In the first post, we saw that righteous leaders are called to create systems where people have the opportunity to flourish — systems of justice. Instead, the leaders in Ezekiel 34 have created systems of injustice that only benefit themselves.
In the second post, we see that God holds BOTH the leaders of injustice and the people who benefit from injustice accountable for their oppression of others.
In the third post, we followed the thread of justice and mercy through the opening Biblical theology chapters of Creation and Fall.
This is the final post in this series and we conclude by following the thread of justice and mercy through Redemption and Restoration.
God’s rescue through the redemption accomplished by His Son.
After the exile, God was silent. For over 500 years there was nothing from the prophets. God’s people longed for a rescue that never happened. They wait for a leader who will restore justice. They cry out for mercy.
Luke 4: 16-19
[One day, Jesus] came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read. And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
Rescue arrived in that man from Galilee. He came to make things right. He showed mercy. He established justice. He gave people what they were due. He freed image bearers from demons. He healed many diseases: a leper, a paralytic, a man with a withered hand. He re-interpreted the meaning of fasting and sabbath — practices that remind you of your Maker, your dependency, His provision, not ways to make a hierarchy of score-keeping. He calmed a storm and brought order out of chaos. He told a story about his Father who waits to welcome us home — those who have gone after idols and those who have lived in systems of injustice.
He called himself a good shepherd. In comparison to the Ezekiel shepherds who eat the sheep. In comparison to a thief that only comes to steal, kill, and destroy. Should not shepherds feed the sheep? Yes. I came to feed the sheep. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I came to lead them out to good pasture. I came to lay down my life for them. A shepherd — from my servant David.
Who finds the good sheep…
He was a good shepherd who would find the good sheep. In Matthew 25 he talked of a coming day, after his redemption and rescue, when He, the son of man, would re-emerge in glory with all the angels. Jesus said, “I will sit on my glorious throne with all the nations before me…and I will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
In Ezekiel’s terms — ‘I myself, will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep…I will rescue my flock…I will judge between sheep and sheep. And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and He shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.’
And what will be the categories of evaluation for these sheep? The same ones that God has always used: How did you treat the most vulnerable: the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, the ones in prison, the least of these? Did you benefit from systems of injustice or speak out against them?
And what will be the results of this separation? The people getting their due, the righteous inheriting the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world. The cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. This is what Ezekiel called feeding them with justice.
Thanks be to God for his rescue of grace and mercy.
God’s Restoration: the way things will be.
This picture that Jesus gives at the end of Matthew’s Gospel with a separation of sheep and goats is a picture of something that has begun but is not yet complete. Restoration is the chapter for which we wait — the renewal of all things. But we are beginning to experience it now.
St. John writes of justice in his Revelation…
Revelation 21: 3-5a
“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.”
The dwelling of God with His people.
The end of sadness and pain.
The renewal of all things.
Anglican luminary, N. T. Wright describes so well this coming restoration…
“God’s plan is not to abandon this world, the world which he said was ‘very good.’ Rather, he intends to remake it. And when he does, he will raise all his people to new bodily life to live in it. That is the promise of the Christian gospel.
To live in it, yes; and also to rule over it…in God’s new world those who belong to the Messiah will be placed in charge. The first creation was put into the care of God’s image-bearing creatures. The new creation will be put into the wise, healing stewardship of those who have been ‘renewed according to the image of the creator,’ as Paul puts it (Colossians 3:10).
In God’s new world Jesus himself will, of course, be the central figure. That’s why from the very beginning the church has always spoken of his ‘second coming,’ though in terms of the overlap of heaven and earth it would be more appropriate to speak, as some early Christians also did, of the ‘reappearing’ of Jesus. He is, at the moment, present with us, but hidden behind that invisible veil which keeps heaven and earth apart, and which we pierce in those moments, such as prayer, the sacraments, the reading of scripture, and our work with the poor, when the veil seems particularly thin. But one day the veil will be lifted; earth and heaven will be one; Jesus will be personally present, and every knee shall bow at his name; creation will be renewed; the dead will be raised; and God’s new world will, at last, be in place, full of new prospects and possibilities.”
N.T. Wright Simply Christian p. 218-219
Creation. Fall. Rescue. Restoration.
What ought to be — shepherds feeding the sheep.
What is — shepherds consuming the sheep
What can be — rescue, God feeding His sheep in justice
What will be — the renewal of all things, security, provision, abundance
In order to feed us with justice, Jesus experienced the greatest of injustices. He was betrayed by a friend, beaten without cause, convicted on false charges, and given over to the capricious whims of a crowd.
In the midst of his scandalous trial on trumped up charges, Jesus said to the religious leaders, the Sanhedrin, the ‘shepherds’…
“But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.”
It was the thing that really set them off. Only His death would satisfy them.
But it is the source of our hope: the confirmation that the one who leads with justice will do it from this powerful place of authority.
At the very end of the Gospel of Luke, Jesus is saying goodbye to his disciples and He says this:
“You are witnesses of these things. And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.”
I will be sitting next to my Father — the eternal shepherd of the sheep. But we are going to keep doing this project through our people, we send image-bearers to shepherd image-bearers. But here is what’s new — Ezekiel called it a new heart. Here’s what’s new: I will be IN YOU. Wait for HIM. He will fill you so that you can be agents of rescue. So that WE can participate in the new Creation — laboring for justice, doing signs and wonders, inviting people to repent of their sins and be forgiven and lead.
Psalm 68: 4b-6
“His name is the LORD; exult before him! Father of the fatherless and protector of widows is God in his holy habitation. God settles the solitary in a home; he leads out the prisoners to prosperity, but the rebellious dwell in a parched land.”
He gives people their due. And He invites us to join with him in the renewal of all things.
Thanks be to God.