Are you a prostitute?

Text Ezekiel 23 Time 06/05/07 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
Prostitution is a rather unsavoury subject. It is incorrectly referred to sometimes as the world's oldest profession. It is not the oldest but it is certainly very ancient and yet still part of life today. In various cities and towns throughout the world it exists in various forms. In this country there are estimated to be some 80,000 prostitutes at work. Most of them are addicted to alcohol or other drugs. Living in London we cannot be completely unaware of it. In some parts you only have to pass a telephone kiosk or open a local paper to be made aware of its existence.
I mention it because in the chapter we are looking at today the subject is raised. Ezekiel uses it as an illustration to confront God's people with their sins and to warn them of coming judgement. You may find some of its language shocking. Certainly the Jews did. I read somewhere that training rabbis only looked at this chapter at the end of their studies. However, it is here in God's Word and is intended to benefit us. It looks at themes already covered, especially back in Chapter 16, but themes we need to come back to.
1. Do you understand the powerful picture of sin used by Ezekiel here?
Let's begin by getting this story clear in our heads. It is the story of two women who get caught up in the world of prostitution. We can consider
1. The Beginnings
Even today most women get involved in prostitution while they are still in their teens. That's what happened to these girls. They were sisters, born to the same woman and it all started while they still very young. It happened in Egypt. Men would pay to fondle their breasts, to caress their bosoms and sleep with them. Men poured out their lust upon them. They used no contraception and so they gave birth to a number of children.
2. The older sister
Both sisters carried on being prostitutes as they grew older. The older one, we are told, particularly liked to sell her favours to soldiers of the then very powerful Assyrian army, especially the governors and commanders, handsome young men, cavalry officers. She became what is known as a courtesan or a high class prostitute, serving the Assyrian elite. How she loved all the pomp and idolatry of that nation. Eventually, however, they turned against her and she suffered greatly at their hands.
3. The younger sister
The younger sister followed the same route and became worse again. She also loved to bed those Assyrian soldiers but she went much further. Someone showed her a picture of some Chaldeans or Babylonians portrayed in red, with belts around their waists and flowing turbans on their heads; all of them looked like Babylonian chariot officers, natives of Chaldea. As soon as she saw this she wanted these men and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. These Babylonians then came to her, to her bed and she engaged in prostitution with them. She soon grew disgusted with them but rather than repenting she became more and more promiscuous as she recalled the days of her youth, when she was a prostitute in Egypt. She dreamed of her younger days when her lovers, it seemed to her had massive genitals ... like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses. We are not country folk and so such language shocks us perhaps but it is the language Ezekiel uses here in order to get his message across.
4. The Meaning
In his story Ezekiel calls the two sisters Oholah, and ... Oholibah. They stand for Samaria and the northern kingdom of Israel and Jerusalem and the southern tribe of Judah. Samaria is said to be the older because it had more tribes and by this stage had already passed out of existence. Oholibah means 'my tent is in her' as Judah had the God-given Tabernacle. Oholah means 'her tent' as Israel had only their own invented forms of worship.
The people of the north had been carried into exile by the Assyrians in 721 BC. What had happened to Samaria should have acted as a warning to Judah. They too would be judged and sent into exile. This is spelled out in 22-34. Instead of remaining loyal to the LORD like a good wife, the people of Judah had prostituted themselves to other gods. Even though the people Ezekiel is speaking to were already in exile and the king back in Judah was under Babylonian power they did not believe that the whole kingdom would fall. Yet we know it did. These verses then should act as a warning to us too.
2. Are you aware of the temptations outlined here?
Now, of course, we live in very different times to those of Ezekiel and these people but the same sorts of temptations are still around. What drew Judah and Samaria into prostitution? Whatever we may make of what happened in Egypt it was certainly the case later that they were driven by a lust for power and for pleasure. She lusted after her lovers, the Assyrians says Ezekiel. He describes the warriors clothed in blue, governors and commanders, all of them handsome young men, and mounted horsemen ... governors and commanders, warriors in full dress, mounted horsemen, all handsome young men to give us an idea of the way she was drawn in.
Isn't that how it is today? The lure of power and pleasure comes to us in different forms but what happens is that we forget the Lord and chase after the things of this world. We are motivated by a desire for fame or fortune or peace.
In verse 14 and the verses that follow he describes how She saw men portrayed on a wall, figures of Chaldeans portrayed in red, with belts around their waists and flowing turbans on their heads; all of them looked like Babylonian chariot officers, natives of Chaldea. As soon as she saw them, she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. She longed for the lewdness of her youth.
Again it is no different today really. We see pictures in magazines or on TV, on a computer screen or in films and we are hooked. We read things in books and newspapers that excite us and we are drawn in. They stir up desires in us for pleasure and for power. How very careful we must be that we do not become prostitutes like Oholah and Oholibah – turning our backs on God and selling ourselves for mere pleasure and power that cannot last, that will eventually be turned against us.
Who would want to be a prostitute? Surely no-one. So what happens? Sometimes, I know, people are forced into prostitution against their will, but what so often happens is that they lust after money or some sort of pleasure and so are drawn in. We have mentioned how often drug addiction drives the people on.
Similarly, who would want to go to hell? No-one. But the lure of sin – the desire for money and things, for pleasure, becomes a sort of addiction driving them on. Beware!
3. Are you guilty of the sorts of sins that God condemns here?
Down in verse 35 we read Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Since you have forgotten me and thrust me behind your back, you must bear the consequences of your lewdness and prostitution. The accusation then is that these people had forgotten God and thrust him behind their back. Are you guilty of such behaviour?
The words (36) Son of man, will you judge Oholah and Oholibah? Then confront them with their detestable practices take us back to Ezekiel 20 and suggests that these verses are really summarising the whole section. Ezekiel is told to confront the people with their detestable practices. We must seek to do something like that this morning. Here he speaks of
1. Their adultery
37 for they have committed adultery ... They committed adultery with their idols.
What about us? Are we being disloyal to the Lord? Are we cherishing idols in our hearts?
2. Their murder
And blood is on their hands ... they even sacrificed their children, whom they bore to me, as food for them.
