provide a king from David’s family that will deal wisely, be just and righteous. The Lord said, “For if you truly amend your ways and your doings, if you truly act justly one with another, if you do not oppress the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not go after other gods to your own hurt, then I will dwell with you in this place, in the land that I gave of old to your ancestors for ever and ever.”7:5-7

In the first chapter of Jeremiah it recounts his “call”. “Now the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” And what was Jeremiah’s reaction? “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.”1:4-5 But God chose to give this boy the power over nations and kingdoms to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”1:10

The messages that Jeremiah brought to the rulers of the people were harsh. God was accusing them of pulling away from him and following after false gods. That would be bad enough, but he also convicts them of leading others away from him. Instead of being good shepherds of God’s people, they were leading them to death and destruction. He said, “Those who handle the law did not know me; the rulers have transgressed against me; the prophets prophesied by Baal and went after things that do not profit.”2:5 In poetic language, God says that He has these two things against them: abandoning Him and His teachings and laws, leading His children to destruction.

Now let’s skip ahead six centuries and see what Jesus has to say about those who handle the law, the rulers and the prophets. In Matthew 15 we read where the Pharisees and scribes (read that as rulers and keepers of the Law) ask Jesus why His disciples didn’t wash their hands before they ate. Jesus responds, “And why do you break the commandments of God for the sake of your tradition?”15:2-3 Does that not sound like exactly what Jeremiah was condemning Israel for in ages past? Jesus goes on to warn his disciples to beware the teachings of the Pharisees and Saducees.16:12 He also warned them and us, “Beware that no one leads you astray. For many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am the Messiah!’ and they will lead many astray.”Matt 24:4-5 He laments over their unwillingness to return to God when he says, “O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kill the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”Luke 13:34

Throughout the gospels we read of the Pharisees coming to Jesus with trick questions about paying taxes (both temple and Roman), about adultery, about divorce, about marriage in heaven, about working on the Sabbath, and on and on. Never, never, never! does it end well for those seeking to entrap Jesus. Every time that they think they have a fool proof plan, a plan that which ever way Jesus answers, they will be able to charge him with breaking either the Jewish law or the Roman law, he turns it around on them. How frustrated they must have been. No wonder that Jesus tells the people that, because the rulers sit on the throne of Moses (figuratively), what they say is to be obeyed. But he also warns not to do as the Pharisees do because they make impossible rules that they themselves can not follow but by which they will judge the people.

Okay, now I’m a little afraid to do this, however, shall we take a look at our own time? What has changed in the twenty one centuries since Christ walked the earth? Or for that matter in the twenty seven since Jeremiah? Keep in mind that in Jeremiah’s and Jesus’ times the religious leaders were also the political rulers. In our day, of course we have a division between church and state. To examine our time, we are going to need to take a look at the condition of religious and political leaders.

Because of the mandate of our camping club, this worship is non-denominational and non-partisan. That means, I’m trying to tip toe through a mine field here. But it scares me to death to read Jeremiah and hear him issuing the same condemnation to us. Are we dealing justly with the widow, the orphan the poor, and the alien in our land? Do we say “Father, you are the friend of my youth. But continued to do all the evil we can?”3:4-5 Let me ask you, with out naming names, can you give examples of our leaders, religious and secular that appear to be disconnected from God and/or leading the people away from God?

I really want your input here. I’ll start by saying that I hear and read too many evangelists and pastors preaching a religion of prosperity. That is, telling people that if they follow their teachings (and buy their books, DVDs, and whatever) that their lives are going to be all cake and ice cream. That money will come pouring in and they’ll never be sick. That just doesn’t match up with the realities of life. If you want to know what being a Christian means, look at the lives of Jesus’ apostles. They lived hard, persecuted lives and most died untimely deaths. God promises that he will be with us during life’s trials … not that we will not have to go through them.

(take some time here to facilitate a discussion with the congregation.

Be careful to not allow it to become a “name calling” rant)

There were some good points brought up. It is fairly easy for us to point out the errors that others are making. Jesus warns that before we remove the splinter from our bother’s eye, we must first remove the log that is in ours.Mat 7:5 So, before we become too smug, let me remind us that every Christian … e-v-e-r-y Christian has a God given task to perform for the glory of God. So remember, as a Priesthood of Believers 1Pet 2:5, we are all … all leaders. Yep! This is where I begin to meddle.

I don’t know what the Lord has called you to do. I just know that you are called to be and active part of God’s plan. So, whatever you are called to do I just know that there are no none-working parts of the body of Christ.

I was called to preach. And I promise to never, knowingly give you false information. And sometimes it scares me that I might misspeak or unknowingly mislead you. I pray before each time I preach that, no matter what I say, His words will be heard. I know that it works because I’ve had people come up to me after a service and excitedly tell the service that they heard, and I think to myself, “That’s sounds great, I wish I’d have said it.”

The great commission … the last commandment given by Jesus was, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations.” “Go to the whole world and proclaim the good news.” The good news is that God kept his promise that he would raise up a leader from the line of David. Jesus the Christ came and paid the price and settled the debt that was owed to God. We have proof where the people of the Old Testament had only hope. That commandment to “go and tell” is for every Christian. “But wait,” you say, “I’m not a missionary. I can’t go into the whole world.” That may be true, however you can go into YOUR world. We each come into contact with people all the time. We may be the only Christian that some people will ever know. Our mission field need not be in some distant land. It may be in our own home, neighborhood, work place, club, grocery store … get the picture?

