The Shepherd Struck, the Sheep Scattered, the Sheep Refined

 

Zechariah 13:1, 7-9; John 10:14-18
Good Friday, March 29, 2013 • Download this sermon (PDF)

Except for the sudden exit of Judas Iscariot, the meal to celebrate the Feast of the Passover was a joyous one. It was a commemoration of God’s mighty works in delivering Israel from slavery in Egypt. The eleven disciples of Jesus did not know that it was their last supper with him, and he was preparing them for his departure.

"My God, Why Has Thou Forsaken Me?" by James Tissot, 1896-1904

"My God, Why Has Thou Forsaken Me?" by James Tissot, 1896-1904

He was telling them strange events such as his arrest, suffering and death at the hands of the Jews. And he told them that one of them will betray him, and they will all flee after he is taken away that same night. Even Peter, the bravest, most brazen of them all, will deny him three times that night! But he protested vehemently, “If I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And all the disciples vowed the same thing (Mark 14:31). None of them understood the gravity of the events that would soon happen, “But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said” (Luke 18:31-34).

But Christ knew everything that will happen, even all the Scripture that prophesied the coming of the Messiah, his suffering, death and resurrection. So he tells them that Zechariah’s prophecy,

“You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered’” (Mark 14:27; Matt 26:31)

was about his death, and will be fulfilled to the letter.

The Shepherd Struck
Who was the shepherd who will be struck in Zechariah’s prophecy? Who were the sheep who will be scattered? In his prophecy, Zechariah mentions “on that day” eighteen times, as he foretells the coming of the Messiah and the events related to his coming. When he comes, this Messiah, “the man who stands next to [the LORD],” will be struck with the sword, instead of him striking his enemies with the sword.

Decades before Zechariah, Jeremiah prophesied against Judah’s kingdom, saying that the Babylonians “shall strike them down with the edge of the sword” (Jer 21:7). Multitudes will be killed. Like the people, Israel’s “worthless shepherd,”possibly one of its wicked kings, will not be spared by the LORD, striking his arm until it is withered, and his eye blind with the sword (Zech 11:17). But now, God will strike even “the man who stands next to him,” whom he calls “my shepherd,” the one whom the LORD himself has ordained to shepherd his people.

This Shepherd of the LORD will be unlike the worthless shepherds of Israel. Like the LORD who shepherds his flock in Psalm 23, “he will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young” (Isa 40:11).

Who is this Shepherd of the LORD? He is the Son of David whom the LORD would set up over his people: one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them … and be their shepherd” (Ezek 34:23). This Shepherd will come from the line of King David.

The prophets all knew who this Servant David was. After Israel was punished by God—conquered, and destroyed and exiled as slaves in foreign lands—another king would come from the dynasty of King David. Micah prophesied that this “ruler in Israel,” although born in the humble little town of Bethlehem, is “coming from of old, from ancient days.” When he comes, “he shall stand and shepherd his flock in the strength of the LORD, in the majesty of the name of the LORD his God” (Mic 5:2, 4). The baby born in unheralded Bethlehem will be Ruler and Shepherd of Israel!

The sheep of the LORD, his flock, were scattered by worthless shepherds whom the LORD struck and removed from their flock. Therefore, the LORD would send his own Servant, the Good Shepherd, to feed his flock. But to shepherd his flock, it was first necessary that the Shepherd of the LORD himself be struck, and the sheep scattered again.

The shepherds of God’s flock were worthless, so the sheep scattered. They were “like sheep [who] have gone astray … [who] have turned—every one—to his own way.” The Suffering Servant of the LORD will be struck by the LORD himself for the sake of his scattered sheep. He would be “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted,” and “pierced for our transgressions.” He would be “stricken for the transgression of [God's] people … [to bear] the sin of many” (Isa 53:4-5, 8, 12).

The Sheep Scattered
When the shepherd of the LORD is struck, “the sheep will be scattered.” Jesus the Good Shepherd knew that he would be “struck with the sword” by being crucified on the cross. He also knew that his disciples will be “scattered” after the events of that night and the following day.

All of them would fall away. Not only Peter, not only some of them, but all of them would desert him in his hour of trial. In spite of their professed bravery, they will all utterly fail to be with him, to share in his sufferings, even to give their own lives for him, as they vowed. They will all leave him alone and go back to their own homes in Galilee, sorrowing and mourning over the terrible death of their leader, just as he had told many times before (John 16:32).

Mark says, “And they all left him and fled” (Mark 14:50). Then he adds a small detail in the next two verses that the other three Gospels do not have: “And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked” (Mark 14:51-52).