It may be that someone here has gone so far in their lust for what this world has to offer that they have killed for it. Abortions as we know are common and can be arranged quite quietly. It may be that some woman here has had one or a man here has been involved in arranging one. The temptation to hasten the death of an elderly or seriously ill person can also be driven by the lust for pleasure or power. Sometimes it is more subtle than that but it results in death.
3. Their sacrilege
38, 39 They have also done this to me: At that same time they defiled my sanctuary and desecrated my Sabbaths. On the very day they sacrificed their children to their idols, they entered my sanctuary and desecrated it. That is what they did in my house.
When idolatry is hidden under the cloak of true religion that is sacrilege. It is a sin all of us here are in danger of committing – mere pretence, hypocrisy.
Are we just acting? And what about the Lord's Day? Is it God's day in your house or just a day for pleasure and for sin?
4. Their prostitution
40-42 describes how They even sent messengers for men who came from far away, and when they arrived you bathed yourself for them, painted your eyes and put on your jewellery. You sat on an elegant couch, with a table spread before it on which you had placed the incense and oil that belonged to me. The noise of a carefree crowd was around her; Sabeans were brought from the desert along with men from the rabble, and they put bracelets on the arms of the woman and her sister and beautiful crowns on their heads.
This is the basic charge - that they had used what God gave them to pursue what the world holds dear. And I'm asking, have we done something similar? Are we being prostitutes – using a God given talent or blessing simply to satisfy our lust for power or pleasure? Have we chased after the world? Are we forgetting God, so driven by ambition for what this world offers that we've thrown ourselves into it regardless? What dangers confronts us.
4. Do you understand the sort of punishment awaiting those who sin against God in this way?
Dire warnings of judgement take up much of this chapter. In 22-25a God says to them
I will stir up your lovers against you, those you turned away from in disgust, and I will bring them against you from every side - the Babylonians and all the Chaldeans, the men of Pekod and Shoa and Koa, and all the Assyrians with them, handsome young men, all of them governors and commanders, chariot officers and men of high rank, all mounted on horses. They will come against you with weapons, chariots and wagons and with a throng of people; they will take up positions against you on every side with large and small shields and with helmets. I will turn you over to them for punishment, and they will punish you according to their standards. I will direct my jealous anger against you, and they will deal with you in fury.
It will be a judgement from God but it will be by means of the very people the people of Judah had so assiduously pursued. Do we not see that the very world that we pursue is the same world that hates believers and will destroy them or anyone else if and when they so choose?
Look at the warnings here. Death, mutilation, exile, fire, nakedness, robbery – this is what they will be subject to. They will cut off your noses and your ears, and those of you who are left will fall by the sword. They will take away your sons and daughters, and those of you who are left will be consumed by fire. They will also strip you of your clothes and take your fine jewellery. So I will put a stop to the lewdness and prostitution you began in Egypt. You will not look on these things with longing or remember Egypt any more.
In verse 28 and the verses that follow
the Sovereign LORD says: I am about to hand you over to those you hate, to those you turned away from in disgust. They will deal with you in hatred and take away everything you have worked for. They will leave you naked and bare, and the shame of your prostitution will be exposed. Your lewdness and promiscuity have brought this upon you, because you lusted after the nations and defiled yourself with their idols.
The warning is for us too. If we forsake the Lord and seek the world it will be the world that destroys us.
In verse 31 he says You have gone the way of your sister; so I will put her cup into your hand. In verses 32-34 he takes up this picture of a cup in verse, a cup of ruin and desolation.
You will drink your sister's cup, a cup large and deep; it will bring scorn and derision, for it holds so much. You will be filled with drunkenness and sorrow, the cup of ruin and desolation, the cup of your sister Samaria. You will drink it and drain it dry; you will dash it to pieces and tear your breasts. I have spoken, declares the Sovereign LORD.
The theme of judgement is taken up again towards the end of the chapter.
1. Act as a prostitute and you will be used as a prostitute
Think of what happened to Samaria (9, 10) Therefore I handed her over to her lovers, the Assyrians, for whom she lusted. They stripped her naked, took away her sons and daughters and killed her with the sword. She became a byword among women, and punishment was inflicted on her. 43, 44 Then I said about the one worn out by adultery, Now let them use her as a prostitute, for that is all she is. And they slept with her. As men sleep with a prostitute, so they slept with those lewd women, Oholah and Oholibah. When God punishes often his first move is simply to take the pleasure out of a sin. The adulteress seeks and finds pleasure at first but it doesn't last. So with all our sins.
2. Act as a prostitute and you will suffer the penalty for prostitution
45-49 But righteous men will sentence them to the punishment of women who commit adultery and shed blood, because they are adulterous and blood is on their hands. This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Bring a mob against them and give them over to terror and plunder. The mob will stone them and cut them down with their swords; they will kill their sons and daughters and burn down their houses. So I will put an end to lewdness in the land, that all women may take warning and not imitate you. You will suffer the penalty for your lewdness and bear the consequences of your sins of idolatry. Then you will know that I am the Sovereign LORD. God hates sin and where it appears he will punish it.
5. Flee from such prostitution and find grace in Jesus Christ
This is all very negative I recognise and there is no explicit word of hope but we know from elsewhere in Scripture that there is hope even for those far gone in such sins. The hope is found in Jesus Christ. It is to him you must turn. Don't lust after the sorts of things they did in ancient times, the Assyrians - governors and commanders, warriors in full dress, mounted horsemen, all handsome young men. Rather long for Christ. He comes meekly and lowly, riding on donkey not a horse, wearing Galilean homespun not a Babylonian warrior's full battle dress. He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him but he is the Saviour of the World and if you turn to him all will be well.
The people were entranced by this picture of Babylonians they had seen and we can easily be drawn in a similar worldly way. Rather, we need to get a new vision of Jesus. We need to see him placarded before us in all his grace and glory. As soon as you see him as he is you will want him. You won't turn from him in disgust. And God will never turn away from you either. Look to Christ.

