The Rev. Paul J Cain, Jr.
The Word from the Lord’s Watchman
Third Sunday in Lent, 07 March 2010
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Sheridan, Wyoming
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen
It’s never easy to say “No” to someone else, but it gets easier when there’s danger involved. A hot stove. A busy street. Danger to those we love and have been given to care for brings out tough love. Good parents know that they are parents first, not their child’s buddy.
We probably know Ezekiel best for the story of the dry bones. This text should be just as important to us. The Word from the Lord’s Watchman is often warning, “No,” for the person’s own good. The Lord speaks to Ezekiel.
7"So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. 8If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. 9But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.
This text teaches us about consequences. The people were unfaithful. They broke the First Commandment. They went after false gods and even tried to mix worship of the one, true God with pagan worship. As a consequence, 600 years before Christ they were exiled to Babylon, today, near Baghdad, Iraq.
There is a consequence for sin. Death. The wages of sin is death. The paycheck you earn for sinning in thought, word, and deed—not to mention what you neglect to do—is death.
God gives His Word for our benefit. Faithful preachers preach the whole counsel of God—everything He says. They do not add to God’s message, nor do they cut out parts they or their hearers have a problem with.
It’s not always pleasant work, but pastors today, just like Ezekiel, God’s prophet and priest, are to warn the wicked about their sin. Every one of us in this room is a sinner. Each one of us needs to hear that warning.
Warnings have consequences, too. Remember Jonah? God told him to go to Nineveh to preach repentance. Nineveh is near the Modern Iraqi city of Mosul, where the Kurds live. Jonah refused. Not only that, he got on a boat going in the opposite direction. Three days in a fish later, the Lord called him to go again. He did. He preached repentance to a large city full of gentiles and they repented. They responded to the warning with repentance. That’s a good consequence. The book of Jonah ends with the prophet Jonah upset that the people repented. He wanted to see them destroyed!
The Lord says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” That should be the desire of every Christian pastor. He sometimes has to practice ‘tough love.’ The law is proclaimed to the sinner so that the sinner would repent. The Gospel is proclaimed so that sinner would be forgiven and have faith in Christ. Repentance and faith go together.
But. Another word that’s as hard to hear as “no.” But if someone won’t repent after the preaching of the law, the preacher has still faithfully done his job. Unfaithful preachers face severe consequences when they neglect the preaching of the law and calling a spade a spade—calling sin what it is—sin.
10"And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: 'Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?' 11Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
The people felt hopeless. They called out to the Lord from their exile, 'Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?' Their hearts and mouths were full of lament over Jerusalem. They knew Jeremiah’s second book very well.
How does the Lord respond? “As I live,” declares the Lord GOD, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” God says, “Repent. Turn. Return to me for I am gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love. Spiritual U-turns are legal. Abandon forever evil ways. Sin no more.”
The old Lutheran theologians called the Law God’s alien work. This has nothing to do with creatures from other planets or immigration. The word ‘alien’ is used in contrast to God’s ‘proper’ work, the Gospel. God did not create humanity just to condemn it. John Calvin was wrong when He taught that God predestined some to hell. God says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” God wants to give you good gifts, especially forgiveness.
What else does the Lord give Ezekiel to proclaim?
12"And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses, and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. 13Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. 14Again, though I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, 15if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 16None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live.
Ezekiel covers some very familiar ground. Works don’t save. You are not saved by being good. You are saved by God in Christ because of what Christ suffered on the cross in your place.
The righteousness of the righteous will not deliver him when he sins. True. One sin is enough to condemn a person. He must saved by someone else’s righteousness. Jesus gives His as a gift. One’s own righteousness will never be enough.
In addition, there is hope for a sinner who repents. He has no righteousness of his own to claim. He, too, receives as gift Jesus’ own righteousness. Jesus is life. He will walk in the statutes of life.
Post Emergent: “In Jesus, we have the great exchange. Jesus imputed our sins on him[self] at the cross and Jesus imputes his righteousness to our account. This is the Gospel. When God see us, He does not see our sin, but Christ’s righteousness. Martin Luther called this an “alien righteousness” since it is not our own righteousness, but Christ’s righteousness. In 1 Peter 2:24 we that “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” At the Cross, Christ forgave all our sins. When He said, “Father forgive them”, it was for all people, for all time. This was not just for the Roman soldiers or the Jewish leaders or even the mob that yelled “Crucify him!” (end quote)
The Lord continues to tell Ezekiel about his own people.
17"Yet your people say, 'The way of the Lord is not just,' when it is their own way that is not just. 18When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it. 19And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by them. 20Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways."
God chose them as His people and they promised to be faithful. He said, “You shall have no other gods,” and they said “Amen.” And they fell away again and again. Unfair? Hardly. Exile is what they deserved. The Lord was merciful by not pouring out all of His wrath against them. He was gracious in preserving a faithful remnant. That remnant would lead to Jesus, our substitute, who fulfilled God’s justice and fairness by suffering the punishment we deserved. Unfair?
It is a dangerous and fearful thing to tell the Lord that He isn’t fair. At one time or another, we all have, haven’t we? We whine and complain from the years, the mere decades of our experience. God acts from ageless eternity. He sees the big picture we can only imagine.
Instead, faith prays, “Thy will be done.” Faith prays for daily bread and daily repentance: “Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”
The Lord gave His word to His Watchman, His servant, His instrument on the scene. The Watchman is to speak only the Lord’s Words. To fail in that in any way would show the Watchman was unfaithful. He is not to say what itching ears want to hear, but often exactly the opposite. The Watchman faces us up to the Lord, His will, His ways, and His Word.
The Word from the Lord’s Watchman will often be a word of warning and judgment for our own good to wake us up to our own sinfulness and lead us to repent. Then the Word from the Lord’s Watchman will be one of hope, reassurance, and comfort.
“I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” says the Lord, “but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” Return to the Lord your God. “Wake, awake, for night is flying,” The Watchmen on the heights are crying; “Awake, Jerusalem, arise!” Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.