The Great Restoration
We love a good story with restoration at the center. HGTV shows are filled with shows about renovations or restoration. We love to hear stories of broken families being mended together again. We love to see things live to see another day. People love the proposal of restoration and the finished product. However, most of the time we do not love the process of restoration. Although I warned everybody when I started a project in construction you could almost guarantee that every client would go through the stages of grief of restoration; excitement as they see the progress of demolition, next would be the middle portion of fixing everything that no one will ever see, pipes, structural lumber, subfloor, etc. This for the client seems to be the longest period. But then they finally find excitement again as they start to see the things, they chose being installed the tiles, lights, colors, etc. Today we find a statement that sounds beautiful but once we consider what it is saying we might begin to be in that middle portion of dread that feels the longest time, but finally, by the time we are finished we will find ourselves one more in a period of amazement.
In English this is only four words long, in Hebrew it is only two. We must first begin with the understanding that our soul needs restoration. You only restore something that needs restoring. No one buys a newly constructed house and says, “This is a fixer-upper.” Or takes a new car off the lot straight to a body workshop. A simple definition of restore would be “to bring back to its original condition.” Within this definition is that we understand that our souls are not in their original condition. The Hebrew has this sense of the word, it is translated many different ways in our English bibles, but they all carry a similar meaning; to return, turn back, repent, back, or repent (just to name a few).
Notice that it is something that once was somewhere and is now it is taken back. Now when we think about the shepherd theme in these passages the restoration of a soul might seem strange. This comes back to the understanding this is a poem, so if we read everything literally, we might say sheep have souls, which I do not believe they do. But with the understanding of our word restore, as to bring back to the original condition let us look at Ezekiel 34 again. As you remember last week, we looked at Ezekiel 34, the leaders of Israel are called shepherds, but in verses two and three we learn what type of shepherds they are, “Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat ones, but you do not feed the sheep. The weak you have not strengthened, the sick you have not healed, the injured you have not bound up, the strayed you have not brought back, the lost you have not sought, and with force and harshness, you have ruled them” (Ezek 34:2–4). The terrible shepherds do not restore the sheep, they are weak, sick, injured, stray, and lost. If we were to translate Hebrew the same in Ezekiel 34 as Psalm 23 it would read, “The strayed you have restored…” They are outside of their original condition, they were once strong, healthy, fit, and not lost. They all become scattered sheep (Ezek 34:5).
However, when the Lord is our shepherd, he does restore his sheep. Ezekiel 34:16 speaks of God as the shepherd of his sheep. He tells them, “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice” (Ezekiel 34:16). Again if we translate the word the same as Psalm 23, it would read, “I will restore the strayed.” All of you can see how the connection to Christ even in these four words, he restores my soul. Luke 15 explains the much-loved parable of the lost sheep:
“What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing.” (Luke 15:3–5, ESV)
This is what we remember from this parable, we focus on the one sheep who wanders and the shepherd who follows them and find them. However, if we think of this as merely a lost sheep being found we miss the connection to Psalm 23. It is not only that he finds the lost sheep, but the lost sheep no longer is the lost sheep. The lost sheep becomes the restored sheep. The sheep are not only found but the lost sheep are restored to their original condition. Apart from the flock, close to the shepherd. But to take it further Jesus explains the main point of this parable, “there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:6). Restoration in this parable comes through repentance. Some translations translate this sentence, “He hath converted, my soul.” The coming back is through repentance, restoration begins with the need that we are sinners who need to repent. We wander from God and his ways, and he brings us back, through repentance. With this in mind listen to David in Psalm 51:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit” (Psalm 51:10–12).
Isaiah explains we are sheep;
“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:5–6).
