Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
When we consider our Old Testament reading for this week, from Jeremiah 23:1-6, it’s probably useful to include a consideration of modern popular cultural standards. Within our highly politicized environment in the United States just now, it’s becoming increasingly common for people on both the extreme left and the extreme right to play some sort of religious card. Normally this takes the shape of a demand that “real” Christians, and particularly pastors, will either enforce some sort of pietistic demands which go beyond Scripture (right) or a demand that they should embrace whatever anybody wants in the name of freedom and love (left). Neither of these views stacks up to God’s message in Jeremiah.
Verse two accuses the not-so-very-good shepherds of scattering the flock, leaving them unprotected and unattended. It also makes it crystal clear that the message is not about livestock, but about those who guard God’s people. How does a society get itself into this condition?
The not-so-very-good shepherds were acting in a manner contrary to the solution God gives in verses five and six. They were not hearing and teaching God’s Word. They were either binding the people with burdens which could not be carried in order to place them into a position of fear and subjection, or they were not telling them the valid warnings against dangers which God had made clear in the Scripture. Either of these extremes is bad for the sheep of God’s pasture, and, by extension, for everybody else as well.
Let’s also notice that the sheep themselves are not necessarily responsible. Granted, it’s the sheep who get eaten by the wolves, lions, and bears. We don’t want to endorse that. But they are not really to blame for acting according to their nature and going where the shepherd either told them or allowed them to go. They are also not given permission to tell the shepherds what to do. The wolves, lions, and bears likewise don’t get to call the shots. It’s only God in His Word who gets to correct the shepherds. How does he do that? He does it through Christ, the Branch of David, who lives, dies, and rises again for his people, to create in them the kind of righteous life which they couldn’t ever develop on their own or rightly perceive from all the wise counsel of the sheep, the wolves, the lions, or the bears.
What is God’s plan? It is to gather all his people into safety as they trust the faithful shepherds. And the faithful shepherds are useful as they trust the true and permanent shepherd, Jesus, who will save his people and bring them into peace and safety. Accept no substitutes. This is the real deal.
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