Sermon Text: Jeremiah 23:1-6

Sunday, July 25, 2021

“If you want something done right, do it yourself.”


I’m sure all of us have felt this way before. If I want a job or task done properly, there’s really only one person fit for the task – me. A mom asks her kids to help clean around the house, but then she sets aside time later in the day to “actually clean” the house because she knows that her and her kids have different standards of clean. A guy is looking over his shoulder at one of his co-workers as he fumbles with the tool or the software or the spreadsheet. Eventually, he rolls his eyes and says “oh, just give it here” and proceeds to take over. “If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself”. Maybe it’s true, maybe we really are the best people to be doing that particular task. But sometimes, we use that statement when we think our way is better than someone else’s. Like – “there’s her way of loading the dishwasher, and then there’s the right way of doing it!” “There’s his way of folding laundry and then there’s the right way of doing it. Whether it’s us being frustrated with others or us being prideful, we feel this way often in daily life, don’t we? 


I wonder if God had those words on his mind as he dealt with his chosen people, Judah in our Jeremiah lesson for today. “If you want something done, right, do it yourself.” God glances upon the sinful mess that his people made for themselves – how can this possibly be fixed?  In spite of their sin, God took action. He promised to rule and lead the people he loves. So true then, and so true for us now. 


The people of Judah were a sin-stained mess. For countless reasons. Idolatry. Hardening their hearts against God. Rebellion. Giving their love and adoration to anything and everything except God, the giver of all good things. The start of chapter 23 shows us just how ugly things had become: the spiritual leaders of Judah were the heart of the problem. Let’s look at verse 1: “Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!” declares the Lord.” You know when God breaks out the “W” word, woe, that things are pretty bad. We talked here last week about having good leaders and pastors. You want to be served by people who will lead you closer to Christ. And here today you get to see the opposite – destroyed and scattered. Bad shepherds, bad pastors, bad leaders. Part of the reason why Judah as a whole was so spiritually bankrupt is because they had bad spiritual leaders. If you want to get more specific on how bad these shepherds were, we certainly can. In the book of Jeremiah, there’s plenty of ink to page (unfortunately) on how bad the spiritual leaders were. I’ll give you two examples: First, 2:8 – The priests did not ask, ‘Where is the Lord?’ Those who deal with the law did not know me; the leaders rebelled against me. The prophets prophesied by Baal, following worthless idols. It’s like if a doctor was willingly committing malpractice. Or your pilot deliberately crashed the plane. Your chef not knowing proper safe temperatures for the food he’s serving you. God entrusted and tasked these individuals to care for his souls and they dropped the ball, to put it lightly. I mean, if the shepherds didn’t care about God, then why should the sheep?


You can imagine, then, how God felt about this. Here’s now the second other verse I wanted to show to you – God speaks again in chapter 10 verse 21 – ​​The shepherds are senseless and do not inquire of the Lord; so they do not prosper and all their flock is scattered. Generally, I don’t really dive into Greek and Hebrew words during sermons but this one was too good to pass up. God calls the shepherds Ba-ar in Hebrew. What does Ba-ar mean? To be dull, senseless, or stupid. God calls his shepherds Ba-ar – God calls his shepherds stupid for their foolish leadership. I know there are probably parents here today or watching who would chastise their kids or grandkids for using that word. Well, astonishingly, it’s a word that the God we worship used to describe his frustration with these people. And if being called stupid, senseless, dull by God wasn’t enough – it only gets worse. I hop back to our chapter 23 text – I wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of verse 2: Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says to the shepherds who tend my people: “Because you have scattered my flock and driven them away and have not bestowed care on them, I will bestow punishment on you for the evil you have done,” declares the Lord. God would not turn a blind eye to the error of their ways. Punishment and exile were looming.


So we hear today about some bad leaders who forgot God. What is the lesson here for us in our everyday lives? Is it not this – we are reminded this morning that sinful people ruin everything. You see that on full display here and you see it everyday in our world. I cringe whenever I hear someone say that “there’s always a little bit of good in people” or “people are inherently good”. If we’re being honest, all of humanity is broken and we break everything we touch. You’ve probably heard the legend of King Midas and the Midas Touch – everything he touches can turn to gold. Well, whatever the opposite of the “golden touch” is – that’s what we do. We destroy everything. As sinful creatures, what don’t we ruin? Sinful people tear other people down. Sinful people ruin relationships and destroy marriages. Sinners destroy the reputations of others, sinners damage the property and possessions of other people, some sinners even destroy the lives of others with murder. Sinners take beautiful blessings like the gift of sex and the precious name of God – treasures given to us and we cheapen them and water them down. Sinners misuse and abuse God’s good gifts. Sinful people ruin everything. We’re not here this morning because we’re better than everyone else. If anything, we’re here this morning because we’re aware of just how broken we really are. 


