Inscription: Writing God’s Words on Our Hearts & Minds
Part 59: The Watchman’s Duty
August 21, 2011
Scripture reading: Ezekiel 1:4-27 NIV condensed
I looked, and I saw a windstorm...with flashing lightning...The center of the fire looked like glowing metal, and in the fire was what looked like four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man, but each of them had four faces and four wings. ...Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright... The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning. ...I saw a wheel on the ground beside each creature... Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel. As they moved, they would go in any one of the four directions the creatures faced; the wheels did not turn about as the creatures went. Their rims were high and awesome, and all four rims were full of eyes all around. ...and the wheels would rise along with them, because the spirit of the living creatures was in the wheels. ...Spread out above the heads of the living creatures was what looked like an expanse, sparkling like ice... When the creatures moved, I heard the sound of their wings, like the roar of rushing waters, like the voice of the Almighty, like the tumult of an army. ...Above the expanse over their heads was what looked like a throne of sapphire, and high above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire... -
Trying to get some attention
Ezekiel is easily the strangest book of the OT and is arguably weirder than Revelation, making it the strangest book the Bible.
· Ezekiel was a young priest deported to Babylon along with the group Jeremiah wrote to 29; he would have heard that message.
God called Ezekiel to be his prophet, his spokesman to bring God’s warning to these hard-heart people in exile. Through Ezekiel, God uses every trick in the book to get their attention and turn this ship around:
Ezekiel uses colorful visions to speak God’s warnings and promises. For instance, pretty much every American is familiar with this song:
· “The toe bones connected to the heel bone...”
That is from the vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37), where God promises that even though Israel will be as lifeless as a valley dry bones, God will breathe new life into them.
2. Illustrated prophecy
God also had him act out some of his prophecies:
God tells him to make a model of Jerusalem and “play” out the coming siege of Jerusalem – a grown man playing with models should get attention.
If that weren’t enough, he is only allowed to eat 8 ounces a day, to symbolize the famine conditions in the city. God also tell him to cook his food over human poo. At this Ezekiel ask God to reconsider, and God lets him just use cow poo.
Another example: Ezekiel he packs his bags, digs a hole through a mud wall at dusk, covers his face, and leaves the compound. Then he returns and explains:
NIV Ezekiel 12:12-13 The prince among them will put his things on his shoulder at dusk and leave, and a hole will be dug in the wall for him to go through. He will cover his face so that he cannot see the land. 13 I will spread my net for him, and he will be caught in my snare; I will bring him to Babylonia, the land of the Chaldeans, but he will not see it, and there he will die.
The prince is King Zedekiah (the last king of Judah). And in fact, Zedekiah did try to sneak away during the siege of Jerusalem, before the Babylonians broke through. And he was captured and taken back Babylon.
Q But what about the prophecy that “he will not see it”?
In punishment for his rebellion, King Nebuchadnezzar had his eyes gouged out before he was taken to Babylon.
3. Graphic parables
Ezekiel also tells many parables, some of them very graphic to vividly illustrate Israel’s unfaithfulness to God.
In one of them, God condemns Judah for turning to foreign nations to save them rather than to him. He makes is point quite graphically in one of my favorite verses in the Bible:
Ezekiel 23:20 There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses.
I’ve had people tell me that sarcasm is unbiblical. Really? You don’t read the Bible much, do you? The Bible is not all nice and sanitized as we’ve been lead to believe.
Trying to get their attention
But the purpose is not crassness for the point of crassness. It is to warn his people of their sin and its consequences while also promising redemption and forgiveness.
God has a message he is desperate for these people to hear. The first two thirds of Ezekiel were written prior to the final destruction of Jerusalem in Lamentations.
· We read Ezekiel like a story where we already know the ending, the bad guys win.
But from Ezekiel’s perspective, there is still some hope that his message will be heard, and God is speaking through him with increasing desperation.
· It’s like that scene in “Three Amigos“ with bird calls.
We see a similar progression in the Bible – the message gets stronger and stranger, in hope that THIS will work.
The Watchman’s Duty
If we go back to beginning of the book, right after the vision of God’s glory, we see watch Ezekiel’s calling, the starting point that gave him the drive to do proclaim God:
Ezekiel 3:16-21 16 ¶ At the end of seven days the word of the LORD came to me: 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. 18 When I say to a wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ and you do not warn him or speak out to dissuade him from his evil ways in order to save his life, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. 19 But if you do warn the wicked man and he does not turn from his wickedness or from his evil ways, he will die for his sin; but you will have saved yourself.
A watchman was a very important role in the ancient world. It was his job to stand on the highest vantage point and constantly watch for enemies. Day in and day out, scanning the horizon. The safety of the entire population rested on him.
Q How many of you are familiar with NORAD?
It is a massive underground bunker designed to track all threats to North America. They are the modern watchmen.
Modern watchmen (and women)
As I read through the entire book of Ezekiel, I seriously prayed and considered which message God wanted me to bring to us today, and I believe it is our call to be watchmen and women.
