Sunday, 27 September 2020

Ezekiel as Watchman - Ezekiel 3 and 33

Ezekiel chapter 3 talks about a 'watchman', with the instructions to look out and warn the people of impending danger. It spells out: 'if I make you a watchman, and you don't warn the people, and disaster comes ... then it is on your head'. In other words it spells out responsibility - which is placed firmly on the watchman, holding him responsible for the people's lives.

Ezekiel was given that responsibility through the vision. He was told to look out for the warning from God, to tell the people, and then the people can decide whether to act on it. The clear message given to Ezekiel for the people was one of warning. That same call to be a watchman is repeated (with very similar language) in chapter 33.

But what about us? We who follow Jesus - does God give us a message for the people? If so, then what exactly is that message? In Acts 1:8 Jesus commissions the disciples in his final resurrection appearance, declaring 'You will be my witnesses'. Note this is definite - It is not might or could! Paul writes to Timothy the words (2 Timothy 4:2) 'Preach the word ... be prepared in season and out of season'. In other words get the message across, both when it goes smoothly and when it doesn't go smoothly! Paul continues in verse 5 'keep your head, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge the duties of your ministry'. In other words stay with it even when it is hard, having a sense of responsibility to tell the good news. That was my own sense when I read Ezekiel many years ago, sensing a call to be an evangelist. Yet note that Paul is calling even those who don't feel particularly gifted as evangelists to take part in this work - we all share the responsibility.

But again, what exactly is the message? Is it like Ezekiel one of warning, of impending doom? We could take various warnings from scripture and give our own message of doom to unbelievers. Over the years some preachers have done that - we know what 'fire & brimstone' preaching is like, and we have seen people with 'doom message' sandwich-boards!

Yet let us understand better the theme of 'doom' in the Bible. Broadly there are two types of doom. The first is specific doom. This is mostly for Israel, because of their turning away from God and their calling. It always comes with the opportunity to repent and turn back. It is always warned specifically (continue like this, and that will happen ...). As an aside, no Christian speaker to my knowledge ever talked (and thus warned) of the corona virus and its worldwide effects (although scientists have warned of the threat of such viruses for years).

The second category of doom is general or end times doom. This is 'end of the world' stuff that broadly is for those who have utterly rejected God: they have had opportunity to turn, but didn't, they have continued on. We should note that these passages are very pictorial and use highly symbolic language. We should be very wary of trying to interpret them in any literal sense. They tend to be 'out there' and talking of the 'very end'.

So should we use that 'end time' category for our message, the kind of 'End is Nigh' poster? Another way of asking this question is to ask: Should we be scaring people out of hell, or loving people towards Jesus?

Ezekiel 33 verse 11 has God saying 'I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather they would turn and live'. This is God's message of love - He provides the possibility of living. It is instructive to look at the public messages of the first Christians. Acts 2:36 - 40 (to a Jewish audience) and Acts 17:29 - 31 (to a Greek audience) give us clues. They are set differently for the different contexts, but both are calls to repent based on the attractiveness and reality of Jesus. Yet see also that both communicate that Jesus is appointed ultimate judge for an (eventual) ultimate reckoning.

It comes down to balance and the way that we say it. If someone in dialogue with me asserts that there is no God of justice, or that they can continue as they like, I would not simply clobber them with the verses of doom. Instead I would simply say: "For me, I don't see it that way - I believe God is just and so cannot let evil to continue forever un-checked ... ultimately He will wrap things up ...'.

At Countess Free Church we are a church in mission across the city. Even as scattered church we can be witnesses to friends, neighbours, colleagues and people we meet. We have a duty to bear witness and tell, within which is a duty to warn. In the mix of things we may well need to speak up about God being just, not allowing evil to continue forever - God will call time one day! Yet that must be done in the right balance, with the greater message of God's desire through Jesus that not a single person will be lost, that people can turn and be embraced by Jesus. With that kind of message, we can be the people of His Kingdom.

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