And 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 house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.
If I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, in order to save his life, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.
But if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, or from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you will have saved your life.
Again, if a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you have not warned him, he shall die for his sin, and his righteous deeds which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand.
Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man not to sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live, because he took warning; and you will have saved your life." (RSV)
Theme: Christ gives His people a watchman to protect their life.
Read: Ezekiel 33:1-20; Acts 20:25-31
Text: Ezekiel 3:16-21
Songs: (from Book of Praise, Ango-Genevan Psalter)
Ps 62:3,4,7 (opening)
Ps 40:4 (after creed)
Ps 12:4 (after baptism)
Ps 119:62,63 (after collection)
Ps 1:1,2,3 (after sermon)
Ps 127:1 (closing)
Date: Preached by Rev. Richard Pot, September 28, 1997
Occasion: Inaugural sermon
Location: Canadian Reformed Church of Orangeville, Ontario
Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,
In many ways, today marks a new beginning. It marks a new beginning for you as congregation. The time of vacancy, being without a minister for over a year, has come to an end. You have received a new minister. It also marks a new beginning for me. A time of formal studying at the Theological College has come to an end. I have received a new task, the task as your pastor and shepherd.
And so often with all new beginnings, there may be questions. Expectations for the future. What's he going to be like? He's only young - I wonder how he'll cope with this or that. I wonder if he'll be able to solve this problem or that? Certainly there have been questions on my part. Not always right questions, but questions no less. Who am I, an ordinary man, with weaknesses and sins, to be a minister? What will I say when making difficult visits? I've still so much to learn - will I be able to manage this or that?
In the face of such questions, we do well, both you and I, to remind ourselves of what God Himself instructs us in Scripture about the office of minister of the Word. For what counts are not my personal ideas, or yours, but what God Himself tells us. We must seek a Scriptural perspective. That perspective we find in our text, where God sends the prophet Ezekiel as a watchmen to His people Israel.
And then we realize that today is not first of all about Rev Pot. It is not first of all about the Orangeville Canadian Reformed Church. Rather, today is about Jesus Christ. Christ, the king of His church, who gathers, defends and preserves His people, protecting their life. I proclaim to you God's Word under the theme:
Christ gives His people a watchman to protect their life.
1. The task of the watchman
2. The message of the watchman
3. The response to the watchman
1. The task of the watchman
The prophet Ezekiel lived in a dark time. Imagine. In the space of less that 20 years, three loads of Israelites were dragged from the promised land. Three loads! Into exile. They had to live in Babylon. That center of the kingdom of the world. Away from Jerusalem, away from the temple, away from God Himself, it seemed. There they were, God's people, children of Abraham - in a foreign land, a strange country. Even the king himself, Jehoiachin, was in exile. Ezekiel too - he was supposed to be a priest, serving at the temple in Jerusalem, but there he was in Babylon too, far from Jerusalem, far from the temple.
But it gets worse stilll. Those Babylonians weren't satisfied with just ravaging the land. Would they dare to touch God's temple, His dwelling place in Jerusalem? Yes they would. And they did. There it went, into pieces, into rubble, into a smoking pile of ruins.
Isn't that terrible? Would God let them do that? Yes, He would. He would because Israel deserved it. They deserved it. They deserved it because of their sin. Look at chapter 2 of Ezekiel, verse 3. "I send you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels, who have rebelled against me; they and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day." Verse 6 "be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit upon scorpions; be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are rebellious house." ....though briers and thorns are with you and you sit upon scorpions.... Can you imagine sitting on a scorpion? It's not exactly a desirable thing to do, I'm sure. Yet that's the language the Lord is using here in describing the seriousness of His people's sin.
Yes indeed, the time of Ezekiel was a dark time. The unfaithful bride Israel had abandoned her husband. She prefered sin and death, rather than obedience and life. And yet, marvel of marvels, God says: No. God says: come back. You will die. Though you are unfaithful I want you to live. And so He gives them a watchman. A watchman to protect their life. A watchman. Ezekiel. "Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel." A watchman. Yes, brothers and sisters, this is God's mercy, that He gives His people a watchman. He the Almighty God is pleased to give His people as watchman... a man. An ordinary man. That's what our text means when it says "son of man". An ordinary human being. Though God is Almighty. Holy. Though He hates sin. Yet: He is pleased to use as a watchman an ordinary man. A man with all his human weaknesses. A man with all his sins. A man who gets tired at night after a busy day. A man who gets hungry when he doesn't eat any food...a man. Like you. Like me. Not an angel. Not a heavenly being. God is pleased to use as His watchman an ordinary, plain, man. A son of man. Ezekiel.