Broken Walls and Gaping Holes

Text Ezekiel 22 Time 26/11/06 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We turn this week to Ezekiel 22 where once again Ezekiel gives (1) The word of the LORD that came to him. You will not be surprised to hear either that it is again about sin and judgement. 2, 3a Son of man, will you judge her? Will you judge this city of bloodshed? Then confront her with all her detestable practices and say: This is what the Sovereign LORD says.But once again, as before, if you look hard enough there is some encouragement here. It is only a hint, I admit, but if you know the New Testament and you have this hint, it will be enough to point you to Jesus Christ, which, after all, is the point of the whole Bible. If you are a mature person and you are visiting someone one night and at a certain point they start looking at their watches or yawning you will know how to take a hint – it's time to go! In a similar way a mature Christian will read a chapter like this and when he comes to verse 30 and he reads God's words I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none he will immediately start thinking of Jesus Christ, who is, if you like, the man that God had been looking for.
I want to say four things to you this morning. The first three we can say are about the broken walls and gaping holes that exist in people's lives. When my father was a young man he worked in the building trade. I remember him telling me that after a wall had been built an inspector would come around and kick the wall. If it fell down (as it sometimes did) it was clearly not fit for purpose and the bricklayer had to start again. Think of a broken down wall then - that is how we are by nature as far as doing good is concerned. Or think of a hedge with many gaps in it, gaping great holes where sheep and cattle can easily get out. Again it pictures how we are in as far as our sins are concerned. So let's begin.
1. Consider your sin, your guilt and the judgement it deserves
1. Consider sin summarised
Ezekiel begins by addressing the people (3b) O city that brings on herself doom by shedding blood in her midst and defiles herself by making idols. Here are the chief sins of Israel then – violence and idolatry. These are not the only sins for sure but they are obvious ones. When you're talking to someone about what's wrong with them you start with what is wrong in general before getting down to specifics.
Violence is against the second table of the law and especially the eighth commandment – You shall not murder. Idolatry is against the first table of the law, especially the opening laws that say You shall have no other gods before me and You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.Well, what about us? Are we guilty of sinning against God? Are we guilty of sinning against each other? We may not be classic idol worshippers or murderers but if there is idolatry or violence in our hearts then we've sinned and we ought to recognise it is so.
2. Recognise the guilt these sins incur
4 you have become guilty because of the blood you have shed and have become defiled by the idols you have made. Whenever we break the commandments we become guilty. We may feel guilty, we may not but whenever we sin we incur guilt. Like a stain – sin leaves its mark. Like tide mark on bath. Ever been in a place where people are smoking – the smell remains. So sin clings to us in the form of guilt.
3. Understand the punishment these sins deserve
Ezekiel goes on, You have brought your days to a close, and the end of your years has come. Therefore I will make you an object of scorn to the nations and a laughingstock to all the countries. Those who are near and those who are far away will mock you, O infamous city, full of turmoil. There is trouble ahead. God is finished with his people and they will become the laughing stock of their neighbours and everyone else. What turmoil is about to come on them. Again we must see that we cannot sin and hope to escape the consequences. It may seem that we can sometimes but in the end it catches up with you. God punishes sinners. It is a fact, one we need to face up to.
2. Consider your sins in detail1. The sorts of sins God opposes – are you guilty?
6 See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. The leaders are sinners but sin has penetrated into every part of society. Here some nine sorts of sins are mentioned. It is good for us to use it to examine ourselves. Are we guilty of such sins?
1 Contempt
7a In you they have treated father and mother with contempt. Here we are thinking of the fifth command – to obey and honour your parents, which means anyone in authority. Are you showing the respect you ought to to those in authority? To fail to do so is sin.
2 Oppression
7b in you they have oppressed the alien and mistreated the fatherless and the widow. Here is the opposite sin – oppression. Aliens or strangers, orphans and widows are often mentioned in Scripture as the most vulnerable in society. To fail to care for them is a great sin. Again, are you guilty of oppression, of taking advantage of the needy?
3 Unholiness
8 You have despised my holy things and desecrated my Sabbaths. Now we go back to the first table of the law. Do you think 'Oh no, church again'? Do you take the Bible for granted? Are you endeavouring to keep one day in seven special to the Lord?
4 Violence
9a In you are slanderous men bent on shedding blood. Violence often starts with a violent tongue - a slandering or gossiping tongue. Are you given to violent speech or violent behaviour? God hates such sins.
5 Idolatry
9b in you are those who eat at the mountain shrines and commit lewd acts. Idolatry was rife in Israel at this time. It often involved all sorts of lewd acts, such as adultery with shrine prostitutes. Although formal idolatry is rarer we are surrounded by idolatry of a more modern sort and the temptation to indulge can be strong. Are you living for today, living for the moment? Are you putting creation before the Creator?
6 Lust
10 In you are those who dishonour their fathers' bed; in you are those who violate women during their period, when they are ceremonially unclean. These people were so full of lust that they would jump into bed with anyone at any time regardless of respect or ceremonial law. Again we see it today. Are you driven at times by pure lust?
7. Immorality
There is yet more to say on this. 11 In you one man commits a detestable offence with his neighbour's wife, another shamefully defiles his daughter-in-law, and another violates his sister, his own father's daughter. The family unit was breaking down as in our own society. Are we guilty of such sins or are we drawn to such sins? Repent!
8 Greed
12ab In you men accept bribes to shed blood; you take usury and excessive interest and make unjust gain from your neighbours by extortion. These were people who lived for money. Again, it is difficult not to see parallels with our own society. We know that the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Flee from it.
9. Unbelief
12c And you have forgotten me, declares the Sovereign LORD. Finally, the most damning sin of all. These people were living as practical atheists. Are you? It is the root sin.
2. The sorts of sinners God opposes - are you guilty?
If we drop down to 25-29 we see that there Ezekiel confronts the various members of society. We can divide them into three sorts.
