Today’s selected reading continues in the Old Testament prophetic book of Ezekiel, and more specifically, is found in the thirty-fourth chapter of the book. Reverend Carter Conlon of Times Square Church in New York City preached a message entitled “Dangerous Shepherds,” and it was a message that was centered upon the text found within this chapter. If you read the first ten verses of this chapter you will quickly be confronted with the reality that the Lord had a very specific controversy with the shepherds of Israel. It is within this particular chapter that the Lord once again addresses a very specific group of people within and among the house of Israel—a group of people whom He Himself had a very strong controversy with. Consider the words of the prophet Ezekiel in this particular passage: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy, and say to them, even to the shepherds, Thus says the Lord God: Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: As I live, declares the Lord God, surely because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild beasts, since there was no shepherd, and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep, therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: Thus says the Lord God, Behold, I am against the shepherds, and I will require my sheep at their hand and put a stop to their feeding the sheep. NO longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them” (Ezekiel 34:1-10).
In order to truly understand the significance of what is recorded in this particular passage, it is imperative that you turn your attention to the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John, for it is there where we find the account of Jesus speaking of and declaring Himself to be “the good Shepherd.” These are the words which are found in John’s Gospel account of the life and ministry of Jesus Christ: “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear His voice, and He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When He has brought out all His own, He goes before them, and the sheep follow Him, for they know His voice. A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers. This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what He was saying to them. So Jesus again said to them, Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father” (John 10:1-18).
I am convinced that you must also direct your attention to the words of David in the twenty-third chapter of the book of the Psalms, for it is there where you will find another powerful commentary on the Lord as shepherd. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:1-6).
While it might be easy to begin reading this chapter and focus entirely on the sheer negligence of the shepherds of Israel, I am convinced that it might be necessary to begin with something completely different. IF you read the fourth verse of this chapter, you will find a description of the various sheep that were considered to be part of the fold of Israel. In the fourth verse you will read of the weak sheep; you will read of the sick sheep; you will read of the injured sheep; you will read of the sheep who have strayed; and you will read of the lost sheep. WEAK! SICK! INJURED! STRAYED! LOST! What is so incredibly profound about these words, is that they weren’t directed toward those outside of the fold of Israel. Within this passage, the prophet Ezekiel was speaking of the house of Israel—those whom the Lord considered to be sheep in His fold. It is interesting to note that when the Lord was speaking of the negligence of the shepherds of Israel, He also spoke of the plight of the sheep of whom the shepherds were appointed to lead. Within this passage you find that there were among the sheep of Israel those who were weak, those who were injured, and those who were sick. Oh, we must firmly recognize that even though the house of Israel was considered to consist of many sheep—there were sheep within that fold who were desperate and in tremendous need. When reading this passage you will read that there were present among the sheep of Israel those sheep who were weak and in desperate need of being strengthened. There were those among the sheep of Israel who were injured and were in need of being bound up. There were also those who were sick and in need of healing. STRENGTH! HEALING! BINDING UP! Oh, if these words don’t describe the need that countless sheep within the fold of God find themselves in right now, I am not sure what will. I am firmly convinced that there are sheep within the fold of the Good Shepherd right now who are weak, and who are desperately in need of strength, of encouragement, and even support.
There are a number of sheep within the fold of the Good Shepherd who have been weakened due to besetting sins, due to the storms of this life, and due to the cares and concerns of this present age. There are countless men and women right now are weak and in need of strength, who are sick and in need of healing, and who are injured and in need of being bound up. What’s more, is that I am convinced there are sheep among us who are injured and sick, and we have absolutely no clue what’s going on in their lives. There are sheep among the fold of the Good Shepherd who right now are weak, and no one even knows the struggle(s) they face on a continual and day to day basis. There are countless sheep within the fold of the Good Shepherd who have been injured—whether injured by those also within the fold, or injured by those outside. These sheep have been wounded, bruised and scarred, and many of them aren’t even showing the signs of their being injured. These sheep have been severely wounded by others around them—whether family members, close friends, brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, coworkers, or those in the world—and who are carrying around the scars and bruises to show just how injured they are. There are those present within the fold of the Good Shepherd whom I would call “Fragile Christians,” for at any moment they could completely fall apart into a million pieces. There are countless men and women who are carrying within themselves broken, bruised, burdened and fragile hearts that at any moment in time could shatter and break into a million pieces. These individuals are perhaps afraid to allow others close to them, for the wrong type of exposure could cause the final crack that causes every to crumble and fall apart. FRAGILE CHRISTIANS CARRYING FRAGILE HEARTS. Tell me—are you even remotely aware of the desperate needs that are present all around you? We read this particular passage and we immediately focus on the negligence of the shepherds of Israel, yet I am convinced that we must also focus on the condition of the sheep. I am convinced we must focus on the condition of the sheep for it is the condition of the sheep that serves as the indictment for which the shepherds have been charged. I would dare say that it was not so much the negligence of the shepherds, as much as it was the condition of the sheep. Oh, I would even dare say that the shepherds in our generation can and will be held accountable for the condition of the sheep who have been entrusted into their care. If the sheep that have been entrusted into your care are weak, sick, injured, straying and lost—I would dare say that you are a dangerous shepherd, and the Lord has a controversy with you.