And what is his task as watchman? Well, first we need to understand what a watchman is. That becomes clearer when we compare our text with our Scripture reading Ezekiel chapter 33. What we have to imagine is a small city or town. Perhaps about a 1000 or 2000 people - that was quite normal. Now this small city needs protection. If an enemy force comes with enough soldiers, they can just walk in and take it over. To prevent that from happening, walls are built up around the city. Strong walls, all the way around, so there is no way the enemy could get in. There are gates of course, but as long as there is sufficient warning, these can be closed and defended, and there is very little the enemy could do except sit outside the walls and wait. The city is safe. With one exception. The one way that the enemy has a chance of conquering this city, this city with walls all the way around, is to take it by surprise. To get through those gates before anyone realizes it, and while they are undefended. Now to prevent that from happening. To make sure they are not caught by surprise. To ensure that they have plenty of warning in the event of an enemy attack, a man with a very important job is posted on the city walls. The watchman.
There he stands, high on the walls. And he has to be high up, so that he can see far into the distance. His eyes scan the horizon constantly. Panning the countryside. Squinting in the bright light. Searching for any sign of movement. No matter what the weather, no matter how tired he is, he must stick to his task. He must not nod off to sleep, he must keeps his eyes open. Under no circumstances can he desert his post. Again, he looks around, watching, ever so carefully watching in the distance. If there is going to be an attack, he must see it. He must see it as soon as dust becomes visible in the distance - is it just a messenger? Or is it an sudden invasion by enemy forces? And if it is an attack? Then he must waste no time. He must blow the trumpet. He must blow it loud and long, to warn the people, to wake them up, to put everybody on the alert. That is his task. Watching...and warning.
"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel" says the Lord to Ezekiel. What must he do as watchman? He must watch and warn. Says God: "Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give the warning from me." Really, Ezekiel's task is very simple. He must do two things: Number 1 is this: he must watch. He must watch. That is, he must hear God's Word. "Whenever you hear a word from my mouth." Number 2 is this: he must warn: That is, He must bring God's Word. He must announce it to God's people. What it comes down to is simply this: As a watchman, Ezekiel must simply hear and bring God's Word to His people. That's all there is to it. "Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me." And that's why the word "watchman" is used more often in the Bible to refer to God's prophets. That's what those prophets had to do: they had to watch and to warn: that is, they had to hear and bring God's Word.
Simple isn't it? Yes, brothers and sisters, simple, and yet difficult. Ezekiel was indeed a good watchman. But the message he had to bring wasn't exactly a popular one. He had to bring God's Word to a people who didn't want to hear it. As watchman, he had to announce God's Word of condemnation because of their sins: Chapter 5:6 "And she has wickedly rebelled against my ordinances more than the nations, and against my statutes more than the countries round about her, by rejecting my ordinances and not walking in my statutes." As watchman, he had to announce God's Word of judgment because of their sins: Chapter 5:9-11 "And because of all your abominations I will do with you what I have never yet done, and the like of which I will never do again. Therefore fathers shall eat their sons in the midst of you, and sons shall eat their fathers....." cannibalism in Jerusalem. Then v11 "therefore I will cut you down; my eye will not spare, and I will have no pity." Not a pleasant message to bring. But as faithful watchman, Ezekiel faithfully proclaimed it, He watched and He warned. He brought God's Word to His people as a true prophet.
But there were also false prophets. These were the ones who said: "Peace, peace! Don't worry people! It's not that bad! It's a little tough going now, but it's going to get better real soon, don't worry! Jerusalem isn't going to be destroyed, of course not! And we'll soon be out of exile and back in Jerusalem, just you wait and see." These were the false prophets. And they were wrong. They did not bring God's Word. They brought a message which the people wanted to hear, a message which they invented. They were not faithful watchmen. They did not watch and warn. The Bible calls them: "Blind watchmen." Blind watchmen. Can you imagine a blind watchman? Standing on the walls? What good would that do? You can see it happening before your eyes - the enemy comes, and there is no-body who sees them. As they enter the gates there is no-body who blows the trumpet. Before they realize it, they are being killed, as the voice of the blind watchman on the watchtower echoes off the walls..."All is well."
Brothers and sisters, it is no accident that God calls ministers and elders in the New Testament: "overseers". Watchmen. What did we read in Acts 20:28? There Paul says to the elders in Ephesus: "Take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers." Overseers. Watchmen. It's the same word. That's also why Hebrews 13:17 says "Obey your leaders and submit to them; for they are keeping watch over your souls..." Watchmen. And then again the task is so very simple. Officebearers must simply bring God's Word. Today you have received a new minister. What then do you expect of the minister? Perhaps you wonder - what's he going to be like? What will his sermons be like? Will he solve this problem or that?
