Sermon – Pentecost 4 – June 17, 2018
Ezekiel 17:22-24 ‘Eagles, Twigs, and Mountains’
CT: We are helplessly caught up in our own self-interest when it comes to our plans, but God persistently and faithfully looks out for our best interest; the forgiveness of our sins and our relationship with Him.
Intro: What do two big eagles, a willow tree, a mountain, and a tender twig have to do with each other? Actually, quite a bit, it’s the background to our short reading from Ezekiel today where the prophet is told to go to Zedekiah, King of Judah, and tell him a story about an eagle that plants and waters a willow tree which spreads out like a healthy vine only to have the vine look to another Eagle to water it. Ezekiel goes on to explain the riddle; it’s God’s word of judgement against Zedekiah’s unfaithfulness and treachery.
Context: God appointed Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, to be His agent that He might show the whole world who He is. Nebuchadnezzar broke off a young twig from the top of a cedar, Jehoiachin, the rightful king of Judah and took him along with most of the nobles, artisans, and men of valour back to Babylon. Then he set up Zedekiah as his puppet king in Jerusalem, who made covenant with him before God. But Zedekiah continued to do what was evil in God’s eyes, and so it shouldn’t surprise us that he had plans of his own that did not include God at all. Even though God had provided well for those people left in Jerusalem under Nebuchadnezzar’s care, Zedekiah reached out to Egypt, the second eagle in Ezekiel’s riddle. Well, Zedekiah may as well have covered himself with steak juice and jumped into a cage with an hungry grizzly bear. God gave Jerusalem over to Nebuchadnezzar; it was utterly destroyed; the thriving vine Nebuchadnezzar planted was pulled out by its roots. Not a thing of value was left, and Zedekiah watched as his sons were put to death before his eyes were put out.
Our Plans: Zedekiah is not so unlike you and me. We all make plans, and have our own ideas how things should work out, don’t we? We know better than God’s design for marriage, and when it comes to the sanctity of human life we’ve all but made ourselves a god over life and death. Yes, like King Zedekiah, God has given us a great amount of freedom to do our own thing. Our problem is fitting God into that picture. Have you taken your plans to God in prayer? Have you sought out the counsel of His Word? The longer I’m married the more it seems that we think alike; our goals are aligned; words come out of my mouth before she’s had a chance to voice them. Any good marriage counsellor will tell you how important communication is to the health of your relationship. Listening, not just speaking! This Church thing we call worship is where God strengthens His relationship with you; where He aligns your goals to His. Personal time in the Bible and prayer continues a 2 way conversation throughout the week. Proverbs 16:3 says, “Commit your work to the Lord and your plans will succeed.” It’s taking up our plans with a faith that leans heavily on God’s will and goodness toward us, knowing we are not out there alone. (John 14:18; Matthew 28:20)
But we like Zedekiah turn to other kings. When we’re not happy with our lot in life we quickly turn to doctors, lawyers, more money, or retirement plans, seeking to make everything work out by the force of our will. We get caught up in a ‘on and off again’ relationship with God hopelessly enslaved by our own self-interests.
David’s Line: The fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC left all of God’s people despairing. The city you can rebuild, but how do you restore the line of David; the promise of the Messiah? Jesse’s family tree was reduced to a stump, or was it? Remember the twig Jehoiachin carried off by the eagle? After 38 years in prison, Jehoiachin was given a place at the king’s table, paving the way for the Christ. The line of David was not broken.
Now the short reading from our text this morning comes to life, God’s plan is greater than anyone could ever imagine. Ezekiel’s riddle for Zedekiah played out in history, but there’s more; it foreshadowed the coming Christ and the fulfillment of God’s plan and purpose. Never mind the plans of mice and men, God Himself would take a tender sprig from the very top of the cedar, and plant it on a high and lofty mountain in faithfulness to His promise of a Saviour that goes back to Genesis 3.
Mountains: Isaiah referred to such a mountain as a place where God would provide a rich feast and where the veil of death would be removed forever. Eden is often pictured with such a mountain from which rivers flow bringing life to everything. This mountain transcends all geographic reality, yet in real time and space it’s called Calvary, or Golgotha. It is the site of the reconciliation of God and sinner; it’s the highest mountain possible because it connects heaven and earth by God’s grace.
Tree: The tender twig that God planted in Israel became a noble cedar; a kind of cosmic tree providing shelter for every kind of bird—for all the nations. Jesus spoke a parable about this kind of a tree; the great tree in the garden that grows from the smallest of seeds. Jesus is that tree and His Church form the branches! From the smallest, most insignificant beginning, a baby born in the city of David, unnoticed by the world until Magi from the east inquired of Him. And the reaction of many to his birth and His life’s work was the same; that of disbelief and murder.
It’s called the theology of the cross; the great reversal through which God is made known to the world. The high tree is brought low and the low tree is lifted up. The green tree withers while the withered tree blossoms. Jesus quoted some of this language on the way to be planted on the mountain of death: “For if they do these things when the wood is green, what shall happen when it is dry?” Now is the time of God’s grace! Jesus suffered the most shameful death on a cross carrying the crushing burden of the world’s sin (your sin), but was raised in glory on the 3rd day. It’s the reversal taking place in your Baptism where you are raised from death to life.
Outcome: Presumptuous Zedekiah, confident in his own plans was brought low, and the humbled and crushed Jehoiachin was lifted up. And on the Last Day, the confident, boasting plans of worldly kingdoms will be brought to nothing; the powerful unbelievers will be laid low for eternity, but the downtrodden and crushed believers struggling to remain faithful even unto death will be lifted up to life everlasting. All of this because God unswervingly stuck to His plan of redemption for you; Christ crucified, buried, and risen from the dead; your forgiveness and life secured in a new relationship with your heavenly Father that He initiated, and keeps through His care for you.
Your salvation is not dependent on the plans of great nations or clever thinking of any man; it’s dependent solely on God’s grace and His faithfulness to His promises to you.