The Fifth Sunday After Trinity July 20, 2003
1 Samuel 3:8-14
1 Peter 5:1-5
434, 451, 396, 655
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Grace, mercy, and peace be multiplied to you from God our Father, and from our Master and Rescuer, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Many a man has judged beforehand the effect that God’s Word would have on those who were to hear that Word. Jonah decided that the Word of God would either have no effect on the hearts of the men of Nineveh, or else that it would have an effect but they were not worthy of salvation. The result was that he ran from the Lord’s call. The Lord got his attention in a most dramatic way (cf. Jonah 1-4).
The great prophet Elijah, at one point in his life, decided that he had done all that he could and that his proclamation of God’s Word would be of no further benefit to anyone—especially not to the rebellious Children of Israel. He asked the Lord to let him die. The Lord had other plans (cf. 1 Kings 19:4ff).
Down through history, men and women have pre-judged. They have held their tongues when they should have spoken. Why? Because they were convinced that their words (God’s words) would have no positive effect upon the heart of those who would have heard. You and I have done that, haven’t we? We have pre-judged. We have remained silent. We have convinced ourselves that nothing would change and so we said nothing.
To all of this our God says to us, “I told you to speak—Speak!” Our text gives us insight not only into God’s love for sinful mankind—which is most definitely a very stubborn love—He also gives us insight into His desire that we continue witnessing to the world around us. What we learn in this study may surprise us very much indeed.
The text we will use as our guide is found in the Old Testament Book of the Prophet Ezekiel, the Second Chapter:
And He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you.” Then the Spirit entered me when He spoke to me, and set me on my feet; and I heard Him who spoke to me. And He said to me: “Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. For they are impudent and stubborn children. I am sending you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ As for them, whether they hear or whether they refuse; for they are a rebellious house; yet they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you dwell among scorpions; do not be afraid of their words or dismayed by their looks, though they are a rebellious house. You shall speak My words to them, whether they hear or whether they refuse, for they are rebellious.”
These are the words of our God. They are a part of the very words we are to speak to the world as God’s representatives. They are His words. Yet to speak them as we should it would be wise to first study them and apply them to ourselves. To this end we pray: Sanctify us through Your truth, O Lord. Your Word is truth. Amen.
To rightly understand these words from Ezekiel it would be most helpful to understand their setting and history. The last good king of Judah was Josiah who died in 609 BC. From that point the kingdom declined rapidly. The first of Josiah’s three sons to reign after him was named Jehoahaz. He reigned only three months before he was carried off to Egypt as a captive. He was succeeded by Josiah’s second son, Jehoiakim. By this time Israel was little more than a military nuisance caught between two superpowers—Egypt and Babylon. Jehoiakim first allied himself with Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and then rebelled against him and was assassinated when Babylon laid siege to Jerusalem.
Jehoiachin, Johoiakim’s son, ascended to the throne and surrendered to the Babylonians after three months in order to save Jerusalem. King Jehoiachin and other leading men of Judah (including the prophet-in-training Ezekiel) were carried off to Babylon in 597 BC. Josiah’s third son, Zedekiah (King Jehoiachin’s uncle) was placed on the throne as regent for his captive nephew. He reigned 11 years until he foolishly allied himself with Egypt and rebelled against Babylon. Judah was finally crushed and Jerusalem destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 BC (cf. 2 Chronicles 35-36).
The words of our text were spoken to Ezekiel in about 593 BC during his exile in Babylon. We find him face down upon the ground because he had just seen a spectacular and awesome vision of the Lord God on his throne – an image that both terrified and humbled Ezekiel.
With that setting and background we return to our text. Now, the Lord’s words will mean that much more to us. These now become for us words sent to a people who had proven their disloyalty—a people who had demonstrated time after time that they rejected the God of their fathers and had turned away from him. Ezekiel was sent to minister to a people so stubborn and so evil that their God had found it necessary to destroy the vast majority of them and to have the rest carried off by a heathen, foreign power. With this understanding, what do the words of our text now tell us?
They tell, first of all, of a rare and wonderful love—a stubborn love, if you will. They tell of a God who was and is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9). He is a God who is, indeed, longsuffering.
