The Lord Will Care For His Flock
Key verse 10:3b
“For the Lord Almighty will care for his flock, the house of Judah, and make them like a proud horse in battle.”
“The Lord their God will save them on that day as the flock of his people. They will sparkle in his land like jewels in a crown. How attractive and beautiful they will be!” (Zechariah 9:16-17a) In the prophetic book of Zechariah there isn’t a shortage of rebukes. The people of his own time whom God restored after the seventy year Babylonian exile still needed rebuking. If we remember from the study of Haggai and from the earlier chapters of Zechariah, those who returned to rebuild the temple— their hearts weren’t exactly in it. They were more concerned with their own building projects than with building the Lord’s house, and it angered the Lord, and he severely rebuked them for it! But that wasn’t all he rebuked them for. They had serious of injustice, and some lacked basic compassion for one another, while others oppressed widow orphan alien and the poor, and still others entertained evil thoughts against one another. God certainly rebuked them for that when he reminded them how useless their fasting and prayer are when such things are still going on in their hearts. A man or woman may be clever in hiding what’s in their hearts from others, but no one can hide their own heart from the Living God. (Psalms 44:21; Acts 15:8a) For this and more, his people needed rebuking and discipline. And the Lord’s words often cut to their very hearts for their own good. He was molding them into the people and nation through whom the Savior would come. And for that, they needed to grow and mature as a people after God’s own heart, a Priestly Kingdom and a Holy Nation. What’s my point in all this? My point is that in the midst of all the rebuking they received, they also received a whole lot of comfort and encouragement. The Lord never left them without words of grace amidst he words of truth they needed to hear. Those last words we read in the last chapter are words of grace beyond description. Look at them again. “The Lord their God will save them” the prophet says. He will do that “On that day”. And he will do so because they are ever his own people— his own flock.
But that’s not all! These words of amazing grace not only hold within them comfort and encouragement for his people, but they even open up the vault of heaven to reveal what God does for those he saves. He makes them most attractive, and as beautiful as the sparkling jewels in a king’s or queen’s crown. And we’re not talking here about the shallowness of physical attraction and beauty which is fleeting. When the Lord saves you and makes you his people and brings you into his family, your beauty begins to shine here and now from the inside out. Why? Because your soul takes on a rebirth, a transformation from the ugliness of what is worldly and earth-bound, to the beauty of Christ and what is heaven-bound. You cease to exist in Adam and in his sin stained and ugly selfish nature, and you shine in the beauty of the Image of the One who saved you— who is Christ Jesus— the most Beautiful Son of God. And you will sparkle in reflection of his love and grace and sacrifice for an unworthy world and people as we are. The words of Zechariah were written to God’s people to rebuke and to encourage them, as well as to prepare them for the Messiah’s coming. They were given to them to pass on to all who would believe in the Promise of God and hope in the coming of his Christ. They were written to prepare them for his first coming. But they were also written to prepare us for his Second coming. When you and I know that God’s words of rebuke and comfort have the purpose of molding us, we should listen and we should listen carefully to what the Lord says. More so, when we know that the Lord has made those whom he saves to sparkle like Jewels, growing in the beauty of Christ, then we want to know how we can do so even now. May God help us learn something of that in these verses and chapter we are reflecting on today. Amen.
Let’s look at verse 1. “Ask the Lord for rain in the springtime; it is the Lord who makes the storm clouds. He gives showers of rain to men, and plants of the field to everyone.” It is not certain if this verse belongs more with the previous chapter or with this one. And it is equally uncertain if the words here regarding rainfall is literal or symbolic. But there is one thing that is quite certain about those words that is beyond doubt. The Lord’s desire, even command, that his people pray to him because he himself is the source of all their provisions, be they rainfall or harvest. There’s a truth that’s intrinsic to all human beings— that God is the Sovereign Creator of all things and that all things belong to him, and that all things are at his command— and that all things answer to him. Another truth which the Lord God impressed upon his people early on is prayer. The command, or should I say, the privilege to: “Ask the Lord”, are not trivial. “Ask the Lord” who provides you with all good things had always been God’s promise to these people’s ancestors, provided they stayed the course he put them on, which was to remain grounded in him and obedient to his words. [Does this sound like a condition someone might ask? Well sure!] God is no fool! answering prayer for anyone and everyone who asks regardless of who they are and what they’ve done would be foolish! It’s more like what the idols these people’s ancestors worshiped promised them before they double crossed them. The false idols they worshiped didn’t care how they were living their lives— whether they were living godly lives or godless lives— whether they were honest or dishonest. All the idols and their care takers cared about was that their demands be satisfied— much like gangsters really! They would listen to any prayer offered at their altar and make all kinds of promises. But that’s so not The One True God! The Lord gave his people a privilege to pray to him and he would answer them— but— as they lived a life that honored and glorified him— the kind of life that represented God and reflected him to the world around them. “Ask of me, he says, for all that you need is within my provision to give you, even rain from the storm clouds I control.”
