Hearing the Word, facing the judgement

Text Ezekiel 14 Time 26 06 06 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
Ezekiel 14 contains two more prophecies. The first, in 1-11, is about hearing God’s Word. The second, in 12-23, is about facing God’s judgements. Though these prophecies were given in Babylon some two and a half thousand years ago now they continue to be full of interest and relevance for us living here in London in the year 2006. There’s something timeless about God’s Word and if we read it correctly we’ll see that it has an application to all sorts of different circumstances and situations. With the help of God’s Spirit let’s seek to learn from this passage today then.
1. Lessons to learn about hearing God’s Word
1. If you have you come to hear God’s Word, realise that it penetrates to the heart
1 Have you come to hear God’s Word?
We read in verse 1 that Some of the elders of Israel came to Ezekiel and sat down in front of him. Clearly they wanted to know what he had to say. He was a prophet sent by God and they were eager to know what God was going to say through his prophet.
Now why have you come here this morning? You may have come for various reasons but I trust that at least to some extent that you have come to hear the Word of God. I am not Ezekiel. I am not a prophet or the son of a prophet. However we have here the Word of God and my purpose this morning is to present it to you in as clear and as simple a way as I know how. As I speak I want to do so as one speaking the very words of God. As I minister to you I am seeking to do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen. God has given us his Word – the revelation of Jesus Christ. He is the one I want you to see this morning.
2 Do you realise that it penetrates to the heart?
So here are these men before Ezekiel waiting to hear God’s Word, and we read that (2) the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel. Now listen to what it said (3) Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling-blocks before their faces. It wasn’t ‘What fine men we have here – elders of the people, men who are outwardly moral and good. God bless you.’ No this Word spoke about these men’s hearts and the idolatry that was lurking just below the surface. This is how God’s Word speaks when it is preached. It is not superficial but deals with our hearts. Hebrews 4:12 says For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. When you go to the doctor’s what do you expect from him? Do you expect him to speak politely and say ‘Hello, how are you? Hope things are okay’. No, you expect him to probe a bit. What is troubling you? Is there pain? You won’t be surprise if he asks you to let him examine you and see what is wrong? Now when we come to God’s Word we should expect something similar. Preaching is not designed to be superficial. ‘Well, none of us are perfect are we? We really must try harder to do our best.’ No, it probes. It looks into our hearts. It puts our thoughts and motives under the microscope. It examines us. What about idolatry? Is it lurking there in your heart? What have you been parading before your eyes this last week? The elders Ezekiel was preaching to probably weren’t like the idolaters back in Jerusalem but they were aware of the idolatry going on all around them in Babylon and they were attracted to it. These are powerful and successful people, perhaps if I worshipped idols I could know some of that too? Is that how you think? Oh, yes I know that you’re here now to hear the Word but what’s going on in your heart? Are you secretly wishing you were just like those all around you? Do you have the same desires as them – for money, for possessions, leisure and ease, worldly success? We must examine ourselves and confess what lurks deep down.
2. Do you have any right to hear God’s Word? What if God gives you what you want?
This raises two further questions
1 Do you have any right to hear God’s Word?
You see the logic here. These elders have come to Ezekiel ostensibly to hear God’s Word and yet God knows their hearts. They have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling-blocks before their faces. And so God asks Should I let them enquire of me at all? Now let me put that question to you and to myself. Do you have any right to be here? Do I? Why should God hear your prayers or mine or speak to you or to me? Why should he let you come to know Jesus Christ? On the one hand, these men are coming to Ezekiel, God’s prophet, and wanting to hear him. However, what is in their hearts? They have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling-blocks before their faces. Imagine a man coming home to his wife and telling her how much he loves her when all the time his heart is set on some other woman. It reminds us of that phrase in Isaiah 29:13 These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And what about us? We are here to hear the Word. That’s good. But what is going on in our hearts? Are we just hypocrites going through the motions? If that is our case what right have we to expect God to answer.
2 What if God gives you what you want?
So Ezekiel is told to tell these hypocrites This is what the Sovereign LORD says: When any Israelite sets up idols in his heart and puts a wicked stumbling-block before his face and then goes to a prophet, I the LORD will answer him myself in keeping with his great idolatry. Imagine two boys playing together and they are both selfishly arguing over a toy. Then one of them goes to his father and says ‘Dad, make Johnny give me the toy’. Can you imagine the father saying something like ‘I’ll give you something in a minute, my boy’. Well, in a similar way God here says that those who have idols in their hearts who ask him for something will certainly get a response – but not the response they are expecting! The response is spelled out in verse 8 but for the moment let’s just say that the response is not what is expected and clearly it is not pleasant. What sort of response will you get from God do you think if you harbour idolatry within?
3. Understand God’s motive in acting in such a way and realise that God’s Word calls on us to repent
1 Do you understand God’s motives in acting in such a way?
Why such a response? The answer is simple really. Verse 5 I will do this to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols. God is here seeking to win the people back. You sometimes see posters on the trees around here ‘Cat lost’ with a picture, etc. Sometimes you see a lot of them and (if you’re not a cat lover) you wonder why they’ve gone to all that trouble. Well, they want their cat back! God wants us back, that’s why he speaks as he does. That’s the purpose of what is being said this morning. If there is any declension at all, this message is designed to win you back to the Lord. Come back. Let’s not pretend all is okay if it isn’t, let’s be open about it and confess it.
