Recently my regular Bible reading has brought me back into the world of Jeremiah the prophet. His ancient words have been moving my heart tremendously. In past readings I don’t remember my soul being shaken like it has during this reading. Perhaps it is the easy-to-follow New Living Translation, or perhaps I now have a better understanding of the narrative arc of Scripture, which makes Old Testament texts come alive with hope of Messiah.
At any rate I am thankful for Jeremiah the prophet.
In chapter 23, Jeremiah addresses the harmful religious leaders of his day. Rather than listening to God, they dreamed up prophecies which made the king happy. Rather than being honest with their own hearts, and with the people of the land, they confidently and repetitively lied in order to protect themselves.
Jeremiah (actually God speaking through him) offers a scathing critique of their methods:
“‘Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!’ declares the Lord. Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who care for my people: ‘You have scattered my flock and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. Behold, I will attend to you for your evil deeds, declares the Lord. Then I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. I will set shepherds over them who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall any be missing, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 23:1-4)
As a modern day pastor, this hits me heard, precisely because it applies to me. Am I a fake shepherd padding my pockets, protecting my body, and misleading God’s people? Or am I one of the shepherds called by God to care for his people, helping them to see the truth regardless of what it costs me? I know I long to be in the latter group and not the former.
But the only way it is possible to be a good, helpful, honest spiritual shepherd is with the shepherding help of the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Apart from him every shepherd will be a liar. Look at what Jeremiah says next!
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.'” (Jeremiah 23:5-6)
The righteous Branch is King Jesus. He is the good shepherd of his people. His sheep hear his voice and follow him. Those he appoints as undershepherds have the task of pointing others to him, sharing truth about him, leading people to see him as Lord of lords.
The way a pastor can avoid falling into the trap of being a “lying prophet” under the judgment of God is by constantly looking to Christ, the Author and Finisher of our faith, and constantly showing the other sheep how to get to him.