************ Sermon on Ezekiel 33:7 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on June 7, 2009
"Watchman for the House of Israel"
Installation of Elders & Deacons 2009
I The Watchman's Duty
A Let me start with a news story someone sent me a couple of years ago.
In 1969, in Pass Christian, Mississippi, a group of people was preparing to have a "hurricane party" in the face of a storm named Camille. Were they ignorant of the dangers? Could they have been overconfident? Did they let their egos and pride influence their decision? We will never know.Now a disclaimer – when I looked up this news story on the Urban Legends website, I discovered most of it is not real. However, the point of the story is valid for this installation Sunday – tragedy is the result if you do not listen to warnings.
What we do know is that the wind was howling outside the posh Richelieu Apartments when Police Chief Jerry Peralta pulled up sometime after dark. Facing the Beach less than 250 feet from the surf, the apartments were directly in the line of danger. A man with a drink in his hand came out to the second-floor balcony and waved. Peralta yelled up, "You all need to clear out of here as quickly as you can. The storm is getting worse." But as others joined the man on the balcony, they just laughed at Peralta's order to leave. "This is my land," one of them yelled back. "If you want me off, you'll have to arrest me."
Peralta didn't arrest anyone, but he wasn't able to persuade them to leave either. He wrote down the names of the next of kin of the twenty or so people who gathered there to party through the storm. They laughed as he took their names. They had been warned, but they had no intention of leaving.
It was 10:15 p.m. when the front wall of the storm came ashore. Scientists clocked Camille's wind speed at more than 205 miles-per-hour, the strongest on record. Raindrops hit with the force of bullets, and waves off the Gulf Coast crested between twenty-two and twenty-eight feet high.
News reports later stated that twenty people were killed at a hurricane party in the Richelieu Apartments. Nothing was left of that three-story structure but the foundation; the only survivor was a five-year-old boy found clinging to a mattress the following day.
B In verses 1-6, Ezekiel opens with something similar – the parable of the watchman. Ezekiel sets two possibilities before his audience.
The first possibility: news is received of an enemy invasion, a man is appointed as watchman to look out for the enemy, the enemy is sighted, the citizens are alerted by the sound of the watchman's horn, the people ignore the warning, the people are slain, and the people are held accountable for their own deaths. The last part of verse 5 offers an alternative ending: the people pay attention to the warning, they flee or fight for their lives, and they are delivered.
The second possibility: news is received of an enemy invasion, a man is appointed as watchman to look out for the enemy, the enemy is sighted, the watchman fails to sound the alarm, the people are captured and/or slain, and the watchman is held responsible for their deaths.
C Both scenes would have been familiar to most of Ezekiel's audience. The means by which the watchman was selected is not indicated, but the Hebrew word suggests that he is appointed to do the task. Nor does the passage describe the qualifications for sentry duty, but most of this goes without saying: he would naturally be selected from among the people themselves, he would have keen eyesight and good hearing, he would know how to blow the trumpet, and he would have a reputation for integrity and reliability. The selected person would then be stationed at the highest lookout point in the city: a tower, the city gate, a tree, or whatever.
A responsible watchman would blow the trumpet at the first sign of the enemy. The men would take up defensive positions at strategic points on the walls, while the women and children retreated to places of safety.
II Ezekiel's Duty
A Why would Ezekiel say this parable? Isn't this a little bit like shutting the gate after all the cows have escaped? I say this because Ezekiel was a prophet to the exiles in Babylon. The enemy has already come and gone, the people are in captivity, Jerusalem lies in ruins – so what is your point, Ezekiel? Aren't you saying too little too late? And, why does Ezekiel say in verse 6, "that man will be taken away because of his sin"? What sin? What guilt? Is Ezekiel raising the possibility that the citizens of Judah are themselves responsible for what happened? It all seems so veiled: Ezekiel mentions no names, he uses the third person rather than the first or second person, and he focuses on the watchman rather than on the residents of the city. So what is his point?
B Ezekiel explains everything in our text: "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel" (Ezek 33:7). Who appoints or commissions the watchman? God does. God violates custom and habit – it is He, rather than the people, Who appoints the watchman.
