October 27, 2019 Preservation in the Present

Preservation in the Present, Favor in the Future

Scripture reading: Ezekiel 3:18-21.

Ezekiel was a priest and a prophet. His father’s name was Buzi. Buzi means “contempt” or “despised.” Although Ezekiel’s father may have been despised, Ezekiel was despised. He was treated with contempt by his own people. In his ministry he received no glory. Whenever God’s people have departed from his ways they do not like to hear rebukes from God’s spokespersons. Many times they do not even want to hear spiritual things at all. 

Ezekiel was a son of shame, a son of abasement. He was even disgraced by God in order to be a sign to the people. He was a sign of God’s people being put to shame (12:6, 11;24:24, 27). They would be put to shame by God Himself.

Ezekiel’s name means “God will strengthen” or “God is my strength.” So, even though he was despised by people, he was strengthened by God. In chapter three God says this about him:

8 Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces, and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. 9 Like emery harder than flint have I made your forehead. Fear them not, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house.”1

This is the lot of every faithful follower of the Lord Jesus. Just like Ezekiel, you will be rejected by many people, but God will be your strength. Do not flee your calling! Speak on behalf of God for He will strengthen you!

Ezekiel was in exile in Babylon when he records the speaking of God that he received. He warns his fellow Israelites time and time again. His message is both for the exiles and for Jews still living in Jerusalem. He warns them that catastrophe is on its way. His prophecies will be proven to be true when the city is destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar seven years after he received his first vision.

The prophets under the old covenant, like Ezekiel, did make proclamations about the future. Sometimes these prophecies were dire warnings and, at other times, they were promises of favor that would be poured out upon his people. When people think about the word “prophecy” today, they think in terms of prediction. But this was only part of the role of a prophet. They often encouraged the people or warned the people without reference to future events. Indeed, the word prophet simply means “one who speaks.”

When we come to the New Testament era, we discover that all followers of the Lord Jesus Christ are to be prophets. We are not prophets in the same way as the prophets of the old order. The prophets of the old covenant spoke infallibly under the direction of the Holy Spirit. The prophets of the new covenant do not speak infallibly. We are prophets in the sense that we speak on behalf of God. 

Maybe you do not want to be a prophet. Ezekiel did not want to be a prophet. His vocation was that of a priest. After he received his first vision and the Lord told him his mission, he sat by a canal speechless for seven days. Neither did Jonah want to be a prophet. You know what the Lord did to him. After Jonah’s experiences he obeyed his call to be a prophet.

You may not want to be a prophet. But that is your calling. Actually, you are already a prophet. The question is: Will you be faithful as a prophet? Or, will you keep silent and be unfaithful as a prophet? Let us see that every believer is indeed a prophet.

[I.] We are to be a prophet to the those in the household of faith. In I Corinthians, beginning at chapter 11, Paul gives instructions on how the worship of the church should be ordered and he does so for four chapters. He concludes with this:

For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged, 32 and the spirits of prophets are subject to prophets. 2

One audience of our speaking are the fellow believers. We can encourage them. Encouragement is one of the callings of a prophet. Elsewhere, we are directed to warn our fellow believers.

My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, 20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. 3

We are to speak with our fellow believers who wander from the truth.

[II.] We are to be a prophet to the lost. The Lord has graciously raised up some who have the gift of evangelism. People like Ray Comfort; and many of the larger evangelical churches have full-time evangelists who reach out to college campuses. Even though some may have a special gift in this area, every follower of Christ is called to share the gospel.

The Great Commission is not just a commission to part of the body of Christ. It is a commission to the whole body of Christ. It is to every individual Christian. It is your commission! We are all familiar with it. Many of us have memorized it. It is still good to see it again.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” 4

If you are hearing me right now then this command is to you. You are to make disciples. You are to baptize. You are to teach. You can do these things because the Spirit of the Living God is within you!

