For those who want a change from the Gospel
Christ the King – Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
1 Timothy 2 urges us to be constant in prayer for our earthly leaders, and you can’t argue with that, although at times I find myself very tempted about what exactly to pray for them! Every night’s news brings further reports of our government’s failures, incompetence, downright lies, and internal warring. Even those who voted this lot in in order to get Brexit done seem to have grown quieter and quieter about its promised merits as we seem no closer to any kind of a deal which will lead to a prosperous future. Today, the Feast of Christ the King, reminds us that beyond fallible human leaders there is a real King who is both reigning and also getting ready to reign. Ezekiel 34 provides a helpful link between the reality of 2020 Britain and the coming reign of Jesus.
The chapter as a whole is an oracle of judgment against the rulers of Judah, and verses 1-6 list their shortcomings every bit as clearly as Laura Keunssberg does every evening with ours. The text is strangely up-to-date: they look after themselves while neglecting their duty of care for the poor; they have done nothing to heal the broken or comfort the sorrowing. They have ruled harshly and brutally, so that the people were lost and scattered, and they did nothing to bring them back together. For those reasons, says Ezekiel, God is against them. So what is he going to do?
Our reading starts here, in v.11: because of the failure of human rulers, he is going to come and do the job properly himself. Ezekiel then goes on to give us four characteristics of the reign of God as opposed to the current human rulers.
The people, not themselves.
The picture used throughout the chapter is of shepherds, those whose job is to care for, nurture and protect the sheep in their care. OT Kings are often seen in terms of shepherding, and it is no mere chance that the greatest king ever, David, began as a shepherd boy. When the Good Shepherd comes, he will not be interested in feathering his own nest (forgive the change of metaphor!) but will do what shepherds are meant to do: care for the flock, rescue them from danger, and bring them to good pasture. The lovely picture of them lying down in v.15 is reminiscent of Psalm 23, and provides a great picture of a nation at rest, free both from external oppression and internal anxiety.
Active, not passive.
God the King will actively seek out those who are lost and scattered, those who have lost their way or become excluded. Rather than not caring, like the earthly rulers, the new King will take the initiative and the lost will be found and the broken healed.
The community, not just individuals.
If there is one difficult or politically incorrect motif in this chapter, it is the words of judgement (which, surprise surprise, have been filleted out). But they have to be there, because the Shepherd King, who is totally committed to the flock and its wellbeing, has no choice but to deal decisively with anything or anyone who threatens their safety, and tragically it is the rulers who have become a danger to the people. Our King is paradoxically committed to each individual, but he is against anyone who threatens the life of the community. As I have said many times in preaching, God is not tolerant! He has to stop those who would harm his people, and he will.
Unity, not division.
Our reading ends with the vision of a united people, yes, brought back from exile to their own land, but also under the reign of one King who will bless them, not harm them. Under his reign there will be no Leavers and Remainers, no North/South divide, no Democrats and Republicans, nor any of the other divisions which have been allowed to wreck our world.
Historically this chapter marks the turning point on Ezekiel’s prophecy. Before chapter 33 he has written only in warning of the coming judgement, in the shape of the Babylonian exile. But the mood changes here as he begins for the first time really to talk about restoration. The coming of the new King, whom we know to be Jesus, and for which we are still waiting, holds out hope for healing and restoration, not just for poor and broken people, but also for a sick and divided world. What a hope! And, as we head into Advent next week, what a stimulus to prayer. Maranatha! Come, Lord Jesus!