Sermon on Ezekiel 34:11-16, 23-24 for Christ the King, November 19, 20 & 22, 2020
- Ezekiel was a prophet in Judah at a very rough time. About 700 B.C. (722 B. C.), a hundred years before his time, a great empire, Assyria, destroyed and scattered the tribes of the north. If you ever heard of “the lost ten tribes,” that’s when it happened. Ezekiel’s job as a prophet was to warn the people of Jerusalem and Judah “Destruction is coming for you if you do not repent.” Judah had a few good kings, and many bad ones—kings who made alliances with their neighbors (something God told them not to do), and some introduced foreign gods into the Temple (something God definitely told them not to do). Around 600 B. C. (586 B. C.) the Babylonians came to Jerusalem, destroyed Solomon’s temple, and carried many people to Babylon, about 800 miles to the east. So the kings of Judah led God’s people into disaster, and the king of Babylon really didn’t care about God’s people—they were just another nation to conquer.
- So Ezekiel is preaching and writing to the remnant of Judah. From a human or worldly point of view, things weren’t very hopeful for the people of Judah, exiled in Babylon. The promised land was far away and they had no hope of going back. God’s purpose in the defeat and the exile was really a gracious one. He didn’t destroy them because he had made a promise—a promise to send a Savior from the descendants of Abraham. And speaking of Abraham, God promised him that his descendants would be living in that promised land. Those were the promises. From a human standpoint it all looked like a loss. But faith is the basis of things hoped for and the evidence of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
- Many years ago, I went to see treasures from King Tut’s tomb, and in statues he was portrayed with two scepters–one a stylized threshing flail to show the kings were responsible for agriculture and feeding their people, and the other a shepherd’s crook because ancient kings were often called the shepherds of their nation. What kind of shepherds did God’s people have? Mostly bad. Kings, shepherds that led their people astray and led them to destruction. And after the destruction what kind of shepherds did they have? The kings of Babylon? Pagan kings who didn’t care about God, his promises, his people or the promised land.
- So God himself speaks. “This is what the LORD God says. Here I am. I myself will seek the welfare of my flock and carefully search for them. 12 As a shepherd searches for his flock when his sheep that were with him have been scattered, so I will search for my flock and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” And then God repeats thoughts from the famous psalm, “I myself will shepherd my flock. I myself will let them lie down, declares the Lord God. 16 I 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 with justice.” The kings of Judah were mostly bad kings. The kings of Babylon were pagan kings who looked at the people of Judah as a conquered people of servants and slaves.God himself promised to be their shepherd. A shepherd who cares. A shepherd who is looking out for the people he calls his own.
- The psalms tell us, “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men who cannot save” (Psalm 146:3). All human shepherds and leaders have their human failings. It doesn’t matter if it’s 700 or 600 B. C. or A. D. 2020. Because they are human—even though they promise much, there are some things they just can’t do. Because they are human, they have the same weak human flesh that we all have—temptations to selfishness, and like the ancient shepherd-kings, they govern people to benefit their own self-interests, often at the expense of the people they are supposed to serve.
- God is faithful. He gives us our daily bread. He delivers us from evil. And when we must endure evils, he has given us his promise that he is working even those for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28).
- Around 700 B.C., God spoke through Ezekiel, “ I will raise up over them one shepherd, and he will tend them. My servant David will tend them, and he will be their shepherd.” By that time, King David had been dead for over 200 years. By promising “My servant David will tend them,” God is looking ahead about 700 years. Remember what the people shouted on Palm Sunday, “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!” (See especially Mark 11:10). Jesus is this second “David.” The Good Shepherd. He is the one who seeks the lost, brings back the strays, binds up the injured and strengthens the weak. He did all this by taking the worst for us. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, was also the Lamb of God who took the sins of the world—he gave his Word to call his flock out of the darkness of the world to the light of his love. He leads and shepherds us away from selfishness and sinfulnesss, to his path of righteousness—to be like him. Because of our broken human nature, it’s a rough road. Like sheep, we are good at finding trouble. Think of those twelve disciples—they were good at finding trouble. It doesn’t stop Jesus—who suffered for us—but now sits at his Father’s right hand, interceding for us. He leans over to his Father and says—”George is praying for help. He’s struggling with health. Let’s give him healing. Molly is praying because she’s always afraid and confused by everything she sees. Let’s send a Christian friend to remind her that we’re here. Many of my people are crying out because of everything that’s going on in the world. Let’s bless them through these hardships. Let’s use these things to destroy their faith in the worldly so they turn to us. And at the right time—we’ll bring an end to the confusion.”
- This is the Shepherd we have—Jesus Christ our King, who will not deceive us, who will not fail us, who has already won the victory for us—and has his place prepared for us.