2 Are you listening to God calling on you to repent?
As ever, this is the call, the call to turn from sin and to turn back to God. Verse 6 Therefore say to the house of Israel, This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices! God is our Creator. He is the true God. He is the one we must worship. But again and again the temptation is there to set up idols in our hearts. We must turn from all these idols and worship only the one and only God, the true God who rules over all. Turn to him – to the Father and to Jesus Christ buy the work of the Spirit. Repentance is never easy. It is against all our instincts. I think I’ve spoken to you before of how in the car I hate turning round and going back the same way if I’ve made a wrong turning. I’m learning though that although retracing your steps is tedious it’s the best way – the only way usually. Repentance is like that – "There's a way back to God from the dark paths of sin", an open door you can go through. "At Calvary’s cross is where you begin (where Jesus died to save sinners) when you come as a sinner to Jesus."
4. Hear this warning from God’s Word against heart idolatry and beware of false prophets
1 Are you guarding against heart idolatry?
We get something further in 7, 8 When any Israelite or any alien living in Israel separates himself from me and sets up idols in his heart and puts a wicked stumbling-block before his face and then goes to a prophet to enquire of me, I the LORD will answer him myself. I will set my face against that man and make him an example and a byword. I will cut him off from my people. Then you will know that I am the LORD. To be cut off is probably to die. It is to come under the curse of the covenant breaker. God will vindicate himself and the idolater will die. This is one reason why we must guard against idolatry.
2 Do you realise what will happen if you listen to false prophets?
Sometimes things are a little more complex. 9, 10 And if the prophet is enticed to utter a prophecy, I the LORD have enticed that prophet, and I will stretch out my hand against him and destroy him from among my people Israel. They will bear their guilt - the prophet will be as guilty as the one who consults him. The elders have come to a prophet who will tell them the truth. There were other prophets too, false prophets. What if they went to them? Or to a true prophet who was tempted to say something less provocative? The answer is clear. God is still at work. He is never the author of sin but he is using even this to bring about his purpose, which in this case is the death of both the idolater and the false prophet.
And so I say to you it is no good you saying ‘Well, I don’t have to come here and listen to this every week – all about sin and judgement all the time. I can go to other places where they will make me feel much better and not keep going on about the idolatry in my heart.’ Or sometimes I think to myself ‘Well, let’s ease up a bit this week and try and talk less about sin and judgement’. And I certainly don’t want to speak about them more than I need to. But what will become of us all, both you and me, if we go down that route? And what will happen to the places that claim to be speaking the Word of God but don’t really probe and say ‘What’s lurking in your heart? Is there a secret love for what the world loves?’. God’s Word leaves us in no doubt They will bear their guilt - the prophet will be as guilty as the one who consults him. And so I am determined to keep on preaching like this – painful as it is. Will you determine to keep listening and to try and bring others under the same preaching? How we need something that will go more than skin deep, that will probe us and speak to our consciences and wake us up to reality! Repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices! What ever it is that lies in your heart, forsake it, run from it. Get rid of pride and anger and lust and complacency. Cry out to God to wash you clean from your sins in the precious blood of Jesus! Cry out now before it is too late.
5. Hear the call in God’s Word to covenant faithfulness
Again it is very negative, I know, but look where he ends up in verse 11 Then the people of Israel will no longer stray from me, nor will they defile themselves any more with all their sins. They will be my people, and I will be their God, declares the Sovereign LORD. It is the covenant again. This is what being a Christian is all about – to belong to God’s chosen people and to have God as your God. Is that you? Are you trusting in Jesus Christ? Is he your God, your Saviour? Is he your one true hope? Are you bound to him by unbreakable bonds? Then praise the Lord and press on in him!
2. Lessons to learn about facing God’s judgement
12-23 is familiar territory and I don’t want to spend too much time on it. The structure is quite simple really. Four dreadful calamities are envisaged first of all - sword and famine and wild beasts and plague. We are asked to imagine each of these coming in turn. Then the observation is made in each case that (eg 14) even if these three men - Noah, Daniel and Job - were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign LORD. Then in verse 21 we have the climactic For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: How much worse will it be when I send against Jerusalem my four dreadful judgments - sword and famine and wild beasts and plague - to kill its men and their animals! There is a strong warning of coming judgement here.
And then as we have had before the chapter ends on an encouraging note of optimism – 22, 23 Yet there will be some survivors - sons and daughters who will be brought out of it. They will come to you, and when you see their conduct and their actions, you will be consoled regarding the disaster I have brought upon Jerusalem - every disaster I have brought upon it. You will be consoled when you see their conduct and their actions, for you will know that I have done nothing in it without cause, declares the Sovereign LORD.
So three brief points to close then.
1. Consider the sorts of judgements God sends on people
Here we have four examples
1 God stretches out his hand against a country to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its men and their animals.
2 Or he sends wild beasts through that country and they leave it childless and it becomes desolate so that no-one can pass through it because of the beasts.
3 (17) Or if I bring a sword against that country and say, Let the sword pass throughout the land, and I kill its men and their animals
4. (19) Or if I send a plague into that land and pour out my wrath upon it through bloodshed, killing its men and their animals.
All of these are spoken about in the Book of Moses as possible judgements from God – man-made and natural disasters from God. They are his judgements. We also may know his judgements – there may be sickness, or poverty. You may be affected by a natural disaster or war may come. Be warned. God can destroy this nation in a moment and any individual too. He has the resources. A tiny virus can lay a strong man on his back in no time.
2. Consider how difficult it is to escape from such judgements
In each case Ezekiel talks about Noah, Daniel and Job. Noah, of course, is the man we are all descended from and who was spared when God sent the great judgement of the flood. Job, who also lived before Abraham, suffered terrible judgements from God as you know but again God spared him and brought him through. Daniel is possibly not Ezekiel’s contemporary (he would have been about 25 at the time) but another character who lived before Abraham who was a man of faith but is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. The point about these men is that though they were men of faith they could only do so much. Noah preached and prayed for 120 years but no-one was converted. That whole generation (all except his own family) perished in the flood. Job’s prayers couldn’t save his sons and daughters. It’s like Abraham praying for Sodom. He argued very powerfully with God but Sodom was not spared – only Lot and his daughters. The people in Jerusalem thought they would be okay but they weren’t. It’s no good us thinking then ‘It will all be okay. I’ll pray.’ Or ‘Someone else will pray for me.’ No, only God’s mercy can save.
