The Perpetual Throne

Text: 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

There used to be a show on ABC called Extreme Makeover: Home Edition. If you’re unfamiliar with it, it’s pretty much what it sounds like. Loving neighbors nominate a friend or family member who has fallen on hard times and needs work done on their house to receive a free home makeover. The producers of the show treat the chosen family to a vacation while local contractors go to work remaking the house in a week while the occupants are busy. If the house is deemed beyond repair, they just demolish it and build a new one. This, of course, is all filmed for our enjoyment.

In the text from 2 Samuel 7 we heard, “Now when the king lived in his house and the Lord had given him rest from all his surrounding enemies, the king said to Nathan the prophet, ‘See now, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of God dwells in a tent.’”[1] King David basically wants to do an extreme makeover for the Lord’s house. He sees that he lives in this nice strong house made of cedar. Him being king, it’s probably extravagant. David lives in a house, but he sees that the ark of God remains in a tent. He decides he’s going to do something for God, then. God responds through the prophet Nathan that He has something else in mind: God is going to build a David a house, one which will last forever. In this house of David, the throne will be established forever. This is no mere mortal house, rather, it is the house that Christ established, and it is His throne that lasts into eternity.


Certainly David’s desire is pious. It is well-intentioned and comes from the heart. It maybe is a desire that many of us can identify with. A number of us here can remember the old sanctuary and the building of the one we are currently in now. We call the church the “house of God,” so that’s something else we have in common with David. Even Nathan the prophet said to the king, “Go, do all that is in your heart, for the Lord is with you.”[2] Now that the Ark of the Covenant had been brought to Jerusalem, a feat in itself since David had to defeat the people who already lived there, Israel’s enemies have been defeated and David received rest from the Lord.

The Biblical witness of David is that he is a man of war, a man with blood on his hands. But, the Lord is with him. God Himself testifies that it was He who went before David cutting off all his enemies, just as God led the people in their wandering and their conquests. But now, that time has passed. At least for a little while, there will be rest in the land as God has granted it. In this rest David happens upon the fact that he is living comfortably in a palace, while God sits in a tent. So, he figures, if he can build a house for himself, he might as well have a go at making one for God, too. That sounds pretty good, at least initially. Nathan speaks for himself that it’s a good idea and encourages David to go ahead.

That night the Word of the Lord came to Nathan with a message for David. This message was not exactly what David wanted to hear, but it was both bad and good as we shall see. The message begins, “Thus says the Lord: Would you build me a house to dwell in? I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent for my dwelling.”[3] The Lord asks a powerful rhetorical question of David: would you build me a house to dwell in? David, the aforementioned man of blood, later testified shortly before his death, “I had it in my heart to build a house of rest for the ark of the covenant of the Lord and for the footstool of our God, and I made preparations for building. But God said to me, ‘You may not build a house for my name, for you are a man of war and have shed blood.’”[4]

God continues His Word: “In all places where I have moved with all the people of Israel, did I speak a word with any of the judges of Israel, whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, saying, ‘Why have you not built me a house of cedar?’”[5] He says that from the day He brought up the people of Israel from Egypt up until now, He has not lived in a house. Neither did He speak a single word with any of the judges about building a house for Him. Even if He did ask for a house, how could man build a house for God – He whose throne is the heavens and footstool, the earth?


No, God did not need David to build a house for Him. Instead, He’s going to do something for David. “Thus says the Lord of hosts, I took you from the pasture, from following the sheep, that you should be prince over my people Israel. And I have been with you wherever you went and have cut off all your enemies from before you. And I will make for you a great name…And I will appoint a place for my people Israel and will plant them, so that they may dwell in their own place and be disturbed no more…I will give you rest from all your enemies. Moreover, the Lord declares to you that the Lord will make you a house.”[6]

The Lord says, thanks but no thanks. Instead of David making Him a house, God will make David a house, just as He took him from the pastures, made him prince, and cut off all his enemies before him. All these were for the benefit of the children of Israel. Now, God is going to build a house for David, for the faithful children of Israel, and for us as well. Only, this isn’t a house that decays and eventually falls; this isn’t a house made by human hands. Instead, it is a house that lasts forever with a throne that lasts into eternity. As God says in verse 16, “Your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever.”[7]

In the Gospel text Gabriel testified to Mary what Scripture had long promised, “[Jesus] will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”[8] This is the truth that David understood as well, as we can read in his response later in 2 Samuel 7. The house that God was referring to is not one built by human hands, though the kingdom and temple of Solomon would serve to foreshadow the coming of Christ. The house that God means is one that lasts forever, where people have a place to find security and peace. The house that God means is His house, the Church.

We do not mean a house that God Almighty physically rests in, but it is the place where He dwells and makes Himself available to His people. We are human and so God has provided a place where we can go to receive His gifts and be in His presence. The throne that lasts forever is as the Gospel text says – Jesus’. This throne He reigned on from the beginning, and yet He stepped down from it to be born of the Virgin Mary, the event we will shortly be celebrating. He set aside His throne and glory to take our flesh upon Himself. He became Immanuel, God with us. In His body He carried our sin and reconciled us to God by destroying the powers of sin and death through His death on the cross.

After His death He no longer restrained His glory, instead He proclaimed to the souls in prison that death had no power over Him. He appeared to hundreds of people, healing their diseases, and then He ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father. The right of the Father is not some location separated from us in time and space, but rather, it extends everywhere and lasts forever. Where can we see it? Here. Here in the Church is where Christ dwells and is among us. Here He comes to us with His Word and Sacraments to forgive us, to strengthen us, to renew us, and to reassure us that He is coming again. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), 2 Sam. 7:1–2.

[2] 2 Sam. 7:3.

[3] 2 Sam. 7:5-6.

[4] 1 Chron. 28:2-3.

[5] 2 Sam. 7:6–7.

[6] 2 Sam. 7:8–11.

[7] 2 Sam. 7:16.

[8] Lk. 1:32–33.

