Christ the King

Sermon title slide with a photo of my dog, Mia

Jeff Garrison
Mayberry and Bluemont Churches  

November 26, 2023
Ezekiel 34:11-24[1]

Sermon recorded on Friday, November 24, 2023. I laughed at the way the sun coming into the window made it look at is I had a white glove on my right hand.

Hugh Latimer, a Calvinist, served as Bishop of Worcester in the 16thCentury during Henry VIII’s reign. He was a leader in the English Reformation. King Henry VIII, until he couldn’t obtain a divorce, aligned with the Roman Catholic Church. One Sunday as Latimer prepared to enter the pulpit, he looked out and saw Henry sitting in the pews. 

“Latimer, be careful of what you say today. King Henry is here,” he heard whispered. But then, as he entered the pulpit, he whispered to himself, “Latimer, be careful of what you say today; the King of Kings is here.”[2] Latimer later suffer martyrdom at the hands of Bloody Mary.[3]

Today we’re reminded that like Latimer, we live out our lives in the presence of the true King, Jesus Christ. It’s Christ the King Sunday. That may not mean much to those of us who grew up in non-liturgical churches. After all, Christ should be our king 365 days a year. Make that 366 days next year—it’s a leap year. 

Before reading the scriptures:

As we heard in our New Testament reading,[4] as a king, Christ surprises us. He comes disguised as the poor, the needy, the sick, or one in prison.[5] We also think of Christ as the good shepherd, a common metaphor used for kings in scripture as in the ancient world.[6]  

As a day on the church calendar, Christ the King is relatively new. It was added roughly 100 years ago by Pope Pius XI. Protestants originally shunned the day as too sectarian.[7] In time, however, many Protestant churches adopted the day which falls on the last Sunday of the church’s year. Next week, with Advent, we begin a new cycle in the church’s calendar.

When he introduced Christ the King, Pius XI was concerned how the church should respond to the world. Mussolini ruled Italy and atheistic Communism threatened from Russia. Both demanded the worship of the state. A few years later, as fascism spread in Europe, a handful of Protestants took their turn at speaking out. A group of Reformed and Lutheran Church leaders in Germany published the Theological Declaration of Barmen in 1933. We’ll read from this Declaration as we profess our faith this morning after the sermon. For Christians, Christ is Lord and demands our ultimate allegiance.  

Now, proclaiming Christ as King isn’t a new concept. Scripture proclaims Christ as king. [8] Our Confessions lift his kingly role as one of the three offices of Christ, the other two being prophet and priest.[9]

My sermon this morning comes from a prophecy given to the Prophet Ezekiel. Ezekiel addresses the Israelites in exile in Babylon and lifts a vision of a new order. God will become the “shepherd” of his people. Of course, we who live on this side of the resurrection know the “Good Shepherd.” Read Ezekiel 34:11-24


Do you remember Calvin and Hobbes? There was one strip where Calvin was swinging on the playground at school. The bully Moe, who looks to be twice Calvin’s age and as one who may have repeated more grades than he’d passed, calls Calvin a “Twinkie,” saying “get off my swing.” Brave Calvin responds, “Forget it, Moe, wait your turn.” Moe responds with a right punch that knocks Calvin out of the swing and onto the ground. Pulling himself together, Calvin mumbles, “It’s hard to be religious when certain people are never incinerated by bolts of lightning.”[10]

I expect the Israelites in exile felt the same. Where was their God when the Babylonians stormed the walls of Jerusalem? Some lost their faith. But others remained hopeful. Ezekiel speaks to them with a promise. No longer will those in power lead; no longer will those who abuse others continue their terror. Instead, God will lead as a shepherd. As a true shepherd God will protect Israel. This passage contains both judgment and promise!

