Reading time: 24 minutes. Heeding time: 24/7.
I must start by relating an unhappy experience from years ago. My wife and I were attending a conference unto which many had come from far and wide in Canada and the United States, among them several church leaders whom those gathered were expecting to hear. The first session got under way with the local pastor’s opening greetings followed by further greetings from one of the elders, and then a time of singing and praising the Lord. Then the pastor called for one of the leaders to share. These were all seated at the front. It was summer, and hot weather. Very hot. The little church was packed. There was no air conditioning. Here and there people waved back and forth whatever might serve as a fan. The speaker delivered his message, which was quite long, then walked to the back. From where I was sitting I could no longer see him. After him another preached, also at length. When he finished he too went to the back, and a third went up to the pulpit and spoke for a long while also, and followed suit and went to the back. After him a fourth, who also began a message as though there had been none before him. It was stifling in the building and the preaching had become wearying—there was no real continuity from preacher to preacher, no flow from message to message—so I whispered to my wife that I was going outside for a breath of fresh air. I went to the back and walked out the door. And lo and behold, here were the speakers visiting together just outside the door in the cool of the shade.
Feeling almost intrusive I went back inside trying to suppress an uncomfortable question. Were these speakers there for the people in the church on that very hot summer day, or were the people there for the speakers? Just deliver your message and then you are done? No thought—as shepherds of the flock—of staying inside with the sheep in the stifling heat? How does it happen—that sheep who become shepherds sometimes no longer consider themselves sheep? At the same time I was aware that this circle of believers themselves held those in the ministry to be in a class above them. Is that something the shepherds fostered? It seems to me they “loved to have it so.”
It was with an emptiness in my heart that later in the day we returned home.
Now I ask the Lord’s grace to help me proceed with what’s on my heart, for it’s beyond my capacity to write of this. It has to do with the love of God for His people the sheep of His pasture, and I hope it will open the eyes of our heart, that we might see, at least a little, with the eyes of the heart of God.
I’ll start with the words of Isaiah the prophet leading into his great cry of intercession on behalf of God’s people 700 years before the birth of Christ. “Look down from Heaven, and behold…” Isaiah cries, but he is so heartbroken and the situation so grievous that God looking down is not enough and so he continues, “O that Thou wouldest rend the heavens, that Thou wouldest come down…” God answered that prayer of intercession 700 years later. Or at least began to answer it.
But what I want to share just now is what I feel has been opened to me in the words leading up to that cry. Here from the King James Version are those words:
I will mention the lovingkindnesses of the LORD, and the praises of the LORD, according to all that the LORD hath bestowed on us, and the great goodness toward the house of Israel, which he hath bestowed on them according to his mercies, and according to the multitude of his lovingkindnesses.
For he said, Surely they are my people, children that will not lie: so he was their Saviour.
In all their affliction he was afflicted, and the angel of his presence saved them: in his love and in his pity he redeemed them; and he bare them, and carried them all the days of old.
But they rebelled, and vexed his holy Spirit: therefore he was turned to be their enemy, and he fought against them.
Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people, saying, Where is he that brought them up out of the sea with the shepherd of his flock? where is he that put his holy Spirit within him?
That led them by the right hand of Moses with his glorious arm, dividing the water before them, to make himself an everlasting name?
That led them through the deep, as an horse in the wilderness, that they should not stumble?
As a beast goeth down into the valley, the Spirit of the LORD caused him to rest: so didst thou lead thy people, to make thyself a glorious name.
(Isa 63:7-14 KJV)
That’s quite something, isn’t it. Moses, who for 40 years had tended the flock of Jethro his father-in-law is here called “the shepherd of his flock.” God’s flock. It appears that Moses never did have a flock of his own.
