- His CALLING
- His EQUIPPING
- His COMMISSION
Now let me welcome you to our Bible reading tonight in the Iron Hall, it's great to see you all with us. Perhaps it's your first time here, we're glad to see you and we trust that the Lord blesses you as you've gathered with us round the word of God. Ezekiel, the book of Ezekiel again, and chapter 2 - please do make yourself comfortable as the temperature is still quite high, although it was a bit cooler today, make sure that you don't fall asleep tonight as we look at these portions of the word of God. We're going to take time to read chapter 2 and 3 of the book of Ezekiel, for it's important that we get the whole gist of what the Holy Spirit is revealing to us. So we begin at chapter 2 and verse 1, and remember that our subject this evening is: "The Preparation of the Preacher".
"And he", God, "said unto me, Son of man, stand upon thy feet, and I will speak unto thee. And the spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me. And he said unto me, Son of man, I send thee to the children of Israel, to a rebellious nation that hath rebelled against me: they and their fathers have transgressed against me, even unto this very day. For they are impudent children and stiffhearted. I do send thee unto them; and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God. And they, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, (for they are a rebellious house), yet shall know that there hath been a prophet among them. And thou, son of man, be not afraid of them, neither be afraid of their words, though briers and thorns be with thee, and thou dost dwell among scorpions: be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house. And thou shalt speak my words unto them, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear: for they are most rebellious. But thou, son of man, hear what I say unto thee; Be not thou rebellious like that rebellious house: open thy mouth, and eat that I give thee. And when I looked, behold, an hand was sent unto me; and, lo, a scroll of a book was therein; And he spread it before me; and it was written within and without: and there was written therein lamentations, and mourning, and woe. Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this scroll, and go speak unto the house of Israel. So I opened my mouth, and he caused me to eat that scroll. And he said unto me, Son of man, cause thy belly to eat, and fill thy bowels with this scroll that I give thee. Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness. And he said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak with my words unto them. For thou art not sent to a people of a strange speech and of an hard language, but to the house of Israel; Not to many people of a strange speech and of an hard language, whose words thou canst not understand. Surely, had I sent thee to them, they would have hearkened unto thee. But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted. Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads. As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead: fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.
"Moreover he said unto me, Son of man, all my words that I shall speak unto thee receive in thine heart, and hear with thine ears. And go, get thee to them of the captivity, unto the children of thy people, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord God; whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear. Then the spirit took me up, and I heard behind me a voice of a great rushing, saying, Blessed be the glory of the Lord from his place. I heard also the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels over against them, and a noise of a great rushing. So the spirit lifted me up, and took me away, and I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit; but the hand of the Lord was strong upon me. Then I came to them of the captivity at Telabib, that dwelt by the river of Chebar, and I sat where they sat, and remained there astonished among them seven days. And it came to pass at the end of seven days, that the word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul. Again, When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, and I lay a stumblingblock before him, he shall die: because thou hast not given him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he hath done shall not be remembered; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Nevertheless if thou warn the righteous man, that the righteous sin not, and he doth not sin, he shall surely live, because he is warned; also thou hast delivered thy soul. And the hand of the Lord was there upon me; and he said unto me, Arise, go forth into the plain, and I will there talk with thee. Then I arose, and went forth into the plain: and, behold, the glory of the Lord stood there, as the glory which I saw by the river of Chebar: and I fell on my face. Then the spirit entered into me, and set me upon my feet, and spake with me, and said unto me, Go, shut thyself within thine house. But thou, O son of man, behold, they shall put bands upon thee, and shall bind thee with them, and thou shalt not go out among them: And I will make thy tongue cleave to the roof of thy mouth, that thou shalt be dumb, and shalt not be to them a reprover: for they are a rebellious house. But when I speak with thee, I will open thy mouth, and thou shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord God; He that heareth, let him hear; and he that forbeareth, let him forbear: for they are a rebellious house".
I think it could be said that romance has infiltrated the church. I'm not talking about the Romeo and Juliet kind, but I'm talking about the romance of a rose-tinted perception of what it is to serve Almighty God. To serve God, for some, contains a false conception: they perhaps believe that to be a missionary is to go and serve the Lord in the sun, to be a pastor or a preacher is to serve God in the limelight - it is to have a title, other fools even believe that it's to be a respected person. But Ezekiel's call in the two chapters that we have just read shatters all possible false conceptions concerning what it is to serve the living and the true God. Fundamentally, I believe that it shakes our motivations and the reason why we serve God in the first place.