To fully understand this passage, we should look at the 34th chapter in its entirety. (Your homework assignment for today is to read the chapter in its entirety this afternoon.) The chapter revolves around the “shepherd allegory.” Kings were often called shepherds in the ancient world.[11] The shepherd image for a king implied one who cared and nurtured his subjects. Ezekiel uses this metaphor to highlight the hypocrisy of Israel’s kings, shepherds who “enrich themselves at the expense of the flock.”[12]

A perfect example of Ezekiel’s “bad shepherd king” would be the Czars of Russia. (Putin, Russia’s current leader, just follows their footsteps). Not only did the Czars rule ruthlessly, but they also became the richest monarchs in Europe. They did this while ruling over the poorest country of the continent.

Several years ago, I visited the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg, Russia. A home for the Czars, the place is incredible. It’d take a week to really appreciate all the collected artwork. But as I thought while viewing the treasures, “it’s no wonder the people revolted.” 

A good king is not one who lives high on the hog while his subjects starve. Rather, a good king is like a shepherd, one who helps protect his subjects from danger and leads in a way that they’re provided with fresh fields (or food) and running streams (or clean water). A shepherd is an appropriate name for such a leader.

Unfortunately, Israel didn’t have too many kings like this.  Surely, there were some who did a better job than others. But most looked out for themselves and for their friends, while allowing abuse of their citizens. This chapter begins with a condemnation of such wicked rulers, the “shepherds who have eaten of the fat and clothed themselves with the wool of their flocks yet have not fed the sheep.” 

This is what God promises beginning in the 11th verse. “I, myself,” God proclaims, “will search for my sheep.” God will be the shepherd. God will bring the people, who had been scattered at Jerusalem’s fall, back together. There will be a reversal of their misfortune. God will provide good pasture; God will strengthen the weak; God will heal the sick; God will bind the injured; God will seek the lost. By the beginning of the 16th verse, there seemed to be a balance between judgment and promise, but then there was a shift and God again speaks of judgment.

“The fat and the strong I will destroy,” says God. Notice the shift; God no longer talks to the shepherds, or the rulers. God now addresses the “sheep and goats,” members of the flock. We heard the same thing in our reading earlier from Matthew 25. Obviously, it’s not just the leaders who are abusing their power, but there are some “sheep and goats” who abuse others.

Have you ever watched animals eat and notice how the strong push aside the weak? Eternally, I should be concerned for my dog, Mia. Often when Caroline’s dog, Apple, needs a drink, Mia will decide she, too, needs a drink. Mia is much larger than Apple and will butt the smaller dog away and then drain the bowl. We feed them in separate rooms. Sheep, and other animals, are no different. 

Sheepherders spend a lot of time with the weaker animals trying to strengthen them. If an ewe gives birth to more lambs that she can nurse, the ewe will push away the weakest lamb. The shepherd will have to take that lamb and find another ewe, perhaps one with only a single lamb, to nurse. The sheepherder encourages an “adoptive bond.”[13] Otherwise, the rejected lamb will die. 

Without a shepherd, strong animals take advantage of the weaker animals. And we see such behavior even among humans. Without a good teacher, bullies in the classroom intimidate other students. Without good leaders, those with economic or political clout take advantage and oppress those without.  

Now that God has judged both the shepherds who have ignored the needs of their flocks and the sheep who, in the absence of the shepherds, abused the weaker ones, God returns to the future promise of a new shepherd. God and his servant David will rule and guide the flock. David, the former shepherd who became a king, will return to be God’s prince. The return of God’s king becomes the Messianic Promise spoken to Hebrews living in exile hundreds of miles from their home. God will gather the faithful together and lead them back home, and a king like David will return and rule justly.  

Have these promises of God been fulfilled?  Yes, some of them. And they continue to be fulfilled! A new shepherd, the good shepherd, was born in the city of David—the one you and I proclaim as Savior. We’ll celebrate his birth in five weeks! Yet, as we wait, we’re reminded over we still wait and long for the day proclaimed in scripture when Jesus Christ will return and rule. On that day, wars will cease, and every knee will bow and proclaim Christ as King. Until then, we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus, Come.”

Here’s a couple of things to take from this passage.  First, be reminded that bad people exist, as do bad shepherds. There are those who rule ruthlessly and those who use their power to exclude others. As followers of Jesus, we shouldn’t do that, nor do we owe such people allegiance. 

