Christ the King
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, dear friends in Christ, Can it really be so? “Nearly 10,000 People Evacuated from Nevada Wildfire,” “Deficit Gridlock Looms,” “Occupy Protest Turns Bloody,” “Protesters Amass in the Thousands,” etc. etc. And there are certainly plenty more news headlines that could be added in. It really makes you wonder, can it really be so? This Sunday, out of all the Sundays in the year, we set aside to remind ourselves of the reality and to acknowledge this absolute fact: Christ is King. Really? Pastor, where did you just come from? Are you seriously so far in the dark? Look at the world! Rottenness, corruption, filth, perversity of every kind, arrogance, murder, deception, injustice, and on and on and on. Christ is King? Can it really be so?
Perhaps the Israelites some 2,500 years ago were asking essentially the same question: Is God really in control? Can it really be? Ezekiel lived at a time when the nation of Israel was in bad shape. Often times their leaders were referred to as “shepherds.” Well during Ezekiel’s time their “shepherds,” their political leaders of the nation cared only about themselves, their glory, their riches, their prestige, their honor and they got whatever they wanted at the expense of the people, the sheep. The nation’s religious leaders were for the most part just as bad. They also led only for themselves, they promoted false teachings and false gods, they taught the people to rely in other gods for help instead of the true God and told the people everything was just fine when in fact it wasn’t. Israelites leaders, their shepherds, were very wicked in God’s eyes. They fleeced the flock. They were like shepherds who cared nothing about the flock, they let their sheep wander off cliffs, starve from lack of food or nourishment, drink polluted water, let wolves or predators come and kill the sheep, and if that wasn’t enough they were like shepherds who would then kill their sheep so that they could have a dinner. And many people were deceived by these worthless shepherds.
But then it happened. In the year 586 B.C. God sent the Babylonian army to the nation of Judah and it completely decimated it. They destroyed the city of Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, destroyed the people’s homes, and carried off a good portion of the people back to Babylon. One of those who exiled was the prophet Ezekiel. Now imagine you’re one of those Israelites. What are you thinking? “My leaders, my shepherds, deceived me, my city has been completely destroyed, my God’s temple has been demolished, and my own home has been obliterated. Has God forsaken me? Is God really in control?” They were devastated.
It was to these Israelites whom Ezekiel spoke God’s message. And what was God’s message for them? “Completely opposite of your “shepherds” I, I, the Sovereign Lord will be your shepherd. I will search for my sheep, I will look for them, I will rescue them, I will bring them to their own land, I will pasture them, I will tend them, I will search for the lost and bring back the strays, I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, I will destroy the sleek and the strong.” Did you notice the subject of all of this? It’s God Himself!! Notice that God is speaking in picture language here. He’s not going to come to find a bunch of four-legged animals; rather He will come for His people. He will come to shepherd His people once for all. Then God gave the Israelites a few more details: “I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will be their shepherd.” At Ezekiel’s time David had been dead for some 400 years. But what had God promised to David? God promised to great king David that one day one of his descendants would come and God would place Him on the throne forever. Great David would have an even greater Son. Just from this prophecy what do we know about this coming Shepherd? God Himself will be the Shepherd who will tend His flock and this Shepherd will also be from one of David’s descendants and like David will rule on a throne, but His rule will have no end.
There’s a principle of understanding these OT prophecies that we have to keep in mind here. Many of these OT prophecies have 3 fulfillments. The first: God is telling the Israelites who are in captivity up in Babylon that He’s going to lead them back to their land, the land of Judah. Why would this be important? For the second fulfillment: This was extremely important so that the conditions might be right for a certain someone to be born in that land, in fact, in the small city of David called Bethlehem. This certain person would at one and the same time be a descendant of David and God Himself. After this Shepherd has tended His flock on earth He will bring all of His sheep in one flock to a rich pastureland where they will live forever in peace and security. That’s the third fulfillment. We get the advantage of being able to look at history and see how God fit all of this together. For the OT Israelite hearing this prophecy from the first time would hear something like this: One day God Himself will come as the promised Savior, the Messiah, the Good Shepherd, to rescue His flock of people and rule them forever. Yes, trust in God, He’s still in control!
