Ezekiel 33:7-9 (13th Sunday after Pentecost/Proper 18—Series A)
“We Have a Responsibility”
Lutheran Church of Our Redeemer, Enfield, CT
September 7, 2014
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our text for today is the Old Testament reading from the prophet Ezekiel:
“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.
Let’s play a brief game this morning. I’ll call it, “What would you do if …” Feel free to call out an answer. Ready?
What would you do if you saw someone about to walk in front of a truck?
What would you do if you saw someone about to jump into a swimming pool filled with piranhas?
What would you do if you saw a young child about to touch the pot of water boiling on the stove?
Now, in light of those answers, what would you do if you saw someone committing sinful actions or speaking sinful words? Would you warn that person they way you did the others? Or would you turn a blind eye, look the other way and not care?
He stood on the walls of the city. From the city walls he was able to look north and south, east and west. He could see the mighty caravans coming toward the city for trade. And he could see the troops of the enemy coming to siege and to fight. He is the watchman. And it is his responsibility to warn the city of any danger. It is the watchman’s responsibility to keep the city safe at night and to call out the safety of the city like a sentry.
It was to this roll of watchman that God called Ezekiel. Now, Ezekiel was not the kind of watchman was stood on the walls of Jerusalem and warned the city of impending attack. He was called to be a watchman over the people of Israel, “to warn the wicked to turn from his way.” Just like a watchman standing on the city walls warned the people in the city of the evil coming in the form of an invading army, so also Ezekiel was to warn the people about the evil coming from themselves. Ezekiel’s role as watchman placed in his lap the responsibility of announcing God’s Law to the people.
What a difficult thing Ezekiel was called to do! Who likes to be told what they are doing or saying is wrong? Who likes to hear that their actions are sinful, contrary to God’s Word? And who likes to hear the punishment or consequences of their wicked behavior, especially in the words, “O wicked one, you shall surely die”? I, for one, do not. I joke with my family that Daddy is always right. But I’m not. And I hate being wrong. I hate being caught doing wrong or speaking wrong. Not only do I dislike being caught, I despise the feeling of guilt which follows. I’m sure you know exactly what I am talking about.
This is the function of God’s Law. Lex semper accusat.—The Law always accuses. God’s Law tells us what we should and should not do. When you and I do not do what we should and when we do what we shouldn’t, there stands God’s Law telling us, “You have sinned by what you have done and by what you have left undone.” God’s Law points its accusing finger at you and me and declares us guilty. And a guilty verdict against us overflows with those hated feelings of guilt and despair over what we have done and what we have failed to do. What’s more, the Law of God also tells us what we deserve because of our sins. It shows us that the punishment for sin is death. “O wicked one, you shall surely die.”
So does this make the Word of God’s Law a bad thing? As much as it convicts us of sin and shows us how we have failed to love God with our whole being and our neighbors as ourselves, as much as the Law demands the death penalty for each one of us, it is good for us. The Law warns us by telling us clearly that this is sinful and that is not. It sets boundaries for us even as it guides us in the way that God demands that we walk. St. Paul, who knew the Law very well as a Pharisee, wrote, “If it had not been for the Law, I would not have known sin.” (Rom. 7:7b)
Perhaps we would much rather not know sin, because, if there is no Law, then I can do anything and everything and there is no standard, no rule, no requirement, no sin. But that’s not reality, is it? God has given us His Law, especially in the Ten Commandments. Here God reveals His will for us, the way in which His people are to walk and conduct their lives. The Law shows our failure to keep God’s commandments and in so doing, warns us by revealing that we are sinners who are sentenced to death. And it is that warning that God designed to bring us to our knees in sorrow over our sins and in fear of condemnation so that we might depend solely and completely on God to save us from sin and death.
So, while it could not have been very popular for Ezekiel to be a watchman proclaiming God’s Law, it was totally necessary for the people to hear the warning that God sounds so that His people are alerted to the danger of sin. Sounding the warning bell of God’s Law to sinners is necessary to show us our sins and our need for a Savior. Without that warning, there would be no hope for salvation because we wouldn’t know we were even in danger! Would you want someone to warn you that there’s a truck coming so don’t cross the street? Would you want someone to warn you that your clothes are on fire so that you can stop, drop, and roll? Would you want someone to warn you not to drink that water because it will make you sick? Of course! And should we not also want someone to warn us about our sins and the consequence of death?
