Nate closed his eyes and sighed in frustration. For the first time, Wyatt had accepted an invitation to go to Bible club. The teacher explained that people are lost in sin, and Jesus came to find and save them. But Wyatt didn’t understand. “I don’t get it,” he said as he and Nate walked home. “It doesn’t make sense! A perfect God wouldn’t search for people, because He wouldn’t need them for anything–especially not people who keep messing up all the time.” Nate didn’t know how to explain it any better than their teacher had.
“I’ve had enough God talk,” added Wyatt. “Wanna stop at my house for a while?” Nate nodded.
When the boys arrived at Wyatt’s house, his little sister, Rosalie, ran up to them. “Wyatt!” she called. “Ranger’s missing!”
“What?” Wyatt began to panic.
“I looked all around the neighborhood for him, but I can’t find him,” said Rosalie. “Can you go look for him, Wyatt?”
“I’ll help,” said Nate, and the boys took off in different directions, calling the dog’s name and whistling for him.
Nate circled the block, and when he got back to Wyatt’s house, he found Wyatt throwing sticks for the dog. “Ranger heard me call and came to me,” said Wyatt with a grin. “I think he wanted to be found!”
That gave Nate an idea. “Why did you have to go look for Ranger?” he asked.
“Because he was lost,” said Wyatt, looking puzzled. “Besides, I didn’t have to look for him–I wanted to! He’s my dog–he belongs with me.”
Nate grinned. “Right,” he said, “and you know what? God didn’t have to look for us, either. He wanted to because He made us, and we belong to Him. God loves you, Wyatt, even more than you love Ranger. God wants to find you, and He can–but you have to want to be found.” Wyatt looked a bit startled. “Come over tomorrow night and we can talk about it some more,” said Nate. “Okay?”
Wyatt watched Ranger chew the end of a stick. “Maybe,” he said thoughtfully. “I’ll think about it.”
The reading from Ezekiel describes God’s search and rescue operation. God takes the initiative in restoring the lost and broken. National and personal recovery is possible because of God’s infinite mercy, but mercy takes sides. It may embrace everyone, but those who have profited at others’ expense must face the consequences of their injustice as a prelude to reconciliation.
The good King’s focus is always on the people’s welfare. That King, that Good Shepherd, always protects the flock from their curious roaming. That Good Shepherd, that King, made God’s loving kindness present among the people, brought healing to the infirm in the flock, bound up wounds, and led to good pastures and flowing water.
The passage from Ezekiel is a prophecy about the Israelites’ rejection of God and His plan to bring them back to Him. It envisions three things:
- Israel’s increasing degeneracy and failure to obey God’s laws.
- God’s punishment of His people by conquest and exile and the many miseries involved in those events.
- Eventual restoration of the people to a better relationship of true faithfulness to God.
Ezekiel 24 follows this plan. It demonstrates four things:
- Israel’s past failures under irresponsible leaders. Of the 43 kings from 1051 BC to 586 BC, only David, Hezekiah and Josiah were solidly, consistently loyal to God in their leadership of the nation. Eight or nine of the other 40 did some good. The majority were evil and selfish.
- God the Good Shepherd taking over.
- God judging His flock and putting Jesus in charge.
- The resulting blessed new age of the covenant of peace.
Through Ezekiel, the Lord gives 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 the Promised Land, where He will care for them and make them prosper. He will do for them what their failed shepherds 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 like wandering sheep with no shepherd.
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 instructs us to “comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all.” A leader with a servant’s heart looks out for others and shepherds their flock well.
Verses 23 and 24 promise that God would send the Messiah to shepherd His people, Israel, and that this Good Shepherd would care for them and provide for their needs. The phrase “my servant David” refers here 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.
God will eventually take over the nation of Israel. He will bring the Israelites back to their homeland. He will take care of them and make them prosper. He will revive His people and destroy their enemies.
Ezekiel’s message was a message of hope for the Israelites, and it is still a message of hope today. God is still following this plan. He does what He does for our benefit. He feeds us what He knows will give us spiritual health and physical health. He makes us lie down and rest when we would rather keep moving. He is the Good and Great Shepherd.
