You Are God's Watchmen
A sermon based on Ezekiel 33:7-11
Sunday, October 2, 2011 – Pentecost 16A
Daniel Webster, statesman, lawyer, and orator once said, "The most important thought I ever had was my individual responsibility to God." But what is every human's individual responsibility toward God? Well, God demands from us what we can never give him—perfection. Thanks be to Jesus Christ who died to take our sins away and give us his perfection so we meet God's requirements. Now in thanksgiving to him, we strive to do all he asks of us.
This morning we take a look at one of the responsibilities that God has given us; one opportunity we have to show him our gratitude. As redeemed children of God he has given us the responsibility to warn others of God's impending judgment. God has made us not only his children, but his watchmen. First, we are to listen to what the Lord says, then, we are to warn others of the coming judgment he has revealed to us, and finally, we are to relieve those who repent of their sins with the comforting words of the Gospel. Listen to the responsibility God gave Ezekiel and gives to us in Ezekiel 33:7-11…
I. Listen to the Lord
God told Ezekiel that he had made him a watchman. But what exactly does that mean? What role does a watchman play? In our day of satellite imagery and wireless communications, watchmen use different tools, but their function remains the same. They watch for enemies, for disasters, for anything that brings death and destruction and they alert everyone who's in the path. They send out the alarm to warn people of an impending disaster to give them adequate time to avert the disaster.
In the Old Testament times, the job of the watchman was to sit in a tower and keep a constant vigil, perpetually scanning the horizon to see if any enemy came near. They had to be awake and alert all the time. But Ezekiel's job as a watchman would be a little different. His job wasn't to keep his eyes open to watch for the enemy, but to keep his ears open to hear God's Word. God said, "7Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me."
Ezekiel's job was to listen intently for any message God would reveal to him. He was to listen attentively to God's Word of warning. While the people of Ezekiel's day thought the enemy was their Babylonian captors, God revealed that their real enemy was their own sin. All mankind is born so steeped in sin that no one is even aware of the problem. No one would know their greatest problem was sin, unless God first revealed that truth. It's in his Word that God reveals what man's individual responsibility toward God is: absolute perfection. "Be holy," he says, "because I, the Lord your God am holy." (Leviticus 19:2) Jesus said, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matthew 5:48) And no one would know what the consequences are for failing to be perfect, unless God revealed that as well, "The wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23) "O wicked man, you will surely die!" (v.8) Since these things can only be known clearly by God revealing them, how important is to listen attentively!
And no one listened to God's word more attentively than Jesus. Jesus always listened to his Father's Word perfectly. Even when he was just a boy, he knew the Scriptures perfectly. When he was twelve years old his parents "found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers." (Luke 2:46-47) When he was fully grown he said, "All things have been committed to me by my Father." (Matthew 11:27) Jesus listened perfectly.
And thank God that he did. Thank Jesus for crediting his perfect listening to us. Thank him for taking away our sins of tuning him out, of reaching for the remote instead of the Bible, or the pillow instead of heading for church. Thank him and strive to listen to the Lord better in the future. Attend worship regularly. Come to Bible class often and hear what he has to say. He has made you his watchman, not to keep a constant vigil scanning the horizon, but to keep a constant vigil scanning the pages of Scripture. For he says to you, "I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak."
And when we hear that Word we first apply it to ourselves, but then we carry out our responsibility of sharing it with others. "Hear the word I speak and give them warning from me…"
II. Warn the Wicked
Obviously to scan the horizon for an approaching enemy was not a watchman's only job. If all he did was watch for the enemy what good would he be?! He had to watch and give warning when he saw a disaster coming. If he simply said to himself, "Whoa, looks like another war coming on. The enemy's coming on fast with full force," yet did nothing to warn the people, how worthless he would be! If the weathermen watching the tsunami in the Pacific saw them coming toward land, but never spoke a word to the media to alert people of coming disaster, they would be responsible for the death of any victims by withholding that information.
The same was true with Ezekiel. If Ezekiel didn't warn people of the impending disaster when he heard that God would destroy the wicked for their sin, he would be responsible for the eternal death of any victims lost to hell. God told him, "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."
Ezekiel had to warn the people of their sinful rebellion against God. He had to warn them of their wickedness and injustice. He had to warn them of their complacency and their backsliding. He had to warn them of God's impending judgment against their sin because those who know the truth are responsible to share it.
And again, no one shared the truth better than Jesus. A Greek proverb states "The feet of the avenging deities are shod with wool." That is, they sneak up on you. But that's not how it is with God. There's no sneaking up on the wicked in silence surprising them in his wrath. No! In his love, he warned them again and again. Jesus sounded the warning trumpet loudly and clearly. He didn't hold back at all…
"21 "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths." (Jesus is referring to Hell.) "If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. 24 But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you." (Matthew 11:21-24)
Repeatedly Jesus warned, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!" (Matthew 23) He sounded the warning cry clearly, "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?" (v.33) He warned the wicked perfectly.
