Ezekiel 34:11-16 (Last Sunday in the Church Year, Proper 29)
“The God Who Seeks”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield CT
November 23, 2014
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text is from the Old Testament lesson recorded in Ezekiel 34:
“For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. 12 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 on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. 16 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, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.
Have you ever experienced being lost? Perhaps as a child you wandered away from mom or dad in the store. You couldn’t see them through all the racks of clothing. Panic sets in, that sense of utter dread, “I’m lost. I don’t know where my parents are!” Of course on the parents’ side is also panic, that sense of utter dread, “My child is lost. I don’t know where she is!” But the parent searches for the child. The parents seeks out the lost child.
The people of Israel were lost. Their rulers, “parents” if you will, had not taken care of them. The leaders of Israel had only thought about themselves, had only taken care of themselves. They disregarded the people. They failed to care for the weak, the sick, the injured, or those who had gone astray. The people were lost and their leaders didn’t care to find them. And then enemies came in and scattered the people, took them away into captivity in a foreign land, far from home. The people of Israel were lost.
You and I are lost too. It’s not a physical “being lost,” like a lost child or a lost people uncared for by their leaders and exiled to distant lands. It is a spiritual “lostness.” It is a condition of people in which we stand apart from God, away from God. It is a condition in which we find ourselves estranged from God, exactly like sheep who have wandered off from their shepherd. So Isaiah says correctly, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way.” (Isa. 53:6 ESV) The Psalmist also writes, “I have gone astray like a lost sheep.” (Ps. 119:176 ESV)
We are like sheep who are lost, but in a far worse condition. Not only are we lost, separated from God, but we simply don’t care. The corrupted human nature is so far gone that you and I in our natural condition do not care one iota about God or anything spiritual. So, unlike a sheep that knows it is lost and helpless, we do not realize that we are lost. We do not know that we are separated from God. Nor do we care. Imagine the precarious situation of a child who doesn’t realize that he or she is lost, separated from its parents. Life is going along so well until the need arises for care and support, for love and attention. The child will inevitably reach a point where it cannot take care of itself. It is then that the child realizes its condition.
It is the Word of God that reveals to you and me, and all people, that we are unable to take care of ourselves in spiritual matters. It is the Word of God that has to put a big, obvious sign right in our face to alert us so that we realize, “I am lost! I am separated from God! I have no way to take care of myself spiritually! And I didn’t even know it.”
That’s the purpose and function of God’s Law. It shows us as we truly are. It reveals to us what we would not know, nor care to know. We are blind in spiritual matters and understand nothing of God on the basis of our own powers. Our natural human will only has the desire and will to do evil and whatever is opposed to God. God’s Law reveals this to us. God’s Law shows us that we all fall short of the glory of God because we are all, by nature, sinful and unclean. (Rom. 3:23) God’s Law strips away all the lies of the devil, the world, and the flesh that says I’m a pretty good person and reveals me to be what I truly am, a lost and condemned person who cannot look for God, find God, or please God, even if I actually wanted to, which, in my sinful condition, I never would or never will.
So ever since Genesis 3, when Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit and sin entered the world and corrupted human nature, God has been left with lost and condemned creatures. And these creatures—people—had no idea of their lost condition. So what can God do with a flock of utterly lost sheep scattered throughout the entire world—hurting, suffering the consequences of sin, and dying? He does what only a Good Shepherd can do. God Himself searches for the sheep and seeks them out. They are not going to look for Him, or even look to Him. So God must come into the midst of a corrupt creation, a sin filled creation, and seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak. Let me show you what this looks like.
“[Jesus] entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 And behold, there was a man named Zacchaeus. He was a chief tax collector and was rich. 3 And he was seeking to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was small in stature. 4 So he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree to see him, for he was about to pass that way. 5 And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” 6 So he hurried and came down and received him joyfully. 7 And when they saw it, they all grumbled, “He has gone in to be the guest of a man who is a sinner.” 8 And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:1-10 ESV)
“For thus says the Lord Yahweh, ‘Behold, I myself will search for my sheep and I will seek them out. Like 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 cause them to be delivered from all the places where they were scattered in the day of clouds and gloom.’” It was a day of clouds and gloom when sin entered God’s good creation. It was sin that separated people from God and broke the perfect relationship Adam and Eve had with Him. It was sin that so messed up human nature and will that in this lost condition people want nothing to do with the Lord. And yet, in spite of our sins and our total corruption, God still wants everything to do with us. God still wants to be our God. He still wants to love us with an everlasting love. And that’s why He Himself came to find us in our lostness.
God the Son took on human flesh and entered into our lost world of sin and Satan. He lived among the tax collectors and the sinners. He ate and drank with the outcasts. He healed the lepers, the blind, the lame, and the sick. He cast out demons. Then He took upon Himself the world’s sins, yours and mine included, and suffered the horrible death of crucifixion. Jesus, the God who seeks and saves the lost, is the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep. (John 10) As we sing in the hymn “O Dearest Jesus, What Law Hast Thou Broken,” “What punishment so strange is suffered yonder! / The Shepherd dies for sheep that loved to wander.”
In Christ’s death and resurrection the people of the world find forgiveness of sins and everlasting life. What we did not want or desire in our lost condition, but God knew that we needed, He provided for us in the seeking Christ who came to find us lost and condemned sheep. God came to us to rescue us from our sins, from death, and from the devil’s power. God sought us out to give us forgiveness and life, to restore us to His favor through that redemption, and to make us His people, the sheep of His pasture. (Psalm 100:3) Christ has bought us back and brought us back to the Lord our God. He has bound up the wounds caused by sin with the Gospel of forgiveness. Through His Word and Sacrament, Christ strengthens us to love the Lord our God and to love our neighbors.
In Christ, God has brought together His lost people to feed them with the holy food of the Word and very Body and Blood of Jesus given and shed for the forgiveness of sins. This He has done through the Holy Spirit, who calls, gathers, enlightens, and sanctifies us in the Christian Church. It is in the Church, within the communion of saints, that we who have been rescued by the seeking God find good food and rich grazing land—the Gospel Word and the Holy Supper. And it is within this one, holy, Christian, and apostolic Church that we wait for Christ to come again. On that day of His coming, the Lord Jesus will gather all the lambs of His flock together from all the corners of the world. As Jesus promised, “There will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16 ESV) On the Last Day saints in heaven and saints on earth finally will be united together and we will be brought into our own land—the new heaven and the new earth where God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, will be our God who dwells with us and we will be His people. (Rev. 21:3)
This will all take place for us because our God is the God who seeks us like a shepherd seeks his lost sheep. In our sins and lostness, God sought us and found us in Jesus. He paid the price for our sins and won our forgiveness and life everlasting. And we have His promise that Christ will come again to bring all the scattered Church home together in the new creation. There, you and I and all believers in Jesus will “lie down in a good habitation and in a robust pasture.” (Ezek. 34:14) And we will be forever with the Lord. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.