Redemption and restoration

Ezekiel 34:11-16; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1:15-23

As noted earlier, today is Christ the King Sunday, a special day in the church year. Today is the last day of the year. Now, you might say, “Wait a minute. It’s only November.”

But the fact is, this is the last Sunday of the Christian calendar, the Christian year, because next Sunday we start Advent. So this Sunday we celebrate and we recognize the kingship, the lordship, the sovereignty of Jesus Christ.

He is the ruler over all, as noted in Ephesians. We need to recognize his lordship in all areas of our lives, and his kingship. This is important that we do this now. Advent is a time of preparation and waiting.

It’s not a time of preparation and waiting for a man in a red suit and a white beard to come down the chimney, bringing presents. It’s not a time, even, of waiting for the baby, because the baby already came two thousand years ago.

It’s a time of waiting for Christ to come again, for the second coming of Christ. And when He comes, He will come as a king, and a ruler, and every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that He is Lord.

So we celebrate Christ the King Sunday right before we prepare ourselves for the coming of the King. It’s therefore an important day in the life of the church.

Now, I know that the word “king” can cause some issues with people. Today in our modern understanding, we have some images of kings, and some understandings, and they’re really not very complimentary.

We think about kings, and you might think about somebody who’s a spoiled brat or somebody’s who’s a figurehead. You know, the tabloids love to print all their stuff about the royal family in England.

And while there are good men and women in the family, and I know tabloids specialize in the spectacular and, half the time, wrong, the fact is, is that it seems like they just have lives that are like some reality show these days.

And then you have quiet kings, such as in the Netherlands and places like that, that don’t make the news. But they are still figureheads, primarily, because the parliaments actually make the laws.

On the other end of the scale from being figureheads, you have those that are despotic and oppressive, like the king of Jordan or the king of Saudi Arabia, who impress their rule upon their people with an iron fist, through whatever means they might consider necessary.

So we don’t have a very good image of kings. Some people even have problems accepting Christ as king, and seeing Him as king. But that’s because they don’t understand what the kingship is supposed to be all about.

We get a glimpse of that today in our passage in Ezekiel. You see, the sovereign Lord has said at the beginning of that passage, in verse 11, the sovereign Lord is looking for the sheep of his flock.

Now, you might sit there and scratch your head. “Wait a minute. The king … and sheep … they don’t mesh.” But you see, the king is to be a shepherd for his nation. The king very much relates to the image of shepherding, particularly in the Old Testament, but also throughout ancient history.

You see, the king was supposed to lead from the front, not direct from the back. Much like in Palestine and the Middle East, the shepherds didn’t drive their sheep. They had to lead them, because of the terrain, the way the land was and the water was. It was very deadly in terms of arroyos and gulleys and places like that, and sheep could break their legs easily because they’re very nearsighted. The shepherd had to lead the sheep.

The king is supposed to care for his people, as a shepherd cares for his sheep, being worried about them, when things aren’t going well. In fact, in medieval times, the king was seen as the embodiment of the land or his people, even as we are the body of Christ.

Frequently, if there was a problem like famine in the land, or warring internally, they would look to the king to see what sin was upon him, what problem was in his life, that was being reflected in his people.

So the king identified with his people. He cared for his people. He needs to lead his people. He is the upholder of law and justice. There are laws that were given. The king was not to rule at a whim, though many may have, in their human failing. But rather, there was a law that was put forth and they were to uphold that and they were to be just in their dealings with all people, regardless of social rank.

Lastly, the king was to be a visionary of the future. The king was always to have his mind on the big picture, to be watching the greater whole. We might be concerned with our little daily life and what’s going on at the moment, but the king had to be thinking ahead and around.

Just as the shepherd, in order to take care of his flock, has constantly to be taking in the big picture, has got to be looking around, has got to be seeing possible problems, possible incidents that might occur. Are there any bears or lions or wolves or other sorts of beasts that might attack? Is the ground OK? Is there enough grass? Is the water still (since the sheep won’t drink at a creek?

And he upholds the law with justice. We see all of these things mentioned in the passage of Ezekiel. And all of this refers, in an indirect way, to Christ. For you see, Christ is King. He is King in heaven, and we notice in Philippians, I believe it’s in Philippians 2, that it says he was in glory and he had authority, and he emptied himself — the word is kenosis — he emptied himself to come as a slave or a bond-servant, to live among us, of no account, to suffer death, even death on a cross, for each one of us. He identifies with us, lived among us, gave us an example of sinless life, suffered and died for our sins, to wash us clean. Then he was raised again, once again to that kingship, so that we might have new life, an abundant life with him.

St. Clement of Alexandria said, “For the sake of each of us he laid down his life — worth no less than the universe. He demands of us in return our lives for the sake of each other.”

What is Christ’s kingship and kingdom all about? Well, if we look at it with that eye on the Ezekiel passage, we see that God is a shepherd who is faithful, unlike the human ones that led Israel astray, who said, “Peace, peace” and led them in the worship of idols.

God was faithful. God was the shepherd who seeks out the remnant who remain faithful to Him, even during the worst times of oppression and destruction. It says that He’s going to seek them out and bring them to Him, out of the land where they have suffered, into the light of His love. Always, He reaches out to them with love and blessing. Always, He declares His care for them. If only they had listened. And if only we would.

A childhood accident caused poet Elizabeth Barrett to lead a life of semi-invalidism before she married Robert Browning in 1846. But there’s more to the story. In her youth, Elizabeth had been watched over by her tyrannical father. When she and Robert were married, the wedding was held in secret because of her father’s disapproval. After their wedding, the Brownings sailed for Italy, where they lived for the rest of their lives.

