Elon, North Carolina
We have been studying the Book of Ezekiel, chapter by chapter and we come today to the good part of the book. It all begins with Ezekiel 33. We are out of the section that deals with all of the terrible judgments on people. Ezekiel 33 was addressed to Jews who lived in Babylon twenty-five hundred years ago but it has a lot to say to people who live today. It has some things to say to the wicked and it has some things to say to the church today. It shows us the heart of God.
Prophecy is fulfilled in this chapter. In Ezekiel 3, God told Ezekiel that He would make him silent. God silenced the prophet. He could only say whatever God told him what to say. This went on for seven years. That must have been hard on his marriage.
In Ezekiel 24, Jerusalem fell and Ezekiel’s wife died. God also predicted in that chapter that Ezekiel would get his voice back when a fugitive comes from Jerusalem and tells him the news of its destruction (24:26-27). That prophecy is fulfilled in Ezekiel 33.
21 In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month on the fifth day, a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has fallen!” 22 Now the evening before the man arrived, the hand of the Lord was on me, and he opened my mouth before the man came to me in the morning. So my mouth was opened and I was no longer silent. (33:21-22 NIV)
This chapter does seem a little repetitive. Much of the chapter, we have seen before. Large parts of this chapter are found almost word-for-word in other parts of Ezekiel.
The first part of the chapter is all about a watchman. God appointed Ezekiel to be a watchman in Ezekiel 3. The second part of the chapter answers questions to God’s justice. We saw those questions raised in Ezekiel 18 and the answer that God gives in this chapter is the same answer found in Ezekiel 18.
Because the chapter is repetitive, we are not going to go verse-by-verse through it. We have already looked at some of the topics. Today, we want to focus on three things in this chapter: the call of a watchmen, the call of the wicked and the call to worship. They are very relevant today. They apply today just as much as they did then.
Call of a Watchman
Ezekiel was called to be a watchman in Ezekiel 3. This call is repeated in Ezekiel 33. Let’s review what we know about the job of a watchman and see how it applies to us today. What did a watchman in the ancient world do?
Ancient cities had walls for protection. A watchman was someone who stand at the highest point of the city, guarding the city. Isaiah 62:6 says, “I have posted watchmen on your walls, Jerusalem; they will never be silent day or night. You who call on the LORD, give yourselves no rest” (NIV).
Watchmen stood on the wall of the city, perhaps in a tower and had two jobs. They were to watch and they were to warn. If they saw the sword coming, an invading army approaching, they were to sound an alarm. They were to blow the trumpet. Hebrew word for trumpet is show-far. If they saw an enemy coming, they were to blow the shofar.
Their job was not to fight the enemy but to sound the alarm, so people outside the city walls could come to a place of safety. They had an important job. It was a matter of life and death. Israel today doesn’t use watchman blowing a trumpet. When Hamas fires rockets at Israel, warning sirens go off. We do not have a watchman sitting on a wall looking for threats against the US. That is the job of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
Ezekiel was to be like the Jewish Paul Revere but he did not say, “The British are coming.” He said, “The Babylonians are coming.” He also said, “God is coming.” Ezekiel is not just warning about a foreign attack but against God’s judgment. He is the enemy coming against them.
That seems a little strange. God calls Ezekiel to be a watchman to warn people against His own judgment coming. That would be like England hiring Paul Revere to warn that the British were coming. God does not want people to die.
Christian Watchman Today
That may be interesting but how does it apply to us today? This applies to all Christians. We are God’s watchmen today. Every Christian is to be a watchman. We are to warn the wicked. As our pastor would say, “This is not just God’s word to Ezekiel; it is God’s word to us.” How do we know this?
Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:
“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.
22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. (Acts 20:18-27 ESV)
Paul was a watchman. He alludes here to Ezekiel. He ministered in Ephesus for about three years. While he was there, he worked hard. He ministered publicly and house to house, encountering opposition and he says that he taught the people the whole counsel of God.
He did not go verse by verse in-depth from Genesis to Revelation. Most of the NT had not been written yet. The Gospels had not been written yet and he did not have the time to do this in just three years. He did preach the message of the whole Bible, as it had been revealed up to that point. He did not leave out any major doctrines.
Not every pastor preaches the whole counsel of God. Some preach half the Bible. Some only try to be positive or relevant. They never expose sin and never talk about hell or judgment. They only talk about God’s blessings. Paul preached it all and that is why he said that he is free from the blood of all men.
How does this apply to us? None of us are pastors. We are not prophets, like Ezekiel. We are not apostles, like Paul. That is true but there are many parallels between Ezekiel and us. Seven parallels between Ezekiel’s watchman ministry and our ministry today came to my mind.
1) Like Ezekiel, we are authorized to speak for God
Ezekiel was authorized to speak for God as a prophet and we are authorized to speak as ambassadors of Christ (II Corinthians 5:20).
2) Like Ezekiel, we received a special commission from God
Ezekiel received a commission and we also received a commission (called “The Great Commission”).
