You Are God's Watchman
A warning may be annoying, but it can also save you a lot of trouble. No one likes to see the warning light come on in the car, but we’d rather have that than have the car break down on 285 in rush hour. Those electronic speeding signs on Brown Bridge Road can be frustrating because they make you slow down, but ultimately they save lives. As Christians, we have warnings to give, because you are God’s watchmen. We are to warn the wicked of judgment. People might not like that, but it’s good because it will bring sinners to repentance.
Ezekiel was called to be a watchman in a unique way. He lived through a terrible time in Israel’s history. Few people remained faithful to God. Because of their unfaithfulness, God had sent the Babylonians to destroy them. In 597 BC the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem and carted off some of the people to Babylonian territory, in present-day Iraq. But even under such awful conditions, the people were not ready to confess their sin or turn from their idolatry.
Ezekiel was a priest and one of those deported. Not long after he arrived in exile, God appeared to him in visions, and gave him messages for the people in exile in Babylon. Today’s reading comes from the year 586BC. Ezekiel had been preaching doom and destruction for about 10 years, but few people took him seriously. So God reassured him:
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel;
Notice – God didn’t ask if he wanted to be a watchman. An ancient watchman was essential for the survival of the city. They had to see the enemies coming against the city as soon as they appeared on the horizon. If a watchman was asleep at his job, it could mean the destruction of the entire city.
so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.” God made Ezekiel a spiritual watchman. When the people sinned, he saw God’s judgment coming, his job was to speak up and tell the people about it.
It was a heavy responsibility. God warned him, “When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. 9 But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.”
As a watchman, all he could do was sound the alarm. If the people didn’t listen to his warning, but kept on sinning, it was their problem. But if he failed to deliver the message of judgment that God had given him, then he would be held partially responsible for what happened to the wicked.
God has also commissioned us as watchmen. In our gospel lesson for today, he has told us what to do when someone, specifically another Christian sins against us. If they are not repentant, we have to confront them personally. “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” That’s not a suggestion, that’s a job description.
There are many situations this could apply to. When someone you are close to moves in with their boyfriend of girlfriend, you know this is incompatible with God’s call to honor the marriage bed. We have a responsibility to tell them, because if they continue living that way they will bring God’s judgment on themselves. Or when a Christian decides that he doesn’t need to go to church anymore, God has stern warnings for him. There are many other situations we may need to confront.
Remember, we’re watchmen. What if a watchman was looking out and saw an enemy army coming, and thought to himself, “I don’t know… I don’t want upset anyone…maybe I’ll just let them figure it out on their own.” That would be ridiculous. But sometimes we do that, thinking, “I know that person is at risk of going to Hell, but I really want him to like me, and if I tell her the truth she might not like me anymore.” If all the watchmen on the wall got together and said, “Look at all those people in the city. Glad I’m not them. Let’s get out of here and save ourselves.” But that’s exactly what we do, when instead of confronting others with their sin, we just talk about them behind their backs without having the courage to confront them to their face. When we don’t speak up, we aren’t doing our job. God says he will hold us accountable, and that means being fired and punished.
Speaking of God’s punishment, back to Ezekiel’s day, the message was on its way that Jerusalem had finally been destroyed. After ten long years of Ezekiel’s preaching the law, when this news hit, the people were finally going to realize how sinful they had been. God warned Ezekiel about it in advance, “Son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?”
It was finally going to sink in for the Israelites that they had rebelled against the Almighty Lord by worshipping idols. How dumb. They saw that because of their sins their homes were destroyed and many of them had died. They saw no escape, because they knew they deserved what was happening. They were at their lowest point. But God gave this next message for them; he guaranteed it with an oath, “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, O house of Israel?”
Imagine how they must have felt hearing this. All the destruction he had sent on them – it didn’t make God happy. He wasn’t pleased to see them die. No, he had done it because he wanted them to turn and live. He was practically begging them, “Turn, turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel.”
And we have that same mercy from God. Yes, we have been unfaithful watchmen. Yes we deserve to be held accountable for that. But God isn’t pleased to fire us or see us die. Rather, he’s pleased when we turn to him and live.
And when we turn to him, what do we see? We see why he does not take pleasure in our death. He’s already seen the death of his Son in our place. He doesn’t want us to suffer the punishment that Jesus has already suffered. We also see that Jesus has risen to life, and so God is pleased when he gives us that new life Jesus won for us. He’s looking forward to the day he can raise you up from the dead. It pleases him. So there’s no reason to be afraid of God. There’s every reason to turn to him and live!
The Holy Spirit has already turned you to him. The Holy Spirit makes us contrite when we hear God’s warning of judgment, and the Holy Spirit works faith in our hearts when we hear God’s promise of forgiveness. As Christians, we have the privilege of then sharing God’s messages of law and gospel with others, and watching the Holy Spirit work on them.
When we fulfill our jobs as watchmen and confront others with their sins, yes we may face opposition or anger. But when we approach our job with humility, remembering that we are fellow-sinners, sometimes others will take our words to heart. They will recognize that they are living contrary to God’s law, they will be afraid and nervous, and you will then have the joy of telling them that God is not pleased to see them die. Rather, he is pleased that they turn from their wicked ways and live. And you have regained a straying brother or sister, or perhaps you have even found a new family member. So keep telling people God’s message, even if you seem to be getting nowhere.
Think of the joy Ezekiel experienced at the end of his life. His first 10 years had been long and difficult. It seemed like the people would never repent. But in the second part of his ministry, through his preaching the people were turned back to God. In exile in Babylon, the people finally realized how blessed they had been as a nation, and so they returned to God’s Word. The synagogue service developed at this time, as the Jews started studying the Bible more than they ever had before. And the nation was preserved. Ezekiel could look back over his preaching ministry and marvel at the things God had done. God accomplished this through the faithful preaching of Ezekiel and other watchmen, who boldly proclaimed God’s judgment as well as his unending mercy.
Whenever God’s people are faithful with that message, God blesses them. Sometimes the results are huge, sometimes they are barely noticeable, but he always blesses the proclamation of his Word. So be a faithful watchman. Don’t hesitate to warn others when they are living in a sinful situation – and always warn yourself first. But then proclaim, “God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that they turn and live.” And share in the joy of repentance, and in the new life we have all been given in Christ.