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4501 Waller Rd E
Tacoma, Washington
INI
The Third Sunday after Pentecost
June 14, 2015
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA
Paul Naumann, Pastor

GOD'S KINGDOM IS TALL TIMBER
Ezekiel 17:22-23

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord. Amen. Today we turn our attention to the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, chapter seventeen, beginning with the 22nd verse, as follows:

Thus says the Lord GOD: "I will take also one of the highest branches of the high cedar and set it out. I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and will plant it on a high and prominent mountain. 23 "On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it; and it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a majestic cedar. Under it will dwell birds of every sort; in the shadow of its branches they will dwell. So far the Holy Word.

In the Name of our Savior Jesus Christ, of Whom Isaiah says, He grew up as a tender plant, and as a root out of dry ground, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

I wonder if you noticed the Pacific Northwest connection in the text I write to you just now. I'll give you a hint: it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a majestic cedar. Cedar trees! The western red cedar is among the most highly valued woods in the world for a wide variety of uses in construction and manufacturing. And it only grows in one area: western Washington and British Columbia. It's one of the natural resources that gave the Pacific Northwest start, and no wonder. Cedar wood contains a unique oil that makes it naturally resistant to damage from insects, fungus and dry rot (of which there are is a lot in our damp Northwest climate). We have several big ones on the back of the church property. But the biggest red cedar in the world is on the Olympic Peninsula, a little south of Forks. It's over 1000 years old, and 60 feet in circumference, but what really impresses is the height-it's nearly 200 feet tall. That's some tall timber!

Closely related to the red cedar is the tree mentioned in our text: cedrus libani, or the Lebanon cedar. It was common to the eastern Mediterranean at the time of the prophet Ezekiel. And through Ezekiel, God used a cedar tree to picture for people how His kingdom of grace would be planted, and how it would grow and flourish. Perhaps you've witnessed a bird building its nest in the safety of the topmost branches of a lofty tree. And maybe, in this uncertain world, you've wished that you could find a dwelling place as safe and as lofty as that. Well, look no further! Because this morning God is offering you a place in his kingdom, and no place could be safer. Because, in the words of our theme:

GOD'S KINGDOM IS TALL TIMBER

I. It started with a tender twig.
II. It became a majestic tree.
III. It provides a safe dwelling place for all.

Ezekiel was a prophet to the rebellious nation of Judah at a time when one disaster had already befallen them and a much greater disaster was on its way. Some years before, the Babylonians had overrun the southern kingdom of Judah and taken many of its most important citizens captive, including the king, Jehoiachin, and the prophet Ezekiel. The new ruler of Judah was Zedekiah, a puppet king who was allowed to rule in Jerusalem as long as he took orders from the Babylonians and paid them tribute money. From his exile far to the north, Ezekiel warned King Zedekiah that he should humble himself under this judgment of God, and not rebel against his Babylonian masters. But Zedekiah had other ideas. Instead of trusting in the Lord to deliver him, he made a deal with another of Judah's enemies, Egypt, to fight with him against Babylon. The Egyptian army showed up and was quickly defeated, and then Nebuchadnezzar turned his wrath on Jerusalem. The city was besieged, conquered and destroyed, and the remainder of its people carried away into captivity.

And there the story might have ended, sad and hopeless. And that's where our story might have ended as well, for we too have been rebellious and unfaithful to our God. How often haven't you and I, like Zedekiah, refused to humble ourselves under the chastening hand God when He sends trouble into our lives to discipline us? How quick we are to complain! How swift to question and criticize God's will for our lives How soon we, like Zedekiah, turn to other sources of help-to doctors and lawyers and financial advisors, to bank accounts and insurance policies and health coverage-and how slow we are to go to God in prayer and to trust Him for deliverance! Do you think you're an exception? Do you think you're ready to stand on your record before the all-seeing eye of God? Don't try it! The psalmist says, God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. 3 Every one of them has turned aside; They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one. -- Ps. 53:2-3.

But when everything seems lost, when it seems like we must spend eternity as exiles, cast out from the presence of the Lord, there comes a ray of hope. Through Ezekiel, God not only predicted doom for the sinful and rebellious people of Judah, He also predicted deliverance and restoration for a faithful remnant who would repent and call upon the name of the Lord. In the near term, the exiles would return from Babylon and rebuild Jerusalem. But it's the longer term fulfilment of this prophesy that particularly concerns us. For it predicts the establishment of an everlasting kingdom, great and majestic, like a towering cedar tree. That's the kingdom you and I belong to - the kingdom of God.

GOD'S KINGDOM IS TALL TIMBER, but its beginnings were humble. It started with a tender twig. Thus says the Lord GOD: "I will take also one of the highest branches of the high cedar and set it out. I will crop off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and will plant it on a high and prominent mountain.

That last verb there, by the way, really means transplant rather than plant. Zedekiah was the last king of Judah, the last of the royal line of David to sit on that physical throne there in Jerusalem. But there was another royal descendent of David coming. He would be born 600 years later, in a lowly cattle shed in Bethlehem. A humble baby, born to poor parents. A tender twig, transplanted by God into the fertile soil of a humanity in dire need of a Savior! This tender twig was predicted throughout the Old Testament, by prophets such as Jeremiah, who was a contemporary of the Ezekiel: "Behold, the days are coming," says the LORD, "That I will raise to David a Branch of righteousness; A King shall reign and prosper, And execute judgment and righteousness in the earth. -- Jer. 23:5. By Isaiah, who said There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots. -- Isa. 11:1. And by Zechariah, who said, Behold, I am bringing forth My Servant the BRANCH. -- Zech. 3:8.

