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Online Text Sermon - The Sword upon the Shepherd, Zechariah ch.13 v.7

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleThe Sword upon the Shepherd
TextZechariah ch.13 v.7
Sermon ID963

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"Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones" (Zechariah 13, 7).

We may say that these words are an oracle. If you wish, you can describe them as a prophecy, because the Old Testament looked forward to the coming of the New Testament age. The New Testament is latent in the Old Testament, and the Old Testament becomes patent in the New. There are many such oracles of God as the one which is in my text. These are prophecies looking forward from those old-fashioned and Old Testament days to the coming of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. There are at least two such oracles here in this chapter thirteen. In verse one we have a reference to the 'fountain opened'. Now that fountain opened is again an oracle or a prophecy concerning the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christ is this fountain opened. He is called a fountain for the obvious reason that his power is to cleanse away guilt, just as the waters of a fountain can cleanse away filth. So, because Christ our great Emmanuel is able to wash away the sins of men, he is referred to here in an oracular form as the "fountain opened... for sin and for uncleanness" (v.1).

Similarly, in my text at verse seven, we have another of these great oracles or prophecies concerning Christ. "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones" (text). Have you understood what these words mean? Do you realise how important these words are for your own life? Have you come to see that there is nothing so important in the world as to know and understand this oracle of God and similar prophecies from the Scriptures? My duty this morning is to open up these words and explain to you their meaning so that you might be convinced. I hope and I pray that these words are of great importance to each of us.

What then do we have in verse seven? First of all, we have a twofold description of the Lord Jesus Christ, and here it is: "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow" (text). Notice the two terms which are used here in reference to the Lord Jesus Christ. First, he is said to be a shepherd. We all know that the work of a shepherd is to look after sheep; that is very obvious, even to a child. Shepherds and sheep go together. Christ is referred to as the shepherd because His people, that is, God's people, are his sheep. It is for that reason that we sing "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want" (Psalm 23). It is for this reason that our blessed Redeemer, Jesus Christ speaks about himself and says, "I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep" (John 10, 11). Christ, therefore, is the Shepherd in the sense that He is the Saviour of His people. He is their protector, their deliverer, their overseer; He guides them through life; in times of trouble He restores their soul. When we go through the valley of the shadow of death, if He is our Shepherd we need fear no evil, nor harm, for He is with us and His rod and His staff will comfort us. All the things of Psalm 22 are relevant to those for whom Christ is the Shepherd.

The other term in my text is a less common one: "...against the man that is my fellow" (text). Let me explain. The term 'fellow' here, in the Hebrew language - and the Old Testament is nearly all in Hebrew; there are a few chapters of it in a kindred language called Aramaic, but this is Hebrew - and the word for fellow here means somebody who is next of kin; someone who is closely related to you, like a brother or a sister, a father or a mother; one who shares your nature and your blood; one who is a blood relation; one who is therefore interested in you and cares for you. This word indicates that he is kin unto God.

Notice that the man who is my kinsman is the man who is my fellow. So he is, in this verse here, regarded by God as next of kin to God the Father. This is a description of Jesus Christ's divine nature. He shares the divine nature equally with the Father. But He is also, notice, a man - the man who is my fellow - and however you want to interpret these words you must come to this conclusion, that in my text we have a Saviour who has two natures. He is in our nature as the Shepherd and the Man, but He is also in the divine nature as the Kinsman of God or the close relation of God. Jesus tells us in that famous sermon, "I and my Father are one" (John 10, 30). The word 'one' is in the neuter, not in the masculine. It doesn't mean 'one person' but 'one God'. The Father and the Son are different Persons, but different Persons within the one Godhead; two Persons within the divinity; two Persons within the Trinity. What we have here is a description of Christ who is the God-man, the equal of God.