Some might be thinking, “I don’t know enough to teach.” Or, “I’m not mature enough in the faith to disciple someone.” Not so! You know more than someone who is not a follower of Christ. Whatever it is that you know you can pass on. You have more faith than someone who is not a follower of Christ, so you can pass it on.

And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.5

Who was scattered? Not the apostles. Not the leaders. The rest of the church was scattered, who we would call “laymen.” I do not like that term. (It implies a disparity between members of the body of Christ and leaders when there is none.) The people who were dispersed were simply members of the church. Then what did they do?

Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word.6

As prophets, everyone can proclaim the word! We all can proclaim God’s word. We can and we must make this part of our everyday living!

So, we see that every follower of Christ is to be a prophet both to their brothers and sisters and to the lost.

[III. The Present]

If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.7

God’s revelation is progressive, meaning that He reveals more truth in the New Testament than he did in the Old Testament. There are matters that have been revealed to the apostles that were either unknown to the OT authors or scarcely known.  One example of this is the matter of eternal life and life after death in general. The OT is almost exclusively concerned with life on earth. The blessings of obedience and the disfavor that accompanies rebellion have to do with this life. When we come to the NT there is both revelation and emphasis on the life to come. The OT scarcely addresses life after death. There are 23,145 verses in the OT and there are only four passages that affirm it;8 and there are five more verses that suggest life after death.9  Those are very few verses for such an important theme. Whereas, in the NT this is one of the major themes.

Hence, when the Lord says, “If I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’” He is referring to death in this life, not eternal death. However, we know from the NT that those whose lives are characterized by wickedness are lost, without Christ, and should they die in this life without repentance they will go to a place of suffering upon death (Hades) and, after the next age, they will be finally judged and cast into the Lake of Fire and be there for eternity. Of course, there is open the possibility that a wicked person’s life is ended by the Lord because of their persistent sin but they repent before they die.

In verse 18, if Ezekiel does not give the wicked person a warning, if he does not speak to him, then “his blood will I require at your hand.” If Ezekiel does not warn the wicked person, that person is still going to die. But Ezekiel will be held responsible. There will be a penalty that Ezekiel will have to pay in this life for his negligence and disobedience.

I tell you, this verse is in the Bible not just for the sake of one man, Ezekiel. If it were only for Ezekiel the Lord would have spoken it and there would be no need for it to be recorded for God’s people to read for the next 2,600 years! This verse is in the Bible for you and me! You are Ezekiel! I am Ezekiel. The Lord is saying, If you, [put your name here], do not “speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked person shall die for his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.”

In other words, brothers and sisters, we must speak to the wicked; otherwise, we will be judged by the Lord in this life. Any servant who does not do what is required will be disciplined by his master. Our Lord is just as equitable as any earthly master.


“Yet if you have warned the wicked and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered yourself.10

But, as long as we warn the wicked we will have delivered our lives with respect to discipline here and now. The Lord is saying that if we wish to preserve our life in the present then we must warn the sinner.

Again, if a righteous person turns from his righteousness and commits injustice, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die. Because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds that he has done shall not be remembered, but his blood I will require at your hand.11

Next, the Lord gives exactly the same admonition to Ezekiel regarding the “righteous person.” The righteous person is a faithful member of the covenant community who has gone astray. He or she is doing things that are unjust, they are not in accordance with God’s revealed will. 

When we sin, unless we confess our sins and turn from them, all the good things that we have done will not circumvent the Lord’s hand of remuneration coming to us. Just because we are a member of his covenant family we are not immune from retribution. If anything, the Lord is stricter with us than with the lost! We cannot do things that they can do. And, when we go off the path of goodness and truth, his hand of correction may swiftly get our attention. Make no mistake, the Lord’s “stumbling block” can be light, but it can also be severe. It can be sickness. It can be death. Remember the Corinthian Christians. Remember Ananias and Sapphira! The message to all of us is: It is not how we began our life of faith, it is how we are now. 