3. Take comfort in the fact that when God sends such judgements he also preserves a remnant
Here is the final word of comfort. We’ve seen it already in Ezekiel and here it is again. The idea of the remnant comes up in many places in the Old Testament. What is a remnant? The end of the roll, what’s left over. It is not inferior in quality just a little small. Do you know that trick question about the plane that crashes on the border of Canada and the US – where did they bury the survivors? You don’t bury survivors! Here we read (22) Yet there will be some survivors - sons and daughters who will be brought out of it. As there were from the flood and Sodom. God has his remnant – the faithful who keep looking to him, his little flock, those who have come through the narrow gate on to the narrow way. The existence of a remnant is a testimony to the ungodly. When they see our conduct and our actions they have to acknowledge the Lord. Are you one of the few? If you are not, are you aware of the few? Listen to them. Repent. Turn from sin before it is too late. Turn to Christ and find safety in him.

The Rise and Fall of False Prophets

Text Ezekiel 13 Time 18 06 06 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
One day last week there were two newspaper stories that caught my eye and that in different ways connect with our subject this morning.
The first story was about a man in a pet shop who was bitten by a very dangerous cobra. If it hadn’t been possible to rush him very quickly to the local hospital he would have died. It is a reminder that just as there are all sorts of snakes in the grass about, many of which will not do you too much harm but some of which will do you a lot of harm indeed, so there are all sorts of false teachers slithering about this world. Some may not do you too much harm but some can ruin you.
Then there was a bizarre story about a man who had been speeding in a 30 mph area who tried to get himself off the hook by actually digging up a 40 mph signpost from elsewhere, replanting it, and hoping the photograph he then took would fool the police. Again, it made me think of false teachers who often change the signposts, as it were, trying to mislead people as to the truth.
Our subject today is false teachers, because that is the subject in Ezekiel 13. Now always when we come to these Old Testament passages that in some ways seem remote from our times and situations we must remember that although many things change, the principles remain the same. Just as there were false prophets then, so there will be false teachers today. Then they were in the Temple and in the synagogues and other gatherings of God’s people. Today you will find them in churches and on the radio and TV. You can buy their books and their magazines in the shops. You can look up their websites on the Internet.
We need to know what false teachers are like, therefore, so that we can spot them. Whether it is someone who stands here or someone you hear on the "GOD Channel", if anyone is a false teacher you should be able to spot him (or her).
We also need to know what happens to false teachers. This acts as a warning to them and to us. It will also encourages us to know that they cannot get very far. So Ezekiel begins once again The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying.
1. Understand what are some leading characteristics of false prophets
1. They follow their own imaginations not God’s Word
2b, 3 Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: Hear the word of the LORD! This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit and have seen nothing! False prophets will usually claim to be speaking God’s Word but in fact they do not. JWs always carry Bibles and seem to follow what the Bible says. In fact their religion comes from a man’s imagination. Think some extreme Charismatics - they are the same. This week a ‘prophetess’ claimed to be speaking the very Word of God to a relative of ours in Wales. There are such people about.
2. They fail to strengthen God’s people and prepare them for battle
4, 5 Your prophets, O Israel, are like jackals among ruins. You have not gone up to the breaks in the wall to repair it for the house of Israel so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the LORD. The job of a prophet or preacher is to build God’s people up. He should be like a builder building the city walls. False teachers are just like jackals in the ruins – they do nothing to build God’s people up. Those whose services simply concentrate on singing and on making people feel happy instead of teaching from the Word are typical of what is false.
3. They speak what is false not what God says and so are untrustworthy
6, 7 Their visions are false and their divinations a lie. They say, The LORD declares, when the LORD has not sent them; yet they expect their words to be fulfilled. Have you not seen false visions and uttered lying divinations when you say, The LORD declares, though I have not spoken? Again we need to emphasise that though these people claim to be sent by God and speaking in God’s name they are playing false. ILL The JWs are again an easy target. In the past they have said this is going to happen or that is going to happen and it has not. Why not? Because Their visions are false and their divinations a lie. The same can be said of extreme charismatics. Or take some of the nonsense believed by Roman Catholics about appearances of the Virgin Mary in Fatima or Maidiguri, etc. Such visions are false.
4. They give false comfort and support
10 Because they lead my people astray, saying, Peace, when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash, … . This is again typical of false teachers. Oh they speak such smooth and winning words sometimes but they are giving false comfort. They say we are not so bad, if we just give some money, repeat a little prayer all will be well. That is one of the clear differences. The false teacher says "a lick of paint and all will be well". The faithful man says no, the wall will have to come down and be rebuilt. And that is the truth. Do you realise it?
5. They are often given over to superstition and ostentation
17 Now, son of man, set your face against the daughters of your people who prophesy out of their own imagination. Prophesy against them and say, This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the women who sew magic charms on all their wrists and make veils of various lengths for their heads. We don’t know exactly what Ezekiel is describing here but it shows that another aspect of false teaching is the superstition and ritualistic ostentation that often goes with it. When you see men elaborately dressed in strange clothes or in £500 suits and £500 shoes then the alarm bells ought to be ringing. What sort of people are these? Where people have elaborate religious rituals, crossing themselves and genuflecting and using crucifixes and other religious symbols you know something is wrong. The essential simplicity of true religion has been lost. Take care. We must watch out for any sort of superstition or ostentation.
