Sermon on Ezekiel 17:22-24
Text: “‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches. 24 All the trees of the forest will know that I the LORD bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.
“‘I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.’”
How many of you have been to Cawker City, Kansas? How many of you have heard of Cawker City, Kansas? Cawker City has a claim to fame. It is the home of the largest ball of sisal twine. It began in December 1953. A farmer began to string into a ball all of the twine that was lying around from the bales of hay that he had fed his livestock. Soon, his neighbors heard what he was doing and they gave him their twine that was lying around. They kept adding to it until it outgrew his barn. They took the ball into Cawker City. It has continued to grow. As of September 2009, it weighed nearly 10 tons and, if you unwound the twine, it would be more than 1,500 miles long. Now, it is a tourist attraction along Highway 24. This huge ball of twine began with just one string. This morning, we are going to look at something that started off in an obscure manner and has grown to worldwide proportions. THE CHURCH OF THE LORD GROWS. We want to take note of 1. Its Establishment, 2. Its Development, and 3. Its Blessings.
Our text for this morning comes to us from the book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel, a prophet of the Lord, was taken into Babylonian captivity with many of his fellow countrymen in 597 BC. Even in Babylon, he continued to speak to the people from the Lord. He reminded them that the reason that they were in exile was that they had turned their back on the true God. As a result, the Babylonians had come in and destroyed Jerusalem and the temple, and had taken its inhabitants into exile. There is no doubt that these words struck home, because they were living with the consequences of their actions. They may have even thought that the Lord had deserted them.
For this reason, the words of our text must have sounded like sweetest music to their ears. First of all, we note the beginning of verse 22, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says.” This was not Ezekiel’s wish for them. This is what the LORD wanted to tell his people. What did the LORD say that he was going to do? “I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it.” (Verses 22&23) He was going to take a shoot of a tree and transplant it on a high and lofty mountain. While these words may not mean anything to us at first glance, the people that God was talking to would have been reminded of another prophecy that God made through the prophet Isaiah. “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.” (Isaiah 11:1) Jesse was the father of King David. David and his son Solomon were great kings, whose influence was felt throughout the Mediterranean world. However, as one king after another led the people further and further away from the true God, the might of the kingdom of David diminished, until the Babylonians came in and destroyed the city of David, Jerusalem. To the outward eye, it looked like the line of Jesse was a dead stump.
Yet, God would raise up a shoot from the seemingly dead stump. He would send his Son into the world. His human lineage would go back to Jesse. God promised that a shoot would come from that line. When you think of a shoot, you think of something that is very small and appears to be very fragile. When Jesus walked on the earth, he looked like any other Jewish man. However, looks are deceiving. Jesus, though a human, was also the Son of God. He came to be the world’s Savior. This meant that he would be obedient to the law, just as you and I are. However, contrary to us, he kept the law perfectly for us. Again, when you look at his suffering and dying on the cross, there doesn’t appear to be any strength, at all. However, when we look behind the scenes, we see a far different picture. There on the cross, Jesus was paying for the sins of the entire world. The cross is a place where Jesus showed his absolute strength as he defeated the devil. With his resurrection, he further showed his power. This little shoot, Jesus, from seeming obscurity, has rescued the world from its sins. He has shown his ultimate strength.
That is what is pictured as the Sovereign LORD takes that little shoot and transplants it on the high and lofty mountain. He is the one who is prominent. Peter reminds us of this in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” The Lord has established Jesus as that shoot on the mountain heights.
What happens to that shoot? “It will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.” (Verse 23) This shoot will not remain a shoot. It will grow into a splendid cedar. When Solomon was king, he imported many cedar logs from Lebanon. These cedars became part of the temple that was built on Mount Zion, the prominent height in Jerusalem. When the people Ezekiel was speaking to heard of cedars, they would think of that temple. They would think of that place where they came to worship God.
God uses this picture to teach about the Church. Though its establishment may have seemed to come from obscure roots, as Jesus worked out our salvation, it would grow to great heights. This news would have comforted the people in Babylon. The Lord had not abandoned them. They would be a part of this great tree, as they believed in the coming Messiah.
However, the growth of this tree, the Church, was not limited to the Jewish people. The Father, speaking to his Son, said, “It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that my salvation may reach to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6) The Father sent his Son to be the Savior of all nations. As more and more people are brought to faith, that tree grows and grows. God’s grace extends to the ends of the earth.
By God’s grace, we have become a part of this mighty cedar, the Church. We know that we do not deserve to be a part of this tree. Our many sins would have kept us apart from this. We have so often disobeyed God and done what our sinful nature wanted us to do. Just as the ancient Israelites had disqualified themselves from being a part of God’s kingdom by their repeated idolatry, so also we have put other things and other people in the place that God demands in our lives. By all rights, we should be eternally separated from God. However, that shoot, Jesus, came to pay for our sins, as well. When he suffered and died on the cross, it wasn’t just for the sins of the world, in general. It was for your sins and for my sins. Christ’s resurrection assures you and me that he has completed the work his Father sent him to do. By God’s grace, the Holy Spirit has created faith in our hearts and we have become part of this tree, the Holy Christian Church. Every time a person is brought to faith, that tree grows. This is a reminder, as well of the importance of telling others about Jesus. It is only through faith that the person becomes a part of this tree. We, also, are reminded of the importance of supporting those who represent us as they go to the farthest corners of the world with the life-giving gospel message. We pray that this tree would continue to develop and grow.
God gives us a picture of the blessings that come with his Church. He said, “It will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.” (Verse 23) We have the picture of branches growing on which birds of every kind will build their nests. There is shade from the hot sun. There is fruit to feed those who nest there. These are wonderful pictures of some of the blessings that we enjoy because we are part of the Church. Just as the birds build their nests in the tree, we have a permanent home in the glories of heaven. Just as the birds find shade in the branches of the tree, we also find relief. Are there concerns and circumstance in life that seem to beat on you like the noonday sun? Come and rest in the shade of your Savior who has promised that he will provide all that you need. He promises you that everything will work according to his plan. If there is a sin that torments our consciences, we find shelter in knowing that our sins have been forgiven. No matter how big the sin might appear to us, Jesus tells us that we can rest in the knowledge that he paid for that sin, as well. The birds nesting in the tree find food to sustain them. The Church also provides food for our souls. We are fed through the Means of Grace that are found in the Church. We have God’s Word, where he reminds us again and again of his love for us. We have the Sacrament of Holy Baptism, by which our sins are forgiven and we are brought to faith. We have the Sacrament of Holy Communion, where our souls are fed with the body and blood of Christ with the bread and the wine. In this blessed meal, we receive forgiveness of our sins. We, also, receive the strengthening of our faith. Through the strengthening of our faith, we are able, with the Lord’s help, to face each challenge that comes our way. We also receive the strength to live for God in thanksgiving for all that he has done for us. All these blessings and more are ours because the tree, the Church of the Lord, has been established and continues to grow to this day.
Many established huge companies began with very humble beginnings. For example, Apple began on April 1, 1976 in a garage in Los Altos, California. Three men got together and started small by constructing boxes that allowed you to make a long distance phone call at no cost. From humble beginnings, we now have the Apple Company with all of its technology. When you look at the Church of the Lord, its beginnings were very humble. It started with a humble carpenter from Nazareth. However, Jesus, by his life, death, and resurrection, won forgiveness for all. The Church was small when Jesus ascended into heaven. However, by the grace of God, the Church has continued to grow and grow. We thank God that we have become a part of the Church. We praise him for all of the blessings that are ours because we are part of the Church. We pray that the Church would continue to grow and grow. May God help us to be part of his answer to that prayer. Amen.
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