The plea “Ask the Lord” was the prophetic exhortation to these people to do the right thing and not to repeat their ancestor’s mistake. The plea-exhortation was to offer their prayers to God— because that’s what a priestly people do; priests pray in the presence of God on behalf of the people and land and nation. He exhorted them to pray for rain from God who is the Lord of the clouds and storms and rains. Perhaps the land was parched and needed rain. For that the prophet exhorted them to pray. Maybe it rained all the time and there was more than enough rain; Still the prophet exhorted them to pray for rain— perhaps to acknowledge God’s daily provision with a thankful heart, for that’s what we were created to do! Then again, perhaps the rain was only symbolic of what God had been eager to do ever since humans fell and their relationship with God was severed— that is, God was eager to mend and to restore that broken relationship through the sacrifice of his Son and through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all who believe in him. Maybe this prayer was a prophetic vision mingled with God’s hope to see his Son ascended to his rightful place at God’s right hand as the High Priest and the intercessor of all who belong to him. More than that, as the One who would pour out his Spirit on believers in showers of blessings. And this is exactly what happened at Pentecost when God poured out his Holy Spirit on all who confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior— it was like rain out of a storm cloud which shook the world on the day the church was born. Whatever it was, “Ask the Lord” was the greatest privilege to be given them as well as to us. Many years later, the Messiah himself exhorted us in a similar manner when he said: “Ask and it will be given to you”. “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” (Luke 11:9, 13) “Ask the Lord” is a command and a privilege; yet how many actually take it to heart!
That is the question isn’t it? It seems that the prophet was exhorting them to prayer in asking God for their provisions rather than making the same mistake as their ancestors did. And what their ancestors did was inexcusable, and intolerable to the Lord of heaven, so much so, that he had to send them into exile in order to discipline them because of it! So what it that they did that was so heinous in the Lord’s sight? Read verse 2. “The idols speak deceit, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.” So, what had they done? To be fair to the returned exiles, there’s no indication that they had followed in their ancestral folly when it comes to actual idol worship. But we all know that idol worship isn’t necessarily limited to the worship of statues and images and shrines. Idol worship evolves and advances with the progress of time and culture. Idols evolve into whatever it is that replaces the worship of Lord God in the human heart; and that can be anything from money— to people— to ideas— to systems— even to one’s own ego. To many, even flattery and self adoration is an idol that replaces God. But look at these people’s serious problem in verse 2. As God’s chosen people, they were given the greatest privilege in the world. They were privileged to pray: “Ask the Lord” is as clear as daylight. Yet whom do they ask? They asked their idols. They inquired of diviners. Do you know what diviners are? They are those who practice the art of foreseeing the future or of discovering hidden knowledge which they claim to get through omens or through supernatural powers. They inquired of fortune tellers and of those who interpret dreams and such. They practiced the occult, and all these practices belong to the darkness and to those who inhabit the dark world whom God’s people are forbidden to engage with.
There is no need for us to get into what’s dark and loathsome to the Christian heart and mind. As much as some may think they need to explore the subject of idols and the occult or such, we refrain because such things belong to the demon world which has intrigued many and so also caused their utter destruction. But we can say one thing about them. In verse 2, the Lord tells us how they operate and the fruits of engaging with them. They are deceitful, for they speak deceit. Jesus said of Satan that he’s a Liar and the father of lies. Idols tempt and lure with many promises of success and glory for those who bow at their altar. But soon, they find that they had been deceived and all their promises nothing but lies. Many young people have lost their youth worshiping at the altar of someone who lured them with promises of love, then used them and left them deceived and devastated. Many old people have lost their savings worshiping at the altar of a security idol. It’s what those who seem to divine the future also do. They seem confident in what they predict. They offer comfort to those who are grieving. They offer hope to the hopeless. They offer love for the loveless. But look at these words of truth in verse 2: “They comfort in vain.” In other words, they only offer cheap empty words. There are many soothsayers in our times as well; they even have their own talk shows because they are expert soothsayers, whose tongues drip with honey as they dish out comfort and hope to desperate people. Oh, how they are praised and adored as good people, whom the world idolizes. Oh, how they are loved! And oh, how they bask in the admiration of those who worship them and dote on them and on their every word. But sooner or later, the day will come when their comforting words will show themselves to be nothing but empty useless words. There is very little human comfort that a soul can take from lies and deceptions before that miserable soul once again falls back into the dark and hopeless abyss it was in.
