Ken Martin continues the Courage Series covering the life of Ezekiel. The sermon reflects on the call to be a watchman, national repentance, and God's restoration. Ultimately, it encourages finding courage in God's control, repentance, and the life-giving power of the Holy Spirit to renew the church.
Well, thank you. It's a privilege to be able to speak to you this morning and our topic as we can see is courage for living for God in difficult times and this morning we're going to be looking at the at the Book of Ezekiel um in the mid to late 1920s there was an American president Called Calvin Coolidge now Kelvin Coolidge was a very very quiet man he was his nickname was silent Kell and he um Dorothy Parker was a very famous New York columnist and when the White House announced that the president had died Dorothy Parker said how can they tell he was a very quiet man and one day um in coming home from church a President Coolidge uh agreed was greeted by his wife and she said to him what was the sermon about and he said well it was about Sin and she said and what did the pastor say well he said he's against it very quiet man well if you go home from church today and you want somebody says to you what is the sermon about you can say well it's about was about Sin and you can say definitely God is against it we haven't got time this morning to go into the whole book of Ezekiel but one of the commentators and I read quite a quite a bit over this last few weeks one of the commentators I read had this to say about the book The Book of Ezekiel is very deep in the middle of the prophetic books of the Old Testament and for many Believers it stays there unexcavated and mysterious few pastors want to touch it I'm sure that's not true of our past is here but um it because it doesn't lend itself to easy outlines and simple applications those who do delve into its 48 chapters May Come Away mystified and and wondering what did I just read what what does it all mean and whilst one of the Bible's more complex books Ezekiel is really worthwhile trying to understand the greatness and goodness of God are displayed within it and in stark contrast to the dark the background of Fallen Humanity there's so much to discover about the seriousness of sin the possibility of repentance and the complexity of the human heart well I can attest to that I was a bit slow in picking up which topic I was going to pick there were eight I think that David gave us and by the time I got around to it Ezekiel was the last so um it's not I'm not preaching on this because I have a great expertise on the on the Book of Ezekiel it wasn't just that I wasn't quite quick enough um but but as I said a minute ago it is a a book that helps us encourage us to look at things from God's perspective and that's not something that we always do I'm record I recall a story of Queen Victoria and somebody there was she had a visitor coming to visit her and afterwards one of her aides said what what did he think of you and the queen looked shocked she said well that never occurred to me he said it's what I think of him that matters and in many ways that is the way we should look at it with God it's what he thinks of us that is crucial just as a brief overview of the book and there won't be there's not going to be a quiz after this and I hope I can get this thing to work um there we go there's an overview here sections one chapters 1 to 24 uh challenges for the overconfident judeans about the gods present in the temple and also of certain judgment against the city and its Temple section 2 chapters 25 to 32 and their announcements of God's judgment on Israel on the Nations nearby and but particularly on Jerusalem and then Section 3 chapters 33 to 48 are announcements of Hope and for Israel and for the Nations but most of all for the whole of creation so just if we have some idea of the setting Ezekiel was exiled to Babylonia from Israel in 595 BC if you can wrap your mind around that and he went along with 10 000 other Exiles and refugees this was at the same time as Daniel Daniel was actually about I think he was about nine years before him that he went to Babylon as a refugee um and of course we know Daniel had risen to prominence in the court of Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah was also a um a contemporary of Ezekiel but he remained as a prophet to those still in Judah and Ezekiel was one among the first trench of people Exile from Israel um and Judah to Babylon now Babylon is what we now call Iraq and it's about a distance of about 1200 kilometers uh from Judah so that's about from here to Townsville I suppose um and and we know we've seen all those images of people that are refugees a few weeks ago we looked at one refugees in Sudan and it was tragic to see these people leaving their own countries being forced out not knowing where they were going to go and to face the terrible situation and we're all familiar with the scenes that we saw during the second world war of people being herded onto Railway carriages going torn away from their own countries well this is what it was like they they were being torn away from Israel and sent to somewhere very very strange and very different he was only young in his mid-20s probably about your age Dylan I reckon and he first that was when he first arrived and he was sitting by the banks of the Kerber River well it wasn't really a river it was a canal and um it was part of the irrigation scheme and the probably many of the Jewish refugees were working on that irrigation scheme and it was on his 30th birthday and this is absolutely amazing that this is the age at which if he'd been back in Judah he could have been a priest he was ready to be ordained and he was sitting by the banks of the river on his birthday that God gave him this remarkable Vision that we're going to be talking about now there was no birthday party there were no candles for Ezekiel any songs that he was singing weren't birthday songs there