Hope for Hurting Sheep – Jeremiah 23:3
Then I Myself will gather the remnant of My flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and bring them back to their pasture, and they will be fruitful and multiply.
What shall we say of the sheep? The Lord will deal with sheep-destroyers, but what of the sheep themselves? Will He avenge their pain by mere judgment, or will He complete the picture of the shepherd and carry them on His shoulders back to safety and rest? Yes, the Lord will complete His purposes for His chosen people. In one sense Israel was regathered under good shepherds when a remnant returned with Zerubbabel and with Ezra and with Nehemiah. But Jeremiah must look forward to the ultimate day when Messiah Himself would descend and usher His people into everlasting peace and an eternal kingdom. Then, the Lord will gather His own.
But what lessons are there for us? What of the sheep who are caught up in deception and abuse and are never the same thereafter? What of assemblies that are destroyed and saints who are crippled? Is it all over? No, for “having loved His own, He loved them unto the end,” both His end and theirs. When God sets His love upon an individual in Christ, nothing can separate that individual from His love—nothing. If there is any time when Romans 8 should mean something to us, it must be when circumstances polarize themselves against a believer’s good and even cause the believer to stumble. All things work together for good, and we must stake our lives upon this. Even if the pain is carried to the grave, surely God will grant a greater appreciation of glory and greater unfolding of His grace for believers crushed by the load. Rest, dear worried one, for the saints you love most will reach home at last. Let us appreciate the nature of this glad day.
His gathering will be personal, for He says, “I Myself will gather.” The Lord allows us to suffer at the hands of men so His faithfulness shines all the clearer when it is revealed. If we never experienced the woes of human nature, perhaps we would doubt the preciousness of the divine nature. If all were beauty and no woe, how could we distinguish our Beloved from another beloved? Yes, His beauty is far above all others, but would we not forget to look for it if all were well? The Lord allows us to suffer from human wretchedness that when He is revealed we may cling to no one but Him.
We can well imagine the delight of these bruised and battered sheep when, having been left so long with no shepherd, they do not see a mere hired hand coming for them but the Great Shepherd Himself. As they see a man come walking over the horizon, we can imagine fear as they wonder, “Is this another shepherd who will use us for personal gain? How can we entrust ourselves to another man, only to find him an abuser?” But as they look closer, they see the Chief Shepherd with strength in His arms to carry them and love in His heart to fold them into His bosom. Like the disciples, they will declare with awe, “It is the Lord.” No more an impersonal caretaker, but the very One Who loves their souls. And like the Shunamite woman, they will come up from the wilderness, leaning upon their Beloved never to part from Him again. Dear believers, let us consider well that “the Lord Himself will come from heaven with a shout.” He has bled for His people, and He cannot but have a personal, individual interest in each one for whom He died. He will send no ambassador. Rather, it will be Him.
His gathering will be specific, for He speaks of the “remnant.” It is a sad reality that some who have fallen by the way have fallen to rise no more. They were never true disciples of Christ, and therefore their fall was permanent. Such will also be the case for Israel when only the third part passes through the fire and the remaining fail to bow to God. Though we must be indignant regarding false leaders, we must also remember that false leaders are a sign of judgment upon false sheep. 2 Timothy 4 makes it clear that ear-tickling does not originate from teachers but from those who heap teachers to themselves. Thus, false shepherds are a sign of collective judgment. The Lord, when He comes, will not be rescuing much of Christendom as if it were full of mere victims; He will come to rapture the remnant and leave the rest in the dwelling they have chosen. This is ever solemn yet so true.
His gathering will be comprehensive, for He says, “Out of all the countries where I have driven them.” Though it is only the remnant, it is all the remnant. God will not forget any of His children. Christ will find His people in various circumstances when He calls them home, but they will all be called home. Some will be backslidden, yet He will call them home. Some will be oppressed, yet He will call them home. Some will be here, some there, and He will call them all home. Some will be triumphantly awaiting His return, and His glory will be so fair to their souls.
Oh, how God’s people are pained by separation, yet the gathering awaits when our separations—denominational, regional, mortal, and personal—will all be reversed and Christ folds us all into His bosom. Then, we will be together, forever at that. We will be nearer than ever we were on earth, nearer to Him and to each other.
In the moment, we ask God why He allows such division, separation, and destruction. Does He not grieve at the actions of false leaders? Why does He not act? Ah, but He is acting, for it is He who drove the sheep to their various circumstances. God was in control the whole time, though the sheep felt dislocated and purposeless. In His perfect plan, He will reveal why He allowed the false to arise, and He will show us His kind intention toward each of His chosen ones. Rest, beloved, in the perfect plan of God. You see sheep hurting and scattered all around, but God sees monuments of grace awaiting a revelation of His purposes. Joseph spent nearly half of his life up to thirty struggling between the providence of God and the hand of men; how much more was Jacob who thought his son was dead! But after those years passed, what seemed useless and cruel at the time resulted in ultimate salvation. This will be our case as well.
His gathering will be restorative, for a return to the original pasture is His goal. What God starts, He finishes. God promised Abraham the land, and He would give him the land. Period. Through hundreds of backslidings by the people, God still kept His promise sure that the land would be Israel’s at last. He would bring them back to their original pasture. Let us not think that the sorry condition of God’s people will diminish the full display of divine grace in the day to come. Christ will present to Himself no less than a Church that is spotless and beautiful and worthy of His utmost joy.
This applies not only morally but materially as well. Remember the words of the hymn, “Be still, my soul; thy Jesus can repay, from His own fullness all He takes away.” Christ takes away so that He may give. That giving may be in this life; it may be in the next. The end is what matters, and that is secure.
His gathering will be productive, for “they will be fruitful and multiply.” So often we fail to enjoy heaven and the promises it brings because we have a false view of the afterlife. We forget that the world to come is but a continuation of the present one and in fact already intermingles with our world though unseen. We know it is real, yet it feels so distant. So, we are overwhelmed by the losses of this life because we don’t know how to value the gains of the next. We are crushed by hindrances because we forget that in heaven is our highest service. Let us put things into perspective. This world is a testing ground for a world of infinite joy to come. We often think of the present as our real existence, while heaven is but a complementary thing. It is, in fact, opposite. Eternity is the true substance of our living, and we are but preparing for it. We are given ten talents so that we may rule ten cities. We have yet to see the fullness of what it means that Christ is head over all things to the Church. So, let us not hang our heads in despair; the training is hard because the prospect is great. Joy is the normal thing. Heaven is what we were made for. If we truly grasp this, we will call our present affliction “light” in view of the greater weight of eternal glory. Such is the hope we have for ourselves and for the sheep who have been battered and bruised by false shepherds.