Idolatry judged, mercy shown

Text Ezekiel 8, 9 Time 28 05 06 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We are looking at the prophecy of Ezekiel and we have already looked at the first set of messages visions given to the prophet in Chapters 1-7. Now 14 months after the first set of visions he receives another set. These begin in Chapter 8 and go on to Chapter 20. This first vision goes on from 8:1 to the end of Chapter 11. (8:1-4) In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house near the Kebar River in Babylon) and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, says Ezekiel the hand of the Sovereign LORD came upon me there. I looked, and I saw a figure like that of a man. This is the figure he had seen in the previous visions you remember. From what appeared to be his waist down he was like fire, and from there up his appearance was as bright as glowing metal. He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. He goes on The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, to the entrance to the north gate of the inner court, where the idol that provokes to jealousy stood. And there before me was the glory of the God of Israel, as in the vision I had seen in the plain (as described in Chapter 1). So he is not literally taken to Jerusalem, it happens in a vision. But he is shown exactly what is going on over a thousand miles away. First (Chapter 8) he is shown how bad things are. Then (Chapter 9) God’s coming judgement is revealed but with a strong note of mercy in the person of (9:2) the man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his side. Three things then.
1. Recognise what evil may exist in seemingly unlikely places
The vision comes in four main stages. At the end of the first three, God says to him (6) But you will see things that are even more detestable. (13) You will see them doing things that are even more detestable. (15) He said to me, Do you see this, son of man? You will see things that are even more detestable than this. Whether these are things that were actually going on literally or symbolic of the sort of thing that was happening is debatable. Certainly such things did happen in those days and though it was a very long time ago they are the sort of things that have gone on down the ages and that still happen today.
1. Some set up idols in God’s Temple
In 8:5,6 God says to Ezekiel Son of man, look towards the north. So Ezekiel looks and in the entrance north of the gate of the altar (in the Temple), says Ezekiel, I saw this idol of jealousy. Then God says Son of man, do you see what they are doing - the utterly detestable things the house of Israel is doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? In Exodus 34:14 God says Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. And yet what were the people doing? They had placed an idol of some sort there at the very heart of the Temple. How incongruous! How utterly detestable! What could be more calculated to drive God from his sanctuary? Yet it happens. You have only to go into a Roman Catholic or Orthodox church and what do you see but idols everywhere. Sometime it is more subtle – the idol is a great pipe organ or some plaque to someone or other. And it can be even more subtle than that – while we are here worshipping at God’s throne there may be an idol on the throne of my heart. What jealousy that provokes in God. We must tear down such idols. How detestable. They cannot be allowed to remain.
2. Sometimes leading citizens are secretly devoted to idols
Ezekiel goes on (7-11) Then he brought me to the entrance to the court. I looked, and I saw a hole in the wall. God tells him to dig into the wall. So he does so and he sees a doorway. He is told Go in and see the wicked and detestable things they are doing here. First, he sees portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and detestable animals and all the idols of the house of Israel. Then he sees 70 elders of the house of Israel, and Jaazaniah son of Shaphan was standing among them. He was a distinguished individual. His father had served faithfully under that great king Josiah (2 Kings 22:3) and his brother had defended Jeremiah (Jeremiah 26:24). One would have expected better things but here he is with other elders and Each had a censer in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising. They are worshipping the idols! Now what goes on behind closed doors among the leaders of a nation or a community we do not always know. But sometimes it comes out – usually a few years after the event. Think of what we learned a few years ago about the Reagan administration in America and its commitment to astrology. We have head similar things about the Royal Family and others over our nation. What cause for concern when our leaders are relying on such detestable things. What idolatry there is away from prying eyes. What about us? What goes on behind your closed doors – at home? What pictures are on your walls? Or what is there in books and magazines on your DVDs and on the computer screen? Is idolatry of one sort or another secretly going on? Especially those of us who are leaders at home and in the churches we must take great care.
3. Women may mourn for an idol
Next in 14 we read Then he brought me to the entrance to the north gate of the house of the LORD, and I saw women sitting there, mourning for Tammuz. This time the focus is on the women. Here they are engaging in the rites of the Sumerian-Babylonian goddess of plant-life Tammuz, which involved mourning at Autumn time as if she was responsible for the death of the plants. Women may often work very much behind the scenes but they can have a huge influence on a community. Think of the way so many follow their horoscopes in the magazines or fashions in clothes and accessories or the stars of the TV soap operas and others in an often idolatrous way. I remember hearing a young girl interviewed following the death of Princess Diana. ‘She was my idol’ she said. Exactly! If I may speak to the women of the congregation for a moment – do not under-estimate your influence. It is vital that you are not idol worshippers. Turn from every hint of it.
4. Men may turn from God to worship nature
The final outrage is in 16 He then brought me into the inner court of the house of the LORD, and there at the entrance to the temple, between the portico and the altar, were about twenty-five men. We are at the entrance to the Holy Place itself now. Yet what is happening? With their backs towards the temple of the LORD and their faces towards the east, they were bowing down to the sun in the east. Again it is hard to believe and yet this was the sort of thing that was happening in Ezekiel’s today and that has gone on down to our supposedly more sophisticated days. The temptation to worship what has been created rather than the Creator is always there. This is in part what the attraction to the theory of evolution is about. It exalts the creature rather than the Creator. At the more extreme end are those who want a return to paganism – to the worship of mother earth, etc. Are we keeping the Creator first in our thinking? We dare not turn our backs on him.
5. Some promote bloodshed and injustice
It wasn’t just idolatry itself that was happening in Jerusalem. Whenever idolatry takes hold we can be sure that all sorts of evils will follow in its wake. And so in 8:17 the Lord says to Ezekiel Have you seen this, son of man? Is it a trivial matter for the house of Judah to do the detestable things they are doing here? Must they also fill the land with violence and continually provoke me to anger? Look at them putting the branch to their nose! Later in 9:9a, after the judgement has begun, in answer to Ezekiel’s question about how far it would go, God says The sin of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great; the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of injustice. This brings us back to the whole matter of religion and morality. Without question, your religion, if it is real, will affect your morality. The idea of a strong morality without right beliefs is a pipe dream. It cannot happen. Idolatry inevitably leads to violence and injustice and other depravities. There are many examples of this sort of thing. Don’t miss this connection. Where there are sins in your life, you will often see that there is a link between your idolatrous ways and what you do. Take great care.
6. Many deny the Lord
The other thing to draw attention to here is 8:12 where God asks Ezekiel have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the darkness, each at the shrine of his own idol? He goes on They say, The LORD does not see us; the LORD has forsaken the land. Their words are repeated in 9:9b They say, The LORD has forsaken the land; the LORD does not see. We sometimes find it hard to understand Old Testament idolatry but this is how people often ended up in it – they lost any sense of the presence of God or his care. They felt forsaken. That can happen. We can just go through the motions. The New Testament speaks of people who have a form of religion but without any power. Is your religion mere form, a mere shell? All outward with no real power? You are in danger. This is often how people end up in idolatry and false religion.
2. Realise that such idolatry and sin must expect God’s stern judgement
The last verse of Chapter 8 is an announcement of judgement on this sort of behaviour. 8:18 Therefore I will deal with them in anger; I will not look on them with pity or spare them. Although they shout in my ears, I will not listen to them. In Chapter 9 Ezekiel hears God call out in a loud voice, Bring the guards of the city here, each with a weapon in his hand. He sees six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand. In 9:3 we read Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. The glory was indeed departing and judgement was about to begin. These men, these destroying angels, were to go through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. We learn several things about God’s judgement then – the judgement that is already here in one sense but that will come to its height when Jesus comes again.
1. There will be anger not mercy
God is a very merciful God. He is full of compassion. However, he is also a God of wrath and anger. Here we see in the outpouring of his wrath on Jerusalem It reminds us that today is a day of grace. Soon the Day of his wrath will be here and then no-one will be able to stand.
2. Judgement begins with those who profess to serve God
9:6b is interesting Begin at my sanctuary. So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple. In 1 Peter 4:17 Peter says For it is time for judgment to begin with the family of God. His point is and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? Luke 12:48 says From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. We may feel very uncomfortable hearing about the judgement of God so much but it is for our good. Judgement begins with us. If we are not right then what hope for the world?
3. And comes to all people
The destroying angels are told to Slaughter old men, young men and maidens, women and children. No-one is to escape. That is how it will be in the Judgement.
4. Nothing can stop God’s wrath
Ezekiel thinks that no-one is going to be spared. As we shall see in a moment it is not that simple. But God does say (9:10) I will not look on them with pity or spare them, but I will bring down on their own heads what they have done. To attempt to resist God’s wrath is a form of madness. It cannot be done.
