God Our Good Shepherd

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“For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep. I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day. I will bring them back home to their own land of Israel from among the peoples and nations. I will feed them on the mountains of Israel and by the rivers and in all the places where people live. Yes, I will give them good pastureland on the high hills of Israel. There they will lie down in pleasant places and feed in the lush pastures of the hills. I myself will tend my sheep and give them a place to lie down in peace, says the Sovereign LORD. (Ezekiel 34:11–15, NLT)

Earlier in the chapter, Ezekiel prophesies against the leaders of Israel, whom the LORD rebukes for being “bad shepherds.” These bad shepherds are guilty of (1) feeding themselves instead of their flocks, (2) taking the best food and clothing while the people starve, (3) forsaking the weak, sick, and wounded, (4) ignoring the wayward and lost, and (5) ruling harshly with cruelty. This is a picture of Israel’s political and religious leaders. But when we look long and hard at what’s going on in our country and in the world, I think maybe we can relate.

Anyway, Israel’s leaders bore a significant amount of the blame for Israel’s sinful ways. Israel’s kings, queens, prophets, and priests, for the most part, instead of leading the people in worshipping the LORD, led the people in worshipping idols. And instead of turning to the LORD in times of need, like invasion of foreign armies or famine, they turned to foreign nations, especially Egypt and Babylon, and many others. This is in addition to all of the previous ways we mentioned about how they amassed their own wealth while exploiting the people.

But at the end of the day, that’s what we do. We’re all sinful. Even as believers, while we wait to receive our eternal bodies and heavenly abode, we wrestle with our sinful flesh and it’s ugly selfishness. That’s why it’s so important for us to seek the LORD daily, dying to ourselves moment-by-moment, so He can live through us, especially those of us who are leaders, in our church, in our workplaces, in our homes.

We are like sheep, easily distracted, not very smart, and biting, kicking, screaming, when we don’t get our own way. When that doesn’t work, we run aimlessly to the world. That’s what Israel did. And that’s what we do, too.

But the LORD is a good shepherd. He is not like Israel’s leaders or our world leaders today. He is holy, righteous, and true. He is always good, whether in dispensing justice or mercy. When we run, He comes after us. When we bite and kick and scream, he lets us throw our fit, then He sets us right again. Sometimes he bops us with His rod, other times He holds us down until we listen. And always He’s calling to us, gently beckoning us to come back to Him.

In these verses, the LORD promises Israel that He will bring them back to their land, make them prosper in the land, and give them peace. These are special promises for God’s chosen nation Israel. Not because Israel deserved it. The entire Old Testament shows us that they didn’t. But because Yahweh chose them.

The land promise was specific to Israel, but our Lord Jesus Christ makes us a similar promise about our eternal inheritance. In John 10, Jesus says,

“I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd.” (John 10:14–16)

And in John 14, Jesus says,

“Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also. 4 And where I go you know, and the way you know.” (John 14:1–4, NKJV)

We are those other sheep, not of Israel’s sheepfold, but of the same spiritual flock, following the same Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. And though Israel’s land promise, may not be for us, the LORD promises us eternal life abiding with Him, if we will only trust in Him.

So, when your life is going great, trust the LORD. Don’t be like Israel’s bad shepherds, hoarding your wealth, ignoring those who are suffering, and exploiting those around you. Instead, generously share whatever blessings the LORD has given you with those around you. And when your life seems like it couldn’t get worse, know that if you’re trusting in Jesus Christ, this world is the closest to hell you’ll ever get. Because we have a Good Shepherd who promises us a future of eternal glory abiding with Him.

God Our Mighty One

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Though the LORD is very great and lives in heaven,
he will make Jerusalem his home of justice and righteousness.
In that day he will be your sure foundation,
providing a rich store of salvation, wisdom, and knowledge.
The fear of the LORD will be your treasure. (Isaiah 33:5–6, NLT)

The LORD will be our Mighty One.
He will be like a wide river of protection
that no enemy can cross,
that no enemy ship can sail upon.
For the LORD is our judge,
our lawgiver, and our king.
He will care for us and save us. (Isaiah 33:21–22, NLT)

These verses emphasize God’s transcendence. Transcendence is a fancy word that refers to God’s greatness compared to the natural world. God transcends time and space—He is not bound by the natural laws of the universe. He has no beginning, no end. He has always existed, always does, always will. He is Spirit. He is not composed of matter and is not restrained by physical dimensions. He exists everywhere, at every time, always in full measure of Himself.