Now I have no doubt about it, as one who seeks to serve God day by day - and I'm sure that you can say this as you seek to live for Christ in your everyday life - that there is no better life, it is the best life. Indeed, as the Lord Jesus said, it is the abundant life, it is the life that truly brings the dividends that God granted in creation at the first in paradise. But I hope you will concur with me that it's far from an easy life, and it is certainly not a comfortable life. We must ask the question: what drives us to serve God? What is it that motivates us to serve the true and the living God, to preach the Gospel, to come to a fellowship like this and hopefully to contribute with the body of Christ in throwing the Gospel light into a darkened world? What is the motivation? What is the reason that we serve God? Is it to be a winner of hundreds and thousands of souls? Is it purely to have our name put down in the Christian history books as a great Bible teacher, as a pioneer missionary? Is it to set up our names in a literary standpoint, and be seen as a great Christian author and be given a great reputation as a theologian? Is the purpose of serving God even to bless God's people? Is it to be appreciated by the sheep of God's flock, to be loved by them because you feed them, because you tend them and look after them?
Whatever our service or our motives may be, if they are those things that we have just mentioned they are questionable. You heard me correctly, yes: it is questionable to be only in the service of God to see souls saved. It is questionable to be in the Lord's work purely to bless God's people and to feed the flock of God. It's not questionable in a bad sense, or an evil sense, but rather in a misguided and naive sense. Do we often sense these false expectations in our life? Do we have false expectations as we seek to serve God? Do we have a false conception of what it is to go through with God, and to follow God in everything that He has laid out in the Scriptures? What are our expectations? Do we expect to see thousands and thousands of souls brought to Christ? Do we expect always to be appreciated and to be loved?
Often, I believe, it is a false expectation that leads to frustration. That frustration can develop into depression, and for many it develops into the final conclusion, which is disillusionment with Christian service altogether. I'm sure that many of you have been in this position, where perhaps the cry of your heart is: 'No-one appreciates me any more! I'm taken for granted! People never say 'Thank you', people don't realise in this church what I do in the background. They don't see it, they don't appreciate it!'. I believe, if we analyse our hearts concerning this matter of what motivates us to serve God, we can find that even in our service for Him there is an awful depravity and at times an awful sinfulness.
I wonder if we had been called like Ezekiel was what our answer would be to it? If you look at chapter 2 and chapter 3 of this book, and imagine God calling you in this way, and then imagine you going into the interview room of a missionary society - would you admit to them that God had called you, but God had also told you that no-one would be converted through your ministry? That you were going to be a useless evangelist in terms of numbers and success? I heard a preacher say recently that he never ever had 'burnout' because he never ever expected too much of himself - I think that's being too simplistic. The question we need to ask, as we come to a passage that portrays for us the call of God in a man's, or for that matter in a woman's, life - we must ask: what is the realistic expectation of what it is to serve God? What are we in the service of God for? How do we balance not expecting too much from ourselves with attempting great things for God, and expecting great things from God? Is there a place in between where we can be satisfied that God is using us, and we have a holy discontent and thirst after God and holiness, yet at the same time we're not a contractor of what some preachers call 'Messiah complex'? In other words: we feel that we are God's chosen one, that we believe that 'God is going to use me to overthrow the world for Him'.
It surely must come down to what God, first of all, has called us to do, and secondly what then our goal should be. Our goals will be determined by what God has actually asked us to do! If we don't realise what He has asked us to do, our goals will be beyond what we can possibly reach! We need to realise what the truth is about service, and what are the misconceptions that make men and women become shattered in the service of God. I believe, in this call of Ezekiel, we can learn a great deal about what it is for God to call you and I, as believers, into His work within the church of Jesus Christ. I believe these two chapters teach that there is a balance, a balance concerning the results that we can expect. Just in case we sit on our laurels, and say: 'As long as we sow the seed, that's alright', He also brings in at the end of these passages a great responsibility upon the prophet to proclaim God's message.
