When I was young there were a few times when I was sent to do a job and I was not very successful. One time I was sent to the grocery store to buy lettuce. When I got to the store, I looked at the shelves and there were two piles of round, leafy green vegetables. I grabbed one, paid for it and went home. That night, instead of the lettuce salad my mother had intended, we had coleslaw. I didn’t know the difference between lettuce and cabbage. I still think of that every time I am sent to pick up one or the other. On another occasion, I was sent to get ground beef. When I got to the store, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to get round beef or ground beef. I don’t remember which I got, but I do remember thinking, as I also have many times since, that if a mother or wife sends me to the store they should write down in detail what they want, cause I might get it wrong.
There is one task which all of us as Christians have been sent to do and we don’t always get it right either. The thing is that this job is not like getting lettuce or cabbage which just means that we have either salad or coleslaw. This job is very important and there are consequences if we fail to do it or if we don’t do it well.
This morning, as we continue in our series on the book of Ezekiel, we will examine this task and learn some things that will help us do it well. If you want to check out the text, please turn to Ezekiel 2 & 3.
Last week, we examined Ezekiel 1 in which God appeared to Ezekiel in a vision. The appearance of God formed a powerful foundation for the life and ministry of Ezekiel. It was the basis for the actual call of Ezekiel to his prophetic ministry in chapters 2,3.
Ezekiel was not “lost in the divine” as one writer puts it. In 2:1 we read that Ezekiel was raised to his feet and the Spirit came into him and God spoke to him. Being filled with the Spirit was a rare occurrence in the Old Testament. It was reserved for those who were specifically called to be God’s servants. So when Ezekiel was filled by the Spirit, it indicated a special call from God for the task assigned to him. The task given to him was that he was sent by God to speak God’s word to the rebellious nation of Israel. This call comes in Ezekiel 2:3 where God says to him, “I am sending you to the Israelites.”
Has anyone ever said the same thing to you? If the presence of the Spirit was unique to those who were God’s prophets and specially called people in the Old Testament, then the same is true in the New Testament. Since all who belong to Jesus Christ are people who have been filled with the Spirit, all Christians are sent by God to proclaim His name in the world.
Just in case we have forgotten this call, let me remind all of us of it. In Matthew 28:19,20 God’s call comes to us when it says, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” In John 20:21 we have a similar call that actually uses the language of sending. “Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Just in case we think that this call was just for the apostles or for teachers and preachers today, II Corinthians 5:18 says, “All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation…” which tells us that all who have been reconciled to God have been given the ministry of reconciliation from God.
Just as Ezekiel was sent by God, we have all been sent by God. No matter what our job or role is in life, the most important task we have been given is to respond to the call of God in our lives to make His name known in the world.
Those of us who have been involved in Billy Graham TV Telephone ministry have talked about the fear we have in making His name known. The first time I answered phones, it was very scary. After that it has not been so bad, but still until the first call comes in, we don’t relax, we are afraid. Fear seems to accompany being sent to proclaim God’s Word.
As God sent Ezekiel, he also warned him that it would not be easy. In Ezekiel 2:3-8, God tells him that he is sending him to a people who are rebellious. Notice, for example what it says in verse 4, “The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn.” In verse 6 Ezekiel is warned that his ministry will be difficult, that “briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions.” In Ezekiel 3:4-11 he uses another image. He tells him that he is not being sent to a foreign nation that doesn’t understand the language. He is being sent to his own people, to people who have a background and understanding of the things of God, but, he warns in 3:7, “the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate.” His job was not going to be easy because people wouldn’t listen, they wouldn’t be interested and they would refuse his words.
The same things are true for today. I recently read a story about Lorne Cunningham, who is the founder of YWAM. He tells about the first time that they sent a group of young people to witness at the Olympics which were in Munich that year. The mood of the Olympics was festive and people were in the mood to celebrate. They did not want to have conversations about spiritual matters and it was hard to speak about Jesus. In Matthew 10:16, when Jesus sent out the 12 to proclaim the coming of the kingdom, he warned them, “I am sending you out as sheep among wolves…”
How do we respond to the difficulty of the task? In Ezekiel 2,3, God encourages Ezekiel by saying, “do not be afraid” in two verses. But in each of those verses, the encouragement comes multiple times. Three times in 2:6 and two times in 3:9, God tells Ezekiel not to be afraid.
In 3:7, God encourages him by letting him know that the opposition is not to the messenger, but to God. Of course, if that is true then anyone speaking for God will also have a hard time, but it helps to know that they do not hate us, but who we represent.
