Conrad Mbewe is the pastor of Kabwata Reformed Baptist Church in Lusaka, Zambia, Africa. He is widely regarded as the African Spurgeon. KBC is presently overseeing the establishment of ten new Reformed churches in Zambia and Botswana. Conrad is the editor of Reformation Zambia magazine and writes three columns in two weekly national newspapers. His most recent contribution to a book is found in Dear Timothy—Letters on Pastoral Ministry, published by Founders Press. He is also the principal of the Reformed Baptist Preachers College in Zambia.
Mbewe expounded on Jeremiah 23:1-8.
The audio is available for download here. Video footage can be viewed below:
My notes are below:
As I meditated on this passage, the subject of leadership was burned afresh in my own heart. Clearly this is the issue that arises in this passage that we have just read. And again and again in the Bible we find, as the leaders go, so go the people of Israel. You see the people hardening their hearts and going their own way.
Often you find phrases like “the king led the people into great sin”… And in Malachi, we find God chastising the priests, saying “It is you who have led my people to desecrate my temple…” And the converse is also true, where repentance first comes to the king and then the people.
What Jeremiah deals with here is the need for consistent, godly and fruitful leadership that ultimately brings glory to God… Oh that God may help us see how we should deal with our lives, so that we might be the means by which God blesses His people.
Many of you hold positions of leadership in your churches and we must pause and drink in the words of Jeremiah and see how we are relevant to the great cause of God.
1. Jeremiah shows us in no uncertain terms that God takes seriously the failure of leadership among his people because of its devastating effect on his people who He loves so dearly. “Woe to the shepherds…”
Who were these shepherds? The phrase was often meant to refer to kings in Israel, but by the time Jeremiah was speaking, it was the priests and prophets as well. In other words, every facet of leadership was corrupt. “Both prophet and priest are ungodly; even in my house I have found their evil, declares the LORD.” (Jer. 23:11).
The very ones who were supposed to lead the way to God were leading the people into idolatry. And this did not escape the notice of God. If there is one area that ought to concern the Christian church today, it’s not so much about the people going against godly leadership in the churches, but still, leaders in the church whose lives are the exact opposite of what God’s word says. They drink of sin and their sin is poured out on the people. This was God responding in wrath, in chastisement. We notice this in verse 3: “Then, I will gather the remnant of my flock from all the nations where I have driven them…”
So it is the failure of the leaders to guide the people and consequently God comes down and casts judgment on the people.
Are you a godly leader? Does your mouth produce teaching that gives the people the full counsel of God? Could you say that your hands are clean—or are you going to be numbered among those to whom God says, “Woe to the shepherds…”? Brethren, God takes seriously the matter of leadership and if you’re not interested in making sure your view of leadership is not equally serious, then resign before God comes in judgment against you and against the people you lead.
2. Where there is a perpetual failure of leadership, God moves in. He has a grand purpose among the people of God to the end of history. And when there is a failure, he comes in and says, “Step aside,” and brings about a new people and a new leadership. Verse 3-4 reveal this. “I will set shepherds over them… I will …” God is saying here, “Oh leaders of Israel, I am coming in. I am bringing about what you have failed to do. I am going to get my agenda back on track. I will do it myself. I will bring about new leaders.”
Isn’t this the way God has always acted in history? False prophets telling the people what they want to hear—and in the midst of this, He raises up Elijah who brings about revival. Samuel… David… That’s God. Denominations have risen, faithful to begin with, but somewhere along the way, they have embraced liberalism or loose morals and God raises up another denomination.
Oh brethren, let us be warned: If you are there in comfort and sin, thinking you are the one who is in control and everything will continue as they are, you are only deceiving yourself. God will not allow his agenda to be hijacked. He will raise another in your place.
3. Jeremiah is not simply referring to a human leader, but a long promised King, who is first promised in Genesis and all the way to Malachi. When things look hopeless, God always reminds them of a promise. I am sending Someone with a capital “S.” He does this in verses 5-6. Brethren, this is the promise of the whole Bible. If God were only raising up human leaders, it will always be their downfall. He is always going to send Another, with a capital “A.” Here he refers to Him as the Branch. David was the main stem, and from this line Another King is coming from David’s line. But the Branch doesn’t refer to the line, but to reaching out. Following a new dimension. (See Zech. 6 – “Behold, the man whose name is the Branch, for he shall branch out of this place and he shall build the temple of the LORD.”) So whoever this is, He will not do it in the same way that David did it, but He will branch out in another way.
How will He do it? It’s this emphasis on righteousness.
It is unrighteousness in the leadership that seeps through and becomes the unrighteousness of the people. And if there is to be a real restoration of the people from under the wrath of God, the justice of God, that can only be done through the satisfaction of justice by another. And this new Leader must in Himself be righteous for if He were not, we would be right back to square one. So who is this? Who is it who offers righteousness to the people of Israel? You don’t have to search hard to find that there’s only one across all history who answers this description: Jesus of Nazareth. (See Isa. 9:6-7, Isa 53).
He would come as King, and He would deliver His people… Jesus did not come simply as a teacher, so we can follow the ways of God. He did not come as a moral example. If that’s all He did, then He would have completely failed in His mission because we are born in sin. We are corrupted from the inside. No outward morals can change that. Jesus had to suffer and die.
And as He made His way to the cross, He fell to His knees and pleaded, “Please, if there is any other way…” We know the end of the story, God sent an angel to strengthen His Son and Jesus went to the cross. And He paid the price and three days later, He rose again.
One more passage: Luke 1. This is now the birth of Christ:
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favored one, the Lord is with you!” But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:26-33 ESV)
Oh brethren, it is this Jesus who has been spoken about by Jeremiah. There is no other person across human history who even begins in the remotest way to approximate this person. And although Jeremiah is at this point primarily concerned about the nation of Israel, it becomes clear through Holy Writ that this King was not just for Israel but the Gentiles as well. It is too little a thing that He should rule only over Israel (cf. Psalm 2).
And there lies any sustained leadership of the people of God. If it lied only in human flesh, it would fail. But Jesus is the center of any hope that we would have any godly leadership who would see progress for any time and all eternity. And this is why this passage ends on such a glorious note.
Look at the way Jeremiah ends this section (v. 8). What is he saying? The leadership this King will give will overshadow even the great exodus that Israel experienced in Egypt. Compared to what Jesus will do, what Moses did would be like a storm in a teacup.
But consider what he is calling “nothing.” The plagues that brought the mightiest pontiff to his knees… Remember the parting of the Red Seas. Two HUGE walls of water on either side and the people of Israel walked across on dry land. And as the army of Egypt began to cross and Moses struck the ground with his staff, the water fell and the mightiest army on the planet was brought to nothing. Has there ever been deliverance like this?
This was not fulfilled in the 1940s when Israel again became a nation. We need to scan further than that. Perhaps we need to look to personal salvation? But perhaps that doesn’t even quite fall into this picture.
What is it? Friends, my own mind goes to the day that will break, bright, eternal and fair. When all that ransomed throng of God will come from the east and the west and the north and the south. When they will come with singing and everlasting joy will be upon their heads. When there will be no more suffering and no more death. When indeed Satan himself will be death the final blow by Jesus Himself. When we will never, never, never more sin again.
Let your eyes see the One who leads us, the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. May you worship Him forever. Ultimately, He is the one who will lead us into this great deliverance.