- It Started In Egypt (verses 5-9)
- It Passed Through The Desert (verses 10-26)
- It Arrived In The Promised Land (verses 27-32)
- It Will Finish In New Israel (verses 33-34)
Ezekiel 20, and I hope that you've read these verses before you've come, it's verses 1 to 44 that we really want to concentrate on tonight. So let's read them together, beginning at verse 1:
"And it came to pass in the seventh year, in the fifth month, the tenth day of the month, that certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the LORD, and sat before me. Then came the word of the LORD unto me, saying, Son of man, speak unto the elders of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Are ye come to inquire of me? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be inquired of by you. Wilt thou judge them, son of man, wilt thou judge them? Cause them to know the abominations of their fathers: And say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; In the day when I chose Israel, and lifted up mine hand unto the seed of the house of Jacob, and made myself known unto them in the land of Egypt, when I lifted up mine hand unto them, saying, I am the LORD your God; In the day that I lifted up mine hand unto them, to bring them forth of the land of Egypt into a land that I had espied for them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands: Then said I unto them, Cast ye away every man the abominations of his eyes, and defile not yourselves with the idols of Egypt: I am the LORD your God. But they rebelled against me, and would not hearken unto me: they did not every man cast away the abominations of their eyes, neither did they forsake the idols of Egypt: then I said, I will pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt. But I wrought for my name's sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, among whom they were, in whose sight I made myself known unto them, in bringing them forth out of the land of Egypt. Wherefore I caused them to go forth out of the land of Egypt, and brought them into the wilderness. And I gave them my statutes, and showed them my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them. Moreover also I gave them my sabbaths, to be a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD that sanctify them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness: they walked not in my statutes, and they despised my judgments, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; and my sabbaths they greatly polluted: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them in the wilderness, to consume them. But I wrought for my name's sake, that it should not be polluted before the heathen, in whose sight I brought them out. Yet also I lifted up my hand unto them in the wilderness, that I would not bring them into the land which I had given them, flowing with milk and honey, which is the glory of all lands; Because they despised my judgments, and walked not in my statutes, but polluted my sabbaths: for their heart went after their idols. Nevertheless mine eye spared them from destroying them, neither did I make an end of them in the wilderness. But I said unto their children in the wilderness, Walk ye not in the statutes of your fathers, neither observe their judgments, nor defile yourselves with their idols: I am the LORD your God; walk in my statutes, and keep my judgments, and do them; And hallow my sabbaths; and they shall be a sign between me and you, that ye may know that I am the LORD your God. Notwithstanding the children rebelled against me: they walked not in my statutes, neither kept my judgments to do them, which if a man do, he shall even live in them; they polluted my sabbaths: then I said, I would pour out my fury upon them, to accomplish my anger against them in the wilderness. Nevertheless I withdrew mine hand, and wrought for my name's sake, that it should not be polluted in the sight of the heathen, in whose sight I brought them forth. I lifted up mine hand unto them also in the wilderness, that I would scatter them among the heathen, and disperse them through the countries; Because they had not executed my judgments, but had despised my statutes, and had polluted my sabbaths, and their eyes were after their fathers' idols. Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live; And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the LORD. Therefore, son of man, speak unto the house of Israel, and say unto them, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Yet in this your fathers have blasphemed me, in that they have committed a trespass against me. For when I had brought them into the land, for the which I lifted up mine hand to give it to them, then they saw every high hill, and all the thick trees, and they offered there their sacrifices, and there they presented the provocation of their offering: there also they made their sweet savour, and poured out there their drink offerings. Then I said unto them, What is the high place whereunto ye go? And the name thereof is called Bamah unto this day. Wherefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Are ye polluted after the manner of your fathers? and commit ye whoredom after their abominations? For when ye offer your gifts, when ye make your sons to pass through