On Monday we looked at the background to Ezekiel’s prophetic message, and the big picture of a promised reboot of God’s people. If you’re just joining us, it’s best to start there and work your way forward.
Having looked yesterday at how this chapter finds its completion in Jesus and God’s people today, we’re now going to step back into the chapter and ask what it might have to say to us.
The call to repent
Firstly, there’s the call to repent. To turn away from doing evil, and obey God. To listen to God’s word and put it into practice. If Israel was held accountable for not listening to their watchman, how much more will we be held accountable for ignoring our watchman.
So if we haven’t already done so: hear the message of Jesus, the son of man: repent and believe! If you want to reboot your life — but can’t figure out how to do it —in Jesus, God has done it for you. You just have to ask.
But in the chapter we read, there are also some warnings. Warnings for those who thought they were OK with God. People who said they trusted in God, but didn’t live like it. Who only listened to God’s word, but didn’t obey. Or people who used to live God’s way—people who once were in right relationship with God—but then started to take it for granted, and turned to sin. Is that warning for us, too?
We need to be careful here, as this is part of the problem with God’s people version 1. They couldn’t reboot themselves. They needed a new heart—as we’ll see in a couple of weeks when we get to chapter 36. A heart transplant that would be done by God, precisely because they couldn’t operate on themselves.
So in one sense, this warning isn’t for us. Those of us who are part of God’s people 2.0 already have that new heart. Jesus’ death and resurrection has set us free from slavery to sin. His Spirit is in us, drawing us back to him. So no, that shouldn’t be about us.
But if you sense that it might be talking about you—if you’re habitually not living in a way that’s consistent with your status as God’s people—then pay attention. It might be the Spirit of God—it might be your new heart calling you back to obedience. Listen to it.
Or it might be the Spirit of God challenging you to think about your status with God: have you really responded to the watchman’s call to repent? Or are you still in need of that new operating system God’s promised?
The church is the watchman
But also, remember how Ezekiel was told to be a watchman for the people of Israel? And how Jesus continued that role of watchman: proclaiming the coming of God’s reign; urging repentance in light of God’s coming judgement?
Now sure, Jesus did his job. But that job didn’t stop with Jesus. He sent us out to continue that work. We, the Church, have become the watchman. And for two thousand years we’ve been doing our job: proclaiming the message that God is a God of justice.
And because he’s the God of justice, one day he’ll act to set things right; to judge his rebellious world for their sin.
But also because he’s the God of justice, he’s been more than fair. He’s sent countless watchmen, including his only son, to warn people to repent. To plead with them to repent:
Ezekiel 33:11 Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, people of Israel?’
Like Ezekiel, we need to do our job in proclaiming this message as God’s watchmen. (And watchwomen, hashtag feminism. I mean, do you know how hard it is to find a good gender inclusive term? Watch-people’s a bit awkward and God’s watchers sounds like the name of a creepy sect. God’s Early Warning System?)
But unlike Ezekiel—and this is important—most of the time we’re not calling God’s own people back to obedience. We’re not in Ezekiel’s position, speaking to people who know God’s word—or at least, who should have known God’s word—telling them that they’re sinners facing judgement.
For the most part, we’re speaking to people who don’t know God—maybe they don’t think he exists at all; maybe they’ve been brought up to follow another god; almost certainly they have little understanding of what God expects, beyond their own conscience.
In that case, while the content of our message might end up being the same as Ezekiel’s, the way in which we do it—and the order in which we present it—needs to be far more gracious. (See my post on the Israel Folau saga for a look at how the rhetorical setting of the Bible is often ignored.)
As the Apostle Peter puts it:
1 Peter 3:15 Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.
Or as John Dickson puts it: don’t be a jerk.
There are too many Christians who either don’t do their job as a watchman, out of fear the world won’t like it — Newsflash: it probably won’t — or they do their job, but with the opposite of gentleness and respect. Even to the point of giving the impression that we take pleasure in the death of the wicked—something God himself doesn’t do, as he said in Ezekiel 33:11.
After all, they aren’t capable of rebooting themselves. And neither were we. God’s mercy toward us should make us passionate, com-passionate watchmen. It should make us people who plead with tears rather than judgementalism as we tell the world of God’s mercy: of how they, too, can be a part of his new, rebooted people.