Reading Time: 4 mins

Old Testament: Ezekiel 17:22-24 (Pentecost 4: Series B)

Reading Time: 4 mins

Ultimately, God’s plan is not just for nations and politics. His plan is one of salvation, seen ultimately fulfilled in Christ.

Our Old Testament reading for this Sunday gets its gospel connection from the rich image’s Ezekiel employs to speak about the working of God in the world amidst the political nuances Israel faced as a nation. The text itself focuses on God’s plans for this world and how His plans do not work themselves out the way our plans do. Ultimately, God’s plan is not just for nations and politics. His plan is one of salvation, seen ultimately fulfilled in Christ. So, the images and context of our text attach themselves to God’s larger plan of salvation which creates the leap by which we can use those images to proclaim the full explicit Gospel of Christ. The vehicles for this turn in the text are the very images Ezekiel uses. Since we are utilizing the illustrations the prophet himself has developed, let us start with a sermon structure and then work with it to guide how we unpack the text for preaching.

The “Image Based Structure” (Central Image) would work well here:

“This structure uses a single image throughout the sermon and fosters devotional contemplation of the image. In the opening of the sermon, the preacher describes the image for the hearers. The preacher then uses that image as a source for continuing devotional contemplation throughout the sermon. The image serves as a lens through which one views the textual exposition, the theological confession, the evangelical proclamation, and the hearer interpretation of the sermon. Having a single image lends coherence to the sermon.

 

As the preacher returns to the image periodically throughout the sermon, he may approach it in one of two ways: Through a single focus or a multiple focus. With a single focus, the image remains the same throughout the sermon. The preacher may approach that image from one perspective (for example, viewing the image from the perspective of the artist who created it) or the preacher may approach that image from a variety of perspectives (for example, viewing the same image from the perspective of different people who come in contact with it), but the image itself remains the same. If approaching the image from one perspective, the sermon can reinforce a single theme in a variety of situations. For example, the first encounter with the image can establish a theme and then, as the preacher uses the image again in the sermon, it can locate that theme in relation to the text, and then, later, in relation to the hearers.

 

If approaching the image from a variety of perspectives, the sermon can develop or unfold the theme. For example, the first encounter with the image could evoke an interpretation which will later be expanded or even corrected in the sermon. By changing how the image is seen, the hearers can track the basic development of a larger theme in the sermon. Each stage of development (for example, moving from a misconception to a clearer vision, moving from application in terms of one’s relationship to God to application in terms of one’s relationship to others, or moving from repentance to forgiveness and finally to restoration) is captured by preaching the image through a different perspective. With a multiple focus, each time the preacher returns to the image, he focuses on a different aspect of that image. The preacher may begin by looking at the whole image and then focus upon one detail and then another. Or he may look at smaller details and, in the conclusion of the sermon, consider the image as a whole. If the image is displayed, the preacher may crop the image so only a small detail is revealed, helping the hearers focus on that particular aspect at that point in the sermon. In terms of the progression of the sermon, the image itself serves as a map of the ideas of the sermon, each portion meditated upon at different points in the sermon. For example, the preacher may use an artistic representation of a biblical event to walk the hearers through the text, slowing down the progression of the story to meditate upon various individuals and their experience of the event.”[1]

The first image you can develop for this sermon is of the “sprig” that will be broken off. Consider using a work of art to capture the imagination and focus for your hearers. This “tender, soft” (רַךְ, 17:22) sprig carries with it real potential for image development. The word itself, developed together with other arboresque expressions used to describe the climax of the line of David in Jesus, begin with the חֹטֶר (“shoot”) and נֵצֶר (“branch”) of Isaiah 11:1. Think of how the צֶמַח (“branch/shoot”) of Jeremiah 23:5; 33:15; Zechariah 3:8; 6:12 at times become a personal name. The image of the “shoot” (יוֹנֵק, similar to יְנִֽיקוֹתָ֖יו in Ezekiel 17:4 and יֹֽנְקוֹתָיו֨ in Ezekiel 17:22) and “root” (שֹׁרֶשׁ, in Ezekiel 17:6, 7, 9) which grows from an impossible arid ground represent the Suffering Servant in Isaiah 53:2. The prophecies of the Messiah as a “branch” (pronounced “netser” in the Hebrew, see above) may explain Matthew’s statement that when the young Jesus settled with His family in Nazareth, it was “so what was spoken through the prophets might be fulfilled: ‘He shall be called a Nazarene (Ναζωραῖος)’” (Matthew 2:23). There is plenty here to make some hay for a sermon on this text. But if you want, you can use a second image together with this or just use the second image as a stand-alone development for the sermon.

The second image you could develop for this sermon from our text is that of the “mountain.” Of course, the “mountain” connects to Calvary as the focal point of the plan of God for all things in Jesus’ death and resurrection. The site of the reconciliation of God and sinners is the highest “mountain,” one which connects Heaven to the Earth by God’s grace. You could use multiple images of Christ’s descent to Earth at His incarnation (Luke 2:14 cross referenced to Luke 19:39) and His ascension to Heaven from the Mount of Olives after His resurrection (Luke 24:50–51; Acts 1:9–12) to create a focus for this part of the sermon. Perhaps, the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1–13) and the “very high mountain” of Jesus’ temptation (Matthew 4:1–11) could be an image for development. One might say “Mount Calvary” connects the original paradise lost to the future Paradise opened to all believers in Christ (Luke 23:43). Since rivers may have their source in the mountains (the Jordan begins near Mount Hermon) and four rivers flowed out of Eden (Genesis 2:10–14), which is pictured as a mountain in Ezekiel 28:13–16, Christian artists have tended to paint the first paradise as a mountain. Even John sees the new Jerusalem on a “great, high mountain” (Revelation 21:2, 10). Already, Ezekiel will see a renewed Israel worshipping God on “My holy mountain” (Ezekiel 20:40), and in his concluding vision, the new Temple, city, and land in Ezekiel 40–48 (point toward Revelation 21–22) will be on “a very high mountain” (Ezekiel 40:2).

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Additional Resources:

Craft of Preaching-Check out out 1517’s resources on Ezekiel 17:22-24.

Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Ezekiel 17:22-24.

Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Ezekiel 17:22-24.

Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!

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[1] https://concordiatheology.org/sermon-structs/dynamic/imagistic-structures/central-image/