* This editorial concludes the (revised) 2010 graduation message of the Protestant Reformed Seminary, more a sermon than a speech. It appears only now in February because other editorials took precedence this fall and winter. May the message, heard by a goodly number last June, also be of use to the churches and the SB community at large. In this new year, please commit us at the seminary to God in prayer.
God’s Word here, in Ezekiel 34, is not intended so much to warn evil shepherds as it is to comfort the flock whose welfare depends on their removal, and to instruct the new shepherds as to their duties. The new shepherds had no examples of godliness; they had no teachers who from experience could speak of their love for God, joy in the ministry, and personal need for Jesus Christ.
There is instruction to you graduates here how to be good shepherds.
The evil shepherds fed themselves. You must feed the flock. This has the emphasis in the text (see Ezekiel 34:2, 3, 8, 13, 14, 23).
The food is the Word. For four years now we have taught you to bring the Word in all your work. Your place is in the study, poring over Scripture, doing careful exegesis so you are able to say, “Thus saith the Lord God…” (Ezekiel 34:1). And, “Hear the word from His mouth; this is warning from Him” (Ezekiel 3:17).
Whether on the pulpit (your primary work), in the catechism room, beside the hospital bed, or in counseling for a fractured marriage, you must “feed the flock of God.”
Feed them in a “good (literally ‘fat’) pasture” (Ezekiel 34:14). Give them substantial sermons that edify. Prepare well for catechism—no “lick and a promise” preparation, no matter how many times you have taught it. Meditate prayerfully on the Word before bringing it to the hospital or across your counseling table. “Great Shepherd, bless this word. Use me.”
Then, whereas the evil shepherds had no care for the distressed among the flock, your work is to bind up the broken; strengthen the weak; heal the diseased (Ezekiel 34:16).
Here, as shepherds must, you show yourself skillful in medicine. With a kind of Hippocratic oath of non-maleficence (“I will do no harm, but with all my power will heal”), bring the balm of Gilead to the sick and the weak.
Sometimes this is unpleasant work, which is why the evil shepherds refused to do it. “What? The call letter didn’t say that.” Sitting in the study doing the blood, sweat, and tears of exegesis may seem easy compared with this work. It may compare to the dirty and infrequently- spoken-of work of a CNA at an old people’s home. Who wants that work? Who will be praised for it?
It may turn your stomach, repulse you like the gangrene on a sheep that fell long ago, and break your heart. But this is the work of a faithful pastor among Christ’s precious, blood-bought sheep.
While the evil shepherds are seeking their own pleasure, you must seek out the lost and scattered sheep. “I will seek that which was lost, and will bring back that which was driven away” (Ezekiel 34:16).
Some sheep were driven away by bad shepherds.
You will see them in the community you move to. They may be the former members of the congregation you serve. They may be the grandchildren of those who are fond of telling you, “O, I used to go to the ‘big church.'”
A good shepherd will be interested in them. He is not threatened by them, does not want to speak evil of, or listen to evil about, them. He extends friendly greetings to them, even if they now follow another shepherd and are part of a different flock.
A faithful shepherd seeks to “bring[s] again that which was driven away.”
Others have wandered away on their own, the result of their own stubborn nature. They may be the sons and daughters of the congregation. But as the ninety and nine are safe, he does what he can to lead back one who has wandered away.
He is not hindered or halted by rebuffs. (Of course these wandering sheep will rebuff him.) He does not cast pearls before swine, but neither does he stop trying just because he gets the cold shoulder or (worse) a hostile reception. Can he expect anything else from wandering sheep? They are diseased, sick, weak, broken, exactly because they have wandered from the flock.
Then, whereas the evil shepherds were cowards, you must be fearless and bold in your defense of the flock (Ezekiel 34:22, 28).
The faithful shepherd sees the dangers (Ezekiel 3,Ezekiel 33). The heathen are like wild beasts who would devour the defenseless, weak, vulnerable. They want the sheep for a prey, especially the young people. The faithful shepherd understands that; he knows where and how they lie in wait; and he warns the sheep. He blows the trumpet with no uncertain sound: “BEWARE!”
And then he does battle with these enemies. With the sword of the Spirit he gives battle.
He does so because he cherishes the life that he protects.
Some shepherds leave the impression that they are mercenaries—they have no personal interest in the cause they defend, but fight and do battle because they love to fight and do battle. Of the precious life within the fold they know little; of the delightful experience of peace for themselves and their children, as they fellowship with God and with each other, they seem to know nothing.
Not this shepherd. Willing to fight, ready to do battle at all times and be wounded in the process, this shepherd fights because he cherishes for himself and the rest of the people of God the delightful quiet beside the still waters—the true church where he and his seed can dwell in peace.
Jehovah’s Love for His Sheep
That is your calling, graduates, a calling you will be eager to take up when you see the sheep as God sees them.
God loves His chosen people.
As frequently as God tells the shepherd to “feed” the flock, so frequently does He call the flock “mine” (thirteen times in Ezekiel 34:6, 8, 10, 12, 15, 17, 19, 22)!
“They are mine according to eternal election. According to that sovereign decree, I love them with an everlasting love. Mine! I regard them with tenderest affection.”
My sheep, says Jehovah.
This—they are God’s—is what the evil shepherds forgot. This explains the severe judgment of the evil shepherds! They man-handled God’s flock! What did you do with myflock? It may be difficult to understand the wrath of God against the shepherds . . . until you see whose flock it is, and how He loves His sheep.
This—they are God’s—is what will make a good shepherd a good shepherd. He sees the flock as God’s flock; and he fears God.
And this—they are God’s—explains why God sent the Shepherd to care for the flock.
All the warnings of judgment against the unfaithful shepherds, and all the explanation of the duties of the good shepherds, are intended by God to prepare the people to hear the promise of the Shepherd.
He is the son of man—Ezekiel’s favorite designation. Not an angel, but a son of the fallen Adam, weak, subject to all the infirmities of any other man. A man of ignoble birth and unattractive countenance. God made Him the Shepherd, as He made Ezekiel so.
This Shepherd loved the sheep. He gave Himself for them. He did not feed Himself, making Himself fat on their flesh. He fed them in a fat pasture. He bound up the broken, strengthened the weak, healed the diseased. He sought out the lost and scattered sheep, ignoring the pompous nobles among the flock, visiting with the Mary Magdalenes, publicans, and Samaritans. And you and me. Naturally we would “turn his stomach,” repulse him by the gangrene of our sinful natures. But who else would care for us? Who else could?
He was bold and fearless in His defense of the flock, because He (Emmanuel) cherished the covenant fellowship with the people whom God loved. He so loved that flock that He did not hesitate to give His life. And God did not spare Him, His beloved Son.
We shepherds follow this Shepherd, God’s Son, and depend upon Him. And we are able to be faithful only insofar as we are united to Him, live in Him, depend upon Him.
Synod, TSC, membership of the PRC, family and friends . . .
Pray that God not judge us with unfaithful shepherds, giving us what we deserve.
Pray that our graduates will be animated by the Spirit of faithful Jesus Christ, and be a blessing on the church of Christ, both here and in all the nations of the world.