This young man was a disciple of Christ, because the Jews who wanted Jesus to be crucified recognized him as one of the twelve disciples, so they tried to seize him. Perhaps he grabbed a linen garment and wrapped it around his body in a hurry to see all that was happening. But when the crowd tried to seize him, he ran away and disrobed so he could run faster. Or possibly, he struggled to get away from the crowd, and in the process, his linen cloth unwrapped as he slipped away from their grasp.

Only Mark knew about this small detail because the young man was most likely Mark himself. Since he says that all the disciples fled as Jesus was being arrested, he too fled in fear for his life. In so doing, he was fulfilling a small prophecy in Amos 2:16. On the day of judgment, when God judges his unfaithful people Israel, even the mightiest and the bravest man will flee for his life, “He who is stout of heart among the mighty shall flee away naked in that day.” Mark is one who pretended to be stout and mighty in the face of persecution, but who ran away naked in fear.

Valiant Peter, who took a sword in defense of his leader, also fled. Afterwards, he did not even admit to those who recognized him that he was one of the twelve disciples. As Jesus had foretold, he denied being one of Jesus’ followers three times before dawn broke. And all the rest fled in fear.

The Sheep Refined
When the shepherd of the LORD is struck and dies, his sheep will scatter. Not only will they scatter; many of them will “be cut off and perish.”

Zechariah puts the number of people that would perish under his wrathful judgment as two-thirds of the inhabitants of the land. But this number is symbolic of the great calamity that would befall the earth in the end. Only one-third would be saved from God’s judgment. This two-thirds—one-third ratio can be found all over John’s Apocalypse, a book of symbolic numbers. In Revelation 9:15-18, a third of mankind will be killed by the plagues of the sixth trumpet.

During this great time of testing of the visible church, multitudes will be killed or fall away from their love of their Great Shepherd. But even in this great persecution, a great number, symbolized by the “one-third” remnant, will be faithful. They will be put through an ordeal by fire in which the Lord will “refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested.” As a result, they will be faithful priests of the LORD, “bring[ing] offerings in righteousness to the Lord” (Mal 3:3).

How does the LORD refine his sheep? When his sheep gather as one covenant flock every Lord’s Day, he refines them by the preaching of his Word. He purifies them by the fire of his Spirit. At times, he refines them by having them go through the fire of suffering or the rod of his discipline. In the partaking of his sacraments, his sheep are nourished, fed by his body and blood, by faith through the Spirit.

When the Great Shepherd is struck—crucified on the cross—his sheep will be given his own righteousness. God will pour out his judgment against the sin of the Shepherd’s flock in order that they may be forgiven of their sins: “He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people” (Isa 53:8). By “bear[ing] their iniquities,” the Suffering Shepherd will “make many to be accounted righteous”(Isa 53:11).

Because we “were straying like sheep,” Jesus the Good Shepherd, became our Substitute who was struck. So he “himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1 Pet 2:24-25).

This is the only way that his scattered sheep will be found and re-gathered as one flock: Jesus the Good Shepherd, the Substitute Sacrificial Lamb for our sins, would have to willingly lay down his life for us, his scattered sheep. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus declared that he is also Zechariah’s Shepherd who would be struck:

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me … and I lay down my life for the sheep … I lay it down of my own accord (John 10:14-18).

After they are refined by fire, his sheep will call upon his name, and the LORD will answer them, “They are my people,” and his sheep will say, “The LORD is my God” (Zech 13:9). Peter was refined by fire after denying the Lord three times, sifted and shaken violently by Satan like wheat (see Amos 9:9). But his Good Shepherd assured him, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31-32).

Jesus knew that his eleven disciples would turn to him again with boldness, after they scattered in fear. He strengthened their faith by his Spirit as he promised not to leave them as orphans. For forty days after his resurrection, he re-gathered them in Galilee, communed with them, teaching them, and commanding them to preach the gospel and to teach all nations.

You and all of God’s people scattered all over the nations are being re-gathered as one people of God, one flock. Like gold and silver being refined by fire, your faith is being tested by trials and sufferings in this world. But when you remain true and call upon the name of the LORD, his promise is true, “the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—[will] be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ” (1 Pet 1:7; see Psa 50:15).

Jesus your Good Shepherd was struck when he willingly laid down his life for you so you may be re-gathered as one flock. So on that great day of his Coming, he “will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other” (Matt 24:31). And from that day, it will be declared to all of you, his sheep,

And they shall be my people, and I will be their God, in faithfulness and in righteousness (Zech 8:8; Ezek 11:20).

 

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