Elon, North Carolina
We are studying the Book of Ezekiel. We come today to a chapter that is very relevant to us today. Last week, we looked at the first chapter in the book which contains a spectacular vision. It is a vision of God.
God appears in a storm cloud. He is seated on a blue throne in his cherubim driven throne chariot and He is full of fire from the waist down. God appeared to Ezekiel in July of 593 BC in the country of Iraq. Ezekiel’s reaction to this amazing vision was to fall face down on the ground.
John did the same thing in the Book of Revelation. If you get a chance to see in a mortal body God’s glory, you will be laying on the ground eating dust. John fell down as dead. He probably passed out. Today, we find out what happened next. A voice starts talking to Ezekiel.
The one talking to him is not one of the four living creatures. It is not an angel but God Himself. The one sitting on the throne began talking to Ezekiel.
Today, we are not going to look at a spectacular vision. We are going to look at a shocking call. God gives visions to people for a reason. The reason was not to make him a world renowned expert on heaven or angels.
God had a mission for Ezekiel. He had a job for him to do. He has a job for us to do as well. God could have chosen anyone for this job but he chose Ezekiel. One man was handpicked for this mission.
The job that he is going to ask Ezekiel was hard. It was not easy. Sometimes He calls us to do hard things. He calls some believers to be martyrs, to give up their life for their faith. Ezekiel has been in Babylon for five years. He was brought to that country against his will, along with ten thousand other people. At the age of thirty, he finds out what his life’s calling is.
God speaks to him. The word of the Lord comes to him. Do you know what your life calling is? All of us are called by God to do something? Our calling will not be as dramatic as Ezekiel’s but we are all called to do something.
What has He called you to do? Are you doing it? If you do not know yet what your calling is, do not feel too bad. Not everyone finds out right away. Moses did not find out until he was eighty. That was when God called him. Ezekiel found out at the age of thirty.
God calls different people to do different things. What God calls you to do is not what He calls me to do. Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel were contemporaries. They lived at the same time but they had completely different types of ministries.
Jeremiah ministered to Jews who stayed in JERUSALEM. Someone had to stay behind and minister to the Jews left behind. Ezekiel and Daniel were both deported. They ministered to Jews in BABYLON but there was a big difference between the two.
Daniel worked for the government of Babylon. He served in the court. He was an adviser to kings. He was a politician. Ezekiel was not a politician. He was a preacher. He had no political connections.
Ezekiel was a street preacher. He ministered to people on the street. He was a pastor to the exiles. He lived among the exiles. God calls us all to do different things and have ministries in different circles and in different places.
The interesting thing is that we never hear a word of jealousy on Ezekiel’s part. He never says that he wished he lived in the palace and ate all of that good food. He didn’t want to become lion food. He only says good things about Daniel in the Book of Ezekiel. He mentions him three times in his book (14:14, 20; 28:3).
And he said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” 2 And as he spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. (2:1-2 ESV)
Ezekiel saw this vision, falls face down and God begins talking to him. In Ezekiel 1, God appeared to Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 2, God talked to Ezekiel and told him to stand up but he could not stand up. When God tells us to do something, He gives us the strength to do it. He empowers us to do his will. Ezekiel was too weak from the vision, so the Spirit helps him get up.
Someone entitled this section “When God wakes you up.” God gives him a wake-up call but He does not called him by name. He does not call him Yechezkel ben Buzi (Ezekiel son of Buzi). He calls him “son of man.” He doesn’t use his first name.
About ninety times in the book, God calls him, not the son of Buzi but the son of man. That is unique to Ezekiel. That is strange. He called Moses by name (Exodus 3:4). He called Samuel by name (1 Samuel 3:4). He called Elijah (1 Kings 19:9) and He called Jeremiah by name (Jeremiah 1:11) but Ezekiel is called “son of man.”
Ezekiel has his face in the dirt, completely overpowered by God’s glory and majesty. This is a reference to his humanity and weakness. It is not an insult. In fact, when Jesus came to earth, that became his name. His favorite designation of Himself was “The Son of Man.” We see it like eighty times in the Gospels.
God tells Ezekiel to get up but he can’t move. He is too weak from this vision, so the Spirit of God enters him and sets him on his feet. Remember, Yechezkel means “God will strengthen.” That is what He does here. God wakes him up, stands him up and then gives him his life mission.
Ezekiel’s Career Change
Ezekiel thought he already knew what his life mission was. Ezekiel 1:3 says, “the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel THE PRIEST, the son of Buzi, in the land of the Chaldeans by the Chebar canal, and the hand of the Lord was upon him there” (ESV).
