In the ancient days of fortified cities, watchmen would stand on the walls day and night. Their job was to warn of danger. If a watchman failed to warn of an enemy approaching, he would be punished with death.
God explains this to Ezekiel, and thus to us, in the first nine verses of Chapter 33. God tells Ezekiel that he has been selected to be a warner. In verse seven God says, ‘I am making you a watchman for the people of Israel. Therefore, listen to what I say and warn them for me.’
There are three possible outcomes when the danger approaches. First, the watchman fails to warn the people. In this case the people will die in their sins, and the watchman will be held responsible. That’s the worst possible outcome. Everyone loses.
Second, the watchman tells everyone what is coming but they ignore him. In this case the people still die in their sins, but the watchman is saved.
Third, the people heed the warning. In this case the people are saved along with the watchman. As a Warner myself, by name and by calling, this is the outcome I seek.
When he is given this task by God, Ezekiel is living in exile in Babylon. The people he is told to warn are God’s people. His message is for the children of Israel. Ezekiel has to send his warning to Jerusalem and the people living there as well as to the exiles. He is to say to them, ‘Turn from your wickedness, O people of Israel! Why should you die?’
The first thing we see in these passages of Scripture is how serious it is to be selected by God as a ‘warner’ with a message for his people. It may cost us a lot to deliver the warning that God has entrusted to us. You might feel concerned at what it may cost you to deliver the words that God has given you. We are all called to share the Good News. God has tried to teach us that it is not the cost we should be looking at. We should be keeping our eyes on him, and then the cost will seem small by comparison.
Of first importance is our relationship with God. If that costs us a great deal in this world, so be it. Our relationship with God is worth far more than anything the world has to offer.
We also see that Ezekiel is called to warn God’s own people. They have not been granted any special protection because they are God’s people. They will still die in their sins if they ignore God’s warnings to them. It is the same for us. God is holy and he judges his own people. He does it to help us become holy. His purpose in judgement and punishment is to bring us into a close relationship with him.
God is holy. He cannot have a close relationship with wicked people. To enable us to have that relationship with him, he judges us and punishes us. Please see that this is not an act of anger like road rage. It is an act of love and compassion. Especially it is God’s grace.
God warns us in verse 12 that, ‘The righteous behaviour of righteous people will not save them if they turn to sin.’
You cannot be a Christian on Sunday and then sin on Monday without consequences. The person who lives like that is not saved, Ezekiel says. They haven’t developed a relationship with God. The wicked church-goer who realises they are wicked can be saved, says Ezekiel, ‘if they repent and turn from their sins’.
Some people have a question at this point. Are these warnings only given to believers? Should Christians impose their morals on non-believers? It is a question with all sorts of difficulties. Should we demand that others live by God’s standards for us, his disciples. How should this impact our debate on things such as marriage, abortion, euthanasia, or divorce?
Some have said that God has given these instructions to his followers. They say that those who do not believe must be free to follow their own ways. This would mean that although we are bound by the rules, non-believers can do whatever they want and God doesn’t get angry.
Others insist that God’s standards, morals and ethics are for all people at all times. They should be imposed on non-believers. If possible we should warn people against these behaviours. We should also warn them that they face severe consequences if they continue in their wicked ways. Lots of people get upset when they are told their ways are wicked. It was so at the time of Ezekiel. It is so today. When we speak God’s words of warning, we can upset a lot of people.
Who are these words of warning for?
Let’s turn to the New Testament. Open your Bibles please at Acts 17 and find verse 30:
“God overlooked people’s ignorance about these things in earlier times, but now he commands everyone everywhere to repent of their sins and turn to him. 31For he has set a day for judging the world with justice by the man he has appointed, and he proved to everyone who this is by raising him from the dead.”
The man whom God raised from the dead is going to judge the world. This man is Jesus. Jesus is going to judge everyone everywhere. The warning God has told you to share is for everyone.
There are no people who are exceptions. God’s message is for all people in all countries.
2 Peter 3:9 – ‘He does not want anyone to be destroyed, but wants everyone to repent.’
God wants the people of North Korea to repent and be saved. God wants the people of Jinju to repent and be saved. Any place you can name, God has a warning for the people who live there. Repent of your sins and turn to Jesus. And if they repent, they will live.
Ezekiel in verse 16 says, ‘None of their past sins will be brought up again, for they have done what is just and right, and they will surely live.’
Ezekiel tells us that the people didn’t like his message. They accused God of being unfair and unjust. This is much like people today who insist God doesn’t love them if he wants them to give up their drug taking or adultery or immoral behaviour. Verse 20 says, ‘O people of Israel, you are saying, ‘The Lord isn’t doing what’s right.’ But I judge each of you according to your deeds.” ’
You and I are judged not by what our parents did, or by what we did last year, but by what we are doing right now. Although there are obviously consequences of our sins for future generations, the sins are visited upon the sinner. You cannot blame your parents.
It seems from Scripture that Ezekiel was rather good at what he did. He blew the bugle of warning and people came in their thousands to enjoy the music. There were big crowds when Ezekiel spoke. I wish we also had big crowds to hear the message of the Lord. But God was not happy with that. A church full of people who are having a good time and enjoying the preaching is not God’s purpose.
In verse 32 God says, “You are very entertaining to them, like someone who sings love songs with a beautiful voice or plays fine music on an instrument. They hear what you say, but they don’t act on it! But when all these terrible things happen to them – as they certainly will – then they will know a prophet has been among them.”
By the time they know it will be too late. Our part is to speak out the words of warning at any time we can get people to listen. We need to also teach them that these words of life have to be acted upon.
Remember, God is gentle. He seeks relationship. Speak his words, but do it gently so as to encourage people into a relationship with him. We are not to judge, that is what Jesus will do.
Do not be angry at those who are unable to obey today, but patiently urge them to listen and obey. Gently encourage everyone everywhere to come to Jesus and submit to his authority.
You know what we have to do, now we should do it. Don’t be one of those people who fail to obey because, as verse 31 says, ‘their hearts seek only after money.’
Let’s help each other and together seek first the kingdom of God.