July 22 2012 Sermon
Jeremiah 23:1 a”Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!” declares the LORD. 2 Therefore thus says the LORD, the God of Israel, concerning athe shepherds who care for my people: “You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. bBehold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the LORD. 3 aThen I will gather the remnant of my flock bout of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, cand they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4 aI will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the LORD. 5 a”Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will raise up for David a righteous bBranch, and che shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6 In his days Judah will be saved, and aIsrael will bdwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: c’The LORD is our righteousness.’
According to the wisdom of our church fathers who established the yearly calendar of readings for the church, all of the propers for today revolve around the theme of shepherds for God’s flock. Psalm 23 states, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” Our Gospel reading says that Jesus was moved to compassion because the people were like sheep without shepherds. Our Old Testament reading speaks of God setting up shepherds to attend to his flock and gather the scattered sheep, and the Epistle reading talks about the flock that was once scattered and separated from Christ but is now brought back into the fold.
But why is it that Jesus says the people were like sheep without a shepherd? After all, they had the scribes and priests, the rabbis, the Pharisees, the High Council. They had plenty of shepherds. The church had a well established hierarchy. There was no shortage of leaders or people in authority. So what is Jesus talking about?
Our Old Testament reading gives us the clue. God says, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture.” They had plenty of shepherds, plenty of leaders and guides, but they were not leading the sheep to God, rather they were leading them away from God. “They are blind guides,” says Jesus, “and if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.” Blind shepherds, scattering the sheep from the pasture. Destroying their faith. They were not attending to the sheep. In other words, they were not leading the church in the direction of God. They cared not for God’s word, they even rejected, persecuted and killed God’s prophets. They were not interested in doing what God had commanded, rather they thought that since they were in charge of the church they could do as they pleased, and that God wasn’t even paying attention.
Psalm 94 gives a pretty good description of the official Jewish leadership in the days of Jeremiah: “How long shall the wicked exult? They pour out their arrogant words. They crush your people, O Lord and afflict your heritage. They oppresses the weaker and poorer members who are old, ill, or struggling. They say, ‘The Lord does not see; the God of Jacob does not perceive.’”
But God would not allow this to go on for long. Those who lived comfortably and acted like kings would be quickly dealt with. God pronounced judgment against these wicked leaders. “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep. You have not attended to the sheep, therefore I will attend to you and your evil deeds.” Though they had the power to do what they wanted and make the decisions, they were still accountable to God for their decisions, their words, their actions, their votes. God will attend to them and their deeds. They would be judged by God. They will answer to God on the Day of Judgment, if not sooner. God would punish them for not obeying his commands. Justice will be done.
And God did attended to their evil by raising up a righteous Branch for David, a king who dealt wisely and executed justice and righteousness in the land. Woe to the shepherds who scatter the sheep because there is a King coming who will execute justice. Justice will be met out. The injustice you have done will be attended to. My people who have suffered your injustice will be saved.
God did raise up a righteous branch and he did attend to our sins. The righteous Branch is Christ. And your sins were attended to and dealt with by Christ. They were punished in the person of Jesus Christ. They were dealt with on the cross. The ugly scourging, the cruel beating, the reviling, the crown of thorns, the blood and gore of a crucifixion and the death of God’s own Son was all due to your sin; it was the punishment for your sin. The violence and bloodshed of the cross is nothing other than the wrath of God visited upon your sins. That torture and death are your punishment. That is what awaits you on the day when Christ returns,… unless you are found in Christ. Christ’s painful death is the only thing standing between you and that cruel torture; the fiery wrath of God.
Yes, God did raise up a righteous shepherd, Jesus Christ. He was raised up: first he was raised up on a cross; suspended high in the air between heaven and earth to die. He was raised up for your sins and on that cross paid for all of them with his life. Your sins are paid for. God has attended to them and executed his punishment on them. They are now gone. Punishment is done. “It is finished,” said our Lord.
Then, on the third day, God raised him up again: from the dead. The righteous Branch for David was raised from the dead, and sits on the throne, at the right hand of God the Father, where he reigns as king and deals wisely and executes justice and righteousness on the earth. He reigns today on the throne for the benefit of his people, the church, those who believe in his name. He reigns for the purpose of saving his people Israel and leading his sheep to green pastures and besides still waters. Therefore, his sheep fear no more nor are dismayed. Not a single one of his sheep will be missing. All of God’s elect will be saved, not one shall perish.
Because this Branch is righteous. That is his name: “The Lord is our righteousness.” Jesus Christ, is our righteousness. Pay close attention to that statement. It goes much further than we think. It doesn’t just say that he makes us righteous. It doesn’t say that he makes us better people. It doesn’t say that he gives us the power or helps us to live good or holy lives so that on the day of judgment we will be found acceptable to God. It doesn’t say anything about us at all. It says everything about Jesus Christ. It says that HE IS our righteousness. Righteousness is found not in us. It is not we who are righteous. It is not we who are pleasing to God. Rather, Jesus is righteousness. Jesus is pleasing to God. “Jesus is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.” The prophet Micah asks: “With what shall I come before the Lord? Shall I come with burnt offerings? Will the Lord be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgressions?” What sacrifice, what offering shall I give to appease him for my sins? The answer is: Jesus Christ. Jesus is the offering that will appease God. Jesus is the sacrifice for my sins. Jesus is my righteousness! On Judgment Day when God asks for our credentials for entry into heaven, we present to him not our own good works or righteousness, rather we hold up Jesus Christ and say, “Here! Here are my credentials. This Jesus is my righteousness. He is the reason for you to let me into heaven.”
On account of the righteous Branch of the house of David, Jesus Christ, God will gather the remnant of his flock out of all the countries where they have been driven. From faraway lands and distant places, from every tribe and nation and language and race, God’s sheep will be gathered. God will bring them home to the pasture. “Neither shall any be missing.” All of God’s sheep will be gathered. Not one of God’s elect will be lost. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:14-16).
“You were at one time separated from Christ,…[sheep without a shepherd] alienated from the covenants of God, having no hope and without God in the world.” As our Epistle reading states. “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” “so then, you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” You are now “being joined together, growing into a holy temple in the Lord.” It is the work of the Lord, the righteous Branch: for “by my own reason or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord, or come to him. But the Holy Spirit has called me through the Gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, and sanctified and preserved me in true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies the whole Christian church on earth…” Through Word and Sacrament, administered by the shepherds that the Lord sets up in his flock, the Holy Spirit gathers his sheep from the ends of the earth into his pasture.
We are a congregation of God’s sheep. But there are still more that have not been brought in. His sheep are scattered all over our neighborhood and city. Sheep without a shepherd. As Christ looked at the people and had compassion on them for they were as sheep without a shepherd, so he looks at our city, our community, our neighborhood and has compassion on the people for they are as sheep without a shepherd. It is for us to call them with the Word of the Gospel. It is for us to go out and gather them into the fold, through Baptism and faith. Christ’s compassion is at work in us and through us for all people from every nation and language and race. And that is what we have at our doorsteps, in our front yards, across the streets. There is our mission field as we, armed with the Word of Christ, gather his sheep into the fold. Amen.