the fire, ye pollute yourselves with all your idols, even unto this day: and shall I be inquired of by you, O house of Israel? As I live, saith the Lord GOD, I will not be inquired of by you. And that which cometh into your mind shall not be at all, that ye say, We will be as the heathen, as the families of the countries, to serve wood and stone. As I live, saith the Lord GOD, surely with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out, will I rule over you: And I will bring you out from the people, and will gather you out of the countries wherein ye are scattered, with a mighty hand, and with a stretched out arm, and with fury poured out. And I will bring you into the wilderness of the people, and there will I plead with you face to face. Like as I pleaded with your fathers in the wilderness of the land of Egypt, so will I plead with you, saith the Lord GOD. And I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant: And I will purge out from among you the rebels, and them that transgress against me: I will bring them forth out of the country where they sojourn, and they shall not enter into the land of Israel: and ye shall know that I am the LORD. As for you, O house of Israel, thus saith the Lord GOD; Go ye, serve ye every one his idols, and hereafter also, if ye will not hearken unto me: but pollute ye my holy name no more with your gifts, and with your idols. For in mine holy mountain, in the mountain of the height of Israel, saith the Lord GOD, there shall all the house of Israel, all of them in the land, serve me: there will I accept them, and there will I require your offerings, and the firstfruits of your oblations, with all your holy things. I will accept you with your sweet savour, when I bring you out from the people, and gather you out of the countries wherein ye have been scattered; and I will be sanctified in you before the heathen. And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I shall bring you into the land of Israel, into the country for the which I lifted up mine hand to give it to your fathers. And there shall ye remember your ways, and all your doings, wherein ye have been defiled; and ye shall loathe yourselves in your own sight for all your evils that ye have committed. And ye shall know that I am the LORD, when I have wrought with you for my name's sake, not according to your wicked ways, nor according to your corrupt doings, O ye house of Israel, saith the Lord GOD". Amen.
The title of our message this evening, and indeed the subject of this portion of Scripture, is: 'The Road of Rebellion'. In Isaiah 35 and verse 8 we read these words: 'And an highway shall be there, and a way, and it shall be called The way of holiness; the unclean shall not pass over it; but it shall be for those: the wayfaring men, though fools, shall not err therein'. You find throughout the whole of Scripture, in the Old Testament and in the New, the picture of a highway is an image that God's Holy Spirit often uses to communicate a message to His own people. Right throughout the Old Testament and the New the image of the highway is a picture of the exodus of God - in other words, God bringing His people out of Egypt, or perhaps any land or spiritual bondage, and delivering them - salvation, if you want to put it, redemption. Often God uses the picture of the highway, a road of deliverance, a road of salvation, out of which the people of God shall be delivered from bondage into God's salvation. God's people are pictured as leaving their bondage and walking on a holy road that leads to the holy city, Jerusalem.
That's not just an Old Testament picture and image, for as we go into the New Testament - and particularly Paul's epistles - we find there that Paul takes this Jewish image and applies it to the church, and indeed to redemption and salvation that we have in Christ. I give you one example, Colossians 1 and 13, Paul says: 'Christ hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son'. There is the image of a road of deliverance, coming out of the kingdom of the power of darkness into the kingdom of His dear Son. As you read Jewish Israelite history, particularly in the Old Testament, you find that every time God's children were in bondage God always provided a highway, an exodus of deliverance for them. Always there was a provision, if you like, a way of escape.
In the passage of Scripture that we read together this evening, Ezekiel 20, we see that God again provides for His people a highway of holiness. But the tragedy of these verses is that God's people have turned this highway of holiness into a road of rebellion. This passage is simply a journey, and you will go tonight through a journey of Israel's long history with God. It is a road of rebellion, and we will eventually see where it started, where it went through, and where one day it will end. God no longer uses metaphors and illustrations and descriptions to speak this message through His prophet Ezekiel, as He has been doing in parables and in sign acts and dramatic acts that He has told in recent days that we have looked and studied within this book - but now God comes out blatantly, categorically, without a metaphor, without an illustration, and just speaks to the people about their sinful, rebellious history.
