Jobs Only God Can Do
There are some Jobs Only God Can Do. The portion of God's Word from Ezekiel 34:11-16, 23-24, is full of his promises to save, and in these promises we New Testament believers find a bailout for us, for today and forever that we find nowhere else. November 23, 2008.
“Bailout” has become the buzzword of the season as distraught businesses, lending institutions, employees and consumers in debt are drowning in the turbulent tides of the economic downturn and crying out for help. Companies once thought to be the strongest in the world are collapsing. Those whose job we believe it is to bail us out need bailing out themselves.
In the middle of an economy spinning out of control with nobody to bail it out one world leader stands tall and says, “I will take care of everything.” That message was the hope given to the Old Testament believers through the prophet Ezekiel. God’s people had watched helplessly as the Babylonians laid siege to Jerusalem, then burned the city and the temple where they worshipped. The glory of Israel dissipated with the smoke that rose from the ruins. Thousands were exiled to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar, including Ezekiel. Desperate cries to other nations could not bail out the Israelites. Devoted worship to Canaanite idols could not bail out the Israelites. There are some Jobs Only God Can Do. Today’s portion of God’s Word is full of his promises to save, and in these promises we New Testament believers find a bailout for us, for today and forever that we find nowhere else.
God’s ability to save is exclusive. It belongs to none other. He will not share it. Only he has the right to say, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says.” One of the Jobs Only God Can Do is ruling as the most powerful King. The U.S. president can veto bills to drill for more oil. The most powerful King makes oil and gives presidents their power. The most powerful King has dominion over all and answers to none. Nebuchadnezzar was not his boss and he doesn’t depend on the deep pockets of wealthy contributors. The most powerful King can do whatever he wants, which is why this is so amazing. He says, “I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.” One of the other Jobs Only God Can Do is genuinely caring about people as the most personal Shepherd. In New South Wales, Australia, cutting-edge technologies are being applied to the age-old craft of shepherding. Ranchers attach tiny GPS transponders to the ears of sheep and a computer monitor tracks their movement. Remote-controlled gates determine which grazing and drinking areas sheep are channeled into and how long they remain there. Electronic scales are placed within each passageway so that each sheep can be weighed as it steps through. All from a distance. All without human contact. All electronically. The Sovereign Lord, who is certainly busy enough as the CEO of the universe, should really employ a similar strategy of distant e-shepherding or perhaps delegate the daily dealings of people issues to his workforce of angels. However, he is so interested in you that he doesn’t operate that way. “I myself,” he emphasizes when describing who will be responsible for his flock. Responsible for what?
First of all, for searching. Like the shepherd who owned a hundred sheep and lost one demonstrated as much concern over the one lost sheep as he had for the ninety-nine secure sheep. Your most personal Shepherd cares about you when you are lost. Lost in confusion trying to figure out who you are or where you are going. Lost in loneliness. Lost in a lifestyle of sinful pleasure that doesn’t always feel so good. Lost in stress that won’t let you go. Your most personal Shepherd is the only one who will always search for you there. And find you. And then look after you. “As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep.”
Looking after means accounting for or managing. Your most personal Shepherd will not sleep because he wants to account for the hairs of your head and manage the hours of your day when you cannot. His hands-on management style means he is “with” the sheep at all times. He dedicates responsibility to believers when he refers to us not as “those ones” but as “my sheep.” He owns you. Sin doesn’t own you. Fear doesn’t own you. Satan doesn’t own you. Death will not own you. Sickness doesn’t own you. Your most personal Shepherd owns you. “I will rescue them from all the places where they are scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.” Scattered from the only home they ever knew, separated from true temple worship, the Israelites pleaded for rescue as much as their forefathers who were slaves in Egypt. This promise had to make the hearts of the exiled Israelites skip a beat for joy. The billows of smoke signaling the destruction of Jerusalem years earlier would be nothing compared to the ominous, dark judgment of God on their enemies. The most powerful King, at a time of his choosing, would destroy the enemies of Israel and open the way for their return to Jerusalem where the temple would be rebuilt and worship life rejuvenated. “I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land.” No nation wields so much power that it can prevent the purposes of God. No kingdom is so vital to the plans of God that it is indispensable. They are puppets God uses for the good of believers, and our ultimate glory in our real home – heaven. On Judgment Day our King will come “on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels … and they will gather his elect” (Matthew 24:30,31). The new Jerusalem will be our home forever. But divine blessings belong to us even now.