3. Even so God will show mercy through his Son to those who repent
Now this would all be very gloomy and hopeless if it were not for one more element here, one we haven’t really mentioned until now. Although Chapter 9 begins with God saying Bring the guards of the city here, each with a weapon in his hand we soon read (9:2) that With them was a man clothed in linen who had a writing kit at his side. Imagine it – here are these six destroying angels, these warriors with deadly weapons in their hands. They look menacing and powerful. Quite incongruously, stood next to them is a scribe, a scholar, a man dressed not in armour but in soft linen. He has no weapon – just things to write with - a scroll, a pen, some ink. It’s as though you have Rambo, the Terminator, He-man, Conan the Barbarian, the Hulk and the Rock all stood armed to the teeth and then a Clark Kent figure, a seemingly insignificant jobsworth in spectacles, appears. In 9:3, 4 we read how the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it. He is to go ahead of the warriors then. They are to follow him. The destroying angels are told clearly (9:6) but do not touch anyone who has the mark.
Now what are we to make of this man and his activities? You remember how in Revelation the 144,000 have the names of the Lamb and the Father written on their foreheads. What the mark (Tau) was is immaterial, the point is that those who were marked were not to be harmed. The ones marked out are those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it. I think we are right to see the Scribe as pointing to Christ – the seventh man, God’s man, the one who touches men’s minds and sets them apart to God. And so we say
1. God sends his Son ahead of his wrath
Yes, this chapter is another chapter about sin and judgement but it also reminds us that there is more to say. Before any destroying angel comes near the Son of God goes ahead and he puts his saving mark on those who are his and no harm can come to them. It is like a prophylactic, a preventative medicine. Some of you have flu jabs to prevent 'flu' in the winter. It doesn’t always work but it usually does. Jesus secures us from harm perfectly. We cannot fail if his mark is on us. Jesus Christ has come into the world and through his death on the cross and rising again he has secured salvation for every person who trusts in him. Have you received his mark? Are you looking to him? You must do so before those destroying angels come in his wake. Look to him today. Trust in Jesus Christ.
2. His Son marks out all who repent
Who are those he marks on the forehead? Those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it. If you repent, the mark will be there. Think of a mark of ownership or the way a farmer marks his sheep. Is that you? Do you grieve over the sin in the temple of your own heart? Do you lament the detestable sins you have done as well as others? Are you repenting? It is those who repent who are spared, no others.
3. His Son does all God’s holy will
Finally, let’s focus on 9:11 Then the man in linen with the writing kit at his side brought back word, saying, I have done as you commanded. In John 17:4 Jesus prays I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. His final words on the cross were It is finished! Today he is at work preparing a home for his people – he has gone to prepare a place for us. He is busy marking out this one and that one as his own. Do you have that mark - the mark of the repentant? Do you belong to Christ? We can be confident that all who are truly his will own him. He is the Perfect Servant and he will complete all the work he sets out to do in the Father’s name. On that final day not one will be missing of all the elect. If it was our work may be we would miss one or two but it is not our work it is his. He does the work and so it cannot fail. To him be the glory!

An anatomy of judgement

Text Ezekiel 7 Time 21 05 06 place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We have already looked at Ezekiel 1-6 and this morning I would like us to tackle Chapter 7. As so often in the prophets it is a chapter about judgement. That’s not the sort of subject we naturally turn to but it is one that is good for us. The best chapters in the Bible are like honey – sweet to taste and good for you. Chapters like this one are more like broccoli, spinach or cabbage. We may not particularly enjoy them but they’re good for us. Keep that in mind.
In this chapter Ezekiel is describing the unfolding judgement of God on Judah at that time. Ideally, after God brought the people out of Egypt and into the Promised Land and established them under Solomon it should have been a case of Messiah coming to a united people in a happy land and them living happily ever after - but it wasn’t like that. First there was civil war and a break away by 10 of the 12 tribes, who then fell into idolatry and obscurity. Then in the south, Judah also eventually fell into degradation and, after Jerusalem and the Temple were destroyed, were taken into exile in Babylon. This was God’s judgement on his people for their sins and it stands, as do all judgements, as a warning of God’s future judgements which will culminate in the last and final Day of Judgement at the end of time when Christ comes again.
What I propose we do then is to examine this chapter and construct an anatomy of judgement. God is the one who is speaking here – see how it begins (1, 2a) The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, this is what the Sovereign LORD says to the land of Israel. We want to analyse God’s ways of reckoning. We want to examine just how he goes about sitting in judgment on people. And we want to answer four questions.
1. What is the nature of God’s Judgement?
1. It is conclusive and disastrous for all who come under it
Now normally when you read a book the end comes, appropriately enough, at the end. Sometimes you may be tempted to look at the end to see how the whole story turns out. But what happens here is that even though we are only a few chapters in Ezekiel is told to announce (2, 3a) The end! The end has come upon the four corners of the land. The end is now upon you and I will unleash my anger against you. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Disaster! An unheard-of disaster is coming. The end has come! The end has come! It has roused itself against you. It has come! It’s like watching a film and the end seems to come just after the beginning. The reason for this is that Ezekiel was living in the end times. (6) The time has come, the day is near. This was the end of Israel. They had begun to be exiled from their homeland and sent into captivity in Babylon. Now it is true that, because of God’s mercy, it was only going to last for 70 years but it was very much the end nevertheless. A great judgement had come from God, a great disaster and there was something final and conclusive about that judgement. Nothing was quite the same again.
Now we also are living at the end of things, in the last days. As in Ezekiel’s day there is still room for God’s mercy but the judgement is here. Christ has already come and gone. Soon he will come again and that will be the judgement day itself. Are you ready? Are you prepared for that day? It will be the very end. Yes, I know that in some ways it was also be the beginning – the beginning of the heavenly state. But for those who are not ready it will be a disaster. What ruin will follow for any who have failed to trust in Jesus Christ. Look to him and find deliverance. It will be too late once that judgement falls. There is something final and devastating about all judgements – never more so than on that day.
2. It is the unleashing of God’s wrath and an end to mercy
God’s judgements are not only conclusive and disastrous for those who come under them but they are an unleashing of his wrath and an end to his mercy. On one hand, we can think of God’s wrath as a great torrent that is held back by a huge dam or barrage. It is building up behind the barrier of his mercy until in due time the dam bursts, the barricade is broken down and the full pent up energy of his righteous anger comes pouring out. I will unleash my anger against you says God by way of warning. Or think of his mercy and grace as a steady stream that continues to flow whether it be summer or winter. However, there comes appoint when his pity ceases. The flow of compassion dries up. See 4 I will not look on you with pity or spare you. 22 I will turn my face away from them.
How easy it is to be mistaken about God’s wrath and mercy. Because he is presently holding his wrath back we can easily think God is not angry with us and suppose all is well. Because there is a constant supply of his mercy we can assume it will go on indeterminately. But the Bible assures us that this is not so. His mercy has limits, how wrath will not continue to be held back.
3. It is an adjudication and a repayment
The other terms used here to speak of God’s judgement are those of adjudication or judgement and repayment or settling accounts. 3b, 4 I will judge you according to your conduct … I will surely repay you for your conduct and the detestable practices among you. A judgement is a decision, a reckoning up, a verdict. Judgements can be notoriously difficult things but sometimes we need to make them. God is also making judgements and when he brings in his verdict it is final and true. He judges according to conduct. He knows and he can decide.
Keep that in mind. It is also described here as repaying or paying back. We are sometimes tempted to pay people back for the wrong they’ve done us, to take vengeance but God says (Deuteronomy 32:35) It is mine to avenge; I will repay. We must look to him for vengeance. And he will be avenged. Be in no doubt about that. All that is owing will be paid. No debt will be outstanding.
4. It is a reminder and revelation of God
Then at the end of 4 we get that refrain Then you will know that I am the LORD. It was a refrain in Chapter 6 (7, 10, 13, 14) and it is again in this chapter. See 9 Then you will know that it is I the LORD who strikes the blow. It is a reminder that one of the chief aims of God’s judgements is to remind us of himself and to reveal himself to us. A judgement from God is a revelation of God.
We may claim that we can’t see God now but one day we’ll be in no doubt – when we face judgment. Even in this life we can become aware of God if we simply accept the judgements already found in his Word.
2. What is the character of God’s Judgement?
1. It is the end to which sin inevitably leads
The connection between sin and judgement is as clear here as anywhere in the Bible. In 10, 11 arrogance has blossomed! Violence has grown into a rod to punish wickedness. 13b Because of their sins, not one of them will preserve his life. It is sin that leads to God’s judgement. One Puritan (Swinnock) likened it to the weight on the pendulum of an old fashioned clock causes the clock to strike – so it is sin that causes judgement. In modern parlance – just as it is the pressure of my finger against the buttons that bring on the light so it is the pressure of sin that leads to judgement. Or to keep the slow build up idea. I have a de-humidifier that collects the drops of moisture from the room. When the bucket is full the light starts flashing.
This is a warning, of course, but there is also an encouragement here. As we see sin advancing so we can be sure that the judgement is fast approaching. One thing I ought to add here is that we must not suppose that there is something mechanical about judgement. It is not merely a reflex thing, something automatic. God is very personally involved (3, 4) I will unleash my anger … I will judge you according to your conduct … I will not look on you with pity … I will surely repay you for your conduct … Then you will know that I am the LORD. etc. Especially note 9 Then you will know that it is I the LORD who strikes the blow.
