SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 17 October 2021
Sermon Text: Ezekiel 12:1-28
I. God’s judgment declared to Israel
II. God and His message belittled by Israel
III. Killing them and killing us softly
People in the world do not see their life long. Rather, they agree that life is but a dream because the time allowed for individuals is short; it flies.
Victor Hugo, one of the well-known French writers, agreed. But, he rightly added a new aspect to the briefness of life, saying this: ‘Short as life is, we make it still shorter by the careless waste of time.’ I’m not sure whether he was a Christian or not, but his saying is in line with God’s wisdom as revealed to us in Prov. 10:27, especially, in the second half of it which tells us: “the years of the wicked will be short.” I guess Victor Hugo’s insight represents the situation of the sinners as he said, ‘Short as life is, we make it still shorter by the careless waste of time.’
You and I don’t agree with Victor Hugo because our life in Christ is not brief but eternal. You’ve received eternal life through faith in Jesus; in Jesus and alongside all true believers, you are now coheirs of God’s eternal kingdom. So, you do not agree with Victor Hugo; we don’t see our life could even be shortened – it is impossible. Once a believer repents of his sins, believes in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the only Saviour and Lord of the world, then his/her life is expanded to eternity, and that is the final and unchangeable status of believers.
Although Victor Hugo’s saying does not represent our status, it reminds us of the problem many Christians have. What I mean is this; as the unbelievers make their already short life shorter by their careless wasting of time, some – if not many – believers miss their chance of enjoying their eternal life by careless wasting of time. In other words, Christians are supposed to rejoice from here and now because we’re the righteous in the sight of God through faith in Jesus Christ. This is what the Apostle Paul means when he says in Phil. 4:4, “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice.” But many believers miss out on the most of this joy by careless wasting of time. Christian joy is being choked or KILLED in their life slowly as many are careless and waste their time.
You might wonder what this is to do with the words of Ezekiel the prophet we’ve read from ch. 12. But, what I’ve just said is the essence of Ezekiel’s message. Ezekiel spoke to a people who were wasting their time and indifferent to the joy of following God or hoping in God’s kingdom. Those were the Israelites of the 6th century BC. To them, Ezekiel’s words were the message of God’s imminent judgment for their disbelief; but to us of the 21st century Church, these words are the Lord’s warning against our wasting of time, against our lukewarm or cold heart toward God and His way by which we miss out on having the joy of eternal life or giving our life to Him wholeheartedly.
So, let us, first, hear the message God’s prophet delivered to Israel, the OT church, then, listen to the same warning against our wasting of time. The goal of doing this is to recover the joy of living eternal life even here on earth, looking forward to having it full in the coming kingdom.
I. GOD’S JUDGMENT DECLARED TO ISRAEL
First of all, let us hear the message of judgment upon Israel.
In terms of carrying out the task of a prophet of God, Ezekiel was not much different from other prophets, and God asked him to do some actions as signs to the very eyes of his fellow Jews. He was ordered to do one sign by day and do another at night. He carried an exile baggage, dug the wall by hand, then, ate bread with quaking and drank water with trembling and with anxiety. The whole Israel saw him doing them or heard of his weird behaviours. Knowing him as a prophet of God, they realised that those were visual signs of God’s message for them.
Simply put, the message is that God would carry out His judgment for Israel as displayed by His messenger. It’s a simple and straightforward message; nothing of this message would confuse anyone. Like Ezekiel played, the same would surely take place in the life of the nation.
By the way, what was the cause of such a judgment? Why would God judge the Jews of the 6th century BC? I wonder whether you’ve missed this because your mind was occupied with the various and weird signs Ezekiel performed. The judgment was for Israel’s rebellion against God. As v. 2 says, they were altogether a ‘rebellious house’ before God.
Then, how or in what way were they rebellious? This leads us to our second point, that is, ‘God and His message were belittled by Israel.’
II. GOD AND HIS MESSAGE BELITTLED BY ISRAEL
Their rebellion described in Eze. 12 is not anything extreme, such as killing God’s priests or defiling God’s temple by erecting and worshipping various pagan gods which were actually done by them. Yet, interestingly, instead of mentioning those evils, God talks about the nature of their rebellion in v. 2 as well as in vs. 22 and 27, and that is, their ‘belittling’ or trivialising or undervaluing God and His message.
Read with me the words of v. 2: “Son of man [that is, Ezekiel], you dwell in the midst of a rebellious house, who have eyes to see, but see not, who have ears to hear, but hear not, for they are a rebellious house.” In other words, refusing to see, refusing to hear God is their rebellion. God spoke to them in numerous cases and ways; not only by words, but also by signs, He showed them His messages, but they refused to hear, turned their eyes away from God – that was the nature of their rebellion.
See what v. 22 also says; it’s about one of the proverbs or bywords Israel used to say among themselves: “The days grow long, and every vision comes to nothing.” That’s completely opposite to the words the prophets had delivered to them, saying, ‘the day of judgment is near; repent and believe.’ The Israelites belittled, discredited God and His words. The same was with another saying of Israel in Ezekiel’s time as v. 27 records: “The vision that he sees is for many days from now, and he prophesies of times far off.”
In fact, denigrating or deriding God’s message is the root of all forms of rebellion against God. Israel’s idol worship, for example, came out of undervaluing the authority and power of God’s commands, especially the very first of the Ten Commandments, that is, “You shall have no other gods before Me.” It also came out of underestimating the sternness of God’s warning against breaking His command, as Ex. 20:5 explains, “I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me.” Moreover, their belittling God and His word was based on their doubt or disbelief in God’s faithfulness – so, when God told them that He would surely ‘show His steadfast love to thousands of those who love Him and keep His commandments,’ this promise was to their ears unreliable. In this way, belittling God or trivialising His word is the root of rebellion against God.