Deceivers and liars aren’t necessarily those who outright tell lies and swindle people of their material goods. Idol pushers who deceive and lie are those who will not tell people the truth of God— mainly the truth that the only way a soul can receive real comfort is when that soul seeks out the Lord and— having found itself as a sinner before the Lord— that soul frees [or confesses] its heavy burden of sin at the foot of the cross which God has provided in his grace for that purpose— and that soul asks forgiveness for the sins it had committed against God and against the human race. There is no comfort or hope or peace or light out of darkness for any person except through faith in Christ Jesus the Son of God. All other avenues to peace and comfort are lies and deceptions concocted by the enemy to mislead people’s souls straight to death and judgment without Christ. And there’s no mercy for a soul that dies without the blood of Christ upon it. Deceivers and liars have been deceiving and lying ever since people walked this earth. And Zechariah reminded his own people of the deceivers and liars who caused their own ancestors to incur the Lord’s wrath. And there were also idol worshipers in these people’s time as well, idols and idol peddlers who peddled them for profit, but mostly peddled them in order to lead them astray— For that is what the devil does! He is the one who leads the whole world astray. And not only did he do that in Zechariah’s time, but I believe that the people of our own time might be the champions of verse 2.
We cannot fault the non believing world for its own deceptions and lies and for the darkness that it lives under, because Satan the prince of this world is their mentor and guide and it is he who imposes all these idolatries upon them. But while we may not fault the non believing world, we must be responsible for our own world, that is, the Christian world we call our family, the bride of Christ, the church. Let’s read verse 2 again. “The idols speak deceit, diviners see visions that lie; they tell dreams that are false, they give comfort in vain. Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.” The Lord our Lord has chosen his church to be a “Royal Priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God” and he has done so for a good reason; and not because we are good people or deserving people, but that you and I “May declare the praises of him who called [us] our of darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9) He has chosen us, establishing us as his royal priesthood for Christ’s sake and to serve his cause. It’s what saint Peter reminded us of. But do Christians follow the Lord’s will? Do we, as the privileged ones “Ask the Lord”? And when Christians ask, do they ask for the Holy Spirit? Do they ask to be empowered to serve Christ and his cause? And if not, why not? Because not many are praying and asking. And many are listening more to the voices in the world than to the word of God. Many would rather believe and trust the words of the day’s idols— whoever they are— be they the educated idols who speak with eloquence and with confidence as if they know the future and what the future brings— or be they the diviners who are well versed in the arts and sciences who dazzle the world with their inventions and ideas! Who knows to what idols Christians are listening to today! Perhaps even among the ranks of preachers there are soothsayers who are preaching peace and comfort to an utterly decadent people sitting in their pews, to revelers who imbibe to saturation at night and then boldly attend church the next morning with a hangover. Perhaps there are preaching soothsayers who preach comfort, peace and salvation to blasphemers and to adulterers telling them of the love of God but never telling them of repentance and atonement for sin.
It is not an easy generation we are living in, for the idols we face are not only evolved but utterly deceiving and even God’s people have fallen to their corruption. Paul told his disciple son Timothy to watch out for such people who seem Christian but are not, for such deceivers are coming. A time is coming Paul said: “When men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.” (2 Timothy 4:3) That is, preachers who do not preach the gospel of our Lord— the full gospel message! And it won’t be easy to identify them either, because as Paul also warns, these people will seem as though they are godly doing God’s work— but they are not. (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12) What they are doing is deceiving many with lies and deceptions, and with a load of vain comfort.
In other words, it is our privilege as God’s people, endowed with his blessing to preach the gospel and to speak the truth in love. The gospel when spoken in truth and in love naturally brings about convictions of heart. But that conviction is not a conviction that is brought about by our preaching or by our teaching or by any method we use to convict anyone’s heart. No person is equipped or has the power to bring about another person’s conviction. It is the work of the Holy Spirit. He is the one who convicts of sin. It is our duty as the Lord’s children and servants to bring out the truth in love, and it is His work to convict. But If we do not peach the gospel of our Lord Jesus in its full truth, in its purity; if we do not tell of Christ and his sacrifice, His cross, the shedding of His precious blood, His death and His resurrection and ascension and second coming and the judgment of God, and also how it relates to sinful people like me— how are we any better than soothsayers who go about saying “Don’t worry all is well with you and your soul.” Indeed perhaps it is time for many of us to examine our hearts and stand before the merciful Lord with a repentant heart, and ask for forgiveness and a renewed heart to serve his gospel with a new spirit.