2. It is complete and entire in its effects
There is no escape from God’s judgement. Here we read that God will make repayment for all your detestable practices. Each one will be repaid. None will be missed. 11b none of the people will be left, none of that crowd - no wealth, nothing of value. How thorough the judgement will be. 12, 13 The time has come, the day has arrived. Let not the buyer rejoice nor the seller grieve, for wrath is upon the whole crowd. The seller will not recover the land he has sold as long as both of them live. Because the day is so near then already judgement’s far-reaching consequences ought to be taken into account. The buyer ought to realise that what he has got won’t last long and the seller ought to realise that what he has lost will soon be gone anyway.
Do you think like that? We ought to sit very loose to the things of this world. They will all soon be gone. Everything will be affected. 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
3. It is irreversible and irresistible
Imagine a vehicle with no reverse gear. You just have to keep going forward. There are such things. God’s judgement is like that. 7 for the vision concerning the whole crowd will not be reversed. When God is determined on judgement nothing can stop it. It is irreversible. It is irresistible. 14 Though they blow the trumpet and get everything ready, no-one will go into battle, for my wrath is upon the whole crowd. Any attempt at resistance are futile. They cannot succeed. Far better to surrender now to the inevitable.
God’s judgement will come. It cannot be stopped. Give in now and seek peace terms. See Luke 14:31-33 Suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.
3. What is the manifestation of God’s Judgement?
1. It involves great agony and anguish
15 Outside is the sword, inside are plague and famine; those in the country will die by the sword, and those in the city will be devoured by famine and plague. Think of a siege. When Jerusalem and the Promised Land fell to the Babylonians these are the sorts of things that happened. They are typical of the suffering and trouble that come with judgement. What a dreadful day it will be when Christ returns. Are you ready?
2. It leads to great dread and despair
We read that (16-18) All who survive and escape will be in the mountains, moaning like doves of the valleys, each because of his sins. Every hand will go limp, and every knee will become as weak as water. They will put on sackcloth (a sign of mourning) and be clothed with terror. Their faces will be covered with shame and their heads will be shaved (another mark of mourning). How will it be for you when the judgement comes?
3. It results in great dearth and desolation
It goes on (19-21) They will throw their silver into the streets, and their gold will be an unclean thing. Hear the lesson - Their silver and gold will not be able to save them in the day of the LORD’s wrath. They will not satisfy their hunger or fill their stomachs with it, for it has made them stumble into sin. They were proud of their beautiful jewellery and used it to make their detestable idols and vile images. Therefore I will turn these into an unclean thing for them. I will hand it all over as plunder to foreigners and as loot to the wicked of the earth, and they will defile it.
What are you putting your trust in? Where is your confidence? Proverbs 11:4 Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath, but righteousness delivers from death.
4. It leads to capture and confinement
We also read (22, 23) I will turn my face away from them, and they will desecrate my treasured place; robbers will enter it and desecrate it. Prepare chains, because the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of violence. This period in Israel’s history is known as the Babylonian Captivity. They were captured and confined by the Babylonians. They were carried into exile against their will. This is another aspect of judgement. You are captured and confined. You can no longer do what you wish, go where you will. All that comes to an end. It is a vivid picture of hell – a place of confinement as well as torture and the end of all who fall at the judgement.
5. It promotes great disappointment and discontent
25-27 When terror comes, they will seek peace, but there will be none. Calamity upon calamity will come, and rumour upon rumour. They will try to get a vision from the prophet; the teaching of the law by the priest will be lost, as will the counsel of the elders. The king will mourn, the prince will be clothed with despair, and the hands of the people of the land will tremble. Here is further insight into the way God’s judgements manifest themselves. There is searching for peace but none being found. There is no more Bible, no more preaching, no more leadership. It is every man for himself. What despair and trembling that leads to. Can you imagine it?
That is why we must seek peace now – while it can be found. Read your Bible today while you can. Listen to the preaching today while you can.
6. It is appropriate and proportionate
Note that final line of 27 God says I will deal with them according to their conduct, and by their own standards I will judge them. Then they will know that I am the LORD. This is also a feature of God’s judgement. It is not only fair but it is seen to be fair by all who come under it. It is according to conduct. Well, how have we lived in light of God’s Word? Have we always done right? Are we without sin? No. So unless God is very merciful we will all suffer his judgement. That is why we must flee to Christ. We will be judged by our own standards. We have all often condemned others. At the judgement we will be condemned by our own standards. Romans 2:12 All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. Those who believe the Bible by the Bible, those who don’t by their own standards but each in absolute fairness and justice. We will get what we deserve.
4. What is the reason for God’s Judgement?
1. In general
Sin. It is clear in this chapter that God judges according to your conduct. He is committed to repaying sinners for all your detestable practices. 4 I will not look on you with pity or spare you; I will surely repay you for your conduct and the detestable practices among you. Then you will know that I am the LORD. If you sin, you will be judged.
2. In particular
We can pick out three sorts of sin condemned here
Violence - cf:11a Violence has grown into a rod to punish wickedness. 23 Prepare chains, because the land is full of bloodshed and the city is full of violence. We live in a violent society, one where robbery often takes place, where rape and mugging are not uncommon. The abuse of women and children is common. Not only that but like the ancient Romans we enjoy watching violence as an entertainment. What sort of judgement can we expect?
Pride – It is arrogance that has blossomed! 20 They were proud of their beautiful jewellery 24b I will put an end to the pride of the mighty, and their sanctuaries will be desecrated. Pride comes in various forms – pride of face, place, race even grace, as here. These people were proud of their Temple, their religion. What a danger for us! God hates all forms of pride. Pride is a peculiar sin. Other sins are against God but pride is against his person. It attempts to tear him from the throne. Be done with it.
Idolatry – This is the other obvious sin condemned here. 20 They were proud of their beautiful jewellery and used it to make their detestable idols and vile images. Idolatry had gripped Judah in a big way. It is hard for us to imagine it in some ways now but just think of the materialism and the greed that is everywhere in our society. What is it - £5 Billion spent on the national lottery every year, while millions starve in other places. We must turn from idolatry or there will be judgement.

Words of warning and hope

Text Ezekiel 6 Time 14 05 06 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
As many of you know, I first came to live in London over 20 years ago. One of the things that I had to get used to was the lack of mountains and hills. Now I know that Childs Hill really is a hill but not much of a one. What I grew up with was living on a fairly steep hill – Bryn Hyfryd it’s called ‘beautiful hill’ - and looking out from my bedroom window at a mountain – Mynydd Maen - 'Stone Mountain'. I mention this because living as we do in a city and in a relatively flat part of the world it is important when we read our Bibles to remember that the place where most of it took place is more like Wales or the North of England or Scotland or somewhere like that rather than here. A chain of mountains dominates the central part of the Promised Land, between the coastal plain and the Jordan Valley, from Galilee in the north down to the Negev in the South, divided somewhere in the middle by the Valley of Jezreel.
I mention this particularly this morning because of what we read in Ezekiel 6 especially 1-3. Ezekiel says The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, set your face against the mountains of Israel; prophesy against them and say: O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys: I am about to bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places. That may seem a little strange at first. Why is Ezekiel being told to speak to the mountains? In order to understand we need to remember what was going on in those mountains and hills and indeed in the ravines and the valleys too in Ezekiel’s day. The answer is in 13 which speaks of the idols and the pagan altars, on every high hill and on all the mountaintops, under every spreading tree and every leafy oak - places where they offered fragrant incense to all their idols. In the days of the Canaanites people had done this sort of thing but then it had been driven out and Israel worshipped God in Solomon’s Temple but again and again they would turn back to the bad old ways until it became a habit with them. Because of these evil ways God pronounces judgement on the people through Ezekiel.
Now you may say to me ‘But what has all this go to do with us today?’ The truth is that people today also have their high places, their false altars for sacrifice and incense, their idols. The temptation to follow false gods and false teachings is ever present. God is against all who go in such ways. He was against such people then. He is against such people now. Equally, just as in this chapter there is a ray of hope – some will escape the sword and come to the Lord – so today there is hope for all who turn from their sins to know the Lord.
Let’s look at this chapter then under three headings.
1. The sorts of sins condemned by the Lord – are you guilty?
1. Are you guilty of idolatry and false worship?
In this chapter we have references to the people’s high places where they made sacrifices on altars to their false gods. 3c-6 I am about to bring a sword against you, and I will destroy your high places. Your altars will be demolished and your incense altars will be smashed; and I will slay your people in front of your idols. I will lay the dead bodies of the Israelites in front of their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars. Wherever you live, the towns will be laid waste and the high places demolished, so that your altars will be laid waste and devastated, your idols smashed and ruined, your incense altars broken down, and what you have made wiped out. We also read about incense altars on which incense was offered to false gods. Now idolatry of this grosser sort has been in retreat for many years although it still exists in many parts of the world. In some places such as India they are very open about it. In other places, such as parts of Africa, it lies just below the surface. Yet even in countries like our own where you might be tempted to think that idolatry was a thing of the past it still exists in various forms.