I want to say, dear friends, that we must understand it is essential to believe that Jesus Christ is God as well as man. It is not enough to call Him a hero, or a teacher, or an example, or even Lord of the angels, or anything of that kind. You must never accept any definition of Christ which makes Him anything less than God, for this reason: that if He is anything less than God He cannot save us from our sins. We do admire heroes and we venerate great men, but Jesus Christ is not just anything like that, He is the equal of God. This point is stressed from the very beginning, where John tells us this: "In the beginning was the Word [meaning Christ], and the Word was with God [meaning God the Father], and the Word was God [meaning God the Son]" (John 1, 1). The doctrine in these words is this: that Jesus is equal with God.

Let me come to you and to your conscience. Do you believe this? Do you accept that Jesus Christ is God? Be honest with yourself because if you don't it will do you no good to pretend outwardly that you do. Your salvation depends on what you believe concerning God and concerning Christ and concerning this person here who is referred to in my text with these words: "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, saith the Lord of hosts" (text).

A shepherd means that before Christ came into the world, in the Old Testament time, Jesus Christ was the Shepherd of His sheep then, but he did not yet have his human nature. All through the Old Testament, from the day that Adam sinned and onwards, Christ was always the shepherd and always looked after His sheep - Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and onwards right through the Old Testament, Christ as the eternal Son of God was looking after his people. He was the Mediator and the Shepherd of his people. However, when He came to Bethlehem and was born a baby there He was the God-man. He became what He was not before, and the best way to put it is this: when our Lord Jesus was born He became what He was not, without ceasing to be what He was; "the Word became flesh" (John 1, 1), and this is the greatest miracle that ever could occur - that God should take our human nature. It's not without good reason that the history of the world is divided by these little letters, 'BC' and 'AD'. Every child here I think knows what BC means - Before Christ; and AD - Anno Domini: Latin for 'in the year of our Lord'. Time began to be recalculated once our Lord was born - and rightly so because He was the Shepherd in the Old Testament as God - but now He is the Shepherd in the New Testament as the God-man.

Jesus Christ needed to become man in order to finish His work of saving His sheep. You see, as God, Christ could not die; and as God, Christ could not suffer. It is impossible for God to suffer or to die. You cannot kill God. He is not open to the possibility of suffering or death; He is eternally and unchangeably blessed so you can't kill Him. If Christ was to be our Saviour He must die for us, so in the wonderful counsels of God this One who was equal with the Father took our nature and our humanity to Himself - into union with himself - so that He could now suffer for us in that nature, and He could now die for us in our nature. You might ask why somebody else didn't die for us. Why didn't Moses, who was a great man, die for us? Or, why didn't Abraham or David die for us? Why the incarnation of the eternal Son of God?

The answer is because no mere man is worthy to die for his brother. Every mere man is but a man, so it was necessary that the Shepherd who would die for us must be a Man who was also God. He must be the Shepherd who is also the equal of God. That is what this oracle is explaining to us, and we need to understand it. All who get to heaven sing about Christ in these terms: they say "Worthy is the Lamb that was slain..." (Revelation 5, 12)"; "Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God" (Revelation 5, 9). The worthiness of Christ in His death consists of the fact that He is of infinite value to God, and His death is of infinite preciousness to God. That's what this oracle is explaining to us.

The second thing I bring to your attention is the command of God to his sword: "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd..." (text). You see there is a command given by God to his sword. You will need me to explain what is meant by this sword. The sword of God is not a literal sword. God does not have a literal piece of iron or steel by His side - that's obvious enough. What is meant by the 'sword' here is God's power to put men and women to death; His power to kill. You and I have no right to kill our neighbour, but God does have that right because He is the Lord over us and God has the power of life and death over us and over all his creatures. The sword is the power which God both has and uses to put men and women to death because they are sinners. It is the outgoing of God's holiness in righteous anger against the sin of which we are guilty. The fact that God doesn't put all men to death at once is only because of His patience and longsuffering. If God were to take out His sword and use it as we deserve, then nobody could survive; but the fact that from day to day, and from year to year, and from century to century, and millennium to millennium, God spares men and women in this world is because of His patience, longsuffering and kindness to us. It is an expression of His goodness to us.