And what is the result of all this deception and false comfort? Of course we spoke of many results. But take another look again at verse 2. “Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.” And that is one of the saddest fruits! A shepherd-less flock of God, oppressed and wandering aimlessly here and there. When a people have no shepherd to care for them properly and to guide them in the way of truth, they wander and fall prey to wolves and deceivers. Why did these people end up without shepherds to care for them properly and to guide them in the way of truth? According to verse 1, they did not inquire of God; that is, they did not rely on God in prayer nor did they trust God to provide for them. According to verse 2, they rather trusted the guidance of idols who took advantage of them and deceived them giving them false hope and comfort until they were utterly misled. This reminds me of that unforgettable verse in Revelation that defines one of the devil’s most effective and destructive roles among us: It’s in Revelation 12:9, and it says: “That ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray.” Indeed, he does lead the whole world astray, but from whom? From God of course! That is his objective to mislead. And once these people had been misled, they became like sheep without a shepherd, devastated and lost, oppressed by every trouble and difficulty life throws at them until they’re overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. On the other hand, when a sheep is safely tucked in under the roof of the shepherd, wolves may howl and storms may rage outside, yet that sheep is safe and secure in the protective arms of the shepherd. They’re never oppressed! That is why our Lord Jesus said: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:5) “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) They ended up without a shepherd because they didn’t come to the Lord, their Good Shepherd, nor did they remain with him.
So, verse 2 ends with the words: “Therefore the people wander like sheep oppressed for lack of a shepherd.” And the Lord ended that wandering by disciplining them for seventy years of exile from their homeland. And now that he brought their descendants back to rebuild city and temple, he’s reminded them never to repeat the sin of their ancestors. And there’s something else they needed to know and to remember as well. Look at verse 3. “My anger burns against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the Lord Almighty will care for his flock, the house of Judah, and make them like a proud horse in battle.’” So what was it that they needed to know and to remember? Well, maybe there are two things here that we ought to consider. The first is this: Sins and transgressions offend God and none will ever go unpunished. While everyone will be held accountable for their own sins, especially those who are in places of spiritual leadership and authority will be held accountable for theirs and severely punished. “My anger burns” God says, “Against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders”. Why was God angry with the leaders? In Ezekiel 34 God spells out their problem well. He says to all those who have been given the privilege to care for his flock: “Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.” (Ezekiel 34:2-5) Indeed shepherds or spiritual leaders need to care for the flock. How should they do so? Jesus set the best example of shepherding the flock. To begin with, with compassion and self sacrifice, by laying down his life for the sheep. But most of all, the Lord cared for the sheep with the voice of the good shepherd; by giving them the word of God; by personally tending to them and to their needs; by serving them through love and prayer, and by leading them in the way of truth to the Kingdom of God their Father; and by calling them to live as he did, by denying themselves, taking up the cross and following him. It was the mark of the good shepherd and leader of the flock. But these people failed to do that, and for that they will surely be held accountable to God.
Look at verse 3 again. As I said before, there was another thing here the Lord wanted them to consider and to remember— perhaps one of the most important truths in life to hold on to as well. “The Lord Almighty will care for his flock”. In these words, the Lord revealed the full extent of his one sided grace to his people throughout the generations. It’s what we were talking about at the start of this sermon, where the Lord dishes out rebukes when they are needed, and Lord knows we all need them. And the Lord offers words of consolation to his people through which they can stand tall as his people to carry out their duties as his chosen messengers to a lost world. While the shepherds were unable to lead the people in the way of righteousness, while the whole lot of them shepherds and sheep were deceived by the lure of idols, while all looked hopeless for them to ever be restored, and while they sat in utter darkness waiting for the inevitable judgment of God, suddenly a burst of sunshine came piercing the darkness. “The Lord Almighty will care for his flock”. The Lord would intervene. He would not only rescue his wayward flock from being hopelessly lost, he would fully restore them to the pride of their place in him. God would do so because of his own sake, and for his own glory. It is his one sided grace poured out on them, and on all who would trust in him, and call on him for salvation. He has done it through sending his Messiah. It is a promise he talks about in the rest of the chapter which we will deal with next time. May the Lord of amazing one sided grace fill your hearts today, and lead you in two important ways: In the course of (1) prayer to “ask the Lord” and in (2) “reflecting the Good Shepherds to his flock” in these difficult times. Amen.