For us to know God, or to know anything about God, we need Him to reveal Himself to us. We cannot fully understand who He is, but He has revealed much of Himself to us, and His revelation is to us our wisdom, our knowledge, and our salvation. He has revealed enough for us to acknowledge that He is greater than anything we can imagine. And this idea should fill us with awe, wonder, humility, and reverence at the mere thought of Him.

These verses emphasize God’s immanence. Immanence is a fancy word that refers to God’s presence in the world and nearness to His people. He is not a dictator who ruthlessly governs us from afar. He is a loving shepherd who compassionately meets us where we are and invites us into a personal relationship with Him. He transcends time and space, He enters the physical world and works to win the hearts of wayward souls and welcome believers into His family of faith.

God is our king, sovereign and just. Anything true and righteous is found in Him. But He is a loving king who cares. He knows our limitations, our hurts, our weaknesses, and our desperate need to be delivered from our slavery to sin and death. He has always known these things, which is why even before He created the universe He made a plan to come and rescue us and to abide in our hearts to comfort us and lead us in His ways.

Verses 6 and 22 both mention how the Lord is our salvation, that He saves us. In context, God gave this message to Israel through the prophet Isaiah. Prior to chapter 33, God told Israel that He would send them into exile for their wickedness. But in this chapter, God describes how he would go with them and how he would one day deliver Israel from her oppressors restore her as a nation.

When we look at Israel, we are reminded of ourselves. Israel was wicked and God called them to account. Similarly, we are sinful people and God calls us to account. But God knows we’re slaves to sin and He knows we need a deliverer to rescue us. Jesus—God the Son—came to do just that. He became a man and died the death that we deserved to deliver us from our sinful fate. Now he gives us the choice to trust Him with our lives.

As believers, every day is a new day to walk with Him. Every day we can choose whether or not to trust and follow Him. So often we’re like Peter walking on the water, who, when he saw the storm raging around him, began to sink. Life’s storms capture our full attention so easily that we can forget about Jesus. But like with Peter, Jesus is right beside us, holding out his hand, inviting us to look to Him, let go of the world, and follow Him.

 

God Our Refuge

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
my fortress where I will not be shaken.
My victory and honor come from God alone.
He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
O my people, trust in him at all times.
Pour out your heart to him, for God is our refuge.
(Psalm 62:5–8, NLT)

Psalm 62 is a psalm of confidence, with a central focus on placing trust in the LORD. David wrote Psalm 62 from the perspective of being in mortal danger from his enemies (v3). He felt outnumbered, worn-down, betrayed (v4). Some of the people around him, people he was supposed to be able to trust, were guilty of extortion, stealing, and selfishly hoarding wealth (v10).

The world we live in is cruel. At work, if you’re not crushing people on your way to the top, you’re the one being crushed by someone else. We read and watch news reports about how we’re not safe even in our own homes, whether from outsiders trying to harm us or steal from us, or, God-forbid, even from within, where our own sinful hearts ever tempt us to demand our own way and tear down our spouses, our children, and anyone else who gets in our way.

So where can we go? What can we do? Is there any hope to overcome this cruel world? Is there anywhere, or anyone, where we can turn for strength and refuge?

David says “yes.” Even facing death, we have hope. In our weakest moments, we have strength. In our darkest moments of despair, we have a fortress of refuge. But our refuge isn’t an underground, bat-infested cave, an ice palace in a frozen tundra, or a flying mobile super-fortress. When we are broken, surrounded by enemies, and filled with rage or despair, our refuge is Almighty God.