1 Civil leaders
He speaks to the princes, members of the Royal Family. 25 There is a conspiracy of her princes within her like a roaring lion tearing its prey; they devour people, take treasures and precious things and make many widows within her. Similarly there were other officials doing the same thing. 27 Her officials within her are like wolves tearing their prey; they shed blood and kill people to make unjust gain. Now whenever we see that in our government and in our royal family or in those in power in other nations then it is most displeasing to God. God will judge such evil people. If you have any power at all in the community, make sure you use it wisely and faithfully. Pray for those in power.
2 Religious leaders
There was also sin among the religious leaders. First, those who were priests (as Ezekiel would have been). God says (26) Her priests do violence to my law and profane my holy things; they do not distinguish between the holy and the common; they teach that there is no difference between the unclean and the clean; and they shut their eyes to the keeping of my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. Then Ezekiel's fellow prophets (or false prophets we would have to say). 28 Her prophets whitewash these deeds for them by false visions and lying divinations. They say, This is what the Sovereign LORD says - when the LORD has not spoken.We don't have prophets and priests now as then. Under the new covenant all believers are priests and prophets. We do have religious leaders, however, and whenever they fail to preach holiness or mislead people with false visions then they sin grievously against God and against his people. There are men today who are unwilling to say clearly that the Lord's Day, today, is special and must be kept holy. Many fail to preach against worldliness and its insidious power to strangle the life out of people. It is easy to criticise the no drinking, no smoking, no cinema generation but we must still preach the importance of holiness, of living in a different way to the world. Similarly, rather than these false visions – "revival is here, God is doing a new thing, hundreds are being healed" – let's be honest and confess what a low ebb religion has come to in this land and let's begin to pray for a change. Pray for me and other preachers not to pussyfoot on holiness nor to bring false visions but true.
3 The people
Finally, 29 The people of the land practice extortion and commit robbery; they oppress the poor and needy and mistreat the alien, denying them justice. It was a nation of fraudsters and thieves where the needy were oppressed and taken advantage of. Again in a land where the prisons are full to overflowing and where many injustices still remain we must see parallels. You will find that even the nicest people you could meet are often not averse to some sort of fiddle or fraud. Unborn babies lack the protection of law and periodically efforts are made to make things the same for newly born babies and the elderly. Others in society who are vulnerable are often neglected and taken advantage of in various ways. What about us? Are we guilty?
3. Consider the sort of punishments God gives
As we have said the chapter is about sin and about judgement. When there is sin then judgement follows – often in this life but especially in the world to come. It is spelled out for us in 13-24 speaking plainly and using using vivid pictures.
1. The reality
God says (13-16) God says he will surely strike his hands together at all this sin. He asks Will your courage endure or your hands be strong in the day I deal with you? He goes on I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it. I will disperse you among the nations and scatter you through the countries; and I will put an end to your uncleanness. When you have been defiled in the eyes of the nations, you will know that I am the LORD. This refers again to the way the people were going to be exiled from their own land. In a similar way a day is coming when God will expel all the wicked from the earth. You feel confident now may be but will your courage endure or your hands be strong in the day God deals with you?
2. A Silver furnace
In 17-22 Ezekiel uses an illustration. It is of a furnace used for refining silver. It's a favourite picture in Scripture. In the silver refining process the ore is heated to a very high degree until all the dross is burnt up and only the silver remains. So God is going to turn the heat up for Jerusalem with a siege and so destroy the evil (the dross) and refine the good (the silver). This is why God says the house of Israel has become dross to me; all of them are the copper, tin, iron and lead left inside a furnace. They are but the dross of silver. So he is going to gather them in Jerusalem. He goes on (20ff) As men gather silver, copper, iron, lead and tin into a furnace to melt it with a fiery blast, so will I gather you in my anger and my wrath and put you inside the city and melt you. I will gather you and I will blow on you with my fiery wrath, and you will be melted inside her. As silver is melted in a furnace, so you will be melted inside her, and you will know that I the LORD have poured out my wrath upon you. This is referring specifically to Nebuchadnezzar's siege of Jerusalem but it has a wider application. We are all going to have to go into the furnace as it were. Paul speaks of everyone's work being tested by fire at the judgement. All the wood and stubble will be burned up, only the gold and silver of truly good deeds in Christ will remain.
3. A Drought
23, 24 Again the word of the LORD came to me: Son of man, say to the land, You are a land that has had no rain or showers in the day of wrath. Here is a simpler picture. It is wet today but we know what trouble a drought can bring. God's people at this time were in a drought – no refreshing rain was falling from heaven. It is the same here. Where are the showers of blessing? What a judgement when God withdraws his blessing. It is a picture of hell – a place where rain never falls and peoples' throats are dry – desperate for water.
4. Listen to God as he looks for a man to build the wall and stand in the gap
So what hope is there? The princes have failed and the officials, the priests and the prophets, the people too. The walls are down, gaps are everywhere. God says (30) I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. At that time there was none and so God says (31) So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD. And so it was. The people were driven out and for 70 years they were in exile. But then God brought them back under Ezra and Nehemiah. The walls were rebuilt and the gaps filled in and they were re-established. Then some 400 years further on Messiah was born in the land. Here was a man who said he would build his church and the gates of hell would not stand against it. Here was a man who stood in the gap and took the penalty for sin so that there might be forgiveness for all who trust in him. He is the perfect Prophet, Priest and King. He is the one who can build us up so that we can stand, who can provide us with all that we need to come to God. Look to him.

The Sword of the Lord

Text Ezekiel 21 Time 19/11/06 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
As we continue to look at his book, I hope that one of the things you're able to do is to sympathise with Ezekiel.
1. He is a man in exile from his home country. Some of you perhaps can understand.
2. Of course, he is not exiled simply from all the familiar scenes that he grew up with but exiled from the Promised Land itself, the land given to the people by God himself, the land where the Temple was, where Messiah himself, the Saviour of the World, would be born.
3. Worse again, as a descendant of Levi he would have served as a priest had he been back in Israel but that was not possible in Babylon.
Yet, there was the comfort of having been called by God to be a prophet. What glorious visions Ezekiel was blessed with, what amazing visions of the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD. Yet, to be a prophet in such times! The people were very rebellious, given over to idolatry and sin. By this stage God's words to Ezekiel are making a lot of sense. You remember how he said in Chapter 2:3ff 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? Ezekiel is told not to be afraid of them or their words even 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.