were probably more like this from Psalm 137 by the Rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion there on the poplars we hung our Harps for there our kept disasters for songs our tormentors demanded songs of joy they said sing us one of the songs of Zion how can we sing songs of the Lord while we're in a foreign land and if you want to talk about living in difficult times this was it this was about as difficult as it got for the Jewish people and as he sat by that canal he saw a storm cloud approaching a cross as he sat there watching and in the midst of this was this amazing Vision the report appeared four living character this is very complex and in fact that our saying Wheels within Wheels comes from this uh this particular passage and it gives a remarkable description of the power and glory of God so in verses 25 to 28 of chapter 1 of first of all I've got this picture up here of the few years ago Shirley and I went to Berlin and we saw this skateshavisca um taken from Babylon Brick by Brick and reasserted and I thought looked at this and I thought wow this is the very gate that probably Ezekiel and and Daniel uh were confronted with and the power of Babylon but as he sat by this is the description that came then there came a voice from The Vault over their heads as they stood and lowered with lowered wings above the Vault over their heads was what looked like a throne of lapis lazuli now some of you ladies might even have lapis on this morning it's beautiful blue deep blue a stone and this was the image that he saw high above that Throne was a figure like a man that of a man I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal as if full of Fire And that from there down it looked like fire and a brilliant light surrounded him like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day so was the radiance around him there was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord when I saw it I fell face down and I heard a voice of one Speaking this experience left Ezekiel completely stunned and shocked for a whole week and as Chris Wright and I um in reading and looking at this uh study I read Chris Wright who was one of the pastors at the uh at one point at the church in London All Souls church and as part of The Langham trust and Chris Wright says how was this possible Yahweh the god of Israel is appearing is speaking and putting his mighty hand forth there in the land of Exile and uncleanness and despair Ezekiel with his fellow Exiles most probably believed that God was Far Away God was to be precise God was in the temple in Jerusalem but how is it possible that he was appearing here in this Pagan country the Exiles felt despised and rejected by those that have been left behind in Jerusalem yet even there in remarkable similarity disarm 139 do you know Psalm 139 which says you know even when wherever I am no matter how far away I am God is still there the powerful presence of Yahweh was there in Babylon what a comfort and yet as the storm clouds rush in over the plain toward Ezekiel he knows that God is coming in judgment terrifying judgment as it turns out no wonder he was scared stiff for a week you know it's possible for us to feel distant from the presence of God at times to feel like exiles from his omnipresence as a spiritual or emotional alienation the experience of the Exile from the presence of God can be dark and terrible we may not be privileged with the vision the terrifying Vision that Ezekiel got and I guess most of us will be grateful for that but we can certainly pray for the reassurance of the touch of the hand reminding us that God is there even in these circumstances and as we read on into chapter 2 this very in a very dramatic way God called Ezekiel to be a prophet to the exiled people in Babylon and as we see later on it wasn't just to the Exiles but also to the surrounding countries and to the two other major powers of the day Egypt and Tire it was no easy task basically God said to him right from the start I'm sending you to them but don't expect them to take any notice of you they reject me so they're going to reject you the seriousness of the task given to Ezekiel is highlighted in chapter 3 where is he designated as a Watchman and we all know the role of the Watchman was to sit on the wall and to warn people and that was his responsibility and it was a very important task and so that it was very very essential um that A God Called Ezekiel to be a prophet to the exiled people um in chapters 3 verses 16 to 19 says at the end of seven days the word of the Lord came to me son of man I have made you a Watchman for the people of Israel so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me when I say to a wicked person you will surely die and you do not warn them or speak out to dissuade them from their evil ways or to save their life that Wicked person um will die for their sin and I will hold you accountable for their blood but if you do warn the wicked person and they do not turn from their wickedness or from their evil ways they will die for their sin but you will have saved yourself I'm not sure what you think but I reckon this is a pretty heavy kind of task very heavy stuff really in other words I he said do what I'm commanding you to do or else their blood is going to be on your head but even more significantly is the warning it it it says give them a warning from me when actually what he's saying is warn them against me what the Exiles in Babylon and those remaining in Judah should really have been afraid of was not the Babylonians not the Egyptians or the Assyrians they should have been afraid of the Judgment of God there is a theme running right through the whole of this book that just can't be ignored God takes sin seriously and so should we there is a tendency you know today I think even among Christians to discard the Old Testament is somehow rather just God in a bad mood and he lightens up when he gets to the New Testament well nothing could