So let us look at these things, the first thing that we find is Ezekiel's calling. Look at verse 1 of chapter 2: "He said unto me, Son of man". Ninety times or so in the book of Ezekiel you find this title 'Son of man'. The other prophetic book in the Old Testament you find it in is the book of Daniel, and the only other place in the Bible you find it is in the New Testament - and that is the Lord Jesus Christ calling Himself the 'Son of man', and then later in the epistles the apostles calling Him the 'Son of man' too. It was the favourite title of the Lord Jesus Christ for Himself. Around 86 times He speaks of Himself as the 'Son of man'. Not to go into this in too much depth, because we have a great deal more to look at tonight, the 'Son of man' does not simply indicate humanity. There is a conception that because Christ was called the Son of God, that that spoke of His deity - it did do so - that the 'Son of man' speaks of His humanity, that is incorrect. That is one facet of the title 'Son of man', but you find as you go to Ezekiel, Daniel, and then into the Gospels, that the 'Son of man' is always allocated in a prophetic sense.
It's allocated to Daniel and to Ezekiel and to our Lord Jesus Christ, and there's a few things that are common to each of those three individuals. The first is rejection, they were rejected by their own people for preaching this message. The second thing is humiliation. Daniel was cast into the den of lions, you will find as we go through the rest of Ezekiel that Ezekiel was subject to great humiliation for obeying the word of God - and do we even need to touch upon the humiliation of our Lord Jesus Christ. He who was obedient unto death, even the death of the cross! Love so amazing! The Immortal dies! Who can explain its great design?
'Son of man' speaks of humiliation, but it also speaks of rejection, humiliation and then exaltation. Ezekiel was humiliated, and that is always the plan of God: that you cannot have glorification before humiliation. So, by even calling Ezekiel by this name in verse 1 and right throughout this book, He is speaking to this man of the cost that he will have to pay as the prophet of God. What is he being called to? He is being called to humiliation, and if you want to serve God you need to realise that you are called to humiliation!
In verses 3 and 4 the Holy Spirit outlines for him what that humiliation will be: 'You are to be a prophet to a rebellious house'. That word 'rebellious' occurs frequently right throughout this book - Israel is called a rebellious nation. Now it's strange, because the word 'nation' - if you look at verse 3 and 4 - the word 'nation' is not the word that God usually uses for His chosen people. In fact it is the word that He often uses for the Gentiles, and the Israelites used for the Gentiles. In other words, the traditional language of election had been changed. The chosen people of God, the Israelites, are now becoming the 'un-chosen' people of God. God is no longer calling them 'My people', and if you go into chapter 3 and verse 11 - look at it, He describes them as 'the children of thy people, Ezekiel. They are thy people'. No more does He call them: 'My people, Israel'.
If you look at verse 3 of chapter 2, you will see that He calls them there 'the sons of Israel', the sons of Israel. What He is pointing out to them is the hereditary nature of their rebellion: 'Your sons, and your son's sons, and your grandsons and your great grandsons - and as far as you can go back, Israel, the sons of Israel are a people of rebellion!'. Of course, you will know that Israel was Jacob - his name was changed to 'Israel'. Jacob was that one who had the nature to wrestle with God, and God is saying: 'You're all like your great father Jacob, you are wrestling with Me, you are rebelling against Me!'.
What had happened is that Israel had sunk to a level of the heathen. When Israel sunk to the level of pagan heathenism, and the Gentile world, God called them by the name that they were portraying in their life. They had sunk to an all-time low, and they were beginning to live just like the people that were all around them. If you want to put it in our terms: the world was seen in the church, and the church was in the world. They were impudent children - it reminds me of the words of the Lord Jesus in Matthew chapter 11, where He said in verse 16 and 17: 'What shall I liken this generation to? They are like children playing in the marketplace, and calling unto their fellows' - they're like spoilt children! How will we able these people? Well, God labels them as a rebellious, impudent, hardhearted people. Obstinate, stubborn, He says in verse 4.
He tells Ezekiel: 'You see when you're going as a missionary to these people? Language won't be your problem, they speak the same language as you do'. As one author put it: 'Being a Wycliffe Bible translator would have been a straightforward assignment in comparison to what Ezekiel had been called to do'. Language would not be the problem, the problem that they would have, the barrier that the man of God would have is utter rebellion against God - they would not listen! God says in chapter 3 and verse 7: 'They're not going to listen to you, Ezekiel, it's not you they're not listening to - it's Me! They don't want Me! My people don't want to listen to My word'. He is telling Ezekiel, listen: 'This is why you're going to be humiliated, because My people are a rebellious people - they don't want Me as their God!'.
