On Reign of Christ Sunday, we reflect on the mighty acts of God proclaimed every Sunday of the past year. We celebrate that, because Christ has humbled himself to the point of death on the cross, God has exalted Him and made Him King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Not all leaders are God-like. A good example is found in the passage we heard from Ezekiel. The passage is part of a long prophecy that Ezekiel received from God. It prophesied Israel’s failure to keep God’ covenant, God’s rejection of Israel and their eventual restoration. It was a condemnation of Israel’s leaders. Ezekiel wrote a hopeful message for the people in exile. Beginning with David, Israel’s kings were called the shepherds of God’s people. Mostly they weren’t the guiding and protecting shepherds David was. As a result, the people were left unattended, like sheep left for prey in the wilderness.
Their leaders were selfish. They lived off the people’s productivity and wealth. They didn’t seek to help Israel. They ruled for their own advantage. The result was that the people strayed from God. God promised to remove the shepherds and take over as the shepherd of the people. He promised to revive the people and punish their oppressors and their enemies. He promised that He will judge His people in a way that is similar to how a shepherd decides which sheep are kept, sold or slaughtered.
For many decades, the shepherds of Israel-the nation’s leaders, both spiritual and governmental-failed to lead the people into godly ways of living. Even worse, they did not model how to enjoy a growing relationship with the living God. Instead, they acted to enrich themselves at the expense of others. The Babylonian conquest occurred, in large part, because they failed to carry out their God-given duties. The nation collapsed and the people were scattered because its leaders failed.
The Lord removed the flock of Israel from the care of the nation’s spiritual and governmental leaders by eliminating those leaders through the Babylonian attack. While it is a great privilege to lead God’s people, it is a privilege that comes with enormous responsibility. God’s rule is full of healing and justice. It doesn’t exploit people the way human power does so often. God’s loving rule involves putting an end to the threat of exploitation and fear. God will hold bullies accountable for their actions.
The Festival of Christ the King first emerged as an attempt to counter the claims of some European dictators in the 20th century. The real ruler of this age is Jesus Christ. This passage isn’t about the nature of human government or human leadership. It is about God’s plan of salvation. It is only through Christ that this prophecy is fulfilled. He is the one who provided for God’s people to have the great benefits of restoration.
Through Ezekiel, the Lord gives yet another promise that He will one day “search for, seek…out” and gather the people of Israel from all the places He has scattered them and bring them back to their Promised Land, where He will care for them and make them prosper. He will do for them what their leaders refused to do. This prophecy began to be fulfilled when the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, was born in Bethlehem and shepherds celebrated his arrival. As the Good Shepherd, Jesus ministered to the crowds, who were wandering sheep with no shepherd.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd who lays his life down for the sheep. As Christians, we must change our understanding of power so that we devote all our passion and energy to loving God and our fellow man.
The image of God as our shepherd is for the encouragement of all who have been oppressed so that when they are rescued from despair they will not have any doubts or fears. If we feel secure we might be less likely to push, shove and scatter others to save a place for ourselves. To those who fail to join God in this work, there will be consequences-namely, separation from God. In the abusive and broken world called life, God is still faithful. If we are going to remain bound together in order to serve God more effectively, then we have to be responsible to one another.
Faithful shepherds of God’s flock pay special attention to the weak sheep among them and so take appropriate action to tend to their unique needs. The New Testament tells us in 1 Thessalonians 5:14 to “comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.”
The modern-day church isn’t excluded from Ezekiel’s wrath. The church is gathered from the nations, where power is exercised in many ways, and not necessarily for the sake of human well-being. It’s worth asking ourselves how this exercise of power has fragmented the human community, isolating us from one another, leaving us scattered, injured and alone.
Our modern society is in a leadership crisis. Ezekiel’s condemnation applies today. Our society is now governed by the wealthy who not only control all branches of the government but who have created an alliance between corporate power and government oversight to the benefit of the wealthy and the powerful.
The passage from Ezekiel parallels the passage from Matthew 25:31-46, where Christ distinguishes between the sheep and the goats based on their deeds of social compassion toward the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and the imprisoned.
Verses 23 and 24 in the passage from Ezekiel promise that God would send the Messiah to shepherd His people, Israel, and that this Good Shepherd will care for them and provide for their needs. The phrase, “My servant David,” refers to the Messiah, the Promised One who would come from the lineage of David and restore Israel’s security. Contrary to the failed shepherds of Israel, Jesus not only cared for the sheep but put them first by laying His life down for them.
Jesus will be a “king” in quotation marks. He has few duties, and his primary requirement is that He will get the best seat in the house at future religious celebrations, and that seat is at the right hand of God. He won’t continue the oppressive and self-serving ways of His predecessors. Our setting aside a Sunday for the Reign of Christ doesn’t imply that this king will bank on his maleness nor exert his rule in a hierarchical fashion. He is a king, not according to human expectations, but rather a “king” after God’s own heart.
God does what He does for our benefit. He feeds us what He knows will give us health. He makes us lie down when we would rather keep moving. He is the Good and Great Shepherd. He will do whatever it takes to get us to stop and pay attention. A life that goes along with the world’s activities will face serious troubles until God brings us back to Him.
God knows that what we really want is His help. He loves us and searches us out among the problems we get ourselves into. We must let Him come close to us, lead us and guide us in the way He wants to. We must join Him in the search for the lost. Our God is willing to engage in the nasty, challenging, dangerous work of shepherding. He wants us to go and search for the lost as well, to wander every part of the community, to go where most people would not dare go, to go into situations that most people would avoid. For the desperate, the hungry, the oppressed and those in pain, no rescue can come soon enough. When the lost call to us for rescue, God doesn’t command us to be supreme. He commands us to be willing. He’ll do the rest.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, p. 1094-1095)
- Stuart, D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 20: Ezekiel (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1989, pp. 307-313)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible, New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible, New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- “Success in God’s Past.” Retrieved from www.dailydisciples.org
- Pastor Jack Hibbs, “Never Alone.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Christine Caine, “Seeking the Lost.” Retrieved from Biblegateway@e.biblegateway.com
- Donna Stanford, “Bible Study, Christ the King (A).” Retrieved from www.episcopaldigitalnetwork.com
- The Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson, “God Has Left the Building.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Ben H. Colvert, “Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Carolyn J. Sharp, “Commentary on Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Margaret Odell, “Commentary on Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- Ralph W. Klein, “Commentary on Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org
- The Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson, “God Has Left the Building.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, Christ the King (A), November 26, 2017.” Retrieved from www.preacherexchange.org