Bethel Evangelical Lutheran worshiping Jesus at 8th and N. East Ave. in York, NE.402-363-0022

July 9, 2017 Sermon

Click HERE for an audio version posted on our Facebook page.

Ezekiel 3:10-11

Dear Friends in Christ,

God called Ezekiel to be his prophet to the people of Judah who were in exile in Babylon. On the one hand, God reminds Ezekiel that things could be worse. He could have called him to go to some strange country where he would have to learn a difficult language before he could share God’s word with the people who lived there. Instead, he was sending him to speak to his own people, people who had the same culture, spoke the same language and were in the same situation. Ezekiel was also a captive from Judah in exile in Babylon. But, that was the end of the easy part. The difficulty would be that the people of Judah were in exile because they had consistently refused to listen to the prophets God had sent them in the past. Ezekiel could expect that many would not listen to the message he brought them from God, and that some might even verbally or physically oppose him.

If you think about it, we, as Christians today, find ourselves in a similar situation. Most of the people we have contact with each day share our language. We don’t have to learn a language that is foreign to us in order to share what God says with them. Even many of those from foreign lands who live among us understand enough English for us to speak with them about Jesus. But, like Ezekiel, we are finding that more and more people, even some from our own families, are those who don’t want to listen, or even become hostile, if we try to share with them what God says.

How did God prepare Ezekiel to face this situation? How does he prepare us to face this situation today? You see, although we may not be a prophet in the sense of proclaiming God’s word as a public minister, the fact that God has called us to faith and given is his word means that we are called to share it with others as we live our lives each day. God prepared Ezekiel, and he prepares us, by calling us to listen to his word and take it to heart; and then to tell our countrymen what God says.

God had given Ezekiel a pretty fantastic vision and part of that vision was a hand offering him something. It was a scroll with writing on both sides. That was unusual. Usually a scroll had writing only on one side because reading the back side would have been very difficult. But this was a vision and Ezekiel was not to read the scroll. He was to eat it. The meaning of the vision is explained plainly when God says, listen carefully and take to heart all the words I speak to you. Let my word fill you up.

This is the best preparation we can have for sharing God’s word with others. We need to first listen carefully and take to heart all that God says in his word.

We need to listen to all of God’s word, not just the parts we like; not just the same familiar stories. We need to know everything God’s word says so that we are not easily misled by those who like to quote things out of context and twist God’s word to make it say what they want it to say. We don’t want to limit ourselves to a small set of “proof passages”. We want to know the whole counsel of God and to see how wonderfully everything fits together.

As we listen to all of God’s word we also need to take it to heart. That means that we aren’t just reading God’s word to fit some schedule or fulfill some duty. It doesn’t mean that as we are hearing God’s word we are thinking about how it applies to others. It means that we are thinking about how it applies to us. It means that when God uses his word to uncover a sin in our lives, we confess that sin. It means that when God makes a wonderful promise we say “thank you Lord, I needed that, I trust your promise.”

We have all been guilty of not listening carefully to all that God has to say to us. At times we have not listened at all, maybe thinking that we already know all we need to know. At other times we have listened, but not really paid attention; or paid attention only when we thought “that person really needed to hear that.” We have often failed to take God’s word to heart and apply it to ourselves; we have failed to recognize and confess our sins, or failed to trust in God’s promises.

Thankfully, Jesus did what we fail to do. He listened to God’s word and took it to heart. That’s why he stayed behind in the temple at the age of 12. Even though he is the Word of God in the flesh we are told that he went to the Synagogue to hear God’s word, as was his custom. And, as he hung on the cross, God punished him for all the times that we have failed to listen carefully to his word and take it to heart. As our resurrected Lord, he continues to be patient with us and to encourage us as he did the disciples on the road to Emmaus, letting us experience the joy of hearing God’s word and seeing God’s promises fulfilled.

Before God sent Ezekiel to share his word with others he reminded him that he first needed to listen to God’s word and take it to heart. Then he would be able to go to his countrymen and tell them, this is what the Sovereign LORD says.

