Sermon Text: Ezekiel 34:11-6, 23-24
Date: November 19 & 20, 2016
Last Sunday of the Church Year, Year A
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 23-24 (EHV)
11For this is what the Lord God says: I myself will seek the welfare of my flock and examine them carefully. 12As a shepherd examines his flock when he is with his sheep that have been scattered, so I will examine my flock and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land. I will shepherd them on the mountains of Israel, in the valleys, and in all the settlements of the land. 14I will pasture them in good pasture, and their grazing land will be on the high mountains of Israel. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and they will pasture on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will shepherd my flock, and I myself will let them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16I will seek the lost. I will bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured. I will strengthen the weak. I will destroy the fat and the strong, and I will shepherd them in justice.
23Then I will raise up over them one Shepherd, and he will tend them, my servant David. He will tend them, and he will be their Shepherd. 24I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be the Prince among them. I, the Lord, have spoken.
The King Guards His Flock
The people were waiting anxiously for what was going to happen. What would the new leaders be like? How would things progress for them and for their children? What was going to happen in the days, weeks, and years ahead? God would work good from this—but how? Everything seemed so up in the air.
We’re not talking about America in 2016 after a perhaps surprising election, but the nation of Israel at the time of the prophet Ezekiel. Not long before our lesson for this morning, God had finally done what he had threatened to do. His people had been unfaithful to him time and time again. They had worshipped other gods, false gods, gods made of bronze or wood or stone, that could do nothing for them. They thought their pagan revelry would somehow save them—or at least make them happy. But God is angry enough—and loves them enough—to make it explicitly clear that these pretend gods could neither save them nor make them happy. God uses the tools in his arsenal to get their attention; he sends the then-world super power of Babylon to come in, nearly level Jerusalem, and carry his people to Babylon in captivity.
Now God’s people were faced with uncertainty. How angry was God? Was he ever going to bring them back? What would these foreign kings—kings they had no connection to—do to them? They had gone from being a majority in their own land to a miniscule minority in a foreign place. They were scared. They were uncertain. What was before them was totally unknown.
And yet, it really wasn’t. God had said that he was going to do exactly this. He had told them through the prophet Jeremiah this was coming, and that it would last 70 years. But they seemed to have ignored that or forgotten that.
And so the prophet Ezekiel, a man whose ministry was both in Jerusalem before the exile and in Babylon after the exile, was tasked to bring a message from God, with insight as to what would happen now.
The words before us come just after a scathing rebuke of the leaders of God’s people. God lambasted them for only looking out for themselves and not the people entrusted to their care. They had totally forsaken the work they had been called to do. They had exalted themselves at the expense of the sheep they had been told to protect. Their negligence was a reason that the whole nation was in the garbage situation they now found themselves in. God was very clear in the verse just prior to our lesson, “I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them” (Ezekiel 34:10, NIV84).
Perhaps we sympathize a bit with the people of Israel—or at least see ourselves in them. How often haven’t we strayed from God? How often haven’t we looked out for our own good rather than good of others? How often haven’t we done what we wanted to do and ignored what we knew what right? We’ve all deserved exile from God, but not just being thrown into another country. Because of our sin, we’ve deserved to be cut off from God forever in hell. That is what our words, actions, and attitudes justly bring about.
But notice what God promised to his people in their exile. God is going to take the reins here and do something different. God says that rather than entrusting the work of shepherding to selfish people, he’s going to take the job on himself. At the beginning of our lesson for this morning he says, “I myself will seek the welfare of my flock and examine them carefully. 12As a shepherd examines his flock when he is with his sheep that have been scattered, so I will examine my flock and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land.”
God is going to rescue his people from their exile. They wouldn’t be in Babylon forever. Within the life time of some who were carried off into captivity, they would begin to return home. They would rebuild Jerusalem, its walls and temple, and settle again in the land God had promised them.
But that’s only scratching the surface of what God is promising here through the prophet Ezekiel. He goes on: 14I will pasture them in good pasture, and their grazing land will be on the high mountains of Israel. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and they will pasture on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will shepherd my flock, and I myself will let them lie down, declares the LORD God. 16I will seek the lost. I will bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured. I will strengthen the weak. I will destroy the fat and the strong, and I will shepherd them in justice. 23Then I will raise up over them one Shepherd, and he will tend them, my servant David. He will tend them, and he will be their Shepherd. 24I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David will be the Prince among them. I, the LORD, have spoken.
God is going to bring these exiles home, but he’s also eventually going to do something so much greater. He’ll raise up a special servant, David, to shepherd his people. King David had been dead and buried for about 500 years when this prophecy was spoken. In fact, after the exile to Babylon, we will never see another king of Israel in the ruling sense that they had before the exile. From here on out, they will continually be a servant-state of another nation, be it Babylon, Persia, Greece, or Rome. No, God is not exclusively talking about bringing back his people to the land of Israel; he’s talking about bringing them to the real Promised Land he’d promised to all people. He’s promising eternal life.
That “servant David” is the one who was a descendant of David, and yet had no regal splendor around him. We saw that weak-looking man on trial before Pilate in the Gospel. “Hail, King of the Jews!” the soldiers mocked as the needle-thorns dug their way into his head. This was no king. This was a man treated like a criminal, a despised man who was condemned for crimes he didn’t commit. To the outside observer, there is so hope or joy here. This is no Prince, as God had promised. This is no one to shepherd God’s people. This is a weak man who is about to be killed.
Or so it seems.
What is the chief job of a king or any governmental leader for that matter? To protect his people. What to us, humanly speaking, looks like the ultimate weakness, spiritually speaking was the ultimate strength. As Jesus is mocked and ridiculed by those soldiers, he’s about ready to go to his death. While they make fun of him for supposedly being a king, he’s doing what we needed our King to do—he’s taking our enemies on directly. As he goes to the cross, Jesus dies for the sins that you and I committed. He suffers hell in our place and defeats Satan who had such clear plans for our eternal punishment with him in hell. Those who wanted our eternal destruction, our enemies, are destroyed. Jesus defeated them for us, because that’s what a king, a real king, our eternal King does.
What is the result of our King’s work for us? Paul made it clear in our Second Lesson for today: For since death came by a man, the resurrection of the dead also is going to come by a man. 22 For as in Adam they all die, so also in Christ they all will be made alive. When Jesus died, he defeated death. Because our King lives, that means you and I will live. Because our King lives, that means that he will lead us like a shepherd throughout lives and to eternity. Because our King lives, we never need to have a fear about what will happen to us. Our sins are gone. Eternal life with our heavenly Father is ours. Our king reigns. The King guards his flock.
That doesn’t mean that our lives won’t be filled with uncertainty. It doesn’t mean that that uncertainty won’t at times be distressing. But it does mean that we know that ultimately, our King will shepherd us through harrowing times. No matter what our relationships with our coworkers, friends, neighbors, or family are, our King takes care of us. No matter what the political climate in our nation is, what the amount of relative peace or relative unrest might be, our King reigns. No matter what threatens us—up to and including hell itself—we know that our King has conquered our enemies and we know that in him we are free.
God himself watches over you. God himself tends to you. God himself is your Savior. God is your King today and forever. Amen.