I don't know whether you can remember, but in chapter 14 something similar to this passage happened. The elders of Judah came unto Ezekiel and inquired a word from the Lord. So in verse 1 we have exactly the same thing, and if you look at it you will see that the elders came to Ezekiel to inquire of the Lord. But again, as in chapter 14, Ezekiel refuses to be inquired of by them - and really that is God refusing to be inquired of by them. So before we go any further and study the intricate details of the history of Israel right throughout this passage, there is one great question that faces us as we look at these elders of Judah coming to inquire of God's prophet. We've got to ask ourselves: well, why are they coming? I think, perhaps, that the message that Ezekiel has been preaching and acting and telling and representing and illustrating in so many varied ways was starting to come home to the leaders of Judah.
This is almost a year since the last time we are given date of one of the prophecies and words that Ezekiel has spoken. So a year has transpired, and they are beginning to realise that there is not a delivering army coming from Jerusalem to take them out of Babylon and bring them home and restore them to their riches and prestige. They're beginning to realise that the word of God is coming through, and I think that they're coming now to the prophet of God, even recognising he's the prophet of God, and they are genuinely looking for a word from God - a word of guidance. It begs the question: is this faith? Is this faith on the part of these elders? The elders are quite conservative and orthodox in their approach to God here, they're going through all the right channels: they're coming to the prophet of God, they're seeking a word from the Lord as any good man of God ought to do - but as they come to inquire of the Lord, God doesn't speak to them!
God, I don't know how He did it, but God warned Ezekiel: 'These elders have divided loyalties. They're coming to you in all the right trappings, they're going through all the right channels of intercession, through God's chosen prophet - perhaps they're recognising that God's heavy, judgemental hand is upon the nation - but, Ezekiel, be warned: don't think that they have heeded your message, they have divided loyalties!'. Instead of Ezekiel answering, and indeed God answering them, he recounts for them their repeated rebellions right throughout Israel's history from the very beginning right to the very end. God speaks to them of their sinfulness, of their rebellious nature. So was it faith? Well, I don't know, I wouldn't like to say whether it was faith or not - but I genuinely believe that they were coming to God looking for a word from God. But I also believe this: that they were insincere.
If I was to teach you anything from this portion of Scripture tonight, it would be this: sincerity is essential to be taught of God. Have you got that, especially the young people? If you want to be taught of God, if you want to be led of God, if you want to come to find out the great oracles of God and guidance of God in your life, if you want to be used of God: sincerity is an essential factor in your life. Ezekiel's counterpart, Jeremiah, testifies that to us in his 29th chapter and verse 13: 'Ye shall seek me, and find me, when ye shall search for me with all your heart'. Insincerity is the characteristic of these Jewish elders. Let's look at the formula, let's tease it all out: why did they have insincerity? The reason why they had insincerity was: insincerity is the fruit of divided loyalties. God warned him: 'These guys have divided loyalties, don't be taken in by them Ezekiel'. Their insincerity was the fruit of their divided loyalties.
Before we look at Israel's history down through the ages, it's so important that we lay this as a foundation, and that we realise that these elders went through the orthodox channels of approaching God. If you like, they were conservative in their theology. But the awful thing about it all is this: they could be orthodox and conservative in their theology, in their ritualistic practice, but they were as far away from God as any moral liberal! What a lesson for us today! What a lesson: that we can have all our 'i's dotted and our 't's crossed, we can come to God the Father through Jesus the Son upon the sacrifice that He has won, but if we are insincere - grasp this! - if we have insincerity in our heart God will not hear us!