Moses His people
As I dwelt on this passage, reading it over several times, I was arrested when I noticed that in verse 11, “and” is in italics, having been added by the translators to give what they felt was the sense. “Then he remembered the days of old, Moses, and his people…” For, how could it be saying, “Moses his people”? That makes no sense. Other translations have also sought to bridge the problem by inserting “and,” or by completely changing the word order. But Young’s Literal Translation preserves the word order, simply adding a dash between “Moses” and “his people,” even though in the original Hebrew not even a dash is there:
And He remembereth the days of old, Moses–his people. Where is He who is bringing them up from the sea, The shepherd of his flock? Where is He who is putting in its midst His Holy Spirit?” (Isa 63:11 YLT).
I thank the Lord for dear Brother Young’s faithfulness to the original Hebrew word order. “Moses—his people.” We would be tempted to at least insert a comma there so that it is a list of two. “Moses, His people.” Yet, I venture, neither does a comma capture what is here for us to get hold of. No sooner is the great leader Moses named than “his people,” God’s people, are in view. Such was the identification of Moses with God’s people. They were one in God’s eyes.
Amen to that; the apostle Paul confirms it, telling us that the Israelites were “baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor 10:2). The same preposition eis is translated into in Galatians 3:27. “For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.” In fact the English Majority Text Version has “baptized into Moses…” Thus God’s people became one with Moses, and he with them. God had no purpose for His people apart from Moses—and no purpose for Moses apart from His people.
And so, God brought them up out of the sea with Moses the shepherd of His flock. For, there was more, much more, to come. A law. A covenant. A revelation that God desired to actually dwell in the very midst of this people:
And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them. (Ex 25:8).
The first thing to be made was an ark wherein the terms of the covenant were to be placed, and upon it a mercy seat:
And there I will meet with thee, and I will commune with thee from above the mercy seat, from between the two cherubims which are upon the ark of the testimony, of all things which I will give thee in commandment unto the children of Israel. (Exo 25:22 KJV)
Do we see God’s heart here? The mercy seat, or propitiatory covering, was God’s throne with an attending cherub on each side. God, when communing with Moses from this throne, this blood-sprinkled mercy seat in the Holy of holies in His dwelling place… it was with His people in mind. What Moses received from God was for His people.
After reading that I got digging around further in Exodus and came across the following intriguing passage in which I have drawn attention to the singular and plural pronouns. I am quoting from the American Standard Version, which correctly translates the King James Version “tabernacle of the congregation” as “tent of meeting” (the appointed place of meeting between Jehovah and His people). This passage follows instructions concerning the two lambs of the morning and evening sacrifice:
It shall be a continual burnt-offering throughout your generations at the door of the tent of meeting before Jehovah, where I will meet with you [plural], to speak there unto thee [singular].
And there I will meet with the children of Israel; and the Tent shall be sanctified by my glory.
And I will sanctify the tent of meeting, and the altar: Aaron also and his sons will I sanctify, to minister to me in the priest’s office. (Exo 29:42-44 ASV)
In verse 42 God says He will meet with “you” (plural) by speaking to “thee” (singular). God, in speaking “unto thee”—that is, unto Moses—is meeting with “you,” that is, the children of Israel, as He confirms in verse 43. “And there I will meet with the children of Israel.” God speaks with Moses in the tent of the appointed meeting, and in doing so He is meeting with the children of Israel in the tent of the appointed meeting.
What a wonder. I must say it again. For God to meet with Moses (or subsequently the high priest or one of his sons) in the tent of meeting was to meet with the people.
And is not this but a shadow of the reality of Christ and God’s people? God, in meeting with Christ in the heavenly Holy of holies… this is to meet with His people, those who by means of the Spirit of God have been baptized into Christ, as Israel of old was baptized into Moses.
Christ His people
Now, just to make sure no one is stumbled by the heading Christ His people, this is not to say that God’s new covenant people are Christ any more than it can be said that God’s old covenant people were Moses. Nevertheless, the unity between Christ and God’s people… we are on holy ground here. When Christ said He and His Father were one, this did not mean He was the Father. He said that the Father dwelt in Him and He in the Father; they were (and are) one. “I and My Father are one” (Jn 10:30). Even so, those baptized into Christ become one with Him as He is one with the Father. “At that day [in the day of the sending of His Spirit from the right hand of God] ye shall know that I am in the Father, and ye in Me, and I in you” (Jn 14:20).
