Txt: Ezekiel 2:1-5
This week I had a number of annoying phone calls. One morning I was working on the sermon and the phone rang. When I picked it up, there wasn't a real person at the other end, but a recording which said, "We have a phone call for you. Please wait for the next available representative." I was supposed to put God's Word on hold for a salesman who couldn't call in person? I didn't think so, and hung up the phone. Five minutes later, they called back with the same message. I hung up again. On the fourth time, I did actually wait to see who was interrupting my work all morning, and after a minute on the line the recording hung up on me. I never did get to find out who distracted me from my work for a half hour, nor did I get a chance to thank them for their interruptions. Maybe that was for the best.
Some phone calls are a waste of time. They distract you from important work to try to sell you things you don't want. But others are worth the time and effort. They bring good news, important news. That's why we keep answering the phone, I guess, in hope that the call will be worthwhile. God's call is worthwhile. God doesn't call you on the phone. Instead, he calls you through his prophets, through his Word. Today we hear God call Ezekiel to proclaim his message, and in Ezekiel's call and his ministry you also see that God is Calling You to turn away from your sins and to listen to his Word.
In today's first lesson, you hear God call the prophet Ezekiel. A few weeks ago, on Trinity Sunday, you heard God call the prophet Isaiah, and the two calls have a few things in common. God showed himself to both prophets when he called them, so they could know the God they were serving. You can read about Ezekiel's vision of God in chapter 1; it's quite different from Isaiah's. Some moderns think Ezekiel actually saw a UFO; this is his description of alien astronauts. Although the vision certainly seems alien to any idea of God we may have, Ezekiel didn't see some creature but the Creator. He fell on his face in reverence and fear; 'you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live'. Ezekiel's call to serve God was different from Isaiah's. Ezekiel was a priest--or at least he had been a priest, until he was taken prisoner to Babylon along with many of his countrymen. God wanted Ezekiel to proclaim his Word in Babylon to the Israelites who were prisoners there, and today we hear God call Ezekiel to do just that.
Even though the people Ezekiel served lived hundreds of years laters and hundreds of miles away from the people Isaiah served, both groups of people had one thing in common--they needed to hear God's Word because they were rebellious and sinful. God told Ezekiel, "Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn." God didn't sugarcoat his call to Ezekiel. He didn't hand Ezekiel rose-colored glasses when he asked Ezekiel to be a prophet. God told Ezekiel right up front that the Israelites were rebellious.
Ezekiel knew that, of course. The reason the Israelites were prisoners in Babylon was because of their rebelliousness. God had told the Israelites to worship and serve him alone, but the Israelites were always eager to worship Baal, Asherah, golden calves, anything but the true God. God kept warning the Israelites to turn back to him, and they kept going their own way. The more God warned them, the more stubborn they got. God told Ezekiel, "The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn," or in Hebrew "hard-faced and strong-willed." No one was going to stop the Israelites from doing exactly what they wanted, not even God himself.
That's what they thought, anyway. God had other plans. HE would stop the Israelites' rebellion, by taking them away from their homeland, by scattering them forever if he had to. It didn't look good among other nations for the true God's own people to disobey him and reject him openly. God threatened his people that they would lose their homeland and be taken prisoner to Babylon, that their great city of Jerusalem would be destroyed, that their great Temple would go too, and God himself would no longer be present with them. He kept sending prophets to warn the Israelites for a specific purpose--not to announce doom, but to urge his people to repent. Over and over again he warned his people to turn away from their sins. Over and over again they didn't listen. By the time Ezekiel was a prophet, many of the Jews were already captives in Babylon, and it would only go downhill from there. Within a few years of God calling Ezekiel to be a prophet, Jerusalem and the great Temple would be burned and most of the Israelites would be dead or exiled to Babylon.
God kept calling prophets to warn the Israelites about coming judgment. God was really showing his grace. He could have destroyed the Israelites completely the first time they disobeyed him, but God kept warning his people and giving them second and third and thousandth chances to turn away from their sins. He didn't have to do that. He simply didn't want to see his people destroyed because of their own stupidity, so he kept sending prophets to warn the Israelites to turn away from their sins.
He also calls you to repent of your sins. God wasn't just the God of the Israelites, but he's your God too. As your loving Heavenly Father, he doesn't want to see you destroyed for your sins either, so he keeps warning you to turn away from them. When God called Ezekiel, he described the Israelites as "a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn." The word God uses for "rebel" and "rebellion" is the same word the Old Testament uses over and over again for sin. Sin is rebellion against God, or as the Bible puts it, "Sin is lawlessness." Sin is when God speaks and you don't listen, when God commands and you go out of your way to disobey. Sin is when God tells you "You shall have no other gods", but you love yourself or your money or your sins more than God, you refuse to "fear, love and trust in God above all things." Sin is when God tells you to listen to his Word, but you keep skipping church and don't read your Bible because after all, it's summer vacation, right? Sin is when God commands you "Love your neighbor as yourself", and you go home and gossip about so-and-so who did such-and-such, or when you hate someone else. God gives you his moral law and tells you to keep it, but you won't listen. It doesn't apply to you, it doesn't apply nowadays, you can do whatever you want, regardless of what God may say. That's rebellion. That's sin.
