7 But I have appointed you, son of man, to be a watchman for the house of Israel. So whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you are to warn them from me. 8 When I say to a wicked man, “Wicked man, you shall surely die,” if you do not speak to warn the wicked man against his way, that wicked man will die because of his guilt, but I will also hold you responsible for his blood. 9 But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he will die because of his guilt, but you will have saved your life. 10 So you, son of man, say the following to the house of Israel. This is what you people are saying: “Certainly our rebellion and our sins weigh us down, and because of them we are rotting away. How then can we live?” 11 Say to them, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from their way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why should you die, O house of Israel?” (EHV)
Dear Friends in Christ,
“Don’t shoot the messenger.” So the saying goes. It came from the days when armies went to war on foot or on horseback. Before you entered the battle, your side sent your messenger across the divide to convey terms to the other side. They then sent him back with their answer. You’ve seen it in the movies. The only way that system works is if both sides understand the rules and guarantee safe passage for messengers.
Nowadays, “Don’t shoot the messenger” means don’t get all upset at someone who brings you bad news. They didn’t make the news; they’re just telling you about it. None of us likes to be the bearer of bad tidings. We’d all prefer to tell someone good news and be rewarded with a smile and a thank you. It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
There is good news that God wants us to share with everyone—the Good News that Jesus paid for the sins of the whole world and offers eternal life to all who believe. But there is also bad news that God wants us to share: The world is coming to an end. All people are dying. And there’s even worse news, namely, we caused it! Our sins separated us from God. Repentance and faith in Jesus is the only way to heaven, and it has to happen before it’s too late. No one gets a second chance after this life comes to an end. That’s God’s message—good news and bad news and people need to hear it. Sometimes people want to shoot the messenger when they hear that, which Ezekiel knew firsthand, but God reminded him anyways—and us too. “There Is a Time to Speak Up” and since death and eternity is on the line every day is such a time.
Last month, there was a raging wildfire on Maui in Hawaii. It left the historic town of Lahaina in charred ruins and many people dead. The non-native grasses had been allowed to take over former farm fields. The electric grid wasn’t properly maintained. When the massive blaze was moving in, the town’s warning sirens were never sounded! The escape routes were closed off because of downed power lines and the so-called sacred water wasn’t released for firefighters to use. We’ll see if anyone is ever ultimately held accountable.
When it comes to eternal doom, you and I know what is at stake, just like Ezekiel. We have the Word. We probably all know someone who needs God’s warning. We don’t want to be like the guy who refused to sound the warning sirens in Maui. God gives a serious warning against silence to Ezekiel. If you do not speak to warn the wicked man against his way, that wicked man will die because of his guilt, but I will also hold you responsible for his blood.
Not all of us have been called to be a watchman for the house of Israel like Ezekiel. Yet Jesus tells each of us Christians in our Gospel Lesson that we should Speak Up to our brother who sins and is headed away from God.
The people of Judah wanted to shoot the messenger, Ezekiel, but he couldn’t be silent. He had to speak up. His own conscience wouldn’t allow him to keep the truth to himself. He knew there was only one true God, and only one way to heaven. And he saw people dying in unbelief and destroying themselves, refusing to take warning and repent. Plus, God had called him to speak up. God had appointed him a watchman for the house of Israel. He was under military orders from the Lord of Armies. He was the one manning the radar and the warning siren.
A watchman in Judah needed to stay awake and keep his eyes open. He had to be vigilant high up on Zion’s wall, looking for enemy invaders. As a spiritual watchman, Ezekiel was to watch for the invasion of false gods. He was to look for the enemy army of temptations and unbelief. He needed to be extra diligent, because these enemies of God’s people use guerrilla tactics. They try to tunnel under the foundations of the city and sneak in.
When a watchman saw anything suspicious, his job was to blow the trumpet, and call the men to arms. The trumpet had to give a clear signal so there’d be no confusion about the message. Ezekiel needed to be diligent, accurate, truthful, and faithful. Son of man, I [the Lord] have appointed you to be a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you are to warn them from me. 8When I say to a wicked man, “Wicked man, you shall surely die,” if you do not speak to warn the wicked man against his way, that wicked man will die because of his guilt, but I will also hold you responsible for his blood. 9But if you do warn [him]… and he does not turn from his way, he will die because of his guilt, but you will have saved your life.