· Being a watchman is not some weird, super-spiritual calling.
· I have heard this passage preached a lot of weird ways, so I was reluctant, but the best bet is not to ignore but correct.
As I have been in the habit of saying, errors travel in pairs. Many of us have seen (and participated in) goofy witnessing, from cold calling to leaving Christian tracks in place of a tip.
· But let’s not make the opposite error of not speaking up.
EG: Preacher talking to my co-worker.
Engaging Culture 2011
As you may remember, our emphasis as a church in 2011 is to “engage culture,” which we take from our mission statement:
“We are a Christian community striving to glorify God and engage culture.”
As a church, we do really well at being a healthy community, but not as well at evangelism, at taking these great things and offering them to those around us.
· The Elders began this year with a challenge to grow as a church in health and size.
Q How are we doing?
It’s hard to tell. Because of summer things are topsy-turvy, but I’ve watched people becoming part of the community and growing. The camping trip and baptism was a highlight of the summer.
· Yet at the same time, I know my calling as a pastor-teacher rather than an evangelist is part of what holds us back.
I am impressed by how God works through evangelist minded pastors, such as David Luster.
I have to focus my efforts on Biblical preaching; it is where I excel and the best thing I have to offer the church. Our fundamentals as a church are preaching, worship, and community.
· I think focusing on these things creates a healthy church that can help people grow.
But we still have to invite them in, and this is where we are weakest. There are few of us who have an evangelists gifting.
· I pray frequently for an elder or deacon with an evangelist’s heart.
But we don’t have the luxury of waiting for that. We still have friends who need to be warned of impending danger. We have family that needs God’s forgiveness and grace.
· To be a watchman is to be aware of deadly seriousness of our role.
So this sermon is our reminder of the importance of being watchman, of being ready to watch and tell others what we see.
· This is a message to me as much as you.
A watchman basically has three jobs:
1. Be in the right place
To be a watchman simply means we have a great vantage point: We see the truth of God’s love, forgiveness, and justice. We see the devastation of sin.
· Yet we are not so far removed from the city that we cannot speak to them.
The question is: What is our city?
The more I think about all the evangelism methods that make me cringe, I see a common element: They are all impersonal. They are directed to a person that you do not know.
· Some are designed for that, but most of us are not.
You are called to watch over the people in your circle. Don’t worry so much about people in China. Worry about those you know:
1. Family: For some of you, that’s scarier than primitive cannibal tribes.
3. Co-Workers: For most of you this is the #1 opportunity.
4. Neighbors: Do you know your neighbors? Do you view your home as fortress or an outreach center?
5. Miscellaneous associations:
· Coffee shops
· Sports areas
You have to be close enough to these people that you are able to communicate with them. One of the reasons we speak of “engaging culture” is that we think you should be close enough to the world to understand it and speak its language.
· I have spoken of paying “relational rent,” making the effort to be part of other people’s lives.
2. At the right time
I once heard the difference between being an evangelist, which few of are, and being evangelistic, which all of us must be: All of us must look for opportunities, a few of us create them.
· Our job is simply to pray and wait for the right time.
If we are listening and praying, God will bring things up. EG: two conversations.
3. Say the right thing
Say what you see
Perhaps we make evangelism Too complicated – the watchman’s job was very simple: Tell people what he saw. He didn’t need to know all of the international political intrigue, he didn’t need to know the name of the ambassadors.
· All he needed to do was say “Bad guys are coming.”
Our message is very simple: This is what I see; this is what I see God doing in my life.
When I spoke on evangelism at the beginning of the year, I used this formula: S+C+X=EC. In hindsight, this looked overly complicated, but all it meant is that:
1. God is working in our life
2. We are in community with non-Christians
3. We can communicate the core Christian message:
“We humbly come to Jesus as our Lord and Savior, broken and sinful, unable to fix ourselves. He loves, forgives, and restores us.”
· Your message is how God is doing this in your life.
How we share can vary quite a bit from person to person: If we can take any lesson from Ezekiel, it’s that sharing God’s word can take many different forms, funny, sarcastic, irreverent...
But there is one last lesson about being a watchman: It is a massive responsibility, but it is a limited responsibility.
Ezekiel 33:1-6 ¶ The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man, speak to your countrymen and say to them: ‘When I bring the sword against a land, and the people of the land choose one of their men and make him their watchman, 3 and he sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, 4 then if anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head. 5 Since he heard the sound of the trumpet but did not take warning, his blood will be on his own head. If he had taken warning, he would have saved himself. 6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood.’
All you can do is speak the message, and keep speaking the message. But in the end, you have no control over how they respond. You must understand that. When you understand your job is to speak, not coerce, it becomes much less intimidating.
Refresh your call
I want to end by simply reminding you of your call – God has put each of you in unique places. You can reach people that no one else can.
· I want you to carefully consider (and list) your “cities,” area of influence where you are God’s watchman.
· I also want you to choose 3 non-Christians that you are close to that you will pray for, and watch for opportunities.
· PPT: Please text Janna; service is almost over: 333-4505
Q & A