Next, there is a new day coming, one that will bring justice and hope. Ezekiel tells us that God will bring the bad shepherds and the bullies within the flocks to justice. Eternally, we have no need to fear those who abuse, for our eternal hope doesn’t rest in their hands, but in the hands of our loving Savior. 

Finally, as Christians, we long for that day when Christ returns, and his kingship becomes visible. We’re to proclaim this vision to a longing world.

If our allegiance really belongs to Jesus, if Christ really is our king, then we should be like Bishop Latimer and not fear the King Henry XIIIs who sit in our midst. Nor should we fear any other person who might be pushing us to ignore Christ and follow them. Nor should we fear the crowd who may mock our decisions. Instead, we place our hope in our King, Jesus Christ. Amen. 

[1] I preached this sermon, in a slightly different form, on November 20, 2011 and November 26, 2017.

[2] Robert F. Sims, “The Shepherd King,” in Under the Wings of the Almighty in “

[3] Mary 1, was the daughter of Henry VIII and his first wife, Catherine of Aragon. She is also known as Mary Tudor and Bloody Mary, because of the number of Protestant leaders she had executed during her attempt to return England to Catholicism. 

[4] Matthew 25:31-46.

[5] From a sermon by Jim Somerville of First Baptist Church in Richmond, VA in 2017. See

[6] Meg Jenista, “Sermon Commentary for Sunday, November 26, 2023, Ezekiel 34:1-16, 20-24. See For scriptural references see Psalm 23, 95, and 100. 

[7] David I. Kertzer, The Pope and Mussolini (New York: Random House, 2014), 84.

[8] Matthew 27:11; John 1:49:1 Timothy 1:17, 6:15; Revelations 15:3, 1:9

[9] “The Westminster Larger Catechism” Questions 43-45.

[10] Bill Watterson, Calvin and Hobbes (November 8, 1990).

[11] Jenista,

[12] Margaret S. Odell, Ezekiel (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 432.

[13] When birthing lambs, a sheepherder will often smear the placenta from the lamb born of a ewe in order to entice her to accept a second lamb to nurse and feed.

photo of Mia in a sweatshirt
Mia in my Bluemont Study

Called by God

Jeff Garrison
Bluemont and Mayberry Presbyterian Churches  
Ezekiel 2:1-7
August 29, 2021

At the beginning of worship

John Knox, the reformer of the Scottish Church, from which came the Presbyterian Church, drew from the book of Ezekiel. His book title, The First Blast of the Trumpet, drew from the prophet.[1] Like Ezekiel, God gave Knox a message. He knew he must deliver it regardless of the danger it brought upon himself. Today, in our sermon, on this Scottish Heritage Sunday at Bluemont, we’re looking at Ezekiel’s call as a prophet. I will compare it to Knox’s call as a Reformer. 

Before the reading of Scripture

Before we delve into the text, let me tell you a bit about Ezekiel. He was a young Hebrew priest exiled to Babylonian in 597 BC. He’s a lot like Daniel, who was exiled in 605 BC. Ezekiel’s exile, seven years later, was the second of three exiles. It occurred ten years before the destruction of Jerusalem and the massive exile. 

Those who were exiled early appear to have two functions. Some, like Daniel, were groomed for Babylonian official work. Others served as guarantee that Jerusalem would behave and pay tributes to Babylon. Ezekiel, a priest, may have been selected for deportation to serve as a religious advisor to the Hebrews in Babylon. 

The book of Ezekiel begins with a vision of a divine chariot. Seeing it, Ezekiel falls to his face and hears someone speaking to him. In Chapter 2, we hear Ezekiel’s call. 

Read Ezekiel 2:1-7

The Call of John Knox

In the late 1550s, John Knox settled into a comfortable life in Geneva.  He was the pastor of an English-speaking congregation, which consisted mostly of religious exiles the British Isles. These exiled left England under the reign of Mary Tudor, also known as “Bloody Mary” (a name earned not because she liked tomato juice and vodka, but because she had so many Protestant leaders killed). She attempted to bring England back to the Catholic fold. Knox was Scottish, but served a church just south of the border, when he found himself along with others fleeing for their lives. 