And so when God communes with the great high priest of His people who is seated at His right hand in the Heavens, it is His people He is communing with, those who by the Spirit are one with Christ. Oh, what kind of heart, what love, is this? This is what I meant earlier when I said I wanted to write something that I didn’t feel capable of writing. I scarcely grasp this—how deeply our dear Lord Jesus Christ, our great high priest and king seated in the heavenly Holy of holies upon the blood-sprinkled mercy seat—the throne of grace—how deeply He was, and is, identified with us, the beloved people of God, the sheep of His pasture for whom He laid down His life. He is not there for His own sake, for power and glory and greatness, all of which and more is given to Him for our sake. He is there on our behalf in the heavenly Holy of holies “whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb 6:10). He entered there—by the way of the cross—for us.
For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us. (Heb 9:24).
He is there for us. The Word becoming flesh—this we call the incarnation, in which He identified with man by being born a man. But it was not until the cross that His identification with man was completed in taking upon Himself our sin and being baptized into our death. Such was His identification with you and me. Such was His love. But it didn’t end there. It didn’t end there. He had a joy set before Him, and a promise—that when He ascended to the Father in the Heavens He might send the Spirit, baptizing us into Himself, that we might be fully identified with Him in His death and resurrection. And ascension. This, ultimately, is why He came. To baptize in Holy Spirit, that we might be one with Him. “Thanks be unto God for His unspeakable gift.”
He came from the Father for our sake. He returned to the Father for our sake, where “He ever liveth to make intercession for us” (Heb 7:25). That is why He is there. He is there for us, to the intent that, because He lives, we may live also (Jn 14:19). He died for us. He also lives for us. For He is our great high priest in the power of an endless (indissoluble) life, that we too may live. “Because I live ye shall live also.” Christ had the sending of the Spirit in mind when He proclaimed this; the Holy Spirit in you and in me is the witness of that life/union. Moment by moment. Forever. “For he testifieth, Thou art a priest forever after the order of Melchisedec” (Heb 7:17).
This union of Christ and His people… sometimes it causes me to tremble. What a wonder it all is, and there is so much more that could be shared, too much to share just now. But I’ll leave you with one such passage that always leaves me wide-eyed with wonder.
There was given Him a kingdom…
I saw in the night visions, and, behold, one like the Son of man came with the clouds of heaven, and came to the Ancient of days, and they brought him near before him.
And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all people, nations, and languages, should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed. (Dan 7:13,14)
And so, after His ascension the Son of man received the kingdom from the Ancient of days. Yet when I continue reading Daniel Chapter 7, what is this?
But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom for ever, even for ever and ever. (Dan 7:18 ASV, see also vs 22)
And the kingdom and the dominion, and the greatness of the kingdoms under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High: his kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him. (Dan 7:27 ASV)
This was the joy that was set before Him, for which He endured the Cross. His joy was that our joy might be full.
Fear not, little flock, it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. (Lk 12:31)
To whom did the Father, the Ancient of days, give the kingdom?
Oh, the heart of that Great Shepherd of the sheep, our great high priest, our Lord Jesus Christ. He had a joy set before Him. You.
It’s all about you
Those men I wrote of at the start. That was a long time ago, and over the years since then, the dealings and heart searchings of the Lord revealed to me that I’m no different than those men. What they were doing has lurked in my own heart also. So I continue to make it my earnest prayer—not as one who is considered a shepherd as they were, but I do teach a few of my fellow sheep—Lord, purge from my heart that lust which, while seeming to feed God’s sheep… I am actually feeding myself.
The Great Shepherd of the flock asked Peter a question. Did he love Him more than the other apostles did? Then, said He, “Feed My sheep.” That is the word of the Great Shepherd to one of his shepherds. That is His heart of love for His sheep. It’s all about them, shepherd Peter.
