Text: Ezekiel 34:11-24
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. Our sermon comes from the Old Testament and Gospel, which were read earlier.
Back in the days before GPS and smartphones, if you wanted to go somewhere you had never been to before, you often needed a map. You would pull out your big map that you could never get folded the right way again and plotted out your course. Your prayer was that there was no construction or anything that would have to cause you to detour from your route, lest you end up getting lost. If you were lucky, you got to your destination with no difficulties. If you were not so lucky, you would end up lost, looking at your map, twisting and turning it to figure out where you were and how to get where you needed to go.
Being lost is not something that like. It causes all sorts of angst in us. It makes us uncomfortable. All we want is to be found, to get to our destination. When it comes to our being lost, lost in our sin and trespasses, God has a plan: “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.”” That’s good news for us, that God would go seeking us out because we don’t go seeking Him. That’s the sad and unfortunate truth. That’s not my opinion of who we are, that’s what Scripture says of us. As St. Paul writes to the Ephesians, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.”
The fact that we were dead means that we were lost, with no desire of God and His blessings for us. If God is a God who does what is expected of Him, then we should all remain dead and lost. Fortunately for us, God doesn’t do what is expected of Him. One would expect God to just let us remain lost, dead in our sins because we couldn’t do what God told us to do in the Garden. But God doesn’t do the expected thing; rather, He does the most unexpected thing of all: make it possible for sin to be undone. He sends forth a Savior to find the sinner, as we see in our Gospel.
As Luke begins our text, “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”” That’s the way that it should be, because Jesus doesn’t come to those who are perfect and without sin. He comes to the weak, the broken, the sick, the, dying, the prostitute, the tax collector, the sinner. For once, the Pharisees and the scribes got something right: Jesus was coming for the people who need Him the most. That’s why He comes to find you, the lost.
But this isn’t the first time we see God going after the lost. He does it in our Old Testament reading, seeking them out, rescuing them from the various places where they have been scattered. God declares He Himself will shepherd His sheep. He will seek them out; He will rescue them; He will save; He will gather them in—in other words, the Good Shepherd will take care of His own sheep. The whole reason why this is necessary is because the sheep have gone astray. We have sinned, we have fallen short of God’s glory, we have failed to keep His commandments. And despite all of that, God searches for us—an example of His goodness.
What a promise that God makes! This promise is unlike any other promise because this one will not fail to be true. This promise is made by God Himself, promising to go and search for His sheep. Just who is God going to look for when He goes searching? He is going to search for you. He is going to search for you when you wander away from Him. He is going to search for you when you have turned your back on Him.
Then the prophet records one of the most beautiful visions in all of Scripture. The Good Shepherd promises to feed His flock and lead them to rest. The rest spoken of here is that eternal rest in heaven. What a glorious vision! Listen again to what Ezekiel records: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak….” God will tend to us personally. He will find us even if we are lost. He will fix what is wrong, and bind up our broken hearts. He will comfort and calm. He will heal the sick and strengthen them. There is no pain, no sorrow, no sickness, no weakness, no death in heaven. God Himself will see to that, and we shall know Him and rejoice in that knowledge at last. That’s the beautiful part. That’s the joy of having God as our Good Shepherd.
This Good Shepherd, the one whom we need more than anything, comes to us in the form of Jesus. He tells us, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Just as this text is comforting to us with God’s promises, so we also have to deal with God’s condemnations as well. We hear from Ezekiel: “and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.” The fat and the strong He will destroy. He will feed them with His displeasure and with eternal damnation – for that is what His justice means. What is terrifying is that we tend to be the fat and the strong.We have every advantage. We have the Word of God, clear and plain and in abundance. We enjoy the rich blessings of the earth in abundance. We are fat and lazy spiritually. And we are what the Bible refers to so often as strong. We are the ones who feel no need and fear no evil. Maybe not every one of us, but too many of us. And because of that, our Good Shepherd will come with justice for those who are not of His pasture.
For us, for the believer in Christ, we need not fear what will happen when Christ comes again. We need not fear when God calls us home to Himself. God has forgiven us in Jesus, paid for our sins by His death on the cross, and announced His love and His will to save us by the Easter resurrection of Jesus. Those He will feed and lead to His eternal rest.
More to the point, He feeds us even now. He lays before us the heavenly feast in earthly clothing, giving us the true body and blood of Jesus in, with, and under the bread and the wine. He calls to those who know Him and believe His Word and trust in His promises to come here, and receive Christ Himself in the mystery of the Sacrament. Here is healing and health. Here is rescue and forgiveness. Here, in this precious Sacrament, is forgiveness and life and salvation and everything that Christ has won for us. This meal, and this fellowship and this gathering about the Word and the promises of God and all the gifts He bestows are what the Good Shepherd promised when He promised to gather, bind up, heal and comfort. It is true that there will be more and greater in heaven, but it begins here, hearing His Word, and receiving His gifts, and eating His food.
The Good Shepherd. He feeds and heals, He finds and strengthens, He gives them forgiveness and eternal life. But He also culls the flock. Those who do not want Him, do not love Him or do not need Him any longer – the fat and the strong – He will destroy. These are two sides, both real views of the same Good Shepherd. For Christ’s sake, He has given to you life, that you may eat the good pasture and clear water that points to Jesus Christ our Savior and Lord. In Jesus’ name, amen. Now the peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.