To Proclaim the Year of the Lord’s Favor

Text: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

During the beginning of Jesus’ earthly ministry He went all around Galilee, teaching in the synagogues and being praised by all. Then He went to Nazareth, His hometown. It was His custom to go to the synagogue on the Sabbath day. There He stood up to read and the scroll of Isaiah was handed to Him. He unrolled it and it opened to our text this evening. He rolled the scroll back up after He had finished reading and said to all the people staring at Him, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”[1] The account ends with Jesus’ own people driving Him up a hill to try and throw Him down the cliff.

Jesus claims our text this evening as His own. The work of God’s servant in the text is Jesus’ own. Christ did not come to be a new lawgiver, He did not come as an example, nor did He come to make us try harder. Instead, Jesus Christ, the anointed Messiah, came to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and to release the captives of the law of sin. Jesus came to bring good news to the poor and to set the prisoners free.


The text begins, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn.”[2] This reading comes from near the end of Isaiah. The Fall of Jerusalem has been prophesied, as has the return from exile. The tone then shifts to the coming Day of Judgment. God laments, “I was ready to be sought by those who did not ask for me; I was ready to be found by those who did not seek me. I said, ‘Here I am, here I am,’ to a nation that was not called by my name. I spread out my hands all the day to a rebellious people, who walk in a way that is not good, following their own devices; a people who provoke me to my face continually.”[3] Thus, wrath is coming for those who reject God’s favor.

But that is not our text tonight. Here the Lord speaks of salvation, of His work on behalf of sinners. Jesus says that the Spirit of the Lord is upon Him and He has been anointed to bring good news to the poor. Many at Christ’s time were looking for a Messiah to come who would be an earthly ruler. They expected a king that would throw off the Romans and establish a new kingdom. I guess the flip side is that, in order to establish a kingdom, rules and taxes need to be imposed to make things work. That’s not what Christ came to do. He did not come to impose, but to bring cheer to the poor and afflicted with His good news.

The Spirit of the Lord was upon Christ to come and bind up the brokenhearted. Christ came to bind up those have been broken by life, those who have been tossed to and fro by the waves of the world. He came to save those who sought after the world, its riches and pleasures, only to end up in the gutter brokenhearted. But this brokenhearted means something else as well. It means those who have been broken by God’s Law. It means those who have tried and tried to be a good person, and yet have found themselves lacking. Christ came for those who hear God’s Word and wonder how God could demand things we cannot do, and then punish those who don’t do them. That’s brokenhearted there.

Jesus said that He came to bring good news to the poor and to bind up the brokenhearted. He also came to proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of prison to those who are bound. In the Greek text, it says that He came to bring recovery of sight to the blind. Christ came to bring liberty those in the chains of sin and in the prison of death and the devil. These are also the chains worn by the brokenhearted, the chains of the Law. Prior to faith in the Messiah the Law hangs around all our necks demanding that we do work to earn the forgiveness of sins and to inherit eternal life. Christ came to set us free from that as well.


The text proclaims that the Messiah came to bring good news to the poor, to bind up the broken and to proclaim liberty to the captives. The question is, how? How do all these things take place? How are ashes exchanged for a beautiful headdress, or mourning for the oil of gladness? I think you know the answer. These things happen through Jesus Christ, through His saving work on our behalf. It was for us that He created the earth. It was for us it was promised to Adam and Eve that one would come to destroy the power of the devil. For us, Jesus took upon flesh and was born of the Virgin Mary.

Jesus is the Son of God incarnate. He is both perfectly God and perfectly man. He fulfilled the Law perfectly, and then suffered and died for you. He took your sin, and the sin of the whole world upon Himself. God Himself suffered brutally so that your sins could be forgiven. And so they are. This is not because we are especially good, and it certainly isn’t because it’s what we deserve, but it’s because God is love. In love Jesus Christ was born to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, the forgiveness of our sins. In love, He has clothed us in His own robe of righteousness, purchased by His own death on the cross. Amen.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Lk. 4:21.

[2] Is. 61:1–2.

[3] Is. 65:1–3.

The Fortunes of Zion

Text: Psalm 126

I love the opening words of Psalm 126, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream.”[1] The psalmist recounts the astounding grace of the Lord God who abundantly cared for His people, and in the time of the psalmist, returned the people from their captivity in Babylon. His favor was so great, that His people lived like those in a dream. In the movie, A Christmas Story, Ralphie Parker dreams about one thing: A Red Ryder Carbine Action 200-shot Range Model air rifle. This BB gun is the one thing that he wanted for Christmas. Throughout the movie, this is the focus of his thoughts and dreams. Even at the end, the adult Ralphie reflects back on his receiving the gun as the best present ever. When he got it, it was like he was dreaming.

Throughout the Old Testament God worked in and around His people for their benefit. When they rebelled against Him, He disciplined them. He continually blessed and watched over them. Even in their exile, He did not abandon them, but instead restored their fortune by returning them to the Promised Land. His action was such that the surrounding nations took notice that the Lord had done great things for His people. As this was the case for the Israelites returning from exile, so the Lord has restored our fortunes as well. We, who once were dead in our sins and captive to the powers of the devil, have been restored by Jesus Christ. By His death on the cross He has restored our fortunes, and He will restore them again.


The text begins, “When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dream. Then our mouth was filled with laughter, and our tongue with shouts of joy; then they said among the nations, ‘The Lord has done great things for them.’ The Lord has done great things for us; we are glad.”[2] Here the psalm writer recounts the great deeds of God on behalf of the children of Israel. Most commentaries say that the specific application of this psalm is in response to the return from Babylon. The nation of Israel had a long and sordid history in regards to their relationship with God; it often was an unfaithful relationship on their part. This lead to the destruction of part of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians and the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.

The return may have been the freshest work of God in mind, but it was by no means the only work. Israel entered the Promised Land in 1406 B.C., but even 700 years before that God had promised the Messiah to Abraham, saying nothing of God’s grace and forgiveness shown to Noah, Adam, and others. Instead, though God’s people were always in a state of flux, God’s love remained constant.

