January 19, 2020 The Rod and the Sword

The Rod and the Sword

Scripture Reading: Ezekiel 21:8-13.

In this passage we have the reoccurrence of Ezekiel’s prophecies against his own people. The first twenty chapters of the book chronicle prophesy after prophesy of coming judgment because of Judah’s sins. The Lord had already come against the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 721 BC through Assyria’s conquest and destruction. Yahweh had come against Jerusalem twice already. Once in 605 BC and again in 597 through Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. The worst was yet to come in 586 BC and Ezekiel prophesies of the coming judgment in the seven years prior.

The first matter which we must be clear about is that everything in the OT was written for us. They were written to the Israelites of old, but these truths have been preserved for us as Christians. Paul makes this clear:

6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.1

Paul refers to the events in the wilderness under Moses, but his principle is applicable to every jot and tittle of the OT Scriptures (Matthew 5:18-19).

Secondly, we must remember that God does not change. His hatred of sin remains the same and will throughout eternity. 

God is not man, that he should lie, 
or a son of man, that he should change his mind. 2

The NT confirms this truth.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever. 3

Our passage in Ezekiel reveals an important reality that every follower of the Lord Jesus must know. When God deals with his people he uses the rod and the sword. We must know the difference. We must love the one and fear the other.

What is the rod? The rod is just an emblem for the Lord’s hand of discipline. 

[1.] Every Christian receives the rod. There are no exceptions. Therefore, we must not be surprised when it comes. 

In the letter to the Hebrews, the inspired author addresses their suffering:

But recall the former days when, after you were enlightened, you endured a hard struggle with sufferings, 33 sometimes being publicly exposed to reproach and affliction, and sometimes being partners with those so treated. 4

The Hebrew Christians experienced persecution at the hands of their fellow Jews when they first came to faith. As they receive this letter they are again experiencing affliction at the hands of their fellow Jews. Some are tempted to go back to Judaism because of it, thinking, “If I just go back to the temple this will all stop. I can still believe in Jesus and practice the religion of my family.” But God will not have it that way. He inspires the author to both correct them and to encourage them in the new and living faith where Christ is the center of everything! This is the purpose of the book.

God is still calling people out of the dead religion of their family or their culture. He is calling all of us to live for Christ, not for a religion and not for self.

The temptation to live by sight, that is, looking to what I can gain in the here and now (whether it is just “getting along’ with the culture or even dead religion, or whether it is actual gain in prestige, income, what have you) rather than living by faith, that is, trust in the promises of God and waiting for His blessings to come in His time, is a temptation that is always present. It pressed upon the Hebrews and it presses upon us.

This is why we need the rod. This is why the Hebrew Christians received it. What is somewhat surprising is that the rod of the Lord was the affliction by the other Jews and even their own family members. We must see this!

God uses anything and everything in order to correct us!

He desires that we live by faith, that is, trusting Him, and not shrink back when the rod comes.

    but my righteous one shall live by faith, 
and if he shrinks back, 
        my soul has no pleasure in him.” 5

This verse carries great weight. It communicates powerful truth and it dispels modern Christian notions. There is a notion that some Christians have that when a Christian dies and will one day be judged, everything will be just fine. Let us consider this passage carefully.

The first part says that the Lord’s righteous one will live by faith. The Lord is talking about a “righteous one.” You must know that only those who belong to Christ are righteous. No others. This verse cannot be referring to anyone else but a true Christian.

To make it even more clear, it says, “my righteous one.” This righteous one belongs to the Lord!

Look at the second line: “and if he shrinks back…” If who shrinks back? The Lord’s righteous one! We must see that one of the Lord’s own can shrink back or shrink away. Back from whom or away from what? Shrink away from the Lord because of the discipline!

If that happens then God’s soul has no pleasure in that Christian. O saint! Beware of how you respond to the Lord’s rod! Do not find yourself in a place where God has no pleasure in you!

The author continues in the next verse:

 But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who have faith and preserve their souls. 6

Here is an important question: When he writes, “we are not those who shrink back,” does he mean this in an absolute sense or in a way of encouragement? In other words, is he saying that we (all true Christians) will never shrink back? Or, is he saying that “me and you, fellow Hebrew believers, are not going to be among the number that shrinks back” as a positive encouragement?

It cannot be in an absolute sense because he has just written in the previous verse that his righteous one can shrink back. It must be in a way of encouragement.

But what about the results of shrinking back? The results are destruction! Surely, this cannot apply to Christians! It is true that no Christian will ever experience eternal destruction. But this verse is not referring to eternal destruction. It is just plain, old destruction. It is facing the results of our lack of trust at the Judgment Seat of Christ. It is not receiving the good thing promised. That is what the author just wrote in the previous verse:


 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God you may receive what is promised.7

What was promised, throughout the book, is a place of rest from our labors (4:1-5). This will be after the Lord returns to the earth. We will either be resting during the “seventh day” yet to come, or we will experience some kind of destruction until that “seventh day” is completed. This “seventh day” is the age to come.

Then comes chapter 11 which is a chapter meant to encourage the disciples to keep exercising faith – trust – so that they will receive the promises.

Chapter 12 begins like this:

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us8

We are told to lay aside sin which clings to us. Here is another reason why every Christian must receive the rod – because sin clings to us! Our hearts still corrupted by the fall and sin is present.

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, 
nor be weary when reproved by him. 
    6     For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, 
and chastises every son whom he receives.” 9

Now, here is our affirmation stated in plain terms. Every Christian must receive the rod. Verse 6 says the Lord disciplines the one he loves. I tell you, if you belong to Christ then the Father loves you. He loves you! He loves you with a tender love. He loves you with a perfect love. But, because he loves you he is going to discipline you.

