Being a prophet has never been a popular career. And it’s no wonder, because the job description God gave to Ezekiel isn’t exactly attractive. By and large his words would seem to do no good. He would feel like he was just throwing mud against a brick wall, and in fact that is how God described these people—obstinate and stubborn, unmoving and unaffected by God’s Word, just like a brick wall. At best God could give him only the slightest hope that maybe they would listen. Would you have taken the job?
It doesn’t really matter if you would have taken the job or not, because you don’t get to decide to be a prophet. God calls prophets into his service, and you don’t say no to God. Again and again, God emphasized this point to Ezekiel. The Holy Spirit moved Ezekiel to stand on his feet while God spoke. God said, “I am sending you to the Israelites.” The message that Ezekiel was to deliver would not be his own idea, but God’s. God would give Ezekiel a message, and Ezekiel was to say, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says.”
To a lesser extent, we are all prophets. God hasn’t come to us in visions and miraculous ways like he did to those prophets long ago, but we do have a message from God that he wants us to share. We are supposed to speak the same words that he gave those ancient prophets to speak. As a church and as individuals, we have a little something in common with Ezekiel. If it’s going to be like it was for Ezekiel, perhaps you would rather not be like a prophet. We might rather be prophets speaking God’s Word in a place where people will listen. Would you rebel against God’s call? The thought is tempting.
1. In spite of the difficult assignment,
2. Because of God’s merciful Word,
3. And because God guarantees our success.
Ezekiel was called to preach to the rebellious house of Israel, which had notoriously rejected God’s Word. For three hundred years plus, they had been ignoring God’s prophets at best, and at worst killing them. 100 years before Ezekiel, God had spoken about these people through the prophet Isaiah, “All day long I have held out my hands to an obstinate people, who walk in ways not good, pursuing their own imaginations—people who continually provoke me to my very face.” At about the same time as God spoke to Ezekiel, the prophet Jeremiah also received a message from God, which he wrote on a scroll and sent to King Jehoiakim. The king of this rebellious nation cut Jeremiah’s scroll into pieces and threw it into the fire.
Ezekiel may have been wondering what God was doing, sending him to a place where the people had refused to listen for so long. There were many other nations on the earth, and it might seem better to try somewhere else. It might seem futile to keep wasting words on the nation of Israel. It must have been a great temptation for Ezekiel to reject God’s plan for Israel and God’s call for him to be a prophet. God anticipated that temptation and said in the words following our text,
“Do not be afraid of what they say or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house. You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.”
As Jesus sent us to “go and make disciples of all nations,” we too are tempted to be afraid and be concerned about whether they will listen or not.
We have been sent to a rebellious people. In the state of California, atheism is the fastest growing religion, according to a 2009 Pew survey. In that same survey, in a ranking the states from the most religious to the least religious, California came in 36th out of the 50 states. We are in the bottom third. So many don’t believe in God. So many more think they can believe in God without listening to a word of what he says. They despise his Word and Sacraments. Church attendance in this state is deplorable. We live among a rebellious people.
Think of what our state has done to fight against God’s Word. It’s only a matter of time before same-sex marriage is legal here. Already it is widely acceptable to rebel against God’s condemnation of homosexuality as a sinful lifestyle.
In October of last year, the Sacramento Bee covered Fremont Presbyterian Church’s decision to split over the ordination of gay clergy. It was wonderful that those Christians took a stand on the Word of God and refused to give, even if it meant that they would have to leave their former church body. The newspaper portrayed it as a tragedy.
Just this last week the newspaper reported that the Mississippi legislators are trying to put new regulations on the only abortion clinic in their state. They made it sound horrible, as if the state were trying to deprive its women of a much needed medical service. The people of California have rebelled against God’s command that we protect human life as something sacred—even life in the womb.
Even just in this south Sacramento community, we are sent to a rebellious people. We have been here for 40 years, and yet most of our neighbors have never been through our doors. Part of that, no doubt, is our fault. But our neighbors aren’t exactly scrambling to find a church either. Most of them have walked past every day without giving us a thought. Some have come once, never to be back again.
It looks like we have small chance for success, right? It looks like you would rather say “no” to God’s call. It’s much more attractive to be a rebel. Turn God down. Just soak up the grace of God for yourself and ignore his call to spread his Word to others. If God won’t let you do that, then its tempting to despise his Word and stay away from church. Anything is easier than to take his call and be a prophet. In this state and in this city, it’s tempting to question God’s wisdom for putting us here. It’s easy to disregard his call to all of us as Christians to be his prophets speaking his Word.