It struck me today as I was studying this that only orthodoxy can be guilty of dead orthodoxy. Isn't that true? You can't be a dead orthodox if you're a modernist, or if you're a liberal - it's only people who are orthodox, it's only the conservative evangelical wing of the church that can be guilty of the sin of dead orthodoxy! What is that sin? I think we have an allusion to it in 2 Timothy 3 verse 5 where Paul says that you can have a form of godliness, but you deny the power thereof. He commands Timothy and the church: 'From such turn away'. I don't want to nail it down too specifically, but I want to give you a bit of a caricature of what it can be to be insincere and deadly orthodox. I want you to turn with me to the first few chapters of the book of Revelation, and this is supremely related to what we're going to learn later on.
Revelation chapter 2 and verse 1, the first church that the Lord speaks of is the church at Ephesus, and He says: 'Unto the angel of the church of Ephesus write; These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, who walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks; I know thy works, and thy labour', they did works, they laboured, 'and thy patience', they had patience, 'and how thou canst not bear them which are evil'. This was a moral, if you like, a sanctified church, a holiness movement. 'And how thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars', so there were these men, false teachers, going around the church saying that they were apostles and commanding the church to do certain things. But this church in Ephesus was so orthodox, so scriptural, so theologically apt, that they were able to see these men and their falsehood, they were able to root them out and distinguish - what a church! 'You have found them liars. You have borne, you have had patience, for my name's sake you have laboured, and have not fainted. But - but I have something against you, you have left your first love'! If there is a definition of dead orthodoxy, that's the best one - I think - in the whole of Scripture.
Sardis, in chapter 3 and verse 1: 'These things saith he that hath the seven Spirits of God, and the seven stars; I know thy works, that thou hast a name that thou livest, and art dead'. What a description of dead orthodoxy that is! You have a name - Evangelical - but you can be dead! Then, if you look at verse 14 you find there the Laodicean church, and I think it is the most characteristic of our church age today: 'I know thy works', verse 15, 'that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would that you were either cold or hot. But because you are lukewarm, neither cold nor hot, I'm going to vomit you out of my mouth'! That's what the Lord thinks of dead orthodoxy.
Samuel Chadwick, that great man of God, said these words and I want you to listen to them very carefully: 'Truth without enthusiasm, morality without emotion, ritual without soul, are things that Christ unsparingly condemns. Destitute of fire they are nothing more than a godless philosophy, an ethical system, and a mere superstition'. If we have truth, but we don't have the Spirit of God coursing through our soul, spirit and body - if we are not alive; if we are dead; if we have the truth without enthusiasm; if we have morals without emotion; if we have ritual without soul, we have a mere godless philosophy, an ethical system, and a superstition. One man was right when he said: 'There are three people living in each of us. There is the one we think we are, there is the other one people think we are, then there is the one God knows we are'. There was once a sign put outside a church by its minister, and it read this: 'This church will have either a revival or a funeral'. Either a revival or a funeral, what is he talking about? He got the point, he hit the nail on the head, he knew that dead orthodoxy is not enough - it's not! The Lord threatened, in Revelation, to take the candlestick of His presence away from a dead orthodox church. Old Duncan Campbell was right when he said: 'What we need is a baptism of holiness, a demonstration of godly living is the crying need of our day'.
Have you ever noticed the dearth within Christendom today? The lack of commitment, do you notice it? Do you notice the lack of soul, the lack of feeling, the lack of burden? It seems that Christians today have enthusiasm for everything but Christ, everything but the things of God. Vance Havener said: 'The same church members who yell like Commanche Indians at a ball game on Saturday sit like wooden Indians in church on Sunday'! Isn't that right? We can get enthusiastic about anything but God and Christ and the Gospel! Now listen: this type of fruitless, spiritless, dead orthodoxy is the result of years of rebellion - and it is usually due to divided loyalties. Have you got it? It was for Israel, for if you look at verse 16 of our passage you will see these awful sobering words at the end of the verse: 'For their heart went after their idols'. Their heart went after their idols! Do you remember in chapter 18 and verse 2 they were saying to themselves: 'We are suffering for the sinfulness of our fathers', do you remember that? 'We're under the judgement of our fathers, we're suffering for what they did thousands of years ago! Lord, You're not fair in Your dealings' - and God is coming down on them now, in His judgemental prophetic word, and telling them, going through their whole history from beginning to ending: 'You're blaming Me, but let Me redirect your thoughts to your own sins'.