6. They selfishly ensnare people and profane God for gain
Ezekiel goes on to say why such things are done. In order to ensnare people. He asks Will you ensnare the lives of my people but preserve your own? God says (19) You have profaned me among my people for a few handfuls of barley and scraps of bread. The focus of false teacher is on people. They are very interested in numbers. That’s one of the reasons they often flourish. But they trap people – not just so-called brainwashing cults but all sorts of groups. Having trapped people they take what they can from them. Take an obvious example – monks and nuns. When you become a monk or a nun it is almost always the case that you give up all your personal property. It goes, as they say, "to the church". They own you. Similar systems are found among other groups, communal or not. Often it is not as extreme as this but this is the pattern. Meanwhile God’s name is profaned by such people – but they do not care about God’s name. Only about their earthly organisation. How far from the spirit of a Whitefield or a Spurgeon who would rather see their names perish than that any glory be taken from God. Is our attitude? It ought to be.
7. They turn true religion on its head
Perhaps two verses sum it up best – 19b, 22 By lying to my people, who listen to lies, you have killed those who should not have died and have spared those who should not live. ... Because you disheartened the righteous with your lies, when I had brought them no grief, and because you encouraged the wicked not to turn from their evil ways and so save their lives, …. Those who speak in God’s name is to give life to the dying, to speak doom to those who are wicked, to encourage the righteous and encourage the wicked to turn from their evil ways and so save their lives. False teachers do the very opposite. With their lies they deny eternal life to those perishing. They don’t point to Christ. They don’t say that there is life for a look at the crucified one. They tell people they are okay and all will be well. They lull sinners into a false sense of security. Your not in danger of hell they say. There’s not even such a place say some. How they dishearten and discourage godly people who are trying to please God. They tell the wicked to go on living just as they have. What evil people they are. Pray that we will be delivered from such people. And yet they are everywhere.
You should be able to discern false teachers. I hope that helps.
2. Understand what will happen to all false prophets one day
1. They are opposed by the LORD and will be excluded from his people
1 God opposes all such people
8 Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because of your false words and lying visions, I am against you, declares the Sovereign LORD. Be in no doubt about this. There is no neutrality over this. God is against them and we should be against them too. Let’s be clear, Islam is wrong. It is false. There are no doubt some Christians among the Orthodox and Roman Catholics but as a system Romanism like Orthodoxy is false. It leads people astray. The same can be said for the Cults – JWs, Mormons, Christadelphians, Christian Science, etc. Simply calling yourself an Evangelical won’t save you either. Only Christ can save and if we don’t look to him then God is against us.
2. He excludes them from the assembly of his people
9 My hand will be against the prophets who see false visions and utter lying divinations. They will not belong to the council of my people or be listed in the records of the house of Israel, nor will they enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD. False teachers will be cut off. They should be given no place in our churches. They should not be countenanced. More than that when Christ comes again they will be cast into hell. Jesus makes clear that many will come to him at the end claiming to have done all sorts of things in his name but he will declare that he never knew them. They will be told to depart.
2. All their work will come to ruin at the judgement
11-14 therefore tell those who cover it with whitewash that it is going to fall. Rain will come in torrents, and I will send hailstones hurtling down, and violent winds will burst forth. When the wall collapses, will people not ask you, Where is the whitewash you covered it with? Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: In my wrath I will unleash a violent wind, and in my anger hailstones and torrents of rain will fall with destructive fury. I will tear down the wall you have covered with whitewash and will level it to the ground so that its foundation will be laid bare. When it falls, you will be destroyed in it; and you will know that I am the LORD.
Ah yes, it all seems so easy now – a lick of paint here, a lick of paint there. But such work will not last. When the Lord Jesus Christ comes in judgement the walls of our lives will be laid bare and if they are not built on firm foundations down they will crash. They will not last. 15, 16 So I will spend my wrath against the wall and against those who covered it with whitewash. I will say to you, The wall is gone and so are those who whitewashed it, those prophets of Israel who prophesied to Jerusalem and saw visions of peace for her when there was no peace, declares the Sovereign LORD. Believer, be encouraged. Everyone else, take warning. Everything must be viewed in light of the judgement.
3. They will eventually lose their power and God’s people will be free
20 Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against your magic charms with which you ensnare people like birds and I will tear them from your arms; I will set free the people that you ensnare like birds. False teachers are like those who trap birds in cages. However, God sets them free. To be a Christian is to be free. If the Son shall set you free, you shall be free indeed. There are countless cases of those trapped in false teaching who have escaped to freedom. One day false teaching will disappear completely and all God’s people will be free forever.
4. Their false teachings will be exposed and God’s people will be saved
21 I will tear off your veils and save my people from your hands, and they will no longer fall prey to your power. Then you will know that I am the LORD. … 23 therefore you will no longer see false visions or practise divination. I will save my people from your hands. And then you will know that I am the LORD. False teachers hide behind various things – their academic learning, their ceremonies and rituals, their supposed good deeds, etc. In the end they will be exposed and God will deal with them. People will no longer fall prey to their power. However, his own true people will be saved without a doubt. They will be safe in heaven forever.
Run to Christ and give thanks and you will be safe there forever.

Ezekiel and his strange actions

Text Ezekiel 12 Time 11/06/06 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

I think it was Andrew Bonar, the great 19th Century Scottish preacher, who once put the question of how you might feel in heaven when one day you meet the prophet Ezekiel and he comes up to you and says ‘Did you read my book?’ Ezekiel is rather long and not easy in some places but it is part of the Holy Word of God and it behoves us therefore to make at least some effort to get to know it.