He is told You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. And that is what Ezekiel did. We've seen him trying all sorts of different ways to get over to them the simple fact that they must repent or face judgement. They did not realise that things were going to get worse - the exile was going to continue and extend, there would be no more kings in Israel and the Temple worship was going to be halted for the next 70 years.
It is a little bit like Noah preaching to people before the flood. Day after day he would preach and warn the people of the terrible flood that was going to come. But, apart from members of his own immediate family, nobody listened. Nobody cared. It is suggested (rightly I'm sure) that the people laughed at Noah. You can imagine it – 'Oh it's nutty Noah again telling us about this great flood that's going to come. Have you seen that boat-thing he's building?'
1. Realise that we are not just telling stories this morning
Now it was like that for Ezekiel too. We have none of Noah's sermons so we don't know what ways he tried to get the message over but we do have records of Ezekiel's messages and his attempts to get the message across. One is struck by the sheer inventiveness of the man, under God, as he tried different methods and used different pictures. At the end of Chapter 20 he uses the picture of a forest-fire. It's also called wildfire or brush fire. Now, like me, you've probably never seen one close up but you've read about them and seen footage on film. Sometimes they make the news here but not often. An old man in China, in Guangdong, recently confessed to causing a wildfire there. There was a forest fire in Central Texas last week that thankfully was contained without loss of life or limb. There was a smaller one in Los Angeles County and then yesterday 70 acres went up nearby in San Gabriel Canyon.
They can be caused by human beings – deliberately or accidentally - but they can also start spontaneously, say if lightning hits. They are very hard even for modern fire fighters to control. There is not only crawling fire in the undergrowth and crown fire in the tree tops but also spotting or jumping fire where burning branches or leaves are carried by the wind and start other fires.
Now in the southern part of Judah there were forests in Ezekiel's day and no doubt there were forest fires from time to time and so that image is taken up. Ezekiel is told to set his face toward the south and preach against it, especially against the forest of the southland. In God's name he is to say I am about to set fire to you, and it will consume all your trees, both green and dry. The blazing flame will not be quenched, and every face from south to north will be scorched by it. Everyone will see that I the LORD have kindled it; it will not be quenched. Now, of course, Ezekiel is not speaking literally. He is describing the terrible troubles that were about to come upon Judah. It's put in picture form to drive the message home to these rebellious people. But what is the reaction? Ezekiel tells us (49) Then I said, Ah, Sovereign LORD! They are saying of me, Isn't he just telling parables? 'Oh eccentric old Ezekiel is telling us one of his funny stories again. Yes, very nice. He's quite a story teller isn't he?' It's the same reaction that continues to this day. I remember as a student taking people along to hear different preachers and often there was that sort of reaction. 'Yes, very good. He can tell a good story can't he?' And so the message was shut out.
Is that how people listen to you? You try different ways of speaking to them but they seem just to smile and it never gets home to them. Is that how you listen to me? Do you say 'Well he was good this morning (or bad)' all on the basis of the form of the message, without letting the reality get into your heart. I heard a preacher saying recently that he preaches somewhere and the older ladies there say to him 'You always give us something to think about' which he took as a compliment but was less happy the more he thought about it. When Peter preached on the Day of Pentecost and 3,000 were converted they didn't say 'Well, that's something to think about' or 'He's a good story teller this Peter'. No, they were cut to the heart and desperately asked Peter what to do. That is the reaction preachers seek. When I talk to you about a fire from God that's coming, that's going to lick up every wicked person, every man woman and child who's not trusted in Jesus Christ as their Saviour – I'm not telling you a story! I'm not trying to entertain you, to pass the hour. I'm in earnest. Some years ago there was a great pile up on one of the motorways in terrible fog. People were ploughing into the cars in front despite other people making desperate efforts to alert them to what was ahead. Imagine waving frantically and being ignored. That's how it was for Noah and Ezekiel and so often for us today.
So what do we do? Did Ezekiel give up preaching? No, he simply tried again. And that is what we must do too.
2. Understand the main image used in this chapter
Now you'll notice that in Chapter 21 there is no real mention of forest fires – very little reference to fire at all. But there is one word that occurs some 19 times in just 32 verses. It is, of course, the word sword. The sword has existed down the centuries in various forms and has all sorts of traditions and mythology connected with it. There are great long swords, broad swords and Claymores. Or think of a rapier, a scimitar, a sabre or a short sword. There are any number of different types. Some swords (like Excalibur or Caladbolg) have even had their own names. Young boys especially love sword-fencing scenes in films and computer games and some people fence for sport but swords are really for killing people. So, if a sword is going to be effective it needs to be well-made (forged), kept and polished (a special process that keeps rust away and makes the sword most effective) and sharp. The art of sword-smithing is a whole world in itself.
In the end the thing we need to have in mind is a weapon for killing people. And so here it signifies war and death and judgement. Using poetry and prose, Ezekiel endeavours, with this sword imagery, to impress upon the people the fact of the coming judgement and what I want to do is to draw on his words and do the same thing – thinking not now of the temporal judgement of exile at the hands of the Babylonians but chiefly of the Final Judgement itself.
3. Consider the agony of the coming judgement
So The word of the LORD comes to Ezekiel again Son of man, set your face against Jerusalem and preach against the sanctuary. He is to prophesy and say in God's name I am against you. I will draw my sword from its scabbard and cut off from you both the righteous and the wicked. Because I am going to cut off the righteous and the wicked, my sword will be unsheathed against everyone from south to north. Then all people will know that I the LORD have drawn my sword from its scabbard; it will not return again. What a fearful judgement was about to come, and as is so often the case, it was going to affect not just the wicked but the righteous too.