The sword though is there, and there's a reference in Jeremiah 47, 6-7 which speaks about the 'sword of the Lord'. It is this power of death which God has over sinners. This is why sinners are afraid of God. If you talk to sinners, even those who are not churchgoers, they are afraid of God, and rightly so. It is instinctive for us all as sinners to be afraid of God because we know deep down that we are guilty before God. We believe that in our hearts and consciences, even if we do not always, as sinners, confess it to our fellow men. We know deep down that there is something wrong with us and we are not fit to appear before the great and holy God. I say then, sinners are afraid of God because they have an instinct to know that He is holy and has this right of death to punish us. When you meet an unconverted person, never try to comfort them with the thought that their fear of God is unjustified. The sinner's fear of God is absolutely justified. The sinner has every right to be afraid of God because God will take out His sword sooner or later and kill him because he is a sinner. Every sinner must be killed by the sword. It has happened now for thousands of years, since the days of Adam and Eve. Every sinner who has died has done so at the point of God's sword. I shall qualify that statement just in a moment.

We must never tell lies to sinners; we must never say to the unconverted person, "You don't need to be afraid of God because He is a God of love." We are not to say that to unconverted sinners. What we should say to the unconverted sinner is, "Are you afraid of God? You have every reason to be because his sword is at his side, sinner, and sooner or later, sinner, He will take out his sword and He will plunge it into your heart and you will be dead." There are some people who would not like to say that to sinners. They would say, "But God is a God of love," and that is true - He is a God of love - but that love of God is expressed towards those who are believers in Christ; it is offered freely to those who would like to become believers in Christ; but those who have no interest in Christ, and are not at all concerned to become the people of Christ, have every reason to be afraid of this sword and so never say to the unconverted man that there is nothing to fear. The kindest thing to do, if you are a Christian, is to say to the unconverted person, "You have every reason to be afraid of this sword, because it will kill unless, sinner, you find the love of God in Christ; only then will you be safe."

This sword mentioned here was given a command. God begins to speak to this sword, which is another way of saying, in prophetic language, that God now begins to take out the sword and to use it. God says, "Awake, O sword..." (text). The sword has been sleeping at God's side, which simply means that he has not been using it. "Now", says God, "I will take out My sword, as though it were waking from sleep, and I will begin to use My sword." That's another way of putting it; God was going to use this sword. I'm afraid sinners think that because for many years they get away with sin, that they'll never have to face this sword - but that is nonsense. We shall all have to face this sword if we are not believers. God may put up with our sins for a very long time - maybe 50, 60, 70, or 80 years - until our bodies decay, but sooner or later He will take out the sword against every unconverted man and woman and He will slay them by it. The non-Christian is apt to think that because God is longsuffering and patient and doesn't immediately put them to death, that therefore He doesn't notice. Sinners tend to flatter themselves that because God is longsuffering and kind, that really He has no concern to punish the wicked. That, I say, is false nonsense.

This command, then, refers to Christ on the cross. "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd" (text). Here we're not thinking about what God does to sinners, but of the Saviour or of the Shepherd. At this point in history Christ is on the cross. Our Lord had now been living 33 years and God's sword had been asleep for those years of Christ's life and ministry, but now when Christ is on the cross, on that day of the week in which He was crucified, this command went forth from God the Father to His holy justice and He commanded His justice now to awaken and to strike at Christ: "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow" (text).

How do we know this refers to Christ? Well, partly because these prophecies are so clear as to the work that God would do in making Christ our substitute. Clearer than that still: "Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night: for it is written, I will smite the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock shall be scattered abroad" (Matthew 26, 31) - Christ actually quotes these words in reference to himself, so it is absolutely clear that these words are a prophecy of what would happen to the Lord Jesus Christ. What is meant by this is that God would strike His Son on the cross with the sword of painful, terrible justice.