And that’s what we’ve been doing recently. We’ve looked at the first set of visions in chapters 1-7 and we’ve now begun on the second set in chapters 8-20. We’ve looked at the opening vision in chapters 8-11 and now we come to the strange actions, the acted parable, that Ezekiel is told to perform in Chapter 12. It is a little like the sort of thing he was told to do previously only less elaborate. God was so determined to bring the message home to his people that sometimes his servants had to do strange things. We talked before about how although such things are not necessary now because we have the record of them and indeed the whole Bible, yet even today God may expect from his servants what is difficult or unusual. It cannot have been easy for Ezekiel to do some of these things and we ought to be sympathetic to him.
What can we learn from what we read in Chapter 12 then? I think there are four things. Again the theme is God’s judgement but once more let me begin by pointing out to you that even amid all this doom and gloom there is a word of comfort. This time it comes in 16, God says But I will spare a few of them from the sword, famine and plague, so that in the nations where they go they may acknowledge all their detestable practices. Then they will know that I am the LORD. We’ll focus on that verse in a moment but let’s look first at 1-15.
1. God’s judgement – Ezekiel’s strange actions showing what it is like
1. The sort of people who need to hear about God’s judgement
1 ,2 The word of the LORD came to me: says Ezekiel Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people. Ezekiel has already been told that he is dealing with rebellious and recalcitrant people. Here he is reminded of that fact. These people are not stupid. They do not lack eyes to see or ears to hear. No, the problem is in their hearts. They refuse to accept the truth. You know the words of Nelson at Trafalgar perhaps. When warned about the French Navy and urged to retreat, he is supposed to have put his telescope to his blind eye and said ‘I see no ships’. He knew what was going on alright but he refused to look at things the way some wanted him to. That is the approach of the unbeliever so often. The gospel is not difficult to understand -
God made this world for his glory. Things have gone wrong with it and we are all born sinners, rebels against him. We need to repent, to turn from sin. If we put our trust in Jesus Christ who has done all that is necessary to save us then we can be forgiven and we can enter the new heavens and earth, the Paradise God has prepared for his own.
It is not hard to understand. But thousands refuse to believe it. Are you refusing to believe? Are you a rebel? Is your heart a hard heart, a heart of stone? Ask God to change you.
2. The strange actions of Ezekiel representing God’s judgement
To get over to the people what was going to happen to them Ezekiel was told to do certain things. He is told (3) to pack his belongings for exile and in the daytime, as the people watch, set out and go from where you are to another place. The hope is that Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house.
It goes on (4, 5) During the daytime, while they watch, bring out your belongings packed for exile. Then in the evening, while they are watching, go out like those who go into exile. While they watch, dig through the wall and take your belongings out through it. So Ezekiel was to put his belongings on his shoulder and carry them out at dusk. He was to cover his face so that you cannot see the land, for I have made you a sign to the house of Israel.
Ezekiel says (7) So I did as I was commanded. During the day I brought out my things packed for exile. Then in the evening I dug through the wall with my hands. I took my belongings out at dusk, carrying them on my shoulders while they watched. How many days this went on we don’t know but it would have made quite an impression on the exiles we can be sure. They didn’t understand what it all meant, of course, without asking but they certainly knew that God was speaking to them and was intimating further judgement on Israel.
Now when I preach you may not understand all that I say but I trust that at least you know I am speaking to you in God’s name. There is a God. He is speaking to you. A Judgement day is coming, a day of danger and peril, a day of wrath and anger. Are you ready for that day? Are you prepared?
3. What happened to King Zedekiah predicted here as a warning
Ezekiel then goes on to say (8-10) In the morning the word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, did not that rebellious house of Israel ask you, What are you doing? Say to them, This is what the Sovereign LORD says: This oracle concerns two things the prince in Jerusalem and the whole house of Israel who are there. There is not just the acted parable. There is an explanation too. First about the prince in Jerusalem that is the puppet king Zedekiah. At least 4 things are prophesied here.
1 His attempted escape
12 The prince among them will put his things on his shoulder at dusk and leave, and a hole will be dug in the wall for him to go through. He will cover his face so that he cannot see the land. This was to portray the escape from the city of Zedekiah and his soldiers when Jerusalem’s walls were breached by the Babylonians, spoken of in 2 Kings and Jeremiah. The covering of his face either refers to his shame or to him wearing a disguise.
2 His capture
13 I will spread my net for him, and he will be caught in my snare; I will bring him to Babylonia, the land of the Chaldeans. This refers, of course to the way he was captured and chained and taken to Babylon.
3 His blindness
But he will not see it. In Jeremiah 52:11 we read Then he put out Zedekiah’s eyes, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon.
4 His death
and there he will die which matches the end of Jeremiah 52:11 where he put him in prison till the day of his death.
It was a pretty clear prophecy then and it was fulfilled. Now in the same way God will deal with all who rebel against him. Various attempts at escape will be made. People try and find help in their wealth or in possessions. Some look to religion. But there can be no escape that way. Such people will be captured. They refused to see in life and they will not see in death. Hell is their lot. They will never see the Promised Land.
4. What happened to the people predicted here as a warning
In a similar way Ezekiel’s actions also spoke of what would happen to the people. We can use three headings.
1 Their capture
11 Say to them, I am a sign to you. As I have done, so it will be done to them. They will go into exile as captives. Just as Ezekiel and the other with him had been sent into exile so those in Jerusalem would soon follow.
2 Their pursuit
14 I will scatter to the winds all those around him - his staff and all his troops – and I will pursue them with drawn sword. This refers particularly to the army. Some fled to Egypt and no doubt some to other lands. They were pursued and scattered.
3 Their dispersal
15 They will know that I am the LORD, when I disperse them among the nations and scatter them through the countries. From this point on the Jews were spread across many nations. It was an act of judgement from God.
