God, Sheep and Shepherds

Jeremiah 50:6-7
My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold. All who found them have devoured them, and their enemies have said, “We are not guilty, for they have sinned against the Lord, their habitation of righteousness, the Lord, the hope of their fathers.”

Introduction

On the front end, I want to say “Thank you!” to all of you. Thanks for your time today. Thanks for being here at this church service. Thanks for encouraging me in the new position as a Bible History teacher at SMMHS. You all have been very gracious. I appreciate your prayers. If you are able and willing, please continue to pray for Bible in the Schools.
We are kicking off our fall small groups tonight. I hope you are planning to participate as we continue to grow together in the knowledge of God’s grace, mercy, and plans for his people. I also realize that we have been doing small groups for a few years now and some of you might be tired. I want to encourage you to continue investing time and love in the lives of other people here at this congregation. This is valuable. Throughout the New Testament, God calls Christians to invest in one another. Don’t let this church family fall apart. I realize family relationships can be tough to maintain, but God is serious about wanting us to love one another deeply. Christians should be known for their love for one another.

(READ selections from the list of “one another” statements)

There are two passages linked with our fall small group kick-off. Matthew 10:1-42 is the core text. Hopefully, your small group will take an in-depth look at that passage. In Matthew 10, Jesus is sending out the twelve apostles. This is often called the limited commission. He tells the twelve to go to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” and tell them “the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” The second passage is from Jeremiah 50:6-7. These two passages are often linked because of a phrase – “lost sheep.” What do you think of when you hear that phrase? What do you see in your mind’s eye? Lost sheep? What’s the deal? (Dr. Lipe – tell brief story of his favorite phrase)

We will not be looking at Matthew 10 in this sermon; we will focus on Jeremiah 50:6-7. We will be thinking about sheep, shepherds, tall mountains, rolling hills, resting places, enemies, and our ultimate hopes and dreams. Sheep. What do you think about sheep? What do you know about sheep? Do you like sheep? Shepherds. You might know them by another term – “pastor.” Pastors/shepherds are individuals that guide and guard the sheep. They care for them. Their lives are devoted to the sheep. Shepherds guide them towards water. Pastors help sheep when they are sick or in danger. Shepherds move the sheep towards greener pastures. They guide the sheep through the most lush hills and valleys. Mountains. Just think of the most beautiful mountains in the world. Have you ever climbed a tall mountain? Do you like living on Signal Mountain? Why do people love the mountains? Rolling hills. Do you love the rolling hills? Do you think they are beautiful? Are they enticing to you in any way? Enemies. Do you have any? Resting places. Where do you find rest? Is it the couch? A special chair maybe? Your bed? Where do you rest the best? Ultimate hopes and dreams. What do you want to accomplish more than anything before you die? Be honest with yourself for a moment, what are your true goals and aspirations?

Scripture FOCUS – READ Jeremiah 50:6-7 with me again…

ESV
My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains. From mountain to hill they have gone. They have forgotten their fold. All who found them have devoured them, and their enemies have said, “We are not guilty, for they have sinned against the Lord, their habitation of righteousness, the Lord, the hope of their fathers.”

I am not a big fan of modern paraphrases, but if you look at the original Hebrew and then look at the Message translation, you will see that it does a decent job…

The Message
My people were lost sheep. Their shepherds led them astray. They abandoned them in the mountains where they wandered aimless through the hills. They lost track of home, couldn’t remember where they came from. Everyone who met them took advantage of them. Their enemies had no qualms: “Fair game,” they said. “They walked out on God. They abandoned the True Pasture, the hope of their parents.”

 

Lost Sheep

Are sheep dumb? Really? Well, a case can be made that sheep are intelligent. Actually, you can argue it either way. Some say sheep are dumb, others will say sheep are not. Regardless of your stance, would you like to be called a sheep? Do you know the song that we teach kids?

I just want to be a sheep, b-a-a-a
I just want to be a sheep, b-a-a-a
Pray the Lord my soul to keep
I just want to be a sheep, b-a-a-a

Don’t want to be a goat, nope
Don’t want to be a goat, nope
Haven’t got any hope, nope
Don’t want to be a goat, nope

I just want to be a sheep, b-a-a-a
I just want to be a sheep, b-a-a-a
Pray the Lord my soul to keep
I just want to be a sheep, b-a-a-a

The Bible makes many references about sheep. God’s people are called sheep, and the sheep will be separated from the goats when Jesus comes back according to Matthew 25.

Regardless of your stance about sheep (dumb or not), we can all agree on a few things about sheep.

They are prone to wander. And like all animals, they are led by their belly. Their desires hold them captive and lead them astray. When they are separated from the flock, they are in danger. Isolation and autonomy do not help sheep. They do their best in a flock. Sheep do not fair well as solitary animals. A group/flock offers protection and helps maintain the health of sheep.

In Jeremiah’s day, the sheep (God’s people) were lost. They were led astray by their wants and desires.

 

Shepherds

Another thing we can agree on is that sheep need the protection, leadership, and guidance of a shepherd.

Another word for “shepherd” is “pastor.” Just to clarify, Greg and I are not shepherds at this congregation. We are not pastors. God set up the church to be led by a group of men at the local congregation called shepherds, pastors, or elders. You can find out more about the expectations of shepherds/elders in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus.

Sheep need shepherds. God’s people need shepherds.

Many important figures in Hebrew history were shepherds: Abel, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and his sons, Moses, and David.

Sheep need supervision. They become lost easily. Once sheep are lost, they are defenseless against predators. Shepherds offered protection. They protected the flock from wild animals – wolves, lions, and bears.