In 1 Samuel 15:23 Samuel says to Saul Rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Arrogance and pride may not be idolatry in the formal sense but it shows the same rejection of God and trust in what is not God. A very common motto today is 'believe in yourself'. In Colossians 3:5 Paul calls on believers to Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. Greed is simply a form of idolatry where our appetite for God is replaced by our appetite for material things.
Notice that what you have made in 6. We can make an idol of almost anything – it can be a hobby or recreation; it can be your family or your children – people sometimes come out and say it without realising ‘He idolised those children’ ‘She idolised her children’; you can idolise a church, your religion, etc. Sing ‘The dearest idol I have known, whate’er that idol be, Help me to tear it from Thy throne and worship only Thee.’
Have you set up idols in you heart – false gods, alternatives to the truth? What about your time and money? What does it go on? It is a good idea sometimes to sit down and work it out. What are we doing with our time and money? Is it sacrificed on the altar of idolatry? What about your hopes and aspirations? Are they centred on God? What is your ambition? Your desire? What makes you tick?
2. Are you guilty of spiritual adultery or syncretism?
What made things worse in the midst of all this false worship and idolatry was the syncretism that was going on. Syncretism occurs when you try to follow more than one religion at once. Often the Israelites would claim to be worshipping the true God but they would do it in pagan ways. Verse 9 speaks of their adulterous hearts. Adultery is when a man or wife cheats on the other person. The Israelites were cheating on God. Often, like the Israelites of old, people today can fall into that sin. There is a lot of pressure for ecumenism and inter-faith practices that deny the fundamental distinction between the truth and all false teaching. We live in an age of relativism – everything is relative; there is no true truth. ‘You show me your truth, I’ll show you mine’. There is also a temptation for the professing Christian to compartmentalise his life so that he is one thing on Sunday in church and another on Monday at work.
What sort of a religion is yours? A 24/7 one or one just for Sundays or just when you’re reading your Bible? An American businessman once said, I’m told, that his order of priorities was God, family, work but the moment he went to work he reversed them! That is the sort of attitude that is being condemned here.
3. Are you guilty of wicked and detestable practices?
The other thing that Ezekiel condemns is the wicked and detestable practices that went with idolatry. Verse 9 speaks of the evil they have done and … all their detestable practices. See 11 Strike your hands together and stamp your feet and cry out Alas! because of all the wicked and detestable practices of the house of Israel …. The idolatry of that time was closely connected with all sorts of other wicked and detestable activity. The mountain shrines were centres not only for false worship but also for prostitution and for other vile acts. Again and again this is the case. Idolatry leads to depravity, false religion leads to immorality. That is the problem in this country at present. There is no end of adultery and sexual perversion, stealing and cheating, lying and greed. Why is that? Because the underlying philosophy of most people (even though they may claim to be Christian in some cases) is anything but Christian. The false beliefs that abound are leading to evil of all sorts.
If idolatry is in your life it will lead to sinning against God’s Law. Is that happening to you? Are you guilty of dishonesty, greed, pride, neglecting the Lord’s Day? Take care. Run from such sins.
2. Such sins will be judged by the Lord – are you awake to the fact?
The reason that we must run from such sins is because God is going to judge those who are guilty of them. Two things here
1. See that he has declared it plainly in his Word
Ezekiel is left in no doubt that this is God speaking here. We should be in no doubt either. 1 The word of the LORD came to me: he says. He is told to prophesy against the mountains that is to speak the Word of God. Listen to what he is to say - O mountains of Israel, hear the word of the Sovereign LORD. This is what the Sovereign LORD says to the mountains and hills, to the ravines and valleys. All the way through the prophecy it is God who is speaking. 5 I will lay the dead bodies of the Israelites in front of their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars. 11 This is what the Sovereign LORD says. Of course, some may be tempted to think that these are not God’s words but he warns in 10 that after the judgement they will know that I am the LORD; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them.
Be in no doubt. This is God’s Word. He is speaking to you today and warning you. In 1 Peter 4:11 it says to preachers If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. I am speaking to you this morning not in my own name but in God’s name. I am his messenger, his servant. I am like a herald or an ambassador. It’s as though God were making his appeal through me. I implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. See your danger and run to him.
2. Hear his dire warnings of judgement for all who sin
Listen to them. Those engaged in false worship and the detestable practices that go with it - God is against you. He will demolish your false altars and smash your false ambitions. He says 5-7 I will lay the dead bodies of the Israelites in front of their idols, and I will scatter your bones around your altars. Wherever you live, the towns will be laid waste and the high places demolished, so that your altars will be laid waste and devastated, your idols smashed and ruined, your incense altars broken down, and what you have made wiped out. Your people will fall slain among you, and you will know that I am the LORD. He threatens (11) sword, famine and plague. 12 He that is far away will die of the plague, and he that is near will fall by the sword, and he that survives and is spared will die of famine. So will I spend my wrath upon them. 14 And I will stretch out my hand against them and make the land a desolate waste from the desert to Diblah - wherever they live. Then they will know that I am the LORD.
These are specific prophecies for Israel but don’t they suggest that all who sin against God can expect the same sort of treatment? He is a God of wrath, a God who punishes. We need to face up to the fact and, fearing God, humble ourselves before him and seek forgiveness. I urge you to it. It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.
3. Hope for all who turn back to the Lord – are you repenting?
Such words of judgement are typical of the Old Testament prophets. I think that we need to hear words like these today. Again and again in the prophets, however, we find that in the midst of all the wrath and judgement there are words of mercy. It is certainly so here.
See 8-10 But I will spare some, for some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the lands and nations. Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me - how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. And they will know that I am the LORD; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them.
1. Realise that God spares some
But I will spare some. What wonderful words! It’s like a proclamation of condemnation on a town. You must all die ... – but I will save some. That’s the first big idea to get hold of. God spares some. It is not that most people are okay but God condemns some. No, all are condemned for their sin but in his mercy God spares some. He has an elect, a remnant, a chosen few. Here it is that some of you will escape the sword when you are scattered among the lands and nations. Not all would die at the hands of the enemy. Some, like Ezekiel and Daniel and others, were spared and taken into exile. And so God spares some in this day also. Not all bow the knee to Baal. Not all are licked up in the fury of his wrath.
2. Therefore do these things
What marks out these elect, these who God spares? Three things. Here is a pattern for us to follow.
1 Remember the Lord
Then in the nations where they have been carried captive, those who escape will remember me - how I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. Imagine a child growing up in these islands then, while still young, he is snatched away and grows up in another country far away. He speaks that language, he has that culture. There is no way out. He almost forgets his roots, for his own peace of mind he does not think about it - but then, when he is older, someone comes and reminds him all about it. He recalls things. It all comes back to him.
Are you remembering the Lord? Here we are in London. It may not be where we would have chosen to spend our lives but here we are. We are alive. Now, remember the Lord. What adulterous hearts we have by nature. We turn from the Lord so easily. How that grieves the Lord. It hurts him. It upsets him. Hate your sins, which have so grieved him. And what a lust for idols we have sometimes. We can’t stop thinking about them. How this grieves him and pains him too. How saddened he is by our behaviour. Remember him! Young people – Remember your Creator in the days of your youth. 2 Timothy 2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel.
2 Loathe yourself
They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices. Everyone is telling us today that we need to be positive about ourselves. We need greater self-esteem, more love for ourselves. No, says the Bible. Learn to loathe yourself. Ask God to show you your real self. It is not a pleasant sight but is a very necessary one. Recognise the evil you have done, confess your detestable deeds. Abhor yourself for those deeds.
3 Acknowledge the Lord
And they will know that I am the LORD; I did not threaten in vain to bring this calamity on them. Lastly, acknowledge the Lord. Stop pretending there is no God or living as though that is what you believed. Accept that he does not threaten in vain. There is a judgement. There is a hell. There is also a heaven and a way through judgement through Jesus Christ. Repent now and look only to him. One day we will all know that God is the Lord. The sooner we acknowledge it the better.

Lessons from strange actions

Text Ezekiel 3:21-5:17 Time 07 05 06 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I want to speak to you this morning on several things. My two main subjects are commitment and the judgement. First then commitment for believers – commitment to Christ, devotion to the Lord’s work. How dedicated are we? How committed? Is any Christian here willing to raise his hand and say ‘Yes, I’m committed enough. There can be no question mark over my zeal and enthusiasm’? No. It is a subject we need to keep coming back to.
Then I want to speak also, and this time to every one of us whoever we are, about the judgement. As you know, there is going to be a judgement for this world one day. Even now God is judging every one of us. It is easy to let such things slip out of our thinking. We must not.
Now the things I want to teach you this morning come again from the Book of Ezekiel and the way that they are taught is really quite unusual and striking. Ezekiel, of course, was an Old Testament prophet. He lived during the days of exile in Babylon when he and others had been carried off from their homeland and from all that was dear to them. Ezekiel felt things particularly acutely when he reached his thirtieth year. Under other circumstances it would have been at that age that he would have begun his duties in the Temple in Jerusalem as a priest. Exiled in Babylon that wasn’t going to happen.