My very dear friends, when Jesus Christ suffered on the cross it was not just that Pontius Pilate condemned Him; it was not just that Judas Iscariot had truly and wickedly betrayed Him; it was not just that Roman soldiers going about their rough, rude business drove nails into His hands and feet; nor was it just that the Pharisees and Sadducees hated Him and wanted to be rid of Him and so cast Him into the hands of the Roman authorities. All of that is true, but over and above these human things God the Father ordained that the sword of divine wrath, curse, condemnation and judgment should enter into the body and soul of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. That is the truth of the matter.

Further then, let me put this to you from the text: the slighting of Christ here is an awesome thing. Whenever God used the sword in the Old Testament it had a terrible effect and we can read about it. Take the days of Noah when sin abounded and only Noah and his family were in the ark - eight persons. God took out the sword. He had been very patient for 120 years while the ark was being prepared. He was very kind to the world in that Noah preached to the generation in which he lived and warned them that the sword would be taken out of its scabbard and a terrible flood would come to destroy the earth. People, however, scoffed and mocked and jeered and had no faith in what he said. As soon as Noah was safely in the ark with his family, God commanded His sword and He slew thousands upon thousands of men and women - millions no doubt were killed at the days of the flood. That was the sword.

The same was true in the days of Abraham, when Lot was in Sodom and Abraham prayed for Lot to be preserved. As soon as Lot was out of the city, as the sun rose in the sky the Lord cast fire and brimstone upon Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities of the plain and it destroyed them - every last man and woman. It was the sword of God. I could add other judgments which you could multiply all through the Old Testament - yes, and in the New. What are these terrible wars which we call the First and Second World Wars that carried millions of immortal souls into eternity? It was the sword of the Lord. What are all the wars, whether in Vietnam or the Middle East or anywhere else? They are the sword of the Lord. I say again, whenever God takes out the sword it kills absolutely and sends people at once into eternity. Where the people are not believers in Christ this sword sends them at once into a lost eternity.

Here for the first and only time ever, this sword that God took out of its scabbard when Christ was on the cross did not wholly kill Him; it could not wholly and entirely kill Christ as it would kill others. What I mean is that when God the Father took out the sword and smote our Lord on the cross, plunging the sword into His body and soul and bringing Him to death, the sword could kill the human nature of Christ, but it could not kill the divine nature of Christ, because God cannot be killed. So, during those three days in which Jesus was dead, He was not wholly dead. He was dead after the human nature, but He was not dead as to the divine nature. His body was in the grave and his human soul was in heaven, but His divine nature was as alive as ever it was - no man can put the divine nature of Christ to death.

Here we have the Shepherd who is the equal of God, and the sword awakening to put Him to death for us, as our Saviour. We have this wonderful fact, that when the Lord Jesus Christ's body was in the grave and the Lord Jesus Christ's human soul was in heaven for three days, His divine nature was holding them both. His divine nature was holding the human body in the grave and the human soul in heaven for three days. His divine nature was doing that, holding the elements of the human nature in their place. He saw no corruption. There was no beginning of decay within his body. There was a divine miracle preserving, intact, all the particles of His human body in a state of death; there was no decomposition of any kind.

When the third day came the divine nature of Christ brought together the soul and the body of Christ and raised Him from the dead. He raised Himself from the dead. He says: "No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again" (John 10, 18). I say, this smiting then is an awesome thing. Eternal justice swept over our Lord Jesus Christ upon the cross. It's like a terrible tornado or a hurricane or a mighty wind, which sweeps over the community and devastates everything - houses are collapsed, men and women die, trees are swept away, rivers are made to overflow their banks - but the mountain on which the town stands is unmoved. So with Christ! His human nature was brought to death; He experienced pain and agony in the mind and in the body, but His divine nature, like a mountain, was unmoved in death because He died as the God-man. The tempest broke out upon Him.