However, even though it is difficult, God warns Ezekiel in 2:8, “Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth…” To refuse to speak, even though it is hard to speak, is rebellion.
So, in spite of the difficulty, we who are sent are encouraged not to be afraid and to keep on speaking God’s word.
The New Testament encourages us to be bold and in II Timothy 1:7, we are encouraged that “God has not given us a spirit of fear…” So whenever we fear, let us remember these words and be bold in spite of our fear.
After the call and the encouragement not to be afraid, we have a rather interesting thing that happens in 2:9-3:3. Ezekiel is handed a scroll which has words of lament and woe written on it, both on the front and the back, which was unusual, since most of the time scrolls only had words on one side. He is then told to eat the scroll and although the words on it are words of lament and woe and we would expect the scroll to taste bitter because of that, when Ezekiel eats it, he finds it to be “as sweet as honey in my mouth.”
What is the meaning of this picture. Of course, it is a vision, it is a picture. The scroll represents the Word of God. Although hard words of lament and woe, they are sweet because they also are words of life.
Ezekiel is told in 3:1 “eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” It seems to me that what this means is that before he can go and speak to others, the word of God must be within him. In fact, taking it within means even more than just reading and understanding the words. He is to become the message of God. The Word of God is to be so much a part of him that not only his words, but his whole life is permeated by it and his deeds and words, indeed all of who he is will communicate God’s truth to the people of Israel.
Last summer I was going to water the garden. I have water gathered from rain water in a cistern under the garage. I had used the water to wet grass I had planted in spring and later in the year I wanted to use it on the garden. I turned it on, but nothing came out. As I puzzled about this, I looked around and found that the cistern was empty. If the well is dry, you won’t get water. If our well is dry, it is hard to speak God’s Word. We need to have the word of God permeate our whole lives. That is not to say that we need to know and do it perfectly before we can speak it, but it does mean that if we want to speak it effectively, it cannot just be something we hold on the surface, it must be a part of our life. God’s word must permeate our whole self so that by our words and by our life, by our whole being the truth of God is proclaimed. Even if we say nothing, if the word of God is in our lives, it will communicate. If it is in our hearts, it will come out in deeds and in words as well.
Scripture speaks about this. Psalm 119:9 says, “your word have I hidden in my heart…” II Timothy 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.
This seems difficult to us. I feel as if I can’t be a good witness for Christ, as if my life is not holy enough, my words are not clear enough. It is too hard to face opposition and rejection. I can’t do it. You know what? You are right! We can’t do it. I can’t do it, you can’t do it. Ezekiel couldn’t do it.
As God keeps on warning Ezekiel in 3:8 that the people of Israel will be hard as rocks and obstinate, he encourages him and tells him in 3:9, “I will make your forehead like the hardest stone…” In other words, God would allow Ezekiel to grow calluses so that he would have the courage to speak in spite of it being hard. Then in 3:14, there is another such encouragement. He acknowledges that “the strong hand of the Lord (is) upon me.”
How true it is today for us as people who have been called by God to make His name known. Through the power of the Spirit, we have the strong hand of the Lord with us as well. Acts 1:8 assures us, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Are we trying to do the work of making God’s name known in our own power? Let us remember that God’s power is not only available, but present with us. Therefore, let us trust in Him.
There have been times when I knew I had to say a word that was going to be hard to say. It may have been in witnessing, in answering phones at the Billy Graham Telephone center or it may have been in confronting someone. As I thought about the call upon me to do these things, I felt overwhelmed, but as I prayed that God would help me and give me peace, His peace did indeed flood into my heart and help me do what I was called to do.
As we read on about Ezekiel being sent, we read in 3:15, that he went “in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit.” What was he bitter about? Was it the rebelliousness of the people of Israel? What did he do? We read that God led him by the Spirit to Tel Aviv, near the Kebar River, which was in Babylon. He knew what kind of people they were and it would have been natural to just run away like Jonah did. But that is not what he did. We read in verse 15 that “there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days – overwhelmed.”
It is hard to know all that was happening in Ezekiel in this time. I believe that at least a part of what was happening was that he was identifying with the people. I think it is important to note that he “sat among them.” When he would later speak to them, he would not speak as someone coming from outside, laying down the law on them. He would speak from within, as one of them because he had sat with them and identified with them. He knew their rebellious hearts, he knew their life, he knew their hearts and out of that knowing he would speak God’s Word.