God had told Ezekiel in advance that there would be many who would not listen to what he had to say, and that some would speak out against him and threaten him. But God promised to be with him and make him just as stubborn about holding to God’s word as those who were opposing him.

Usually we think of stubbornness as something bad, but in this case, it’s something good. When we speak God’s word to others God doesn’t want us to be cowed into compromise. He hasn’t called us to be negotiators. He has called us to say, this is what the Sovereign LORD says.

Although Ezekiel was sent to his own people and that meant he didn’t have to learn another language, going to your own people sometimes is more difficult. It would have been easy for Ezekiel to empathize with those to whom God was sending him. He could understand what they were going through. He could understand why they might have been thinking that God had abandoned them, or gone back on his promise. But God reminded him that he could not let his feelings get in the way of God’s message. No matter how much empathy he had for his people who were with him in exile, he was not to let that change his message. He was to proclaim everything God had told him no matter how much it hurt, whether they listened or failed to listen.

You have probably experienced the temptation of letting feelings keep you from saying what God says. There have been some Christians who were strong opponents of abortion, who understood that the Bible clearly says that life begins at conception, and that science agrees. But, when a daughter, or another close family member, faces the loss of scholarships and the shame of a pregnancy out of wedlock, they rationalize and say, “In this case it’s OK, God would understand, God would approve.” They fail to say, this is what the Sovereign LORD says. They fail to call sin, sin; and they fail to point to Jesus as the solution to sin.

Like Ezekiel, it’s difficult for us to see people we love, people who are close to us, suffer the consequences of their sinful choices. We are worried that we might turn people off, or drive them away, if we tell them what we know the Lord says. But it’s not up to us to negotiate a compromise. God has called us to say, This is what the LORD says, both about sin, and especially about forgiveness of sin in Jesus. As he told Ezekiel, so he tells us, we are to speak the whole counsel of his word whether they listen or fail to listen.

Yes, Paul reminds us to speak the truth in love. And yes, we are to take into consideration the other person’s feelings and situation in life. We are to be like Nathan who used a parable to confront David. We are to find a loving way to bring up a sensitive topic. But that can never mean that we compromise God’s word and give the impression that something he says is a sin isn’t really that sinful; or give the impression that God didn’t really mean to keep some promise he has given. God is love. When we warns that all who reject him and his word will be condemned he is doing so in love. It would be unloving for him to say anything else because it’s not the truth. It’s unloving for us to give in to our feelings and keep silent about what God says, or leave out things that God says because we think that maybe more people would listen, because then they would not know the whole truth.

We had a family in our school in Atlanta who asked that we stop talking about the fact that there is a place called hell. They explained that during the season of Lent, all 40 days, their priest in Puerto Rico would proclaim from the bell tower that everyone deserved to go to hell and needed to repent. I could certainly understand why they felt the way they did. They had only heard half of what the Sovereign Lord says. But the loving solution to the problem was not to continue the error by going to the opposite extreme. We had to say we can’t stop saying there is a Hell and those who don’t believe will suffer there, because that’s what the Sovereign Lord says. But, we will also continue to teach that God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, that he wants all to be saved and that Jesus has paid for the sins of all people. There is a Hell, but God, in love, sent Jesus to pay for the sins of the world so that no one has to go there. Whoever believes in Jesus will not perish but have eternal life. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Unfortunately, they didn’t want to hear all that the Sovereign Lord says.

God called Ezekiel, and he has called each of us. He has given us his word. Although we are not prophets like Ezekiel, we are called to listen carefully to God’s word each day, and to take it to heart. Then, as we go about our lives each day we are called to tell others, this is what the Lord says. We are not to change, or add to, or subtract from what God says, regardless of the situation. It’s not up to us whether they listen or not. With hearts that are filled with God’s word, and therefore filled with love for God and our neighbor, we are to tell others, This is what the Lord says, whether they listen or fail to listen.