God views his people as the sheep of his pasture. Today, the flock of God is found in the church as established by Jesus Christ, and to this day, the flock of God is the most precious thing to him in the world. Because of this, it is understandable why his enemies should try to destroy the flock.
As we continue to read what the prophet has to say, we see that he describes to us yet another dangerous condition that can come upon the church of Jesus Christ.
So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd, and they became food for all the wild beasts. My sheep were scattered; they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them. (Ezekiel 34:5-6 ESV)
The Scattered Flock
The dangers to the flock are many, and, as we have seen in the previous two sermons, the perils come from both without and from within. It is inevitable that enemies and threats will come, and without a doubt, these threats must be confronted. David demonstrated how a shepherd would confront this danger when he rescued the lamb from the mouth of the lion and bear. As David explained it to King Saul, when these beasts rose up against the shepherd boy, he grabbed them by the beard and slew them (1 Samuel 17:34-35).
Despite such dangers and despite such heroics, the greatest fear that the shepherd has is not the attack of a predator. His greatest fear is that the sheep should become scattered. At all costs, the shepherd must keep this from happening. This is the great disaster.
The Importance of a Unified Flock
A flock that is preserved in its unity is able to remain under the protection of the shepherd. If a danger enters from the outside or if a problem surfaces from within, the shepherd is there to care for the sheep.
In a unified flock, the shepherd can deal with the threat of a bear or a lion coming to attack his flock. However, if the flock is scattered, the shepherd cannot give the sheep his care. If an individual sheep of a unified flock becomes lame or is weak, the shepherd is able to tend to that lamb. But if the flock is scattered, the lame and the weak are left unattended. This has happened at various times throughout history to the people of God.
The prophet Jeremiah also writes of some of these times:
Israel is a scattered flock; the lions have driven them away. The first one who devoured him was the king of Assyria, and this last one who has broken his bones is Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon. (Jeremiah 50:17 NAS)
“Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of My pasture!” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:1 NAS)
A History of Scattered Flocks
In the days of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, God’s flock had faithless shepherds. These faithless ones did not care for the flock, nor did they seek the ones who had scattered. Because of this, the nation of Israel fell prey to the Assyrians and to the Babylonians.
As we also saw earlier, Jesus also talked of the disaster of scattering that can come upon a flock. Jesus said, “He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, beholds the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees, and the wolf snatches them, and scatters them” (John 10:12 NAS).
Normally, in the history of the people of God, a scattering of the flock is a judgment that came upon them. Faithless shepherds and hirelings had allowed the enemies of the flock to enter in and to ravage them.
Nevertheless, it is not only the faithless shepherds and hirelings who bring harm to the flock. As we saw in last week's sermon, it unfortunately is also greedy sheep that bring this judgment upon the flock. God speaks in the book of Ezekiel of those of the flock who feed in the good pasture and tread down the rest of the grass, or drink of the clear water and then foul the rest with their feet. We have looked at this verse before, but now I want us to notice something else:
Because you push with side and with shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, until you have scattered them abroad, therefore, I will deliver My flock, and they will no longer be a prey; and I will judge between one sheep and another. (Ezekiel 34:21-22 NAS)
Notice that this damaging attitude of the sheep brings about a scattering. It is not only that the food is wasted, but their actions resulted in the scattering of the flock. We remember also that God had said he will judge between the sheep: “Behold, I, even I, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep” (Ezekiel 34:20 NAS).
By these statements, it seems that some of the sheep, although they may be among the larger flock, are not really part of what God calls “My flock.” These sheep, who are among the flock and who trample and foul the feed, are actually not of the flock, but instead are outsiders who have made their way within the true flock. Notice closely what God said: “And as for My flock, they must eat what you tread down with your feet, and they must drink what you foul with your feet!”
