Scripture Readings: Ezekiel 34:11–16, 20–24 | Psalm 100 | Ephesians 1:15–23 | Matthew 25:31–46
“For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” (Ezekiel 34:11-12).
Jesus is Lord.
Not just of our hearts as Christians, but over all of creation.
This is one of the oldest and most shocking claims that the Church has made over the last two thousand plus years. It is a claim we have confessed in our Creeds, sung in our hymns, and declared as we gather around His Table together each Sunday for generations. In times of plenty, and famine. In seasons of war, and prosperity. Under the shelter of Christendom, and under the thumb of tyrants and oppressors. At all times and in all places, at the heart of all we do is the Good News that Jesus Christ is King.
And so today, the final Sunday of the Church year, we commemorate the Feast of Christ the King… celebrating the reign of Jesus our Saviour now and forever.
But the question does beg to be asked: How are we to understand Christ’s rule as King of Kings, when the world around us seems to be ruled instead by the unruly? By those who are vicious… violent, and cruel… or at least indifferent to the fate of so many who suffer because of their self-centeredness?
Truly, today we can see many examples of would-be kings of all sorts… striving for influence and control, seizing what they want, and turning their backs on their fellow human beings. And sadly, we know that we Christians are not immune to this temptation either. We too can get caught up in the agenda of seeking to seize the reigns of power… to rule over others as we see fit… even in God’s holy name… but completely forgetting what God’s good Kingdom is about in our quest to make our kingdoms come, and our wills be done.
But the Good News is: the Kingdom is not ours… it’s God’s. And no matter how much we humans might make a mess of things, in the end, God’s will alone is the one that will be done. No matter how lost all might seem, Jesus Christ the King will set God’s broken world aright… He will bring and end to the troubles that plague us. He will sort out all our selfishness, and set us on the true pathway that leads to life. Like a good shepherd, Jesus our King goes before us, to gather, to guide, to provide, and to correct God’s wayward children, so they might come to truly share in the ways of the Kingdom of God.
This image of God and His chosen Messiah acting as a shepherd occurs all over the Bible, and our readings today from the prophet Ezekiel and the Gospel of Matthew both use this powerful metaphor to show us more clearly the kind of King we serve… and what it means to share in His Kingdom… which is both comforting and challenging.
In the book of Ezekiel, the Living God claims He will personally rescue His people, who at this time were scattered in Exile, and under the thumb of the rulers of Babylon. Ezekiel 34:11-12, “For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep.” Such a compassionate and gracious promise made to His people. Comforting them in their distress, and darkest moments that the LORD was still their loving Saviour.
Yet this comforting promise comes with a warning and a serious one… reminding them and us that the saving love of the Living God does not ignore what needs correcting:
Ezekiel 34:15-16, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 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, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.”
He goes on to spell out how some of God’s people had gone astray: turning their backs on their neighbours, and thinking only of themselves… growing strong at the expense of others, causing suffering through their own indifference. Ezekiel 34:17-22, “As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?
Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
We might have a tendency see ourselves as the oppressed and innocent sheep, and to write off those who rub us the wrong way as those who God is promising to straighten out one day. And at times, that may be the case. But the whole point that is being made here in Ezekiel is that God Himself will judge between all the sheep, and sort them out as He sees fit… and that even if we think we’re the ones hard done by, God sees the whole picture and what’s really going on… and in the end, it’s His judgment that matters, not ours.
God’s words in Ezekiel are an important message of warning to God’s own people that many of them have become self-absorbed… oblivious to the needs of their neighbours, and at times, have become their oppressors. And so, as One who truly cares for all of His sheep… for all of His human creatures, the Living God will not let this go on forever. This truly is Good News, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to hear.
God’s sheep, His people are meant to share in a completely different way of life from the selfish ways we often chase after… loving each other so that all might share in the blessings of God’s Kingdom together. And when we forget this, and get off track, and trample down or ignore others in our own self-centredness, we can expect that our Shepherd King will not stand idly by, but will take steps to sort us out.
With Ezekiel in mind, let us turn to our Gospel reading from Matthew Chapter 25, to a picture Christ gives of God’s chosen King offering divine judgement over all the peoples of the earth.
This well-known passage takes place right after the Parable of the Talents, which we looked at last week: which calls us to make good use of our Master’s treasure, the Gospel, with the time that we have been given.
And in today’s Gospel reading we’re given a glimpse of how we are to put the Good News we’ve been entrusted with to work in the world… teaching us how we can faithfully serve our King, and do His good will today:
Matthew 25:34-40, “‘Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’”
Christ tells us quite clearly: we serve Him by serving those in need. We love Him through loving our neighbours.
This word is a counter message to that of our culture, and to the wisdom of this world… which offers selfishness as the best way to get ahead and be blessed. But God’s Kingdom is not based on His people chasing after their own comfort, security, and peace… but about receiving and sharing God’s rescuing love with all those around us… bringing His help and hope wherever and however we can… seeking to meet the needs of our neighbours in body, mind, and spirit… and seeing Christ Jesus our King in the face of everyone we meet.
God’s Kingdom is not brought about by pursuing power, or striving to make ourselves feel secure, while others are left to suffer. God’s Kingdom calls His people to pursue peace for all… to embrace the way of self-giving compassion and love… that is, to share in the very life of Jesus Christ our King, who was crucified and died to seek and to save the lost, wherever and however they may be found.
Christ our King, the promised descendant of David Ezekiel points us to, is God’s Good Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep… not grasping after control, but out of compassion enduring the pain and the shame of the cross, so that sinners might be set free. He gave His life to bring God’s saving love to the loveless… His help to the helpless… binding Himself in humility to those who suffer… and saying to us that when we serve them we’re serving Him… and when we neglect them, we neglect Him as well… which is a truly dreadful thought.
But as severe as this all is, these words from Ezekiel and St. Matthew are not meant to fill us with terror, but to warn and remind us of the ways of our Saviour King, who seeks to bring even His most wayward… selfish… and sinful sheep back into His fold… in His righteous judgement, compassion, and rescuing love, correcting them, and turning them back from their self-centred ways, so that they too might experience the blessings and joys of His eternal Kingdom… instead of the truly bitter end that awaits those who only serve themselves.
The Kingdom of God shines out in the world when we Christ’s people share in the life of our King: when our ways conform to His ways, and our wills submit to His, and His holy love shapes all that we do. None of this is possible apart from His grace, and the Holy Spirit at work in and among us… binding us to our Saviour, who goes before us as our Good Shepherd… gathering, guiding, providing for, and correcting us His all too often wayward sheep.
So today, as we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, and confess Him as Lord of all, including our often selfish and unruly hearts… let us trust in His rescuing love, even for our selfish and unruly world. Let us remember the Living God’s eager desire to seek and to save the lost… to bring help and hope to the helpless and the hopeless… to straighten out and correct all that is crooked and corrupt, and set it all right at last. And let then us serve our Saviour Shepherd King by sharing His self-giving love with all those around us, especially those in need. Trusting that everything we do for them… and for Him, brings His good Kingdom to light, so that all of creation may share in the blessings and joy of knowing that Jesus is Lord, now and forever. Amen.
Rev. Rob serves as the Priest-in-Charge at St. Luke's Gondola Point, and as the School Chaplain at Rothesay Netherwood School