Now first of all, Ezekiel is to get over to the people the agony of this coming judgement. What anguish, what misery lay ahead, what trouble and wretchedness. How was that to be got across to the people? Ezekiel is told to groan before the people. 6 Groan before them with broken heart and bitter grief. And when they ask you, Why are you groaning? you shall say, Because of the news that is coming. Every heart will melt and every hand go limp; every spirit will become faint and every knee become as weak as water. It is coming! It will surely take place, declares the Sovereign LORD. Imagine seeing and hearing Ezekiel groaning and moaning, crying out in bitter grief. Your curiosity would be aroused. Why is he doing this? Now it is extremely rare for me to weep when preaching. It is a fault perhaps. It is said that whenever the great George Whitefield preached, he wept. Would weeping serve to get over to you the seriousness of judgement and hell? Perhaps I should weep. What agony is going to come on this world. Believe it.
4. Consider the thoroughness of the coming judgement
Next (8-17) we have poetry. Ezekiel is to say A sword, a sword, sharpened and polished - sharpened for the slaughter, polished to flash like lightning! Then he asks the question Shall we rejoice in the sceptre of my son Judah ? Many were supposing that King Zedekiah could save the situation but no - The sword despises every such stick. 11 The sword is appointed to be polished, to be grasped with the hand; it is sharpened and polished, made ready for the hand of the slayer. God was going to take Babylon and use it like a man wielding a sword.
So Ezekiel is told again (12, 13) to Cry out and wail ... for says God it is against my people; it is against all the princes of Israel. They are thrown to the sword along with my people. Therefore beat your breast. Testing will surely come. And what if the sceptre of Judah , which the sword despises, does not continue? Reckon with the possibility. When famines, etc, come, often the rich are not affected like the poor. This judgement would not be like that – nor will the one to come.
Verses 14-17 are similar. Ezekiel is to clap his hands and prophesy Let the sword strike twice, even three times. It is a sword for slaughter - a sword for great slaughter, closing in on them from every side. Hearts will melt, many will fall. There is no escape – God has stationed the sword for slaughter at all their gates. Oh! It is made to flash like lightning, it is grasped for slaughter. It will slash left and right, wherever it is turned. Then God also will clap (17) and his wrath will subside. It is comprehensive, complete. There can be no escape from this devastating judgement.
Now, as we've said before what is being said here about falling to Babylon is true also of the final judgement. As then, it will affect rich and poor, high and low, alike. Judgement closes in from every side. It is at every gate.
5. Realise that Judgement is coming first for God's professed people Christ is their only hope
Having spoken and groaned, next Ezekiel is to do some drawing or modelling. He is told to sketch or model a map with two roads for the sword of the king of Babylon to take, both starting from the same country. Make a signpost where the road branches off to the city. He is then to mark off one road heading for Rabbah of the Ammonites and another towards Judah and fortified Jerusalem. This is because Nebuchadnezzar was going to halt where the road from Babylon forked, at the junction of the two roads, to seek an omen. We are told he will cast lots with arrows, he will consult his idols, he will examine the liver. Belomancy involves labelling arrows then either choosing them from the quiver or shooting them to see which goes furthest. Extispicy involves opening an animal up and examining its innards. We know that God controls even the casting of the lot, how the dice falls, etc, and so here he works it that Nebuchadnezzar should choose Jerusalem, where he would set battering rams against the gates, to build a ramp and to erect siege works. Verse 23 means that the Babylonian party in Jerusalem will be taken by surprise. They will not escape.
24 Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because you people have brought to mind your guilt by your open rebellion, revealing your sins in all that you do - because you have done this, you will be taken captive.
Wicked king Zedekiah is especially denounced. 25-27 O profane and wicked prince of Israel, whose day has come, whose time of punishment has reached its climax, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Take off the turban, remove the crown. It will not be as it was: The lowly will be exalted and the exalted will be brought low. A ruin! A ruin! I will make it a ruin! It will not be restored until he comes to whom it rightfully belongs; to him I will give it. Now we could have a whole sermon just on verse 27. It is alluding, as before in this chapter, to Jacob's prophecy in Genesis 49:10 The sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his. This points forward to Christ's own coming.
Taking this as a patten then we can say as Peter does (1 Peter 4:17) that judgement begins with the family of God. When I speak of the judgement I am speaking firstly of the judgement that is coming to those who profess to be the people of God. Our sins are many and there has to be judgement – now temporally but, in the world to come, at the final judgement. Our only hope at that time is to look to the one to whom the sceptre rightly belongs – Jesus Christ. Look to him now, believer. Look nowhere else – not to your good deeds or anything like that, only to him. The sword despises every stick but that one!
6. Realise that judgement is also coming for those who are not God's people
1 Peter 4:17 actually says For it is time for judgement to begin with the family of God; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? When the prophets preached they preached mainly to Israel but they always have something to say to the nations around them too. And so here the Ammonites are not forgotten. 28 This is what the Sovereign LORD says about the Ammonites and their insults: and again it is A sword, a sword, drawn for the slaughter, polished to consume and to flash like lightning! Oh yes there may be false visions and lying divinations but the sword will be laid on the necks of the wicked who are to be slain, whose day has come, whose time of punishment has reached its climax. People fondly imagine there is no hell for unbelievers. "Imagine there's no heaven/It's easy if you try/No hell below us/Above us only sky/Imagine all the people/Living for today ..." Oh what a day of judgement is coming for this world!
In verse 30 it says Return the sword to its scabbard. This either refers to when the work is done or perhaps means that the greater judgement of fire is going to come instead. Certainly these wicked people are told In the place where you were created, in the land of your ancestry, I will judge you. God says I will pour out my wrath upon you and breathe out my fiery anger against you; I will hand you over to brutal men, men skilled in destruction. You will be fuel for the fire, your blood will be shed in your land, you will be remembered no more; for I the LORD have spoken. And so it was that Ammon was not only defeated but it was overthrown to be remembered no more.
It is a vivid reminder of how all God's enemies will be overthrown. If you are a believer, rejoice that every enemy will be judged. If not, see your danger now and flee to Christ. He alone can save you and will if you turn to him. I urge you to it.

Warnings against rebellion and disobedience

Text Ezekiel 20 Time 12/11/06 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church
We begin to day on a new series of visions from Ezekiel, a third series. We have looked at the first set of visions in Chapters 1-7. These began in the fourth month on the fifth day of Ezekiel's thirtieth year and the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin. The second set began just over a year later In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day and are in Chapters 8-19.