This brings about a scattering. The scattered flock is both the tragedy and the judgment brought about by the faithless shepherds and the greedy sheep. We can see that a scattering is what will happen with a flock that is not being led by a capable and caring shepherd. However, the scattering is also a consequence that happens in a flock that has not acted as the true flock (“My flock”) and have not conducted themselves as a true flock should behave.
The tragedy in this is that a flock, once scattered, is difficult to reestablish into a single body that the shepherd is able to protect. The sheep are scattered and wandering in the wilderness. It requires a capable, loving, and faithful shepherd to gather them once again.
These are tragic scatterings, but there is yet another type. Ironically, in the past, God has used even a scattering of the flock for his purpose.
A Unique Scattering
There are yet a couple more instances in the Bible that talks of a scattered flock. These two are interesting examples and quite unlike earlier scatterings. The first came about at the crucifixion of Jesus.
In the entire history as God’s flock, it was for only a few brief years that the Good Shepherd actually came to live with the flock. This was during the few years that Jesus walked among us on this earth. At that time, the flock of Jesus was actually quite small.
Because those under the direct care of the Good Shepherd had one who loved and cared for each, one would think that the flock would be maintained in coherency and could not be scattered. But Jesus had a special purpose for his followers at that time. Before Jesus was crucified, he actually warned them of a scattering that would come.
While Jesus was sharing the last meal that he was to have with his disciples before he was taken prisoner to be crucified, he told them “You will all fall away because of Me this night, for it is written, ‘I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered’” (Matthew 26:31 NAS).
That which Jesus said would happen of course became true. The Good Shepherd was struck down, and his little flock was scattered. We know that in the case of a shepherd with literal sheep, if the shepherd should be mauled by a bear or a lion, certainly his flock would be at the mercy of the predator.
However, this flock was unique, and the scattering of the flock was unlike all previous scatterings. It was true that the Shepherd was struck down, but in this case, it was not because of a failure of the Shepherd. Neither, as we soon shall see, was it really because of the failure from within the flock.
Nevertheless and as we saw, the Good Shepherd was struck down, and the sheep of the flock were scattered. At the time that this occurred, the enemies of Jesus Christ thought that they had become victorious.
However, we must ask, who was it that actually struck down the Good Shepherd? We might say it was the established Jewish leaders or the Romans, or even Satan himself. Nevertheless, in the ultimate sense, it was none of these. These were simply the acting agents. They could have done nothing if God had not allowed it to happen.
When Jesus spoke the words, “I will strike down the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered,” he quoted to them from the prophet Zechariah where the prophet was foreseeing the day in which the Messiah would be crucified.
“Awake, O sword, against My Shepherd, and against the man, My Associate,” declares the LORD of hosts. “Strike the Shepherd that the sheep may be scattered; and I will turn My hand against the little ones.”
Others committed the act, but the permission to act was given by God. God Himself always remains sovereign.
So then, why would God strike down the Good Shepherd and scatter the flock? When Zechariah wrote his words, he may have spoken of judgment, but the major emphasis of his message was actually refinement. He wrote of the refining of silver and gold, and of how the refinement process was intended to rid these precious metals of their impurities. This was done so that the treasured elements will shine forth in all of their luster.
“And it will come about in all the land,” declares the LORD, “That two parts in it will be cut off and perish; but the third will be left in it.”
“And I will bring the third part through the fire, refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are My people, and they will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’” (Zechariah 13:7-9 NAS)
Jesus knew that this refining process was necessary. He knew that the disciples would be strengthened by the refining. But even after the refinement, Jesus also realized that his little flock would continue to need a shepherd. He wanted them to be gathered again.
This being so, after telling the disciples that they would be scattered, Jesus then said this to them: “But after I have been raised, I will go before you to Galilee” (Matthew 26:32).
It was there in Galilee that Jesus intended to gather his flock again so that, after the scattering, he might again minister His life to them. He would heal the wounds that the disciples had suffered in the previous few days, and strengthen their fainting hearts.