There’s a situation that comes to mind as an example. For a long time after Israel entered the Promised Land they were ruled by the Judges. They did not have a king. Then, in 1 Samuel 8, that changed. Seeing that the prophet Samuel was growing old, Israel demanded a king so that they could be like the other nations. God tells Samuel that, from the day He brought them out of Egypt, His people have done nothing but forsake Him and serve other gods; and now, even more, they are rejecting Him again. It’s sort of like how Ralphie got his Red Ryder BB gun. Israel got their gun, but then they actually did shoot their eye out. Because of this, God’s people were carried into exile. Jerusalem was destroyed. But that didn’t last forever. God soon acted through Cyrus, king of Persia (538 B.C.), to return His people to the land and restore their fortune.

As God restored the fortunes of Israel when He returned them from exile, His Holy Israel – us – has been restored from our captivity to sin. This has been accomplished completely through the work of Jesus Christ, without anything on our part. Like Israel in captivity and powerless against Babylon, we were once all enslaved and in the chains of sin, death, and the devil. Some professors say that once the people were in exile, Babylon was relatively unconcerned with them. But our captivity to sin was much different. St. Peter said that the Devil prowls around like roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.[3] He will never be satisfied until he has murdered and led away from Christ every single person on earth. His roaring and battle against us is such, that as St. Paul said, “I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.”[4] Even greater than the return of the people to Israel, is the truth that, by His death and resurrection, Jesus has rescued us from the guilt of our sin, from the eternal death that we deserve.


Psalm 126 continues, “Restore our fortunes, O Lord, like streams in the Negeb! Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”[5] The psalm shifts gears from recounting God’s grace that has made His people dreamers and how His work has been made known among the nations, to a prayer and an assurance of things to come.

The joyous return from captivity, both for the children of Israel and for us, is short lived. We’ve heard the last couple weeks about how mankind is like grass that blows away. The return to the Promised Land soon turned from joy to weeping. When Israel was carried away, different people then filled the land. And when they returned, they were met with contempt. That was the time of Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. They met opposition not only in trying to rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem’s walls, but people tried to wipe them out entirely.

Though we have been rescued from our enslavement to sin through the work of Jesus Christ, which we receive through the gift of faith, we are also faced with the harsh realities of life. We all know that outside these walls, and sometimes within, life is not easy. The psalm talks about sowing in tears. It’s like when a farmer sows his seed and for a while is in the lurch about what’s going to happen: whether it’s going to be a good crop, whether prices will hold, whether his family’s going to hold. That can lead to much distress. Even in our personal lives it seems that we often sow in tears. Even in the church. It feels like we work and work, and we toil and labor, and it looks like nothing is coming up.

Therefore we pray that the Lord would restore us like streams in the Negeb. The Negeb is an arid region in the southern part of Israel that gets less than 8 inches of rain a year, almost none from April to October. Then the winter comes and it brings with it what seems to be a torrent of rain and the parched soil just can’t hold it. Water pours out everywhere, becoming a life-giving flood in the wilderness.

In Christ, our fortunes have been restored. We have been saved through the life-giving flood of Holy Baptism, having received the gift of faith through the washing of the water and the Word. In verse 4, the psalmist prayed that the Lord would restore His people’s fortunes, yet again, through His overflowing love. The psalmist knows that God is true to His character – He is steadfast in love and abounding in mercy. Therefore, the text continues in confidence: “Those who sow in tears shall reap with shouts of joy! He who goes out weeping, bearing the seed for sowing, shall come home with shouts of joy, bringing his sheaves with him.”[6]

As Jesus was in the upper room with His disciples on the night He was betrayed, He taught them: “Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy…you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.”[7] How well we know that to be true. Jesus promised that the world will hate us, and that we will weep and lament. It so often seems that life is just a pointless endeavor, it’s nothing but stress and turmoil. But, Jesus says, though you have sorrow now, you will see Him again. When you see Him again, your heart will rejoice, and nothing can take that from you.

Though Israel continually rejected God, still He persisted in love towards them. He rescued His faithful children and restored their fortunes by returning them from captivity. Though we once were in slavery to sin, and though we are beset by it on all sides, Jesus Christ has restored us. Through His death, He has cancelled the hold that sin had over you. In this life, even though we are made new in Christ, we will have sorrow. But the truth is: Christ has not abandoned us. He is with you always and in every situation. He has promised that He will return, and all sorrow will be no more. For at His coming we will rejoice and no one can take that away from us.

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ps. 126:1.

[2] Ps. 126:1–3.

[3] 1 Peter 5:8.

[4] Rom. 7:23.

[5] Ps. 126:4–6.

[6] Ps. 126:5-6.

[7] Jn. 16:20, 22.

Double for All Her Sins


Text: Isaiah 40:1-11

Last week we heard Isaiah’s prayer and plea to God, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence.”[1] He saw the destruction and adversity, the shame of God’s people, and prayed that God would come and destroy evil. But he soon realized that, if God put a sudden end to sin, then we should be rightfully swept away like a leaf in the wind. This righteous God who is holy is like no other God, in that He actually acts in lives of His people, would be justified in blowing us away. Isaiah concludes his prayer by reminding God that we are His people; we are the clay and He the potter. He has made us and He is merciful.

God’s response to Isaiah and His faithful people was, “Here I am, here I am,” and, “Behold, I create new heavens and a new earth, and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in that which I create; for behold, I create Jerusalem to be a joy.”[2] This calls to mind His previous word to Isaiah, and our text this evening, “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins.”[3]


God’s message to Isaiah comes after an envoy came from Babylon. They came to visit with King Hezekiah and he took them around and showed them everything: everything of value in all the kingdom. Then the Lord spoke through Isaiah that everything he showed them would be carried off to Babylon, even some of his sons. The resounding point in all this is that punishment and destruction were about to come upon Jerusalem and God’s people. There is forgiveness for the sins that they committed, their continual rejection of God and worship of false gods, their hatred and greediness, but the consequence is that Jerusalem must be destroyed.

For some of God’s faithful people this led to despair. They couldn’t help but think that God was abandoning them. He was permitting Jerusalem and His own house, the Temple, to be destroyed and the people along with it…or so it might’ve seemed. Thus God speaks to them His Word of comfort. He tells Isaiah to speak tenderly to the people, to speak to them heart to heart, to cry to them and keep crying as the Hebrew says that her warfare is over. Her time of trial, her time of distress is now ended. Her iniquity has been pardoned. The word for “pardoned” here is the word used in Leviticus for when God accepts a sacrifice of blood. Payment has been made in blood for the transgression of God’s people and they are pardoned.

