Rescue from the Rubble (Nov. 22, 2020)

Rescue from the Rubble (Nov. 22, 2020)

November 30, 2020
Benjamin Ehlers

Rescue from the Rubble

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 23-24

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Have you heard of a little girl named Elif Perincek? Elif is a 3-year-old girl who endured what no one should have to endure. She was all alone, trapped in a tiny space barely big enough for her body. She was injured and weak, trapped under a heap of rubble for 65 hours. That’s almost 3 whole days. The apartment building she was living in collapsed when a magnitude 7 earthquake struck on Friday, October 30th. More that 5,700 personnel were mobilized for the rescue effort at a number of sites in Turkey. The firefighter who pulled Elif from the rubble told news reporters, “I thought she might be in the space between her bed and her dresser. I went in that direction and that’s where I found her lying on her back. I picked her up. I cleaned her face, got rid of the dust. She held my finger and wouldn’t let go until we got to the ambulance.” There’s a picture of her being carried to the ambulance, and in that picture you can see her tiny little hand clinging tightly to his thumb.

What a vivid example of what Christ promises to do for his lost people. “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak” (Ez 34:16). “I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness” (Ez 34:12). These are the words of God through his prophet Ezekiel promising to rescue his scattered and broken people.

Ezekiel too, witnessed his home being destroyed. He prophesied destruction and judgment before it happened. God called him to speak out against the wickedness and unfaithfulness of those who were supposed to be shepherds of God’s people. Instead, they neglected their duty – the kings and spiritual rulers of God’s people. Instead, they led the people on different paths – paths of idolatry, paths of immorality, paths leading away from God. Ezekiel spoke out against this! He warned the people of God’s judgment and destruction. But the people would not listen. And so, cities were sieged. Buildings began to fall. In 586 BC, Jerusalem itself was burned, and the temple was destroyed. It was a day of clouds and darkness. A day of destruction. A day when God’s people were scattered and taken into captivity. Ezekiel was one of these taken to Babylon, along with Daniel and many other inhabitants of Judah.

However, living in captivity, the tone of Ezekiel’s prophecy changed dramatically. No longer did he prophesy destruction and judgment. Rather, he prophesied comfort and restoration. He prophesied rescue by the hand of one individual. “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them” (Ez 34:11). Don’t miss the emphasis on “I myself”. Unlike those who were supposed to shepherd God’s people but neglected their duty, God now emphasizes that he takes this role upon himself. “I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out… I will bring them into… I will tend them… I will cause them to lie down… I will search for them… I will bind up the injured… I will shepherd the flock” (Ez 34:11-16). Throughout Ezekiel’s prophesy, it is clear where their deliverance comes from. Not earthly kings and rulers, but Christ the Shepherd King! Christ, who’s reign transcends borders and barriers. Christ, who is not influenced by politics or regimes. Christ, who always knows and always does what is best for his people.

Just as little Elif was trapped under a heap of rubble, injured, hopeless, and dying, needing the help of a rescuer, so we too are in a hopeless situation. The destruction that sin does to a person is not a small thing. Sin doesn’t just leave us with a little blemish on the surface that can be wiped away. It’s not just a small scratch that hurts but will heal on its own. It’s not at all a small matter. You and I are in a very hopeless situation because of our sinfulness. Scripture says, “You were alienated from God and were enemies in your thinking as expressed through your evil deeds” (Col 1:21). Separated from God because of your sinfulness and my sinfulness. “You were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Eph 2:1). “The sinful mind is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so” (Rm 8:7). And it’s not even that we started on the right path but walked off when we “trans-gressed.” No, we weren’t even born on the path. We were born in Adam’s image, not God’s. We were born sinful. As wayward sheep. Alienated from God, hopelessly lost, merely living out our short existence trapped in a prison of sin and death until we die eternally.

But that is not what your Shepherd King wanted for you. “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” (Ez 34:12).

The fulfillment of that promise came centuries later. Well, the immediate fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy came about 70 years after the destruction of the temple when God moved the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia, to issue a decree that the Israelites may return to their homeland. But the greater fulfillment, the true fulfillment of God’s prophesy through Ezekiel took place when another temple was destroyed. When asked to prove his authority, Jesus responded, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days” (Jn 2:19). But the temple he was speaking of was not the temple that Herod built. The temple he was speaking of was his body.

So, here we are, on Christ the King Sunday with a Gospel reading that just doesn’t seem to fit with the rest until you realize this. Jesus proved his authority as King of kings and Lord of lords by laying down his life for his scattered sheep – trapped under the burden of sin and death – and by rising from the dead. “They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’… After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him” (Mt 27:28-31).

Petty little men in a tiny little fortress bully the One who created light from darkness and divided land from sea. He deserved the finest crown, but look what man gave! He deserved the noblest scepter, but look what man handed him! He deserved the sincerest devotion, but look what man offered! He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. “We all, like sheep, have gone stray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Is 53:6).

He could have swept them all away. He could have condemned us – giving us what we rightfully deserved. We deserved nothing from him. But look what he gave! He gave his holiness for your sin, and his death for your life! “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22). “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:24-26).

Christ was not defeated on the cross. No, he was bringing about his most kingly act of love. He was destroying the enemy of death that held every descendant of Adam. He was digging through the rubble and destruction that sin causes to rescue you. “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays,” he says, “I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak” (Ez 34:16). Knowing what Christ your King has done for you, when you were crushed by sin and entombed in death, as he carries you through life in his strong but loving arms, we can’t help but cling tightly to his little finger.

When little Elif was rescued from the rubble, it was a heart moving moment. In a phone video showing the dramatic moment of her rescue, dozens of onlookers are heard cheering excitedly as she is freed from the wreckage. “In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Lk 15:10). We don’t often think about what’s going on in the spiritual realm. But there are angels – messengers of God – actively going about the work of God: protecting you, watching over you, rejoicing with you. How many angels are right here with us in this sanctuary right now? How many angels will ride with you in your car on the way home? How many angels sit there with you as your conversation with a friend moves to more eternal matters, and through his Word the Holy Spirit convicts their heart so that it suddenly turns in repentance to Christ our Savior? If only we could audibly hear their rejoicing!

May we also see this work for what it is. We aren’t just meeting new people, we are searching for the lost. We aren’t having a conversation or debate, we are digging through the rubble and destruction that sin leaves. We aren’t just bringing someone new to church, God is raising them out of the pit, and bearing them on his shoulders into his eternal kingdom. Rejoice over this! Amen.