But then something even more wonderful happened – God, as it were, brought the Temple to him and he has this amazing version, which we find in Chapter 1. At that time God commissioned Ezekiel as a prophet. He is warned that the people will not listen to him but he is to go on prophesying anyway.
All this leaves him angry and overwhelmed. Then a week later God speaks to him again and he is told that he will be like a watchman to warn the Israelites. We looked at that last week (3:16-21).
In 3:22 we are told that The hand of the LORD was upon Ezekiel again and he was told to go out to the plain again. There, once again, he sees the glorious vision of the LORD that he had seen a week before. On this occasion he is told to do various strange things that are what we might call ‘Action prophecies’ or ‘Dramatic prophecies’. Like visual aids these acted parables were designed to teach the people truths in striking and different ways. Some assume these were visions and were never acted out. It is more likely that they were acted out but only while Ezekiel was in the public eye. For example, he did lay on his side day by day but not for 24 hours of each day. He also probably ate other food while in private.
We can speak of three different actions here, although they are all linked together. The first action speaks of the importance of commitment and the other two bring before us the matter of judgement. What I want to do this morning then is to consider three things. First, these strange actions that Ezekiel is told to perform and what that suggests about God’s expectations from his servants. Then we need to say something about the differences between how it was in Ezekiel’s day and how it is on ours. Finally, we want to draw out the direct lessons on commitment and the judgement that are contained in Ezekiel’s dramatic acts.

1. Consider Ezekiel’s strange actions and reflect on what God may expect from his servants
1. Consider Ezekiel's being tied down in seclusion and learn how at times God expects what is unusual
In 3:21ff Ezekiel is told to do four things
1 Shut himself inside his house and not go out. 3:24b Go, shut yourself inside your house. All his public appearances were to be only as God’s spokesman.
2 Allow himself to be tied up with ropes. 3:25 And you, son of man, they will tie with ropes; you will be bound so that you cannot go out among the people. When people did catch a glimpse of Ezekiel then he would often be tied up.
3 Remain silent for most of the time. 3:26 I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent and unable to rebuke them, though they are a rebellious house. This may have been imposed and not a voluntary thing. At times Ezekiel would not be able to speak.
4. Speak only when God speaks through him. 3:27 But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, This is what the Sovereign LORD says. When he spoke in public he would speak God’s Words. This probably went on for about seven and a half years altogether.
Now this was a very odd way for a man to act. We will reflect on the meaning of it all in a moment. First, let’s remind ourselves that although many things have changed since Ezekiel’s day God still at times expects unusual things from his servants. So, for example, the Lord may lead you to live in a different country to the one your grew up in. He may lead you to make decisions that many people will regard as odd because they are less lucrative financially. You may make decisions about your home life or how you bring up your children – say, having no TV or physically punishing them at times – and that will be thought unusual. We are all different and some find being unusual easier than others who simply want to fit in, but if we are believers then we will find that at some point or another we will be taking unusual paths and making unusual decisions.
2. Consider his lying down, his visual aid and his diet and learn how at times God expects what is difficult
Again there are a number of elements to note. He was to
1 Make a visual aid depicting Jerusalem from clay. 4:1 Now, son of man, take a clay tablet, put it in front of you and draw the city of Jerusalem on it.
2. Lay siege to it. 4:2 Then lay siege to it: Erect siege works against it, build a ramp up to it, set up camps against it and put battering-rams around it.
3 Put an iron pan between him and the model as he lays siege. 4:3, 4 Then take an iron pan, place it as an iron wall between you and the city and turn your face towards it. It will be under siege, and you shall besiege it. This will be a sign to the house of Israel.
4. Lie on his side bearing sin for 430 days. 4:4-6 Then lie on your left side and put the sin of the house of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So for 390 days you will bear the sin of the house of Israel. After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the house of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year.
5 Again allow himself to be tied with ropes. 4:7, 8 Turn your face towards the siege of Jerusalem and with bared arm prophesy against her. I will tie you up with ropes so that you cannot turn from one side to the other until you have finished the days of your siege.
6 Follow a new starvation diet. 4:9-12 Take wheat and barley, beans and lentils, millet and spelt; put them in a storage jar and use them to make bread for yourself. You are to eat it during the 390 days you lie on your side. Weigh out twenty shekels {8 ozs/0.2 kg} of food to eat each day and eat it at set times. Also measure out a sixth of a hin {1 pint/0.6 litre} of water and drink it at set times. Eat the food as you would a barley cake; bake it in the sight of the people, using human excrement for fuel. Ezekiel understandably objects to this last element and is told he can use cow manure instead.
Again it is all very odd and pretty demanding. It is a reminder that sometimes God asks his servants to do difficult things. The most difficult thing he demands perhaps is to die for him. Many have made that sacrifice. Many others suffer for the sake of their devotion to him in other different ways. Sometimes we are simply called upon to do things we find difficult – to give up a friendship perhaps, to go without in some way, to make some sacrifice. We must be willing to do whatever God demands.
The way God modifies his request here is a reminder of his grace and kindness. He does not demand from us more than we can give.
3. Consider his special haircut and what followed and learn how at times God expects what is striking
The other thing Ezekiel was require to do was to take a haircut and do something with the hair. He was to
1 Cut his hair and divide it by weight. 5:1 Now, son of man, take a sharp sword and use it as a barber's razor to shave your head and your beard. Then take a set of scales and divide up the hair.
2 Do different things to the different piles of hair. 5:2 When the days of your siege come to an end, burn a third of the hair with fire inside the city. Take a third and strike it with the sword all around the city. And scatter a third to the wind. For I will pursue them with drawn sword.
3 Save a few strands. 5:3, 4 But take a few strands of hair and tuck them away in the folds of your garment. Again, take a few of these and throw them into the fire and burn them up. A fire will spread from there to the whole house of Israel.
Again another symbolic act. This time it is not particularly difficult though it is unusual. Like the other actions it would have been very striking for anyone who saw Ezekiel. Sometimes God expects us to do striking things. It is not the norm. Most of the time there will be nothing very remarkable about us – at least as far as the world is concerned. However, there are times when something striking is required. Think of some of the great sermons that have been preached in the open air. A famous one took place when the Welsh preacher John Elias went to the Sunday Market in Rhuddlan in North Wales and preached against it so that it was closed down for years and years to come. Some people are not won over until something very striking is said to them. We ought to give some thought to this.

2. Consider Ezekiel’s strange actions and recognise how certain things have changed since then
Having said all this it is important to remember that certain things have changed since Ezekiel's day
1. There are no more prophets though there is the Bible and preaching
The day of the Old Testament and New Testament prophet is over. The canon is complete. Now we have the Bible and it is to be preached.
2. There is no more Judah and Israel though there is the church
That period is over. The Jews must still hear as must all but now the gospel is going out into all the world.
3. There is no longer a Temple in Jerusalem though there is the Spirit and heaven
Again that period is over. God has now poured out the Spirit and we may worship in every place.
4. There is no more symbolism of the sort here though the lessons still stand
Such thoughts should temper our thinking about such things, therefore. Nevertheless we can learn lessons from Ezekiel and his actions.

3. Consider Ezekiel’s strange actions and learn lessons from them for today
1. Learn about commitment to God’s work
The first acted parable has something to teach us about Christian commitment.
Thankfully we are not under such a regime but it would be good for us to think about it and imagine what it must have been like. It is too easy to be gadding about here, there and everywhere and never speaking a word for Jesus. We can so enjoy our Christian freedom that we abuse it and do nothing for the cause of Christ. When did you last speak to anyone about their danger, about their sin? Ask the Lord to give you words to speak.
1 Just as Ezekiel spent a lot of time in seclusion so we must learn to be willing to do the same sort of thing – not to the same extent as Ezekiel but there must be that closing of the door in order to pray that Jesus speaks about. 3:24b Go, shut yourself inside your house and pray.
2 Ezekiel literally allowed himself to be tied up with ropes. We also must allow ourselves to be tied down – tied to the meetings here on Sundays and Wednesdays. Get tied into Christian commitments and activities that will keep you from other things.
3 Ezekiel was to remain silent for most of the time and speak only when God spoke through him.. Again we will not want to follow the letter of this but we ought to be thinking each time we speak about what we can say for the Lord and to his glory. Are we?
2. Learn about God’s acts of judgement
The details of the other two acts relate most directly to the siege of Jerusalem that followed an attempted rebellion against the Babylonians some years after the initial fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar. The siege is portrayed and the frying pan is used to depict God’s face being hidden from the people. In 4:13 God comments on the diet In this way the people of Israel will eat defiled food among the nations where I will drive them. He also says (16, 17) Son of man, I will cut off the supply of food in Jerusalem. The people will eat rationed food in anxiety and drink rationed water in despair, for food and water will be scarce. They will be appalled at the sight of each other and will waste away because of their sin.
