I don’t know if you any of you ever had a little lamb, but “Mary had a little lamb, its fleece was white as snow. And everywhere that Mary went, the lamb was sure to go.” You really have to love and trust someone, don’t you, to follow them wherever they may go? Well, that’s the way it is for shepherds and sheep, and I guess we could say in a certain sense Mary really a shepherd– a shepherd who had a little lamb that for some special reason wanted to follow her wherever she would lead her. Our Lord Jesus is in every sense a shepherd – a shepherd for all of us little lambs who desperately need someone to follow – a tender shepherd who at the same time, as we are emphasizing today, is an awesome King. What I pray these words from Ezekiel the prophet will help us remember in the midst of everything going on in our lives is that in Jesus Christ we have The Kind of King Little Lambs Need.
The prophet Ezekiel wrote his words about shepherds hundreds of years before Jesus our King came to earth, but Jesus is the one he is referring to near the end of our lesson in verses 23-24 when he says that God would someday send his “servant David,” as he calls him. Old King David had been dead for about four hundred years by this time, so Ezekiel is referring to the one who would come from the house and line of David, the one the Bible also call “great David’s greater Son” – our Lord Jesus, the only king that really counts, the only king little lambs like us really need.
So, why was Ezekiel talking to people about a king who would come in what turned out to be six hundred years later in regard to something that was going on in their lives right then? He was talking to them about those things in the future for the very same reason you and I today talk to ourselves about the King coming back in what may turn out to be one day or one year or many, many thousands of years down the line from now. He wanted to give them God’s warning, and he wanted to give them God’s comfort. So that’s what we will do now, because that’s what God’s faithful shepherds do.
The verses we have printed for us are words of wonderful comfort, which we are certainly going to talk about, but they do follow many verses that were full of warning. This is that time period again that we talk about many times in sermons and in classes – the time when the people of Israel were punished in a horribly tragic way for continuing to live only for today and not for the eternity to come. They had had things going so well in their lives for a long time, with money and happiness to spare, but what was spared in their daily existence was a concern for how they lived – a concern for the kind of King little lambs really needed. The fact is they felt they didn’t need the coming King David – the coming Savior — at all. Even worse, the shepherds – their spiritual leaders, like many of the prophets and priests and kings – joined them in offering sacrifices to other gods — religions that often included the most vile of sexual filth and debauchery and perversion. It would be like if we as your pastors encouraged you to follow our lead of offering sacrifices here in our church and school to Buddha or to pledge allegiance to a mosque or to go along with religions which in the name of Christ say that what the Bible says are perversions of the sexual relationship are good and even pleasing to God.
We know that the cup of God’s patience finally ran over, and he allowed much-feared and very violent nations to come in and destroy the holy city of Jerusalem and even the sacred temple itself – and carry off thousands of people to live in a land hundreds and hundreds of miles away – maybe something like if foreign armies would destroy all our homes, take over our country and march us one by one to North Korea or Iran or some other location that does not wish us well.
This destruction and exile back then, in fact, is what had just happened the very year Ezekiel spoke these words. And the people to whom he was speaking were people who were not living in the Promised Land where the Savior would be born. They were living in one of those faraway lands – Babylon, modern day Iraq. And that is why, then, he spoke the words of our lesson, which are words of comfort, because, while there were many, sadly, who went their own spiritual way, there were many others who knew the kind of king they as little lambs needed. But they were sad, and they were confused by what they saw, and they didn’t know where to turn.
So God told them, as he tells you and me today, if we are sad or scared or confused about anything whatsoever the words of our lesson: Just follow along for a moment if you would… Verse 11: “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them.” The middle of verse 12: “I will rescue them from all the places they were scattered…” Verse 14: “I will tend them in a good pasture…” Verse 15: “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord.” And then verse 16: “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”
These are wonderful words, but they are only wonderful words if you and I know we need them – if we know how we have no right to have God speak like this to us – if we know and confess how much we think more about today and not about eternity – if we know how much we worry about things that we should entrust to the Lord instead – if we know how much we don’t deserve to able to look forward to that time the apostle Paul talked about in our Second Lesson, when Christ the King returns on the Last Day and takes all his little lambs to heaven.
But, brothers and sisters, you and I do know we need what Jesus did, even though what Jesus did as our King – and even though what Jesus allows in our lives as our King – often seems so hidden to our minds and to our hearts. When, for example, you see the one in our Gospel reading mocked with a crown of thorns and the blasphemous, “Hail, King of the Jews,” he does not look like the kind of king anyone needs or would want anything to do with. And when you and I see discord and disharmony and disagreements in the world and also among God’s people, it does not look like our King is ruling in the way his world or his church needs. It may look like he wants nothing to do with us… But what may seem hidden before that Roman troop of soldiers and what may seem hidden in the chaos and uncertainty of everyday life is revealed so simply and so beautifully in that beaten face which said to the heathen Pontius Pilate, just as it says so clearly to dearly loved you and me, “Yes, it is as you say. I am a King, but my kingdom is not of this world… It is from another place.”
Because the risen Lord Jesus rules from another place, all is good in this place, because that place is where he someday wants us to live – and he will do everything needed to make sure we know we can’t figure this out on our own, but that we need him for every single blessing. And we can count on that blessing, because the one with the crown of thorns planted in his head allowed his hands and feet to be implanted on the cross so he could pay for all the things you and I have done – and all the thing things you and I have said – and all the things you and I have even thought – that put him there.
But he didn’t stay there. He went to another place. Not only did he pay for our sins against him and against each other, but he also left that cross and that grave so we could know that not just our sins, but also our death, are all taken care of. Even when we die — which certainly is something we don’t like to necessarily think about — but even we die, we have the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. And that means while we are still alive, all is well – all is well with my soul, yes, with my soul. Jesus loves me; Jesus will never leave me; and Jesus will watch over me wherever he allows me to go. I truly am Jesus’ little lamb. I truly am a lamb who belongs to the King of heaven and earth. I truly am a lamb, therefore, who has everything I will ever need. Even my sadnesses and my worries are meant to help me remember to dump them all out of my soul – and to pour them into the heart of him who loves me so. After all, he is the one who made me. And he is the one saved me. And he therefore is the one who will never let me go.
There is a last verse of Mary Had a Little Lamb that I really don’t know if I ever sang as a child, but it struck me when I heard it recently: “What makes the lamb love Mary so? The eager children cry – O, Mary loves the lamb, you know. The teacher did reply.” It’s not hard to follow the one who loves you so. As the little lambs of Jesus Christ, we can sing much more importantly, as we do in one of our shepherd songs: “The King of Love my shepherd is, Whose goodness faileth never. I nothing lack if I am his, and He is mine forever.” I nothing lack if I am his, and he is mine forever. Dear brothers and sisters, we are – and he is! That is why Jesus is the kind of king little lambs need – and, thanks to God, our Lord Jesus is the kind of king we little lambs have.