Whom does God appoint? God appoints Ezekiel. Not someone known for great eyesight or a keen sense of hearing. Not someone known for his skill in blowing the trumpet. Not even someone known for integrity and reliability. Ezekiel had a reputation all right, but it was a reputation for being a strange old duck, a bird of a different feather. For instance, he remained silent when his wife died and showed no public signs of grief; he spent long periods of time lying on his side; he had prolonged periods of silence. Modern psychology has termed Ezekiel a cataleptic, a neurotic, a victim of hysteria, a psychopath, and even a paranoid schizophrenic – all mixed in with powers of clairvoyance and levitation. This is the sort of person God appointed as watchman – hardly the sort of person one would expect for this most important of positions during a time of crisis.
Who is the enemy he is watching for? What enemy does he give warning about? God makes it clear in verse 8 and following. Who is the enemy? It is sin, and Satan, and the powers of darkness.
Who is the nation in danger of being attacked? It is the "house of Israel" (Ezek 33:7,10).
What is the warning sign? Is it the blowing of a trumpet? Is it the ringing of a bell? Does Ezekiel dash about the countryside like Paul Revere and yell, "The enemy is coming. The enemy is coming." None of this. Rather, Ezekiel is expected to preach God's Word. Ezekiel is expected to call people to repentance. Ezekiel is expected to give people an opportunity to be saved.
(Ezek 33:11) Say to them, 'As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?'We can sum up Ezekiel's warning in three words: "Turn or Burn." "God loves you. So turn or burn."
Ezekiel is a watchman. Ezekiel is a watchman over souls. Ezekiel is a watchman for sin and Satan and the powers of darkness.
C Did you notice what Ezekiel says about God in verse 11 of our Bible reading?
(Ezek 33:11) As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?Did you catch that? God wants no one to perish in their sins. He wants all to repent and be saved.
Let's say Ezekiel is a sensitive soul. Let's say he is scared of offending people. Or, let's say he is shy and retiring. So, he states only the first part of God's message: "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked." Or, as some people say it today, "God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life." But he never says, "Turn! Turn! Turn from you evil ways!" He tells people how wonderful God is but he never tells them about the enemy. He does not sound the alarm. Do you hear what God says? "Son of man ... I will hold you accountable" (Ezek 33:8). Silence is not an option. Shyness is not an excuse. Political correctness holds no water with God. The watchman has only one duty – to warn when the enemy approaches. There is no excuse for not carrying out this great responsibility. And, if Ezekiel were to keep quiet, he would be held responsible for all the souls that died without repenting.
III Watchman Today
A God is the same today as He was in the days of Ezekiel. He still gets no enjoyment from destroying sinners. So He still calls sinners to repent and believe.
Ezekiel's kind of warning is not politically correct. It is not popular. But all sinners need to hear that God loves them and wants them to "Turn! Turn! Turn from your evil ways."
Do you hear what I am actually talking about? It is the call of the Gospel. That call is so simple. It offers life to all those who turn from their sin and commit themselves to the Lord Jesus Christ.
"Sinner, God loves you; turn or burn." "Muslim, God loves you; turn or burn." "Atheist, God loves you; turn or burn." "Jew, God loves you; turn or burn." "Church member, God loves you; turn or burn."
When he was visiting us in February, Rev Hans Uittenbosch told us he does not like working with Seafarer Centers because they do not want him trying to convert people of other religions. He is expected to show respect for other beliefs and other religions. But Rev Uittenbosch knows the same thing that Ezekiel knows:
(Ezek 33:8) When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you will surely die,' and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.If Rev Uittenbosch tries to be politically correct, if Rev Uittenbosch is afraid of offending those with false religions, if Rev Uittenbosch worries about hurting someone's feelings, and keeps quiet – then he is accountable for their blood and their souls.
B God is the same today as He was in the days of Ezekiel. He still gets no enjoyment from destroying sinners. So, He still appoints watchmen to call sinners to repent and believe.
Who are God's watchmen today?
Let's start off with pastors. I know Robert is not here, but I discussed this message with him before he left. Robert and I are both the Lord's watchman. Like Ezekiel, appointed by God. Like Ezekiel, expected to watch for the enemy. Like Ezekiel, expected to warn God's people. Like Ezekiel, accountable if we do not fulfill our calling. Like Ezekiel, we need to tell sinners that God loves them and that they need to repent and believe.
Pastors are watchmen for their congregation and community. They are required to preach salvation in Christ alone and while doing this they cannot be soft on sin and hell.
