Sermons : 2015 : July 19, Shepherding the Flock - Mark 6:30-44

The feeding of the 5000 is one of the most well-known stories in all of the Gospels. It points to Jesus’ divinity and to His love for people in need. It’s an important event in the Gospel narrative and a Gospel as short as Mark includes it for good reason. But I want to focus on a different aspect of Mark 6 today. I want to direct you specifically to the words of Jesus in verse 34, “When He went ashore He saw a great crowd, and He had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.” So specifically, this morning I want to talk about shepherding.

Shepherding is also an important Biblical theme. Our church is called Holy Shepherd to testify to this aspect of our Lord’s identity – that He is benevolent and protective, nurturing and sacrificial. Outside of Jesus being described as Savior and Lord, His identity as shepherd may just be His most well-known.

Now you’ll notice in our reading today that after it talks about shepherding, the next thing it talks about is teaching. Teaching and shepherding go together. I know we pride ourselves on being a do-it-yourself society, but Christianity is one of the things in this world that is horribly self-taught because our human nature will tolerate no other teacher; not even Christ Himself. Human nature protests and objects and modifies and rebels. The words of Christ and our human nature are incompatible. And this is why teaching and shepherding are so important.

God appoints servants to guide others through the Word. The Word is the supreme teacher. The shepherd is guided by the Word as He teaches those God has placed in his care. Now if we look up the original context for the phrase, “Sheep without a shepherd,” we would be brought back to Numbers 27. There, Moses prayed these words to God when it was his time to depart this life. He asked God to give the people a leader who would go before them so they would not be like sheep without a shepherd.

Now you know why he asks God for that? Because in this world it’s easy to get lost. In our society today, there are so many competing ideologies. There are so many enticements, so many gurus, so many false prophets. And when you find yourself at a vulnerable time in life, you can be enticed away from the truth. People will want you for your money or to bolster their own numbers or because it makes them feel flattered. And when you’re vulnerable, you can easily be lured away.

Moses didn’t want that for the Israelites. He already knew they were still enticed by the memories of the false idols of Egypt. Later, they were manipulated by the Pharisees who fooled them into believing they could earn salvation by their own efforts. Getting lost in this world is easy and there are many who will help you. Getting lost is also natural because you are most attracted to those things that you feel in your heart, which is a reflection of that human nature we spoke of earlier. And again, human nature will tolerate no other teacher apart from the self.

And so the Word of God schools the shepherd while the shepherd also schools the flock. And the flock examines the Word of God to ensure that the shepherd really is feeding them with the right things because shepherds can also get off track sometimes . A couple weeks ago, I was listening to a sermon of a large church in DFW on the subject of same sex marriage. This was just after the Supreme Court ruling. I have to say, I was disappointed that the message this pastor emphasized was how people in his church were on both sides of the issue. Now, that may be true, but the Word of God is not on both sides of the issue and the words of the shepherd should not give people the impression that it is. Shepherds have to condemn those things that are wrong and call sin sin.

And that’s part of what teaching does. Teaching is about proclamation of the truth. In this world, the greatest truth is that God sent His Son to pay for your sins on the cross. And from that Gospel promise, we learn two very important things. First, that there is sin and second, that there is a Savior. Regardless of what the world teaches, you can’t be your own Savior. You can’t erase or undo your own sin. You also can’t define what sin is and what it isn’t because you can’t sin against yourself. If you could, you could just redefine sin or just absolve yourself. But in reality, we don’t sin against ourselves, we sin against God. We break His Laws; we commit transgressions against His commandments. So part of what teaching does it that it proclaims that the way out of your sins is through Christ alone.

Now teaching also has another function. And that is, it warns against error. And this is critical because error can bring you to great harm. You warn your children about playing in the street. You punish your children if they steal or if they say a bad word or harm their brother and sister. You don’t do this primarily to cause discomfort, but you do it to teach. The discomfort you instill is a reflection of God’s Law, which teaches that there are consequences for sin. And so your children learn that their human nature, that is, doing whatever they want, is not what’s always best for them. It will not lead to greater happiness or fulfillment, but can bring them to great danger. And so teaching, though sometimes unpleasant, can ultimately yield protection and safety.

A good shepherd cares for the people. Now, that doesn’t mean he’s always nice to them. There may be times when I have to tell you that your decision or your plan is not one that will be blessed by God. And I now that’s hard to hear. It’s also hard for me to say. Teaching isn’t easy because we all always think we know what’s best for ourselves. But if that were true, there wouldn’t be a need for shepherds.

Jesus Christ cares for you. You were made by His Father; you are redeemed by His blood on the cross. You are the reason for His sacrifice and you are the purpose for His coming. There was that book out some years ago called the Purpose Driven Life . I wasn’t a fan of the book, but the purpose driven life for Jesus was your salvation. Christ comes to save sinners and let’s be honest-we are sinners. This is why we start our service with a confession of sins. We get to that right at the beginning because we want no one in worship to be under any illusions about anything different.

But, of course, the scriptures emphasize that God has a love for sinners and He forgives sinners. He cleanses sinners. And the Gospel and death of His Son are only meant for sinners. “Those who are well have no need of a physician,” Jesus said in Mark 2:17, “But those who are sick.” So we embrace that identity because it pleases God for us to be honest in this way. It means His Spirit is having His way with us.

And of course, the even better news is that sinners receive absolution in Christ. “But if we confess our sin, 1 John 8-9 say, “God will forgive our sin and cleanse us of all unrighteousness.” And forgiven sinners become teachable. We’ve already recognized the untrustability of our human nature . We recognize that as sinners, we cannot wholeheartedly trust ourselves, our desires, our feelings or even our hearts. But what is truly good, right and salutary must come from outside of us. It must come from One who loves us and who wants to save us from harm and danger of every sort.

And so the Good Shepherd appoints undershepherds who teach and guide, who warn and confront and who act in His stead. Our job is to point to the Good Shepherd, who gives His life for you that you may have eternal life with Him. There are no substitutes for who He is and what He does although there are many imposters. But you know those who truly teach Him because the words they proclaim are His own. They are not from the heart nor from tradition nor from so-called private revelation. They are from the written Word of God given to the church for the proclamation of the Gospel and the shepherding of the flock.

This Word testifies to the truth and it warns against error. It proclaims the way of salvation and brings you to rest in the care of your Good Shepherd, who guides you to the land of green pastures by way of His sacrifice for sin. In the Name of Jesus, Amen.

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