Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
"THE SCATTERING OF THE FLOCK INCREASES THE SUFFERING OF THE SHEPHERD."
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
Good Friday: our thoughts go the anguish and the suffering our Lord endured before and on the cross of Calvary. And it is right that our thoughts should focus on our Lord; His suffering on that night and day so long ago obtained our salvation.
But Jesusí suffering, brothers and sisters, is only half of the story. The other half is that the disciples suffered also on that Good Friday of long ago. So says vs 31: "I will strike the Shepherd" - and as a result Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd suffered the agonies described in the portion of Scripture we read from Mt 26 plus the sufferings recorded in Mt 27. But vs 31 says also, "And the sheep of the flock will be scattered." Those sheep: thatís the disciples. Sheep suffer when they are scattered, denied the protection and care of the Shepherd. And thatís described too in the portion of Scripture we read from Mt 26.
This morning I open with you the word of the Lord God about the suffering of the sheep. As we do so, though, our focus may not be on how hard things are for the sheep, but on how the suffering of the sheep results in more suffering for the Good Shepherd.
I summarize the sermon with this theme:
THE SCATTERING OF THE FLOCK INCREASES THE SUFFERING OF THE SHEPHERD.
1. The prophecy of the scattering.
A brief two weeks ago many of us sat at the table of the Lord. We were given bread and wine, and told Ėin Jesusí words in vs 28- that "this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." We understood: the Holy Spirit would strengthen our faith through the use of the sacrament. We appreciated the Lordís care for us at His Table, for this life has so many storms, so many crises, so many questions Ė and in the midst of them all we need strengthened faith.
The disciples also ate the supper of the Lord for the strengthening of their faith. And how they needed that strengthening! For scarcely have they completed the celebration of that first Lordís Supper when Jesus says to them in vs 31: "all of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night." "Made to stumble," says Jesus. Note carefully, congregation, what Jesus says here. He doesnít say that they "will stumble", that the disciples will trip over Jesus; no, the verb is passive. Somebody is going to do something to the disciples so that they are made to trip over Jesus Christ. The picture is that Jesus is made into an obstacle on the path of the disciples, so that when the disciples walk along their path that night they trip over Jesus. Thatís the first part of our text: "All of you will be made to stumble because of Me this night."
This, we realize, is no pleasant prophecy. All the disciples will stumble, trip over Jesus Ė from where does Jesus get that idea? The Chief Prophet and Teacher supplies the answer. "For it is written," He says. That is: Jesus appeals to the Old Testament Scriptures Ėand therefore to God Himself- to back up His statement that tonight the disciples would be made to stumble over Jesus. Jesus adds chapter and verse right away: "I will strike the Shepherd, And the sheep of the flock will be scattered." Thatís Zech 13:7-9.
Zech 13. The exiles had returned from Babylon under Ezra and Nehemiah, but needed so much encouragement. Particularly in the second half of the book there are numerous references to the salvation that God intends to work when He sends His Son to earth. The portion we read from chap 13 is one of those references.
The speaker in vss 7-9 is none less than "the Lord of hosts." That is, the almighty God who made His covenant with Israel speaks through the mouth of Zechariah the prophet. What He says? Vs 7: He calls for a sword, a sword against His shepherd. A sword, we need to note, is deadly; one thrust will end a life. That is the point: the Shepherd is to be killed. Who is this Shepherd? The Lord describes Him as "the Man who is My Companion." The phrase translated for us as "My Companion" appears various times in the book of Leviticus as a description of oneís neighbor. The Shepherd against whom the sword is called is "My Companion" (says the text), and the point here is that this Shepherd is "near neighbor" to God Himself; that is, He "dwells side by side with Yahweh, [is] His equal." With our knowledge of the New Testament we understand that this is a direct reference to the Son of God-become-man. Thatís the One whom the Lord of hosts would kill!
This intent on Godís part to strike the Shepherd fatally would have drastic consequences. Second half of vs 7: "strike the Shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered." Itís imagery we can understand. A shepherd is meant to defend the flock against predators; recall that David told King Saul that when a lion sought to savage a lamb of the flock he killed that lion (I Sam 17:34f). But what happens if the shepherd himself gets killed? Why, then the sheep are vulnerable; thereís nobody to protect them. Along comes a predator, and the sheep flee in every direction. Thatís the picture here. The shepherd who keeps the sheep together is killed before the eyes of the sheep, and so the sheep scatter.
