Well central New England received its first snowfall of the season — with more predicted for the weekend. Some of us are delighted, others of us are groaning at the anticipated work of snow removal; but it’s all a part of the cycle of seasons that should stand as a continual reminder of the constancy of change.
I’ll not spend too much time here, because I’ve spoken about this earlier in Ezek. 3; but we really do need to take this parable of the watchman more seriously in our lives. Yes, I understand that the parable was primarily to Ezekiel to motivate him to be fearless and bold in his proclamations of God’s word, but the principle still applies to us who know God’s will, who are daily surrounded by so many people who are ignoring God’s warnings, God’s way of salvation, God’s morality, God’s proper pattern of worship, and other teachings. Like Ezekiel we are tempted to be timid, tempted to not “rock the boat”, and tempted to add our agreement to the common notion that obedience to God doesn’t matter. But not sounding the warning merely lets the sleeping get slaughtered in their sleep on the last day — and we won’t be held guiltless.
There is hope
I was a fairly young preacher, when I went to visit Frank. He was a pretty recent convert though he was in his 60’s. We talked about a few of things before he got to what was really bothering him, “I’m just really not sure that I can go to Heaven. All the things that I’ve done, all the things that I’ve said. I just don’t think God could forgive me of all those things.” So, we had a long talk about the grace of God, about the apostle Paul, and other things that could help him to understand that forgiveness was available even for him. I wish I had remembered about Ezekiel 33:12-16, because it offers wonderful hope, real hope, for anyone. It is the prose version of “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now I’m found; was blind, but now I see.”
Jesus told a story (Luke 15:11-32) about a wayward boy who squandered his family’s money in wild living, and who — after coming to himself — didn’t think that he had a chance of being accepted again, either. His words were, “…Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son…” Luke 15:18,19, NIV. But when he does try to come home, the scene becomes one of the most memorable in the Bible:
“…his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” Luke 15:20-24, NIV.
And that is what awaits you, if you’ll turn around and come back to God. You haven’t become too bad to become a Christian. God will forget about the past, if you’ll make Him your future.
Beware of false hope
The folks in Israel, who had just experienced the final destruction of Jerusalem were looking for any sort of hope. They found it in how God had given the land to Abraham, when he was only one; now (to paraphrase) because we are many, we certainly still possess the land. “No,” God says (paraphrased), “you can’t possess the land and live disobediently to Me.” What the disobedient remnant of Israel failed to understand was that it was not the connection to God that mattered, it was their conduct! People still miss this point today. Just because you sit in the church building on occasion, just because you wear the label Christian, just because your parents or grandparents or wife or children are Christians doesn’t mean that you’re saved and on your way to Heaven. Heaven isn’t about blood-relations or labels; it’s about our connection to Jesus Christ, and that connection is made through faith, repentance, confession, baptism, discipleship — faithful hearts and faithful conduct. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not about earning your way to Heaven anymore than Israel had earned the land of Canaan — it was all a gift. But neither they nor we can claim salvation on the basis of irrelevant connections. The only connection that makes any difference is our relationship with Jesus — we must be “in Him” (Ephesians 1:3 and Galatians 3:26,27).
A contrast in shepherds
The rulers of Israel had been all about themselves — as many rulers are still today. This section condemns their self-centeredness, their neglect of the flock (God’s people), their failure to provide any help or healing to those needing it. They would be properly judged for their neglect (the rich man of “Lazarus and the rich man” parable comes to mind). But God had in mind a great Shepherd, His servant David who would feed His flock (the church) himself.
Leaders need to take this teaching and give thought to it. Jesus stressed the difference between the usual leadership of the world and leadership of His kingdom. Instead of self-centeredness and jockeying for position, there would service and humility. Leaders of His people were to be like Him — a towel in their hands, a spirit of sacrifice in their hearts, and God’s business in their minds.
Where envy leads
Lastly, Edom finds itself condemned again in Ezekiel’s prophecy, because of their anger, envy, and hatred. The root of it all seems to go back to the rivalry between Jacob and Esau. Look at where envy leads — even centuries later — if it is not stopped.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.