Posted by: Johnold Strey | July 16, 2012

Sermon on Ezekiel 2:1-5

EZEKIEL’S TOUGH ASSIGNMENT

  1. Preach to a tough audience
  2. Preach a tough message

Text: Ezekiel 2:1-5

Introduction

My dad was a bricklayer for 40 years.  That was very, very tough work.  Even if you have never worked a day of your life in the construction business, you can probably guess that four decades of working with heavy cement blocks takes its toll on a man.  When my parents were married over 50 years ago, they were basically the same height.  Today, my dad is about four inches shorter than my mom.  He was forced into retirement after a construction accident in which he fell off six-foot-high scaffolding and suffered broken ribs—not a good thing for a man who was about 60 years old at the time.  With that background in mind, it will come as no surprise when I tell you my father’s advice to me when I was a teenager about my future career.  More than once he said, “I don’t care what you become, just don’t become a bricklayer.”

In the First Lesson for today’s service, the prophet Ezekiel is about to start off on a brand new career.  He wasn’t working in construction.  The First Lesson records God’s divine call to Ezekiel to serve as his prophet.  But this was no cushy assignment.  Maybe he wasn’t involved in heavy physical labor, but his assignment was very, very tough.  God called him to proclaim a tough message of repentance to a touch audience that wasn’t all that interested in his message.  But Ezekiel’s tough assignment from God was a very important one that deserves our attention, and so today we will take a closer look at his call in chapter two of his Old Testament book.

I.

The First Lesson for this service took place at a very dark time in the history of ancient Israel.  The once great, unified nation had been split in two for quite some time now.  The northern segment had been destroyed and deported by an enemy nation well over 100 years earlier.  And now, the tiny southern portion that remained had also been attacked by the nation of Babylon, which deported a good number of the people.  Ezekiel was among the exiles who had been deported to Babylon, some 1,000 miles away from his homeland.

In this bleak political setting, Ezekiel receives a divine vision and call from God to serve as God’s messenger to his exiled people.  God said to Ezekiel at the start of the First Lesson, “‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.’ As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.”  Just before our reading begins, Ezekiel had dropped to the ground when God first appeared to him in blazing glory.  Now God’s Spirit raises Ezekiel to his feet and gives him his assignment directly. 

Here’s the assignment.  “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day.  The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn.”  “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”  “A chip off the old block.”  “Like father, like son.”  All of those sayings describe the tough audience that Ezekiel was now to address.  Our translation calls them the “Israelites,” but the Hebrew text calls them the “sons of Israel,” which sets up the idea that these “sons” are just like “their fathers [who] have been revolt against me to this very day.”  For centuries, God’s people wandered away from him.  Sometimes they came back, often due to the influence of a godly king.  But more often than not they wandered from the Lord, and now the Lord finally had enough.  God even used a word in Hebrew (“a rebellious nation”) that was normally used to refer to the heathen nations around them to describe the Israelites.  It’s not a compliment when you call someone who says they are a believer a “heathen,” but that’s essentially what God calls his own chosen people in this reading.  That was Ezekiel’s tough audience, and that tough audience is what made his assignment so tough.

A man went to the doctor for a routine check-up.  At the end of the visit, he said to his doctor, “Personally, I feel fine, but I’m concerned about my wife.  I think she’s losing her hearing.”  So the doctor suggested that the man try a little test.  “When you walk in the front door tonight, ask her, ‘What’s for supper?’  If she doesn’t respond, walk halfway towards her and ask again.  If she still doesn’t respond, then walk right behind her and ask again.  Then you’ll know if she has a hearing problem or not.”  So the man drives home.  He walks in the front door and sees his wife across the house.  “Honey, what’s for supper?”  Nothing.  He walks half the distance to her.  “Honey, what’s for supper?”  Again, nothing.  He walks right up to her.  “Honey, what’s for supper?”  “For the third time, chicken!”  (Illustration HT: LCMS Pres. Matthew Harrison)

Sometimes we think the other person is the problem.  We fight with our spouse and think they are the problem.  There’s tension at work and we assume it’s the other guy’s fault.  A Christian friend corrects us and we think that they’re just overly sensitive.  The pastor points out sin from the pulpit and his words hit a little too close to home, and so we create a mental footnote in the Bible that explains why God’s Word and the pastor’s statement somehow doesn’t apply to me.