Whatís so painful about the prophecy of Zechariah, now, is who it is that kills the shepherd, and therefore who it is that causes the scattering of the sheep. Itís the Lord of hosts who calls for the sword, and therefore the same Lord of hosts who brings about the scattering of the sheep! And what shall become of the sheep God scatters? Vs 8: "two-thirds Ö shall be cut off and die" Ė hereís Godís judgment of the sheep. The other "one-third shall be left." But even they will have a hard time of it. Says the Lord of hosts in vs 9: "I will bring the one-third through the fire, and test them as gold is tested." Again, itís the Lord of hosts who brings about this trial! But the result will be glorious: "They will call on My name, And I will answer them. I will say, ĎThis is My peopleí; And each one will say, ĎThe Lord is my God.í" In a word: the remnant will acknowledge the riches of the covenant, will know themselves by Godís grace to be His special people. Thatís the prophecy of Zech 13.
The Lord Jesus Christ told His disciples that they would all "be made to stumble because of Me this night," and He based His prediction on the Word of the Lord through Zechariah years ago. He knew: He was Himself the Shepherd of Zech 13, the Companion of the Lord of hosts, Godís "near neighbor". More, Jesus knew that tonight God would call for the sword to wound Jesus fatally; that very night God would strike Him. Jesus knew too from the Lordís word in Zech 13 that Godís striking the Shepherd will have devastating results for the sheep. Theyíd be scattered, made to stumble, trip over Jesusí death. Some would perish as a result, while others of the disciples would come out of the experience the stronger.
We read this, congregation, we put ourselves in the disciplesí shoes, and are horrified. What: will the God of the covenant scatter the disciples?! Will the God of the covenant trip up the disciples, lay a stumbling block on their path? Is this your God, my God?!
That brings us to our second point:
2. The reason for the scattering.
Why, brothers and sisters, would God wish to scatter the sheep? That He would strike the Shepherd, OK, we understand that; ultimately itís because the sins of Godís people are laid on Jesus Christ and God canít stand sin. So He rejects the Savior, in order to obtain our salvation. But why should the sheep suffer in the process? Why should they stumble over Jesus, be scattered? Is God not more gracious to His sheep than that? For that matter: will God cause us to stumble over Jesus too, or scatter His flock today?
Weíre disappointed at the idea, and find ourselves reacting as Peter did. We feel weíre strong enough, we love the Lord, have just eaten at His table; weíll never be made to stumble over the Savior. No, we say, "even if all are made to stumble because of You, I will never be made to stumble." Itís a very human reaction, congregation; all the disciples (says vs 35) agreed with Peter that they were above stumbling over the Lord.
But the disciples, my brothers and sisters, did not work with the Lordís quote from Zech 13. God says that He will strike the Shepherd. How hard will He strike? Heíll strike so hard that the sheep are scattered. And that scattering is part of the striking of the Shepherd! That Shepherd must suffer, and to make that suffering as deep as possible the Lord of hosts will scatter the sheep in front of His eyes. And precisely that, congregation, is what happens in Mt 26 Ė the disciplesí bold statement of strength notwithstanding.
Immediately after the passage about the Lord striking the Shepherd we read of Jesusí prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. Jesus took with Him into the Garden three disciples Ė including the very same Peter who spoke so vehemently about not being made to stumble this night. What happened? Vs 38: Jesus told Peter and the two sons of Zebedee in so many words that "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death." Why? Thatís because Jesus knows whatís around the corner. As Jesus said in our text: God will strike Him tonight. So, vs 38: "Stay here and watch with Me." But what happens? When Jesus goes a little distance away from the three disciples to pray, the three fall asleep! What this is? They are already being scattered; the Lord of hosts is already taking the sheep away from the Shepherd! And it doesnít happen once; it happens three times in a row that the disciples fall asleep on their Shepherd; they havenít got what it takes to resist temptation and stay alert when the Lord God sends a sword after their Shepherd. Vs 45: "Are you still sleeping and resting?" "Rise, let us be going. See, My betrayer is at hand." And there through the trees of the Garden came "a great multitude with swords and clubsÖ" (vs 47). Swords: hereís the fulfillment of Godís call for a swordÖ. The Shepherd is being struck, violently, fatallyÖ.