The work of the Suffering Servant, the One who was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities, has resulted in God’s people receiving double from His hands. This is not double punishment, because the Law says transgression and punishment must correspond, but it is grace. By the suffering of God’s Servant, Jesus, His people have received enough forgiveness to cover twice the penalty of their sin. And we need it too, because “all flesh is grass…the grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the Lord blows on it.”[4] No one needs to tell us how frail human flesh really is. Some make it to old age, but not without sickness and calamities on every side. We can also see new definitions of morality and a moving center of right and wrong all around us. These things are result of both the sin within us and the broken creation we live in that is tainted by sin.


The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever. Go on up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news; lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold your God!’”[5] Though mankind is by nature transitory, both in the fact that we will physically die, and how even as Christians our moral center is sometimes hard to nail down, the Word and Promise of God stand forever. Man withers and fades; man is fickle. God is strong, unchanging, merciful. He has promised to remember the sins of His people no more, to no longer hold their iniquities against them. This He has done by sending His Son into the flesh to die as payment for our sin.

And so He says to Jerusalem, to Isaiah, to us His faithful people: lift up your voice, do not be afraid. Behold your God. Truly this is made manifest in the birth of our Savior, Jesus Christ. He who existed eternally in perfect unity with the Father and the Holy Spirit, took on frail human flesh to suffer and die painfully for sins He did not commit. He did this to gather us in and to bring us to be with Him in heaven. God tells His people, “Behold, the Lord God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him, and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom.”[6]

This is a picture of something we hope, pray for, and expect – the second coming of Christ. At His return He will come with might to collect His reward: us. We have been purchased not with gold or silver but by His blood. The wages of our work is death, but the wages of His work is eternal life in Him. Through Him we receive the forgiveness of all our sins. The death of the Son of God for sinners has resulted that we have received double the grace instead of the merited punishment of our sins. Next week our text will be from Isaiah 61. These words Jesus applies to Himself to describe the work that He was born to do. The reading ends with words that He puts in our mouths, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness.”[7]

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Is 64:1.

[2] Is. 65:1, 17-18.

[3] Is. 40:1-2.

[4] Is. 40:6-7.

[5] Is. 40:8–9.

[6] Is. 40:10–11.

[7] Is. 61:10.

Prepare the Way of the Lord

Text: Mark 1:1-8

It seems now that, just about a full week into the month of December and a week and a half removed from Black Friday, preparations for Christmas have certainly begun. If you haven’t begun, maybe you really should. But really, though, holiday preparation can take it out of you. There are the presents to buy, the food to buy and prepare. Houses need to be cleaned; attitudes need to be tweaked so you can survive with those relatives you dread. You love them and all, but some people are just hard to be with. For many of us, we’ll all be glad when the 2nd of the year hits and things go back to normal.

In the reading from Mark today we see another kind of preparation, the preparation of the way of the Lord. John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness baptizing and preaching the Word of God. John’s message was a stark and serious one, in Matthew we have him calling the Jewish leaders a “brood of vipers.” John came preaching the Law to show its strict demands and the world’s universal need for a savior in preparation for His coming.


The text begins, “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. As it is written in Isaiah the prophet, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way, the voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.”’” [1] It is an interesting beginning for the book of Mark. The book begins by showing our need for a Savior in the first place. Like John appearing in the wilderness to make straight the paths of the Lord, Mark sets things straight by showing what was written in Isaiah: God would send a messenger to prepare the way of the Lord.

In the book of Malachi, God pointed out that the people of Judah wearied Him with their words. He said their general sentiment was, “Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and he delights in them,” and they asked, “Where is the God of justice?”[2] Therefore, God responded that He is sending His messenger to prepare the way before Him. The people asked where God is, and He said He’s coming. This messenger is to cry out that all flesh is grass. In all its beauty, it is still like the flower of the field that withers and fades. That which is flesh is sown in iniquity and shall go away in sin.

Thus, John appeared in the wilderness preaching the Law of God and a Baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He came accusing people of their sinful hypocrisy. All people have been tainted by the stench of sin. In this life no one escapes the hold that sin has over them. We see this even during this month as we prepare for the birth and return of Jesus. It makes sense that the world goes wild for giving and receiving gifts, hosting parties, and drinking egg nog, and we can get caught up in it, too. We tell ourselves to “remember the reason for the season,” but do we really? Christmas is about the coming of the Savior into the flesh to die for our transgressions. The eternal Son of God humbled Himself to be born, and to carry our sin to the cross because we cannot do it ourselves.

All the country of Judea and everyone in Jerusalem went out to confess their sins and be baptized for the forgiveness of sins. John preached God’s Law and they were convicted that, at every point in their and our lives, we transgress against God and one another and deserve punishment. John, dressed in camel’s hair and eating locusts, was a picture of what we should’ve aspired to, but even he was not perfect. When he was arrested and put in prison, he doubted whether Jesus was the Messiah or not. Even John would not escape the coming of the savior, which will be like a refiner’s fire, burning up all impurities. That is, He would not survive without the forgiveness of sins. Therefore John preached, “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I have baptized you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”[3]


To many people John appeared crazy. Here was this wild man out in the desert. He might have looked a little unstable, but so did most of the Old Testament prophets. He was a stark vision of adherence to God’s Law: itchy camel hair clothes with a leather belt, eating locusts. They make candy now, at least you can get it all the Mall of America, that has crickets in it; but can you imagine eating that all the time? Some scientists are working on mass producing food from grasshoppers to solve shortage, but John ate them in order to keep pure. But even he was not worthy to untie the sandals of the one coming after him.