be further from the truth Ezekiel along with the other 38 books of the Old Testament are an integral part of the word of God and the inspired word of God and we should know that his grace and mercy come through in the Old Testament just as judgment and repentance come through in the New Testament if we care to read it God doesn't change the way he deals with sin he judges it one way or another now we don't have time this morning to go into the early chapters of the book but we're told that Ezekiel as it God called him to this task his lips were sealed and he he wasn't able to speak which is amazing given the things that he had to say and then he was called upon to do what was a series of what we would call Street theaters uh sort of Charades we've all played charades of some sort except this wasn't a game this was serious first he takes a block of clay and he makes a mold of a city of Jerusalem and a Siege of the armies so The Siege is all displayed and using his wife's cooking pan and he got his wife's cooking pan and he sort of held it between himself and this he was doing all this by acting out and people were expecting well maybe that pan is God coming to protect them they were shocked in horror when they realized that that pan represented God but it was coming against them this was not a message they wanted to hear and then Ezekiel gives another demonstration on a diet a basic meal and water for an extended period indicating the conditions that Jerusalem was about to face as they face The Siege and next city he's tied up on this basic diet for a period of 390 days I mean that's over a year one day for every year since Solomon's Temple was built for the rebellion of his people let's think about that and finally he takes a sharp sword and he shaves his beard and his head now I don't know about you guys here this morning I have trouble shaving with a big shaver but let alone a sharp sword I hate to think of the consequences but then he shaves his hair and then he he casts some of the hair into the fire and then he tucks a little bit in his belt but even after that he takes a little bit of that out and he throws it into the fire all of these dramas Were Meant to warn the people who were hoping for a short exile that the city of Jerusalem and the temple was about to be completely destroyed and that they would be exiled for an extended period of time but that little bit of hair tucked away inside his belt represented something very special it was God's preservation of a small remnant of people and one thing I found so helpful and Powerful in preparing this message was the realization ultimately that God is in complete control his will prevails it comes through time and time again it says he The Sovereign Lord has spoken it it will be done and chapter 8 Ezekiel is given another Vision this time it's not a vision of the glory of God but a vision of idolatry and the practice taking place in in the temple in Jerusalem it's it's interesting that Ezekiel recalls the exact date of this prophetic vision the 17th of September 5592 BC about 14 months after he had that other big vision it was important because later on when the temple was finally destroyed and Jerusalem was destroyed they could say this wasn't from God this wasn't something I made up this was true and in verses 5 and 6. of Chapter eight it reads this and he said to me son of man look toward the north so I looked and in the entrance of the north of of the Gate of the altar I saw this Idol of jealousy and he said to me son of man do you see what they're doing the utterly detestable things the Israelites are doing here things that will drive me Far From My Sanctuary but you will see things that are even more detestable the chapter goes on to list the acts of rebellion against the Lord and why his anger was so fierce worshiping foreign Idols with all their evil practices just a few meters away from the holy of holies you know I I as I read this I thought of Jesus 500 600 years later standing the Son of God looking over Jerusalem remember the story Jerusalem how often I would have gathered you in as even as a hen gathers of chickens under her wings but you wouldn't the rebellion of his people and Chris Wright's comment on this is very telling again as we seek to apply the challenge of such a posture to ourselves the picture of ancient Elders worshiping reptiles in a dark and smoke-filled room might as well be from a different planet or a science fiction movie yet in principle their action is endemic to the people of God in every era we Proclaim our covenant loyalty to the Living God we put our lives under his protection and affirm his Sovereign power we sing songs about the faithfulness of God and our eternal security and yet often in real life we act as if we had no confidence in God at all for our future instead we expend enormous amounts of material and emotional resources on fixing things up for ourselves it is well worth checking where we have drawn the line between wisdom that makes prudent provision for the future of ourselves and our families and the idolatry that builds all our hope and security on the modern equivalence of the Gods and armies of Egypt challenging words for us today as we seek to be faithful to God and to for us to be faithful to him as we live in a fallen world but even in the middle of all these dire predictions from God there is a thread running through about the remnant of his people who will come through all of this and one day be back worshiping him in the temple as chapter 11 demonstrates in the most wonderful way therefore say this is what the Sovereign Lord says I sent them far away among the Nations and Scattered them among the countries yet for a while I have been there a sanctuary for them in the countries where they have gone therefore say this is what the Sovereign Lord says I will gather you from the Nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered and I will give you back the land of Israel again they will