Sunday, November 22, 2020
Rev. Donald P. Beaumont
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and He will tend them; He will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.
I wonder what it feels like to live in Iraq right now. They’ve got the whole world against them, and if they so much as sneeze they will find themselves in a world of war. Your house would be in jeopardy of getting blown up. You could even easily die. What could be worse? What a mess that would be!
Today is Christ the King Sunday and in a lot of ways the situation is comparable to that of Iraq. Christ is not just the king of the Jews or the king of Jerusalem. Christ is the King of the Universe, including the earth. As King, He has the job of seeing to it that justice is done throughout the world at every second. He has to listen to or hear the complaints of millions of people every day. Would you like to see what goes on in every nook and cranny of this sick and sinful world that is constantly at war and in turmoil? It would be like inheriting Iraq - only worse. So, we thank God that Christ is the King, not us.
As subjects of the kingdom, living in this wasteland of sin, we are also appreciative of our King, because of what He does as our king. When there is no leadership, or good leadership, it doesn’t matter how good the company is, it can still go downhill. A good leader is able to take a company that is nothing and make it into something. Our King - Christ - does that very thing for us. That is the main focus of God’s promise to the Israelites in today’s text.
The Word of God today comes from Ezekiel. Ezekiel had a pretty colorful ministry, as he preached to the Israelites both before the Babylonian Captivity and after it. Before the Captivity, Ezekiel told them, “don’t even think about escaping from this judgment. It’s coming.” But afterward, when the people were suffering in captivity hundreds of miles from home, he said to them, “wait! Don’t give up! There’s still hope.” That hope is what we hear in today’s text, as God gives a direct promise to the Israelites. I myself will search for My sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after My sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will place over them one shepherd, My servant David. I the LORD will be their God, and My servant David will be prince among them. Fifteen times in the English translation you can see the word “I”.
God was comparing what the kings of Israel had done to them, to what HE would do for them. Even though they had rejected Him as their King, He would step in and rule over them anyway. You can tell from these words that He isn’t happy at all with the way His people were being led, and it was time for Him to step in and take over the operations.
History has shown its share of takeovers. Some believe that when LBJ took over after the murder of JFK, it was a modern-day coup de’ tat - led by the military leaders of the country who wanted to see America stay in the Vietnam War. Sometimes that does happen, many times in history, where someone with powerful ambition comes to power through force. Since Herod the Great was an Edomite, he had to become king of the Jews through many murders and political alliances. Hitler came to power through lies and deceit. That’s what many leaders do. In the work place many people lie and backstab just to get promoted. Even in Christian families many men think the only way they can be the head of the household is by force and verbal abuse. That’s what happens in a sinful world.
When God decided to take over the situation, He did it differently. In today’s text, He compares the coming of the King to a shepherd being placed in the middle of a scattered flock. Isn’t that a great description of Christ? At the time Jesus was born the Jews had been dispersed throughout the world through several captivities. The only people living in Bethlehem, right near Jerusalem, were a few Jews. The remnant of Jews living throughout Israel were relatively small, most of them having intermarried with Gentiles and taken on different religions. But in the midst of this mess, God became man. He didn’t come in the clouds and wipe out Herod and all of the opposition. He simply appeared right down in the middle of it with hardly a sneeze, being born in a dirty cattle stall, of all places, as a baby! He didn’t murder anyone to become king. He didn’t lie about it. He wasn’t secretive about it. He very plainly said, “I’ll come from a virgin. I’ll come through the line of David. I’ll come in Bethlehem.” How Herod must have laughed that day when he heard that the next King of the Jews was only a baby! This baby had no power! It had no talents! All he had to do was kill the baby in infancy, problem solved - or so he thought. Even the world may have thought, “what kind of a king is this, being born in a cattle stall?”
Yet when we think about it, this is one of the most interesting and lovely things about Christ our King, the way in which He approaches us and rules over us. He knows that we are stubborn creatures, like mules. Although we like to use power to get our way, we don’t like it when people flex their muscles and try and beat us into submission. We don’t like anyone telling us what do to or how to do it. Yet since we are so sinfully stubborn, force has to be used to get us to change our ways.
Sometimes God has used some awesome and powerful acts, on top of Mt. Sinai, to protect Israelites in the desert. You would expect a powerful God to come in this way. But the most intriguing way the powerful God comes is in the form of a baby, and takes on the role of a shepherd, instead of putting on King’s clothes. This is the most powerful act of all. It’s only natural for the sun to shine, but if it didn’t shine - that would make people really take notice at it. So also when God Almighty DOESN’T show his power, that’s what makes us take notice even more. He enters the world as a BABY in a cattle stall!
He uses the same tactics today. Think of what a neat thing it is when a baby is baptized. You don’t have to take the child by the feet, shake it upside down, and slap it in the head to get the devil or sin out of it. This would seem like the natural thing to do. All that needs to be done is to pour the gentle waters of life over it and say, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” In this seemingly weak and simple thing God powerfully works faith and forgiveness. That’s awesome.