The one coming after John is mightier than he. The Lord says in Malachi 3, “But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears? For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap.”[4] Who can endure the coming of the Son of Man, the eternal measure of Justice? No one. For all have sinned and are consumed by iniquity. The Son of Man came to burn away and condemn all evil. But, Martin Luther writes, “Christ is not merely the Purifier but also the purifying Agent. He is not only the Blacksmith but also the Fire; not only the Cleaner but also the Soap. He does not sit indolently at the right hand of His Father. Rather He is always working among us.”[5]

What Luther is getting at is that Christ came to do all the work. He is the eternal enfleshment of the Son of God. His wrath against sin will be like a fire that burns everything away, but He is also a fire that resides in us, those who have been baptized in the Holy Spirit. John showed that all our attempts to fulfill God’s Law and gain life for ourselves fail, and the result is that not even John is worthy to untie the straps of Jesus’ sandals.

John came preaching the Law before the coming of Jesus to show our need for a Savior and for cleansing. Jesus is the one who came to clean us, to be both the cleaner and the soap. He is the one, who for our salvation, came down from heaven. He humbled Himself to be born of the Virgin Mary, to suffer and die for the forgiveness of our sins. Thus, He is our Cleaner, but He is also the soap. We, who have been given His Holy Spirit, are washed in His blood. By His blood our robes are made clean. The Lord spoke in Isaiah, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.”[6] This is not because our works make it so, for all flesh is like grass, but because of Christ – He who is both the Cleaner, and by His blood, the soap that washes us.

As we continue the journey though Advent and into Christmas it’s easy to get caught up in the season, caught up in a bad way. All the holiday preparations come into full swing and sometimes we forget not just the “reason for the season,” but why He came as well. John came preaching the Law, showing us our need for a savior. This Savior is Jesus, who came to earth to pay the penalty of our sin and win for us forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Like a refiner’s fire and fullers’ soap He burns away all impurities even as He fills us with His Holy Spirit. To Him we pray, “Lay on the sick Thy healing hand and make the fallen strong to stand; show us the glory of Thy face till beauty springs in every place. All praise, eternal Son, to Thee whose advent sets Thy people free, whom with the Father we adore and Holy Spirit evermore.”

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk 1:1–3.

[2] Mal. 2:17.

[3] Mk 1:7–8.

[4] Mal 3:2.

[5] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, Vol. 18: Minor Prophets I: Hosea-Malachi, ed. Jaroslav Jan Pelikan, Hilton C. Oswald, and Helmut T. Lehmann, vol. 18 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1999), 410.

[6] Is. 1:18.

Consider them Rended

Text: Isaiah 64:1-9

Look down from heaven and see, from Your holy and beautiful habitation. Where are Your zeal and Your might? The stirring of Your inner parts and Your compassion are held back from me…Oh that You would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at Your presence.”[1] This a power request, a prayer and a plea for mercy spoken by Isaiah. In his prayer he recounts the steadfast love of the Lord, all the goodness He has granted to the house of Israel. For, “[The Lord] said, ‘Surely they are My people, children who will not deal falsely.’ And He became their Savior. In all their affliction He was afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; in His love and in His pity He redeemed them; He lifted them up and carried them all the days of old.”[2]

Isaiah speaks of how the Lord became Savior to His people, how He was with them in their suffering. He was afflicted with them, and in His love and pity He redeemed them. He carried them all the days of old. But in response to His love, the children of Israel rebelled. They rejected the Holy Spirit and made God their enemy. They allied themselves with foreign nations and false gods. And so God hid Himself. He let His children have their evil ways, and they became like people whom God never ruled. His own people hardened their hearts and made themselves those who are not called by God. A nation that used to be filled with such promise and hope now became plunder for God’s enemies. And so Isaiah asks, “Where is he who brought them up out of the sea with the shepherds of his flock? Where is he who put in the midst of them his Holy Spirit, who caused his glorious arm to go at the right hand of Moses, who divided the waters before them to make for himself an everlasting name?”[3]

Though God is the ruler of the world, it has become such that it is almost impossible to believe that there is a caring God out there. Even in Isaiah’s time, over 700 years before Christ, the world was broken and filled with evil. Isaiah almost screams, “Oh that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains might quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil — to make your name known to your adversaries, and that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome things that we did not look for, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides you, who acts for those who wait for him.”[4]

Isaiah prayed, and we would too, that God wear tear open the heavens, that He would rip open reality, and come down. If He did the mountains would quake and melt and the nations would tremble as the holy and righteous God comes thundering against the forces of sin. Isaiah prayed that God would come and put an end to all evil. And He certainly can; there is no God beside Him. No one has ever heard or seen a God besides Him, who actually acts in the lives of those who wait for Him. History has never borne witness of the acts of any other “god.”


Isaiah prays that God would come down from heaven, but he soon realizes what that would actually mean for us. Truly God is near to those who work righteousness, who delight in His Law. But what about us? Isaiah asks, “In our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?”[5] Our God is holy and cannot tolerate sin. Isaiah prays that God would come down and destroy evil, but what does that mean for those like us, who have “all become like one who is unclean, and [whose] righteous deeds are like a polluted garment”?[6] Nothing good. Already, we as humans are like a leaf that fades in the fall. We have fallen off the tree and we perish. Our sins, like the wind, carry us away.

God does meet those who joyfully work righteousness and remember His ways, who call upon His name and wake up early to study His Word – but how often does that describe us? Instead we already melt in the hand of our iniquity. If the Almighty God tore open the fabric of time and space to put an end to all evil and darkness, He would be putting an end to us as well. It would be like in Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Ark of the Covenant is opened and everyone literally melts at the power of God.


And so Isaiah pleads, “But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Be not so terribly angry, O Lord, and remember not iniquity forever. Behold, please look, we are all your people.”[7] God is our Father, and without Him we would not even be here, where we are now. Like clay in the hands of the potter, so are we in the hands of God. We are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand. When we pray that the righteous God would come and put an end to evil, we pray that He would also be true to His mercy and goodness. As He has remembered His promises to Adam, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, and many others, so we pray that He remember His promise to remember our sins no more.

Like Isaiah we are surrounded by an evil and corrupt generation. Our world is filled with sin, death, and destruction. As faithful Christians we are a minority, and we are a target for those who hate God and His Word. We pray that He would end it all, but we realize if God were to put a sudden end to sin in fantastic manner, of our own power we would not escape it. And so we continually pray for God’s mercy. What does God say in return? From next week’s lesson: “Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned.”[8]

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Is. 63:15; 64:1.