He takes them on a journey down the road of their historic rebellion. Let's begin where God begins, He begins in Egypt. This road of rebellion starts in Egypt from verses 5 to 8, and the Lord speaks to them of another time where they were forced to dwell in the land of another superpower. Remember they are dwelling in Babylon at this moment in captivity, they've been taken out of Jerusalem and there they are in a foreign land. But God reminds them of a time where this happened to them before, when they were in Egypt. What we see here as God brings their minds back to Egypt, is He's starting a cycle in their minds, He's speaking to them of when He warned them not to sin - so there's warning. Then He tells them about when they rebelled in their past - they were warned, but then they rebelled. Then He tells them about how in Egypt, how in the wilderness, how in the promised land - even after their warning, after their rebellion - He restored them.
You see this great cycle of warning, rebellion, and then restoration - and it's repeated over and over again throughout this passage. But the staggering thing about the Israelites is this: that even when their sin was hurting them, they wanted it! They wanted to follow after it even when God warned them, they wanted their religions, they wanted the standards of the nations all around them. What a picture of our sin that is, isn't it? We all know what sin does to us, don't we? We know the way we feel after we sin, we know the consequences of our sin and the fruit and the heartache it causes to ourselves, to God, and even to others - but still we're attracted to it. Sin is timeless you know, it never changes its spots, it's got all the same characteristics in Egypt's day when Israel was there as it does now. You know evil history, even in our day today, it repeats itself - not because there are certain external circumstances, whether political or religious or anyway you like, it's not because of external circumstances that evil is present with us today, but it is because of the internal human sinfulness in every man, woman, boy or girl that has ever been born! That's why humanity's history is exactly the same as Israel's history in this passage.
What is it? Specifically in the church it is the history of failure and forgiveness. God warns us, we rebel against God, God restores us. In the life of a believer it's the circle, the vicious circle of failure and forgiveness; failure and forgiveness - and some of us are caught in that circle at this moment and we wonder will we ever, ever get out of it! I wonder is Israel's spiritual history your spiritual history? Failure, forgiveness; failure, forgiveness, and it's like a rollercoaster that goes up and down, up and down. You think somewhere that there is this victorious Christian life, that there is a way of being a mature Christian when you'll get beyond all this failure and failure and then forgiveness, and then failure - the same thing - and then forgiveness. Is there something more? Yes, there is - hallelujah! There is: but it cannot be accomplished with divided loyalties! That's the message!
The Lord says to them: 'When I chose Israel and revealed myself to them in Egypt, I swore that I would bring them out of Egypt to a bountiful land. They were told to abandon their idolatry, but they did not - but regardless of their idolatry', the Lord says, 'in the land of Egypt I brought them out. I didn't punish them'. God tells us in verses 8 and 9 that He didn't punish them because the Gentiles would have mocked them. The Gentiles would have turned on them in Egypt, and said: 'What kind of a God have you, where your God is punishing you?'. Why did He not punish them in Egypt? If you look at verse 9 you'll find these words: 'For His name's sake' - for His name's sake. Now that doesn't mean just God's reputation, but it means more: it identifies His whole personality. God's whole personality as God was at stake, and that's why He didn't judge His people in front of the Gentiles.