So what does this prophecy mean for us today in the 21st Century? No, we’re not in exile in some foreign country wondering if God has abandoned us. No, our city, home, and church have not been demolished by a foreign army. And no our leaders for the most part are not “fleecing” us. And most of us probably haven’t spent a whole lot of time with sheep or seen shepherds at work with a flock. Yet, that picture still communicates to us today.
Sheep are really interesting animals. It’s my understanding that sheep are essentially defenseless on their own. They have little to no means of self-defense. Without a shepherd they are an easy target for any animal of prey. It’s also my understanding that sheep are very feeble and timid and are easily spooked. I suppose it must be because they are essentially defenseless that at the first sign of danger and without a shepherd they will immediately run for their lives. And it seems that the only way to get a sheep to lie down in peace is if their bellies are full and they are free from fear. That’s why it’s essential for sheep to have a caring shepherd who leads them to lush green pasture to graze in.
In this prophecy we as God’s people are pictured as sheep. And there are several parallels, aren’t there? In the grand scheme of things we have to admit that we are pretty much defenseless, right? We live in a world that’s full of uncertainties, don’t we? Any hour can bring disaster, danger, and distress from the unknown. Life is full of hazards. No one can tell what a day will produce in new trouble. Who knows what will happen with the economy? Who knows what will happen when the next terrorist attack will come? Who knows what nation will rise up and incite a new war? Who knows what will happen with the financial mess the world seems to be in? Who knows when the next protest or riot will happen? And even more closer to home: who knows what our next medical checkup will reveal? Who knows what next big financial burden we may have to bear? Who knows what next big temptation the devil will throw our way? We live in a world full of uncertainties. And these uncertainties can fill us with fear. We fear the unknown and the uncertain. We take a look at the world scene and the horrendous consequences of sin being present in the world and we have to ask the question: Can God really be in control? Can Christ really be the King? Our lives are also full of uncertainty. Is Christ really the King? Perhaps in fear and fright we like sheep find ourselves running to empty and desolate pastures of this world. When we question God’s ultimate control over all things and doubt Christ’s rule over this whole world we sin against God. Indeed, we all like sheep have gone astray.
But we have a Shepherd who didn’t leave us on our own to be devoured by the prowling lion, the devil. We may see great injustice happen in our world around us, but it all pales in comparison to the greatest injustice, the greatest crime of history, which we heard earlier in our service. A crown of thorns was placed on Jesus’ head, he was beaten, mocked, and spit upon and finally crucified. He endured all of that not because He couldn’t escape. He had the power to strike those soldiers dead on the spot, He certainly had the power to come from the cross, a piece of wood which He had created. The wonder of wonders is this: he didn’t. In incomprehensible love and grace the Good Shepherd laid down His life for the sheep. That was the battle our Shepherd won for us. And since He rose from the dead that proves He won the greatest battle of the world: victory over sin, death, and the devil that certainly makes Him the King of all things.
Although we may not see it with our eyes He does indeed rule the physical world around us. No evil, no disaster can happen unless He allows it. He stands far above every ruler and authority, power and dominion. He holds the devil on a chain and works all things- even the evil- for the good of His people. And He rules our lives spiritually through His Word and Sacraments. He gives us churches to be a part of and He promises to work through our church. It is here where he washes us clean from all of our sins through the living waters of baptism. Here He feeds us with the living food of His Word and the life-giving nourishment of the Lord’s Supper. Through His Word He strengthens our faith in Him and prepares us for the day-to-day battles against sin and temptations. No longer are we like defenseless sheep because God Himself gives us the armor we need: His Word and His Sacraments.
Is God in control? Is Christ really the King? When in doubt, remember His promises to you: “Surely I am with you always to the very end of the age. I will strengthen you and help you and uphold you by my righteous right hand. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil, for you are with me your rod and staff they comfort me. Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed. Do not be afraid little flock for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom.” No matter what happens on this earth you know with absolute confidence that your Good Shepherd will continually lead you on the path to your heavenly pastureland. So yes, rejoice, Jesus is your True Shepherd and your ultimate King. He rules all things for the good of you, His flock, now and always! Amen.