Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 9:36d “. . .and were scattered abroad,. . .”
With tender love, Jesus gazed on the crowd following Him. He saw bewilderment, spiritual misery, people desperately longing for God’s peace. He saw they were aimlessly wandering, like scattered sheep who have left the safety of home.
When sheep break out on their own, they go astray, lose their bearings, and cannot by themselves find their way back home again. They end up scattered everywhere–here, there, and yon–everywhere, that is, except the one place they need to be, in the gentle safekeeping arms of a shepherd who truly loves them.
What Jesus saw then He still sees now. Take time to look around. You will quickly see many people living out the plight of scattered sheep. Having left behind the Bible, the safe enclosed fold of God’s care, they forsake their only hope of having a dependable moral compass to guide them through the painful immoral land mines strewn along the path of life. Taught to use their own ingenuity, to depend on their own strength, to forge their own path, people begin their quest for meaning strong and cocky, but as time goes by, their searching degenerates into a desperate groping, a grasping at straws to keep from drowning in meaninglessness.
After repeatedly failing to find spiritual purpose or significance, they ultimately, like sheep that seek pasture in vain, stop wherever exhaustion finally causes them to collapse, utterly worn out by a quest that seems to have no end in sight and no purpose along the way. The result is a culture whose people have no spiritual goals, no reason to press ahead religiously, and no sense of divine direction.
They retain vague cravings for peace with God, but due to the maze of competing voices, don’t know where to turn to satisfy their yearnings. At their wit’s end, they give up trying to figure out life’s meaning, and opt to drown themselves in work, school, recreation, sex, drugs, a cause, or whatever else can occupy their thoughts long enough to keep them from thinking on ultimate, everlasting realities.
Having given up, people start following, like scattered sheep, the path of least resistance and go with the flow. Wherever one sheep jumps, a dozen follow. The blind keep leading the blind until the whole procession finally ends in a ditch.
Having given up, people decide, like scattered sheep, no particular path is better than all the other paths. “All roads lead to God, all are equal, all are okay. Every religion is right.” This is an absolute absurdity, a logical impossibility, yet has become the primary theological tenet of our supposedly enlightened era. The five most offensive words in our culture have become, “Jesus is the only way.”
We Baptists are champions of religious liberty, but do not mistake tolerance for endorsement. Whatever path a person follows, if it is not the Jesus Road, it will not lead to God and Heaven. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me” (John 14:6 NAS). Enough said.
Matt. 9:36e “. . .as sheep having no shepherd.”
Away from a shepherd’s care, sheep get too close to dangerous precipices, become entangled in thickets, and fall prey to wolves, but don’t blame the sheep first, begin by blaming the shepherd. Each person in this crowd was a moral agent, answerable for their own guilt, but greater guilt fell on their religious leaders.
In Jesus’ day, love for people was not a top priority among religious leaders. The masses were disregarded by the very ones who should have cared. Clergymen prized orthodoxy and better-than-thou aloofness. Loving instruction had disappeared. They cracked the whip, keeping people in line. Sinking under a weight of man-made traditions, people were burdened rather than blessed by religion.
The pillars of orthodoxy, the guardians of truth, were offering nothing to help the people. Israel had a record number of religious leaders, but they were shepherds in title only. Void of a shepherd’s heart, their pastors were imposters.
Jesus evidently deemed this religious yoke worse than political bondage to Rome. If Jesus in the flesh visited the USA, He would certainly rebuke the moral cesspool that is hurting so many, but He would not first criticize the government or those pushing anti-Christian agendas. He would begin with the churches. The USA has over 300,000 churches, most of which are ineffective in dealing with our cultural woes. There will be no revival in the USA until our churches spend more time talking about our own sins than we do talking about the failures of others.
In Jesus’ day, there was an abundance of synagogues, a reminder that even in the midst of a multitude of church buildings, there can still be a famine of God’s Word. I am witnessing firsthand a terrible tragedy. As a member of the Large Church Roundtable, I have fellowship with pastors of some of the fastest growing churches in our denomination. These men have given their lives to learning how to impact the secular culture in which we live. They desperately want to reach people for Jesus, to help them find a way out of their self-destructive lifestyles.
When I last met with them, one topic of discussion took top billing. These pastors of growing churches were lamenting the fact they could not buy land fast enough or build buildings soon enough to house the numbers they are reaching.
Their words forced me to come face to face with a stark reality. A common whine among our churches is, “The culture is unreachable,” but I fear the real problem is, churches aren’t reaching. If no churches were gathering in people, our mournful dirge might be justified, but if ten churches in a given city are growing, then a hundred churches could be growing there. If 1,000 churches in the USA are growing, then 300,000 should be. A declining church should not look at growing churches with jealousy or disdain, but should instead be learning from them. Churches not growing, or at least not helping start churches in places where they can grow, are leaving sheep shepherdless.
Without apology, Second Baptist is committed to church growth, because sheep are scattered, desperately in need of a safe fold in which to be protected. Our church would like to be one of those folds where people can seek refuge.
Without apology, Second Baptist wants to be a church that cares for lost, wandering sheep who have been led astray by a misguided culture. The biggest challenge facing our church now is, as we become larger, how can we grow smaller. How can we create the small, safe cocoon each scattered sheep is seeking?
Everyone who walks on this campus must have their small bubble of space invaded by love. Each person must feel they count. Don’t be a pew plopper. Before sitting down, shake hands with all nearby, say hello, make them feel welcome.
We need to lasso the strays. Roaming, scattered sheep must feel they find here a shelter from the storm. They’ve stumbled through land mines long enough.
We need to nurse bleeding sheep stabbed by thorn bushes. They need help. If a church is not ministering to the poor, helping the homeless, undergirding single moms and abused women, what is it doing? Letting sheep have no shepherd.
We need to feed starving sheep. People need a steady diet of the Bible, the Word of God. Our own personal opinions don’t count for much, but the precious Scriptures are everything. We must have pastors and teachers who have courage to speak truth and compassion for those who have been duped into accepting error.
Statistics tell us each Christian in our culture knows, on average, eight prechristians well. Since every person is an island, take time to circle again the eight or so islands you know well. See if you can find what you have missed before, a beachhead where the armor is cracked. Every unbeliever has a weak spot, a hungering for true peace with God, a place of entry into their innermost psyche. If you can get in that spot, you will find on that seemingly impregnable island, a scattered sheep seeking shelter. Circle the islands again, scan the shore closely, find the opening, enter it gently and bring the lost sheep back with you to the fold.
Charles Kingsley wrote: “I go at what I have to do as if there were nothing else in the world for me to do.”