Ultimately it was a refusal to acknowledge the sovereignty of God - and if you want to put it into our terms today, in the church of Jesus Christ, we can apply it to ourselves as a refusal and a rebellion to admit and to recognise the lordship of the Saviour in our lives! It's an awful sin in the eyes of God, it is a serious sin because it is a sin that causes God Almighty to call His people by a name that He calls the wicked world!
Now if success was measured on the responsiveness of this congregation, we would have to say that Ezekiel would go down as one of the greatest failures in all of history. But, you see, his success was measured by another standard - verse 5 of chapter 2 - this is the standard where he would know that he had succeeded: 'They will know that a prophet has been among them'. In other words, when everything befalls this nation that Ezekiel prophesies, when it all comes upon them they will remember one solitary, simple man called Ezekiel who warned them and called them to repent.
As I was studying this it came to me that it is amazing that the hardest people to get to repent are not the wicked sinners, but God's own people. In fact God tells him in chapter 3 and verse 6: 'If I had sent you to the Gentiles, they would have repented right away. But I'm not sending you to the Gentiles'. In Matthew 11, in that same passage as I have referred to, again He says to His people who are like spoilt children: 'If I had done these mighty works in Tyre and Sidon they would have repented in sackcloth and ashes - even Sodom would have repented, but My people are a rebellious people, My people are stiff-necked, they are hardened!'.
Now in the light of this we must ask a question of ourselves: as we seek to preach the Gospel to a world around that is dying, how can we measure success? Is it numbers? Is it conversions, how many people have been converted in the last month or year? Is it the buildings that we erect? Is it the money that we cash in every week? Is it the talent that we have in the pews? Do we adhere to the philosophy behind the church growth movement and strategies in America - that bigger is better? Is the way we measure success how many people we have, or how many people are being converted?
Now don't misunderstand me: we ought to strive to be as fruitful as possible, and we ought not to be content at any time when folk are not being saved, or when our lives show a lack of progress at all. We ought to have a continual disposition of holy discontent! What comes to me from these passages of Scripture is the sobering reality that this poor man Ezekiel's success and faithfulness could not be measured by numbers. His primary goal was not souls! Does that not stagger us? His ministry was not souls, he was told: 'You're going to go out, and they're not going to listen to anything that you say - but listen, My Ezekiel, you have a great high calling because I want your ministry to be for one goal, and that is My eternal glory! Ezekiel, your preaching, your modelling, everything that you do will bring glory to Me. It may not bring any souls into the fold, but it will bring eternal glory to My name'.
As John Calvin, the reformer, said: 'When God wishes to move us to obey Him, He does not always promise us a happy outcome to our labour - but sometimes He wants to test our obedience to the point that He will have us be content with His command, even if people ridicule our efforts'. Now what I don't want you to do is apply reverse psychology to this, and maintain that if you're bearing no fruit that must mean that you're very faithful - that's not what the book of Ezekiel is saying. If we are not bearing fruit we need to ask questions of ourselves. But the point of this teaching within the book of Ezekiel is that we must do all that we can to save some, but at the end of the day God is the one who opens men's and women's hearts! We must give God His sovereignty! We must realise - and you've all heard about it, of people who have been led to Christ by unbelievers! In the book of Galatians Paul rejoiced that Christ was being preached in contention, because Christ was being preached. I believe the inference of that is that people were actually believing in the Gospel because of people who wanted to preach Christ to get Paul a beating in prison!
The amazing thing about our God is that He can work all things together for good. He makes even the wrath of man to praise Him! You ask yourself the question of those old pioneer missionaries that went on the frontier of the Gospel in foreign lands, and they arrived on the foreign mission field, and only days after they arrived from a gruelling journey some of them dropped dead and were buried without even speaking a word for Christ. They didn't even know the language! And the question is: was their life a waste? I'll tell you one thing: I wish I had half of their reward at the Judgement Seat. Do you know why? Because their primary desire was not just to see souls saved, but it was the glory of God - even if souls were not saved.
