Christ the King C: Woe to Shepherds Who Scatter

The readings for this Christ the King Sunday are

Old Testament      Jeremiah 23:1–6

Psalm                    Luke 1:68–79 or Psalm 46

New Testament     Colossians 1:11–20

Gospel                   Luke 23:33–43

Jeremiah proclaims a divine oracle of woe unto those who destroy and scatter the sheep of the Lord’s fold, and then promises true shepherds who will gather the lost sheep and banish fear.

In a second oracle, God promises a true righteous King who will succeed a counterfeit ruler. That counterfeit leader was Zedekiah, whose name in Hebrew means “the Lord is our righteousness.” He ascended to the throne of Judah after the Babylonians took Zedekiah’s nephew, Jehoiachin, into exile, along with all the stronger, smarter, and braver of the leaders of Judah. Jeremiah portrays Zedekiah as a person too weak of character to do what he knows is right. He comes to Jeremiah several times for advice while Jerusalem is under siege, but always bends to the bad advice of his hangers-on, and does the cowardly thing. Indeed, the strong thing would be to actually surrender to the Babylonians and save countless lives; but Zedekiah can’t go through with it.

Jeremiah delivers this another oracle:  “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: ‘The Lord is our righteousness.’”

In short, Jeremiah says, there are fake shepherds and fake kings. The prophet’s job is to denounce them, and the Lord’s promise is to send the real shepherds and real king who will gather. Fake religion is about scattering. True wisdom, justice, and righteousness are all about ending fear and bringing people together.

Scattering and destruction come from the fake leaders who use God to get their way. God’s true church must assume the responsibility of blowing the whistle on the fake.

As Hitler and the Nazis rose to power in Germany they deployed a false and sick religion that was the very opposite of the true one. They quite literally denounced the Christian virtues of humility and compassion as they fed a myth of an Aryan master race, made scapegoats of Jews, communists, homosexuals, and the Roma; and later went a long way to exterminating those groups. The shepherds of the church, and captains of industry and politics, like Zedekiah of old, proved too weak to do the right thing and stop the insanity. Together, they destroyed and scattered God’s flock in a world war and the Holocaust.

Again today it is counterfeit religion and the vain shouting of God’s name that is scattering the people of our country and the world. How often we have heard from these false shepherds and kings that it is weakness to be humble—to admit mistakes or to apologize to anyone? How often have we heard that compassion shown in accepting the LGBTQ+ community, is just weak political correctness at best, and a sellout of religious values at worst? How often have we been told that it is unpatriotic to acknowledge historic or systemic racism? Again, compassion and humility, the very things Jesus Christ exemplified and called us to, are abandoned by those who shout God’s name the loudest.

These are shepherds who are destroying and scattering what God, in Christ, bleeds to gather together. This is a substitute, counterfeit, and sick religion.

But, as my dear, sainted professor, Fred Danker used to say, “God does not write any checks that bounce!” In fact, the Father has sent us the Righteous Branch of David. We do have a righteous King who reigns forever in Jesus Christ. He is kind. He is humble. He emptied himself to die on the cross. And he has, and is today, calling and equipping true shepherds who bring back the lost, attend to their wounds, encourage them, and give them hope.

Thanks be to Christ the King!

About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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