The Watchman of Israel
March 11, 2007
Ezekiel 33:7-20 7 "So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8 If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 9 But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul. 10 "And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: 'Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?' 11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? 12 "And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. 13 Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. 14 Again, though I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, 15 if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 16 None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live. 17 "Yet your people say, 'The way of the Lord is not just,' when it is their own way that is not just. 18 When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it. 19 And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by them. 20 Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways."
During the season of Lent we are focusing on Jesus as He goes to the cross to suffer the judgment that we deserve for our sins. Along the way Jesus also warns and encourages everyone to heed God’s warning to turn from sin and to believe His promises of forgiveness and salvation before it is too late.
The May 1984 National Geographic showed through color photos and drawings the swift and terrible destruction that wiped out the Roman Cities of Pompeii and Herculaneum in A.D. 79. The explosion of Mount Vesuvius was so sudden, the residents were killed while in their routine: men and women were at the market, the rich in their luxurious baths, slaves at toil. They died amid volcanic ash and superheated gasses. Even family pets suffered the same quick and final fate. It takes little imagination to picture the panic of that terrible day. The saddest part is that these people did not have to die. Scientists confirm what ancient Roman writers record--weeks of rumblings and shakings preceded the actual explosion. Even an ominous plume of smoke was clearly visible from the mountain days before the eruption. If only they had been able to read and respond to Vesuvius's warning!
God sent His prophets to rumble with the warnings of judgment and to offer the escape of salvation in Christ.
1. Being a Watchman
Ezekiel was taken into captivity by the Babylonians eleven years before the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed. He was called to be the Watchman of Israel – to explain to Israel what was happening and why. The problem was that Israel did not think the captivity was the worst thing in the world. They didn’t connect the advances of their enemies with God judgment upon their sins. They hoped that the whole ordeal would pass without the need to make any changes. Jeremiah, a contemporary of Ezekiel, was trying to do the same thing. Years before, Isaiah had also tried to warn the people of Israel to repent and to look to God for salvation.
People try to deal with their sins in different ways. Some try to ignore them. Others compare themselves with someone else. These always seem to find someone worse than they are to comfort themselves with the idea that "I’m not such a bad person." In Ezekiel’s case the people were keeping track of their good deeds. Their assumption was that if they had enough good deeds, these would surely outweigh the bad things they had done. God renounces this thinking and warns that no matter how many righteous things a person does, if there is a lack of repentance, they will be condemned.
I was struck by the significance of this recently as I watched "The Passion of the Christ" with our Junior Youth recently. This movie portrays the horrible suffering of the crucifixion of Jesus. I reminded the students that sin is a serious thing because – even if I had committed only one sin – Jesus would have had to gone through all that for me. There is no sin for which Jesus did not have to suffer and die. Jesus said in Luke 5.32 "I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance."
God calls us first of all to listen to the watchmen that warn against sin and encourage with the Good News of God’s love in Jesus Christ. He also calls us to be watchmen for others. That’s not an easy job. There can be no half-hearted repentance or half-hearted watchmen!
Just ask young Tilly Smith. When she was ten years old, she was with her family on vacation in Thailand. On the day when the great Tsunami struck, they were enjoying the beach. As the waters began to recede the adults thought it was very curious. But Tilly remembered a geography lessons about such things, and she became alarmed. She told the adults that everyone needed to get away from the beach. Imagine that, a young girl standing firm on something she learned in school even though the adults around her were indifferent. She insisted on getting away from for two reasons. First, she knew the truth and second, she loved the people around her and cared about their safety. They listened to her, and many were saved because of it.
2. The Watchman’s Message
What is the Watchman’s Message? As I already said part of the message is a warning against the problem of unrepented sin – against self-righteousness. But the heart of the Watchman’s message is the truth of salvation. God’s love broke the power of sin. The Bible says, "He who knew no sin became sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Cor 5.11).
Some of Ezekiel’s hearers would turn. We read about this beginning in verse 10: 'Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?' 11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? The main message of the Watchman is the message of God’s forgiveness.
Brent Curtis and John Eldredge wrote a book entitled "The Sacred Romance." In this book they creatively describe God great love for sinners.
Have you ever had to literally turn a lover over to a mortal enemy to allow her to find out for herself what his intentions toward her really were? Have you ever had to lie in bed knowing she was believing his lies and [being intimate] with him every night? Have you ever sat helplessly by in a parking lot, while your enemy and his friends took turns [taking advantage of] your lover even as you sat nearby, unable to win her heart enough so she would trust you to rescue her? Have you ever called this one you had loved for so long … and asked her if she was ready to come back to you, only to have her say her heart was still captured by your enemy? Have you ever watched your lover's beauty slowly diminish and fade in a haze of alcohol, drugs, occult practices, and infant sacrifice until she is no longer recognizable in body or soul? Have you ever loved one so much that you even send your only son to talk with her about your love for her, knowing that she will kill him? All this and more God has endured because of his refusal to stop loving us. (Brent Curtis and John Eldredge, The Sacred Romance (Thomas Nelson, 1997), p. 106)
3. The Results of the Watchman’s Work
What is the result of the Watchman’s work? The result is that some believe though many reject. We see this clearly when Jesus died on the cross. There were many who watched this terrible event. Most of them mocked Jesus including the two thieves that were crucified with Him. Yet one of them repented and believed. This man heard Jesus say, "Today you will be with Me in paradise." The other remained stubborn to the end. He heard only the silence of separation from God that would last forever. J. C. Ryle once said, "One thief on the cross was saved, that none should despair; and only one, that none should presume." (Leadership, Vol. 17, no. 2.)
It is very tempting to soften the message in the hope of more people being saved. The Watchman often suffers criticism and rejection. But Ezekiel stood fast and would not concede. Eventually some of the people of Israel repented of their wickedness, they were allowed to return to Jerusalem. As they went they sang, "Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy" (Psalm 126). The Watchman often experiences the tears of disappointment. But the tears of repentance make it all worthwhile.
There is a story from the middle ages about an angel that was sent to earth to find a gift that God desired the most. This angel found drops of blood from a Christian martyr, coins given by a destitute widow to the poor, a page from the worn out Bible of a great preacher, and dust from the shoes of a missionary who had traveled to the ends of the earth to preach the Gospel. As good as these were, they were not the best gift that God desired.
One day a man rode on a horse to a fountain. He saw a little boy drawing water. It reminded him of his boyhood and especially of his mother’s many watchman warnings against sin and her encouragements to believe in God’s forgiveness. As he saw his hardened reflection in the pool, he was remind wicked past and he broke down with tears of repentance. The angel took one of these tears to heaven – That was the greatest gift that God desired!
I hope that you have heard the watchman’s warnings and encouragement. I hope that God will use you to be a watchman at whatever level He calls you. Amen.
Pastor Michael P. Walther
Third Sunday in Lent, March 11, 2007
Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 1300 Belt Line Road, Collinsville, Illinois, 62234
618-344-3151 / fax 618-344-3378
The Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod
Michael P. Walther, Copyright, 2007
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