It may take a greater call to go and see nothing, than to see mighty things - and I believe that's why Ezekiel had to have a vision of God so uplifted, because he was going to go into a ministry that was not going to be fruitful tangibly and visibly. William Greenhill, the puritan, comments upon this saying: 'Sometimes God gives large encouragement, large promises, hope, success, providing for our infirmities - at other times a bare commission, a command, must suffice to do that which would make one's heart ache. It is His prerogative to send whom He will, and upon what service He will'.
The Navy slogan used to be: 'Join the Navy and see the world' - and in verse 6 of this chapter you see this: 'Join the prophets, be cast among prickles and thorn bushes, sit on the scorpion'. He was called to absolute humiliation, rejection and broken-heartedness. He was called to very little tangible fruit, yet the amazing thing is: this prophet Ezekiel was the exact opposite of all the rebellion that was in his people. He is the antithesis of their behaviour!
Look at chapter 2 and verse 8 - he listens to the Lord, when his people are not listening. In fact, as we go down we see that there is obedience to the word of God. When he sees the vision of God, he meets God face-to-face, he falls down - a picture of his humble submission. Chapter 1 and verse 28, he's not obstinate and rebellious in the sight of God. Then, when he's commanded to rise to his feet, chapter 2 and verse 1, he rises to his feet. You might give Ezekiel a pat on the back and say: 'You're some fellow Ezekiel! You're great doing all these things' - well, don't get that into your head, because if you look at the passage, chapter 2 and verse 2, you will see that the only reason this man is able to receive the word of God, stand up on his feet before God, humble himself before God, is because he received a infusion of the divine Spirit of God! Verse 2 of chapter 2: 'The spirit entered into me when he spake unto me, and set me upon my feet, that I heard him that spake unto me'.
As we read this passage we find that the Spirit not only raises him to his feet, but the Spirit enables him to hear the word of God. God not only hands into his hand the scroll of His word to him, but in chapter 3 and verse 2 if you look at it, God is the one who causes Ezekiel actually to eat and to swallow the scroll. The whole picture is just an out-living, a personification of the name 'Ezekiel'. What did I tell you 'Ezekiel' meant? Here we go now, can you remember? 'God strengthens' - in fact, in this chapter we could say and translate it like this: 'God hardens'. Ezekiel had to be made a hard man, and when his vision is over, and when Ezekiel's call is over, the Spirit lifts him and He sets him among the exiles back beside the river Chebar in the concentration camp. He sits there, it says, for a week absolutely motionless and stunned - and what is the point of all this? What are we to take out of this? This is the message, don't miss this: without God's power Ezekiel, literally, can do nothing. Do you see that? What a lesson! Is that not what the Lord Jesus said to His disciples? 'Without Me, ye can do nothing!'.
Now, it's right that we say that we live in a different era today - there is a different dispensation of the Spirit of God, and the role of the Holy Spirit has changed from the Old Testament times. In the Old Testament the Spirit came to specific people to accomplish specific tasks, and He could rest upon a person and then go away from him for a period of time and come back upon them again. You remember David prayed: 'Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me'. Yet throughout the Old Testament, and especially Joel chapter 2, there was a hope, there was an expectation and anticipation that one day the Holy Spirit would be poured out universally over all peoples and individuals. Isn't it wonderful to be living in that day? The Spirit at the day of Pentecost was poured upon His church, and has been poured upon all of God's people and equips all of them - what for? Why do we have the Spirit of God? For the prophetic task of God, to go out and to preach the word of God - as one author says: 'This is now the age not only of the priesthood of all believers, but of the prophethood of all believers'. Not prophesying in the sense of a charismatic way, but in the sense of heralding the word of God!
Is that not the theme of the Acts of the Apostles? The coming of the Spirit being given to the believers, what for? To witness to Judaea, to Samaria, and to the uttermost parts of the world. Was that not why the Lord told them before He left: 'Don't you lift a finger because you can do nothing without the Spirit of God, but tarry ye here in Jerusalem until the promise of My Father comes, and then ye shall be given power from on high!'. Even on that day linguistics was not a problem, because the gift of tongues was there at Pentecost. But the problem today is still not linguistics, but the problem today is the same problem of Ezekiel, and that is: a rebellious, stiff-necked people that will not hear the word of God - people who are dead in their trespasses and in their sins. What people need today is not language that they can understand, but what we need in our world is new life from the hand of God! We need men and women who are touched and born-again of the Spirit!
