God is merciful, but is paying attention Ezekiel 33: 7-20

[for the audio please click on the above link]

We make our beginning in the Name of God the Father and in the Name of God the Son and in the Name of God the Holy Spirit and all those who live and turn from their evil ways said … AMEN

We are in the season of Lent, we should reflect on what our life is about all year long and certainly repent at those times when we have sinned and failed God. Reflection, repentance, are the primary focus of Lent. Today’s readings emphasize that. Most of the Bible is very straightforward, very real in the day to day lives of the people it describes. Many people like the mysticism, the mystery of many other beliefs, just for that reason and dismiss Christianity as being a little too prosaic and not mysterious enough. I disagree, the realness of the Bible, from beginning to end, make it totally relatable, real world, it describes the darkness and sinfulness of a fallen world, and it describes in very gritty, earthy ways many of the people in the Bible. There was little mystical about David, Elijah, Peter, they were very manly-earthy-gritty men, even Jesus. The Bible is not about being mystical, mystery, that so many try to make it out to be, but in some respects it is. There are compelling mysteries in Christian theology: The Trinity, the atonement of Jesus, the virgin birth of Jesus, the resurrection. There are mysteries that we may never understand, but that does not diminish the very straightforward realities of who Jesus is, how we are saved, what the Father does in our lives everyday as we are guided by the Holy Spirit. There are mystical parts to the Bible. Daniel can be, Revelation certainly is, parts of Isaiah. Kenneth Stevenson and Michael Glerup write: “Ezekiel also leaves its mark on the New Testament. The image of Jesus as the Shepherd (Matthew 18: 12-14; John 10: 11-18) finds its inspiration in the prophecy about the shepherds and the sheep (Ezekiel 1: 5-10). Revelation bears several significant traces of the influence of Ezekiel: the vision of the chariot from heaven with the four living creatures (Ezek 40-48; Rev 21-22) … and each book ends with a vision of the new temple.”[1] In our reading today Ezekiel is pretty straight forward, and according to Stevenson and Glerup; “…his teaching about judgment seems at times harsher than the message of Isaiah and Jeremiah.”[2]

Through Ezekiel, Yahweh is pretty tough on Israel and He could be saying essentially the same thing to today’s culture. David Peters writes: “You are no better than the Canaanites. Your father was an Amorite and your mother was a Hittite [reminds me of the Monty Python line Your father was a hamster and your mother smelt of elderberry –mine] You were such an ugly baby they left you out to die.” (Ez 3: 7-9) Peters goes on to write: “This is pretty rough talk coming from the Lord. God compared them to the people for whom they had the least respect – the Samaritans and the Sodoms. This sarcasm attracted the people’s attention and they protested that God was being unfair to them. God replied, “You say, ‘The Lord is being unfair in his assessment of us?!’ Listen to me! You are the ones being unfair not I.’” (Ez 18:25) In a contest as to who is fair, God will always win.”[3]

The most poignant part of the lessons for me is when Ezekiel takes his foot off the gas in the middle of the reading to remind his audience: “As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked should turn from his way and live, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ez 33:11) Who is the “house of Israel” that God is talking to? … Yes, us, we are Israel. Jesus is Israel, we are in Jesus, even 500 years before Jesus, God, through Ezekiel, is talking to us and almost pleading with us. I don’t want to see people die in their sins, I don’t want to see people lost in Hell for eternity, that is horrible, I want you to fear me enough, to know who I am, what I have done for you and for you to stop resisting and find peace and rest in My grace. God is often practically pleading with us, stop it, get over this ridiculous, rebellious, attitude that only leads to death! We should be in a state of reflection, repentance and prayer all year long, but we have been given this time of Lent to specifically reflect on the reality of the state of our sinful nature. Not as a way to beat you down, but as a way for you to truly live “I am the way the truth and the life…” Jesus tells us. His way, life and life more abundant in the resurrection. The world’s way is sin and death. We may think Ezekiel is being overly harsh, but God, through Ezekiel, is desperately trying to steer us away from our rebellious and sinful nature and find true life, hope, promise and eternal life of perfection in Him. Is there any doubt that when someone repents, stops his rebellious ways that the Father will be joyful? Luke writes: “ESV Luke 15:7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” Because we can’t have it our way, we act as if God is the enemy. We live in a “gotcha” culture. It’s not about what you do, the great ways you serve, the things you accomplish. There are people out there who genuinely think they are serving by waiting in the weeds in order to “gotcha” on the most trivial issues and show what a truly horrible person you are. The world tries to project that mind-set on to God. Nothing can be further from the truth. The “gotcha” God wants is the times when you realize your sin, repent and mourn in ashes over your sin and realize all that He has done to save you and give you eternal life. Is there any doubt in your mind that the Father, on His throne, will be smiling when you realize what has been done for you? Sure He knows who He has saved, but in the middle of the joy of heaven, there will be the Father’s smile of satisfaction, that His plan in that person has come to pass? In the parable of the talents Jesus tells us how our Master, God, “Enter into the joy of your master.” (Luke 25: 21, 23) The world tries to convince us it’s an “us against Him”.

By the same token, He isn’t playing. You want to take the wide road into the wide gate, do it your way? You can’t expect God to be pleased with your destructive behavior. He wants to save you, Jesus came in order to be the salvation of the world. The Godhead knows that most of the world faces destruction, death, the eternal wrath of God, and why shouldn’t they who have rejected God? God takes no pleasure over the death of the wicked, but they made their choice and rejected God. Ezekiel writes: “Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die’, yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right,…he shall surely live; he shall not die.” (Ez 33: 14, 15). Through the Holy Spirit, the Father has made the path to salvation quite obvious and doesn’t make us jump through hoops to be in Him, as all other beliefs do. He gives us pure, unqualified grace in His Son Jesus. Jesus did the hard work and the heavy lifting. Jesus died on the Cross the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the entire world. God made the road to salvation quite obvious in His Son’s life, death and resurrection. There is nothing we can do to earn it, to justify it, to deserve it, it is given to us to have life and life more abundant.

In our Gospel reading people are asking Jesus if the people who died because of Pilate or an accident somehow deserved such violent deaths because they were bad people. The people asking were somehow “good” and those that died got what they deserved. Jesus replied: “No, I tell you; unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Not that a tower will fall on all of them, but Jesus was saying, keep doing what you’re doing and you will all die in your sins, you will be condemned to the eternal fire where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. We do not have a “gotcha” God who is just waiting to condemn us. John 3:16 for God so loved the world that He gave us His Son to give us a sure and certain way to salvation, everlasting, perfect life in the resurrection. Trust in Him who does so much for us, turn and repent and know that in Him, in His church, in our baptism in Him and in the Lord’s Supper when we eat His Body and Blood, in Jesus’ life and sacrificial death, He has saved you to that eternal life in the resurrection. He wants what is best for you and waits to give it to you. There is no joy in the death of a sinner, there is joy in the man and woman who repents and receives the free gift of grace in Jesus.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amin and Shalom

 

[1] Stevenson and Glerup in “Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Ezekiel, Daniel” p xx

[2] Ibid p xiv

[3] David Peters “The many Faces of Biblical Humor”

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