Let God Take Over

Text: Ezekiel 34:11-24
Date: Pentecost XVII + Proper 19 + 9/11/16

“Just who does this guy, this teacher, ‘this man’ think he is?” So the Pharisees and scribes grumbled and asked themselves. They didn’t know at the time that they were actually pondering and asking the most important, the number one question of saving faith – Who is Jesus? “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” No orthodox, upstanding Jew would dare do such a thing! Just who does he think he is?

The evidence was all there, right in front of their eyes. This Jesus was fulfilling everything written about Him in the scriptures. This included the shepherding of God’s people, seeking out his scattered flock to gather the lost and bring them home. But who are the lost? “Surely the lost are the ‘goyim,’ the Gentiles, the nations, all those folks who have nothing to do with the Lutheran Church, or the Church in any form! The lost?” We too automatically think only of non-churched people, evangelism prospects. We’d never think “the lost” could be someone in church, someone like me.

Jesus told them parables about the lost, the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. He asked, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it?” The answer? Surprisingly I can imagine many if not most of them raising their hands! “Who would be so careless to leave the greater number defenseless, putting the greater investment at risk for the sake of just one lousy sheep? ‘Doesn’t make business sense! No, none of us would.”

“And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. and when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’” “No, I don’t think so. That’s ridiculous. ‘Won’t happen.”

Even if these so-called religious leaders of the people thought they were so knowledgeable…. Is it possible for anyone to know, to have read and studied and maybe even memorized parts of the Bible, God’s sacred Word, and forget some details, if they even ever knew the complete story?

Who were these “sinners” with whom Jesus sat down in table fellowship? They were not foreigners or Gentiles. They were fellow Lutherans, I mean, Jews. Misguided? Yes. Uninformed? Yes. Sinners? Yes. So what was going on here?

Did the Pharisees and scribes think if you sin like these dirty fellows have that you’re out? Did they pretend to think that their piety covered or hid their own sinful lives?

Here is a question for our own day. Is it possible to become a Christian, to study the scriptures, even to become a pastor or a member of a church body of whatever size and to end up misguided, deceived, mistaken, sinful, lost?

The Pharisees and scribes were among those who deemed themselves among God’s chosen shepherds of Israel. As such their word was law, wasn’t it? But their word was also to be not their word but God’s word. And what does God’s word say?

The prophet Ezekiel issued the warning to all who would be shepherds, priests or pastors among His people. The record is not good. Many disregarded, forgot or changed God’s word for their own words. You know, words that would excuse God’s people for their sins instead of calling them to repentance and forgiveness of their sins. They would even make up their own religious rules which, if the people would follow them, they’d be willing to reserve a seat for them in the pews. ‘Sound familiar? (Hopefully not here).

So what were the Pharisees and scribes forgetting? How about your big hero and prophet Ezekiel? Through him God pronounced His harshest judgment against the priests and leaders of His people. But that judgment was not the end of it. For God also pronounced the good news, the Gospel, saying, “Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when He is among His sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered…. And I will bring them…and I will feed them…. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.” Okay. But how is He going to do that, and who is this who receives sinners and eats with them?

I ask again, is it possible to read the Bible, to attend Bible class, to hear sermons and still remain deaf to the Gospel?

What did you hear when we read in Ezekiel 34:23, “And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd”? What do you hear there? God certainly had planned and had given, called and installed David, son of Jesse to be the greatest King of Israel. But notice that when Ezekiel delivered the Lord’s word here, saying, “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David,” David had already come some 500 years earlier! Did some think he meant God was planning on raising David from the dead to once again be the king and savior, the messiah of His people? No. Who is this man? This is the David the prophet spoken of. Jesus. He is the root and branch of David (Is 11:1). Jesus is the promised David, the Good Shepherd, the King of the Jews, the Messiah.

So Jesus told them parables. At first it may seem to be a riddle, only a story, until the Holy Spirit grabs our heart and mind and convinces us that there is something more here than we have ever before thought or conceived. The Word of God is powerful. The Word of God comes to all and says we are the lost ones. Through the Word, God comes and finds us, lays us on His shoulders, the broad shoulders of His only-begotten Son, those shoulders which were stretched in pain and blood on the cross, and, “uncomplaining forth” carried us rejoicing declaring in the heavens, “Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.” That’s you. That’s me: the lost ones found, carried, redeemed, saved.

Still it is possible for many, even those who we think ought to know better, to miss it. Ezekiel called those “the fat sheep,” those who only consider themselves leaders, hypocrites, blind guides. That’s the Pharisees and the scribes, the otherwise “good church people.” So we need to beware. We’re all in danger. May God have mercy on us lost ones that we may hear and see Him as our true Shepherd, our eternal King bringing us joyfully to repentance and faith to the angels songs of joy. Maybe then we can be His joyful under-shepherds, witnesses, evangelists to other lost ones.