25 “ ‘I will make a covenant of peace with them and rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety. 26 I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. n I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. 27 The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land. They will know that I am the LORD, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them. 28 They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. 29 I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations. 30 Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the Israelites, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD. 31 You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD.’ ”
What makes you safe? Locks can work. You lock your house up at night. You lock your car. You lock your computer and all sorts of online accounts with a password. You lock up your bike at school. You have a fireproof lockbox with important documents. Locks can make people safe.
Knowledge and skill make people safe. You learn from movies that you shouldn’t go down a dark alley in a big city at night. You can go to personal defense classes and martial arts classes to learn how to defend yourself from attackers. You can watch shows and study survival skills if you like to explore the great out of doors. Summer is coming and you know that means to wear some sunblock to protect your skin from sunburn. Knowledge and skill can make you safe.
The right equipment can keep you safe. Athletes need the right kind of pads and helmets to stay safe for the kind of sport they are playing. Without the right equipment injuries can occur.
Weapons make people safe. If you do happen to find yourself in a dark alley in a bad part of town at night, then a taser, pepper spray, nunchucks, or a gun might make you feel safer, as long as you know what you are doing with them. People sometimes keep these types of things by their bed or in their car in case it would be needed. Again, I would say it is very important that you know how to use these weapons, but they can make people safe.
There’s one more thing we haven’t mentioned, Mom. When little kids come into church here and they haven’t been here much, they aren’t smiling and jumping and playing. They’ve got that “what is this place and who are you” kind of look on their faces, and they are holding on to Mom’s leg or wanting her to hold them in her arms. Parents make a kid feel safe.
Being safe is important. On a Sunday in the Church Year that has the title of Good Shepherd and on a holiday that celebrates moms, safety is a pretty good topic. All these different things try to help people to be safe, because there are a lot of things that work to prevent safety.
Turns out there are people who can break a lock or a password. That doesn’t mean you should not use locks, but it does mean that locks are not 100% guaranteed to work at keeping people out. Knowledge and skills can do a good job, but you can walk down the wrong alley and run into someone who has more skills and knowledge than you do. I once put on a whole bunch of sunblock before going to a waterpark, but I forgot to reapply in the afternoon and paid dearly for it. I could go out camping with all the necessary items and skills and still die from a bear attack. I can put on a helmet and pads but if I skate on to the ice of an NHL playoff game or catch a pass in an NFL game, there’s not even a question in my mind that I’m going to end up in the hospital with life-threatening injuries. Sometimes you forget the self-defense weapons, they malfunction in some way, or the weapon can be turned against you. Finally, sometimes mom can’t stop her child from falling off a chair or getting to close to a hot stove. She’s not omnipresent. She’s not all-powerful. She’s not perfect. She’s not eternal.
So, here’s the issue. We want to be safe, but we cannot guarantee it for ourselves. Maybe that’s because of what we are doing or not doing. Maybe it’s because of what others are doing or not doing for us. The result is that safety is not a given for me or for you.
That is the picture God paints through the prophet Ezekiel in chapter 34. He was saying that his sheep, the Israelites, were not safe because they were stubborn wandering sheep and because they didn’t have good shepherds. Both of those things are not good for safety. And so, they had lots of danger. There was danger from other nations. There was danger to their crops. There was danger from wild animals. And they needed safety from all of that.
But there is a much bigger danger that we haven’t talked about yet that can affect a lot more than my house, my online accounts, my camping trips, my ability to compete, my feelings, and my health. This danger can do a lot more damage than an army or a drought. Do you know about the dangers that faces you?
It’s the danger of sin. It’s the danger of the devil. It’s the danger of hell. And far too often these things have been the wolf that carries us sheep off. See, there’s a few problems that make me and all of us easy targets. I’m too ignorant to realize the danger. I’m too foolish to realize that I cannot handle the danger. I’m too proud to perceive that the what could be dangerous to others could also be dangerous to me. What happens is we think we can make ourselves pretty safe. We think we’ve got it all covered. In reality, we are sheep sitting there with no shepherd or the wrong shepherd, which is really no shepherd at all.