Moses, even when God told him he was to die without entering the promised land, his only concern was that God raise up someone else to lead the people, so that they “be not as sheep which have no shepherd” (Num 27:17). As far as Moses was concerned, it was all about them. That is the Shepherd’s heart. The same with the shepherd-king David, who like Moses never did have a flock of his own. “So David knew that the LORD had established him as king over Israel, and that He had exalted His kingdom for the sake of His people Israel” (2 Sam 5:12). As far as David was concerned, it was all about God’s people. That’s who it was all about for Joshua, the man God gave the people after Moses. To him God said, “Be strong and of a good courage: for unto this people shalt thou divide for an inheritance the land, which I sware unto their fathers to give them” (Josh 1:6). Indeed, the honour roll of all the great ones in our Bible—they are the names of those who knew that their greatness was all about God’s beloved people.
Surely then, by their example, we also know that when God gives us knowledge, authority, a gift, a ministry… it is not to make of us some great one. It is with His people in mind. It is for their sake. The great apostle Paul (who considered himself the least of the apostles) knew this. He was so distressed that the saints in Corinth were glorying in him and his fellow-workers, and sought to show them that their perspective was upside down. It wasn’t all about Paul and Apollos and Peter; did the Corinthians not know that these men were but “ministers by whom ye believed?” Did they not know that they themselves were what it was all about?
Therefore let no man glory in men. For all things are yours;
Whether Paul, or Apollos, or Cephas, or the world, or life, or death, or things present, or things to come; all are yours; And ye are Christ’s; and Christ is God’s. (1 Cor 3:21-23 KJV)
This is the heart of true ministry. The priestly heart. The shepherd’s heart. May it be our own heart also. It was because of His love for the least of the saints that God raised up the great apostle Paul… and who knows how many others since the days of Paul, giving these, we are told, as “gifts unto men” (Eph 4:8).
We love those whom God has given us as gifts, don’t we. Paul himself urges us to “…know those labouring among you, and leading you in the Lord, and admonishing you, and to esteem them very abundantly in love, because of their work… (1 Th 5:12,13 YLT). I lay that to heart and it’s easy for me to do this—most of those I know personally are lowly minded with the shepherd’s heart for the sheep.
But let us never lose sight of who this is all about, the purpose God has in mind. The ascended Christ has given certain ministries to the saints—apostles and prophets and evangelists and pastor/teachers—for a purpose, as we know from that all-too-familiar yet little heeded passage in Ephesians. They are “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph 4:12,13 NKJV).
It’s all about them, and may that little word till be underscored in our hearts, that it may serve as a continual reminder to those in the ministry, and also to those unto whom they minister, that ministry is not an end in itself. God’s purpose in ministry is only fulfilled in His people coming into their own allotted inheritance and ministries, by which they themselves become vital and effective—as they greatly long to be—in building up the body of Christ in love. When that purpose is neglected or lost sight of, the temptation is for the ministries to fill the place that God means His people are to fill, the result being that the inheritance of the people—and God’s inheritance in them—lies forever forlorn and desolate.
Paul’s heart pulsed with the love of God for His people; he spent his life that they might come into what was their own in Christ. He neither desired nor pursued any glory of his own; they would be his glory, as he told the Thessalonians:
For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Are not even ye in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ at his coming?
For ye are our glory and joy. (1 Thes 2:19,20)
And so I pray that those in the ministry, the shepherds of the flock of God—and all of us who might be tempted to unduly look to or even idolize them, as the Corinthians had been doing—will earnestly and prayerfully consider the great heart of the apostle Paul.
Oh, how the love of God for His people constrained him; he had in right perspective the relationship between the ministries and those to whom they minister. Oh, what a heart-searching revelation is here. I tremble to think how God views His people—the eternal purpose and hope He has in Christ Jesus for us all from the least to the greatest. It is, in a sense, all about us. “All are yours…”
“…And ye are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s.”