Again it points to the final judgement. Sinners will be captive to God. I will pursue them with drawn sword he says. They will be scattered. What a dreadful fate. Turn from sin and escape.
2. God’s judgement – a word of comfort about a remnant that survives
Now let’s focus on this word of comfort in verse 16 for a moment. We need it. It is like seeing a jewel in a bran tub, an oasis in a desert. Three things to note:
1. The character of the promise made
But I will spare. Not all will be captured. Not all will suffer. Some will escape. Some will be brought out of danger and kept. Some will be safe. There is salvation. ‘Ah’ you say ‘that’s more like it’. We love to speak of salvation but we need to speak about judgement first. When do you go to the doctor? When you’re ill! When you feel all is well you don’t think of troubling him. But you know that it is possible to feel perfectly well and for there still to be something wrong – cancer, a tumour, something like that. Now by nature people don’t think they need saving. It’s not there aren’t signs of it. These people, remember, have eyes and ears – but they refuse to look or hear. When we preach judgement then we are seeking to wake them up – as Ezekiel was doing in his day. We are trying to alert them to the situation. It’s like someone headed for a cliff edge. I am here waving my arms trying to warn you. Stop! Danger! And the great comfort is that some do stop. Some are saved. Some are spared just as God spared Noah and his family from the flood and Lot and his daughters from Sodom and as they were when God judged his people so long ago. Be encouraged then. Some are spared.
2. The number of those addressed
A few of them. It is a relatively small number that will be saved. As Jesus says (Mt 7:13,14) Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. I know it will be a vast multitude in the end but in any given situation it tends to be the few rather than the many who God calls to himself. We must accept that is how it will usually be.
3. The purpose of their escape
God spares them from the sword, famine and plague why? So that in the nations where they go they may acknowledge all their detestable practices. There will be repentance. These are not innocent people but people who repent. Then and here’s that familiar phrase again they will know that I am the LORD. We will all one day know that he is the LORD but the sooner we know it and acknowledge it the better.
3. God’s judgement – its severity, cause and purpose
After that shaft of sunshine in the sky, the dark clouds come over again. We need to get this idea of judgement clear in our minds. It’s like the dark cloth that best sets off the beautiful jewellery.
1. Consider how severe God’s judgements are
God’s Word comes to Ezekiel again (18) Son of man, tremble as you eat your food, and shudder in fear as you drink your water. Say to the people of the land: This is what the Sovereign LORD says about those living in Jerusalem and in the land of Israel: They will eat their food in anxiety and drink their water in despair, for their land will be stripped of everything in it. What a frightening thing God’s judgement is! It is no light thing. When we are really frightened we do shake. The thought of judgement should make us tremble.
2. Consider why God’s judgements come
Notice that because of the violence of all who live there. The people of Jerusalem were given over to violence and abuse – violent actions and words and thoughts. We know that we live in a violent society. There is much cruelty and aggression. If we fall into such sins and sins like them and do not repent then we will be judged.
3. Consider what God’s judgements bring about
20 The inhabited towns will be laid waste and the land will be desolate. And then again Then you will know that I am the LORD. Hell is a place of desolation and despair, a place of infinite misery. Who would want to be there for a moment? It does not have to be. God has a faithful remnant, a faithful few. Are you among them?
4. God’s judgement - how false proverbs and visions will cease and all delays end
There is one more episode at the end of this chapter, which I think we can deal with briefly now. It really deals with how we respond to a message like this. Three things
1. Consider this typical false verb and beware of such falsehood
This time God says to Ezekiel (22) Son of man, what is this proverb you have in the land of Israel: The days go by and every vision comes to nothing? ‘Ah’ said the people ‘We see what you are saying but lots of people have their visions these days and they never come to anything’. It’s like the people Peter speaks of (2 Peter 3:3,4) In the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, Where is this coming he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation. Some people can be very sceptical. Others are a little more restrained but they still don’t believe what is said. People in Ezekiel’s day saw what he did and understood the explanation but they didn’t believe him. Nevertheless, judgement did come exactly as Ezekiel predicted. What about you? Do you believe in judgement and hell? Or do you think it’s just talk. You’d better believe it. It’s true.
2. Consider this promise of an end to false proverbs and visions
23 Say to them, This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am going to put an end to this proverb, and they will no longer quote it in Israel. Well, how was that going to happen? Say to them, The days are near when every vision will be fulfilled. For there will be no more false visions or flattering divinations among the people of Israel. The vision would shortly be fulfilled and (at least for a time) it brought false visions and flattering divinations to an end. God does that from time to time. There was a false vision in the western world at the beginning of the 20th Century that it would be a new era of peace. Then came two world wars. Or think of the Communist vision now in tatters. Meanwhile every vision and prophecy in Scripture either has been fulfilled or will be. And one day all false proverbs and visions will be exposed and the truth will be acknowledged by all. Long for that day.
3. Consider this warning that all delays to God’s judgement will end
25-28 But I the LORD will speak what I will, and it shall be fulfilled without delay. For in your days, you rebellious house, I will fulfil whatever I say, declares the Sovereign LORD. The word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, the house of Israel is saying, The vision he sees is for many years from now, and he prophesies about the distant future. Therefore say to them, This is what the Sovereign LORD says: None of my words will be delayed any longer; whatever I say will be fulfilled, declares the Sovereign LORD. Jesus Christ is coming again. The fulfilment of that promise may be delayed a little while longer. I don’t know. However, a day is coming when there will be no more delay. The trumpet will sound and he will come. It’s like death. We all know we will die but we don’t know when. It’s difficult to be ready. The only answer is always to be ready. Are you ready today?

