The Good Fold
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 Eze 34:11 'For thus says the Lord GOD: "Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. 12 "As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day. 13 "And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them to their own land; I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 "I will feed them in good pasture, and their fold shall be on the high mountains of Israel. There they shall lie down in a good fold and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 "I will feed My flock, and I will make them lie down," says the Lord GOD. 16 "I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment."

 1Pe 2:21 For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: 22 "Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth"; 23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness--by whose stripes you were healed. 25 For you were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

 Joh 10:11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep. 12 "But a hireling, he who is not the shepherd, one who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees; and the wolf catches the sheep and scatters them. 13 "The hireling flees because he is a hireling and does not care about the sheep. 14 "I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. 15 "As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. 16 "And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd.

Not too difficult to pick a theme out of our readings today is it? The theme is Shepherd and my prayer is that I can do the theme justice. Oh what comfort there is in knowing that we have a Good Shepherd.

 Ps 23:1  The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the LORD Forever.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. That statement alone has great significance.
Remember when the rich young ruler came up to Jesus and he said, "Good Teacher, and Jesus said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.” Jesus said that so the man would consider who he was talking to.....God!

No one is Good but God. And so Jesus is the Good, Jesus is the God Shepherd, the Christ, who lives the perfect sinless life and then lays His life down in exchange for the lives of all sinners who can now inherit eternal life by receiving Him through baptism, and keeping Him through enduring faith.  

And this God Shepherd tag fits in perfectly with our OT lesson today which states, “For thus says the Lord God: “Indeed I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. (He is the God Shepherd!) As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.

This prophecy speaks of the near future of Israel, as God would gather the people back from the Babylonian captivity, but it also speaks of the much bigger picture, namely that of gathering the spiritual Israel, the church (which consists of believing Jews and Gentiles) back into one flock through the power of the Gospel.

These sheep had been scattered at the tower of Babel as we read in Genesis 11:

Ge 11:8 So the LORD scattered them abroad from there over the face of all the earth,

And this gathering of the sheep would begin in earnest on the Day of Pentecost, when the curse of the confused languages was reversed.

 Ac 2:4 And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. 5 And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven.  6 And when this sound occurred, the multitude came together, and were confused, because everyone heard them speak in his own language.

Now the God Shepherd, working through His church would begin the gathering process spoken of in Ezekiel and authorized by Jesus before He ascended into heaven.

 Ac 1:8 "But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."

And this Good Shepherd will BRING us to our own land....namely heaven. As the old hymn says, “I’m but a stranger here....heaven is my home.! This “bringing” is a process, a journey. It’s not a “Beam me up Scotty” kind of a deal.

It’s not a star trek, it’s a troubled trek, a jostling journey full of trial and tribulation that eventually leads us to the green pastures of Paradise.   
Once there, we will lie down in the good fold. Once there we will experience the green pastures, the still waters, the overflowing cup and so on. Right now, we are just on the journey to that place, and while that journey may have glimpses of these things, for the most part, it is a trail marked with suffering.

What is a “good fold” Well, it’s not something you do in Texas Hold em.” or on laundry day, or in making a meringue pie. The word “fold”  means home or rest.  And so the Good Shepherd is scanning the globe through His church with the gospel to bring the lost sheep back into the flock so that he can bring them home to their rest. Home to the good fold. Home to Paradise!

He says in v 16:

 Eze 34:16 "I will seek what was lost and bring back what was driven away, bind up the broken and strengthen what was sick; but I will destroy the fat and the strong, and feed them in judgment."

He is seeking those who have been driven away by believing the lies of Satan, those who have been sickened through the bite of sin. Those who have made wrong choices, and resisted His grace. Those who have been baptized and then forsaken His grace. He is looking for those who are ready to yield heart and soul to Him for the journey, trusting in His sacrifice for their sins.

But the fat and the strong...the self -righteous, the ones who feel like they can make it without Christ, will be fed to the judgement fires of hell.

This journey with our Good Shepherd will not be easy. We do walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Here’s the thing about a valley...death comes suddenly...unexpectedly. A rock slide, a flash flood, an ambush. In life it shows up as a heart attack, an accident, a senseless campus shooting spree.

I wonder how many of those 32 students who got caught up in the valley of the shadow of death at Virginia Tech this past week, knew the voice of the Good Shepherd. I wonder how many had yielded their hearts to Him and were living for Him?  I wonder how many were on their journey with Him to the good fold.  

Indeed, if they were walking with Him, they had no need to fear any evil, for they are now safely at the journey’s end, in the good fold! But how about you? Where are you in relation to this flock that Jesus is guiding home?

Are you committed to the flock and the journey because you are totally committed and trusting of Him?  Or have you decided to strike out on your own? Or are you on the outer edges playing with fire, or worse yet are you just along for a hypocritical ride, hoping your outward connection to the flock will be enough to get you into Paradise. “Depart from Me for I never knew thee!”  

There is the story of the day of reckoning when the Lord and the devil came to claim their own.  There was a fence and Jesus took what was on one side of the fence and the devil took what was on the other.  One of the people decided to sit on the fence and was claimed by neither. However the devil came back and said, “Oh there you are, come with me to eternal punishment.” And the man said but I don’t belong to you, I was sitting on the fence. And the devil said the fence is of the world, I own the fence and you belong to me.”  Get off of your fence sitting Christianity!

Jesus said, “the lukewarm I will spew out of my mouth.”

Friend, commit to the Good Shepherd. Commit to His flock. Travel this sod with Him and His sheep. They are on a journey to the ultimate green pasture and good fold.