My dear friends, this is a marvellous theme and scene and a wonderful text explaining to us that Jesus died, not because of any sins of His own, but He died according to the will of God for our sins. He died for us men and for our salvation. He died to bear our sins in His own body upon the tree. The mortal pains of Christ were in order that you and I might be forgiven our sins and brought to forgiveness of our sins and to eternal life through faith in Him. That is why John the Baptist, knowing all these things, as I have said, pointed to Christ day after day, with these words, "Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1, 29). This was God's method of dealing with the sins of the sheep. Smite the shepherd in order that the sheep may be spared. Smite the shepherd who was their proxy. Christ was their substitute. He was the one who bore their sins in Himself and He was punished - the just for the unjust - to bring us to God. "He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him" (2 Corinthians 5, 21). We call it imputation and counter-imputation, by which we mean the righteousness of Christ which was His, and the sins of men which are ours, received a strange transition; so that whereas Christ was righteous and deserved no death, and we are unrighteous and do deserve death by the sword, by the kindness of God He crossed over these things so that the sword that should have smitten us smote Him, and the righteousness which was His becomes ours. He, when we believe in Him, becomes the Lord our Righteousness.

This, my dear friends, is the Gospel. This is the message of eternal life. So Paul says, "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world" (Galatians 6, 14). "Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn mine hand upon the little ones" (text). Which brings me then finally and briefly to say that there are two consequences and two results from this effect of smiting. One is a sad one and one is a happy one.

"Smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered..." (text). First of all then, the sheep are scattered. There are two ways in which we might interpret this. The obvious way is that when our Lord was crucified His disciples, who were His sheep, were literally scattered in the sense that they were afraid and they ran away and hid themselves. They sadly left our Lord all on his own. I think there is more in that text than simply to say that the disciples ran away. It may very well refer to the fact that after the crucifixion the Jewish people, who had been His sheep, were scattered all throughout the world as a judgment on them for their part in the crucifixion of Christ and the rejection of their Messiah. In the Old Testament the Jews lived solidly in their own land but after the crucifixion they were scattered everywhere. Many of them lived in this country, many lived in Germany at the Second World War; there are many in New York today. They are all over the world. They have been scattered and the factor of their scattering is one of the evidential signs of the truth of all of these things.

Ah! But there is another consequence, a happier consequence. "I will turn my hand upon the little ones" (text); here God is referring to those who are His believing Christian people. As a consequence of our Lord's death and suffering, God says He will turn his hand upon those who are His people, those who are His true sheep. The turning of His hand upon them means, in order to bless them: "I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Ezekiel 37, 27). I will turn my hand towards them to gather them out of this world into congregations and churches in Britain and Holland and Canada and all over the world. I will have My people out of all the nations. Because this has happened, I will turn My hand upon my chosen people, My elect out of all the nations of mankind.

I must close, my friends, but I want to make one or two practical observations. First of all, how safe you are if you are a believer in this Christ. Be assured that when death comes your way, as a believer you will not be facing a sword - death will not come to the believer as a sword but as a sleep. Believers are not slain by God, but they are put into a state of sleep by God. Those that sleep in Jesus will God bring with Him. No thanks to you and me, but all thanks to Jesus Christ who bore in His own body, and in His soul, the sword of God. "Awake, O sword, against my shepherd, and against the man that is my fellow, says the Lord of hosts: smite the shepherd, and the sheep shall be scattered: and I will turn my hand upon the little ones" (text) - in blessing, in grace, in favour, in life, in death, in eternal glory at last.

I have to say, to be honest and faithful to you, let's not deceive ourselves, dear friends. The blessings of eternal life are not automatic for every man, woman and child. These blessings of protection, safety, forgiveness, life, heaven and glory are given to believers - to those who put Christ first in their hearts and in their lives and who can say to Him what Thomas said to Him when he saw the marks on His hands and on His feet: "My Lord, and my God!" (John 20, 28). I bid you all, old and young, whatever your condition and state of life, make sure, whatever else you have, that you have Christ as your personal Shepherd.

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