As Jesus said would happen, he was struck down, but he rose again. It was only a few days after these events when some of the scattered flock were first learning that the Good Shepherd was indeed alive. The news first came to a group of women, true followers and disciples of Jesus.
When the women arrived at the tomb to look for a slain Shepherd that had been buried there, they found not a slain Shepherd, but a risen one. The word came from an angel of the Lord to tell them that Jesus was not there, but that he had risen from the dead, and at that very moment was going on ahead into Galilee. “There you will see Him,” the angel told them.
Shortly after, the Shepherd himself appeared to these women and gave to them the word to take to the brethren. He said that they were to “leave for Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Matthew 28:7-10).
It was with great joy the little flock went to see their Shepherd. When the disciples saw him again, they may have expected that he was now back to be with them from that time forward. They may have thought that their life may would then continue much as it was before the crucifixion. However, the Shepherd was not yet back to stay. He was soon to leave again. His purpose in appearing to them at this time was to instead commission them to fulfill the role as shepherds until he would one day return permanently.
Jesus told them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:18-20 ESV).
Those of his flock, under the authority of Jesus, were given the responsibility to be the shepherds of the wider flock. They were to shepherd his flock. Jesus was eager to have his flock reunited and under the care of a shepherd.
A Surprising Shepherd and the Surprising Flock
There is yet one more scattering of the flock that we read about before the pages of the Scripture are closed. The scattering occurred after Jesus ascended into heaven and left his flock under the care of the disciples. This specific scattering has yet another surprising twist to it.
Actually, there are two surprises. The first is that a predator that was at first “ravaging” the flock, in the end turns out to be one of its most tender shepherds. The second is that this scattering, rather than weakening the flock, brought about a multiplication.
We read of this story in the book of Acts:
But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house; and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word. (Acts 8:3-4 NAS)
Saul, the principal enemy of the church in the early years, was chosen by God to later become the Apostle Paul. As a shepherd, Paul cared for the flock of God as few ever have. It is through the writings of Paul that we have come to learn how truly precious the church is to God and to see some of the depth of the love of God for his flock. Paul could never have written these words unless he also had known this love for the flock.
Perhaps even more astounding is what occurred with the scattered flock. Apart from this example and also the example of the disciples of Jesus, a scattered flock always had meant disaster. The sheep, without the protection of the shepherd and left to fend for themselves, fell prey to both the harsh elements of the environment and the wild beasts that were always ready to devour them. In this scattering, however, a marvelous thing occurred. The sheep were not devoured. Rather, as they went forth, the flock grew in number.
A Help for the Shepherds and the Flock
In a sense, when Jesus the Good Shepherd left his flock, he did not leave them alone and exposed to the dangers around them. He had promised them that Another would come, who would be the Helper. The Helper was not a hired hand, but was the very Spirit of the Good Shepherd. Because of the presence of this Helper, the flock would not be left in fear, but in peace.
Jesus told his disciples this:
The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you. Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful. (John 14:26-27 NAS)
The Flock in the Present Day
We are today in large part living in an age of scattered flocks. There are some who are serving as true shepherds, but there are many who are simply hirelings and who have no real concern for the people of God.
However, in some ways, the scattering of this age is similar to what happened to the disciples after the crucifixion of Jesus. Remember that those first disciples were scattered, but then when Christ was resurrected, he gathered them together again.
Although we also live in an age of scattered flocks, we also will be gathered again. The prophet Jeremiah spoke of this final gathering, and I will soon quote what the prophet wrote. However, I would here like to first share part of the vision that the Apostle John saw of eternity that shows the end to which God is working:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He shall dwell among them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be among them, and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”
Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost.” (Revelation 21:3-6 NAS)
Wisdom for the Scattered Flock
Until that day of which John speaks, we must learn to live wisely as a flock that is scattered. To live wisely in this age, we must recognize the reasons and the dangers of the scattering.