But God has good news for the prophet too. He stressed to Ezekiel that he was being called by God, to deliver a message from God. Ezekiel should find his glory in his God and in the Word that God gave him to speak. As for the people, God said, “Whether they listen or fail to listen, at least they will know that there was a prophet among them.” There is a strange, independent glory here, isn’t there? The prophet does what needs to be done, regardless of the consequences, simply because of the one who sent him. There is power and strength here. The prophet is a rock. He stands unaffected, whether they listen or not.
We might wonder, as Ezekiel must have, why God would even bother with such a rebellious bunch of people? It isn’t the most likely place to find people who will listen to us. They have a long history of ignoring us and ignoring God’s Word. What’s the point in God reaching out to them anymore? Actually, that is exactly the point. They may listen, or they may not, but God reaches out to them. Christ died for them. God pleads with them. If you haven’t been in church for a long time, and you have been ignoring God, he is reaching out to you. We are here for you. He doesn’t want to see anyone go to hell, so he sends out his Word to rebuke sins and sinful attitudes. He sends out his mercy too, with the promise that all who repent of their sins and listen to him will be forgiven.
God reached out to those rebels of Israel. He had watched them ignore his prophets for years. He saw that they were obstinate and stubborn, and that they would likely always refuse to listen to him. Still, God did not want to see them go to hell. He would not let them go their own way skipping and singing on the road to hell. He sent Ezekiel to rebuke them, so that they would perhaps look for God’s mercy again. God wanted to forgive and to save. It was a glorious job for Ezekiel to be a prophet, because he spoke for our God who doesn’t think that it’s too much to try to save people who probably will never listen. God wants all to be saved, and he sends his Word out to the rebels just in case they will listen.
It’s a great job to be a prophet, because here we see how truly God’s mercy is for us. He even reaches out to rebels, and isn’t that good news for all of us? Isn’t it rebellion against God to listen to his Word for yourself, but not want to give it to others who seem less likely to listen? Refusing God’s task for us to speak his Word is just one of the many ways that our sinful heart resists and rejects God’s will. Time and again, we hear God’s Word and realize that what he wants is very different from what we want. We are all rebels.
God sends his Word out to rebels, so that they will turn and be forgiven. He sends his Word to the people outside of the Church. He even sends it to us rebels inside of the Church. God is good. God is gracious. It’s a glorious job to be his prophet.
There is no pressure on the prophet. God never told Ezekiel that he needed to convince the people to turn away from their sins. Ezekiel didn’t have to come up with clever arguments. God simply told him to go, and say, “Thus says the LORD.” Regardless of whether or not they would listen, Ezekiel would be successful in his mission.
We have been commissioned by Jesus to go and speak his Word, like prophets. He said, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” There is no pressure on you. God doesn’t ask you to make up clever arguments to persuade people. He simply says go, baptize, and teach. If we do that, we are successful.
So go—God sends you to your friends and neighbors—the people in your life who know you and trust you. If they are on the road to hell, you have the message from God that will save them. Go and speak to them.
Go to your family—the people whom you love the most, though they are also perhaps least likely to listen to you. That isn’t supposed to matter to the prophet. God has sent you, and he has given you his Word. Go.
As a church, we go. There are people in the neighborhood all around us, and they need to know that God’s Word is spoken in their midst. They may listen or they may not, but God has sent us to them.
I’m glad that we don’t have to worry about convincing people to believe. It’s risky business being in sales. What if we were on commission, and our reward in heaven depended on the number of converts we made here? In sales you have to be constantly tweaking your product according to the ever-changing wants of the people—but the Word of God is unchanging. What if we had to make the unpopular Word of God something that was popular to the people of the world? Might as well be trying to convince kids to like brussel sprouts. God has given us a much better promise of success. He just asks us to do our work faithfully. The results have nothing to do with our work. If they listen, the glory goes to God. If they don’t, then it’s their own fault, because they are rebellious. But our glory is unchanged—In spite of the difficult assignment, we reach out with God’s mercy, and God guarantees our success. “Whether they listen or fail to listen, at least they will know that there was a prophet among them.” It’s good to be a prophet. Amen.