It started in Egypt with all their idolatry, and then it passed through the desert - your second point, verses 10 to 26. God outlines how, after He delivered them from Egypt, that He was leading them through the desert and they profaned God's Sabbaths that were a sign of His covenant with them - and there in the wilderness God restrained His wrath and He spared them from destruction. Now why did He do that? If you look at verses 13 through to 17 He outlines that He spared His judgement so that the heathen wouldn't laugh at His people. It says God swore that He would disperse them throughout the lands because of their disobedience, but again and again and again we find God holds back His anger against them - what's the reason? Look at verse 22, we find these words again: 'For my name's sake I withheld my hand'. They deserved judgement in Egypt, but He didn't do it in front of the Gentiles - why? For His name's sake. He takes them through the desert, they profane His Sabbaths, they still follow their idolatrous gods - but He doesn't judge them in amongst the heathen, why? 'For my name's sake'.
Then that road of rebellion arrives in the promised land, verses 27 to 29, and we find idolatry. It's becoming enshrined in the land of promise. God says: 'They use every high spot, and under every leafy tree is a shrine to their foreign gods'. As we read down this passage we find that their evils even included making their sons pass through the fire. In other words, they were offering their firstborn sons as human sacrifices to foreign gods. Look at verse 25 and 26, God says: 'Because of this I gave them up', your version says 'God gave them over' I think. 'God gave them up to statutes that were not good, and laws that they could not live by. I let them become defiled through their gifts, the sacrifice of every firstborn, that I might fill them with the horror so that they would know that I am the Lord'. Now some people have a lot of difficulty with this verse. God gave them up to defile themselves, the reason being that they would waken up and realise their depravity before God and come and repent.
I want to dwell on this for a moment because we need to see the sinful depravity of every human being. It's very important. You look at verse 25, some scholars - and I tend to agree with them - believe that this verse implies that the Israelites were using one of God's commandments as a justification to feed their firstborn sons into the fire. They were using God's word! If you go to Exodus, you don't need to turn to it, 22 and 29 God says to His people: 'The firstborn of thy sons shalt thou give unto Me' - isn't that right? Now what God was asking them to do was to commit their firstborn sons to Him in prayer and in dedication. But they were able, in their depravity, as the people of God remember now, to take that verse and twist it round to justify child sacrifice to the god Molech.
There's no limit to backsliding, is there? These are backsliders, you know, there's no limit to it. I hear the Christian church today using all sorts of passages in the word of God and texts and verses to try and justify their backsliding and their sin - but all they have done is fallen into the trap of the devil, for that was the way the devil tempted the Lord. Remember, he took the word of God, he twisted it! That's the way he tempted Eve in the Garden, he said: 'Yea, hath God said?' - he twisted the word of God.
Now, God comes to these people in all their sinfulness, and He points out two facts to them. He's telling them their history so that they would realise that they were guilty of repeated rebellion against the Lord. Quickly look at verse 8, the start of it: 'They rebelled against me', verse 13: 'The house of Israel rebelled against me', verse 21: 'Notwithstanding, the children rebelled against me'. That's why He's going through their history to tell them: 'Look, I've done everything for you, but you still rebel against me'. That's the first thing, but the second thing is: the Lord tells them why He keeps forgiving them, why He is long-suffering and gracious, and why He doesn't judge them in front of the Gentiles. Look at verse 9: 'I wrought this', I didn't judge them, 'for my name's sake'. Verse 14: 'I wrought', I didn't judge them, 'for my name's sake'. Verse 22: 'I withdrew mine hand for my name's sake'.
He could have easily destroyed the nation, but what would the Gentiles have said about Israel's God if He had done it? Child of God in this dispensation today, I want you to see something beautiful. We don't have time to look through all these Scriptures, but I want you to grab hold of this phrase: 'For my name's sake', because that's powerful. When we go into the New Testament you find that, as a believer, it is for the sake of the name of the Lord that He forgives you and I. First John 2:12: 'I write unto you, little children, because your sins are forgiven you for his name's sake'. That's why He guides us, Psalm 23:3: 'He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake'. It's how He revives us, the Psalmist said: 'Quicken me, O Lord, for thy name's sake, for thy righteousness' sake bring my soul out of trouble'. It's for His name's sake that we ought to serve Him, 3 John 7: 'For his name's sake they went forth, serving, taking nothing from the Gentiles'. That church in Ephesus, in Revelation chapter 2 verse 3, it's said of them commendably: 'Thou hast borne, and hast patience, and for my name's sake hast laboured, and hast not fainted'.