3) Like Ezekiel, we received a special message from God to deliver to people
The content of the message is different but we both received a message from to deliver to people.
4) Like Ezekiel, we preach a message which involves judgment
Ezekiel preached a message of judgment and we preach a message of judgment as well. He preached that “judgment is coming” and we preach that there is a day coming in which God is going to judge the world (Acts 17:31)
5) Like Ezekiel, we preach a message which involves repentance
Ezekiel preached a message of repentance. He told the wicked to “turn and live” and we preach a message of repentance. Repentance is part of the gospel. Ezekiel’s message was just to the nation. He was a watchman to Israel. We are to preach the gospel to the whole world.
6) Like Ezekiel, we preach a message that was a matter of life and death.
It was serious. Our message is more important than Ezekiel’s message. Ezekiel’s message was a matter of physical lie and physical death. The Babylonians were coming with the sword and were going to slaughter men, women and children. Our message is a matter of eternal life and eternal death. Ezekiel was a physical watchman. We are to be spiritual watchmen.
7) Like Ezekiel, God will hold us accountable for how we perform the duties He gave us.
God held Ezekiel accountable for how he performed his duty as a watchman. If the watchman saw the enemy approaching and did not sound the alarm and people died, God said that their blood would be on his head. God will hold us accountable as well. We will one day all stand before the judgment seat of Christ.
There is good news and bad news here. The bad news is that being a watchman is not optional. It is a command. If we don’t do it, people’s blood will be on our heads. They will still die but we will be guilty.
The good news is that we are not responsible for how people respond to the message. We are not responsible for how people respond to the gospel. The only job of the watchman is to sound the warning. God only holds us accountable for being faithful to what He has called us to do.
This doesn’t mean that we have to be obnoxious and rude like some Christians, offending as many people as we can. It doesn’t mean that we have to be constantly finding fault with people, going around pointing fingers. It means that we have to shine the light every day and be a good testimony for Christ. It means we have to preach the gospel at all times and if necessary use words. That is a quote supposedly from St. Francis of Assisi but he probably never said it.
The Call to the Wicked
Ezekiel makes four important points about the wicked in this chapter.
1. Sin leads to death
The penalty of sin is death. God says to the wicked person “You shall surely die” (33:14). “The soul who sins, it will die” (18:4). The Jews left in Babylon thought that they struck it rich. Everyone else was gone and they could take over the whole country. God says that instead of inheriting the land, they will all be killed (either by disease or famine or the sword).
23 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 24 “Son of man, the people living in those ruins in the land of Israel are saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he possessed the land. But we are many; surely the land has been given to us as our possession.’ 25 Therefore say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Since you eat meat with the blood still in it and look to your idols and shed blood, should you then possess the land? 26 You rely on your sword, you do detestable things, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife. Should you then possess the land?’
27 “Say this to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: As surely as I live, those who are left in the ruins will fall by the sword, those out in the country I will give to the wild animals to be devoured, and those in strongholds and caves will die of a plague. 28 I will make the land a desolate waste, and her proud strength will come to an end, and the mountains of Israel will become desolate so that no one will cross them. 29 Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I have made the land a desolate waste because of all the detestable things they have done.’
When the people heard this message, many Jews lost hope. They gave up. Life became meaningless. “Son of man, say to the Israelites, ‘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?”’ (33:10 NIV) That brings us to our second point.
2. Repentance leads to life
God’s answer to this problem is one word (“repent”). The remedy is repentance. It is the Hebrew word “turn” (shoe-ve). It is used eight times in this chapter. That is the solution. God says, “turn and live” (33:11; 18:23).
14 And if I say to a wicked person, ‘You will surely die,’ but they then turn away from their sin and do what is just and right— 15 if they give back what they took in pledge for a loan, return what they have stolen, follow the decrees that give life, and do no evil—that person will surely live; they will not die. 16 None of the sins that person has committed will be remembered against them. They have done what is just and right; they will surely live. (33:14-16 NIV)
This shows the incredible power of repentance. Repentance removes the guilt of past sin. It wipes it out. No matter what you have done in the past, no matter how bad your sins, you can be forgiven if you repent. Murder can be forgiven. Rape can be forgiven. Homosexuality can be forgiven. Adultery can be forgiven. Divorce can be forgiven.
In some Baptist churches, adultery can be forgiven but divorce cannot. It is like the unpardonable sin but the Bible says that all sins can be forgiven. Isaiah 1:18 says, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool” (NIV).
God says in Ezekiel 33, if a wicked man repents, he will not only live (33:15) but NONE of the sins he committed will be remembered against him (33:16). That is amazing. The NT says the same thing. Acts 3:19 says, “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.” The Bible teaches that repentance is “for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 24:47).
3. God does not want people to die
As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel? (33:11 ESV)
Here we see that God is pro-life. He says, “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked.” He even says it by divine oath (“as I live”). Some people get pleasure when they see other people suffer. They love to see other people suffer. God is not like that. He is not sadistic. He did not create hell because he loves to torture his creatures. God does not take pleasure in the death of anyone, even wicked sinners who deserve to die. God created hell because He is a God of justice. He loves justice (Psalm 3:5). It is part of His nature but He does not delight when people go there.