We are all like sheep who have gone astray. We are all sinners who need to repent. Now this becomes the place where we all say, I know I am a sinner, you need not tell me. However, we do not know the extent of our sin and therefore how much restoration we need. Almost every bathroom I have ever renovated is more than meets the eye. I would tell the clients that we can tell them the work that needs to be seen but often the joists need to be replaced, etc. So with our restoration. We think, I know I have a slight problem with losing my cool, I am not as loving as I should be, I know I can be more generous with my time, talents, or treasures. I know I have a small way to go when it comes to loving my wife as Christ loved the church. The list could go on. But when we realize how far we have strayed and how far we have wandered not from the standard of the world or even our standard, but the law of God. We find ourselves more broken than in my current project the children call the broken house. I recently read a snipped of Mere Christianity from CS Lewis that summarizes this middle period of resentment of beginning a restoration,
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”
We understand that we need restoration, but not to the extent of restoration. Christianity is not a facelift, we think it is just a new paint job. If we think that way we think we are the 99 righteous people who do not need to repent. Again this poetic line “He restores my Soul” is one that we joyously say, but when the reality comes we are ever so cautious to know what is happening. When we realize it is not only that we lose our cool, but that hate is dwelling within us and crouching at the door. That we are murdering our brothers and sisters within our hearts. We realize this is not some band-aid that needs to fix the problem but deep and invasive heart surgery, with a disease that is constantly spreading and coming back.
CS Lewis in another book, the Great Divorce, has a scene called the little red lizard. The scene is a bus from hell that can have a tour of the foothills of heaven. Upon the shoulder of one of the people from the bus was a little red lizard, this lizard would whisper things into the person’s ear. Then begins a conversation between the person from the bus with his lizard on his shoulder and a heavenly man. This conversation continues with the heavenly man offering help to get rid of the lizard. However, the man with the lizard is unwilling to part ways with the lizard. He says I can get this lizard under control. That the lizard is sleeping now. He downplays the effects of the lizard on him. During the conversation the man with the lizard exclaims:
Man with Lizard: “Well, I’ll think over what you’ve said very carefully. I honestly will. In fact I’d let you kill it now, but as a matter of fact I’m not feeling frightfully well today. It would be silly to do it now. I’d need to be in good health for the operation. Some other day, perhaps.”
Heavenly Man: “There is no other day. All days are present now.”
Man with Lizard: “Get back! You’re burning me. How can I tell you to kill it? You’d kill me if you did.” “
Heavenly Man: “It is not so.”
Man with Lizard: “Why, you’re hurting me now.”
Heavenly Man: “I never said it wouldn’t hurt you, I said it wouldn’t kill you.”
The completed restoration
In all of this, we have great hope. As you read this you are saying, how can I have hope? I was happy before thinking all I needed was a coat of paint, but now you are explaining I need a whole renovation. How can you say there is hope? Dear Christian, read the first word of this four-letter sentence, “He restores my soul.” Notice the wandering sheep does not it wanders, does not know how to find its way back. The lost sheep is indeed lost, truly lost. Paul says in Romans 2:4 that it is God’s kindness that leads us to repentance. Notice how Peter words this in 1 Peter 2:24-25;
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls”
He is the one who bears our sin, he is the one that is wounded but we are the ones who live to righteousness and have been healed. We are now returned, restored to the Shepherd of our souls. Let us be reminded of Paul’s words to the Philippians, “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6). Paul was not sure if he was going to live or die (Phil 1:18–26), yet he knows that God does not start something he will not finish. Spurgeon said
“When the soul grows sorrowful he revives it; when it is sinful he sanctifies it; when it is weak he strengthens it. “He” does it. His ministers could not do it if he did not. His Word would not avail by itself. “He restoreth my soul.” Are any of us low in grace? Do we feel that our spirituality is at its lowest ebb? He who turns the ebb into the flood can soon restore our soul. Pray to him, then, for the blessing—“Restore thou me, thou Shepherd of my soul!””
The great hymn “Come Thou Fount” has a great stanza that sums up this line, “He restores my Soul;”
Jesus sought me when a stranger
Wandering from the fold of God
He to rescue me from danger
Interposed His precious blood
The Good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep, he restores our souls with his precious blood. How joyously do we say, He, the Lord who is my Shepard, restores my soul. The Author of Hebrews does not call Jesus the good shepherd, but the great shepherd. He is indeed the great shepherd.
“Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” (Hebrews 13:20–21)
 William S. Plumer, Studies in the Book of Psalms: Being a Critical and Expository Commentary, with Doctrinal and Practical Remarks on the Entire Psalter (Philadelphia; Edinburgh: J. B. Lippincott Company; A & C Black, 1872), 310.