Summary: From Tender Shoot to Robust Roost:Christ, the Culmination of God’s Cultivation God sent Jesus to be the savior of the world. Take refuge in him!
If you’re bleary-eyed this morning, it’s understandable - especially if you stayed up to catch fireworks last night. Aren’t fireworks awesome? What’s not to love about glittery colors cascading across the night sky punctuated by loud “whumphs” that resonate the body? As impressive as fireworks are when they explode in the sky, they’re unimpressive when sitting on the ground waiting to be launched. Firework shells that give off sparkling colors so bright they light up the up-turned faces of spectators at night, by day look like dusty oversized bowling balls.
Our sermon text this morning describes a transformation that’s as impressive as a dull firework shell bursting into riotous colors. The transformation described is that of a tiny tree clipping that grows into a mighty cedar tree home to birds of all kinds. This transformation from tender shoot to robust roost is a picture of Christ, the culmination of God’s cultivation. Let’s find out what this transformation means for sinners like us.
To fully appreciate the picture language God employs in our text from Ezekiel, we have to review what was going on during Ezekiel’s day. Although Ezekiel was a Jew, he lived in Babylon (present day Iraq) some 800 km away from his birthplace in Judah. How did the prophet end up in Babylon? He was taken there as a prisoner when, about 600 years before Christ was born, the Babylonians overran Judah and took many of its important citizens captive. Among those taken was King Jehoiachin, a descendant of King David. God compared this event to an eagle breaking off the top of a cedar tree (symbolic of David’s dynasty) and planting it in another country (Ezekiel 17:3, 4, 12).
Before the Babylonians left Judah, they installed Zedekiah as king. Zedekiah was also a descendant of King David but he wasn’t exactly a chip off the ol’ block. Instead of humbly accepting God’s chastisement of having to live under Babylonian rule, Zedekiah thought he would make a name for himself and so plotted to overthrow the Babylonians with the help of the Egyptians. God did not take Zedekiah’s arrogance lightly. He said that this shoot from David’s family tree would whither and then be uprooted (Ezekiel 17:9, 10). Indeed, Zedekiah’s rebellion was quickly quashed, his sons executed before his eyes, and then Zedekiah’s eyes were gouged out before he was taken in chains to Babylon (2 Kings 25:6, 7).
Who was left to save God’s people now that David’s mighty dynasty had seemingly come to an inglorious end? Into this hopeless darkness the God of free and faithful love spoke: “I myself will take a shoot from the very top of a [Hebrew = “the”] cedar and plant it; I will break off a tender sprig from its topmost shoots and plant it on a high and lofty mountain. 23 On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches” (Ezekiel 17:22, 23).
Thankfully for the Israelites and for us, God, the constant gardener, was still at work. Yes, David’s descendants had rejected him but God would not reject them for he had promised David that his kingdom would be an everlasting kingdom. And so God vowed to take a descendant of David, someone humble unlike Zedekiah, and plant him in Israel and cultivate this tender shoot until it grew into a robust roost.
From early on Hebrew scribes understood this picture to be a reference to the Messiah and they were right. Jesus Christ is the culmination of God’s cultivation. Jesus is descended from David through his virgin mother Mary. At first glance there didn’t seem to be anything special about Jesus. He was born in a Bethlehem barn. His stepfather was a carpenter in the little town of Nazareth, not a powerful leader in the big city of Jerusalem. While Jesus himself did attract a band of disciples, most were social misfits. Sure, Jesus did some miracles but his life ended on the cross, the electric chair of the day. Jesus didn’t even die gloriously in battle – a martyr fighting for his cause. Like a dusty dull firework shell, Jesus didn’t seem like much – that is until he rose from the dead! That’s when the fireworks started. Powered by the Holy Spirit Jesus’ disciples eventually spread out around the world telling people about Jesus, winning converts from people of all nations. This is what God meant when he compared Jesus to a tender shoot that would turn into a robust roost in which birds of all kinds would find shelter.
Have you taken shelter in Jesus? What’s so great about Jesus? What sets him apart from the other trees in the forest? What can Jesus do for us that Mohammed, Buddha, and a shelf of self-help books can’t? For starters only Jesus gives us forgiveness from our sins. That’s why he died on the cross. There, Jesus paid for every lie we’ve told, every dirty thought that has crossed our mind, every remark we’ve made to cut others down. Jesus paid for all our sins. Mohammed and Buddha didn’t do that, and a shelf full of self-help books won’t help you do it either. The payment for sin is too great for anyone but the God-man Jesus to make, for the payment owed for sin, no matter how small our sins may seem to us, is death and an eternity in hell. Because he is the God-man, Jesus could and did make that payment when he suffered hell, God’s rejection, on the cross. So if you have not done so, take shelter in Jesus. Don’t let the guilt of your sins beat on your head like the noonday sun. Stand in the shade of Jesus for God has already beaten him for our sins.