We have a job to do. Not all jobs are the same. However, all jobs are of equal importance to the Kingdom of God. Scripture says, “Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers.Eph 4:11” “Here are some of the parts God has appointed for the church: first are apostles, second are prophets, third are teachers, then those who do miracles, those who have the gift of healing, those who can help others, those who have the gift of leadership, those who speak in unknown languages.1 Cor 12:28” Remember that we are the body of Christ 1Cor 12:27 in this present age. And all of us are to use our God given talents to further His kingdom.

Now that we understand that we all are a leaders … shepherds, how do we insure that we are leading down the right path? If you are looking for and easy answer like, go to church regularly, forget it. It takes work to be prepared. It is necessary to be immersed in the Word of God, the Bible.

There are so many Bibles … so many translations. Find several that you can understand. For many people the King James Version with it’s Old English and archaic terms, just doesn’t make sense. I grew up with two versions of the Bible: King James and the New World Translation (which is used by Jehovah’s Witnesses). It was in reading both and seeing differences (discrepancies) between them that first got me to reading many translations of the Bible. A good study Bible with Parallel translations is very useful.

Since I can not read the original writings of any of the many contributors to the Old and New Testament books, I must rely on other’s research. Because I am relying on the work of others, I am careful to compare with other works. If I begin to see that the author(s) of a certain version are letting their own interpretation or denominational bias influence the translation, I discard it. .

Do not be fooled into thinking that only preacher, pastors, evangelists, and missionaries need to study the Bible. I don’t care if your place in the kingdom of God is a “non speaking part.” You may be the one called upon to sweep the floor or drive a truck. If you are doing it for God, you need to know what God expects of you. You have to read the instruction book, the owner’s manual, the Bible. There is no other way to be positive that you are not following the wrong shepherd.

Now understand that reading the Bible is not the same as studying it. “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness.” 2 Tim 3:16 Do not read it like you would a book of fiction. Read it more like a cookbook. Look for the proper ingredients to build your life on God’s foundation. Read it to gain understanding and to accomplish something. When you read a passage of scripture stop and think about it. Seek to understand the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” of the passage and most importantly ask, “What does this mean to me?” There are many good “daily devotionals” to help you get started. I recommend that you use one. However, they do not replace your own study of the scriptures. Only by studying to show yourself approved unto God, a workman that need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth”2 Tim 2”:15 can we be sure of being on solid ground. Jesus has said that, “My sheep know my voice.”John 10:27 Studying is the only sure way to learn the voice of the Master Shepherd.

Okay, now we are becoming grounded in the word, now pray. Pray. Pray. Pray. We are to stay connected with God. Prayers do not need to be long, elaborate and eloquent. Prayers just need to come from your heart and your mind. We know how to stay connected with friends and family … we have cell phones, smart phones, iPads, computers, social media, land lines and hand written letters. Put God on your speed dial (figuratively). Go to God in small instant prayers. I’ve been known to look at a beautiful sunset and say, “Yeah, God!” I’ve seen a reckless driver and whispered, “Lord, keep him and those around him from harm.” Sometimes, at the end of my rope, I’ve just said, “Help!” We have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit available to us and He will guide, council and comfort us if we but listen.

Years ago I heard a woman telling about one time when she was standing in a checkout line. She was quietly thinking of some blessing in her life and the word, “Jesus” slipped from her lips. The cashier quickly asked, “What’s the matter?” Isn’t that sad that she automatically thought this woman was cursing? Wouldn’t it be wonderful if enough people would say a word of praise out loud that those hearing us would automatically think we are praying instead of cursing? Stay connected with God through prayer. Talk to him as you would a friend, a teacher, or a parent. Pray for others. Make a list if you need to. Pray for yourself, your family, your friends, your coworkers, the pastor, the teachers, the police, the firemen, the politicians and people in power locally, nationally and world wide.

Stay connected with Godly people. “Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Heb 10:25 Remember that we are separate from the world, it is not our home, we are only passing through it. And the journey is easier with fellow travelers. We have been commanded to love one another as Jesus loves us.John 13:34 & 15:12 It was important enough that the gospel of John records Jesus saying it twice. And it isn’t a suggestion … it is a command. Find a Christian community where you can go to help and be helped, to be counseled and to council. Some days we’re the sheep and some days we are the shepherd.

Okay, here may be the hardest part of all. I said that we are separate from the world however, that does not mean we are not in the world. We need to reach out to those who are still lost, to those who have not heard or have not accepted the good news. Once we are standing on the solid ground of scripture we can lift others out of the muck and mire of this sinful world. Share! By your words, your actions, and deeds show the Christ within you to the world. And look for Christ in others. For example: it is a good thing to help someone in need; however, it is a great thing to do it as though you were doing it for Jesus. “As you have done to the least of these my brothers, you have done it for me.” Mat 25:41 Give, never expecting anything in return.Luke 6:34 Deal justly with the widow, the orphan the poor, and the alien in our land? So that we never hear the indictment, “Woe to you shepherd”. Amen.


Jeremiah, Jesus, God, Sermon, Prophets, False Prophets, Shepherds, Christians, Holy Spirit

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