Peter makes it abundantly clear in our epistle lesson that this journey to the good fold will not be easy. He said, “Christ suffered for us leaving us an example, that we should follow His steps...and His steps inevitably lead to suffering. We will suffer, we will have trial and tribulation on the journey.

Don’t revile God when the journey gets tough. Don’t threaten to leave the flock, for the false sense of security that the devil seeks to provide. Commit to the Good Shepherd! Commit yourself to His care as you make this journey through life. Whatever life throws at you, commit it to Him! Stay with Him, don’t go wandering off.     Let’s make it through this together....with Him!

It’s frightening to think that 75% of all young people who go off to college lose their faith. They walk away from the flock,. They leave the narrow road of eternal purpose, the only road that leads to the good fold and settle for the wide road that leads to hell and destruction.

When you think of that sobering statistic of faith cast aside, that means, (statistically speaking) if all 32 of those Virginia Tech students had faith when they entered college, (not exactly likely) 24 of them were no longer in the flock,  safely on their way to the good fold. And suddenly, the valley of the shadow of death came upon them...and they were gone.

I hope, they had faith, but If they didn’t....well, it is appointed for man to die once and then the judgement.

Young people! Stay in the flock! Keep your faith! And the rest of us here at Living Word need to do all that we can to nourish that faith that Jesus poured into you at baptism. We need to give of our time, talent, and treasure, to make nourishing and strengthening of faith a reality in our homes and here at Living Word.

Commit to Jesus because He is the One who bore your sins, He is the one who healed you of your sin problem, He is the One who judges righteously, and he is the One who enables you to now live righteously before God. He is the God Shepherd, who can and will see you through to the good fold if you just continue to trust in Him!

We all were like stray sheep, lost in our original sin, but in our baptism, we were returned to the Good Shepherd and He is now to be the overseer of our souls. Commit to Him! Allow Him to serve as an over see-er.

Once baptized, it is trust in Christ and His Word that will allow you to stay in the flock and reach your final destination.

Commit yourself to Jesus and His Word, stay in the safety of the pen! The pen is that area that is fenced in by the Word of God! I don’t preach the Law of this Word because I hate you, I preach His Word because I love Him and I love you and I want to see each and every one of you in the “good fold.” And so I continually remind you of the safe boundaries set forth by God’s Word.

There is more freedom in the pen than you might imagine. The devil would have you believe otherwise but Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” So this is a major function of the pastor.....declaring the truth. Anything less is to serve as a mere hireling.

In this parable, Jesus teaches that the hirelings are all the false teachers found in the outward church. And the number one culprit today are those preachers who do not adhere to the inerrancy of Scripture.

The mainline liberal churches, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Congregational, are filled with them. Their liberal seminaries are turning them out by the hundreds. Where is the safety for the sheep when the shepherd doesn’t believe in the inerrancy of the fence? The Scriptures.

Listen to them! Look at the holes they are cutting in the fences when they cast doubt on the Word of God and condone sin!

If these hirelings truly cared about the Good Shepherd and His sheep,  they would care about the fence, they would esteem the Word of God as truth...God breathed....all of it! The devil (the wolf) likes nothing better than to find a hireling with God’s sheep instead of some shepherd sent by Jesus and made courageous by Him.

Oh how easy the wolf’s job is when the fence is full of holes! The church of Jesus Christ is to be holy h-o-l-y not h-o-l-e-y!  Yet I cannot believe how many sheep are content to continue supporting and attending the churches that are tended by hirelings.

It seems it doesn’t matter what the pastor believes about the Word of God as long as we aren’t disturbed by our sins. As long as the road to the good fold is one of ease and prosperity.  But I’m
telling you.  Peter is telling isn’t. You will encounter suffering along the way.

Of course I shouldn’t be surprised by this “easy gospel.” For the inerrant word of God proclaims:

 2Ti 4:3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.

Where are they headed with these false teachers, are they “BRINGING them to the eternal good fold, or to a temporal fold that just appears good? I think you know the answer.

The Lord had this to say about “hirelings” in Jeremiah 23:

 Jer 23:16 Thus says the LORD of hosts: "Do not listen to the words of the prophets who prophesy to you. They make you worthless; They speak a vision of their own heart, Not from the mouth of the LORD. 17 They continually say to those who despise Me, 'The LORD has said, "You shall have peace"'; And to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, 'No evil shall come upon you.'" 18 For who has stood in the counsel of the LORD, And has perceived and heard His word? Who has marked His word and heard it? 19 Behold, a whirlwind of the LORD has gone forth in fury-A violent whirlwind! It will fall violently on the head of the wicked.  20 The anger of the LORD will not turn back Until He has executed and performed the thoughts of His heart. In the latter days you will understand it perfectly. 21 "I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. (like a hireling) I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied. 22 But if they had stood in My counsel, And had caused My people to hear My words, Then they would have turned them from their evil way And from the evil of their doings.

They would’ve been used by God, the Good Shepherd,  to help them finish the journey. To help them come to their own land, to arrive at the good fold.....the place of eternal peace, high mountains, lush safe valleys, rich pastures.

Oh, you may find a few of these things along the way, there will be times of blessing and encouragement. The Good Shepherd may lead you to them, as a special blessing for you, but for the most part the journey will be difficult. The question is who do you want to make the journey with....hirelings and wolves and the masses headed for destruction?

Or do you want to be different and make the journey with the true flock of the Good Shepherd, taking the narrow, bumpy road to the Good Fold for eternity?