Could it be, brothers and sisters, that the “other guy” isn’t the problem?  Could it be that the reason for the family fights and the tension at work has more to do with me than the other person?  Could it be that the problem is not our overly sensitive Christian friend but our overly desensitized conscience?  Could it be that the sins we have excused and explained away in our own minds are still serious problems—problems that God would have every right to solve by deporting us not to a foreign country but straight to hell?  When all the excuses are stripped away, isn’t the real problem that we are a tough audience, an audience that really doesn’t want to hear God’s standards, an audience that is sadly just a chip off the old sinful block of our first parents?

II.

Ezekiel’s tough assignment was to preach to a tough audience.  But what made his assignment even more challenging was the fact that he had an equally tough message to proclaim.  We’re focusing on the first five verses of Ezekiel 2; there’s not much there that explicitly describes that message, although we can certainly infer plenty about the message from God’s message to Ezekiel.  Later in this chapter, we get more of a hint at the content of Ezekiel’s message: “lament and mourning and woe.”  Given God’s own description of the Israelite audience, we know Ezekiel’s message was going to be a steady and stern call to repentance for the sins that put them in exile in the first place.  Many of the Israelites had false hopes that God was going to allow them to return home soon and that Jerusalem would not be destroyed by their captors.  Ezekiel’s message would be tough for them to hear, because it would dash all those empty hopes for a quick solution and a short exile.

Not much is said directly about Ezekiel’s message at this point, and not much is said directly about the response to his message, either.  God said to Ezekiel, “Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’  And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them.”  As Ezekiel preached a tough message of repentance, God reminded him of the distinct possibility that his words might fall on deaf ears and hardened hearts.  But that wasn’t to be Ezekiel’s concern.  All he needed to know what this: “They will know that a prophet has been among them.”  Many a person with a stubborn heart still knows deep down inside that one confronting them is right, and many of the exiles knew deep down inside that Ezekiel was right—and that buried knowledge would finally lead some of them to repentance years and decades later.

Sometimes a doctor has to tell a patient bad news.  “We ran the tests and they came out positive.  You have [blank].”  I can’t imagine that that is a comfortable thing to have to tell someone.  But you cannot deal with the disease until you are real with the diagnosis.

God’s diagnosis is that we are cut from the same cloth as our first parents.  God’s diagnosis is that we are infected with the same sinful stubbornness that infected ancient Israel and countless cultures and generations since then.  That’s a hard message to hear.  That’s a message that will drive you to your knees in despair.  But it is a message that we must come to grips with if we are going to have hope for a solution.

Ezekiel’s tough message was proclaimed so that he could eventually present Israel with the solution.  And God calls his ministers today to preach a tough message so that he can present us with the solution—God’s solution.

God’s solution for our sinful stubbornness was not to blame our sin on someone else, but to put the punishment for our sin on someone else—his sinless Son, Jesus Christ, who entered into this world 2,000 years ago as our perfect Savior and Substitute under God’s law.  God’s solution for our sinful rebellion was not to explain our actions away, but to take the consequences for those actions away.  When Jesus suffered and died on the cross 2,000 years ago, he was not some unfortunate martyr, but our unselfish Savior, who suffered hell on your behalf, freeing you from the very hell that you would have otherwise been exiled to.  God’s solution for our sinful words and actions was not to ignore them, but to deal with them head-on, sending his Son to pay for our sin by his death and to free us from death’s exile by his resurrection.

This good news would be meaningless if we didn’t deal honestly with God’s tough message.  If the Word of God and the messengers of God did not point out sin so strongly, the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection wouldn’t make sense.  But an honest look at sin helps us to see the honest and generous and unconditional love of God the Father and his Son Jesus Christ.  For God does not want anyone to perish; he wants everyone to repent and receive his forgiveness and live forever!  And that “everyone” includes you!  For you he defeated every temptation he faced.  For you he died on the cross.  For you he rose again in victory.  For you he did all of these things, and to you he now says, “Believe in me, that you may be forgiven and saved.”

Conclusion

I used to follow the news more than I do now.  Sometimes the “doom and gloom” of the national or local news bothered me enough that I no longer wanted to follow it to the degree that I once did.  And most of the time, my life really hasn’t been affected by not tracking the news.

But there are some news stories we can’t ignore.  The tough assignment Ezekiel had never made the evening news, but the tough message Ezekiel preached is a story we dare not ignore.  Confrontation and a call to repent are not always met with open arms.  But taking Ezekiel’s tough law-message seriously helps us to see the greater news—the greatest news!—we could hear and that God wants us to hear.  Guilt erased!  Freedom from sin!  Victory over death!  Eternal life!  This is the good news God proclaims to you in his Word!  And that’s why taking Ezekiel’s tough assignment seriously and taking his tough message to heart is worth the trouble!  Amen.

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