God deliberately chose to use military terms in this text. Satan is tactical. He is both sneaky and ferocious. He enters under cover like a guerilla, but He’s looking to cause mass casualties—a spiritual slaughter. God warned Ezekiel to warn everyone in Jerusalem and Judea. The stakes were as high as they get—eternal life and death. Nevertheless, most hated Ezekiel for interrupting their parties, just as they had hated the prophets before him. Because they ignored his warnings many of them would literally soon be physically killed when the Babylonian army came. Ezekiel lived through that actual invasion. In fact, Ezekiel himself was ultimately taken into exile with those who weren’t killed.
Despite their accusations, Ezekiel didn’t call on Israel to repent because he hated them, but because he cared! He loved God and loved His people, even while they were accusing him of hate speech. The Lord Himself meant it in all sincerity when He said: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Instead I take pleasure if the wicked turn from their way and live.”
We’re under the same general orders as Ezekiel. We’re not all official watchmen on the walls of Zion, but we’re all in God’s army. We’re not all on the front line, but we’re all expected hear and heed the warning, and pass it on down the line. God tells each of us to “always be prepared to give the reason for the hope that [we] have.” Some of us have been called or elected to do so officially, as pastor, or elder. But all of us are called to pass on God’s warning, and the hope of salvation in Jesus. As the hymn verse puts it:
If you cannot be a watchman, Standing high on Zion’s wall,
You can tell the love of Jesus; You can say He died for all.
8When I say to a wicked man, “Wicked man, you shall surely die,” if you do not speak to warn the wicked man against his way, that wicked man will die because of his guilt, but I will also hold you responsible for his blood.
Is there any person here this morning who hasn’t been hesitant to talk to someone about their wrongdoing? We all want to be liked, and we all fear someone may refuse to listen or even cut us off. So we hesitate, and even remain silent when we know God wants us to Speak Up. In our Gospel lesson, Jesus tells us to go to someone who’s sinned and “show him his fault.” Surely Ezekiel’s heart ached that he had to issue dire, spiritual warnings. And so does ours.
But the story never ends there! God has another message—a good one! Whenever anyone repents, God instantly, mercifully offers forgiveness, love, reassurance, and acceptance. He longs to gather His elect and bring them into His church. He quickly forgives them all their sins and embraces them with His love. Listen again to His loving plea through Ezekiel: “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Instead I take pleasure if the wicked turn from their way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why should you die, O house of Israel?”
It’s not only Israel God wanted to save. He wants all people to be saved—every single one. That’s why God has given us the same message to share that He committed to Ezekiel—His law that warns of God’s judgment on the impenitent, and His Gospel, the Good News that through faith in Jesus, there is full redemption. God’s Law and Gospel message is like “tough love.” We have to tell people what’s on both sides of the coin. As much as we and others cringe at hearing it, everyone who doesn’t repent and believe Jesus Christ as their Savior will go to hell—even the “nice ones” if they are counting on their own “good works” for salvation. People who live for themselves and not for God will not spend eternity with God. People who once knew God but later fall away from the faith like Ezekiel’s contemporaries, are lost too without repentance.
But the message of the Gospel is equally clear and unmistakable: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” No ifs, ands, buts or maybes about it. Anyone and everyone who trusts in Jesus as their Savior will live forever in heaven. That’s what God wants more than anything.
You and I have so much to be thankful for. Someone—probably many people—took God’s command to heart and shared His saving Word with us. There are those who brought us to baptism—parents or friends. There are those who patiently instructed us when we were young or new in the faith. There are those who brought us through confirmation instruction. We have faith, because they were faithful to their faithful God and the calling He gave them. Now it’s our turn to be faithful and Speak Up!
In today’s world, where truth is considered relative, fewer and fewer Christians dare to Speak Up. That’s why we stick to weather and sports. But There Is a Time to Speak Up. Will we be faithful watchmen? Will we continue to believe and share the truth? Do we care enough for people’s souls? Our world looks more hopeless every year. But there is still hope for our world—as long as Christians keep faithfully sharing God’s Law and Gospel.
Love is what it’s all about — tough love, to be sure. Sharing it is not always easy. It’s hard to tell someone they’re wrong. But what a joy it is to share the Gospel with those whose hearts God prepares with His Law! Therefore,
Let none hear you idly saying, “There is nothing I can do,”
While the multitudes are dying And the Master calls for you.
Take the task He gives you gladly; Let His work your pleasure be.
Answer quickly when He calleth, “Here am I, send me, send me!”