It also says that he chastises every son whom he receives. Which sons? Every son! If you are a son or daughter of God then you are going to get the rod. There is no way out of it.

[2.] Every Christian receives the rod. But we have a choice of how we respond.

We should submit to the rod. Not only submit, but even find comfort in it.

    Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 
I will fear no evil, 
        for you are with me; 
your rod and your staff, 
they comfort me. 10

David himself was a shepherd before he became king. So, he knew all about shepherding. He himself used both a rod and a staff to assist him in caring for the sheep under his charge. He call the Lord his shepherd because David saw that the relationship of the Lord to his people is very much like the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep.

A shepherd occasionally used his rod to fend off predators. But more often, the rod is used to reign in unruly sheep, to keep them away from the wrong plants, and to keep them away from dangerous places. David experienced the Lord’s rod in his own life, especially after his sin with Bathsheba. And, although it was painful, he knew he needed it because of his actions.

While the rod is in use it is not comfortable at all. But when the rod’s work has been done there comes a peaceful righteousness (Hebrews 12:11). That is what gave David comfort in the thought of the Lord’s rod. The rod should bring us comfort for the same reason: it is the Lord’s instrument to bring us peace and a personal righteousness that we sorely need.

We can even choose to love the Lord’s rod. If we hate the sin that remains within us, then we ought to love the means by which the Lord removes it. 

So, we can submit, find comfort, and even love the rod. But we can also despise the rod. This is what the Israelites of Ezekiel’s day did. The Lord tried to turn them away from their sins by bringing the rod to them. But the despised it. They wanted to live life their own way.

You have despised the rod, my son, with everything of wood.11

They despised the Lord’s rod so much that anything even made of wood was also despised because it reminded them of the rod.

Do not be like the Israelites! Never despise the Lord’s rod.

If we despise the rod, it has no way to do its work in our hearts, because our hearts are already set against correction. If we despise the rod, we will despise correction. And, if we despise correction we will not be corrected! If we will not be corrected then the Lord will bring the sword.

What is the sword? The sword is simply the Lord coming against his won people in finality. It is the Lord bringing physical death to his own people.

A sword, a sword is sharpened 
and also polished, 
    10     sharpened for slaughter, 
polished to flash like lightning! 12

The sword came to Jerusalem just as Ezekiel had prophesied. It came in 586 B.C. when the Babylonian army destroyed he city and almost all people were killed. There was a small number that were taken captive, but most were killed.

“Oh, but that is the Old Testament. God doesn’t do that anymore.” Only those who do not know their Bible nor history could make such a statement. What happened to Jerusalem in 70 AD, forty years after the new covenant was instituted? The city was destroyed and hundreds of thousands killed in a carnage worse than that of Ezekiel’s day.

The Lord’s own New Testament people (that’s us!) can live in such a way that brings the sword. The sword is just an emblem for the Lord’s hand coming to kill those who refuse to honor him.

27 Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty concerning the body and blood of the Lord. 28 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.13

Some of the Christians in the church at Corinth had died because they took the Lord’s Table without discernment. God still uses the sword.

This is why we must receive the rod, find comfort in it, and even love it. 

Of course, this does not mean whenever a Christian dies prematurely that they experienced the sword of the Lord. There have been multitudes of godly men and women who have died at a young age or before agedness. There are other reasons for death besides the Lord’s anger against sin. Yet, we must know that, if we resist the Lord’s work in us and pay no heed to his warnings, then the sword may come.

What are we to do with this knowledge? 

How can avoid the sword of the Lord? That is an easy question to answer. We simply accept the rod of the Lord and pursue the way of the Lord, the path of righteousness, rather than our way.

We can also lessen the visitation of the rod. When we were children, we did not want to get the rod. We avoided the rod simply by obeying our parents. Nothing has changed. If we belong to Christ then the Living God is our Father. First, we seek after righteousness and flee those things that are contrary to the Lord’s will.

Second, when adversity comes it may be the rod of the Lord coming to us. When adversity comes we should examine ourselves.

Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgment on himself. 30 That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. 31 But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged.14

Paul is writing here about the Lord’s Table. The “examination” to which he refers includes discerning the body represented by the Table. But it more than this. It also includes examining our life before the Lord. Are there sins in my life? We consider them and then confess them, turning away from them with resolve. This is evident by verse 31: We will be judged by the Lord if we do not judge ourselves. The judgment of the Lord is his discipline in this life. Thus, the judgment of ourselves must be the same kind of judgment.] because the two words for “judge” are used in the same sentence.

We must discipline ourselves regarding sin! 

When adversity comes we must examine our lives and consider if there is something that we do or think that is sinful. It may be that we have ignored it before or maybe we were even oblivious to it. The rod is getting our attention!

If we identify the area of our live that is wayward and turn back to the Lord, then the rod is taken away. If we judge ourselves then we will not be judged! 

Brothers and sisters, there is a rod and there is a sword. Love one and run from the other.

 

 

 

 

 

 

1 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 10:6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
2 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Nu 23:19). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
3 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 13:8). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
4 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 10:32–33). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
5 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 10:38). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
6 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 10:39). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
7 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 10:36). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
8 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 12:1). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
9 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Heb 12:5–6). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
10 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 23:4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
11 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eze 21:10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
12 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eze 21:9–10). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
13 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 11:27–30). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
14 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 11:28–31). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.