In verse 5, David says to himself, “let all that I am wait quietly before God.” If you’re like me, you want to see fireworks and explosions. We want to see God working, and we want to see it now. But remember how the LORD spoke to Elijah on Sinai—God wasn’t in the mighty windstorm, or the earthquake, or the great fire. He spoke in the gentle whisper to Elijah, only when Elijah was ready to listen (1 Kings 19:11–13).

David describes God as his rock 3 times; his victory, salvation, fortress, and refuge each 2 times; and hope and honor each 1 time. Victory, salvation, hope, and honor look ahead to the end-result, how God will prevail in all circumstances, and no matter what happens in life, whether by death or rapture, we will all triumph eternally with Him.

Rock, fortress, and refuge capture the never-changing, ever-enduring nature of our God who, in the midst of even the worst circumstances, holds us in his hands, sheltering our souls from the barrage of our enemies. As Paul wrote in Romans 8:38–39:

[N]othing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

And this is how David concludes Psalm 62—reflecting on God’s unfailing love. Power and unfailing love belong to the LORD. Therefore, He will surely deliver justice. But not in our timing. In His own, perfect timing.

David began Psalm 62 with a bold proclamation about His confidence in the LORD. But only a few verses later, he had to remind himself to hope in the LORD. So when your life circumstances seem like they can’t get any worse, and when your enemies surround you trying to keep you down, and even your own sinful heart turns against you and everyone you love, turn to the LORD. He is our only hope. He is our only refuge. And His unfailing love is so strong that nothing—not even our own stubborn hearts—can separate us from Him. And where we fail, He will overcome.

Jesus in Psalm 1

Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.
But they delight in the law of the Lord,
meditating on it day and night.
They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do.
But not the wicked!
They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind.
They will be condemned at the time of judgment.
Sinners will have no place among the godly.
For the Lord watches over the path of the godly,
but the path of the wicked leads to destruction. (NLT)

Psalm 1 is a tale of two people: the righteous person and the ungodly person. It employs parallelism to compare the behaviors, influences, consequences, and spiritual destinies of each person while holding up a mirror in front of us, inviting us to see how we align with these characters in our own lives.

Much of the Psalm focuses on the righteous person. The righteous person is like a healthy tree growing by a river. The tree receives ample nourishment from the river so it grows, bears fruit, and thrives instead of withering and dying. Likewise, the righteous person receives ample nourishment from the Lord, both in Word and Spirit, growing spiritually, living as a blessing to others, and finding success in living for the Lord as the Lord bestows special favor on the righteous person, helping them to find their happiness in Him.

But the ungodly person is like chaff. Chaff is the outer husk that grows on grain stalks. It is dead and worthless, having no nutritional or economic value. In the ancient world, grain was harvested by tossing it into the air. The wind would blow the lighter chaff away while the heavier seeds would fall to the ground. Similarly, the ungodly person is spiritually dead, living for self, oscillating among influences of ungodly counsel, and impeding God’s work. The Lord withholds special favor from the ungodly person, who does not find happiness in the Lord.

Clearly, Psalm 1 speaks to the dual nature of humanity and the natural consequences that the Lord has ordained for our sources of counsel and lifelong pursuits. But in application, I suggest to you that Psalm 1 is also about Jesus.

Who is this person who always delights in God’s law? Jesus.
Who is this person who never takes counsel from the ungodly? Jesus.
Who is this person who always prospers in everything he does? Jesus.

And in at least three ways, Jesus is the prototype of righteousness living as well as our example for how to find true happiness in the Lord.

1. Jesus is always and only about the Lord’s work. As Jesus replied to the religious leaders of his day John 5:30, 36, “I can do nothing on my own. I judge as God tells me. Therefore, my judgment is just, because I carry out the will of the one who sent me, not my own will. … But I have a greater witness than John—my teachings and my miracles. The Father gave me these works to accomplish, and they prove that he sent me.”

2. Jesus is our example for living and loving. Just prior to the transfiguration, Jesus told his disciples, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross, and follow me” (Matt 16:24). And after washing the disciples’ feet in the upper room, he told them, “I have given you an example to follow. Do as I have done to you. 16 I tell you the truth, slaves are not greater than their master. Nor is the messenger more important than the one who sends the message.” (John 13:15–16).