[2] Is. 63:8–9.

[3] Is. 63:11–12.

[4] Is. 64:1-4.

[5] Is. 64:5.

[6] Is. 64:6.

[7] Is. 64:8–9.

[8] Is. 40:1–2.

The Humble Entry of Salvation

Text: Mark 11:1-10

The video “JK Wedding Entrance Dance”[1] has been viewed over 87.5 million times in the last five years. In it the wedding party for Jill and Kevin’s wedding (who are actually from the Twin Cities) marches into the ceremony a little differently than how it usually goes down. Normally the bridal party processes in to a hymn or some other music in an orderly fashion. Everyone’s excited, but also nervous and serious. That was, until about five years ago when this video came out. It began quietly like it was any other wedding procession, but then the music started. For about 5 minutes the party came dancing into the church. The crowd was dancing along, clapping, and hollering. Everyone’s having a great time. Even the pastor was up dancing in front of the altar. It was quite the spectacle, one that has been copied over and over, even on “The Office.”

It is great, and we’re certainly glad that they are still happily married, but let us contrast their entrance with the entrance of the King of the Universe into Jerusalem as we have in our Gospel text. Jesus did not ride in on a gold chariot, He didn’t call for pomp and circumstance, He didn’t even ride in on a horse and saddle. Instead, He rode into Jerusalem on a humble donkey, a beast of burden, even as He came in carrying the burden of our sin. Humbly Jesus rode into Jerusalem to accomplish our salvation. We remember that especially this Advent and the beginning of the new church year.


Now when they drew near to Jerusalem, to Bethphage and Bethany, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village in front of you, and immediately as you enter it you will find a colt tied, on which no one has ever sat. Untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ say, ‘The Lord has need of it and will send it back here immediately.’’ And they went away and found a colt tied at a door outside in the street, and they untied it.”[2] As Jesus and His disciples drew near to Jerusalem everything had already begun to fall into place. Though He was familiar with Bethany, as that is where Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were from, Jesus knew that this time would be different. Passing through the Mount of Olives, He knew that this location would be the site of His betrayal by one of His own disciples.

Jesus sent two disciples ahead of Him into town to find a donkey that He already knew was there. When theologians talk about the attributes of God, one of the words is “omniscient,” meaning “all knowing.” Jesus, the All Knowing, Son of God rode into Jerusalem on a donkey to secure our salvation. C.F.W. Walther wrote that we should take comfort in this fact, that though Jesus is the All Knowing and All Powerful God, He did not ride into Jerusalem to destroy us for our sin, but to be destroyed Himself because of our sin. St. John wrote about Jesus’ calling of His disciples. He says that upon seeing Simon, He immediately changed his name to Cephas – Peter – knowing already the confession he would make later. Upon meeting Nathanael, Jesus says to him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.”[3] John writes, “[Jesus] knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for He Himself knew what was in man.”[4]

In addition to knowing all things, Jesus showed that He was all powerful by His many miracles. The Gospels are filled with the works of Jesus – healing people, raising the dead, and forgiving their sins. These things were written so that we may believe that Jesus is the Son of God. But even being the Son of God, Jesus did not count that as something to be held onto. Rather, He emptied Himself of His glory and took upon the form of a servant, being born of the Virgin Mary. Instead of coming in glory, He came humbly to bear our sin. The Son of God rode humbly into Jerusalem to die a murder’s death.


And they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it, and he sat on it. And many spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut from the fields. And those who went before and those who followed were shouting, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest!’[5] Here we see that Jesus the Son of God rode into Jerusalem as the prophesied king of old. Though He could have just snapped His fingers and everything would be done, Jesus chose to ride in on a humble donkey in order to fulfill Old Testament prophecy. Particularly, Jesus has Zechariah 9 in mind: “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.”[6] Certainly Isaiah 62 also applies, “Say to the daughter of Zion, ‘Behold your salvation comes; behold, his reward is with him.’[7]

Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, not with the pomp of kings, and yet that is exactly what He is. He comes in bringing His reward – the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation – purchased by His own blood on the cross. He rode into Jerusalem to accomplish our salvation and to fulfill the prophetic promises of God throughout the Old Testament. By His death He crushed the powers of sin, death, and Satan, thereby crushing the head of the ancient serpent as promised in Genesis 3. He is the fulfillment of the promise made to Abraham, that in his offspring all nations shall be blessed, foreshadowed as well by the sacrifice of Isaac.

The people spread their cloaks and palm branches on the road before Jesus, proclaiming the coming kingdom of their father David. Jesus is the heir promised to David, whose throne is established forever. He is the promised prince David from our Ezekiel reading last week (34) and as God says in Ezekiel 37, “David my servant shall be their prince forever.”[8] Jesus rode into Jerusalem as the fulfillment of all prophecy.


He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey as the humble Son of God to accomplish our salvation. He rode into Jerusalem as the prophesied king, the fulfillment of all Old Testament messianic prophecy. And now, as we begin this Advent season and the entire church year, Christ, our savior, rides in again for our salvation. Though, instead of Jerusalem, Jesus comes here. As He was faithful to the witness and promises of God in the Old Testament, so is Jesus faithful to His promises in the New. Jesus promised that even though He goes to prepare a place for us in heaven, He would never leave us destitute or alone. Instead, He promised to never forsake us, to be with us always. He promised to be wherever two or three are gathered in His name and sent His Holy Spirit, the Comforter, into our hearts to work faith and as a guarantee of our salvation. Because Jesus is the Son of God, shown by His power and miracles and fulfillment of prophecy, He is able to make good.

In His grace He continues to come to us this Advent season and this entire year. We gather awaiting and remembering the birth of our Savior, knowing that even now He is here among us. He is present in His Word and in His Sacraments, not just in a spiritual way, but He is here and He hears us when we pray. He is here when we speak about Him with each other to comfort and build one another up. He is with you in every struggle and temptation, even as He took our sins to the cross. Scripture says, “We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”[9]

Soon we will sing in the closing hymn, “Savior of the nations, come. Virgin’s Son, make here Your home! Marvel now, O heav’n and earth, that the Lord chose such a birth.”[10] We know that as Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, humbly and not with any sort of fanciness, He rode in as the Son of God, the promised Messiah and King, to accomplish our salvation. This Jesus also comes to us even now with His grace and forgiveness, for He is the Author of life itself.