The third set (Chapters 20-24) begins another year on (verse 1) In the seventh year, in the fifth month on the tenth day. What happened, Ezekiel tells us, is that some of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD, and they sat down in front of him. The word of the LORD comes to him and says Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel. He is to speak in God's name and ask Have you come to inquire of me? As surely as I live, I will not let you inquire of me. They have no right to enquire of God. Their hearts are not right. They need to see this. It's something we all have to learn. By nature we assume that we have a right to enquire of God, to pray to him - but in fact we don't. If he refuses to let us enquire of him that is it. It's his decision. You may have things you want to say to the Prime Minister or the Queen but you can't just bowl up and force your opinions on them. Certainly you can't with God. It's up to him whether he will allow an enquiry or not. So here is a lesson for us. Do not think you have an automatic right to pray or to come to God. He decides. Humble yourself therefore.
So the Lord continues by asking Ezekiel (4, 5) Will you judge them? Will you judge them, son of man? Then confront them with the detestable practices of their fathers and say to them: This is what the Sovereign LORD says. So a history lesson first. God wants the people to consider their past. He takes them back to Egypt and the desert. He wants them to see the pattern of rebellion that has existed from the beginning. I want us to see it too and see the need to break the cycle of sin.
1. Consider how God's people rebelled in Egypt and avoid doing the same
1. Consider God's goodness and his call to obedience
So they are taken back to the time when they were slaves down in Egypt so long before. Ezekiel wants them to think of
1 God's goodness to them
They knew - the privilege of revelation. (5) On the day I chose Israel, I swore with uplifted hand to the descendants of the house of Jacob and revealed myself to them in Egypt. With uplifted hand I said to them, I am the LORD your God. Simply to know there is a God and to have him speak to you is a privilege. Imagine a line of soldiers being inspected by the Queen or someone. Now if she should stop and speak personally to one and address him by name – what an honour. The Jews were singled out. It's their great honour. Whenever God has dealings with a person it's a great honour. To read the Bible is a privilege. To come to learn anything about the Lord is a great blessing. Don't forget that.
They knew - the promise of redemption. Of course, there was more. 6 On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of Egypt into a land I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most beautiful of all lands. What a wonderful promise they were given. God was going to redeem them from a life of slavery and bring them to a land of milk and honey. Follow that illustration of the Queen stopping to address the soldier by name. She now says she has something very special lined up for him, something quite different to the regular drudge of soldiering! When we read the Bible we see it is full of wonderful promises. What good things are here. Believe them. Make them yours.
2. The call to obedience
God also said (7) Each of you, get rid of the vile images you have set your eyes on, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt. I am the LORD your God. With privilege comes responsibility. In Egypt they were worshipping idols. These idols must go. They must worship God alone. To be singled out by the Queen, as in our example, is a privilege but it brings responsibility too. The new situation means new duties, more responsibility. With the promises in Scripture are demands on us that we must fulfil. Christ will save us if we trust in him but we must live to please him.
2. Consider the people's rebellion and disobedience
Then in verse 8 we get words that follow a pattern partly repeated again elsewhere in the chapter – see verses 13 and 20. Here it is But they rebelled against me and would not listen to me; they did not get rid of the vile images they had set their eyes on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. Although they were told very clearly to do so, they did not get rid of their idols. They refused to listen. Yes, token efforts were made but underlying the time in Egypt as in the desert was a commitment to idols. What about us? Is the spirit of rebellion against God alive in us this morning? Are we disobeying him despite our privileges? It ought not to be. Can you imagine the soldier saying to the Queen 'No, I can't do as you say I love my vices too much – drinking and smoking wit the other squaddies, etc'? How foolish!
3. Consider God's judgement on them and his mercy
Then we have another pattern that is repeated later. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and spend my anger against them in Egypt. But for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations they lived among and in whose sight I had revealed myself to the Israelites by bringing them out of Egypt. Therefore I led them out of Egypt and brought them into the desert. What sufferings they knew in Egypt. They were slaves as we know and when God began to work things got worse before they got better. What terrible times they knew. It was part of God's judgement on them for their rebellious ways. Yet shining through it all is his mercy. I led them out of Egypt he says. He delivered them from bondage – and with what power. How gracious he is! And haven't we known many great mercies from God despite our rebellion against him?
So there's the pattern – God is good to his people but they rebel and disobey so incurring his judgement. Yet in the midst of judgement he remembers mercy. We see it again in what follows.
2. Consider how God's people rebelled in the desert and avoid doing the same
1. Consider God's goodness and his call to obedience
We've spoken of the powerful deliverance from Egypt in 10 I led them out of Egypt and brought them into the desert. Verses 11/12 go on to speak of their distinctive privileges - I gave them my decrees and made known to them my laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the LORD made them holy. In the desert, at Sinai the 10 Commandments and other laws were given to the people through Moses. God singles out how his Sabbaths (weekly and other Sabbaths) acted as a sign to show how distinctively they were set apart to God. Of course, all these laws imply not only privilege but a need for obedience too. Once again then we say be thankful for your privileges – the Word, Jesus Christ and all he has done, whatever understanding you have of this, the Holy Spirit, the Lord's Day, etc. But recognise the responsibility this brings. We must live up to the light we have received.
2. Consider the people's rebellion and disobedience
But once again we get that note sounded (13) Yet the people of Israel rebelled against me in the desert. They did not follow my decrees but rejected my laws - although the man who obeys them will live by them - and they utterly desecrated my Sabbaths. As you know, that is exactly what happened in the desert. It's not enough to know the law, we must do what it says. It's not enough to read the instruction manual for something if you don't do what it says in the book. Again the question is whether we are taking our responsibilities seriously and seeking to live as God calls us to. We must not rebel.