3. Jesus enables and empowers us to live for God. As Peter explains, “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed.” (1 Pet 2:21–24).

So by way of application, Jesus is the righteous person. And each of us, apart from Christ, is the ungodly person:

  • We were powerless to save ourselves.
  • But Jesus, God the Son, became a man and died in our place to save us.
  • And now, through the blood of Christ and the power of the Spirit, we can live for God.

The LORD wants to bless us. He wants to find happiness in Him. But that only happens when we listen to His voice and live for Him. Let’s listen to the Word, and live by the Spirit, and find happiness in Him.

The Law of Moses

Every so often I hear a Bible teacher preaching about the Law of Moses. I praise the Lord for faithful teachers who are willing to address difficult, controversial issues like this. After all, the Law features prominently in both the Old and New Testaments. So anyone who wants to learn and apply the Scriptures in their lives encounters this difficult topic.

I believe the details in the Scriptures matter. The big picture matters. But the details also matter. And allowing the Holy Spirit to train us to think Biblically means prayerfully examining the details. And when we prayerfully consider how we may apply the Law in our lives, the details matter.

What I want to share in this post is a few observations that have helped form my thinking about the Law. This is not an in-depth theological treatise on the Law. Instead, I hope my observations give you a few nuggets that provoke your curiosity and motivate you to prayerfully examine the details for yourself.

In the Letter to the Galatians, Paul discusses the Law of Moses at some length. His letter is theologically corrective (Gal 1:6–9). It seems outsiders had infiltrated the Galatian congregation and they insisted that obedience to the Law (or portions of it) was necessary for justification (2:17–21) as well as Christian living (3:1–4). With this in mind, Paul responded as follows:

Why, then, was the law given? It was given alongside the promise to show people their sins. But the law was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised. God gave his law through angels to Moses, who was the mediator between God and the people. Now a mediator is helpful if more than one party must reach an agreement. But God, who is one, did not use a mediator when he gave his promise to Abraham.

Is there a conflict, then, between God’s law and God’s promises? Absolutely not! If the law could give us new life, we could be made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ.

Before the way of faith in Christ was available to us, we were placed under guard by the law. We were kept in protective custody, so to speak, until the way of faith was revealed.

Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. (Gal 3:19–25, NLT)

From this passage, I’d like to offer five observations about the Law:

1. The Law was given in response to sin. Paul says that the Law “was given … to show people their sins.” So God gave the law to address specific, sinful practices happening within and around Israel because, without the Law, Israel had no codified reference for Holy living.

2. The Law functioned until Christ came. Paul qualifies that the authority of the law “was designed to last only until the coming of the child who was promised.” Who is this special child? Previously in the same chapter, Paul argued that this special child refers to Jesus Christ (3:16). So the Law in some sense had a divinely-appointed expiration date linked with the coming of Jesus.

3. The Law was given through angels. Paul claims that God gave the Law to Moses through angels. But wasn’t the Law given by God on Sinai? I’ll offer this nugget: remember that God’s angels communicate God’s messages and minister to God’s people. This is an issue of agency (“how” the Law was given—through angels), not of source (“who” gave the Law—God).

4. The Law kept guard over Israel. Here we find one of the “why”s of the Law. One reason that God gave the Law was to guard Israel from sin and its consequences. Had Israel obeyed the Law wholeheartedly, perhaps they would not have fallen into nationwide sin and experienced temporary exile. Regardless, God intended to bring forth the Christ from the nation of Israel, and one goal of the Law was to keep guard over Israel until Christ came.

5. The Law is a guardian to bring us to Christ. Paul explains that God ordained the Law to bring us to Christ. Anyone who reads the Law (Exod 20–Num 10) will clearly see the very detailed nature of the Law. God cares about every aspect, even the smallest details, of our lives. And God desires holiness in every aspect of our being. The detailed nature of the Law reveals how sinfulness permeates our souls and shows us our desperate need for a Savior to overcome sin and death.

Obviously these are only a few details about the Law gleaned from a single passage. Again, my goal was not a theological treatise, but to encourage and provoke your personal curiosity to study the details.