And he continues to sound the warning cry today. Today, through Pastors and elders, through parents and friends he warns us about our wicked behavior. He says, "In your deliberate sin you are rejecting me and what I've done for you on the cross. Your disregard for my will shows that you have no faith in my gospel. Continue on this path of sin, and you are sure to be condemned to hell."
And since God sounds the warning cry today through us, it is our responsibility to preach that harsh truth of impending hell. Our job, as recipients of the truth, is to share that truth with others. Our job is to warn them and sound the alarm. If we don't we will be held accountable for their blood.
If my neighbor's house is on fire while he's sleeping and I see yet, but do nothing to warn him, I am responsible for his death. If I condone doctrinal errors with an open communion practice, looking the other way instead of lovingly warning them, I am responsible for that error. Martin Luther once wrote, "Since this is my duty, I will point out sins to peasants, burghers, and noblemen, and rebuke them for these without paying attention to their complaints when they say, 'Look here, you are defaming me!' For if I held back I would make myself guilty of your sin. And why should I go to hell for you?" (LW 22:372)
But if I do warn him and he refuses to believe me, his death is no one's fault but his own. For that reason God told Ezekiel, "9 But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself."
I remember watching a video in high school about the eruption of Mt. St. Helen's in Washington State. When the seismographs alerted those watching the volcano of its unstable condition they did all they could to clear the mountain. But there was one man who said he had lived on the mountain his whole life and knew it better than their fancy machines. He refused to vacate and when the intense heat and lava hit his cabin, he became the only casualty in the eruption, now, buried hundreds of feet below the ash.
It is our job to preach the law and warn people of the hell that awaits them. And while it's not our fault if they refuse to listen, it is our fault if we keep silent. Boldly preach the law. Warn your co-workers and friends. Do all that you can to bring them to repentance. And warn them so you might relieve them with the gospel…
III. Relieve the Repentant
The job of a watchman was not to sight the enemy and sound the warning just to frighten the people. His job was not to cry out, "Doomed! We're all doomed! The enemy is coming on fast and there's nothing we can do!" Of course not! The watchman sounded his warning so the people living outside the city could quickly move within the fortified city walls. The warning was sounded to save people, not just to scare them.
That was the same intent with God's warning through Ezekiel. God wanted to save the people from their sins. The warning worked. It led many to recognize their sins. The people finally stopped blaming others for their sins. Before, they had blamed their fathers for the punishment they endured as exiles of Babylon. They had even blamed God for their situation, calling him unjust. But now, they finally recognized that they had rebelled against God in their sin and called it what it was, "our offenses… our sins." They thought, "There's no way we can avert this doom, so what's the use?" But now that the law had done its work, they were ready for the gospel. God told Ezekiel…
10 "Son of man, say to the house of Israel, 'This is what you are saying: "Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?"' 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?'
Though the people began to despair thinking, "God likes to punish us, so what's the use of repenting?" Ezekiel gave them the encouragement they needed. "God doesn't take pleasure in your deaths. He's not a mean little kid with a magnifying glass on the anthill. He doesn't enjoy the thought of sending any of you to hell. But when you reject his forgiveness in the coming Messiah, you choose hell." And again in his grace God sent Ezekiel to remind them of their sin. And in his grace God sent Ezekiel to remind them of his mercy.
God doesn't ever change. So the description of God in Ezekiel 33:11 gives us a very clear description of God's attitude toward sinners today. God is loving and merciful and takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. It's not a happy thought to God that thousands die every day only to be damned to an eternity of hell. And if anyone thinks differently he need only look at the cross to see how much the death of the wicked upsets God. It pains God so much to see people sent to hell, that he sent his own Son to hell in their place. He sent Christ to become a lowly human, to suffer agony and be tortured to death on a cross, to endure the very depths of hell to make the wicked righteous.
There on the cross Christ took away our every sin. There he forgave us for every time we've failed to listen to his Word with attentive ear. There he forgives us for every time we've failed to warn an erring brother or sister because we were too lazy, too timid, or too concerned about losing a friend. There he's forgiven us for becoming an accomplice in a sin for not speaking up in warning when we knew better. There he made us, who once were wicked, his perfect saints.
Now, dear brothers and sisters, when a pastor or elder, a parent, spouse or friend comes to you and gives you a warning, pointing out your sin, be thankful that they've pointed it out. Listen to what God says to you through them and turn! Turn from your evil ways and live! Trust in Christ's forgiveness won for you on the cross. Then in thanksgiving, share that warning with other. Warn the wicked. And when they repent, share the comfort of the gospel that they too might turn; turn and live! Amen.