And how that sword of God hurts the Shepherd! For look, who is leading the band of soldiers? At their head was "Judas, one of the twelve" (vs 47). Jesusí response to the betrayal? Vs 50: "Friend, why have you come?" God said the sheep would be scattered, but hereís one sheep so scattered from Jesusí flock that heís already joined the wolves. And he comes back to Jesus to say so, to demonstrate how radically Heís departed from Jesusí flock. "Friend, why have you come here?" The sentence contains such depth of hurt on Jesusí part. His own friend, one of the twelve with whom Jesus used to keep sweet company, is now on the side of the enemy; what anguish, what suffering that gives to Jesus! And that is part of the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zech 13; the Lord of hosts, Jesusí eternal Companion, is striking the Shepherd of Godís flock in His very heart!
Another of the disciples had enough. A sword against Jesus? Heíd just said Ėvs 35- that he was willing to die with the Lord. So he "drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear" (vs 51). Fight he would to save his Master! But Jesus knew: the Shepherd had to be stricken, smitten by God, afflicted. If God has ordained a sword against Jesus, should the disciples offer resistance? Not so, Jesus knew. For Ėvs 54- the Scriptures must be fulfilled. Jesus repeats it in vs 56: "all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." And so it happened: "all the disciples forsook Him and fled" Ė says Mt 26:56. Thatís to say: God sent the sword to strike the Shepherd, He was now arrested by Israelís religious leaders, and now the consequence had to follow; the sheep of the flock were scattered. What suffering this was for the Shepherd, beloved! Part and parcel of Godís striking Him was that His closest companions would desert Him; Jesus had no friends who stood by His side in His afflictions!
None? Yes, Matthew tells us, Yes, there was one. Vs 58: while the officials led Jesus away to Caiaphas the high priest, "Peter followed Him at a distance to the high priestís courtyard." But his purpose, says Matthew, was not to offer support or even to attempt a rescue. No, the Peter who said so loudly that he was willing to die with the Lord now followed "to see the end." So totally has God stricken the Shepherd that Jesus is alone, with neither moral nor physical support in any wayÖ. All aloneÖ.
But the matter gets worse. Itís not jus that Peter doesnít stand up to defend Jesus; no, Peter rises up three times to oppose the Shepherd, to deny Him. The first time Ėvs 70- was public; "he denied it before them all, saying, ĎI do not know what youíre talking about.í" The second time he took an oath on his lips, "I do not know the Man!" An oath: thatís calling upon God to judge him if he spoke falselyÖ. Talk about being scattered, talk about having stumbled over Jesus! How that cut into Jesusí all-knowing heart; the very disciple who had pledged to die with Him now calls on God Most High to search his heart to bear witness that Peter speaks the truth in his claim that he does not know the Shepherd! Here is rejection, rejection from Peter and God alike. And even thatís not all: the third time "he began to curse and swear, saying, ĎI do not know the Man!í" To curse: the idea seems to be that Peter called down Godís curses Ėand the Old Testament lists plenty of Godís curses on covenant breakers- called down Godís curses upon JesusÖ. Peter a friend of the Lord? Peter willing to die for the Lord? God, brothers and sisters, God takes Peter away from Jesus, makes Peter stumble over the arrested and condemned Shepherd! Peter has heard the death sentence pronounced on His Lord, and so he howls with the wolf pack in order to save his own skin. How that increases the suffering of the Shepherd! What do you think: should Jesus really lay down His life for such traitors? Is the agony of divine rejection and the anguish of bearing heavenly wrath worth it when those who are meant to benefit turn around and stab you in the back?? How tempting, how tempting for the Lord Jesus Christ to turn His own back to the will of His God! Vs 39: O My FatherÖ, let this cup pass from Me!" That God would strike so hard that the sheep stumble over the Shepherd: how heavy the burden for the Shepherd! How great the temptation to refuse to bear Godís wrath on these faithless sheep!