This is so relevant to the church today, because there's a great debate going on about what is the secret to evangelism, what can we do to bring more people to Christ. Is it articulating our language? Is it becoming a better communicator? Is it to think of new methods and gimmicks to make sinners more comfortable in the church? What is the message of Ezekiel to that cry today? It is: 'No!'. If Ezekiel was with us he would say: 'What you need is to fall on your face before God, and be equipped of the Holy Ghost to do what is a supernatural task'.
So God equips him. That's our second point, in verse 1 of chapter 3 God says: 'Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this scroll, and go speak unto the house of Israel'. Here the 'Son of man' title is distinguishing, I believe it's distinguishing him from all the divine visions that he has seen, and indeed the cherubim that he sees. It's showing him, in this instance, his frail humanity and showing, as a mere mortal, that he is to take what God gives him - he needs everything. But more significantly than all that, I believe it marks him out above his contemporaries. In verse 3 of chapter 2 remember we saw that they were called 'the sons of Israel', 'rebellious', those who 'strove with God' - but Ezekiel is called the 'Son of man'. Now, in the Hebrew language, the word 'man' is 'adam' - it is, literally, the name 'Adam', the first man, Adam. Nearly all of the references that you find in the Old Testament - maybe not nearly all, but some of them - are the word 'adam'. So literally what God is saying to him is: 'Son of Adam'.
You remember that a couple weeks ago I showed you the parallels between the book of Ezekiel and the book of Genesis. Just as the first man, Adam, received the breath of God and became a living soul - through his nostrils by the 'ruach', the spirit of the living God - Ezekiel has the breath of God, the Spirit, the same word 'ruach', infused into his being. It is that that lifts him up unto his feet. It gives him new life. It enables him to obey God. Again you see this creation theme - and later, when you go to chapter 37, you see the dead bones of Israel brought back to life by what? A breath of the Spirit of God! I believe the picture here is that what will happen to the nation of Israel, chapter 37, and prophetically still to happen - is now happening personally to God's prophet. He's being made a personal illustration to his people.
Ezekiel, like Adam, becomes the founding member of a new community, what will be a new obedient and empowered people by the Spirit of God. I want you to see not only a son of Adam, not only the parallels with the first Adam - but if we miss this we miss everything: there is here a picture of the last Adam! Our Lord Jesus, who by His obedience undoes the effects of the first Adam - is that not what the New Testament teaches? Romans chapter 5: 'For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous'. Do you see the parallel? Christ is the one on whom the Spirit rested there at His baptism. He was the chosen one of God upon whom the Spirit rested in all fullness - indeed, the fullness of the Godhead bodily. He is the one, now, who can pour out His Spirit upon the church. He is creating, day by day, an new community. He is building up His church, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. Christ doesn't swallow the word of God like Ezekiel, He is the word of God. He doesn't just see the glory of God, the Shekinah, He is that glory. John 1 and verse 14 they said: 'We beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth'. He came to an earth that was rebellious, hardened their heart. He came to His own and they would not receive Him to preach the good news of the Gospel - and He will return one day in judgement to tread the winepress of God in His wrath.
What a glorious picture. Ezekiel here, just like Adam, he is given a test. It's a test that revolves around the idea of eating. Adam was told: 'Don't eat of that tree', but Ezekiel is told: 'You eat of that scroll'. It's the opposite, and what is happening here in the story is that there's a whole reversal of the original sin! Do you see what God is doing? He's reversing all the mess that man has made, in this son of Adam He's reversing all the consequences of sin. Ezekiel then is given that food, and it's not like the fruit of the tree that was good for food, pleasing to the eye and desirable for gaining wisdom - but rather it's an old scroll that doesn't look very appetising, written on both sides with lament, mourning and woe upon it. But although it's unattractive, as Ezekiel puts it into his mouth he finds that it tastes as sweet as honey. Now, it's amazing to me as we read this that the only thing that Ezekiel does in the whole vision is eat the scroll! And even it is given to him! But this is what will equip him, this will equip him to take the unpalatable message to his fellow exiles. Like John on the Isle of Patmos in Revelation 10, who also swallowed the word of God - it was sweet to his taste, but it says of John that when it reached his stomach it was sour. Sweet to the mouth, sour to the stomach, because when we take the word of God to a dying, rebellious, hard-headed nation it is a bittersweet experience!