But even though her parents had disowned her, Elizabeth never gave up on the relationship. Almost weekly, she wrote them letters. Not once did they reply. After ten years, she received a large box in the mail. Inside, she found all of her letters, and not one had been opened. Today, those letters are among the most beautiful in classical English literature. Had her parents only read a few of them, their relationship with Elizabeth might have been restored.

So it is between God and us. Christ came as the greatest love letter. God Himself made human among us, for the sole purpose of redeeming us, reconciling us with Himself, and restoring us to fellowship with Him. In Christ’s work is the greatest fulfillment of Ezekiel’s vision of God here, as the good shepherd who cares for his flock and will lay down his life for them.

There’s a story about a boy named Tom and his boat that he built, a little model boat. Tom carried his new boat that he made to the edge of the river. He carefully placed it in the water and slowly let out the string. How smoothly the boat sailed. Tom sat in the warm sunshine, admiring the little boat that he had built.

Suddenly a strong current caught the boat. Tom tried to pull it back to shore but the string broke. The little boat raced downstream. Tom ran along the sandy shore as fast as he could. But the little boat soon slipped out of sight. All afternoon he searched for the boat. Finally, when it was too dark to look any longer, Tom sadly went home.

A few days later, on the way home from school, Tom spotted a boat just like his in a store window. When he got closer, he could see that sure enough, it was his. He hurried to the store manager. “Sir, that’s my boat in your window. I made it.”

“Sorry, son. But someone else brought it in this morning. If you want it, you’ll have to buy it for a dollar.” Tom ran home and counted all his money. Exactly one dollar. When he reached the store, he rushed to the counter. “Here’s the money for my boat.” As he left the store, Tom hugged his boat and said, “Now you’re twice mine. First I made you. Now I bought you.”

If you ever think that you aren’t worth much, and if you think you’re cheap, and you have problems understanding that God is king, accepting God as king, just remember what God thinks of you. He thinks you’re His. Twice His. First because He made you. And second, you’re His because He bought you on the cross. He paid a price to redeem you. So let go of your stress to God’s care. Let go of your sins to God’s cross. And look for the guidance and care of a Father in your life, that is present each and every day.

In this passage in Ezekiel, we also see here at the end that God is a God of justice. He promises that those who live off of others, who oppress the faithful and who mock God and His kingdom, will be destroyed. Those who don’t believe will get what they deserve, much to their chagrin.

Back in our sermon series on the attributes of God, when I spoke about His justice, I said that justice is not fairness. Justice is getting what we deserve. Just as grace, or mercy, is getting what we don’t deserve.

Christ the King Sunday finishes out the year because Christ will be coming again. When He does, it will be as a conquering king, promised in this vision of Ezekiel. Immediately after today, we begin to celebrate Advent, where we recognize Christ has first come among us, and look with hope and joy to His coming again.

For you see, what will be judgment to those who refuse the good news of the gospel, will be a time of celebration for us. We will escape that judgment, because in Christ our King, we are redeemed, reconciled, and restored.

Now this knowledge of who Christ is, and what His call is to each one of us, leaves us with a couple of choices to make and jobs to do. First, we need to accept the gift of love and salvation we receive in Jesus Christ. We can’t get anywhere without that. He can’t be your Shepherd if you refuse to accept Him.

Second, we need to be faithful to God, as we worship and grow in our faith, learning about Christ and what it means to be His disciple and servant, as we read the Scriptures. For if He is king, we are servants, and are required to do as He commands. We do this as we attend worship faithfully, strengthen our faith with the sacrament of Communion, and study in Bible studies, Sunday School, and other venues.

Third, we need to share this life-changing news with others. Just think about it. If you truly believe what has been described in the Scriptures, then it becomes a matter of the gravest urgency — life and death, even. We do this as we tell others about the gospel, and as we live lives that testify to the love and mercy and joy we have experienced from God ourselves. How we live is always the best witness of all, for we need to share in every way we can.

One of the things that this understanding of Christ and His kingship and His commandments does for us is give us direction also in relating to each other. We need to show the same kind of desire to reconcile with each other and restore relationships that have been broken, even as our King did for us. It won’t be easy. Often, I imagine, we would prefer to be like the person in my next story.

One New Year’s Eve in London’s Garrett club, British dramatist Frederick Lonsdale was asked by Seymour Hicks to reconcile with a fellow member. The two had quarreled in the past and never restored their friendship, even though it had been years long. “You must,” Hicks said to Lonsdale. “It is very unkind to be unfriendly at such a time as this. Go over now and wish him a happy new year.” So Lonsdale crossed the room and spoke to his enemy – “I wish you a happy new year,” he said, “but only one!”

The challenge is not only accepting the message of God’s salvation, but being grateful daily for the gift of life. We strengthen ourselves in worship as we hear the Word and we sing praises to God, experience at times Communion as an aid to faith, and then we must go out into the world.

Especially during this Thanksgiving season, give God praise and gratitude before other people for the things He has done. We need to look out for other opportunities God may give you, to reconcile with others and to restore relationships. It may be you can even deliberately go to someone you have been estranged from, and offer reconciliation, openly forgiving them any wrongdoing or hurt and repenting of and asking for forgiveness for your own sins against them, seeking to restore the relationship.

I promise you will feel better. Your Advent/Christmas season will be brighter and more joyful, and you will be honoring and blessing the God who loves you like a shepherd loves his sheep and cares for them, and you will be following the command of the King of creation and of our lives. And may all that you do give Him praise and honor.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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