But here, dear brothers and sisters, is the gospel of our Lord! Heavy as the sense of rejection was for the Good Shepherd, He did not desert His scattered and cursing sheep! Itís our third point:
3. Christís triumph over the scattering.
Jesus had told the disciples in our text that God would make the disciples stumble over Jesus this night Ė and we understand now that the God did so in order to take away from Jesus every form of support and encouragement there might be; the Good Shepherd had to lay down His life not to save willing and deserving sheep but to save unwilling and undeserving sheep Ė and do so on His own, rejected by God and man alike. Would Jesus persevere, triumph in such circumstances? Listen, beloved, to the Lordís word in vs 32. Says Jesus: "but after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee." Notice first that the words "I have been raised" are again in the passive tense. Jesus does not say here that He will raise Himself from the dead; Jesus says instead that another will make Jesus arise from the dead. Who has power to raise anyone from the dead? We know: God alone has that power. That is the point: God would raise Jesus, and thatís to say that God would be so pleased with the sacrifice of the Good Shepherd on the cross that God Himself would raise the Shepherd again from the dead. That in turn means, beloved, that God would not keep on striking Jesus day in day out to all eternity. No, there would come an end to Godís striking Jesus, and thatís because God would be satisfied with Jesusí labors on Good Friday; His suffering would appease the anger of God against sin and satisfy Godís justice so that He could receive Jesus into His favor again. Thatís the glorious implication of Jesus being raised from the dead.
Now notice, beloved of the Lord, the consequence that would follow from God being satisfied. Says Jesus: "after I have been raised, I will go before you." "I will go before you." What, beloved, does that action describe? This: to "go before" describes the work of a Shepherd! Think of Ps 23: "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not wantÖ. He leads me in paths of righteousness" (vss1ff). Thereís the same concept; the shepherd leads, goes before the sheep. How wonderful the message, beloved: the Shepherd will be stricken, so stricken that the sheep will be scattered in all directions. But, says the Good Shepherd, when I am raised I will pick up My task as shepherd again and "I will go before you," I will lead My sheep again!
Did it happen? Yes, congregation, it did. Vs 56 had told us "all the disciples forsook Him and fled," and the verses that followed told us how of the disciples went so far as to deny Him three times. But the stricken Shepherd triumphs, lead these sheep again. It begins again at vs 75. When the cock crowed "Peter remembered the word of Jesus who had said to him" that Heíd deny Him three times, and the memory broke his heart; "so he went out and wept bitterly." You see, the wolf from hell could not devour this scattered sheep of the flock! As Jesus said in that passage about the Good Shepherd: "no one is able to snatch them out of My Fatherís hand" (vs 29). So it was that when Jesus triumphed on Good Friday and arose on Easter Sunday there were still sheep for Him to gather; the enemy had not devoured them! So what did the triumphant Shepherd do after His resurrection? The Good Shepherd, beloved, went before His sheep into Galilee! In His own heavenly manner He led the eleven disciples into Galilee Ėitís Mt 28:16- and there gave His gathered flock the mandate to preach the gospel to all the world. And the Good Shepherd added this promise: "Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (vs 20). Thatís to say: the Good Shepherd would be with His sheep, would lead His sheep, always! And so it happened: though the Good Shepherd ascended into heaven, He poured out His Holy Spirit so that today He might never be absent from us.
Implication of that promise? This: you and I shall never experience what the disciples experienced on that Good Friday of so long ago! In His wrath against the sins of the sheep God struck the Shepherd, took the Good Shepherd from the sheep, scattered the disciples, so that His New Testament church might never be deserted by the Shepherd! The full load of Godís wrath against sin was poured out on Jesus Christ ĖHe had to taste even the loss and rejection and betrayal of His sheep!- and despite the depth of anguish that meant for the Good Shepherd, He persevered and triumphed Ė with as blessed result that God will never strike Him again, and so never scatter the sheep of the Lord again either.
Then itís true: we may have our moments that we feel scattered from the flock, forgotten by the Shepherd. But the way we feel is not the measure of reality; our feelings are too warped by the fall into sin to read the facts accurately. And we may see sheep of the flock drift away, become scattered from the flock of the Lord. But even then, beloved of the Lord, the Good Shepherd does not forget those whom the Father has given to Him, and He hunts out the lost sheep and in His time restores them to the flock. We may experience that hellish wolves prowl around seeking to devour a lamb here, a sick ewe there, a run down sheep elsewhere; Satanís attacks are so many and so varied. But scatter the flock as God did on that Good Friday of long ago Satan canít! And for Jesusí sake God wonít do it again either.
Itís the gospel of Good Friday, beloved: the Good Shepherd has triumphed, the wrath of God is stilled, and so the flock of the Lord is always safe. Amen.