John the Baptist found that. The two witnesses in Revelation chapter 11 found that as well - and Paul speaks of, that to some it is an aroma of life, but to others it is an aroma of death unto death, and they will oppose it and they will destroy it and they will do all in their power to exterminate the message of the Gospel. In verse 8 and 9 He says to him: 'Give My word anyway. They're not going to receive it, but give it anyway and I will make your head hard'. Isn't it interesting that when you compare Ezekiel with Jeremiah, Jeremiah had a soft heart, but God's giving Ezekiel hard head. When we read the book of Jeremiah we find that there are times that Jeremiah couldn't stand up against what God called him to. In fact on one occasion we find him running to the Lord with his resignation in hand: 'I've had it, I don't want to do it any more, it's too hard!' - but God says: 'You're not going to make that mistake, I'm going to give you a hard head'. That presupposes that he must have been a bit of a soft heart, because he needed God to harden him!
He is saying to Ezekiel: 'The children of Israel are hard-headed, but I'm going to make your head even harder than theirs' - and do you know something? We need hard-headed men and women today. We need hard heads to serve God. We need people infused by the Spirit of God, like Ezekiel. Like Ezekiel we need people ingesting the word of God. What are we relying on? What is our service for? Is it purely for the glory of God? What are we serving God in? Are we relying on ourselves or are we people of the Spirit of God? How do we know? Here's how we know: the test will be our emphasis on prayer! Prayer is the sole test of whether or not you are relying on God - and whatever our emphasis on prayer in this assembly is, and in your life, that reflects how much you are relying on God.
We can be busy people, in a busy place, in a busy church - but the question is: are we filled and motivated by the Spirit of God? That's why the apostles had to get deacons to serve tables, to free them to serve the word of God in prayer. This is the way that God was equipping Ezekiel, He was putting His Spirit in him, He was giving His word to him, and He was hardening his head to face this rebellion.
Thirdly we find his commission. The temptation may be to think: 'Well, I just go out and do my duty then, do I? I just take the word of God and I just preach it. I preach the word and I don't get too emotionally involved'. Well, if you think that you're not listening to the divine call. We find that God lifted Ezekiel, set him down - he was absolutely dumbfounded, because he felt in verse 14 of chapter 3, he actually felt the anger and wrath of God. There he is, he's getting the worst of both worlds if you like: he feels God's anger and frustration at a sinful world, yet it says that now in exile he sits with the people.
That is the dilemma of the prophet. A man who is called to bear witness to God's heart, but yet a man whose passion is for the people. God's sovereignty is not a 'get-out clause' for your or my responsibility, for this is not a duty. There is a difference between duty and responsibility, because responsibility has character, and responsibility in this realm has love. God tells Ezekiel: 'You're my watchman. It's not just a matter of giving this word and going home, and saying: 'I've done my job', but you're going to be involved in this'. In fact we find Ezekiel - and, listen, he swallows the scroll and it's filled with woes and lamentings and judgements, and I believe that he was actually physically ingesting the very judgement of God himself! A man of sorrows, but a man who would be the watchman for the people and would warn them - and if he didn't warn them he would be responsible.
God finally shows Ezekiel the Shekinah again. He tells him to go into his house, to close the door, and he's not allowed to go and speak to the people - it's an amazing thing, isn't it? He's been given the message and he's not allowed to go. God tells him, listen: 'You will go when I tell you to go, and you will say what I tell you to say - and whenever you're not saying that you'll not be saying anything, because I'll make you dumb'. Isn't that a wonderful lesson? We ought to say what God says, and say no more.
Are we Spirit-filled? Are we filled with the word of God? Are we hard-headed, but are we broken-hearted? Will we go and say what God says, and say nothing more and say nothing less? The message is this, this is our responsibility, this will break out the burn-out factor: if they believe it, they believe it; and if they don't, they don't - but all the glory goes to God.
Let's bow our heads, and as you do so: whatever you do for the Lord - and I'm assuming you are doing something for the Lord, and that's maybe a big assumption - but isn't it wonderful to know that you can never lose if the glory goes to Him?
Father, we thank Thee that we are on the winning side and we are in Christ. We pray that in our service, no matter what the results may be, that it may be for Thy glory - then we will know that we will have our reward in heaven. Amen.
Preach The Word
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the third tape in his Ezekiel series, titled "The Preparation Of The Preacher" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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