“I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements of the land,” our most personal Shepherd promises. Wherever we are and whatever we need for body and soul, we always have it provided. “I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture.” Our most powerful King leverages all the resources at his disposal and our most personal Shepherd offers to us not just some of what is good, but more than enough of the best. Not only do we have rice in our cupboards, we have beans too. Not only do we have shoes in our closets, we have ties and purses too. Not only do we have hats and gloves, we have heated homes. All gifts from God, who gives daily bread even without our asking, and the Bread of Life even without our deserving. The good grazing and the rich pasture for our feeding indicate a feast of spiritual blessings too, highlighted in the activities of our most personal Shepherd who says, “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.” When you were lost in the shroud of original sin, your powerful, personal Savior sought you out and in the waters of holy baptism claimed you. When you were straying from a focused faith into misplaced priorities, your powerful, personal Savior brought you back through a personal trouble when you called out to him in prayer, and he was there waiting. When you were injured by the trauma of sin, your powerful, personal Savior healed you by his wounds on the cross. When you were weakened by daily stress that broke your resolve, your powerful, personal Savior strengthened you with his own body and blood. These are Jobs Only God Can Do but he still has plans for your involvement. He now uses you to search for, bring back, and strengthen others.
One mother of a college-aged son shared how she had, from her son’s childhood, prayed for his future, for a college education, and for a roommate who would be a blessing to him. Her son called her after the first few days of school and told her that his roommate was a recovering drug addict being given a second chance. She started crying, wondering if God had heard her prayers at all, when her son said, “Mom, maybe my roommate’s mother was praying for that too.” Given blessings in our lives, we in turn have blessings to offer others. If we refuse because we are so caught up in ourselves, in our needs and pursuits, then we refuse the grace of God.
“The sleek and strong I will destroy,” God warns. “I will shepherd the flock with justice.” Sleek is a word that means “well-nourished.” In a negative sense it implies ravenous gluttony that forgets what is most important in life and worries only about feeding self. It can look prosperous and strong. But such self-reliance becomes its own god and is then judged by the justice of the One who will not bow down to anything. Thanksgiving and Advent are appropriate times to repent of self-reliant pride and self-seeking gluttony, before they destroy us, and they can unless put in check. Be strong in God, not apart from God. Enjoy life’s blessings on loan from God, not as if you can do with them whatever you want.
King David learned that lesson the hard way, but he learned it well and as a result led God’s Old Testament nation to the most prosperous time in its history. At the time of Ezekiel he had been dead over 400 years. Yet God says, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David … he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them.” First of all, recall that God had earlier promised, “I myself … will look after my sheep.” Is he now outsourcing the only care we can count on? Secondly, does God have plans to resurrect David from the grave and bring him out of retirement for another shot at a dynasty? No. God himself will always be our Shepherd and at the same time his servant from David’s family will be our Shepherd too. In about a month we will celebrate the birth of that Servant in the city of David, because he comes from the house and line of David. We will hear the angel announce, “The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and … his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1:32,33). The Lord God is our Shepherd. And Jesus, the Son of God, is our Shepherd. The Lord God is our King. And Jesus, the Son of God, is our King. There is no Savior like him and there are Jobs Only God Can Do.
The University of Chicago did a five-year study of top-notch artists, athletes, and scholars to determine what made them successful leaders. The research team probed for clues as to how these high achievers developed. Its final conclusion stated that drive, determination, and desire lead to extraordinary success more than great natural talent (John Maxwell, “Developing the Leaders Around You,” Nelson Books: Nashville, TN, 1995, pp. 21,22). Of all the top notch leaders who could survive on talent alone, one who stands above the rest is God, the most powerful King. What places him in the exclusive category as the only Savior of sinners who does Jobs Only God Can Do is not just his Almighty ability. Twenty-three times in this portion of Ezekiel the most powerful King turns to a bunch of sheep and says, “I will.” I will search for you. I will rescue you. I will look after you. I will tend you. I will strengthen you. The most powerful King is also our most personal Shepherd with a never failing drive, determination, and desire to bail us out. He’s not only great, but he’s also gracious. That’s his job. And he loves it. Amen.
Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (http://www.gracedowntown.org/) on November 23, 2008