return to it and remove all the vile images into testable gods and this is a wonderful thing I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them I will remove from them their Heart of Stone and give them a heart of Flesh the spirit of God is very good at removing hearts of stone and breathing new life into things that are dead and in the following chapters much is written about God's anger toward Israel and then in chapter 24 we have the insight into a personal tragedy for Ezekiel ezekiel's wife whom he describes I wonder guys whether you can describe your wife this way as the Delight of his eyes so they were very much in love and one can only imagine what a long-suffering person she must have been to have to live through this for a man with a call to be a prophet in such difficult times and convey it in such unusual ways that Ezekiel did and in some mighty unconventional ways and God told him not to mourn even as he lost the wife that he loved because this was also meant to be a message to the people of of Israel and the next few chapters are messages to the Nations around Israel and Egypt entire they gloated they gloated over Israel's demise and mocked the god of Jacob and for that they were going to pay a very heavy price it's telling that and it's something that we should be aware of in our modern world that God is Not a disinterested spectator in the Affairs of men and Nations what implications we might ask are there for us in these passages that we've read a country with a rich Christian Heritage that's absolutely turned us back on God Graham was so concerned about the United the moral decline in the United States that he once said God will have to punish America or apologize to Sodom Graham Kendrick that's modern hymn writer has written some wonderful hymns that we know wrote this and I think I've missed oh yes here we go who can sound the depths of Sorrow this is written as a repentance for the United Kingdom who can sound the depths of sorrow in the Father's Heart of God for the children we've rejected for the lives so deeply scarred and each life that we've accessing extinguished has brought Darkness to our land Upon Our Nation Upon Our Nation have mercy Lord we have scorned the truth you gave us we are bowed to other Lords we have sacrificed the children on the altar of our gods holy truth again Shine On Us let your holy fear descend Upon Our Nation Upon Our Nation have mercy Lord of course it's the rebellion of God's Own people that caused God the greatest pain and that's still true we followers of Christ are his people and we're called to be Salt and Light in a fallen world and that's going to take a great deal of courage in the years ahead in chapter 33 ezekiel's call as a Watchman to Israel is renewed and then in verse 21 we are told that in the 12th year of the Exile a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came and told him that the city had been destroyed it had happened God's prophecy had been fulfilled all the terrible warnings that had been given the unthinkable had occurred the temple was no more it was in Ruins there'd be no quick end to this Exile it was going to go on and last at least for a generation they were living in very difficult times but did this mean that this was the end for Israel did it mean that the god in his anger had finally torn up the Covenant that he made with Abraham it didn't of course there would be no going back Yahweh had spoken for this generation and his judgment was Final and we might ask why didn't why did God have such patience with Israel why didn't he just as they broke the Covenant why didn't he break the Covenant once and for all they trampled on it but God's plan was not just for Israel but through Israel he intended to bless the whole world and that would be through the coming of his son every time the sacrificial lamb was offered up it was pointing to the coming of Jesus and God was going to restore a remnant of his people so that Jesus could come and fulfill God's desire for the world and as we move through the book and we need to move on quickly the book 34 speaks of the removal of the corrupt monarchy which is there that had very very poor leaders and chapter 36 is a wonderful chapter dealing with the vision for the restoration of Israel it's Agriculture and its wealth it's fortifications and taking away that Heart of Stone and putting in a heart of Flesh and why is God doing all that why this is I think one of the keys to this book therefore say to the Israelites this is what the Sovereign Lord says it is not for your sake people of Israel that I'm doing these things but for the sake of my holy name which you have profaned among the Nations we've gone I will show the Holiness of my great name which has been profaned among the Nations the name you have prevailed among them then the Nations will know that I am the Lord declares The Sovereign Lord when I am proved holy through you before their eyes it's so easy to forget today when we only hear the name of Jesus in blasphemy that he is jealous God is jealous of His holy name and it wasn't for their sakes he was doing this it was for his name's sake and for the whole of creation and as we move into into chapter 37 it was a day trip time for Ezekiel it was going to be lifted again to another vision and the last time he'd gone out into the valley he'd been confronted with the vision of the glory of Yahweh and uh he must have wondered what what's God got in store for me now to see and then he was confronted with this Valley dead bones skeletons possibility the uh uh the bones of thousands and thousands of dead soldiers from a long forgotten battle and the Lord leads him back and forth among these dry bones and the Lord puts a question to Ezekiel he said there's a good question son of man can these bones live what a question I wonder how you'd answer that well Ezekiel was very clever actually he said Sovereign Lord you alone know and then in verse 4 and chapter 37 I will read