GOD'S KINGDOM IS TALL TIMBER For that twig grew, and became a majestic tree. Ezekiel said, On the mountain height of Israel I will plant it; and it will bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a majestic cedar.

The key word there is "majestic." It's a Hebrew word that means mighty, noble, or stately. It's an apt description of the Lebanon Cedar, a stately tree whose branches are often as broad as the tree is tall. It's roots spread out among the rocky soil of the middle east, thereby securing a stronghold so it can survive in a harsh environment, and support its towering height. It's the perfect metaphor for the kingdom of God. For GOD'S KINGDOM, TOO, IS TALL TIMBER! When Jesus left the earth with his physical presence, he promised to send his disciples the Holy Spirit. That promise he kept ten days later on the day of Pentecost, when the gospel was preached to all the nations gathered in Jerusalem. On Pentecost the tender plant of God's kingdom burst into flower and began its vigorous growth and expansion. That growth has continued upward and outward, right down to the present day. Now the kingdom of God, which started with a tender twig, has become a majestic tree. It's branches reach even to us believers here in Tacoma Washington, on the opposite side of the globe from Jerusalem, where the twig was planted!

GOD'S KINGDOM IS TALL TIMBER. And the most comforting thing about that is the absolute security it gives to those of us who belong to that kingdom. For it provides a safe dwelling place for all!

What's one of the first things people do when threatened by danger, say by a wild animal or a vicious dog? They look around for a tree to climb! In 1998, Dutch anthropologists discovered a lost tribe of people called the Korowai, deep in the jungles of Papua New Guinea. The Korowai, were under constant threat from warlike neighboring tribes, so they developed an interesting defense mechanism. They live in treehouses. Their entire village is built in the tops of lofty trees, some over a hundred feet in the air. When danger threatens, they just pull up the ladder. Threat neutralized.

Wouldn't that make you feel safe? Wouldn't you like to have that kind of absolute security? You already do! For GOD'S KINGDOM IS TALL TIMBER. It provides a safe dwelling place for all. Ezekiel says, It will be a majestic cedar. Under it will dwell birds of every sort; in the shadow of its branches they will dwell.
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Scripture makes clear again and again that the gracious gospel invitation is for all people, regardless of race or background. Jesus said, "Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered [fish] of every kind, -- Matt. 13:47. Ezekiel's metaphors birds, but the message is the same. The kingdom of God is for everyone. "God would have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." GOD'S KINGDOM IS TALL TIMBER. The branches of this lofty tree are broad enough to cover everyone, everyone who will confess their sins, and call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness.

And what security is to be found in the branches of the kingdom! In a favorite hymn we sing,
Children of the heavenly father,
Safely in his bosom gather.
Nestling bird nor star in heaven,
Such a refuge ever was given.
Again and again, Scripture underlines the fact that when you are a member of God's kingdom of grace, absolute security is your possession. Not a trial or a heartache can occur in your life that your heavenly Father does not see, and from which He will not deliver you in His good time and according to His gracious will. The psalmist said, He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High Shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty. 2 I will say of the LORD, "He is my refuge and my fortress; My God, in Him I will trust." 3 Surely He shall deliver you from the snare of the fowler And from the perilous pestilence. 4 He shall cover you with His feathers, And under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler. 5 You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, 6 Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. 7 A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you. -- Ps. 91:1-7.

And of course, when you dwell among the branches of the kingdom, you are secure from the very worst enemy of all - sin. No longer must you run to and fro, fretting over your many sins and wondering how you could possibly be included in the glorious kingdom of God. Yes, your sins are great, but remember: GOD'S KINGDOM IS TALL TIMBER. Scripture reminds us: where sin did abound, there grace did much more abound. And the universal promise, that applies to you and every sinner: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life! You're part of the world God loved! Your sins were among those for which Jesus atoned on Calvary's cross. Your justification and everlasting life were confirmed when he rose triumphant on Easter Sunday! Where could there possibly be more joy and security than the majestic cedar tree of God's kingdom? And how blessed are we who find there our safe haven and our dwelling place! As we heard in our Old Testament reading this morning, and as we'll sing in the next hymn:
Beside thine altars, gracious Lord,
the swallows find a nest;
how happy they who dwell with thee
and praise thee without rest,
and happy they whose hearts are set
upon the pilgrim's quest.

In California's Inyo National Forest, near the top of a rocky peak, stands an ancient tree. It was already two thousand years old when Ezekiel lived. Named Methuselah, it's a bristlecone pine tree that biologists believe may be the oldest living thing on earth. Coincidentally, it too is a close relative of the Lebanon cedar. It too has natural defenses that keep it safe from pests and parasites. But its preservative properties pale in comparison to the tree we're considering today. For through faith in Christ, we belong to the kingdom of God. And GOD'S KINGDOM IS TALL TIMBER. It started with a tender twig, but by now has grown into a majestic tree, spreading the world over and offering to all a dwelling place that is safe from the attacks of sin, death and Satan. God grant that each of us believers may find our dwelling place beneath its branches, AMEN.