Ezekiel 34: A new leader (part two)

This is week two of a series in Ezekiel 33-37, about God’s promised reboot of his people. If you’ve just joined, you can either go to the start of the series, or simply begin the new chapter with us starting from yesterday’s post.

In the place of the bad shepherds we read about yesterday, God promises that one day he himself will be their Good Shepherd. But how will this take place?

The Good Shepherd

Now I know you know the answer’s Jesus because—well, that’s always the answer. But I want you to notice how clearly he’s the answer:

Jesus critiques the bad shepherds

Firstly, Jesus critiques the bad shepherds; he calls Israel’s leaders to account for failing to lead the people well. He does it a lot. But have you noticed how he does it in the famous parable of the Good Samaritan?

You’ve got the poor guy lying by the side of the road, left for dead by the robbers. And who walks past? A priest. A Levite. Israel’s shepherds! But they ignore the wounded sheep. And it’s left to a despised Samaritan to have compassion on this lost sheep from Israel. An outsider to do the job of Israel’s shepherds. Specifically:

Luke 10:34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine.

But Israel’s shepherds: they’ve failed to strengthen the weak or heal the sick or bind up the injured.

Ezekiel 34:4 You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.

Jesus does the job of a good shepherd

So Jesus steps in and does their job, both literally and metaphorically. He goes around healing the sick and caring for the weak. He provides for their daily needs. And on one occasion, it’s quite poignant:

Mark 6:34 When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

So he gathers his flock together and teaches them. But the sermon goes long, and no-one’s thought to set up for supper afterwards in the hall. The sheep are hungry. So what does he do?

Mark 6:39 Then Jesus directed them to have all the people sit down in groups on the green grass.

He makes them lie down in green pastures, echoing Psalm 23 and, of course, Ezekiel 34:

Ezekiel 34:14 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 on the mountains of Israel.

Then Jesus takes five loaves and two fish, and satisfies their hunger.

Jesus seeks out the strays

But Jesus doesn’t just care for those who come to him. He seeks out the strays; what he calls the “lost sheep of Israel.” To the point where the bad shepherds started to complain:

Luke 15:2 But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttoned, sorry, muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

Jesus’ response is to tell this parable:

Luke 15:4-6 “Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’”

Compare this with:

Ezekiel 34:11 ‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.’

God has turned up, just like he promised. And he’s doing the job of rounding up the lost sheep of Israel. The job the bad shepherds of Ezekiel’s day—and of Jesus’ own day—had failed to do. 

Jesus gives his life for the sheep

And it’s a job that would cost him his life:

John 10:11-13 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”

The bad shepherds—the hired hands—let the flock be scattered. But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, won’t be like that. He cares for his sheep to the point that he’ll lay down his life so that they might live. He takes on the wolves of sin and death that were threatening his sheep—he stands between them and his flock; he dies in their place.

And get this: it’s not just the sheep in the land of Israel that Jesus cares for. It’s for all of God’s sheep scattered throughout the world:

John 10:16 “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

That’s us! He’s talking about God’s people 2.0—made up of sheep from Israel and every nation on earth. We are the sheep of the Good Shepherd that Ezekiel talked about. Once again, we’re the goal; we’re the fulfilment of what Ezekiel prophesied. We are God’s sheep. God’s new people with Jesus as our new leader. That’s where we fit in.

Yes, there’s more we can learn about leadership from Ezekiel 34 (more tomorrow), but for now, just dwell on that.

To do

Spend some time in prayer, thanking God for sending his Good Shepherd – who leads us well, and laid down his life for us.

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