through this then he said to me prophesy to these bones and say to them dry bones hear the word of the Lord this is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones I will make breath into you and you will come to life I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin I would put breath in you and you will come to life and you will know I am the Lord so I prophesied as I was commanded and as I was prophesying there was a noise a rattling sound and the bones came together bound to bone and I looked and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them but there was no breath in them then he said to me prophesy to the breath prophesy son of man and say to it this is what the Sovereign Lord says come breath from the Four Winds and breathe into these slain that they may live so I prophesied and he commanded me and breath entered them and they came to life and stood a vast Army the Lord goes on to to explain to Ezekiel that these bones are the bones of Israel without hope and like skeletons and he was going to Breathe new life into them and restore them and bring them back to their own land one of the earliest poems of the Hebrew Bible proclaims see now that I am he there is no God beside me I put to death and bring to life I have wounded and I will heal and no one can deliver out of my hand it was the simple Obedience of Ezekiel that was so strikes Accord he simply spoke the word that he was commanded no magic no secret incantations no Conjuring tricks just the living power of the word of God invading the Shadow the valley of death and the other event mirrored here is the creation of humanity as God breathed life into Adam so new life comes through the breath of the holy spirit this Vision was meant to convey hope to the Exiles that they were as good as dead but Jerusalem was in ruins the temple destroyed and seemingly very little hope that they'd ever get back there but God had different plans as the vision showed and whilst the vision is largely about Israel and its restoration it's also looking back to Genesis and the spirit of God in creation and looking forward to the spirit of God raising Jesus Christ it is clear that God's long-term plan was not just for Israel back through the restoration of Israel the Messiah would come and bring Salvation not just to the house of Israel but to the whole world so that that vision of those dead bones is so so powerful for us that spirit of God that can raise to New Life what a wonderful message of encouragement for us not just for Israel but the whole of God's creation and then in chapter 38 we have we won't have time to deal with this but it goes through there's mentions Gog and Magog and everybody's tried to work out who they are well nobody knows and we never will probably or we might when we get to glory and if people think they know well um then I would question that but you know one thing about that when he talks about Gog and magoga talks about a battle when we were at All Souls Church Rich abuse started a series on Revelation and before he started he said you know what there are no surprise endings God wins I thought that was really good now we come to the end of the book and a climatic vision of the Prophet among the Exiles at 25 years now since he was first taken away carted into Babylonia and once more once more he's transported by the spirit to a high mountain and tip and told to observe everything he sees and he records the the new Temple and we won't go into that and that Temple was re finally rebuilt but and Jesus finally went into that rebuilt Temple do you remember the story and he threw out those thieves and and and challenge them that they turned it into a den of Thieves from the very beginning it was God's plan uh to to build another Temple not one of stone but a temple in the hearts of his people he would appoint another high priest his own son Jesus who was the Messianic embodiment if you like of the temple and in Hebrews 14 4 14 it says therefore since we have a great high priest who was ascended into heaven Jesus the son of God let us firm whole firmly to the faith we profess so much of the Old Testament including the wonderful Book of Ezekiel point forward to the ultimate salvation of God's people both Jew and Gentile and the coming of the sacrificial lamb of Jesus Christ what lessons can we have from This Book of Ezekiel if you are I'd encourage you to read the last little bit in the end of the chapter when it shows the temple and the water flowing out from the temple and that blessing that's going to come to the whole world through that the God we have to remember took sin so seriously that he offered up his own son as a permanent sacrifice and the Judgment that was ours fell on him but that's only for those who claim the forgiveness if we haven't done so then I would encourage you and urge you because we can see from the word of God this morning that he takes in very seriously lessons from Ezekiel well first of all God will always achieve his Divine purposes Yahweh has spoken God cannot ignore sin it is either forgiven which is his preference or it is punished the Nations All Nations are ultimately accountable to him the Holy Spirit can bring life into that which is lifeless the Lord preserved a Jewish Remnant in order to bless the whole world through the death and resurrection of his son and then lastly all life-giving renewal in the church or the world flow directly from the presence of God and is not something that we can generate or control let's pray father we thank you for your word we thank you for its power we thank you for the fact that you you love and you care so much and yet we know that also you have to punish sin and we thank you that you took that sin and you laid it on Jesus for us and we give you our thanks and praise for that oh Lord help us to see that this morning help us to take your word seriously help us to be able to look at things from your perspective we pray and we ask it in Jesus name. Amen.