A new spirit, a heart of flesh

Text Ezekiel 10, 11 Time 04 06 06 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We’ve looked at Ezekiel 1-9 and you will have noticed, if you’ve been here, that Ezekiel has a lot to say about judgement. His messages are full of doom and gloom. We saw it in the first cycle of visions, Chapters 1-7, with its dire warnings of judgement and its message of disaster and the end. We’ve also seen it as we’ve started to consider the first vision in the next cycle, which is found in Chapters 8-11. We looked at Chapters 8 and 9 last week and we saw there firstly the sort of evil that can exist even in the most unlikely places and that such idolatry and sin must expect God’s stern judgement - there will be anger not mercy. Judgement begins with those who profess to serve God but comes eventually to all. Nothing can stop God’s wrath.
However, just as in the first cycle there were words of hope so last week we also saw how in the vision of judgement from the six warriors there is also a seventh man, dressed in linen and equipped with a writing kit, a man who points us to the Lord Jesus Christ who was to come. We said then that God will show mercy through his Son to all who repent. He sends his Son ahead of his wrath and he marks out all who repent. The Son does all God’s holy will.
Now as we come to Chapters 10 and 11 we say the same sort of thing. Yes, there is more about judgement in Chapter 10 and the first part of Chapter 11 but there are also wonderful words of comfort in 11:14-20. These words about the New Covenant come up again later and are rightly famous (11:19, 20) I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.
Now I want to stress that these words are here because we’re not going to speak about them until the end. Don’t forget that is where we’re heading. We need first, however, to hear the words of judgement here.
1. A further warning of judgement – God’s glory departing
We look first at Chapter 10. There are really two things to see.
1. The one who marked the people out to be spared will also bring judgement
At the beginning of this vision (8:4) Ezekiel says And there before me was the glory of the God of Israel, as in the vision I had seen in the plain (see Chapter 1). We can’t go over the details again now but you remember that there were cherubim or heavenly creatures and a great heavenly chariot of God. Here in Chapter 10 our attention is drawn back to this and Ezekiel tells us that as he looked he saw (1) the likeness of a throne of sapphire above the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim. On the throne, of course, is the LORD. Ezekiel says (2) The LORD said to the man clothed in linen, Go in among the wheels beneath the cherubim. Fill your hands with burning coals from among the cherubim and scatter them over the city. And as I watched, he went in. In 6, 7 we read that When the LORD commanded the man in linen, Take fire from among the wheels, from among the cherubim, the man went in and stood beside a wheel. Then one of the cherubim reached out his hand to the fire that was among them. He took up some of it and put it into the hands of the man in linen, who took it and went out. In other words, the very one who marks out the repentant in the city is the same one who will bring judgement on it.
Now this is consistent with what we’ve already suggested in connecting the man in linen with the Lord Jesus. It is important that we get this. We’re familiar with the fact that the same sun that melts wax also hardens clay. So the same Lord Jesus who saves sinners by setting them apart to God is the one who will one day come to judge this world with fire. Today Jesus comes to you as that mild-mannered clerk, a pen pushing man who forces himself on no-one but one day he will come in power and might as your judge. Are you ready? Jesus spoke of how When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory and of how the Father judges no-one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son (Matthew 25:31; John 5:22). Look at Revelation 14:14-16 I looked, and there before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man with a crown of gold on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Then another angel came out of the temple and called in a loud voice to him who was sitting on the cloud, Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe. So he who was seated on the cloud swung his sickle over the earth, and the earth was harvested.
On that day people will call to the mountains and the rocks, Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! (Revelation 6:16).
2. God’s glory will one day depart from those who do not repent
We also read (4, 5) that the cherubim were standing on the south side of the temple when the man went in, and a cloud filled the inner court. Then the glory of the LORD rose from above the cherubim and moved to the threshold of the temple. The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the LORD. The sound of the wings of the cherubim could be heard as far away as the outer court, like the voice of God Almighty when he speaks. In 6-17 we have another description of God’s chariot as described in Chapter 1 only now the creatures are explicitly referred to as cherubim (20 These were the living creatures I had seen beneath the God of Israel by the Kebar River, and I realised that they were cherubim) and we note the reference in 13 I heard the wheels being called ‘the whirling wheels’. It’s there to remind us of the things we’ve spoken of before – that God is glorious and great; majestic and magnificent; omnipresent and omniscient; omnipotent and gracious; worthy of all worship. Remember how great God is and what it is to know his presence.
The important thing here is that the wheels that assured Ezekiel previously that God would meet with him in Babylon, far from the Temple as he was in Babylon, now point to the great judgement to come on the Temple – the departure of the glory of the LORD. God can come to us. He can also leave us. he has that power. 18, 19 Then the glory of the LORD departed from over the threshold of the temple and stopped above the cherubim. While I watched, the cherubim spread their wings and rose from the ground, and as they went, the wheels went with them. They stopped at the entrance to the east gate of the LORD’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them. This was Ichabod for the Jews – the glory has departed. God was abandoning them, forsaking them. This, as Ezekiel said before, was the end, a disaster. When a marriage is breaking down, it may be very difficult all the way up to the end. Hard things are said. Things may be thrown. But the hardest part is when it is all over, ended, when a partner goes. He leaves for good. So here there is more than wrath and the end of mercy. God actually leaves. He departs. The glory is gone. This is how it will be when the final Day of Judgement comes. All the glory will be gone for those who don’t trust in Christ. It is a terrible thing to fall into God’s hands. Yet even worse is to be abandoned by him. Think of Christ suffering wrath on the cross. That is what it will be like for all who refuse to repent.
2. A further warning again - Do not presume on the presence of God
As we come into Chapter 11 we have a further series of warnings.