Any sacrifice we make for God is to be for this reason. Matthew 19: 'Every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, for my name's sake, shall receive an hundredfold, and shall inherit everlasting life'. Do you want to suffer for the Lord? 'Ye shall be hated', the Lord Jesus said, 'of all men for my name's sake'. You know, the great apostle would tell us in 1 Corinthians 10:31 that whatever we do, in fact all that we do should be for His name's sake - 'Whether ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God'.
Now, when we look at the history of Israel we see how long-suffering our God is. You know, Satan wants you to believe that God is just this cosmic policeman in heaven, and that a little rebellion in your life is warranted because really God is a bit of a taskmaster. That's what he tried to convince Eve of in the Garden - but when we realise that we're rebelling against a loving, merciful, gracious, long-suffering God that gives us a long rope, then we see the truth! But we have to be careful: God is a very gracious and forgiving God, but we must be careful - and this is my concern in the age in which we live, and the trends within individual Christian's lives and within the church. I think that we are getting to the extreme of abusing the mercy and the grace of God.
I read of a humorous cartoon in a New Yorker magazine that showed an exasperated father saying to his prodigal son: 'Son, this is the fourth time we've killed the fatted calf - when are you going to get your act together?'. We feel that we can come back to God all the time - praise God, we can, there is a wideness in God's mercy - but if there is insincerity we will not be forgiven! If we do not glorify God for His name's sake by obeying Him, even by sincere confession, God's word teaches that we must glorify Him by submitting to His chastening. We'll glorify Him one way or another - Hebrews: 'Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby'. In other words, if you don't bear fruit by faithfulness - living your life for His name's sake - you'll be chastened for His name's sake, and you'll bear fruit.
That's what happened Israel. Think about this: where does God take them? They're in Babylon, hundreds of years after they've been delivered from Egypt, where does He take them? He takes them back to Egypt, do you know what He's saying? 'I delivered you hundreds of years from Egypt's bondage, and do you know something? Where are you today? Where are you? I might as well have never taken you out of Egypt, for you're still in bondage!'. The lesson is that sin always deprives us of God's blessing.
Now quickly, the fourth point is: where it will all end, this road of rebellion. Praise the Lord it will finish in new Israel - now we don't have time to go into everything about this, and we will be going into it in more detail in the final chapters of this book. But God tells them in verses 33 to 44: 'Go on, serve your idols now, Israel. Keep on doing what you're doing, but one day you will turn to me! I'm never going to let you permanently be like the Gentiles, serving wood and gods of stone, but there's a day coming that I will re-gather you from the peoples that I have scattered you to. I will set you in judgement before me, I will give you righteousness, I will purge your sins, I will take all the rebellious people away from you, I will bring you back to the land'. Thank God that God has not finished with Israel! Thank God that there are still promises, here they are - and we're seeing them week after week - that have still never been fulfilled toward Israel. Some day soon God will be honoured in Israel! Don't try and tell me that that has happened before, because it has never happened - and it's certainly not happening today.
There is an unbelieving people in Israel today, and I think perhaps this is the start of God gathering these people into Israel. But there's a day coming when that group of men and women will be believing, when God will be honoured - and not only will they simply return to Israel in their planes and in their droves, but they will turn to Israel's God again! There is hope, isn't it wonderful? Looking through the dark history of Israel's past, and you apply it to yourself tonight, looking at your dark past - there's hope! God may chasten us, but it's always that He would restore us - there's always hope! Oh, please do something for me, see when you go home - we haven't time to look at it - oh, but over ten times in verses 33 to 44 God says: 'I will bring you out, I will plead with you face to face, I will cause you to pass under the rod, I will bring you unto the bond of the covenant, I will purge you, I will bring them forth out of the country' - I will! I will! I will! God will! Statements of assurance that God is working for us - hallelujah! - even in our sin God works for us. Why? For His name's sake.