It is in the compassionate mercy and love of God that He raises up for His people watchmen like Ezekiel, even today. We call them pastors. Pastors are called to preach and to proclaim the Law of God in all its fullness, warning the people of God of the danger of sin, of the deadly consequences of un-repented sin. Pastors are commanded by the Lord to show people their sins through the Word of God’s Law in the Commandments, to warn them if they are not living in accordance with the way God demands that we walk. That’s why pastors have to call sin what it is—words and actions that disagree with what God’s Word says. Pastors have to tell couples living together without marriage that their lifestyle is inconsistent with God’s Word. Pastors have to tell men and women not to engage in sex outside of marriage. Pastors have to speak the Word of God that says homosexual activity is sin, as much as is stealing, lying, coveting, and cheating.
And no, it’s not easy to call a sinner a sinner. It’s not simple to announce the warning of God’s Law, “If you do not repent, you will remain in your sins and suffer eternal condemnation.”
But, thankfully, that’s not the only message given by God. When the proclamation of God’s Law has done its work in bringing us to our knees before God in sorrow, seeking His mercy, God does not disappoint. He has another Word He calls His pastors to speak to sinners troubled by their sins. We read this word several verses after our Old Testament text this morning. To the sinner who is sorry for his or her sins, who desires to turn from the way of sin and to walk the path the Lord has laid out, God says, “None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him.” (Ezk. 33:16a)
That’s forgiveness and that’s the message of the Gospel! “God our Savior … desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all.” (1 Tim. 2:3-5) At just the right time, God the Son took on human flesh, without sin, in order to suffer the punishment and consequence for our sins, and so to win our complete forgiveness by the shedding of His blood in His sacrificial death on the cross. Those who kneel in sorrow and repentance at the foot of the cross, trusting in the merits of Jesus Christ who died for them, receive from the Lord forgiveness and everlasting life as His free gift. And that’s what God the Father wants for His people.
Through the Law, God warns us of sin and evil, show us our sins, and our great need for a Savior. In the Gospel of Jesus Christ who died on the cross and rose again to win our forgiveness and everlasting life, God gives to us who, in repentance, confess our sins and ask for mercy the great gifts of forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. What greater message could any of us receive, a message that actually accomplishes what it says—the Good News of Jesus Christ bestows on us by grace through faith the forgiveness of our sins! Having been warned, we are able to seek the remedy for sin that God has provided, His own Son, Jesus our Savior. God rescues us through the message of His Law and Gospel, warning us of our sins and leading us to repentance and faith so that we might receive from His hand of blessings of forgiveness and life.
Not only do pastors, then, have the responsibility to announce God’s Law and Gospel, you as Christians do also. God not only calls you and me to repent of our sins and receive the forgiveness He offers through Christ, but also to warn others and to announce the Lord’s forgiveness to all who repent. Even as you can’t imagine not warning someone of some impending danger here and now, you can’t imagine not warning someone of the impending danger of sin that affects their eternity. You, as a believer in Jesus, are called upon as a Christian to be a watchman. It is your responsibility. You have the Word of God in the Bible—the Word of Law that shows people their sins and need for a Savior and the Word of the Gospel that shows people their Savior, Jesus, and gives them the very forgiveness of sins that rescues and saves them from eternal death and condemnation.
Listen to what God, the Lord, says, “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 sin, but his blood I will require at your hand.” In other words, you have the responsibility to warn the sinner of the impending consequence and punishment of sin. You had the opportunity to warn the sinner so that she or he might turn and repent, but you didn’t. Failure to do so neglects your responsibility and God will hold you accountable. God forbid that we ever fail in this responsibility, and if we do, help us seek Your forgiveness for our failing! On the other hand, if you warn the wicked to turn and he chooses not to hear the Law and so repent, you have fulfilled your responsibility and so have done that which is pleasing to the Lord.
Yet, there are others who you will warn with God’s Word of Law from the Bible who will hear, who will be brought to sorrow over their sins, and will seek the mercy and grace of God. To these you have the joy of announcing the forgiveness of their sins in Christ who died and rose again as you say, “Your sins are forgiven in Christ. God will not remember you sin ever again. Go in peace.” Sharing the Good News of forgiveness in Christ to all who repent and are sorry for their sins is also your responsibility as a Christian. A joyful, wonderful responsibility!
With the power and grace of the Holy Spirit, pray that you and I might make a new priority in our daily lives of the responsibility that we have to announce God’s Law and Gospel as we find it in the Bible. Let us warn those stuck in their sins of the danger of sin and the punishment of death. As we do, we pray that God the Holy Spirit would lead them to repentance so that we might have the opportunity to share the Good News that, in Christ, their sins are indeed forgiven. May God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, bless our use of the responsibility given to us as His people. Amen.