Sheep need to be led to good food and water. Shepherds must be diligent in their work, and the job requires endurance. Shepherds worked around the clock. It was exhausting work to maintain a flock of sheep. Sheep must be counted regularly. If an animal was lost, it was the duty of the shepherd to go find the lost animal.

What was going on in Jeremiah’s day? The shepherds had led the sheep astray. The sheep were “abandoned in the mountains where they wandered aimless on the hills.”
The shepherds were not being good pastors. They were not doing their job. They had the title, but were not leading God’s people correctly.

READ John 10:1-18 (make comments)

The leaders during Jeremiah’s day were thieves and/or hired hands. They were only in it for the title and did not fulfill the righteous requirements of the job.

I believe we have good elders here. I hope you agree. However, they can only be good leaders if they are true followers of THE GOOD SHEPHERD.

Jesus is THE GOOD SHEPHERD. There is only one owner of the flock of God’s sheep. Jesus owns the sheep. He is the protector and door of the sheepfold. Be careful, the Bible says there are robbers and thieves that pretend to be shepherds.

 

Mountains and Hills

For a few moments, I would like you to think of mountains and rolling hills.

Have you climbed any mountains in your life? Literally? Metaphorically? Do you have any ambitions that you are chasing in this world before you die? Are you seeking any kind of elevation in your life? Are you seeking the calm and quiet of some rolling hills? Would you prefer to get away from it all and live the mountain life?

In this passage, mountains and hills could be alluding to the “high places” during Jeremiah’s day. What were the “high places?” If you have been reading through the Bible this year, then you know what I am talking about. People worshipped at high places. There were all kinds of high places all around. Most of them were pagan in nature, and God expected the high places to be destroyed in Deuteronomy. Josiah destroyed all the high places in the north and south and left the Temple at Jerusalem as the sole place where God was to be worshipped.

Be honest with yourself for a moment, are there any high places in your life? I am not trying to tear down all your dreams and aspirations at all, but are there any high places that you have set up without God’s permission or without his leading?

Sheep do not fair well in high places. They do their best on level ground. The only time a sheep does well in a high place is under the strict care and oversight of a good shepherd.

I would imagine most of us in this room consider ourselves the shepherds of our own destiny. We moved to this literal high place (Signal Mountain) to do things our way. Very few of us are good at being a sheep; we prefer the autonomy and isolation that the mountains and hills afford us. We are full of ambition and the means to scale just about any height we set before our eyes.

We must be careful. Great heights can be overcome with God and Jesus, the good shepherd. Who is leading? Playing “follow the leader” is not something I am good at, what about you?

I am reminded of 1 Corinthians 10:12, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”

Sheep do not fair well in high places.

 

Enemies

Who are your enemies? Where are they? Are they in a country far away? Are they a certain group of bad people locally?

I would like you to look at the passage again. When did the sheep come in contact with their predators?

I realize there is a daily attack against morality and goodness in this world. I see it in our community. I see it in Chattanooga at large. God and his church are under attack. It is clear. We have enemies.

However, I want you to think about the progression in Jeremiah 50:7. Seems to me that the real battle comes when the sheep stray. It is all about straying sheep. The sheep “lost track of home and couldn’t remember where they came from.” The enemies of the sheep said, “Fair game, they walked out on God. They abandoned the True Pasture, the hope of their parents.”

In the fleshly drive for autonomy, the sheep fell prey to their enemy!

Does this sound familiar to you?

Who is the real enemy in this passage? Looks to me it is the “self” – I am my own worst enemy most of the time. I walk out on God. Something catches my eye, and then I run towards it with all of my strength. The battle between flesh and spirit is real. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is so weak.

 

Resting Places and Hopes/Dreams

Where is your “habitation of righteousness” or “true pasture?” Where do you find solace, rest, and peace?

I will have to be honest. I cannot rest at home. It is not peaceful for me. I don’t have a nice chair to go home to at the end of a long day. I spend most of my day feeling antsy and in a constant state of unrest. As I age, I can’t sleep well either.

What about you? Do you have a resting place? Nice chair, couch, or bed? I hope so!

Even though, I can’t rest well, I know I am destined for a “habitation of righteousness” or “true pasture!”

Do the hurricanes and gas prices got you a little worried and feeling unsettled? Maybe it is your work situation or something else keeping you from resting well.

I want you to remember that you are a stranger in a foreign land. We are marching to Zion, the holy mountain of God. God and heaven are for real! Rest will come! Peace is just around the corner!

Rest in Him. Find peace in the hope of heaven. Let God set the parameters for your dreams and ambitions!

Don’t abandon the TRUE PASTURE for a fake or substitute!

Read 1 Peter 2:9-12

 

Conclusion

Scripture is like a mirror. If we look intently into the mirror, we will see ourselves clearly. We will see what God sees. I am not trying to paint a poor representation of you or give you some kind of guilt complex.

However, as God looks upon us, I am sure he sees straying sheep. Am I right? Am I way off base?

Sheep stray because of their fleshly desires. Their stomachs lead them.

Autonomy and isolation are not good for sheep. When sheep are isolated and alone, they are easy prey for predators.

Sheep need the GOOD SHEPHERD. They need to be led and protected.

The enemy will take advantage of all abandoned sheep.

Do you want to be a sheep? Goat?
Are you straying? Are you feeling abandoned in the mountains and rolling hills of your own ambitions? Are you wandering on the aimless hills of desire? Have you lost track of home? Have you forgotten where you came from?

Do you want the TRUE PASTURE? Do you want the secure habitation of righteousness? Are you craving a safe place to rest? Do you want a better dream for your life?

Come to the shepherd. He will guide you. Jesus is the GOOD SHEPHERD.

READ John 10:7-11

 

 

God, Sheep and Shepherds