The message to Ezekiel is the message to us. We must speak to those among us who have gone astray. Then this promise is made:

    “However, if you have warned the righteous man that the righteous should not sin and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; and you have delivered yourself.”12

So, whether we warn the lost or our brother or sister, we will preserve our lives in the present.

[IV. The Future]

While the OT has so very little to say about life after death, the NT has much to say. Our faithfulness in speaking to others will be one of the considerations that the Lord takes into account at the Judgment Seat of Christ. How we live now counts. If we fail to warn the lost of God’s coming judgment upon them, then we will also have to answer for this failure at the Judgment Seat. If we do speak to them a word of warning then we will experience the Lord’s favor on that day. And, if we warn our fellow Christians when they go astray then we will deliver them and ourselves as well.

Del Tarr was a missionary for fourteen years In West Africa and relates the conditions in sub-Sahara West Africa (known as the Sahel). There are thousands of miles of savanna. All the moisture comes in a four month period: May, June, July, and August. After that, not a drop of rain falls for eight months. The ground cracks from dryness, and so do your hands and feet. The winds of the Sahara pick up the dust and throw it thousands of feet into the air. It then comes slowly drifting across West Africa as a fine grit. It gets inside your mouth. It gets inside your watch and stops it. The year's food, of course, must all be grown in those four months. People grow sorghum or milo in small fields.
October and November...these are beautiful months. The granaries are full -- the harvest has come. People sing and dance. They eat two meals a day. The sorghum is ground between two stones to make flour and then a mush with the consistency of yesterday's Cream of Wheat. The sticky mush is eaten hot; they roll it into little balls between their fingers, drop it into a bit of sauce and then pop it into their mouths. The meal lies heavy on their stomachs so they can sleep.
December comes, and the granaries start to recede. Many families omit the morning meal.
Certainly by January not one family in fifty is still eating two meals a day.
By February, the evening meal diminishes.
The meal shrinks even more during March and children succumb to sickness. You don't stay well on half a meal a day.
April is the month that haunts my memory. In it you hear the babies crying in the twilight. Most of the days are passed with only an evening cup of gruel.
Then, inevitably, it happens. A six-or seven-year-old boy comes running to his father one day with sudden excitement. "Daddy! Daddy! We've got grain!" he shouts. "Son, you know we haven't had grain for weeks." "Yes, we have!" the boy insists. "Out in the hut where we keep the goats -- there's a leather sack hanging up on the wall -- I reached up and put my hand down in there -- Daddy, there's grain in there! Give it to Mommy so she can make flour, and tonight our tummies can sleep!"
The father stands motionless. "Son, we can't do that," he softly explains. "That's next year's seed grain. It's the only thing between us and starvation. We're waiting for the rains, and then we must use it." The rains finally arrive in May, and when they do the young boy watches as his father takes the sack from the wall and does the most unreasonable thing imaginable. Instead of feeding his desperately weakened family, he goes to the field and with tears streaming down his face, he takes the precious seed and throws it away. He scatters it in the dirt! Why? Because he believes in the harvest.

There is a price to be paid for not wasting the seed. There is a price to be paid when we plant the seed instead of keeping it to ourselves.

The fathers of the Sahel believe in the harvest to come. So, they sow the seed that they could have eaten. Do you believe in the harvest to come? Then sow the seed. When you speak to others words of warning then you will preserve your life in the present and you will harvest favor from the Lord in the future, the day of harvest.

“Lord, prepare our minds and our hearts right now for the harvest that is coming. Amen.”

 

 

 

 

1 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eze 3:8–9). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
2 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (1 Co 14:31–32). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
3 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Jas 5:19–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
4 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Mt 28:18–20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
5 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 8:1). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
6 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 8:4). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
7 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eze 3:18). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
8 Job 19:25-27; Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2, 13.
9 Genesis 15:15; 25:8; 49:33; Exodus 3:6; Psalm 17:15.
10 New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Eze 3:19). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.
11 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Eze 3:20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
12 New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Eze 3:21). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

 

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