[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Mk. 11:1–4.

[3] Jn. 1:48.

[4] Jn. 2:24-25.

[5] Mk.11:7–10.

[6] Zec. 9:9.

[7] Is. 62:11.

[8] Ezek. 37:25.

[9] Heb. 4:15.

[10] Lutheran Service Book, 332.

Songs of Thankfulness and Praise

Text: Deuteronomy 8:1-10

Thanksgiving is usually one of those lazy days. Maybe not for the people preparing all of the food, since that takes a lot of work; but for the rest of us, who only eat the food, Thanksgiving is just a day where we put on our loose pants, sit back, eat, eat some more…and maybe watch some football. This is what Thanksgiving has turned into recently, though the Thanksgiving Proclamation, which was given by President Lincoln in 1863 reads, “I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.”[1]

Outside of church people gather to give thanks for and remember all the good that they have received from those around them. We know and remember, as Christians, that all that we have and receive comes as a blessing from our Father in heaven. The fact that we receive good things is because of the reconciliation that Jesus has made between God and us by the shedding of His own blood for the forgiveness of our sins. We confess in the explanation to the First Article of the Apostles’ Creed:

“I believe that God has made me and all creatures; that He has given me my body and soul, eyes, ears, and all my members, my reason and all my senses, and still takes care of them. He also gives me clothing and shoes, food and drink, house and home, wife and children, land, animals, and all I have. He richly and daily provides me with all that I need to support this body and life. He defends me against all danger and guards and protects me from all evil. All this He does only out of fatherly, divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness in me. For all this it is my duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him.”[2]

Today we gather to give thanks to God and to remember all of His gifts to us. We know that through the grace He has shown to us through His Son Jesus Christ we have more than enough, and the only required response on our part is to thank and praise Him.


The whole system works rather nicely. God acts first, and then He brings us to act. Moses recounts this to the people near the Jordan River in our text from Deuteronomy 8. Earlier in his address he told them, “You are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for His treasured possession, out all the peoples who are on the face of the earth. It was not because you were more in number…but it is because the Lord loves you and is keeping the oath that He swore.”[3] He reminds them how it was not because of their righteousness, for they were a very stubborn people, but because of God’s righteousness and love that He has provided for them.

Moses writes, “Remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness… [how He] fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know…Your clothing did not wear out on you and your feet did not swell these forty years.”[4] All of these things were great blessings of God. While His children were in slavery, He heard their cries and led them up out of Egypt by His mighty hand. He even lead them away from the Philistines and through the Red Sea, fearing that they would abandon Him and go back to Egypt. When they got out in the desert God wanted to lead them straight to the Promised Land, but the people complained and wished that they had stayed in slavery. God provided them with water and sent them bread from heaven. When they complained about that He provided them quail to eat. When they yet rebelled against Him, God vowed that they would not enter the Promised Land for a generation.

But even then, He did not leave them. He constantly was with them and led them. He fed them. Their clothes did not wear out, nor did their feet swell. God did all these things out of His love; but in love He also disciplined them as a father would His children. This is why they wandered for forty years, and why God let them hunger – in order to show them that “man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.”[5] This is illustrated so well in the reading from Luke where Jesus heals the ten lepers through His Word. As a father, God disciplined His children to teach them to live according to His commandments, but He does it while also leading them to the Promised Land. Moses said to the people that God is bringing them into a good land, full of many great things. Though they will continue to sin against Him, God continues to provide for them. All that He asks is for His people to remember Him.


Moses continues, “You shall eat and be full, and you shall bless the Lord your God for the good land He has given you.”[6] Notice that this is descriptive and not prescriptive. It is describing what God’s blessings bring about in His people. Luther describes it as our duty to thank and praise God, but both of those things are worked by the Holy Spirit in us through the grace that we receive in Christ. One of my professors at seminary taught that though God causes the rain to fall on both the just and the unjust, the reason that we receive good things is entirely due to Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. We were all born dead in our sin and trespasses. Our entire lives we carry the weight of our sin upon our shoulders and we deserve nothing but God’s wrath and punishment – both here in time, and in eternity in hell.

Therefore, as St. Paul writes, “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to saves sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”[7] Though we were nothing but darkness, full of unthankfulness and without praise, Jesus died for us. He did this to win for us the forgiveness of sins and He rose from the dead for our justification, proving that He has conquered the powers of sin and death.

Not only has Christ brought us out of sin and darkness by the shedding of His blood, but it is because of Him that we receive all good things from God. Our heavenly Father richly and daily provides everything we have and need to support this body and life. Nowhere is that more important than in the forgiveness of sins that Christ brings to us. Through the words of Holy Absolution and the preaching of His Word we receive the forgiveness of all our sins. In the Sacrament Christ gives us His body to eat and His blood to drink for the forgiveness of our sins and the strengthening of our faith. The Lutheran Confessions say that God is truly “superabundant” in His grace.

All of these things are done out of His fatherly, divine goodness and mercy without any merit or worthiness within us. What does God ask of us in return? Only to remember and give thanks to Him. He wants us to continue to receive all the good that He has to give. Martin Luther writes in the Large Catechism that God loves to continually give Himself to us. For all this it is our duty to thank and praise, serve and obey Him. That is why we are here today. Luther also said that the ultimate worship of God is to do nothing but continue to receive His gifts and to look to Him for all good things. This we have through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.



[3] Deut. 7:6-8

[4] Deut. 8:2-4

[5] Deut. 8:3

[6] Duet. 8:11

[7] 1 Tim. 1:15

To Seek and to Save the Lost

Text: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

People say that sheep are stupid animals. There’s kind of this old wives’ tale that you can take a sheep and turn it facing into a corner, leave it there, and it won’t move. It turns out, according a study done by the University of Illinois, that sheep are not incredibly stupid. Instead, their intelligence is generally just below that of pigs and on the level of cattle.[1] But sheep are herd animals. They generally flock together, making them among the first domesticated animals because they naturally follow a leader. They can also be hefted, which means that they can be raised to stay in one area when there are no fences separating fields. They flock and want to be together, and when separated they become stressed. There have been experiments where scientists have separated a sheep to induce stress and then put a mirror in front of it. The sheep, thinking that it is not alone, calms down.