Here’s a really simple way to see if you have the wrong shepherds in your life: if it cannot make you safe from sin, hell, and Satan, then it’s not what you need. Locks, knowledge, equipment, weapons, even Mom cannot prevent sin from destroying me. They cannot stop the devil – that prowling lion and menacing wolf – from carrying me off. They cannot hold up to the destruction of hell.
We are so good at thinking that we have it all figured out. We are so good at proudly prancing around thinking that nothing can touch me. We are so good at being so foolish. I think I can provide the safety I need in life, but the fact that I cannot guarantee it, should probably tell me that I am in desperate need of a real shepherd.
That’s what God was telling the Israelites. They couldn’t protect themselves. They could not rely on shepherds who were just looking out for themselves and cared nothing for the sheep. The people back then and all of us right now need a shepherd who doesn’t have the ability just to protect me from nature but actually controls nature. I need a shepherd who doesn’t provide some things that work for some people’s safety, but he knows me better than I know myself, he knows the tendencies I have and the problems that I wrestle with, he knows it all and he knows how best to handle me firmly but carefully and compassionately. I need a shepherd who doesn’t just give me the right skills and tools for battle, but one who fights and defeats the enemy for me. I need a shepherd who says this: “You are my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, and I am your God.”
That’s not a shepherd who is just looking out for himself. That’s not a shepherd who is looking to be famous. That’s not a shepherd who is looking to get rich. That’s a shepherd who cares, who protects, who loves me. That’s a shepherd who cares, who protects, who loves you. He says “my sheep… my pasture…” He personally cares. Look through the first reading again. It’s not the second person “you” that is doing the action. It’s not the third person singular “he” or the plural “they” who are working. God steps in and says “I.” For his people looking for safety God says “I will make peace…I will get rid of the wild beasts…I will bless…I will send showers… I will provide for them…I am with them…” This is how God takes care of you, personally with his own hands.
Jesus says in the Gospel, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them…” Jesus does not take a general role in being a shepherd for his sheep. Jesus does not say, “Try this or that; it works for most.” Jesus says, “I know you. You are my sheep in my pasture. No one can come in and hurt you. No one can take you away from me.”
And then Jesus does the only thing that guarantees our safety from sin, Satan, death, and hell. He doesn’t give you a lock, some knowledge and skills, or some proper equipment. He takes all of them away from us. Sin lures us away into traps and leads us to places where we shouldn’t be. So Jesus, the Good Shepherd, takes sins away from you. He forgives them all. Satan lurks behind every turn and lunges for us, constantly causing anxiety and fear. So Jesus, the Good Shepherd, went to battle that old evil foe. He took on the devil and crushed his head for us. He has no bite any more. Death and hell hang a dark, unavoidable cloud over us. So Jesus, the Good Shepherd, faced death in our place. He allowed our punishment to take him, so that it wouldn’t take us and then he came back.
Yes, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, rose from the dead for you. He gives you resurrection. He gives you eternal life even after death takes you from this world. That is the only thing that can guarantee safety for us, a place in our Shepherd’s eternal fold.
Can you hear that in this promise of God from Ezekiel? Listen again, “They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations. Then they will know that I, the Lord their God, am with them and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Sovereign Lord. You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign Lord.’ ”
Brothers and sisters, this is the safety we have now and for eternity from Jesus our living Shepherd. There is no other voice we need. There is nothing that gives us the safety that Jesus does. So, there is no reason to take a day or a week off from him. There is no reason to search for a different kind of shepherd. There is no reason to rely on yourself for safety.
Moms, if you want to provide what is really best for your children, they don’t need all the best toys and clothes. They don’t need the newest technology. They don’t need someone who they can gossip with and all that. They need a mom who shows them, who talks to them, and who takes them to the safety of the Good Shepherd, the one who rose from the dead so that all of our enemies would live in defeat for the rest of eternity while we enjoy the victory of heaven. If you want to really enjoy your children and the gift that God has given you, then show them, talk to them, and take them to the safety of the Good Shepherd, because then you can enjoy them forever in the eternal pastures of heaven.
Safety can hardly be guaranteed in this life, even by a mother, but that is exactly what God gives you today. Through the prophet Ezekiel he says, “You will live in safety.” Life forever is yours because you have a Shepherd who rose from the dead. It’s guaranteed. Amen.