Unfortunately, many Christians of our generation are not free from this root of rebellion. The evil of Israel of Ezekiel’s era is still found around us. To many people, God is no longer the same God of the Bible. Let me explain what I mean by reminding you of some biblical cases. Let’s begin with Isaiah. When he saw God, what did he do? He fell down and cried out, saying, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!” Some might say, ‘Ah, he was and lived in the OT era.’ Then, what about Simon Peter of the NT who saw Jesus first time by the sea? He fell down at Jesus’ knees and said, “Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord.” The whole Israel at the foot of Mt Sinai cried out to Moses, desperately seeking a help, which in fact means a lot to all believers of all generations: “Behold, the LORD our God has shown us His glory and greatness, and we have heard His voice out of the midst of the fire. This day we have seen God speak with man, and man still live. Now therefore why should we die? For this great fire will consume us. If we hear the voice of the LORD our God any more, we shall die. For who is there of all flesh, that has heard the voice of the living God speaking out of the midst of fire as we have, and has still lived? Go near and hear all that the LORD our God will say, and speak to us all that the LORD our God will speak to you, and we will hear and do it.” The Letter to the Hebrews in the NT, especially in 12:29, says that our God was and is still a ‘consuming fire.’
But, Ezekiel’s contemporaries did not regard God in such a manner; and sadly, many of our contemporaries do not care either. As the Jews of Ezekiel’s time said, ‘The days grow long, and every vision comes to nothing,’ we hear the same from Christians and churches around us in our days.
III. KILLING THEM AND KILLING US SOFTLY
Simply put, this rebellion kills Christians and churches softly. I don’t mean Christians could fall and lose their salvation – that is impossible. What I mean is that our joy of living eternity from here on earth is being killed, diminished. This is for all who are saved through faith in Jesus. But, for anyone who seeks a rest in the Saviour, such a rebellious attitude Christians show and such a rebellious message churches preach is a great hinderance; it kills their thirst for the Saviour; it never lightens their spiritual darkness – that’s what I mean.
So, the message many Christians hear these days and like to follow is something in this sense: ‘know little about God but enjoy your life.’ The advocates of such a message often say their typical motto, ‘No creeds but deeds.’ They reject the need of knowing and studying the Bible and upholding a right doctrine as expressed in the form of creeds – like the Nicene Creed of the 4th century and the WCF of the 17th century. Instead, they emphasise acting upon mere love and charity. By their emphasis, they provide spiritual ‘milk’ only, neglecting to give ‘solid food’ for soul. And people remain satisfied with such an elementary knowledge – ‘milk’ in another word. About this, John Stott, one of this generation’s greatest teachers of God’s word, once described as ‘growth without depth.’
Receiving ‘spiritual milk’ only and constantly will eventually kill a Christian – once again, I don’t mean in terms of one’s salvation, but in terms of living a joyful life in Christ Jesus. Remaining as a spiritual infant for long is not desirable – in fact, it’s harmful. Listen to what Heb. 5:12-13 say, “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.” What a weighty charge it is for anyone who is sluggish in or indifferent to knowing God and Christ!
Every believer should and must desire ‘solid food’ and know God and Christ in depth. In this regard, the words of Heb. 5:14 is spot on: “solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Here, God equals one’s powers of discernment to his good deeds, meaning that knowing God and understanding the salvation of Christ enables one to do things good to the eyes of God! So, knowing is doing, or ‘creed brings deeds.’
After all, teaching this truth was the sole purpose of God’s judgment described in Eze. 12. He emphasises this again and again in vs. 15, 16 and 20. And hear what He says in v. 15, for example, “And they shall know that I am the LORD, when I disperse them among the nations and scatter them among the countries.” In order to lead them to know Him, God scattered Israel – how crucial it is to know God and His only Son our Saviour!
Let me conclude. If a Christian is indifferent to this truth, he/she experiences little joy of salvation. If anyone belittles God and His word, he/she would hardly see the Lord’s near presence, but walk on a spiritual desert. But all believers who know God and Christ in depth as the Scriptures reveal, every one of them are surrounded by rivers of joy and hope and comfort as the sheep of Ps. 23 are beside still waters and in green pastures.
A clear and good example is the hymn we sang last Sunday, that is, ‘When peace, like a river, flows all through my life’ written by Horatio Spafford in 1873. He wrote that hymn on a ship about halfway across the Atlantic Ocean, looking over the winds and waves. That location was, in fact, where his four precious daughters had been drowned in a maritime accident a few days earlier. There, Mr Spafford received sustaining comfort from God whom he had known and worshipped all his life, and wrote this hymn and each stanza contains deep truths of God and His salvation. So, hear what a Christian who had received solid food for his soul wrote:
‘When peace, like a river, attendeth my way, when sorrows like sea billows roll – whatever my lot, Thou hast taught me to say, It is well with my soul.
Tho Satan should buffet, tho trials should come, let this blest assurance control, that Christ hath regarded my helpless estate and shed His own blood for my soul.
And, Lord, haste the day when my faith shall be sight, the clouds be rolled back as a scroll;
The trump shall resound and the Lord shall descend, ‘Even so’ – it is well with my soul.’
My dear brothers and sisters in Jesus, let us know God and His love; let us deeply appreciate what Jesus the Son has done for us; let us know how the indwelling Holy Spirit teaches and guides us moment by moment with groans too deep for words! So, instead of being killed softly by any thoughts or attitude of belittling God and His word, have full joy of living heaven on earth, have the joy of walking together with the Spirit of God in the name of Jesus our King and Lord! ***