But then we must remind ourselves of what the task of the watchman is. It is simply this: to bring God's Word. That's what sermons are all about: what does God reveal to us in Scripture. That's why we come to church: to hear what God has to say to us in His Word. And for me, then, that remains a task. Today the Lord has allowed me to become a minister. Or, as I perhaps should say: A minister of the Word. As an ordinary human being, a son of man, yes, an ordinary person with sins, with weaknesses no less, I am allowed to bring God's Word. Indeed, I must. For that task that lies ahead, brothers and sisters, is to bring God's Word. Not my own opinions or ideas. But God's Word. And then I need not think: What shall I say? What do the people want to hear? What will go down best? But just this: watching and warning. Hearing and bringing God's Word to His people. The message I bring, brothers and sisters, must not be my own. It must not be original. It must be rooted solidly in Scripture, it must confront you with what God Himself says. Says the apostle Paul in 2Cor 5:20 "So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us." That's the task of the watchman: "Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me."
2. The message of the watchman
What is the message that Ezekiel must bring? First of all, we must notice to where he is sent. God says "I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel." for the house of Israel. Ezekiel isn't placed as a watchman on the walls of just any city. He's a watchman on the walls of the church. God's covenant people. That's very important for us to notice, for it means that the watchman is concerned with God's people. Now, recall again to which people Ezekiel is being sent. This is the people that God compared with briers and thorns and scorpions! The same ones. That rebellious house that wasn't serving God! The very ones. Ezekiel must go to these same people and say: "Thus says the Lord." And he has to do that because these are God's people. This is the church. These are God's covenant people to whom He promised life. You see the amazing thing is that even though Israel is in exile, even though Jerusalem is about to get destroyed, even though Israel has sinned against the Lord - God is concerned with His people's life! That's why He gives them a watchman - to protect their life! He doesn't want them to die in their sin, but wants them to live! We also read about that in Ezekiel 33, verse 11 "As I live, says 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 wants to give His people life. God created man to live. Not to die, but to live!
But what happened to that beautiful gift of life that God gave to man in the very beginning? Mankind decided that it wasn't enough. He wanted to be like God. And so...crunch...with a bite of the forbidden fruit, man found himself under the terrible sentence of death: "You shall surely die." Death. Instead of enjoying life: communion with God, for that is what life really is, man found himself facing the reality of death. The reality of weeds and aeroplane crashes, the reality of sickness and diseases, of broken relationships and handicaps, of grief and loneliness....the reality of life apart from God, the reality of death. Yes, we've all tasted that reality, we all know what it is like, and it hurts...it hurts because we know that this is not the way God intended life to be. Death. Out of the garden of Eden! out of the presence of God, away from the tree of life! and into the shadows of death. And if the horror of death didn't hit home then, it certainly did when Adam and Eve looked at the dead body of their murdered son Abel: This is not the way it was meant to be. It hits home again as we face disappointments and sorrows, and we must bear the pain of loss and grief: This is not the way it was meant to be. As we struggle against our own sins and weaknesses, as we find ourselves offending the very God whom we want to serve by failing so often, our tears of despair confirm it: This is not the way it was meant to be. Death.
But be encouraged. For God does not want His people to die. That's why He sends His watchman - to protect their life! God is concerned with His people's life. Take careful notice of what we read in verse 18: the words of the prophet, the warning, is given to the wicked "in order to save his life." "in order to save his life." God is busy with life here! My life. Your life. The watchman's words, God's words, brothers and sisters, are concerned with your life. The message the watchman must bring is a serious one, it's a matter of life and death. God holds out life to His people. It's a gift, a gift of grace. And that life is true life. True life isn't about winning $21.8 million dollars in the lottery. True life is fellowship with God, restored communion with Him through Christ's blood, the way the truth and the life. In Christ, those sins are removed, they are washed away. We saw it again this afternoon - the baptism of water on the head of baby Alexandra, proving that God really means what He says, that the promise of life in the blood of Christ is also for baby Alexandra, for me, for you, for all of us who have been baptized.
But that gift of life can only be enjoyed in the way of obedience. God's covenant people, baby Alexandra, you and I, each one of us, can only receive life if we truly believe God's Word. If we live a life of true thankfulness. That's also why our baptism form speaks about an 'obligation'. That's Scriptural. When Moses laid out the blessings of life to God's covenant people before they entered the promised land he said the same thing: "I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse; therefore choose life, that you and your descendants may live, loving the LORD your God, obeying His voice, and cleaving to Him; for that means life to you....." (Deut 30:19-20).
