End Times 4: Christ the King

Preached: November 23, 2014

Jesus, Our Divine King, Shepherds Us
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 23, 24

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which we worship our King is Ezekiel 34.

For this is what the Lord God says: “Behold, I myself will search for my sheep and seek them out. Just as a shepherd seeks out his flock when he’s among his scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered on a dark, cloudy day. I will bring them out from the peoples. I will gather them from the countries. I will bring them to their own land. I will shepherd them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines, and in all the dwelling places of the land. In good pastures I will shepherd them, and on the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land and lush pasture. They will feed on the mountains of Israel. I, even I, will shepherd my sheep. I will have them lie down”—a declaration of the Lord God—“I will search for the lost. I will bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured. I will strengthen the weak. But the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd with justice.

“I will raise up over them one Shepherd, and he will shepherd them—my Servant David. He will shepherd them and be their Shepherd. I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among them. I, the Lord, have spoken.” (Ezekiel 34:11-16, 23, 24)

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

“The Lord is my shepherd” (Psalm 23:1), Psalm 23 declared. “I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11), Jesus declared. From little on up we’ve learned that Jesus is our Shepherd. But how profound that thought is! These verses from Ezekiel help us appreciate that.

How would an Old Testament believer have answered the question: Who is your shepherd? The obvious answer is the Lord God himself, like Psalm 23 says. In the first six verses of the text from Ezekiel, the Lord God emphatically says that he himself personally will shepherd his people. Just look at how many times the words “I” or more emphatically, “I myself” occur. In fact, the original Hebrew is even more emphatic than we can express in idiomatic English.

Now after emphatically insisting that he himself will shepherd the people, the Lord says, “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:23 NIV11). How could that be? How could the Lord himself shepherd the people and also have his servant, referred to as David, be the one shepherd? Can you imagine the wonderment that must have gripped the Old Testament believer? It’s beyond our understanding. Only faith could accept what the Lord said here.

You, dear friends, know how the Lord kept his word, but without faith it appears as foolishness. Mary and Joseph were of the house and line of David. The virgin Mary gave birth to a son. Nine months earlier the angel Gabriel had told Mary that this child would be the Son of the Most High and also would have the throne of his ancestor David. So Jesus is the Lord God and Jesus is David’s descendant. So with Jesus as our Shepherd both the Lord God and his servant called David shepherd us. Yet there is only one Shepherd, for Jesus is both. What a marvel, a marvel we celebrate every Christmas!

So, dear friends, let’s focus on the theme: Jesus, our divine King, shepherds us. He shepherds with his searching love, and he shepherds with his lavish love.

A. With his searching love

“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 search for the lost and bring back the strays” (Ezekiel 34:11, 12, 16 NIV11).

“Scattered,” “lost,” “strayed.” How aptly those words described us! Sin scattered the flock. Sin separated us not only from God but also from one another. Resentment, anger, and unforgiveness that we let build in our hearts will separate us from both the Shepherd and the other sheep, leaving us scattered, feeling alone, singled out, isolated. Maybe we feel that the others were mean to us, and there can be some truth in that for we all sin against each other, but so often we fail to see the full extent of our own fault—our own anger and unforgiving attitude—that resulted in being left alone, scattered.

How lost sin left us! The word for “lost” doesn’t simply mean that you took a wrong turn and are just a block off. It means on the verge of perishing. You took a wrong turn and ended in the war zone with bullets flying everywhere. A lost sheep was easy prey for any lurking wolf or hungry lion. And you know who’s prowling around like a roaring lion ready to devour you.

And maybe the saddest word here is “strayed.” Even after we know the Shepherd’s love, even after he has gathered us who were once scattered, even after he has found us who were once lost, how apt we are to stray! We take his love for granted. We neglect to regularly hear the Shepherd’s voice weekly in our public worship and daily in our personal Bible devotions. We fail to carry our cross and instead complain and run after what seems appealing. What wretched sheep we are!

But what love the Shepherd shows you and me! What searching love! To search for us, first of all he came. He came from his glorious, heavenly throne. He humbled himself to a lowly birth, laid in a lowly manger, since he came for lowly sinners. What searching love, searching for the lost, searching for you and me. Remember what he said to Zacchaeus, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10 NIV84) He came searching for you and me. What love!

But he not only came. He laid down his life. The Shepherd laid down his life for the sheep. That’s how he rescued you and me. No matter how dark and stormy, no matter how cloudy or gloomy, he penetrated the thickest darkness of death to rescue us. He lowered himself into the miry pit of our sinfulness. He covered himself with your filth and mine. He died our death suffering the punishment we rightly deserve. He died on the cross for you. What love! What love that searched you out to rescue you!

And he has searched you out, dear Christian. He searched you out and took you as a lamb into his flock when you were reborn through the water and word of Baptism. His searching love found you and carried you on his shoulders. What a Shepherd our King is!

His love does not stop now that he has searched us out and rescued us. He still lavish his love on us. Jesus, our divine King, shepherds us with his lavish love.

B. With his lavish love

He pictures his lavish love: “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 ... 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” (Ezekiel 34:13-16 NIV11).

Don’t these words bring to mind the green pastures and quiet waters of Psalm 23? And yet notice how mountain heights, ravines, and settlements are mentioned as the places for the good pastures. That’s not usually what I picture. To me “green pastures” bring to mind rolling meadows or open pastures. Would anyone expect to find green pastures on mountain heights?

But, dear friends, doesn’t our Shepherd lavish his love on us in ways and places we would not expect? He feeds our faith and brings us divine wisdom and discernment through the words of a book that many consider foolish myths from long ago. He brings his rich promise of forgiveness to us with bread and wine through which we eat his body and drink his blood. Just as I wouldn’t look for green pastures on mountain heights, so the the world does not look for salvation in the Bible or the Lord’s Supper. But that’s how the Shepherd lavish his love on us.

What about our daily lives? Often when we feel his love the least, he’s lavishing it on us the most. “I will bind up the injured” (Ezekiel 34:16 NIV11), he promises. A broken leg is painful. It’s even more painful when the shepherd sets it. But that’s what lavish love does. So also through the heartbreaks of our life, through the shattered dreams, through the aches and pains, through the failed hopes, through the heavy crosses, your Shepherd lavishes his love on you. And here is what our feeble hearts fail to grasp: Often his lavish love needs to increase the hurt we feel, just as setting that broken leg increases the pain before the healing can begin. So even in the worst of times trust your Shepherd, trust his lavish love.

For you see, he strengthens the weak. The sheep that imagine that they are strong and healthy—they’re in the real danger. “The sleek and the strong I will destroy” (Ezekiel 34:16 NIV11), the Lord says. For the sleek and the strong, don’t think they need a Shepherd. Maybe they’ll keep him around in case something happens. Who knows when the wolf might show up. But as long as they can keep filling their stomachs the shepherd is secondary. And when our lives go well for us, we so easily slip into that thinking.

But he strengthens the weak. For when we are weak, we are not relying on our own strength. We’re not focused on our activity. We’re not trusting the rightness of our position. Rather, it’s all about our Shepherd. We rely on his strength, for he is our God and King, the Mighty One. We focus on his activity. He has conquered sin and death for us. He has rescued us from Satan’s jaws. He reigns over all things for us his flock. And we trust his righteousness. For he alone brings us into a right relationship with God. So that the Lord is our God and we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. What a Shepherd our King is! What searching love! What lavish love! Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313