It is the principle of incarnation. It is what God did when he sent Jesus to this earth. In John 1:14 we read that “The word became flesh and dwelt among us.” God’s word of salvation does not come from outside of the human condition, but from within the human condition. Jesus came and identified with us and just like Ezekiel “sat among” us. He saved us by becoming a man.
The same principle of following the call of God in gospel proclamation pertains today. We must also “sit among them.” When we “sit among them,” it gives credibility to our witness. It allows us to speak as friends instead of coming in and lording it over people and speaking down to them. When we sit with people, they not only hear words, they see our heart. They see that we care about them and through us, they see that God cares about them. We are sent not only to speak, but to love and sitting with people shows that we love. When we sit with people, we can speak a word that is to them. If we come in from outside, we don’t know their situation, but when we sit with them, we can know where their heart and struggles and trials are and we can speak God’s word to their specific situation. How much more effective our ministry is if we have sat among the people we are trying to reach. Like Ezekiel, like Jesus we are called to sit among them.
If you have crossed the Canadian\American border in the last few years, you know that there is a fairly heightened security system in place. They talk about orange alert and red alert. They are very concerned about national security and have many people in place to watch for a potential enemy who may want to come into the country and cause problems. If the system of careful watching fails, what happens? 9-11 happens. Some enemy comes in and is able to create all kinds of problems.
This is the function of a watchman and in days when life was simpler, when cities could be defended simply by putting up high walls, people used to function as the security system. They were called watchmen and they would stand on the top of the city walls and look out into the distance to warn the people in the city of any approaching enemy. If the watchman failed in his task, the whole city, would be in danger.
This is the imagery that God uses to let Ezekiel know just how important his responsibility was. We read about this in Ezekiel 3:16-21.
The text speaks about two groups of people. It talks about the wicked and about the righteous. God warns Ezekiel that he has responsibility towards both. We read that in the case of a wicked man. If the watchman does not speak to the wicked man about his ways, that wicked man will die. However, the watchman also shares responsibility. If, on the other hand the watchman does warn the wicked person, and he doesn’t listen, that wicked person will die, but the watchman will be free of responsibility. The second group of people are the righteous people. If the watchman does not warn the righteous person who is being tempted by evil, that righteous person who falls into sin will die, but the watchman will be responsible. If on the other hand the watchman warns him, the righteous person will change his ways and he will have helped the righteous person find life.
Being sent by God is an important call! Ezekiel could not take it lightly because it made a difference on him. We have the same responsibility! One writer comments on the “overpowering responsibility with which Ezekiel was entrusted.” And goes on to say, “The Christian responsibility to warn a lost generation is surely no less terrifying.” Scripture reminds us of this great responsibility. II Corinthians 5:11 says, “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men…” I Thessalonians 5:14 says, “And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” Galatians 6:1 adds, “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently...”
May we realize the importance of the call of God and make sure we are faithful to it.
As we read these words of responsibility, it is tempting to go out there and speak out of a sense of duty, motivated by fear and speaking out of our own strength and power. An interesting thing happens as we come to the close of the chapter which encourages us about how to do it.
After receiving such a powerful commission, The Spirit guides Ezekiel and he is told to “shut yourself inside your house.” He is further warned of the trouble that will come. He will be hindered from speaking by people who will tie him up with ropes. He will also, interestingly, be prevented from speaking because God says, “I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be silent.” What is this all about? Here Ezekiel has a commission to go speak. He knows it will be difficult, but that God will be with him. He has learned that he has a powerful responsibility to warn the people. How come God now speaks about others preventing him from speaking and even more puzzling, God preventing him from speaking?
The answer to these questions comes in 3:27. God says, “But when I speak to you, I will open your mouth and you shall say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’” What is the lesson here? One writer says, “When he spoke, it was because God had something to say; when he was silent, it was because God was silent.” The time to speak is not when we feel guilty. It is not when we have an idea that runs across our mind. The time to speak is when God opens our mouth and we are speaking His words for Him. We need to learn to listen to God and become sensitive to God’s leading. We need to learn to speak when God is speaking through us.
We have a similar call. I Peter 4:11 says, “If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.”
I have to confess that that is something I am not an expert on, but it is something that I want to learn about.
As we have begun Ezekiel, we started last week by identifying the foundation, the opening vision from which we want to live our lives this year. We were challenged to begin with a vision of the presence of God as our foundation.
This week, we have identified the primary task to which we have been called. This new year will bring with it many possibilities and opportunities, but in all of these, let us be encouraged about the primary call in our life. God has called us to make His name known. May we be faithful to that call this year.