How could you sum up the message tonight in this passage? Indeed, how could we sum up the whole history of Israel? I want to do that in the words of our Saviour, listen, Matthew 6 and 24: 'No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon'.
Let me finish with this story. On one occasion a 20 year-old bachelor boy called William Machesney (sp?), who was only 5 foot 2 [inches tall], he weighed just under 8 stone - but apparently he made up for his lack of size in his cheeriness. They nicknamed him 'Smiling Bill'. He was the son of a Free Methodist minister, and he was going to spend his first term in missionary service in the Congo. He was based in the Congo at the time when there was a great rebellion and a bloody civil war. He found himself in the WEC headquarters - the Worldwide Evangelisation Crusade station that had been surrounded by some of these rebels. Bill's commitment to the Lord had been expressed in a poem that he wrote shortly before embarking to the Congo to serve the Lord, and it was published in the WEC Newsletter. It was entitled: 'My Choice', please listen to this in the light of what the Lord has said - we cannot serve two masters - in the light of what Ezekiel says - we cannot have divided loyalties.
'I want my breakfast served at eight,
With ham and eggs upon the plate.
A well-broiled steak I'll eat at one,
And dine again when day is done.
I want an ultramodern home,
And in each room a telephone.
Soft carpets, too, upon the floors,
And pretty drapes to grace the doors.
A cosy place of lovely things,
Like easy chairs with inner springs.
Then I'll get a small TV -
Of course I'll be careful what I see!
I want my wardrobe, too, to be
Of neatest, finest quality.
With latest style in suit and vest:
Why should not Christians have the best?
But then the Master I can hear,
In no uncertain voice, so clear:
'I bid you come and follow Me,
The lowly Man of Galilee'.
'Birds of the air have made their nest,
And foxes in their holes find rest -
But I can offer you no bed,
Nor place have I to lay My head'.
In shame I hung my head and cried,
How can I spurn the Crucified?
Could I forget the way He went,
The sleepless nights in prayer He spent?
For forty days without a bite,
Alone He fasted day and night.
Despised, rejected - on He went,
And did not stop till veil He rent.
A Man of sorrows and of grief,
No earthly friend to bring relief.
'Smitten of God', the prophet said,
Mocked, beaten, bruised, His blood ran red.
If He be God and died for me,
No sacrifice too great can be
For me, a mortal man, to make -
I'll do it all for Jesus' sake.
Yes, I will tread the path He trod,
No other way will please my God.
So henceforth this my choice shall be:
My choice for all eternity'.
What was his choice? John's words: 'Little children keep yourselves from idols'.
Let's bow our heads, and let's just take a moment in the closing moments of our gathering. I hope you didn't sing that last line [of the closing hymn] if you didn't mean it! 'I now give all to Thee' - oh, this is serious. You know, this is the call of the Saviour, this is the call: 'Take up your cross and follow me'. We were hearing yesterday about millions who have never heard, and all they need is someone to give them a cup of water in Jesus' name. They don't need millions of pounds, but how shall they hear without a preacher. Don't be divided, but give your all to Christ - whatever that means: going to the mission field, being an evangelist or a pastor, doing a small work in this assembly. Whatever it may be in the backgrounds it's for God - and if it's from a heart seeking all of Him, He will bless it. Whatever you do, remember you cannot serve two masters.
Father, we pray that we will all, from our hearts, devote ourselves entirely to the Lord Jesus. We think of three men tonight in Vietnam who, because they have done just this, it's costing them at this very moment. We pray that You will keep Your hand upon them, and we pray that we would all learn to make our choice for Jesus' sake, 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 thirteenth tape in his Ezekiel series, titled "The Road Of Rebellion" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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