Ezekiel was a priest. We are told that in the very beginning of the book. He was born to be a priest. He was from the right tribe. He was trained to be a priest. His dad was a priest. His grandfather was a priest. That was what he wanted to do and had looked forward to do, although right now he found himself in Babylon. There is no temple there, so he has a little set back.
God says, “I do not want you to be a priest. I want you to be a prophet.” This was a call to a career change. It was a call to change jobs. Sometimes God calls us to do that to people today. We are going in one direction and God completely changes our life plans and says “I want you to do something different.”
And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. They and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ 5 And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them.
6 And you, son of man, be not afraid of them, nor be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions. Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. 7 And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house. (2:3-7 ESV)
This chapter gives us a biblical philosophy of ministry. It should be a model for preachers today. There are five ministry principles that come from this passage that are still true today that I would like to share with you.
Five Ministry Principles
1) We do not choose our ministry.
This is not what Ezekiel would have chosen to do. He did not volunteer to be a prophet. He did not ask to be a prophet. He did not say like Isaiah “Here I am Lord, send me.” He wanted to be a priest and prayed for God to make him a priest but we do not choose our ministry. God said to Ezekiel, “This is My will for your life.”
To EACH is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to ONE is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to ANOTHER the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to ANOTHER faith by the same Spirit, to ANOTHER gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to ANOTHER the working of miracles, to ANOTHER prophecy, to ANOTHER the ability to distinguish between spirits, to ANOTHER various kinds of tongues, to ANOTHER the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to EACH ONE INDIVIDUALLY AS HE WILLS (I Corinthians 12:7-11 ESV).
That is interesting. Spiritual gifts come from the Holy Spirit. He is the one who gives the gifts and they are given as HE wills, not as we will. He decides. We do not choose our natural talents. We do not choose our spiritual gifts. We do no choose our ministry.
That is contrary to some of the teaching in the church today. Some teach that you can choose your gift. You can have whatever gift you want. Some teach that anyone can have the gift of healing or that anyone can have the gift of tongues.
Three times in this chapter, we are told the exact opposite. God chooses. He arranges members in the body (12:18) and appointed people in the church (12:28). We can pray for God to give us other gifts (14:13) but He ultimately decides if we get them.
2) God has to reveal our ministry to us
How did Ezekiel find out what his ministry was? God told him. He received a word for the Lord. How do we find our calling? We find out the same way. God has to speak to us. He has to reveal it to us. He usually does that by giving us a burden for something or a passion for something. This cannot just come from other people. It has to come from God. If you do not know you life purpose yet, God has to reveal it to you.
3) Some ministries are difficult
God sometimes calls us to do hard things. He called Ezekiel to do a hard thing. What was it? He gave him a negative message to preach, as we will see. He was not a prosperity preacher. He preached that Babylon would completely destroy Jerusalem. We see that in the last verse of the chapter. He had a message of lamentation, mourning and woe.
Not only did he have a negative message, he also had a hostile audience. God told him in advance that they were not going to be receptive. He was going to face opposition. He was going to face rejection. He was going to face criticism.
He was going to face persecution. He was not going to minister to people with soft hearts. He was going to minister to people with hard hearts. Ezekiel is to preach the word and many of the people he will be preaching to will not be open to his message.
These are things that we can all relate to. We have dealt with people like that. Some of the people in America are just like the people that Ezekiel ministered to. It is difficult to minister to people like that. They are, not only not open to the message, they are hostile to it. God is the only one who can soften a hard heart.
The nation that is called by God a “rebellious nation” (2:3) and four times in this chapter is called “a rebellious people” (2:5, 6, 7, 8). This nation is also called “obstinate and stubborn” (2:4). They are like children who have rebelled against their parents. They are like a defiant child. They are like a stubborn or, as we would say today, “a strong-willed child.” God says the whole nation is like that.
Here is the shock. The nation that God calls stubborn, rebellious, disobedient and defiant is not a pagan, idolatrous nation. It is the house of Israel. It is the chosen people. It would be interesting to know what percentage of people in church are saved (two-thirds, fifty percent or less than fifty percent).
Some of the hardest hearts are in churches. Many are steeped in tradition. They have done things one way for years, hundreds of years in some cases. Many are not to open to what the Spirit says today. They will choose their tradition over what the spirit says. Jesus wrote letters to seven churches in John’s day. Five of the seven churches received criticism from Jesus. They received a rebuke.
This raises an interesting question? Why did God send Ezekiel in the first place? Why go and preach to people who will not receive your message and are hostile to it. It seems like a waste of time. God loves everyone, even the wicked. He has compassion for people. He gives everyone a chance and then holds them responsible for their actions.