Sheep want to be with sheep; they belong with other sheep. That’s the job of a shepherd: to take care of the sheep. The Lord speaks against the shepherds of the people of Israel, “Ah, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?”[2] The rulers of the house of Israel, both the civil rulers and the spiritual leaders, led the people astray. They were evil, seeking after only their own interests, and God’s sheep were scattered and separated. God laments, “My sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with none to search or seek for them.”[3] And so He seeks out His sheep Himself. Contrary to the evil shepherds, Jesus came to seek out the lost. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when they have been scattered, so does Jesus seek out and save His flock.


We’ve now reached the end of the church year and next week we will start anew with the Triumphal Entry. On that day Jesus processed into Jerusalem knowing full-well that it was to His own suffering and brutal death, a death that He did not deserve. Today we learn why He suffered. The reading chosen for the lectionary cuts out the first part of Ezekiel 34, which I think we need to provide some context for our reading – especially since the imagery of a shepherd with his sheep is so fundamental to how we understand Christ’s work for us. Chapter 34 begins with the Lord’s speaking against the rulers of Israel, both in the government and in the Church. Their job was to seek the best for God’s people. They were to care for the weak and sick, to feed them with the word of God. Instead, God says, the shepherds fed off the sheep.

They fed off the sheep and clothed themselves with their wool. They did not strengthen the weak, did not heal the sick, did not help the injured, didn’t bring back the strayed, nor did they seek the lost. Instead, those placed in authority by God to care for the people ruled with force and harshness. Ultimately this would result in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Babylonians in 587 B.C. and the exile of God’s people. It also resulted in two consequences that were even more personal than the destruction of God’s house: many sheep were injured and scattered, and the ones that remained became fat like their shepherds.

The wicked priests were probably the worst. They were the ones who were supposed to feed God’s people His pure Word, to comfort them with the promise of the forgiveness of sins through faith in the Messiah, and they didn’t. Instead, they were concerned only about themselves. They didn’t care about the people, and God’s children became prey for the wild beasts. All around them were pagan nations who had all sorts of wicked practices that enticed them. God said that His sheep were scattered and they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. Instead of worshipping God on the one mountain of Israel, Mt. Zion, His children were scattered and began to worship on the hills. The hills were where all the pagan temples were. And no one sought to bring them back.

The sheep that weren’t scattered became fat like their wicked shepherds. God asks, “Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet?”[4] The sheep that remained were corrupted by their shepherds into caring only about themselves. Instead of growing strong through the preaching of the Gospel, they grew fat on the Law, only caring about themselves. The text says that they pushed with side and shoulder and thrust their horns at the weak, until they scattered the other sheep.

We can see the application in Old Testament Judaism, but it applies today as well. Our natural tendency as humans is to cling to the Law. For pastors, this means that it’s very easy to hammer people. It’s easy to get up in the pulpit and destroy people with God’s condemnation against sin and drive them either to despair or out the door. The opposite temptation, then, is to avoid speaking (rightly) about sin and change our message into moralism – which, actually, ends the same way. Moralism is all Law and no Gospel. If we don’t speak about sin, then we don’t speak about our need for Jesus Christ. He alone is our salvation, our hope, the redeemer of our souls through His precious death.

But also, it’s very easy to sit in the pew and wonder if I’m just a little bit less of a sinner than that person across the aisle. Maybe there’s someone new to church, and I just know how they behave outside these walls. And so we thrust them aside with our horns, instead of sharing the love of Christ with our fellow sinners in need. God says later in chapter 34, “You are my sheep, human sheep of my pasture, and I am your God, declares the Lord God.”[5] But it’s so easy to think we’re better than others.


Therefore, “thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out…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.”[6] This text used to be the Old Testament reading for Good Shepherd Sunday, the 4th after Easter. It was paired with one of the most comforting texts in all Scripture: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”[7] God looked out on the earth and saw that there was no one. There was no one righteous; no one was good, not even the shepherds, nor the sheep. No one. “So,” God says, “I’ll do it myself.”

Because there was no one to do it, no one that could do it, Jesus became the Good Shepherd. He is the Good Shepherd who knows His sheep and lays down His life for them. He came to seek the lost, to bring back the strayed, to bind up the injured, to strengthen the weak. This He did by becoming man, taking the sin of all mankind upon Himself. He took our sin, our guilt, the anxiety that we have because our lives are not how we envisioned them to be, the anger we have against our brothers or sisters in Christ, and He died. He was flogged, punched, spit upon, and crucified to make payment for our sin, to save us, lost and condemned sinners.

And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.”[8] This is God the Father’s promise: that He will set His servant David as the shepherd of His people. This is Jesus. A prophesied title for Jesus is Immanuel, meaning “God with us,” or “God with His people.” Jesus is our eternal Good Shepherd who laid down His life for us, but He is also among us here. He promised to be with us always, and He is faithful. He is always here in His Word and upon our lips. He continually feeds us His forgiveness through His body and blood. By these things He strengthens us to bring His Word to those around us and in the community. We bring His Word that, in Him, all sins are forgiven and that life finds its fulfillment in the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

They say that sheep aren’t as stupid as they’re made out to be. But I know that, as a sheep myself, I wouldn’t be so sure. Daily we are tossed to and fro, scattered by our own sinfulness and the wicked shepherds that still roam God’s fields on earth. Therefore Christ says, “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 the places where they have been scattered.”[9] This Christ did for us through His death on the cross and He will continue to do so through the preaching of His Word until He returns to bring us to Himself.


[2] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001), Ezek. 34:2.

[3] Ezek. 34:6

[4] Ezek. 34:18

[5] Ezek. 34:31

[6] Ezek. 34:11, 16

[7] Jn. 10:11

[8] Ezek. 34:23–24

[9] Ezek. 34:12