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Ezekiel 33:1-9

THE WATCHMAN Ezekiel 33:1-9 July 26, 2020 This is our seventh week, our seventh Sunday, in the book of Ezekiel. And, up to this point it has been a real downer. Every Sunday another depressing and negative message. Week one, Ezekiel and the prince of Israel and the children of all royalty are taken to Babylon as slaves. Week two - Ezekiel is violently called to become a prophet. But, God warns him it will be useless, the people will not listen to you. Week three - Ezekiel begins performing weird dramas in the public market. The point of each drama is to tell people God is turning his back on them. Week four - Ezekiel proclaims God has abandoned the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. God is gone. Week five - Ezekiel warns the people everything is bad because they will not take responsibility for their own sin. They all want to blame someone else. And, week six - God kills Ezekiel's wife and forbids him to grieve publicly. I don't know about you, but that's just about all the bad I can handle. After all, were Methodist. We don't scare people away from Hell, we lure them into Heaven. We accentuate the positive. Dog gone it, we are happy Christians and Ezekiel isn't playing nice! Well, you will be glad to know chapter 33 begins a significant shift in emphasis.1 Starting today the theme of Ezekiel changes from condemnation and conviction to hope, restoration, mercy, and grace. Ezekiel will lay the groundwork for the transition away from the strict rules of Moses - the Covenant of Law, and towards the redemptive work of Jesus Christ - the Covenant of Grace. Starting today, things get better. The exiles in Babylon have finally hit rock bottom. From their perspective, things have finally gone as bad as they can possibly go. They have been slaves in a foreign land for 10 years. The city of Jerusalem has been destroyed. The Holy Temple, the place where God lived has been burnt to the ground. God has abandoned the city, and the Temple, and no one knows where he is. Most of their family members died in the siege, or on the day of destruction. Those who survived have been brought to Babylon, but can't be located. It is finally a reality the exiles will never see their homes, or their families again. Rock bottom. And, this appears to be the end of Israel.2 In 715 BC the Assyrians took away northern Israel, and never gave it back. Now, 125 years later, the Babylonians have taken southern Israel. There is no Jewish homeland any more. The people are scattered around the world, and completely powerless. Israel is gone, and it feels like it will never come back. No family, no homeland, no faith. This is as bad as it gets. The first positive in this situation is the realization Ezekiel was right. He was right about everything. All of his prophecies came true, exactly the way he said. Here's why that's good news. It means God is still talking to his people. And, it means God is available to us even in a foreign land. God doesn't just exist in the Temple. God is here in Babylon. And, he hears our prayers and answers. Theologically this splits the exiles into two camps. The first group comes to believe God is a watchmaker. He created the earth, he made people, he wound it all up and started it ticking, and then he walked away. God is real, but he doesn't care about us. What we do, or don't do, doesn't matter. The exile is proof God stands at a distance and watches, but he doesn't really care about us. This group will come to be known as the Sadducees. When Jesus comes to Israel, the Sadducees will be the ruling religious party. Because of the exile they will believe they can do anything they want, even kill the Messiah, and God won't get involved. But, the second group sees the good news. God is everywhere. Even in your darkest moment, God is there. And, while God may not give us everything we ask for, he hears us. He listens to our prayers. He genuinely cares. And, if God is still speaking, we should listen. We are each responsible for our relationship with God. To make this relationship as strong as possible, we should listen. Even when God is angry and disciplines us, he still loves us. No matter what. Which group do you belong to? No one goes through life without making mistakes and suffering consequences. Unfair tragedy happens to everyone. I'm willing to bet each one of you has a personal story about a time when you were suffering from life. At those times, do you believe God is a watchmaker - distant and uninvolved? Watching our situation like we observe a lion in the zoo, then moving on to something more interesting? Or, is God right here with you? When the night is at its very blackest, do you believe God has his arms wrapped around you? That belief, comes from the exiles in Babylon. God speaks to Ezekiel, and tells him his role will change. Before he was a dramatic artist. Put on plays and dramas to show the people everything is falling apart. You were a prophet of gloom and doom. But now, you are a watchman.3 You are a tzopheh. It's translated as watchman, but the meaning is deeper. It means to watch, to study, to spy, to look about. But, more often it means to lean forward, as far as possible, to see what is coming next. And, the point of leaning and seeing is share the news with everyone else. There is good on the horizon, and everyone needs to know. The watchman was handpicked by the people of the city. It was not a paying job. The city elected only the most