4) God is looking for faithfulness
The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ 5 AND WHETHER THEY LISTEN OR FAIL TO LISTEN—for they are a rebellious people—they will know that a prophet has been among them. (2:5 NIV)
You must speak my words to them, WHETHER THEY LISTEN OR FAIL TO LISTEN, for they are rebellious. (2:7 NIV)
God told Ezekiel he was to preach, even if people did not listen to him. The implication is that many will not listen to him and that is okay. The only thing that Ezekiel needs to do is to preach the message. This is very different from philosophies of ministry today.
In the world’s eyes, if you do not have any results, you are not successful. In fact, in the church many have same philosophy (church growth experts). Some define success in terms of numbers. They look at attendance numbers. A big church is seen as a successful church. It may be. It may not be. I used to be a member of a mega-church in Chicago. Their vision was “not a quantity of disciples but a quality of discipleship.”
Success is not based on numbers or results. It is based on obedience. Ezekiel’s’ job was to preach the Word. If he did that, he was successful, even if no one listened to him.
Jesus said, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:23). Jesus did not praise him because he was the most gifted servant. He did not praise him because he was the most successful servant. He praised him because he was good and faithful. God calls us to be faithful, not successful. When we are faithful, we are successful in God’s eyes.
William Carey is known as the founder of modern missions. He was born in 1761. He lived in England. He was a Baptist. He felt called to go the mission field. He was discouraged him from going. One senior minister told him, “When God pleases to convert the heathen He will do it without your help or mine.”
Carey went anyway. He had all kinds of problems. He saw no convert for seven years. They struggled with loneliness. They were in a strange land with no other Christians.
They struggled with finances and disease. His five year old son died of dysentery. His wife had a nervous breakdown and almost went crazy. She accusing him of adultery and threatened him with a knife. She died early. He remarried. His second wife died thirteen years later.
By the word’s standard of success, he seemed like a failure. “I’m not afraid of failure; I’m afraid of succeeding at things that don’t matter.” In the end, he accomplished a lot. He translated the Bible into 44 Indian dialects. He started a seminary in India. Many went to the mission field because of Carey. Another one of his famous quotes is “Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God.”
5) God’s word MUST be proclaimed fearlessly
What did God want Ezekiel to do? What was his mission? He was preach God’s Word. And he said to me, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with MY WORDS to them. (3:4 ESV) And go to the exiles, to your people, and speak to them and say to them, ‘THUS SAYS THE LORD GOD,’ whether they hear or refuse to hear.” (3:11 ESV)
He was NOT to change or modify it. He was NOT to proclaim his own word. He was to proclaim God’s Word. He was not to give people his own thoughts or ideas. His job was to say “Thus saith the Lord,” not “Thus saith the great prophet Ezekiel.”
His job was not to be original and creative. He was not to be an innovator but a messenger. His job was to deliver a message and he was to do it without fear. God told Ezekiel not to be afraid or terrified by his audience (2:6). What is the application for today?
In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine.
Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (II Timothy 4:1-5 NIV)
This is very interesting. Paul gave Timothy a charge. It was a solemn charge. Timothy was to preach THE WORD. He was to preach it all of the time (in season and out of season, when people want to hear it and when they do not want to hear it). Paul predicted that the time would come when people will not want to hear the truth, so they will go to a preacher who tells them what they want to hear.
That time came. Today, we have an additional problem. Not only do people go to the preacher who tell them what they want to hear, we have preachers today who preach what people want to hear, rather than what they need to hear. They change their message for their audience. They are ear-tickling pastors. People do not want to hear about sin, so some pastors stop preaching on sin.
This is a sign of the end times. We have people-pleasing pastors. They want people to like them. They are more worried about pleasing people than they are about pleasing God. They like having big congregations so they do not say anything to offend anyone. Preaching today should be bold and fearless.
Alternatives to Biblical Preaching
Instead of preachers, some are ENTERTAINERS. They tell jokes. They are fun to listen to. A preacher should be a good communicator and should do things to get people’s attention but we should be expositors, not entertainers.
Instead of preachers, some are STORY-TELLERS. They tell stories. They share testimonies. It is not wrong to tell stories or share testimonies. Some of these stories are very good but they should not be the focus of what a preacher of the word does.
Instead of preachers, some are POLITICIANS. They preach politics from the pulpit (either from the far right or the far left). God’s word speaks to some matters of politics but church should sound a little different than Fox News.
Instead of preachers, some are THERAPISTS. They do counseling. We need some pastors who can do good counseling because many people’s lives and marriages are messed up but preachers in the pulpit should sound different than Dr. Phil or Oprah.