4. God pleads with people to live
God is on the side of life. He tells people what they need to do to live. He pleads with people to choose life. He tells people, not once but twice, “turn back, turn back from your evil ways.” He says to people, “Why will you die?” Why do people end up in hell today? Jesus offers salvation to everyone. Many reject his free offer. They choose death.
Ezekiel 33:11 is often taken out of context. Many who are against the death penalty quote this verse. God says that he does not desire the death of anyone. They completely miss the point of the passage. The same God who says this says to the wicked in the very same chapter “You shall surely die”. The same God who said he does not desire the death of anyone also ordains death as a punishment for many sins.
The Call to Worship
30 “As for you, son of man, your people are talking together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’ 31 My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, but they do not put them into practice. Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain. 32 Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words but do not put them into practice. 33 “When all this comes true—and it surely will—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.” (33:30-33 NIV)
Now we come to some very interesting verses in the chapter. These verses have to do with worship. I love big churches but these verses are a stinging indictment on what happens in some mega churches. Before, we look at these verses, we have to set the stage.
Ezekiel has been preaching about the destruction of Jerusalem for seven years and has been mocked and ridiculed by everyone, including other religious leaders. Other prophets said that the temple would never fall. Ezekiel was in the minority and no one took him seriously.
Then something shocking happened. Jerusalem fell. The Babylonians destroyed it. There was verification from eye-witnesses that it fell (33:21-22). It could be proven. Now everyone knows that Ezekiel seemed to be crazy but everything he said was literally fulfilled. He was vindicated. Now everyone knew that he was the true prophet and the other ones were the false prophets.
No longer could anyone call him a false prophet. They could not mock him anymore. Now, they were “saying to each other, ‘Come and hear the message that has come from the Lord.’”
Ezekiel became popular. He became the most popular man in town. He became famous. He was now a celebrity. He was the best show in town. They now wanted to hear what he said. They did three things that many do not even do today. First, they came to hear him preach. People flocked to him. They come in droves. They came regularly. Some churches are empty. They came to hear Ezekiel.
Second, they listened to him. Some come to church and go right to sleep. They don’t pay attention. They do not hear a word the pastor says. These people came to church and listening to him. Ezekiel was a good public speaker. He was a great communicator. He was not boring and enjoyed listening to Ezekiel.
Third, they were moved by what they heard. They love to hear a good sermon. They didn’t walk away and criticize what they heard. Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well (33:32 NIV). His sermons sounded like music to their ears. They sounded like a love song. It was like listening to Barry Manilow.
Indeed, to them you are nothing more than one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays an instrument well, for they hear your words BUT DO NOT PUT THEM INTO PRACTICE.
Three Dangers for Christians Today
1) Beware of coming to church only to be entertained
Many come to church just to be entertained. We have the spectator mentality in the church today. Worship is like a performance up on stage. Some see church as entertainment.
The quality is so good is some churches with professional singers. Many people go to church and never even open their mouth to sing any of the worship songs. They act like they are coming to a rock concert.
Some preachers are just entertainers. They tell a lot of jokes. They tickle people’s ears. Some pastors gear their ministry to entertainment, because that brings in the crowds and it works. The only problem is that many people then come to church for the wrong reason.
2) Beware of coming to church only to learn
My people come to you, as they usually do, and sit before you to hear your words, BUT THEY DO NOT PUT THEM INTO PRACTICE. (33:31 NIV)
It’s not wrong to hear the Word of God. God wants us to hear it. He wants us to know what it says. Too many Christians are completely ignorant what the Bible even says. They do not know what it teaches. When we come to church, we need to hear God speaking to us but hearing it is not enough.
God wants us to be doers of the Word and not just hearers only. We do not just need knowledge. We need application to our own lives. We need obedience. Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments.” Don’t just study them, memorize them and know them. Obey them. Put them into practice.
3. Beware of giving God insincere worship in church
Their mouths speak of love, but their hearts are greedy for unjust gain (33:31 NIV). Some Christians do open their mouth in worship. They participate. God says that it is possible to honor Him with your lips but have your heart FAR from Him (Mark 7:6). God calls that worship vain (Mark 7:7). It is completely worthless.
How many Christians give God vain worship every Sunday? Do we? Does this describe us. In Ezekiel’s day, people were in church but their hearts were really not on God. They were on “unjust gain.” This is a powerful indictment. What do we think about when we are in church? Do we worship Him with our hearts or just our lips?
 Ezekiel 33:30 says in the KJV “Also, thou son of man, the children of thy people still are talking AGAINST THEE by the walls.” The KJV is the only translation which reads “against.” All modern translations read “about” (e.g., NIV, ESN, NASB, RSV, NRSV, NLT, GNB). Both translations are possible but the latter rendering fits the historical context better.