Then, while still in exile, Knox made a dangerous trip back to Scotland. Love has a way to lead us to take such risks. He went home to marry Marjorie Bowes. While in Scotland, he couldn’t help but do some preaching and meeting with Scottish leaders, many of whom were ready for a change of the church. This was a time of great uncertainty; Knox knew if he wasn’t careful, he could end up being roasted at the stake. 

Once safely back in Geneva, with his wife who soon became pregnant, things looked up. He enjoyed pastoring the church and studying under John Calvin, who was at his prime. BUT THEN he received a letter.

The letter, signed by several Scottish nobles, was brought to Geneva by a Scottish merchant. They encouraged Knox to come back to Scotland. They were not able to promise him safety or a comfortable life, but they did promise a willingness to jeopardize it all—their lives, their wealth, their estates, and their titles—for God’s glory. 

This troubled Knox. He shared the opportunity with his congregation, as well as with John Calvin and other pastors in Geneva. Everyone agreed. Knox had no choice. He was being called back to Scotland and if he refused, he would be rebelling against God.[2] So much for safety and raising his son by Lake Geneva.

Our calling

When we are called by God, we’re often called out of our comfort zones.  We’re called to take risks. God’s call changes us. No one who answers it will ever be the same. When we are called by God—and this doesn’t just apply to the clergy for we all have callings—our lives no longer belong to ourselves, as Knox and Ezekiel learn. 

Ezekiel’s call

Hanging out with the other exiles by the river Chebar in Babylon, Ezekiel sees this incredible vision of the heavens opening. Out of the north comes a storm with weird creatures and a chariot. Sounds psychedelic, doesn’t it. Read the first chapter of Ezekiel to get the idea of what he experienced. Overwhelmed, he falls on his face. By the way, this is a proper response if you ever find yourself face to face with the Almighty. Bow down, duck, hide! Don’t hesitate, or you may be french-fried! 

With his face in the ground, Ezekiel hears the command at the beginning of chapter two. “Mortal, stand up.”  Many versions use the more literal translation, “Son of man.” Either way, Ezekiel is identified for who he is: a man, a mere creature, one with limited powers.[3] He’s just like you and me. God never goes out and finds the strongest man to do his bidding. Ezekiel is weak; he can’t get up even though he’s commanded to do so. When God’s spirit enters him, he’s rises. When standing, he hears his calling.  

Ezekiel call is to his own people. He’s called to address those who have rebelled against God. Ezekiel doesn’t even have the pleasure Jonah did, of going and pronouncing doom on Israel’s enemies.[4] His message, like Knox, is to his kinfolk, his family, and his neighbors. He won’t be very popular. He may even be considered a traitor. But God calls him. God expects him to do this. 

Will they listen?

Notice, too, unlike Jonah who feared Nineveh would hear his message and repent,[5] there is nothing suggesting this will to happen to Ezekiel. Rebellious and stubborn, they’ll probably not listen. The way God evaluates Ezekiel’s faithfulness isn’t by how many converts he gains or how big of a following he has. The same goes for us. 

Ultimately, what’s important is how faithfully he proclaims the word. God warns Ezekiel. He may not be liked, but regardless, he’s to give the message. It’s not his message, its God’s.  

Although Ezekiel is given a tough assignment, God protects Ezekiel to make sure that the message gets through. With Jeremiah, who was a prophet back in Jerusalem while Ezekiel was working in Babylon, God’s protection may appear dubious. After all, Jeremiah was thrown in a well[6]. In Ezekiel’s call, his hearers will be mad, but the prophet is going to be protected. 

Brer Rabbit? Protection in the briar patch

One scholar points out that a better translation of this passage isn’t to see briars and thorns and scorpions as a part of the angry crowd, as some interpret it. Instead, they protect Ezekiel. The prophet, like “Brer Rabbit,” happily runs through thorns to escape those who seek to harm him.[7]

God never promises us an easy time! After all, Jesus’ call is to take up our cross and follow.[8] Those who hear Ezekiel may not like what he has to say. However, God ensures the message is heard so they know that a prophet has been among them.  

