Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Righteous Branch

Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 89:20-37

Ephesians 2:11-22

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

C.S. Lewis offers one definition of leadership in his novel The Horse and His Boy, “This is what it means to be King,” says King Lune, “to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.”

The Character of a King sets the example for the people under his leadership. If he is a good and just King, the people will prosper, but if he is wicked or cowardly, the resolve of the people will wither. He is the head of the body, and his virtue or vice must inevitably flow to its members. 

Last week we took a look at the weak, wicked, and ineffectual rule of King Herod the tetrarch of Galilee during the time of Jesus’ ministry. Herod was a man of tremendous wealth—maintained mostly through the excessive taxation of the people—and also power—given to him by his Roman overlords—but little character. He used his wealth for the satisfaction of his lusts and his power for self-aggrandizement. 

His story is a picture of the sinfulness of human nature ruled by its passions and unable to fulfill the dictates of conscience or divine law.
This week we hear God’s judgement on the corruption of leaders like Herod and the promise of a more righteous king after God’s own heart. The Prophet Jeremiah writes, “Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD.” The Kings of Israel had not ruled with righteousness or justice, they were not Good Shepherds, but were like hirelings who had no real interest in the welfare of the sheep. They were motivated only by their self-interest and cared little for righteousness. Their royal example, instead of uplifting and empowering the people, infected them with their own idolatry and indifference to God’s law. Because of this, God warns, that the people will be banished from the land and scattered in exile.
Jeremiah’s prophecy is more than just an announcement of God’s wrath, however, for in his words there is also good news and comfort, the promise of redemption for a wayward people that has strayed from God’s ways. Jeremiah preaches not only the righteous judgement of God’s holy law but the grace and mercy of the gospel.

 “I myself will come and gather the people from the lands I have driven them”, says the Lord. After he attends to wicked, false shepherds, God himself promises to be a Good Shepherd to his people. Although his people have sinned, he will come to them with compassion and tenderness. He will gather up the young and helpless in his strong arms and bind up the wounded. Where the evil shepherds have lead them astray into the thorny and fallow grounds of sin and death, he will lead them into the lush and verdant fields of righteousness. God has come to rescue and redeem sinful humanity in Jesus Christ. He is the true and righteous shepherd of his people. He has come to give them life, and give it to them more abundantly.

Those who abuse the authority given them, who fail to lead the people in the way that they should go, should beware. God is able to raise up others to take their place who will be empowered for his service. In place of their cruel and oppressive rulers, Jeremiah promised, God will set over them gentle pastors who will love and serve them.

In our reading from Mark’s Gospel this morning, the apostles are gathered around the chief shepherd Jesus Christ. He has sent them out for the healing and restoration of the people and now they have returned to him. "Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while" he tells them.

The responsibility of leadership is great. The need of the world is tremendous. If God’s people are going to be able to perform the work he has given them to do, they must come away and be refreshed by him, so they can return to their work with renewed energy. This is true not only of pastors and leaders, but of all of our Lord’s disciples. We must never deceive ourselves into believing that we can serve God in our own strength. It must be his power at work in us, or even our greatest achievements will result in nothing but conceit.

None of us can stand in our own righteousness. All of us like sheep have gone astray each to his own way. Despite what we may presume in our arrogance, no one is truly their own lord. Sheep need a shepherd. If we fail to heed the guidance of our shepherd, we will be led astray by our own deceitful passions. 

When Jesus looked on the teaming masses, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

What was true of Jeremiah’s day was true also of Jesus’ day. The people were no longer exiled in a foreign land, they had returned to their home land and rebuilt their nation and their Temple, but there was a deeper spiritual exile that they had not yet returned from.  They had rejected God as their king. Instead of enjoying the freedom that comes from serving the Lord, they suffered under the cruel slavery of the masters they had chosen in his place. Where was the king that God had long ago promised to raise up from David’s line? The sons of David seemed hopelessly corrupt. They were still waiting for a true shepherd who would lead them in peace and righteousness.

The story of Israel is emblematic of the spiritual condition of all mankind. We have rejected God as Lord. We have lost the freedom and bliss of paradise, and instead we toil in a world estranged from God’s Love. The sin of our father Adam, our first representative and spiritual head, has flowed to his members and poisoned the entire body of humanity.

All the generations of mankind are like a great tree that is dying at its roots, but from the dry and withering trunk of that tree God has sprung a green and pleasant branch that flowers with life and beauty. God has brought forth from David a righteous branch. From our corruption, God has brought forth purity. From death he has brought forth life.

Just as the sin of the first man, Adam, brought slavery and death to all mankind, the righteousness of this new man has brought freedom and life to all mankind.
Jesus Christ is the righteous branch from David’s line. He is the new and better Adam, our leader, representative, and spiritual head that brings health and renewal to all his members.

In every battle we face, he goes before us and leads the way to victory. With Christ as our King and Shepherd we shall never go astray. Even though we walk through the shadow of death, we shall fear no evil for he is with us. His rod and staff they comfort us.  Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life, and we shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.