The 390 and 40 days are not entirely clear but probably relate to the years of decline and siege involved in the exiling of the people for their sins. The one ray of hope here is Ezekiel bearing those sins upon him. The cutting of the hair and its distribution speaks plainly of the death by famine, plague and sword that so many would know. The ray of hope here is the tufts hidden in the folds of Ezekiel’s garments symbolising a faithful remnant. For us there are several lessons about judgement here.
1 Who is the judge? God himself. 5:8 Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself am against you, Jerusalem, and I will inflict punishment on you in the sight of the nations. Fear God.
2 What is judgement? 5:11 I myself will withdraw my favour; I will not look on you with pity or spare you. That is a clear definition. Hell involves the withdrawal of God's felt presence.
3 What sins merit God’s judgements? 5:6, 7 Yet in her wickedness she has rebelled against my laws and decrees more than the nations and countries around her. She has rejected my laws and has not followed my decrees. Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: You have been more unruly than the nations around you and have not followed my decrees or kept my laws. You have not even conformed to the standards of the nations around you. He expects more from his own. 11 … you have defiled my sanctuary with all your vile images and detestable practices, … Perhaps their greatest sin was their trusting in Jerusalem. Trust in the Lord not in church, in your religion, etc.
4 What does God aim at in his judgements? The vindication of his name. 5:13 Then my anger will cease and my wrath against them will subside, and I will be avenged. And when I have spent my wrath upon them, they will know that I the LORD have spoken in my zeal.
5 Is there any hope in the face of God’s judgements? Think of Ezekiel bearing the sins and think of the tufts of hair hidden in his belt. Christ bears sin in the pace of sinners. Go to him. There is always a remnant - those who by grace believe.
3:27 Whoever will listen let him listen, and whoever will refuse let him refuse; for they are a rebellious house. Jesus often echoed these words when he said He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
Have you been listening to what I’ve said this morning? Then take it to heart and act upon it. You know you are a sinner, you know the danger of hell. Flee! Run to Christ! And if you refuse to listen then be aware of this - I am free from guilt. I have told you as plainly as I know how. You are a doomed sinner unless you turn from your sin to Jesus Christ. Turn! Turn! Why will you die? Turn before it is too late. Hebrews 12:25 See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven?

Be a faithful watchman

Text Ezekiel 3:16-27 Time 30 04 06 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
Last week we looked at the opening section of Ezekiel (1:1-3:15) and we noted that Ezekiel was a Jewish priest exiled in Judah. At the age of 30 he would normally have entered on his priestly activities in the Temple but that was impossible given that he was exiled in Babylon. Instead at that time God himself came and met with him and gave him an amazing vision of his glory and called him to be a prophet.
The vision is in Chapter 1 and the commissioning in Chapter 2 and 3:1-13. Following these amazing events Ezekiel tells us (14, 15) that The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD upon me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Abib near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days - overwhelmed. Ezekiel was angry then – probably because of what he’d been told about how the message from God was going to be received (that is, negatively). He was also overwhelmed by the amazing vision and insight into God and his purposes that he’d gained.
Now what happens in the rest of Chapter 3 is that after his seven days of being overwhelmed the Lord again speaks to him and develops what has already been said. He is then told to go out onto the plain and he again sees the glorious vision of God that he’d seen before. He then begins to live out what we can call a living parable.
Now we do not live in Old Testament times, of course. The Lord Jesus has come and brought in the New Covenant and, although the essential truth is the same as it ever was, many things are different. There are no more priests or prophets like Ezekiel, for example. Under the New Covenant every Christian is his own prophet, priest and king under the Great High Priest and Prophet, our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of the basic continuity from OT to NT, however, we can look at what we find here in Ezekiel and learn many things from it about our prophetic role if we are Christians today. There are three main things I want to say.
1. Watching - consider Ezekiel’s role then and the Christian’s role today
16, 17 At the end of seven days the word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. There are several things to note
1. Note what Ezekiel is called, the work he must do and what that means for us
A characteristic of this prophecy is how Ezekiel is addressed over 60 times as Son of Man. The first example is in 3:10, the second here. It’s the phrase Jesus uses to describe himself and is a messianic title. It really stresses two things – frailty and dignity. To be a human being, a son of man, a daughter of woman, is to be made in God’s image. It is to reflect at least to a degree God’s glory. However, it is also to be a creature and since Adam’s sin it is also to be a fallen creature.
Like Ezekiel God speaks to us as human beings – frail creatures yet people made in his image, for his glory. Like Ezekiel we ought to fall on our faces before God yet when the Spirit lifts us up to speak to us face to face we must reckon with that privilege not despise it.
Ezekiel is told Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. There is more like this in Chapter 33 but here we’re introduced to the idea. In ancient times every walled city had its watchman. At every hour of night and day at least one man was positioned high on the city walls as a lookout or watchman. If you go to Buckingham Palace you see soldiers outside, sentries. They guard the Queen and her property. Similarly in ancient cities sentries or sentinels would be posted to keep watch for any sign of the approach of an enemy. From their high position they could see long distances and could quickly warn the people by blowing on a trumpet or something similar. That was their job – to warn people of encroaching danger. During the last war people were given the task of fire watching – watching out for where incendiary bombs had fallen and arranging for the fire to be put out quickly. That is the sort of job we’re talking about.
Ezekiel is told that is his job. Israel is like a walled city, Ezekiel is the watchman – the one responsible to warn them of danger. That’s the role of the prophet and it is one of the roles to which we are called today if we’re believers. As a preacher it’s especially my role to warn you of danger – of God’s wrath, of hell, of the danger of sin and unbelief. It’s one of my main roles. 2 Corinthians 5:11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.
All of us who are Christians are to be involved in this task to some extent.
2. Note the double duty Ezekiel is given and what that means for us
The role is spelled out in 17 so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. There are two aspects, corresponding to the work of being a watchman.
1. Hearing God’s Word
As the watcher’s first duty is to watch so ours is to hear God’s Word. We ourselves must know what God is saying.
Are you listening to God’s Word? Are you reading the Bible, getting to know its message? You’ll never be of any use otherwise. What good is a blind watchman or one who’s not on look out? He needs to keep his eyes peeled. So we need to be daily searching the Word of God. Are we?
2. Giving out warnings
We’ll go into detail in a moment but the general point is that we need to be ready to warn people. We must tell them their danger. We must wake them up to the fact God is angry with them, that there’s a hell, that salvation is found only in Christ.
If you’re a Christian one of your roles in life is to warn others of danger. If you saw a child about to run on to a busy road without looking you’d shout to them to stop. If you saw a great weight was about to fall on someone from above and you could get them out of the way. Similarly, it’s our duty to warn others of danger – God’s wrath against sin, where the broad road ultimately leads.
2. Watching - consider the right approach to unbelievers
Things are spelled out in more detail in 18-21 where we have two examples of situations Ezekiel might encounter. In each case two possible approaches and outcomes are outlined. Again there are differences between Ezekiel’s day and ours, of course, but the essential details are the same. The first case is then that of a wicked man, someone outwardly and obviously evil. He shows no sign of love for God or willingness to serve him. In today’s terms we’re talking of an unbeliever who makes no profession of love to God or faith in Christ. Such a man is doomed. God will destroy him. So it begins (18) When I say to a wicked man, You will surely die, … then follow two possible case studies.
1. Consider case 1 – failing to speak
1 The example
18 When I say to a wicked man, You will surely die and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life. Here are two people - father and daughter, brother and sister or two neighbours or colleagues at work or school. One is a Christian, one is not; one knows Jesus and the way to life, the other does not. For some reason the Christian fails to speak to the unbeliever about his sin, the judgement, the need to trust in Christ. Sadly such things do happen. For some reason the Christian is afraid to speak up or just thoughtless and pre-occupied with other things.
2 The implications
We can draw out two implications here regarding human responsibility.
1 Unbelievers are responsible before God. It’s clear that God considers the wicked person responsible for his own sin. There are no excuses. We’re all born with an innate realisation that there’s a God and the creation all around us constantly reminds us God is there. We also have consciences so we know that there’s such a thing as right and wrong. Like me, you know you’ve done wrong and that you deserve judgement.
2 If believers do not speak out then the wicked will not repent. There’s also a responsibility on those who know the truth to share it. Besides the witness of creation and conscience there is the even clearer witness of God’s Word, a witness that we, if we’re Christians, are responsible to share. We’re like beggars who have found bread. We must not been mean-spirited but do all we can to share it. Freely we’ve received, freely we must give. We’re responsible. Obviously we can’t be held responsible for every person we meet but where we have had opportunity to speak up and we fail then we bear some of the blame for not speaking out.
3 The results
The results are then contemplated, first for the man concerned then as for Ezekiel the watchman.
1 As for the man that wicked man will die for his sin. Those who go on in sin will be judged. They will end up in hell. The Bible is very clear about that. Let this be a warning to you if you’re not a Christian.