The passage from Ezekiel is a metaphor of the Parable of the Lost Sheep. It encourages those who have been pushed and shoved by events beyond their control. If we feel secure we will be less likely to abuse other people.
God will also judge abusive members of the flock as to their true spiritual state. It anticipates the judgment of the people given by Jesus in Matthew 25:31-46. The ungodly are known because they trample the poor. God can sort out the true from the false and will do so when He establishes His kingdom on earth. Wherever life and people threaten to pull us under, we as believers know that we have a divine rescuer-Jesus. This is God’s assurance, and it is also Ezekiel’s assurance to the Israelites. All we have to do is hold fast to God and His promises.
Once we have been rescued, it is natural for us to go back to business as usual. We want to forget the hopeless, horrifying moment when we were lost in darkness. Going back there to warn others is hard work. It sounds risky. Why do we fear the lost? Is it because they are needy and desperate? Are we afraid that they will latch on to us and beg for things? Are we scared because they are so different from us-different in lifestyles, language, clothing styles, food and music preferences or sense of humour? For the desperate, the hungry, the oppressed, for those in pain, no rescue can come soon enough. When they call to us for rescue, God demands that we be willing to help them.
We need to follow God out of the throne room, and we need to confess our reluctance to go. Many churches are really comfortable staying where they are. It is a place where everyone looks like us, where we aren’t threatened, where it’s clean and beautiful and safe. We like the safety of the throne room, but if we want to live in God’s kingdom and obey His will for our lives, we must join God in the search and in the great shepherding work. As someone once told me, “Do what you fear, and the fear will go away. “
God is in charge. Despite appearances, confusion and the miserable condition the sheep are in, the prophet speaks for God. He assures them they will return from exile. God will shepherd them back to their own land and restore them to God’s ways. Jesus fulfilled the promise God made to the Israelites. Jesus did this humbly, as he said in Matthew 20:20, “The Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.” He taught his disciples to do the same, and He urges us to do the same.
On this the Reign of Christ Sunday, it is unusual to have the reading from Ezekiel about God not as King, but as a Shepherd. In reality, it is not unusual because for Israel God was seen as a ruler who was a shepherd and who would protect, lead and defend the people with gentleness and compassion. God assures us that He is in charge. He will do what He promises to do. He will shepherd us. He is still faithful.
The Lord God is critical of what seems to come naturally to sheep – pushing with flank and shoulder, butting each other with horns. Maybe the same is true for us. When push comes to shove we would prefer to not be on the receiving end. But God as shepherd prefers lean sheep to fat ones and promises to bring back the strayed, bind up the injured and strengthen the weak. The image of God as our shepherd is for the encouragement of all who have been pushed and shoved by events beyond their control so that rescued from the clouds and thick darkness of despair, well-watered and fed on the good pasture of hope; we would no longer be ravaged by doubt and fear. And if we feel secure we might be less likely to push and shove and scatter others to preserve a place for ourselves, which would be pleasing to the shepherd and sheep alike.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 1094-1095)
- “Ranger.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Stuart, D. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 20: Ezekiel (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1989; pp. 307-315
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New Kings James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Version (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Patricia Rayburn, “God Our Rescuer.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Rick Boxx, “A Shepherd’s Heart.” Retrieved form Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, Christ the King (A).” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Justin Lynd-Ayres, “Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Christine Caine, “Seeking the Lost.” Retrieved from Biblegateway@s.biblegateway.com
- Ben. H. Colvert, “Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24.” Retrieved from email@example.com.
- The Rev. Sue Haupert-Johnson, “God Has Left the Building.” Retrieved from www.day1.org
- Margaret Odell, “Commentary on Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2188
- Walter Brueggeman, “Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24: Failed Kings and the Good Shepherd.” Retrieved from www.huffpost.com/ezekiel-34-christ-the-king-sunday-on-sctipture_b_1097125.
- Bruce Epperly, “The Adventurous Lectionary-Reign of Christ Sunday-November 22, 2020.” Retrieved from www.patheos.com/blogs/livingaholyadventure
- Jude Siciliano, OP, “First Impressions, Christ the King (A), November 22, 2020.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org