1. Be warned of exile and punishment for the proud
Ezekiel tells us that next the Spirit carried him to the gate of the house of the LORD that faces east. There at the entrance to the gate were 25 men, he says, including Jaazaniah son of Azzur who he has mentioned before and Pelatiah son of Benaiah, leaders of the people. The LORD tells him that these are the men who are plotting evil and giving wicked advice in this city. They say, Will it not soon be time to build houses? This city is a cooking pot, and we are the meat. Therefore prophesy against them; prophesy, son of man. The phrase This city is a cooking pot, and we are the meat is cryptic but probably means ‘Just as meat belongs in a pot so we belong in Jerusalem’. It is an arrogant statement. It shows great pride. Are you proud? Then take care.
So in response Ezekiel, in the Spirit, says, in the LORD’s name, (6-11) That is what you are saying, O house of Israel, but I know what is going through your mind. You have killed many people in this city and filled its streets with the dead. Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: The bodies you have thrown there are the meat and this city is the pot, but I will drive you out of it. You fear the sword, and the sword is what I will bring against you, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will drive you out of the city and hand you over to foreigners and inflict punishment on you. You will fall by the sword, and I will execute judgment on you at the borders of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD. This city will not be a pot for you, nor will you be the meat in it; I will execute judgment on you at the borders of Israel.
God knows about their sin and he is about to judge them for it. Soon Jerusalem would fall to the Babylonians and the Temple would be destroyed. Exile would follow. That judgement points forward to the final judgement at the end of time. It will come on all those who do evil.
2. Understand the reason for God’s judgements
12 And you will know that I am the LORD, for you have not followed my decrees or kept my laws but have conformed to the standards of the nations around you. God is not harsh in his judgement. The Jews knew better than to live as the nations around them yet they have not only been as bad as the nations around them but they have often been worse. What a scandal they had been – and so God judges them. What about us? We ought to be better than those around us who do not profess to know the Lord. Are we?
3. Realise that judgement may come sooner than you think
13 Now as I was prophesying, Pelatiah son of Benaiah died. Then I fell face down and cried out in a loud voice, Ah, Sovereign LORD! Will you completely destroy the remnant of Israel? These men had just been warned about a coming judgement but even before it can come one of them is judged right there then. I am speaking to you about the day of judgement but before then there is death and who knows how soon that may come? Do not presume on another day of life. It may come. It may not.
3. A word of comfort for the people of God
Let’s come finally to this wonderful section 10:14f.
1. A word of comfort for the people then that applies today
God’s word comes to Ezekiel again. The LORD remarks on how people in Jerusalem think of Ezekiel and others who are already in exile in Babylon as far away from the LORD whereas they are sitting pretty in the Promised Land. But God says (16) Therefore say: This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Although I sent them far away among the nations and scattered them among the countries, yet for a little while I have been a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone. Oh no, says God, they are not at a disadvantage because I am with them. Indeed no matter what a true believer may suffer in this life while he knows the presence of God then all is well. He is safe. God’s presence is not a matter of being in a certain place – Jerusalem, Mecca or somewhere. It is a matter of God coming to you and being your sanctuary. Do you know this?
2. A word of comfort for the future, which is now here in part
The LORD goes on to give Ezekiel some four promises about the future. These promises have reference both to the near and the more distant future. It reminds us of what Jeremiah had to say about the New Covenant in his prophecy.
1 Gathering and Restoration
17 I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again. Some 70 years after the exile God did indeed restore the people to the Promised Land and the Temple was rebuilt in Jerusalem. More than that, God is one day going to gather all his people together in heaven. Meanwhile even here on earth there is a sense of unity among God’s true people that speaks of their oneness in Christ. We should be thankful for every sign of it. God is gathering people to himself – first by conversion, then by death. Be thankful it is so. Are you among the number?
2 The end of idolatry
18 They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. It is true that after the return from the exile things were never the same again. After years and years of falling back into idolatry again and again once they came back to the Promised Land the people were determined never to fall into idolatry again. Of course, the coming of the gospel has been the thing that more than anything else has sounded the death knell of idolatry as such. Some of you know that only three or four generations back idolatry was still a going concern in your families. For some of us it is many generations since idolatry of the more obvious sort was seen in our families. There’s always the danger of its return in more subtle forms. We need to take care. But idolatry itself is vanquished in Christ. Give thanks it is so.
3 An undivided heart of flesh and a new spirit
19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Now this applies in general to the restored people after the exile but it pictures what, under the New Covenant, God does for each individual. He removes the hard heart of stone that we all possess by nature and gives us a softened heart of flesh, an undivided heart, one devoted to him. He sends the Holy Spirit to renew a person so that person is born again and can live to the glory of God. Do you know what I am talking about? Has it happened to you? If not, ask God to take away your heart of stone and to give you that fleshy heart which he alone can give. Ask him to send his Spirit to renew your soul.
4 Covenant obedience
It is that change of heart that must come first. Once it comes Then (20) they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God. It is when our hearts have been changed that we begin to obey. If you asked a mother to stab her baby she could not do it. It is against her nature. So when we are called to obey God we cannot do it. It is against our nature. It is only when God changes our hearts that we begin to live as we ought. Has God changed you? Then you can obey him. Do so. Be careful to keep his laws. The last phrase (They will be my people, and I will be their God) sums up what the covenant is all about. Are you in a covenant relationship with God? Seek it.
Lastly, note the final warning in 21 But as for those whose hearts are devoted to their vile images and detestable idols, I will bring down on their own heads what they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD. Be warned. No-one will escape God's judgement.
22-25 Then the cherubim, with the wheels beside them, spread their wings, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them. The glory of the LORD went up from within the city and stopped above the mountain east of it. Then Ezekiel was taken back to Babylon where he told the exiles everything the LORD had shown him.