The watchman Ezekiel, and the watchmen of the new covenant must bring that same message. They are after all, watchmen of the covenant. And so they must bring God's Word, His covenant promises and threats, His covenant demands and obligations. Ezekiel must say to the wicked, to those who do not serve the Lord and do not live a life of thankful obedience: you will die. Yes, even the righteous, those who have seemed to live an upright life, when they stumble and fall, when they become unrepentant in sin, must hear that same judgment, you will die. Both sinners and saints must be confronted with the obligations of the covenant: If you do not believe God's Word, if you do not truly turn from sin in a life of thankfulness: you will die. A message of death? No - a message of life! For this message, remember, is given in order to save the life of the sinner! When the watchman blows the trumpet, it is not so that the people might know that they are about to die, but that they might live! That they might wake up and flee the wrath of God that is to come! That they might have life! Yes, brothers and sisters, even when the preaching hurts. Even when the blast of the trumpet makes you uncomfortable, when the Word of God shines the spotlight on ugly sins and sores, when it diagnoses the sickness of death, do not close your ears to it, but hear in that trumpet the sound of life, knowing that obedience to the Word of God means life. For in Christ there is forgiveness, there is salvation for repentant sinners. In the blood of Christ there is life. That is the message of the watchman. Says Paul again: "So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." (2Cor 5:20).
3. The response to the watchman
First of all, let's consider what God's response is to the watchman. He will judge the watchman for his faithfulness. Since God gives His people a watchman to protect their life, that means that the watchman who doesn't do his job properly is endangering the life of the people. The city with no watchman, or a blind watchman is in great danger. To illustrate this, let's take the example of a smoke detector. There it is on your ceiling inside your house, it's got a battery in it, and it's fully functional. Now to work properly, that smoke detector has to do two things. It has to detect smoke. And it has to sound the alarm when it does detect smoke. Two things: watch...and warn. Now imagine that something in the house catches alight. Your family is asleep in bed, and first there's just a little spark. Then a flame. Smoke curls up towards the ceiling, up, up, towards the smoke detector. Now if your smoke detector's working properly, it will detect the smoke, and before you know it, the piercing sound of an alarm is echoing off the walls, and you'll be wide awake. Now you have two options. You can be sensible, and make sure the whole family gets out of the house as quickly as possible, call the fire department, and have the fire extinguished. But you can also stay in bed. You can ignore the sound of the alarm, put your head under your pillow and go back to sleep. But: at the cost of your own life. Only a fool would do that. Only a fool would ignore the sound of the trumpet blasted by the watchman, the warning of danger, at the cost of his own life. Only the fool would ignore the God's message of life and death announced by God's watchman. Only a fool would sleep through the alarm of a smoke detector - only a fool would sleep in church.
Now let's imagine that the smoke detector isn't working properly. Perhaps the battery is flat. Perhaps some of the wires are corroded. Anyhow, when the smoke wafts up toward the ceiling, the smoke-detector doesn't detect anything. And by the time there's a thick layer of smoke, and the flames are burning fiercely, there's no sound of an alarm to warn your family, there's no announcement of danger....and you are all still sound asleep. By the time you wake up, it may already be too late. That smoke-detector is there to protect your life. The watchman is there to protect your life. And that's why it's very important that the smoke-detector, that the watchman, functions properly.
Brothers and sisters, that watchman who fails to blow the trumpet, who fails to warn the people of danger, is responsible for their life. The responsibility involved here, is overwhelming. If the watchman fails to give the word of warning as a true watchman, the sinner will die because of his sin, but God will also hold the watchman accountable for the sinner's blood. He is responsible. The watchman will have blood on his hands - the death of the sinner is also his fault. The watchman can't make someone repent. The watchman can't work faith. And he doesn't have to either - that's the Lord's work, that's the work of the Spirit through the Word. But what the watchman must do is this: bring God's Word.
The watchmen of the new covenant, the overseers, the minister as well as the elders, are no less responsible. Hebrews 13:17 says about the leaders that "they are keeping watch over your souls, as men who will have to give account." Paul says in 1 Cor 9:16 "For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" That means "I will be condemned if I do not preach the gospel." Brothers and sisters, this responsibility weighs heavy on me. And so it should. For the watchman has enormous responsibility, and unfaithful watchmen will have much to answer for at the last judgment. Their job involves serious business, matters of life and death, eternal life and eternal death. It is by means of His watchmen that God condemns the wicked, and restores the lives of sidetracked believers. They must faithfully declare the message of the Word in all its boldness and harshness to God's people. Only in this way can they say with Paul "I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:26,27).
And this duty is not a maybe. Or a sometimes. It is a must. God's Word must be proclaimed faithfully, in season and out of season (2Tim 4:2). Not just so that the watchman can save his own skin. No way. God sends watchmen for the sake of His people. God's people depend on faithful watchmen. The life of God's people is at stake. And so you must also ask yourself: what is my response to the watchman?. Or better: What is my response to God's Word? And then, by God's grace, you will take warning. You will seek life, life that comes through the blood of Christ, life that comes through submission to God's Word in a life of thankful obedience.
God gives His people a watchman to protect their life. Brothers and sisters, in the weeks, months, and years that lie ahead, let us both, you and I, listen to the Word of God. And let us take warning. So there will be life - eternal life.