Text: Ezekiel 17:22-24
Date: Pentecost III (Proper 6) + 6/17/12
There are times when our lives seem to be going in a pleasant and positive direction: Ah, “Summertime and the livin’ is easy, fish are jumpin’ and the cotton is high.” In times like those it’s easier to believe that God is in control and blessing us with His grace. Then, of course, are those other times, times maybe of disappointment or the diagnosis of cancer, times of unemployment or of failure, times of depression or war. At times like those it’s easier to wonder whether God is even there much less in control. As God’s people God’s Word tells us that He is in control and in the business of blessing in bad times as well as good. It’s just that it’s harder for us to see in bad times, even to the point of the despair of faith, that there is any incentive to hope in God.
It’s especially for times when faith is challenged and hope is hard to hang on to that Holy Scripture gives blessed assurance in words inspired and crafted for faith. Today we’re told of the kingdom of God, that is, God’s gracious, caring, saving rule both in our world now and in the life to come. In the Gospel Jesus likens the kingdom of God to the planting of seed and its automatic growth, and to the mustard seed that, though the smallest of seeds, grows to be larger than all the garden plants, and all without our worry or concern. As we learned in the catechism, “God’s kingdom comes by itself without our prayer…when our heavenly Father gives us His Holy Spirit, so that by His grace we believe His holy Word and lead godly lives here in time and there in eternity.” Our Old Testament reading is a little known messianic prophecy that follows an allegorical story told by the prophet Ezekiel to reassure God’s people that, for all the political intrigue going on at the time, God is still in control and is directing history to serve His purposes of good and blessing for His people.
But that is not the last word God speaks to them or to us. For His direction of earthly history and events is a mystery until faith sees there is a greater, theological meaning and goal and gift of God. That goal is nothing less than new life, resurrection and eternal, sinless, joyful life with God brought about by the true planting of the Lord, His Son, Jesus Christ. By faith in Him—only faith, and only in Him—can we see and believe that we are God’s Planting of Grace.
As Jesus speaks in the parables of the seed and the mustard plant, so Ezekiel speaks in an allegory of twigs and branches and trees. It’s called the “Allegory of Two Eagles and the Vine” where the two eagles represent Nebuchadnezzer, king of Babylon and the Pharaoh of Egypt. Israel’s king Jehoiachin and the royal family are taken to Babylon and Zedekiah is installed as his replacement. But he rebels against Babylon and looks to Egypt for help. Through the allegory the prophet means to let everyone know that God is the One directing all of history and acting through the great earthly powers. Zedekiah’s scheming will fail and fall to God’s judgment.
It would seem that the story ends on that threatening note of failure and judgment. But it doesn’t. For the prophet is then moved to extend the allegory to describe the kingdom of God and His eternal plan to redeem and save the whole world from the devastation of sin which is at the heart of all political intrigue and whose wages is death.
When the prophet reports God’s Word talking about “a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar,” breaking off from “its young twigs a tender one” which then God Himself will plant, he recalls other prophets who referred to the Messiah as a branch. At Christmas we sing of the “Branch of royal David’s stem In Thy birth at Bethlehem” (LSB 394). So says the prophet Isaiah, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit” (Is 11:1). Jeremiah prophesied, “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land” (Jer 23:5).
The prophet Isaiah described Jerusalem as God’s holy mountain (Is 27:13 et al.). There the Messiah would appear. There Jesus came ultimately to die, the one sacrifice worthy of liberating all mankind from the slavery of sin. In these words God has promised that death will not have the last word. Easter, the resurrection of Christ proclaims God’s triumph over sin and death. Now all who are baptized into His death and resurrection are liberated, freed to live an eternal life. For now we live in the shade of the branches of the tree of Christ’s cross receiving the constant flow of God’s grace in the forgiveness of our sins. Therefore we live by faith and in the great hope that, “united with [Christ] in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his” (Rom 6:5).
God is in control. He is behind all history directing it to His ultimate goal. It’s easier to believe that when things are going well. It is especially for those other times, however, times of fear and failure whether of our own making or of our circumstances with others in this world, that God has given faith the greater vision of His ultimate victory and blessing and grace. For, as the Apostle Paul said today, “we know that if the tent, which is our earthly home, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Cor 5:1).
Beloved, by repentance and faith we are God’s planting of grace. Christ is the vine, we are the branches. Whoever abides in Him and He in you, “he it is that bears much fruit” (John 15:5) and dwells in safety (Ps 4:8) to life everlasting.