When you read the words of the prophet Ezekiel in this passage, you are confronted with the negligence of the shepherds of Israel in their care for the sheep, but perhaps even more so than this, you are confronted with the tremendous damage the sheep had incurred. The more I read this particular passage, the more I can’t help but wonder how these shepherds could allow so many sick, so many injured, and so many weak to be present among them. There is a part of me that can’t help but wonder if these shepherds were even aware of the sick, the injured and the weak that were present within the fold, and if they were aware of their presence—were they even concerned, and did they even care. We must recognize that the Lord wasn’t talking about those outside the fold of Israel—namely Gentiles from the nations and peoples which surrounded them—but those within it. When the Lord spoke of those sheep that were weak, injured and sick, He was speaking of those among the people of Israel—those whom the shepherds of Israel had neglected, ignored, despised and rejected. The Lord wasn’t speaking of hurting, broken, desperate and needy people among the Gentile and pagan nations which surrounded Israel, but those within the very fold of Israel. There were those within the inheritance and heritage who were sick, injured and weak, and in desperate need of healing, strength, and being bound up. When I think of those whom the prophet Ezekiel described in this passage, I can’t help but be reminded of the parable of the good Samaritan, for I am convinced that within this parable is a powerful picture of what has taken place in the lives of so many people, and the rejection and harsh treatment many have received—even from those within leadership in the body of Christ. “And behold, a lawyer stood up to put Him to the test, saying, Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life? He said to him, What is written in the Law? How do you read it? And he answered, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself. And He said to him, You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live. But He, desiring to justify himself said to Jesus, And who is my neighbor? Jesus replied, A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. HE WENT TO HIM AND BOUND UP HIS WOUNDS, POURING ON OIL AND WINE. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back. Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? HE said, The one who showed him mercy. And Jesus said to him, You go and do likewise” (Luke 10:25-37).
If you read this particular passage, you will find that when the Samaritan—those who were normally rejected and despised and ostracized by the Jews for being “half-breeds”—came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion on him. It was the compassion he felt within his heart that caused him to go to him, to bind up his wounds, pouring on them oil and wine, and ultimately bringing him to an inn where he continued taking care of him. I am convinced this type of ministry is found in the sixty-first chapter of the prophetic book of Isaiah, for it is in this familiar passage of Scripture where we find a powerful Messianic reference to Jesus the Christ. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion—to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that they may be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1-3). Consider also the parable of the lost sheep which is recorded for us in the first seven verses of the fifteenth chapter of the Gospel of Jesus according to Luke: “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, This man receives sinners and eats with them. So He told them a parable: What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it upon his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost. Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:1-7).
WEAK! INJURED! SICK! LOST! STRAYED! You will notice the words that are connected with each of these realities. Those who are weak, there is a tremendous need to strengthen them. Those who are sick, there is a powerful need to heal. Those who are injured, there is a great need to bind up their bruises, wounds, and scars. Those who have strayed are to be brought back. Those who are lost who need to be sought out. Perhaps the question that needs to be asked is how many among us are injured—bruised, wounded, scarred, and the like? Who are those among us who have been wounded and bruised in times past, and who have never had those wounds bound up? Oh, I am convinced that there are sheep among us who have been injured in times past, and they have never had their wounds, bruises, and scars bound up. I am convinced they have carried these realities within their hearts, within their souls, and within their minds, and it has been a continual and constant burden for them. There are those among us who have been carrying around a sickness inside of them—perhaps a sickness within the heart, or even a sickness within their soul—and they have never experienced healing in that particular area. There are those among us who have been walking in constant weakness, and are in desperate need of someone to come alongside them and help them find strength—find strength through prayer, find strength through fellowship, find strength through worship, find strength in Christ, find strength at the throne of grace. There are those among us who have strayed, or who perhaps are straying right now, and who are in desperate need of being brought back. You will notice that there is within this passage the mentioning of those who will seek out the lost, and those who will bring back the straying, and oh how I can’t help but think that there are countless shepherds who aren’t even aware of those entrusted in their care who are still lost, or have begun to stray. Is it possible that true shepherds will be able to discern those who are sick, those who are injured, and those who are weak within the fold of the Good Shepherd?
If the shepherds within our churches and congregations follow and are joined to the Good Shepherd, they will always leave the ninety-nine sheep, in order that they might seek and search out that one who has been lost. Oh, where are those shepherds who are willing to reach out and lay hold of those who have begun to stray—those who have begun to wander? These questions must be answered, for you will notice that because of the condition of the sheep, and because the shepherds ruled them with harshness and force, the sheep were scattered. Not only were they scattered, but they became food for all the wild beasts. Oh, how many sheep in this generation and in these days have become food for the “wild beast”—the principalities, the rulers of darkness, the spiritual wickedness, and the forces of evil in the earth today? How many sheep have become vulnerable and exposed to the threats and attacks of the enemy because they have been injured and never bound up, sick and never healed, weak and never strengthened, lost and never sought out, and strayed but never brought back. Oh that the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord would cause His light to shine upon these sheep—these sheep who are lost, these sheep who have strayed, these sheep who are sick, injured and weak. OH that we would have ears to hear what the Spirit is speaking through this passage—even though there is a lot of truth and application that is found within it. Let us examine our own hearts and lives and see if we are in specific areas sick, weak and injured. Let us examine our own hearts and lives and see if there are specific areas in where we have wandered and strayed, or where we have begun to wander and stray. Let us examine our hearts and lives to see if there is anything inside of us that is lost, or anything that feels as though it’s lost. Oh that the Spirit of the Sovereign Lord would give us ears to hear what He is speaking to us in these Last Days.
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