On this installation Sunday, I especially want to highlight the role of our office-bearers as watchmen. Elders and Deacons, you are called to be watchmen on the walls of Zion. The enemy is always out there. The attacks of Satan never once stop. So, I say to our elders and deacons – "Don't fall asleep on the job. Don't try to make nice and avoid all talk of hell and damnation. Don't fail to sound the alarm."
(1Pt 5:8) Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.
Satan is so clever. He disguises his approach. In the last week, I had three people ask me about "The Secret," a book Oprah has been promoting. Behind "The Secret" is a principle that goes back to the Babylonians, and maybe even earlier. Here is the secret: You can bend the universe to your will – all you have to do is send out positive transmissions. But beware the flip side: Negative transmissions are the reason for all those things you don't want, such as war, acne, and liver cancer. Nothing new here. It is the same drivel that is central to "The Power of Positive Thinking," Word of Faith theology, and half the motivational speakers on the lecture circuit. Notice what "The Secret" does: It makes you the center of the universe. It dethrones God. It denies God's sovereignty and providence. Elders who see this kind of book on the coffee table had best say something.
I was watching "24" a couple of nights ago. Jack Bauer had just finished saving the President's life, again; he beat up some bad guys to get information; he contracted a life-threatening disease and was expected to die shortly. A Muslim holy man came to see him. Jack admitted he had led a hard life and did some bad things. "All you have to do," he was told, "is forgive yourself." It's the same message again: You are the center of the universe. You need to forgive yourself. But I ask, what about God? What about God's forgiveness? What about confession and repentance and belief in the Lord Jesus Christ?
If you are a parent, or a grandparent, or a teacher, or a youth leader, you are a watchman for the children and youth under your care. Teach the way of Christ. Warn against unbelief. Discipline a disobedient child.
If you are a church member, you are a watchman for the unbelievers in your life. God calls you to warn your neighbors that the judgment of God is coming and that they had best repent and believe.
Like Ezekiel, watchmen must sound the alarm. Otherwise, they are accountable for the blood of those who perish. Towards the end of his ministry and life, Paul could speak of himself as a watchman. He said, "I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God" (Acts 20:26-27). The whole will of God. We know what that is: judgment and salvation.
IV The People's Response
A So far, we have been looking at the responsibility of the watchman. But, I want to end with the responsibility of those being watched. Let me start off with the story of the Titanic:
Topic: WarningsThis is the watchman's predicament: you sound the alarm but no one pays attention. Ezekiel was told he was not accountable and not responsible if that happened (Ezek 33:9). All that Ezekiel has to do is sound the alarm.
When the unsinkable Titanic sank, warning after warning had been sent to tell them they were speeding into an ice-field. But the messages were ignored. In fact, when a nearby ship sent an urgent warning, the Titanic was talking to Cape Race about the time chauffeurs were to meet arriving passengers at the dock, and what menus were to be ready.
Preoccupied with trivia, the Titanic responded to the warning: "Shut up. I am talking to Cape Race. You are jamming my signals."
B This may surprise you, but a strange old duck like Ezekiel was very well received. When Ezekiel preached, people said to each other, "Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord" (Ezek 33:30). People were excited and impressed by his preaching. They loved all the eccentric things he did and recognized they all had meaning and purpose. The people likened Ezekiel's voice to a love song (Ezek 33:32) – so smooth, so rich, so full of emotion. I bet they all said "Amen" when he was preaching. But when the sermon ended, their hearts stayed as sinful as ever. They heard the warning – like the Titanic – but they paid it no attention.
Congregation, one of the things you promise to do when you profess your faith, is to listen to the watchmen. And, one of the things you promise to do when we install elders, deacons, and pastors, is to listen to the watchmen.
Listen to the Profession of Faith question: "Do you promise to submit to the government of the church and also, if you should become delinquent either in doctrine or in life, to submit to its admonition and discipline?" Do you hear the promise to submit to the watchmen?
Listen, again, to the promise you make when we install elders and deacons: "Hold them in honor; take their counsel seriously; respond to them with obedience and respect; accept their help with thanks." Do you hear the instruction to listen to the watchmen?
The elders, deacons, and pastors are watchmen. We pledge to do our duty. Our prayer is that you take God's Word to heart and put it into practice.
You can e-mail our pastor at: Pastor, Trinity United Reformed Church
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