We don’t need to blow up buildings or threaten dismemberment to make converts to Christianity. You would think we would need to torture them and take away all of their goods to make them come to faith. You would think that you need to make a powerful and persuasive speech to convince someone into Christianity. But all God calls us to do is to tell people they are sinners who have a Savior in Jesus Christ. We don’t have to be able to bench a thousand pounds or be intellectually superior to be evangelists. All we need to know and say is that Jesus is the Savior of the world. As Paul said, “I am not ashamed of the Gospel, for IT is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes!” The Prince of David, Christ our King, continually comes in gentle and yet powerful ways.
When Hitler was vying for power, he promised those who had the ability to make sure that he WOULDN’T be elected, that he would tow the line. He promised great reforms and sweeping changes to HELP the people of Germany. However, once he made it to power, things took a dramatic turn for the worse. Very soon they found out that this was not a regular leader. This was a dictator. He proved it as he ended up murdering thousands of Jews and intimidating and imprisoning the opposition. After Herod was made “king of the Jews” by Antony and Octavian, he proceeded to murder forty-five members of the Sanhedrin who opposed him. Saddam Hussein is said to have gassed his own people. I’m sure there are even worse examples out there of people who once they GOT into power abused their power.
God said that He wouldn’t stand idly by while His people were scattered all over. “I will take over,” God said. But what would He do? I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. Once Jesus entered into His public ministry, He did just this. Every day He was traveling in the country sides, through northern and southern Israel, as well as in the land of Galilee, preaching, teaching and healing. He was on a mission to gather His rescued flock, to bring them back to His land: heaven. From day one He was doing this business.
This was an interesting text for me, and I have to admit it has me somewhat perplexed. The phrase that is interesting is the “day of clouds and darkness.” It literally says a day of cloud and of dark cloud or deep gloom. That word for “dark cloud” in the Hebrew was used to refer to the presence of God on Mt. Sinai, but also to a cloud of sin over the people in Isaiah 60. So, I had a hard time determining what this “day of cloud and darkness” is referring to? Could it be referring to the effect that the Ten Commandments had on the Israelites, how their disobedience caused their being scattered and taken into captivity? Another thing that came to mind was HOW Jesus would fulfill His mission and bring the scattered Israelites back, on a day of cloud and darkness. From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:45-46).
On the day Jesus died, from noon to three on the day of Jesus’ death darkness covered the land. On this one day, God punished the world for it sins, and made the payment required. It was on this one dark day that the one they mocked as the “King of the Jews”, proved He was the King of the world, as He made the world right in his sight, and drew us back into His kingdom. Once the King brought His people back into His kingdom, God said that I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend My sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
You may not see the pastures. You may not have grass to lie down. You may not be looking over the Jezreel valley. But think about how good it sounds when you hear Jesus say to you, “though your sins are red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” It’s as if Jesus is taking a gaping wound of guilt and stopping the bleeding with His own blood. Think about how good it feels every time you taste the Lord’s Supper, knowing that Jesus died FOR YOU and you are holy in His sight, it’s as if you were a sheep laying in the middle of a green pasture. Every time we read God’s Word, we get a wonderful view of the landscape of His grace, as we see Him take care of His apostles, guide His disciples, and describe for us a wonderful place in heaven. That’s what Ezekiel is talking about in this verse. We experience this every time we feed on God’s Word.
This is the second thing that really makes this a neat text for Christ the King Sunday. Every two years we get to hear politicians complain about the way things are being run, and then promise to change things. But inevitably, the same ones who promised change usually end up doing the same things once they are brought into power. Since their campaigns are usually supported by interest groups, they have to keep those groups happy. But isn’t it wonderful to see God take over the ruling of His kingdom? For years and years God allowed kings to rule who led the way in worship idols and immoral behavior. We’ve seen how abusive some kings can be. Finally, God said, “enough. I’m going to bring about some change.” That’s what Jesus did. Once He came to power, He didn’t abuse it. Instead, He followed through on His promise to gather the scattered and to feed His sheep. With care and love He pastured His flock. The world may not like this kind of a king, but we love Him.
The rules for being a prince or a king are simple. It’s not like being President of the United States. You need more than money and a hearty handshake. You need to have royal blood, and you need to have certain talents. If one of those two were not met or are not met, the only way a person can come to rule is through power and murder. Usually these dictators are then hated and dethroned. The King Ezekiel is talking about had to be someone who would be willing to go in the midst of His people and reach out to His people and feed His people. He had to have Royal Blood, through the line of David. He had to be willing to care for His people and gather them and feed them, not abuse them. The only one who fits this bill is Jesus. He comes from royalty. He is descended from David, and more importantly, He is God. He came in the midst of us through His birth. He brought us together through His death. And He continues to feed us with His Word and sacrament. The Prince of David has come. He is Jesus. He is our King. Thank God for that today. Amen.