2 As for the watchman who should warn him and I will hold you accountable for his blood. If we fail to tell others about the truth when we have genuine opportunity to do so we also bear a certain responsibility for our failure. This does not mean we will lose our salvation but it means that our reward in heaven will be less. Paul speaks of every man’s work being tested by fire – precious stones remain but not hay and stubble. Acts 20:26, 27 Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.
Can we speak like that? Have you warned your relatives and your friends and your neighbours as you should?
2. Consider case 2 – giving warning
1 The example
19 But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil way. Here’s another example then. Think of two people again - mother and son, two brothers, two sisters, neighbours, colleagues at college or in a club. One’s a Christian, one’s not; one knows Jesus and the way to life, the other doesn’t. The Christian makes efforts to speak to the unbeliever about his sin, the coming judgement and the need to trust in Christ. He may do it poorly. It may be badly done but he makes an effort. Nevertheless he is simply ignored. It’s like what we read in Jeremiah 6:17 where God says I appointed watchmen over you and said, Listen to the sound of the trumpet! But you said, We will not listen. See 6:10 To whom can I speak and give warning? Who will listen to me? Their ears are closed so that they cannot hear. The word of the LORD is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.
We must speak but as Jeremiah and Ezekiel and others found maybe no-one will listen.
2 The implications
Again there are at least two.
1 God often gives sinners opportunity to repent. There’s a mystery here but it’s clear that God often gives unbelievers opportunity to repent. He brings a preacher or some other Christian in his path who warns him to turn from sin. Even so he may refuse to repent. This can only increase his guilt. Unbelievers must realise that when God sends those who warn as I’m warning you now and they don’t repent, it increases their guilt.
2 Our efforts to win them will not always succeed. It’s important to remember that not everyone we speak to will repent. Like telling a child what to do. Some listen, some don’t. Some will repent, perhaps, the first time we speak. Others will repent after being spoken to many times. Still others will not repent however many times we speak. 2 Corinthians 2:15, 16 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Hard but we must face it.
3 The results
Results are again contemplated, first for the man concerned then for Ezekiel the watchman.
1 As for the man he will die for his sin. As before, those who go on in sin will be judged. They’ll end up in hell. The Bible is clear. Let this be another warning to you if you’re not a Christian.
2 As for the watchman but you will have saved yourself. Provided we’ve made efforts to warn the unbeliever then although we are very sorry at the lack of repentance, we’re not guilty. We’re not responsible in any way for their fall. Thus in Acts 18:5, 6 Paul testifies to the Jews that Jesus was the Christ and when they oppose him and become abusive, he shakes out his clothes and says, Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.
That should be our attitude too.
3. Warning - consider the right approach to professing Christians
So much for the unbeliever but then God goes on to speak about when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil. Here we think of the sort of person who professes to be a Christian but proves not to be. What about that sort? The same rules apply.
1. Consider case 1 – failing to speak
1 The example
20 Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and does evil, and I put a stumbling-block before him, he will die. Since you did not warn him, … Here then is a professing Christian known to you who decides that after all he doesn’t believe. He wants to abandon the faith. Now Jesus speaks very clearly about going after the sheep that was lost, etc, but suppose that we know of such a case but for some reason we do nothing to win the person back, rebuke him for sin and warn him of the coming judgement and the need to trust in Christ. Sadly such things happen.
2 The implications
Once again there are two
1 Professing Christians can fall away
It’s clear from the Bible that no true Christian can lose his salvation but there’s such a thing as backsliding in a true Christian and a professing Christian can even turn from the faith and become apostate like Demas and others. We must reckon with this possibility.
What about you? Are you drifting? Take great care. Hebrews 2:1-3 We must pay more careful attention … to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken by angels was binding, and every violation and disobedience received its just punishment, how shall we escape if we ignore such a great salvation?
2 Professing Christians need to hear the good news too
It’s not just unbelievers who need to be warned. We all need similar warnings. Even those who profess faith must be reminded that it is by grace that a person is saved. We must look to Christ.
Are you looking only to Christ for salvation? I urge you to it.
3 The results
Yet again we contemplate the results for the man concerned and for Ezekiel the watchman.
1 As for the man. He will die for his sin. The righteous things he did will not be remembered. The fact that he professed to be a Christian or apparently did good things counts for nothing if he turns from his faith and ceases to live the Christian life. Do you realise that? The fact you persevere in the faith is a proof of salvation.
2 As for the watchman who should have spoken up and I will hold you accountable for his blood. What a sober warning once again. We really must take this in. What a responsibility.
2. Consider case 2 – giving warning
1 The example
Finally, the case where a professing Christian who goes astray is faithfully warned (21) But if you do warn the righteous man not to sin and he does not sin.
When a professing Christian turns from his profession don’t give up on him. We must do all we can to win him back. James 5:19, 20 My brothers, if one of you should wander from the truth and someone should bring him back, remember this: Whoever turns a sinner from the error of his way will save him from death and cover over a multitude of sins.
2 The implications
Again two.
1 The Christian life may not always be a smooth curve upwards. Backsliding exists. We can drift but we can also come back to where we should be. Come back today. Pray for your brothers. Help them.
2 It is important for those who profess to be Christians to persevere in their faith and not give up. Keep going. Look ever to Jesus. He will carry you through. 1 Timothy 4:16 Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
3 The results
The results again affect the man and the one who speaks to him.
1 As for the man he will surely live because he took warning. What a glorious outcome! The backslider who appeared to be heading away from Christ is brought back. The lost sheep is restored, the lost coin is found. Such things happen. Give thanks to God.
2 As for the watchman and you will have saved yourself. There is no mention of reward here as the focus must always be on our salvation. Remember how Jesus told his disciples to rejoice not that the demons were subject to them but that their names were written in the Book of Life. When we see others saved or restored then it should strengthen our own faith.
Is that happening to you?

Call to renewed vision and commitment

Text Ezekiel 1:1-3:15 Time 23 04 06 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
I want us to look this morning at the opening section of the Prophecy of Ezekiel. Ezekiel is one of the Major Prophets of the Bible, along with Isaiah, Jeremiah and Daniel. These four books are the longest prophets. The other 12 shorter books that close the OT are known as the Minor Prophets. Now Ezekiel, like Daniel, wrote while he and the people of God were exiled in Babylon. You remember how Isaiah and Jeremiah had prophesied that if the people continued to rebel against God then they would be sent from the Promised Land as a punishment. And that is exactly what happened. They refused to repent and so God sent the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar who carried many of them off to his own nation. Among these exiles were Daniel and this man Ezekiel. Here at the beginning of his book he tells us how God commissioned him to be a prophet. I want to say four things in the light of what we find in 1:1-3:15.
1. Do you long to serve God but feel frustrated?
Ezekiel’s book begins some five years into the exile. You notice how he says (1:2) it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin. He begins, however, by saying that this was In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God. What is this thirtieth year? Probably the thirtieth year of his life. We know very little about Ezekiel but we do know that he was a priest. See 3 Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi. So not only was he an exile but at just the point where normally he would be expecting to embark on a priestly life it was not possible for him to do so because he was living far, far from the Temple in Jerusalem, by the Kebar River in the land of the Babylonians. It’s like someone wanting to go to university but there’s no finance. I remember my dad talking about woodwork lessons in the war – there was no wood to use! You can imagine how frustrated and discouraged this man must have felt then. He was longing to serve God but it was not to be.
Perhaps you can sympathise with him. Perhaps you too have a desire to serve God and yet things don’t seem to work out. There are many frustrations.
So what is the answer? Now Ezekiel was chosen by God to be his prophet there in Babylon. He would not be a priest (one representing men before God This way [with your back to the people]) but he was a prophet (one representing God before men This way [facing the people]). It all began with what we read here of how (1:1) the heavens were opened and Ezekiel saw visions of God (1:3) the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel and … the hand of the LORD was upon him. Now none of us will know exactly what Ezekiel knew – for one thing we now have what Ezekiel wrote and the other prophets and indeed the New Testament revelation. However, our real need is very similar to his – we need a vision of God and to hear his Word and to know his strong hand upon us. This we can know as we study what happened to Ezekiel here.
2. God is there - see your need for heaven to open that you may see it
So let’s begin with this amazing vision. In 1:4 Ezekiel says I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north - an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The centre of the fire looked like glowing metal. So, while Ezekiel is thinking of Jerusalem to his west, unexpectedly out of the north comes this vision of God. It is marked by smoke and fire and bright light.
In this fire he sees first four living creatures – seraphim or some other heavenly creatures. Their basic form is human but they have four faces (like men, lions, oxen and eagles) and four wings (two to fly with, two to cover themselves) as well as human hands and their legs gleaming like burnished bronze, though straight, ended in hooves not feet. They are fiery creatures with fire all around them and look like lightning. Their outstretched wings touch each others and make an incredible noise like rushing waters a or an army in tumult. Beneath the creatures are identical intersecting wheels that sparkle like jewels. Like the creatures they are multi-directional. They can go in any direction without turning (up, down, forward, back) just as the spirit moves them. 1:21 the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. These massive wheels have eyes in their rims all around.