The topic from Jeremiah we’ve focused on so far is failed spiritual leaders. The church of the 21st century is not exempt from this, either. I’m sure each of us could think of an example of a failed pastor or allegations or some ministry scandal that wreaked havoc on the church. We’d be naive to think that things of that nature would never happen again in the realm of Christianity. But you don’t need to go to a newspaper or to an online headline to hear of failed spiritual leaders – you can find them in these chairs right now and you can find one speaking to you. In 1 Peter Christians are described as a chosen people, a royal priesthood – and so often we have failed in that calling. We’re sinful parents, sinful grandparents, sinful employees, sinful employers, sinful leaders of our own households, sinful spouses. We’re all called to lead the way and be a light unto others. For every one good thing we do for God’s kingdom, we’ll follow it up with 50 words or deeds to harm it. And for the good things we manage to do – even that has a caveat. Those famous words from Isaiah: Even all our righteous acts are like filthy rags. Let’s face it – we can’t do anything right. You see it in the 7th century BC. You see it everyday in your own life. 


So that’s why I wonder if God took the approach “If you want something done right, do it yourself.” Because that’s how the rest of this lesson unfolds! Look at what God resolves to do. Starting with the problem at hand: “I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the countries where I have driven them and will bring them back to their pasture, where they will be fruitful and increase in number. 4 I will place shepherds over them who will tend them, and they will no longer be afraid or terrified, nor will any be missing,” declares the Lord. In preparing for today I skimmed through the first 22 chapters of Jeremiah and it was really depressing, hearing countless stories of how sinful the people of Judah had been. If left to their own devices, they would have been destroyed eternally. God himself would discipline them, but then he would return them and provide them with the right kind of leaders who would do good to their soul. Reading these beautiful words of promise remind us how good God has been to us, too. Despite our sinfulness, despite Satan’s efforts to destroy the church from the inside and outside – God has kept the world stocked with good, faithful shepherds and leaders throughout the ages. God saw to it that each one of us would be led in the truth by faithful individuals to pass it along to us. God resolved to provide his people with faithful shepherds. True then, true now. 


But the greatest act of God’s divine intervention on our behalf is seen in these closing verses here – God took care of the problem of sin by sending us the Perfect Shepherd, Jesus. Some of the most beautiful words in all of Jeremiah are these: “The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land. In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. This is the name by which he will be called: The Lord Our Righteous Savior. The people of the Old Testament looked ahead to Jesus. We look backwards in time to what Jesus has done. But no matter who you are – hope is found in him: The Lord Our Righteous Savior. If you want the perfect example of the phrase, “If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself” – the Bible is the perfect story of that. Broken people cannot save themselves. Sinners can’t fix the problem of their sin. But God can. So God came down to earth and lived perfectly. Jesus did what was just and right, he never sinned. Sinners can’t conquer death and rise from the dead. But God can. He defeated death and the grave and he won the ultimate victory. We are not good people, righteous people on our own merit. But Christ’s merit and work has been credited to our account! This is what we call God’s Great Exchange. Jesus took our sin to the cross and gave us his perfection in return. Note whose “Great Exchange” this is. Not mine, not yours. God’s. If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself. It’s right in the name Jeremiah mentions: the Lord Our Righteous Savior.


You’ll hear that word fairly often around here: righteous, righteousness. It’s a loaded word. It’s a church word. And it’s a beautiful word. It’s used all over Scripture, but if we want to break this word down to its simplest level: focus on those first five letters: Right. Jesus did what was right in God’s sight. That’s all that matters. We talked at length earlier about how broken and sinful we are. You know your own sins and shortcomings all too well. You’ve failed God in the past and you’ll fail God in the future. But the beautiful comfort of God’s good news is this: It doesn’t matter all the countless times you’ve sinned and failed. What matters is the one time where Jesus got it right, on your behalf. That’s all that God looks at. That’s why God doesn’t keep record of wrongs. Jesus dealt with it already. Because of Jesus, we can stand with confidence on the Last Day. Because of this promised Jesus, Israel and Judah could enjoy peace. So can you. The weight is off your shoulders. Your tab is covered. You don’t need to do anything to win God’s favor. You already have it. 


“If you want something done right, you gotta do it yourself.” I think it makes us proud whenever we say those words. But even better, what humble joy floods over us when that sentence reminds us of the Lord Our Righteous Savior – who did it all for you. Amen.