God calls those with impediments 

As one commentator on this passage points out, an impediment is a common characteristics of a call in the Old Testament.[9] Moses stuttered, Gideon was considered a weakling, Samuel was young, and Isaiah had unclean lips.[10] But in all cases, God makes the difference.  Here, with Ezekiel, we see the prophet-to-be can’t even stand up. But as a quote attributed to Knox goes, “a man with God is always in the majority.” Ezekiel’s task is to take a message to a less than enthusiastic crowd. Only with God’s helps can he deliver. 

Another commentator, working with this passage makes this observation: “Certainty of call can be a wonderful thing, but certainty of call can also be a terrible thing.”[11] When we feel God’s call, especially to a task like this, we must be careful. Is it God giving us the strength to carry it out? Or is it our own ego? The call of God should always humble us.  

Ezekiel’s role in helping the Hebrews understand

Ezekiel’s call involves taking a message to the Hebrews in exile. He’s to help them theologically deal with the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. It’s not an easy assignment. No one likes hearing that they (and their disobedience) are the cause of their current troubles. 

The sins of the past led to consequences

Think about us, as individuals or as a nation. We don’t want to hear about how actions in the past cause current problems.[12] But Scripture is clear. Sins of the past can cause consequences for later generations.[13]Ezekiel’s call helped shape God’s people as they came to understand their responsibility for God’s judgment.  

We should consider Ezekiel’s calling. We need to remember that like him, we’re not out to win a popularity contest. We’re called to do what is right. We’re to seek out God’s will. For our Elders, they’re also to seek out God’s will for our congregation’s life. In the end, we’re judged not on how people like us or on how elegant the words we use, or even how many converts we make. We’ll be judged on how faithful we have been to God’s word and to his work.  

Prophets remembered

I am sure when Knox set sail for Scotland in 1559, he had no idea the impact his ministry would have on the Church in Scotland. It continued to Ireland, and over to the Americas and Australia and New Zealand. Knox work continues to influence the church in places like the Sudan and Malawi, Brazil, and Korea… 

As John heard in his vision on the Isle of Patmos, “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord, says the Spirit.  They rest from their labors, and there works follow them.”[14] The impact of Ezekiel’s words can be felt thousands of years later, and Knox’s work still bears fruit nearly 500 years later.

According to the ways we think, Ezekiel was an unlikely candidate for a prophet. He wasn’t even strong enough to stand before God. He required energy. He was humble. Likewise, Knox was an unlikely candidate for a Reformer as a marked man with a babe in arms. But God called both Ezekiel and Knox. 

God can use you!

Don’t ever think that God can’t use you because you are weak, because you are not elegant with speech, because you are not religious enough, or because you have other obligations. Those are the kind of people that God uses to make a difference in the world. Amen.

The Scottish Isle of Iona

[1] See Ezekiel 33:3ff. 

[2]Jane Dawson, John Knox (New Haven, CT: Yale, 2015), 129

[3] Jesus refers to himself as “Son of Man,” too, drawing on Daniel 7:13. The use of the phrase in Ezekiel (not capitalized as in Daniel) refers to his humanity.

[4] Jonah 1:2.

[5] Jonah 4:2.

[6] Jeremiah 38:6.

[7] Margaret S. Odell, Ezekiel (Macon, GA: Smyth & Helwys, 2005), 40-43, 50.

[8] Luke 9:23

[9] Daniel C. Fredericks, “Diglossia, Revelation and Ezekiel’s Inaugural Right,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (June 1998). 

[10] Exodus 4:10f; Judges 6:15f, I Samuel 3, and Isaiah 6:5-7

[11] John C. Holbert, “Lectionary for July 5, 2009, Ezekiel 2:1-5” in “”

[12] Consider how some state legislatures attempt to ban teachings about racism in society. 

[13] Exodus 20:5, 34:7, Numbers 14:18, Deuteronomy 5:9, Luke 11:50.

[14] Revelation 14:13