Listen again to God’s own description of the people to whom Ezekiel was to minister: “Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. For they are impudent and stubborn children.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement. It was, however, perfectly accurate. The Jews had been given every advantage by their God. The Lord had given them every possible opportunity. They had been allowed to see things we can only imagine. They experienced signs and wonders that defied the imagination. They were given stern warnings and explicit directions. Time and again God rescued them after they had fallen away. Time and again they turned to other gods and rebelled. The patience of their God—our God—is simply astonishing. The only possible explanation is a love for mankind that we sinful human beings simply cannot fathom.
Why is it important that we understand these things? Why is it necessary for us to spend our time reviewing the story of the rebellious Jews and their ongoing rejection of their God and Savior? It is necessary because their story is our story. God himself told us in his Word: “Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Corinthians 10:11) That same passage goes on to warn us, “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” To ignore the rebellion of the Jews is to invite their destruction upon ourselves.
What advantages did the Jews have that we do not now have? Many of them saw miraculous signs and wonders, but not one of them ever saw the New Testament. They knew their Old Testament like the backs of their hands, we have Bibles by the millions lying around collecting dust. They were called back time after time when they backslid – chastened by the God who loved them. We, on the other hand, tend to despise the Lord’s correcting hand in our lives. They grumbled and complained, we grumble and complain even though we have much more. How many among us today would still even be alive had we lived under the Jewish laws laid down by God through Moses—laws that demanded death for adultery, death for teenage rebellion, death for mocking parents or superiors? Couldn’t the same description God used for Israel also be applied to you and me? “A rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. For they are impudent and stubborn children.”
The point here is to note well that just as God did not give up on them, so he will not give up on us. God preserved a remnant of the Jews because of a loving promise he made to their forefathers. He had promised that one of their descendants (a Jew) was to be the Messiah, and God can be trusted to keep his promises. What other promises has God made to which we today can hold him? Listen to this one from Hebrews 13:5-6, “He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say: ‘The LORD is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’”
When we look to the Jews and see in them a reflection of ourselves, it is not only a cause for repentance on our part. It is a cause for deep and lasting joy and comfort. The same God who loved the Jews and preserved them, even after their continual rebellion and transgression, also loves and preserves us. Why? Because he no longer sees us as sinful and rebellious. All of those sins were placed upon his own Son, Jesus Christ. They are gone. The punishment they demanded has been exacted upon Jesus. The torment he endured to pay for those sins came to an end when he cried out, “It is finished!”
In God’s eyes we are now his perfect, holy, beloved children. As our perfect Father, he will spare no effort in carrying to completion the good thing he has begun in us.
You may recall that from the first we said that our text would provide insight into God’s desire that we continue witnessing to the world around us and that what we learn might surprise us. Note the keys in our text. God sent Ezekiel with a message the Jews would probably reject as they had rejected so many other messages from their God in the past. The rejection of the Jews did not alter God’s command, nor was it to make a difference to Ezekiel. Here we happen upon a rather startling revelation: Sometimes God sends us even when he knows that the outcome of our witnessing will be rejection. Part of our calling as God’s ambassadors is to carry the message that will not save on Judgment Day, it will condemn. The same message that is intended to call sinners to life eternal through faith in Jesus Christ will also, when it is rejected, serve as the great accuser of those who reject it.
From this we can see how foolish we are when we seek to prejudge the effect God’s Word will have on those around us, and as a result fail to speak that Word. The fact is that it makes no difference as far as our commission is concerned whether the message we bring converts or condemns. We have God’s command to speak, and His promise that His words will accomplish what they are meant to accomplish. Isaiah 55:11 tells us: “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.” Our calling is simply to bring to the hearing of those around us the “thus says the Lord God.” Everything else is in God’s very capable hands.
Dear Christian, the next time you are faced with speaking the necessary Word of God to one whom you believe will most likely reject that Word of God, bring to mind the words spoken in our text to Ezekiel. It is not ours to judge. It is ours to speak and to speak plainly. The rest is in the hands of a loving God. Above all, remember the stubborn, incomparable love that God has always demonstrated for us sinners—a love that moved Him to sacrifice His own Son in our place. God grant that each one of us might be part of God’s plan, never a hindrance to it, speaking the words of salvation to a world in desperate need. Amen.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.