He then goes on to describe the awesome sparkling expanse above the creatures and the sapphire throne he sees with one sitting on it. This one again has a human form but is like glowing metal filled with fire and his body ends in fire. He is surrounded by brilliant light, like a rainbow. This is not God as such but what Ezekiel calls (1:28) the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. Not the LORD or the glory of the LORD but the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When Ezekiel saw it he fell (not backwards as has been popular among some in recent years) but face down.
Now we could spend a lot of time dissecting the details of this vision but I think it is wisest for us to look at it in more general terms and seek to learn what it is telling us about God and his character.
1. You need to see that God is glorious and great
Clearly this vision is designed to get over to us something of the greatness and glory of God. He is a wonderful and outstanding God whose greatness and glory cannot be fathomed. Think of the clouds and the fire. Think of these four amazing creatures – like bold lions and swift eagles and strong oxen and yet with human faces. It all speaks of a God who is worthy of all glory, who truly is a great and a marvellous God. In 1:27 Ezekiel says of the one on the throne I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him.
Are you remembering that God is glorious and great?
2. You need to see that God is majestic and magnificent
(1:22) Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice, and awesome. Above this there is a sapphire throne. It all speaks of the majesty and magnificence of God. There is something stately and splendid about God. When royalty try to impress upon us their grandeur and splendour they use various devices. They echo the sort of things we find here. In God’s case he is innately awesome and amazing. In 1:25 we read that there came a voice from above the expanse over the heads of the living creatures. How did they react? They stood with lowered wings. There was no noise. All the time they used two wings to cover themselves in his presence.
Are you remembering that there is something majestic and magnificent about God in and of himself?
3. You need to see that God is omnipresent and omniscient
As I have said, we mustn’t get tied up in detail but what about these wheels? Well, wheels speak of motion and movement, of mobility. As with the reference to the creatures flying with wings no doubt their function is to convey the idea of God’s omnipresence – that is the fact that he is everywhere. He is ubiquitous. We cannot go from his presence. In 1:18 we are told that Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around. This brings in the idea of watching. God is both omnipresent and omniscient, ever-present and all-knowing. Nothing is hidden from him. He both lives in every place and knows everything.
Are you remembering that God is in every place at every time and knows every single thing you do?
4. You need to see that God is omnipotent and gracious
1:26 Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. The throne, of course, speaks of power, of God’s rule. He is the omnipotent one, the all powerful, the Almighty. The very description of him stresses that. And yet Ezekiel is not afraid to describe him as having a human form. This points not simply to the coming incarnation when Jesus would come to us but of his compassion and grace. In 1:28 he says that the radiance around this appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD was Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day. The rainbow, of course, first appeared following the flood and is a symbol of god’s mercy and grace. And so in the midst of all this smoke and fire and lightning there is this clear reminder that God is gracious. It is there too in 1:24 When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. When they stood still, they lowered their wings.
Remember that he’s the all powerful one yet is full of grace and compassion. We see this most clearly in Christ the Saviour of the World.
5. You need to see that God is worthy of worship
Don’t miss Ezekiel’s understandable reaction either (1:28) When I saw it, I fell face down. As creatures when we see things we react. If Arsenal score – we cheer or boo. If we get bad news we put our hands to our faces. Here Ezekiel simply falls on his face.
Now we are not seeing Ezekiel’s vision today but we are reading about it and the truths it is conveying are as true now as they were then. There ought to be a reaction from us. The only suitable sort of one is worship.
3. He is not silent - see your need for God’s Word to come to you that you may know it
So much for the vision then. Now this was not just a vision. God is not only there but he is not silent. He speaks. Indeed this is the climax of the first chapter This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. When I saw it, I fell face down, and I heard the voice of one speaking. We must not only bow down in awe before God but we must also listen to his voice. Here again he is speaking specifically to Ezekiel at that time then. However, as we consider what is said we will see that it is also very relevant to us in our time now. First of all (2:1) he says to Ezekiel Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you. Ezekiel tells us (2:2) As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. We must bow down and worship God yes but when he speaks to us he speaks to us, as it were, man to man. Prayer (kneeling) and Bible reading (sat). So let’s consider God’s Word here. We want to say four things about it.
1. It teaches your duty to speak to others of the Lord
This is the fundamental thing. 2:3, 4 He said: Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, This is what the Sovereign LORD says. 3:4 Son of man, go now to the house of Israel and speak my words to them. Ezekiel is to go as God’s prophet to God’s people and tell them God’s Word. Now our task is different in that if we are New Testament Christians we are to go to all people beginning with those nearest us but it is still what the Sovereign LORD says that we must declare. Some are called to be preachers or evangelists but we are all called to share the Word of God, the word of this glorious and wonderful omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent God of grace.
Are you remembering that?
2. It teaches your duty to speak fearlessly to others of the Lord regardless of resistance
This is to happen even though the Israelites are rebellious and obstinate and stubborn. 2:6 And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house.
I think fear is often a big factor in our failure to speak out about Jesus. We must not give in to fear, however, we must boldly speak out in Jesus’s name.
3. It teaches your duty to speak to others of the Lord by being filled with God’s sweet Word
In 2:9-3:3 Ezekiel is made to act out a little parable. First he sees a hand stretched out to him. In it was a scroll, he says which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe. This stands for the unpalatable message we take out. 3:1 And he said to me, Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel. Ezekiel is, as it were, to feed on the Word and then share it. So he eats the scroll and finds it tastes as sweet as honey in his mouth. It is not unpleasant to him at all. This is one of the wonders of Scripture. It seems so unpalatable in many ways - telling us of sin and judgement and the wrath of God. The point is put plainly in 3:10 And he said to me, Son of man, listen carefully and take to heart all the words I speak to you.
Are you taking in the sweet Word of God? You need to do it daily not only for your own soul but also in order to speak to others.
4. It teaches your duty to speak persistently to others of the Lord regardless of response
We often object to speaking about the Lord by saying ‘But no-one will listen to me’. Listen to 2:5 And whether they listen or fail to listen - for they are a rebellious house - they will know that a prophet has been among them. No excuses at the judgement. 2:7 You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. 2:8 But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you. We are in danger of being rebels ourselves if we will not take in God’s Word and speak out in Jesus’s name.
What God says to Ezekiel in 3:5, 6 applies to us too You are not being sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, … not to many peoples of obscure speech and difficult language, whose words you cannot understand. That is encouraging – no language training, acclimatisation, etc, for most of us. But then he says Surely if I had sent you to them, they would have listened to you. But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate. There’s the rub. And isn’t this what we so often find? They won’t listen. Nevertheless we must speak – an aroma of life to some, death’s stench to others.
3:8, 9 But I will make you as unyielding and hardened as they are. I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house. Think of a hard stone. Do you know that expression - nose to the grindstone.
Note - we must not confuse persistence with hardness. We need to press on in this work of witness or evangelism, telling people about the Lord Jesus and about our wonderful God.
As God spoke to Ezekiel so long ago in Babylon so he speaks to you who are believers today and he says Go now to your countrymen (in exile) and speak to them. Say to them, This is what the Sovereign LORD says, whether they listen or fail to listen. Are you tempted to give up speaking or may be you have. Begin again. Go to it. There are plenty of opportunities. Formal – eg tract giving, beach missions, other special efforts such as services at old people's homes, etc. Informal. Persevere in it.
4. His hand is on his servants – be prepared for this and its possible effects
So Ezekiel had a glorious vision and I trust you’ve caught something of it today. It ended gloriously too (3:12, 13) Then the Spirit lifted me up, and I heard behind me a loud rumbling sound - May the glory of the LORD be praised in his dwelling-place! - the sound of the wings of the living creatures brushing against each other and the sound of the wheels beside them, a loud rumbling sound. But that’s not the end of the story quite. We read finally in 3:14, 15 how the Spirit then lifted Ezekiel up and took him away. He says and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD upon me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Abib near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days - overwhelmed. This highlights two possible reactions that we need to be forewarned about.
1. You may know inward battles
It was a glorious vision and when Ezekiel ate the scroll it tasted as sweet as honey. However, he is strangely filled with bitterness and anger. Why? Presumably it is a reaction to the rebelliousness of Israel and the prospect of speaking to people who he has already been warned won’t listen. There is some anger and bitterness then but with the strong hand of the LORD upon him he has to go.
We need a new vision of God and we need to hear his commission to go into all the world to preach the good news but it will not mean the end of all conflict and inward battles. Many things will anger us but if God’s strong hand is on us we can be strong too.
2. You may be overwhelmed
The other perhaps less surprising thing here is that the whole experience overwhelmed Ezekiel and for seven days he was able to do nothing. Sometimes when God draws near it is like that. Good reactions are difficult to gauge. One may hear this sermon and go out and evangelise madly for a few days. Another may be slow to do anything, overwhelmed by it all but may then begin the real work of a life-time.
So let’s not be too quick to such into things. Let’s think it through. That can be an excuse I know but we must not fail to have a glorious and high vision of Almighty God. Indeed daily we need to remind ourselves of the sorts of things we find here.