Unfortunately, much of our own disunity as the people of God has come about for exactly the same reasons that it did in the days of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. We have faithless shepherds and avaricious sheep. Because of the misconceptions of the people of God as to how a shepherd should care for the flock, we have left ourselves open to many enemies among us who are only too ready to ravage the flock.
However, despite the fact that we are living in a time of many scattered flocks, we do well to remember the lessons that all previous scatterings are able to teach us. There are many things about our present situation that are unique to our day and may surprise us, but there are also many lessons from the past.
This time of a scattering has been granted to us to bring about purification in the flock. It is true that we see much uncomely behavior in the flock of the people of God, but God will “judge between one sheep and another.” We also do see faithless shepherds, but God will also deal with them in his own way.
Most important of all to understand is that despite all of the failures within the flock, God is still sovereign. He is still the Good Shepherd who will ultimately care for his flock. His flock cannot fail, because he cannot fail. His church cannot fail, because he cannot fail.
Jeremiah saw the ultimate victory. Certainly, he spoke of the re-gathering of the Jewish nation after the Babylonians held them captive, but he spoke more pointedly of the final re-gathering.
To give his people hope, Jeremiah told them that the scattering would not be permanent. God Himself is the Shepherd of his flock, and he will care for them:
Then I Myself shall gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and shall bring them back to their pasture; and they will be fruitful and multiply. (Jeremiah 23:3 NAS)
There is also this promise:
“I shall also raise up shepherds over them and they will tend them; and they will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:4 NAS)
Under the Care of the Good Shepherd
In the end, we must say this: despite all that happens, the flock of God is still under the care of the Good Shepherd. We have seen failures of shepherds and sheep within the flock itself that have caused grief among the people of God. We may think that these failures are defeating the church, but this is not so. Jesus said that when the Shepherd comes, he will call forth his sheep by name, and they will follow him because they know his voice.
The entire flock of the Good Shepherd, although presently scattered, does not have to live completely unprotected. God has provided the means by which his sheep can receive care and protection. He has placed us within smaller flocks and given us those shepherds who are entrusted with the responsibility for the flock. These must act with faithfulness, and God’s sheep must act responsibly.
Despite all of the attacks and scattering of the flock through the ages, in that day soon to come, “They will not be afraid any longer, nor be terrified, nor will any be missing.”
We will know fully living under the care of the Good Shepherd for all time.
This the Lord has declared.
The Shepherd and His Sheep (In Verse, Part 3)
The little lambs skipped in the sun; the ewes began to doze.
The shepherd also felt drowsy, and his eyes began to close.
The afternoon sun was warm. Peace reigned in the flock.
But wait! Was that movement of black behind that rock?
Even before fully awake, the shepherd was on his feet,
His eye fixed on the place where he saw the shadow retreat.
Down he ran into the flock to rescue them from this prowling stranger.
The sheep began to scatter. They too, now sensed imminent danger.
Suddenly, the shadow leaped out from where it was hidden in its lair,
As the shadow immerged, it took the massive black form of a bear.
The phantom reached down and snatched a little lamb in his paws
Then, with hideous growl, locked the helpless one in its ravenous jaws.
But the shepherd was quick, and with a blow of his staff on the bear’s head
He made the beast drop the lamb. After many more blows, the bear lay dead.
The threat was no more, but the flock still ran. In fear they still scattered.
Thus, the danger was not yet over. The flock needed also to be gathered.
If the flock should become scattered, away from the care of their master,
They will come to thickets and thorns, and to eventual and certain disaster.
But this is the good shepherd, who calls them with a voice they all know.
He will seek for them and find them, and bring each one back into the fold.
Not all who are shepherds are shepherds indeed.
And not all in the flock understand the flock’s creed.
But there is one Good Shepherd who knows each of His own.
The true sheep of His pasture will worship at His throne.
The flock will again skip and graze in the light,
And live without the fear of the dangers of night.
They will remember no tear, no battle, no strife,
But shall eat of the fruit of the tree that gives life.