Sin and rebellion earn God's anger. The Bible makes that clear. The example of the Israelites who lost their homeland leaves no doubt that God punishes sin. And sin doesn't just earn earthly problems, but sin brings you eternal problems. Sin and rebellion earn you hell and God's anger forever, eternal death rather than eternal life.
Through his prophets, God called the Israelites to turn away from their sins. Through his prophets, God is calling you too, calling you to do the same thing, to turn away from your sins and rebellion against your Creator. That isn't something you'll do on your own. On your own, your sinful nature keeps you away from God, keeps you wallowing in your own sin and wickedness. On your own, you can't do anything good in God's sight. Ezekiel, when he saw God, fell on his face. He knew that he was a doomed sinner in God's sight. But when God told Ezekiel to listen, God also gave Ezekiel the ability to listen. Ezekiel writes that "As God spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me." Thanks to God, Ezekiel could listen and stand in his presence. Thanks to God's power, you too can turn away from your sins and stand in God's presence. You can do it because God forgives your sins. God sent you his Son to take away your sins by suffering your punishment for your rebellion in your place. Instead of punishing you, God punished Jesus instead, so that your sins could be forgiven, so that you could turn away from your sin and your rebellion and your death. Peter writes that Jesus "bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness."
Jesus died to take away God's punishment. He died to take away the guilt of your sins. Now you stand innocent and forgiven in God's sight, and that's going to affect the way you live here on earth. Of course, your sinful nature wants you to keep living the old way. Your sinful nature wants you to live in sinfulness, naturally. Yet Christians don't. Paul writes, "We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?" As a Christian, you don't belong to yourself anymore, nor do you belong to the devil. Instead, you belong to the one who bought you--to Jesus. Paul writes, "You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body." That's the key to living a Christian life--putting Jesus at the center, remembering his death for you, and living your life for his glory. How do you do that? You show your Savior's glory by cutting out what is sinful in your life. Martin Luther once wrote that "the sincerest form of repentance is to [sin] no more". In other words, God calls you to turn away from your sins, so don't sin! God gave his own Son for you to save you, so show your thanks to God by not doing the things which offend him. Stop breaking those commandments. Stop disobeying God's law. Stop loving yourself more than God or anyone else. Instead, as the Bible says, "Whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God." God wanted his Old Testament Israelites to turn away from their sins, so their earthly neighbors could see what a great God their God was. Now God is calling you to turn away from your sins. Turn away from your sins, and show God's glory and his love to everyone around you.
God's Old Testament Israelites didn't listen to his call; they didn't turn away from their sins. Some people think the reason is that God only used human beings as his messengers. But I don't think the Israelites would have listened even if God had spoken to them with his own voice. Some people still look down on the men God used as his messengers. Don't make that same mistake. God is calling you to listen to his Word.
Do you realize that you're a minority in today's world? Your church confesses and teaches that the Bible is God's Word, inspired, true, and by being a member here you confess that you believe the same thing. Many people today don't believe that the Bible is God's Word. They believe that the Bible is the product of human imagination. Many of today's so-called "Bible scholars" will say that Ezekiel didn't really write most of his book, that he couldn't really see the future and so he never wrote what's in the Bible's book of Ezekiel. Many today start with the assumption that God doesn't really speak to human beings--or even worse, that God doesn't even exist--and then make the Bible out to be a bunch of human ideas and human writings. That's what's taught in most colleges, seminaries, churches, confirmation and Bible classes today.
Yet the Bible says something different. Many today are offended by the fact that human beings wrote the Bible, that the Bible claims to be God's Word written by human beings. Yet the Bible itself points out that "Prophecy never had its origin in the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit." The Bible isn't human ideas at all, but instead God told his prophets and apostles what to write and they wrote it. That's what happened to Ezekiel. God told Ezekiel, "Say to them, 'This is what the Sovereign LORD says.'" God gave Ezekiel a serious, heavy job--to proclaim the Word of God Himself! That wasn't a job for Ezekiel to take lightly. Instead, Ezekiel was serious about telling his people just what God wanted them to hear.
That's what the Bible is--just what God wants you to hear. That's why God wants you to listen to his Word--because it comes from your God. That's how God speaks to you. And he has important, good news for you to hear in his Word. He has good news about forgiveness, peace, eternal life. The Bible is where God not only warns you about your sinfulness, but also shows you his forgiveness and promises you eternal life.
So if you know all that, why do you need God's Word anymore? You need it because the devil keeps trying to get you to doubt. The modern world tells you that there is no God--or if there is, he doesn't care what you do. He doesn't care what happens to you. But he does! God wants you to know his Son, to receive his forgiveness, to trust his promise of eternal life. How can you know it's true? God told Ezekiel, "Whether they listen or fail to listen, they will know that a prophet has been among them. The Israelites would see God fulfill the things Ezekiel said. Jerusalem was destroyed. The Israelites did lose their homeland. And, later on, God did bring the Israelites back to Palestine. God did the things Ezekiel said! That shows he really spoke God's Word! And in Jesus, God did all the things all his prophets said he would do. God did send his Son. Jesus did die on the cross and did pay for your sins. Jesus did rise again just as he promised. And one day you will too. You will see heaven, just as God promised.
God wants you to remember that promise, to trust it, to count on it every day, and that means hearing it every day. God is calling you to turn away from your sins, to receive his forgiveness, to look forward to heaven. Through his Word and Spirit, God makes you able to do just that. Listen to his Word. In the Bible, God gives you life forever.