trustworthy and dependable person as the tzophah. It is critical for the watchman to never fall asleep on duty. The rest of us can only sleep soundly if we absolutely believe the watchman is awake.4 He was positioned at the place of best perspective. That was usually the highest point in the city.5 Often on a city wall, or a tower. It might even mean being on top of someone's house. If a nearby mountain offered a better view, then the watchman was stationed there. The idea is - the watchmen sees what the rest of us only think about. He is the only one who knows the truth of our situation. Ezekiel becomes a watchman. Invading armies liked to attack just before sunrise. War is chaos, and you need daylight to make sure you don't attack yourself. And, there's always a good chance the lookout is asleep by then. So, you can attack with surprise. The watchman carried a ram's horn trumpet. He had several different trumpet blasts that carried messages to the people below. One short blast, an enemy army is approaching, we must prepare. Two short blasts, lock the city gates. Three short blasts, the enemy is already attacking - to arms immediately! Now, the watchman never joined the fight. He remained on duty throughout. At the sound of his first blast, a messenger was sent to the nearest city to summon help. We are under attack, please come and help us. Perhaps the single most important signal the watchman sent was a long blast - as long as he could hold the note. A blast that used every ounce of breath within him. That blast meant; help is coming. I can see our salvation coming. We are not alone in this fight. Help is on the way, we will survive, the sun will come up tomorrow. God calls Ezekiel to be the watchman who blows the long blast. Your lives have been torn apart. You have lost everything you value. You have reached rock bottom and feel hopeless. The source of all your suffering is a broken and damaged relationship with me - the Lord God. But, help is coming. For the last 800 years the people have been judged by the Mosaic Covenant, the Covenant of Law. If you steal, you go to Hell. If you lie, you go to Hell. Once a year you can make an offering and have your sins forgiven. But, if you miss the offering - or if you sin the very next day, and die - you go to Hell. And, no one has been able to beat the system. No one has been good enough to earn Heaven. There isn't a single soul, in any community, the people can point to as an example of someone saved. There are some cranky old men who have pronounced themselves sinless and saved, but no one believes them. They're hypocrites; blind to their own evil. The Devil has been on attack for 800 years and the battle looks lost. Then Ezekiel blows his trumpet. It's a long blast. The longest blast ever blown. Help is coming.6 God himself will fight for us. God himself will save us. The watchman sees everything, and he sees our salvation. We've been through a long hard fight. But, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. The faith of the nation of Israel - and yes, Ezekiel sees the nation of Israel will live again - will change. It will take a new form. No longer the Covenant of Law, but now the Covenant of Grace. Forgiveness will be offered. Mercy will be abundant. You can trust what the watchman sees, it's ok to have hope again. Depending on what has happened to you, it can be hard to hope. It can be hard to believe God still cares about you, and that he is working actively for your salvation. It can be hard to trust the watchman.7 Let me tell you something, it's a lot more difficult not to trust the watchman. If you don't trust the watchman, you must stay up all night looking for yourself. You will exhaust yourself trying to be good enough both day and night. You cannot earn your own salvation. Some of the people heard Ezekiel's blast, and gave up. They became Sadducees - God is a watchmaker and it doesn't matter what you do with your life. Some of the people heard Ezekiel's blast and became Pharisees - no one else ever followed the Law perfectly, but I will be the first. But, most of the people who heard Ezekiel's blast became Messianic. God is coming. God still loves us. God himself will save us. God proved to the exiles, you will never be good enough. Your very best is still damaged and unacceptable. But, my son Jesus is good enough. Ezekiel saw Jesus coming on the horizon. He blew his trumpet and encouraged the broken and beaten exiles. And, whatever you have been through, Jesus is on your horizon as well. 1 Raymond B. Dillard & Tremper Longman III. An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1994), 316. 2 Walter R. Roehrs, "Watchmen in Israel: Pastoral Guidelines from Ezekiel 1-3," Concordia Journal, 16 no. 1 (January 1990), 6-17. 3 R. C. Sproul, general editor. New Geneva Study Bible (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 1305. 4 David Greenspoon, "The Prophet as Watchman," Jewish Bible Quarterly, 27 no. 1 (January 1999), 29-35. 5 NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2016), 1386. 6 Gordon Matties, New Interpreter's Study Bible (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2003), 1205. 7 William Hugh Brownlee, "Ezekiel's Parable of the Watchman and the Editing of Ezekiel," Vetus Testamentum, 28 no. 4 (October 1978), 392-408. --------------- ------------------------------------------------------------ --------------- ------------------------------------------------------------ 2
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