3. Consider God's judgement on them and his mercy
Then again So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and destroy them in the desert. There's the note of judgement again. All who rebel and who are disobedient will be judged. On the day of judgement many will be consigned to hell for this very reason – they are rebels against God and have refused to obey. Others, despite rebellion and disobedience will find mercy. God says (14) But for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out. In the desert, of course, despite his judgements, he also acted to save. It is in 15-17 God swore to them there that he would not bring them into the land of milk and honey because they rejected my laws and did not follow my decrees and desecrated my Sabbaths. For their hearts were devoted to their idols. Yet (17) I looked on them with pity and did not destroy them or put an end to them in the desert. Always have before you God's severity and mercy. It is the key. We deserve hell but there is mercy for all who repent and turn to him.
3. Consider how God's people rebelled also in the next generation and avoid doing the same
So though Moses and his generation all died in the desert he spared the next generation and brought them to Canaan. So again
1. Consider God's goodness and his call to obedience
We've already read (17) of his pity so that he did not destroy them or put an end to them in the desert. As ever with that privilege there is responsibility. 18-20 I said to their children in the desert, Do not follow the statutes of your fathers or keep their laws or defile yourselves with their idols. I am the LORD your God; follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Keep my Sabbaths holy, that they may be a sign between us. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God. The basics don't change. The privilege of being spared brings the responsibility of obedience. Never forget the connection.
2. Consider the people's rebellion and disobedience
21 But the children rebelled against me: They did not follow my decrees, they were not careful to keep my laws - although the man who obeys them will live by them - and they desecrated my Sabbaths. The succeeding generation was no better. How sad it is. The next group to arise is no better. Don't we see the pattern in our own lives too?
3. Consider God's judgement on them and his mercy
22 So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and spend my anger against them in the desert. There's the note of judgement yet again. And the voice of mercy. But I withheld my hand, and for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out.
And so it went on even in the land so that (23, 24) the Lord swore that he would disperse them among the nations and scatter them through the countries, because they had not obeyed his laws but had rejected his decrees and desecrated his Sabbaths, and ... lusted after their fathers' idols. As time went on he (25, 26) gave them over to statutes that were not good and laws they could not live by; I let them become defiled through their gifts he says - the sacrifice of every firstborn - that I might fill them with horror so they would know that I am the LORD. Even in this there was a measure of mercy then. We ought to look at our own lives and try to see where he has judged and where he has been merciful. The two are mingled. It should lead us to repentance.
4. Consider how God's people rebelled too in Ezekiel's day and avoid doing the same
In the closing part of the chapter Ezekiel deals not with history but with the present situation and the future. The pattern is made less obvious but you can still see it there.
1. Consider God's goodness and his call to obedience
Once again in Ezekiel's day the Sovereign Lord speaks to his people. He reminds them how down to that time the people had blasphemed God by forsaking him. Even in the Promised Land (28, 29) if they saw any high hill or any leafy tree, there they offered their sacrifices, made offerings that provoked me to anger, presented their fragrant incense and poured out their drink offerings. Then I said to them: What is this high place you go to? (It is called Bamah to this day.)
And so the Lord asks (30, 31) Will you defile yourselves the way your fathers did and lust after their vile images? When you offer your gifts - the sacrifice of your sons in the fire-you continue to defile yourselves with all your idols to this day. And so the question is Am I to let you inquire of me, O house of Israel? And the answer is clear, As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I will not let you inquire of me. You see the logic? Why should God allow these people to enquire of him when they are bent on rebellion? They've thrown away all their rights and privileges.
Is that true of you this morning? Have you so rebelled that you would have to be honest and say you don't even have the right to be here? Well, what is the root of this problem? Isn't it our rebellion? Our refusal to submit to him?
2. Consider the people's rebellion and disobedience
32 You say, We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone. Isn't that the fundamental problem? Wanting to be just like everyone else. The people of the world seem happy enough most of the time. Why can't we just be like them? To think in such a way is to rebel against God. Do you see that?
3. Consider God's judgement on them and his mercy
And here we get a little insight into what was going to happen after Ezekiel's time. But what you have in mind will never happen. As surely as I live, says God, I will rule over you with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath. I will bring you from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered - with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm and with outpoured wrath. I will bring you into the desert of the nations (Babylon) and there, face to face, I will execute judgement upon you. As I judged your fathers in the desert of the land of Egypt, so I will judge you. The judgement of the exile to Babylon had only begun. There was worse to come.
The exile seemed like unmitigated bad news but see what God says in 37, 38 I will take note of you as you pass under my rod, like a shepherd counting his sheep and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant. I will purge you of those who revolt and rebel against me. Although I will bring them out of the land where they are living, yet they will not enter the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the LORD. Some good is going to come out of this. The time in Babylon was a time of purifying. And isn't this how it is when we fall under God's wrath and things go wrong in our lives? Doesn't it serve to purify us? We learn to turn from sin.
In conclusion God says then (39) As for you, O house of Israel, this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Go and serve your idols, every one of you! If you are bent on rebellion then go on with it. But afterward you will surely listen to me and no longer profane my holy name with your gifts and idols. For on my holy mountain, the high mountain of Israel, declares the Sovereign LORD, there in the land the entire house of Israel will serve me, and there I will accept them. There's going to be a return from exile. There I will require your offerings and your choice gifts, along with all your holy sacrifices. Temple worship will be restored. I will accept you as fragrant incense when I bring you out from the nations and gather you from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will show myself holy among you in the sight of the nations. This is surely pointing us to the coming of Messiah. Then you will know that I am the LORD, when I bring you into the land of Israel, the land I had sworn with uplifted hand to give to your fathers.
And this is exactly what happened, of course. After 70 years they returned from exile and then some hundreds of years later Messiah was born there in the promised Land. 43, 44 There says God you will remember your conduct and all the actions by which you have defiled yourselves, and you will loathe yourselves for all the evil you have done. You will know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for my name's sake and not according to your evil ways and your corrupt practices, O house of Israel, declares the Sovereign LORD. There is hope then despite Israel's many sins and the judgements that follow them.
And so it can be for us too. If we come to the point of repentance, the point of return, by God's grace, we can come to loathe our sins and begin to serve him again through Christ. Pray for that. God calls us to serve him – do it. If you have rebelled or been disobedient repent. There is judgement but also in God there is mercy. That is the message of the cross.