Easter 4

SERMON                                                         4th Easter                          April 22, 2018

Text: Ezequiel 34:11-16  For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.

 

            In the 3rd Article of the Apostles Creed we state, “I believe in the forgiveness of sins”.  With these words we are stating that we believe God forgives us our sins. That is a bold statement. Do we actually see our sins forgiven? Do we feel different when or after God forgives us our sins? No. Then how can we be certain of this forgiveness of our sins by God? Because God himself tells us this is true. He does this in the many words and pictures that he gives us in the Bible. For instance, in 1 John 1: 9 we read, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” A beautiful picture of our forgiveness by God is given us today in our text. Our text pictures God as our Shepherd. He is the good Shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep and brings them back to himself and his land. We will study this picture today for this reason. You and I can and do doubt at times, does God really forgive me? Let us today then study and be reassured by our Lord that We Should Believe God Forgives Us. First, let us learn why the Jews and we need this forgiveness. Secondly, let us see how God provides this forgiveness.

            Our text begins, “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says”. God is speaking here to you and me. He is teaching us. Then he goes on to say, “I”, “I” again and again, 10 times just in our text. He wants to emphasize that it is he who forgives us. Therefore, we can be sure and certain of the forgiveness of sins. But why did God originally say this for the Jews in Babylonian captivity? Because after 70 years of captivity the Jews would finally be repentant of past sins, especially their idolatry. After their confession of sins God could forgive them.

            After the era of Kings David and Salomon, the Israelite nation was divided into two parts, The Nation of Israel in the north composed of ten of the twelve tribes. They soon turned to idolatry and the worship of Baal. More and more they refused to listen to God’s prophets such as Elijah. So, the Lord permitted them to conquered and carried off by the Assyrians who scattered them among the peoples of several other nations. The southern kingdom, Judah, due in part to having the temple in their midst, did better for a while. But they too turned to other gods. By the time of Jeremiah, they refused to listen to God. They too were conquered and carried off into captivity. But they were all taken to Babylon. Ezequiel was with them. At first, they thought their gods would rescue them and take back to Palestine very quickly. But they were mistaken. They would not quickly go back. In fact, only the youngest Jewish captives would return. None of the Jews would return until they had completely been cured of idolatry.

The Lord instructed Ezequiel to say this to them. “This is what you are saying:Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?’”

The Lord’s response to them is this, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn”!   The Lord God says the same to us. And we know why. “We are like sheep gone astray.” We too have sinned in countless ways. Some of our sins we committed years ago are still remembered and regretted. Sins do cause a person to waste away if he doesn’t find forgiveness in the Lord. So, God says, “Turn back to me.”

 When we confess, the Lord seeks us out. He announces he has forgiven us. In our text, the true Lord sought out the Jews in Babylon and announced that he was forgiving them. This is also a picture of what the Lord does for us. “I myself will search for my sheep” (Vs11). “I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered.” (12) “I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries.” (13) “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays”. (16).  The I is the Lord, the good Shepherd. The promise he makes here has a double fulfillment. He would come and seek the repentant Jews scattered by the Assyrians and the Babylonians. He would see their repentant hearts, seek them out, because he was forgiving them all their sins. He also has sought you out. He has heard the repentant plea of your heart, He has forgiven you. So, he comes to you. He assures you of this.

            Proof of that is that you are right here now in the Lord’s house listening to him. This is God’s country. Look again at our text, “(I will) look after them.11 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep.12 --- “and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.  Again, there is a double fulfillment to these words. The Jews who wickedly worshipped other gods were now again God’s people. They were his sheep. He would bring them to their homeland; tend to them, nurture them, teaching them his truths, prepare them for the coming Savior. ---The same for you is true. Here, where you are right now is “good grazing ground.” Here God tends to your needs. Didn’t he earlier forgive you your sins. “God, our heavenly Father has had mercy on you and has forgiven you all your sins.” Isn’t that what he commanded that I say to you. Yes, it is.  Didn’t you earlier hear God’s voice in the three readings and the Psalm. Haven’t you been singing and rejoicing because the Lord again is with you?  You can’t have a better place to be in the whole earth.  May the Lord truly help us to appreciate again and again what we have here each weekend. Just like Adam and Eve before they sinned. Here, we walk and talk with God.

            As I said earlier. In this text God presents a beautiful picture of the total forgiveness of our sins, of our reconciliation with him.  But let’s not get cocky now for God also says in our text, “I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.” We need to continue to listen to the Lord, we need to do what he says, otherwise we will again become sheep who have gone astray.  

Finally, there is a third fulfillment to this pictorial prophecy. On the last day, the Lord himself will again seek each of us and bring us to our heavenly home. Then we will be in and have the perfect life in the perfect place.  We look forward to that, don’t we?  Amen

 

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