Pastor Eric Schroeder - Saints Triumphant - Sunday, November 15, 2020

Text: Ezekiel 37:15-28

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Have you ever tried to uncrack an egg and put it back in its shell? I doubt it. Have you ever unpopped a balloon, and gathered all the helium together again? I’m sure you haven’t. In fact, I’m sure no one has. We’ve cracked enough eggs and popped enough balloons to know it’s not even worth attempting to try and undo it, because it would be impossible.

However—and this is the biggest however there is—God not only can do what is impossible for us…he promises to! God unbreaks the broken—not eggs or balloons, but people. We see it today in God’s Word through Ezekiel the prophet. I don’t know if any of the prophets had an easy ministry, but Ezekiel in particular was a preacher to God’s people at the lowest point of their existence as a nation. His words of prophecy spanned the conquest, destruction, and exile of Judah and Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonian Empire. Like Daniel, he was one of the early exiles himself, but was able to see visions of the walls knocked down, the Temple burning, and the kingly line of David seemingly coming to an end. If ever there was a time when it looked like all hope was lost, this was it. If there ever were earthly reasons to wonder if God’s promises were in jeopardy, this was it. For everyone who saw these events, either in person or through Ezekiel’s prophecy, it must have seemed like their covenant relationship with God was forever broken.

But now God gives Ezekiel this prophecy to act out and then explain: take two sticks, one for Judah and one for the northern tribes of Israel, and join them together into one unbroken stick. The whole thing was meant to arouse curiosity, and when they asked what it meant, God gave Ezekiel the answer to share. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. 22 I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. They will be my people, and I will be their God.

Of course, God hadn’t broken any promises. But they had. Instead of remaining faithful to God and giving him the glory for their blessings, time and time again they defiled themselves: they worshiped the false gods of the surrounding people and set up idols, and they ignored the commands that were supposed to set them apart as God’s chosen people. And because of their sinful backsliding, they faced the consequences. In Ezekiel’s time, it had been almost 150 years since the northern tribes were conquered and scattered by the Assyrians, and now the southern tribes of Judah were broken up as well. The walls were broken, the temple was broken, the people were broken.

I suppose we all get it on some level, whenever we experience the brokenness sin causes. The sad thing is that far too often we are tempted to wonder if God is still faithful, instead of recognizing our own unfaithfulness. The life of every struggling sinner is way too full of backsliding, when we keep on committing all those “never again” sins, when we fall back into sins we’d like to have grown out of by now, or we so easily rely on ourselves again instead of trusting fully in God. Our world urges us to always want more instead of love more or give more or serve more. We start with good intentions but so soon we have to look back and shudder at how our words and actions (not to mention our thoughts) must disgust a Holy God because of our gross impurity. We blend in with sinful society instead of standing out as God’s people, and we miss opportunities to do the Lord’s work because we are so caught up in our own selfish aims.

God forbid, then, that we should ever be surprised at the brokenness that surrounds us…and hits home more than we’d like it to. But remember, God not only can do what is impossible; he promises to. How does God unbreak the broken? Listen as we read on. 24 “ ‘My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will follow my laws and be careful to keep my decrees. 25 They will live in the land I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them forever. 27 My dwelling place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the Lord make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.’ ”

Note how the undoing of what has been done hinges on God’s servant—here mentioned by the name David. Of course if God wanted to raise King David from the dead, he could have. But he had something better in mind. Instead of the David of the past, God was going to send the Son of David from eternity. This David wouldn’t take care of sheep; he would shepherd God’s people in humility and lay down his life for them. This David wouldn’t fall into sin with a bathing woman and then get rid of her husband; he would shoo away every temptation, cleanse us of our sin in baptism and get rid of our guilt. This David wouldn’t sit on a throne, he would shed his blood as he hung on two sticks joined into a cross. This David wouldn’t just hurl a stone at a giant’s head; he would crush the evil serpent’s head by his death and resurrection on the third day.

And today of all days, we get to rejoice that God’s promises are so much bigger than we hope for. To be sure, God’s Old Testament people must have heard these words and considered the possibilities for their lives, for their nation, for their hopes and dreams. God’s picture, however, is so much bigger, because he points us not to an earthly homeland, but a heavenly one.

Just think of how often we’ve prayed for earthly fixes to the brokenness we experience. God, help me feel better. God, heal my family member. God, restore a broken relationship. God, comfort those who mourn. By God’s grace, there are many times when God answers these prayers exactly as we prayed them. But many times, God has something bigger in mind. In addition to help fighting one temptation, God promises an end to all temptation. In addition to the power to live a life less corrupted, God promises an incorruptible existence as we live forever. Instead of healing broken bodies and broken hearts, God promises imperishable bodies and new, unbreakable hearts. Instead of drying some tears, God promises to wipe away every tear. Instead of more time with our loved ones, God promises an eternity with them.

All those thoughts are contained in these words. If we look closely, we can see 13 promises in God’s Words to Ezekiel. All of them are for God’s Old Testament people who awaited the coming Messiah, and all of them are for God’s New Testament people who await his coming again. All of them are for us, and all of them are true. Shall we run through them again and see them in the light of eternity as those who look forward to our own unbreaking?

Here they are, rephrased a bit to highlight the eternal blessings God promises:

  1. God will gather his people.
  2. God will bring them into the place he promised.
  3. God will unite separated people into one holy nation.
  4. God will bring them together under one King.
  5. God will make sure they are never divided or separated again.
  6. God will make sure they never fall into idol worship again.
  7. God will save them by cleansing them of all impurity.
  8. God will enable them to serve him wholeheartedly.
  9. They will possess their homeland forever.
  10. They will live forever in perfect peace with him.
  11. Their blessings will be forever multiplied.
  12. God will dwell among them forever.
  13. Their salvation will testify to God’s love forever.

That’s quite a list, isn’t it? Any one of those makes us long for their fulfillment; hearing them all together might leave us almost speechless. The completed work of Jesus Christ gives us full confidence that God means what he says. Jesus’ resurrection proves that God keeps his promises, even when they seem impossible. In Christ, our God has unbroken the curse of sin and death, and when Jesus comes again, our broken world will be restored to its original glory. Until then, let’s not set our sights merely on earthly fixes to our brokenness. Instead, let’s rejoice in the full victory God has graciously given to his beloved children, especially the unbreakable victory of so many who are already safely home. Their dwelling place is with God; he is their God, and they are his people forever. Thanks be to God for the Saints Triumphant. His promises in Christ assure us that someday soon we will join them. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.