Pentecost 7

Preached: July 12, 2015

Stand Firm As You Share God’s Word
Ezekiel 2:1-5

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The Word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens us is Ezekiel 2:

He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.

He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious people—they will know that a prophet has been among them. (Ezekiel 2:1-5 NIV11)

This is the Word of our Lord.

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints washed clean in the blood of our risen Savior:

How it hurts when others don’t listen, especially when the others are those who are close to us, those near and dear to our hearts. It hurts when a family member rejects your opinion or when a friend laughs at your idea. But how much more so when it’s about something important! It may hurt a little when a friend disagrees with you about the best baseball team. But how much more so when he disagrees with you about the dangers of smoking and keeps on his two-pack-a-day habit!

But you and I, dear Christians, have a message that’s more important than physical health. We have a message the brings people over from death to life, eternal life with God. How it hurts when others, especially family and friends, don’t listen!

Jesus experienced that in the Gospel today. He came to teach in the synagogue at his home town of Nazareth. After the people thought about what he said, they decided he couldn’t be right. In fact they took offense at him. Very few believed.

Ezekiel would feel that hurt as well. He lived about six hundred years before Jesus. The Lord did not send him to a foreign people as he had sent Jonah to Nineveh. Ezekiel didn’t have to learn a new language. He was to speak to his own people, the Israelites.

But the Lord warns him from the start that this would not be easy. The Lord calls the Israelites a rebellious people, obstinate and stubborn. In fact, they were suffering right then and there because of their stubbornness. You see, although Ezekiel was a prophet to the Israelites, he did not live in Israel. He lived in Babylon. When the Lord called Ezekiel to be a prophet, he and many other Israelites had already been taken into exile away from Jerusalem to the land of Babylon.

Many hoped for a speedy return. Weren’t they God’s people? Wasn’t the Lord’s temple in Jerusalem? God wouldn’t let this happen much longer, would he? But in ages past the Lord had repeatedly warned his people. But they repeatedly turned to other gods. They only gave the Lord lip service, but their hearts were set on earthly things. If he let them continue on that path, all would be lost. His love wanted to shake them out of their stubbornness.

So Ezekiel told them clearly. There would be no speedy return. In fact, the temple itself would be destroyed. All hope would seem to disappear. But the faithful God, the Lord, would preserve a remnant through whom the Savior would come.

Needless to say, the people did not like what Ezekiel said. But he did not change the message. He stood firm as he spoke God’s word. Think about that. He’s already in exile. You would think his fellow Israelites in exiles with him would be a bond of support and comfort. But just the opposite. How tempting to compromise to fit in! But Ezekiel stood firm as he spoke God’s word. Despite opposition from those who should’ve known better, Ezekiel stood firmly on God’s Word.

Dear fellow Christians, stand firm with Ezekiel. Even when you feel opposition from those who are close to you, stand firm as you speak God’s Word. And we may experience that more and more.

The world is always opposed to Christ and his message. But we grew up at a time when outward morality and the values of society were somewhat in sync with what the Bible says. You could live a Christian life and still basically fit in. But the divide is growing more and more. As each year passes, standing firm on God’s word becomes riskier. The pressure to compromise becomes greater. And I’m not just talking about headline issues like same-sex marriage. Sixty years ago, society figured Christians would be in church on Sunday morning. In fact, most everything was closed because people were in church. Now so many other things happen Sunday morning, that people think you’re being troublesome if you want to be in church every Sunday rather than working with the world’s schedule.

But dear friends, the light of a lamp or a match looks all the more bright as the darkness deepens. Yes, as the world around us grows darker, let your light shine out. Continue to stand firm as you share God’s Word. Don’t let the world dim your light or your testimony. Don’t compromise. Stand firm.

But how? How do we have the strength to stand firm despite opposition even from those who at first we would expect to support us? Where did Ezekiel find strength?

The Lord illustrates the answer in what happened next to Ezekiel. Ezekiel says, “Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll … And he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat what is before you,eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.’ So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. The he said to me, ‘Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.’ I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth” (Ezekiel 2:9-3:3).

Where did Ezekiel find strength? From God’s Word. And that what strengthens you and me as well.

Now God’s word does not always sound pleasant. Ezekiel had a sad message to bring to the Israelites. Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed.

God’s word confronts our sinfulness as well. It’s tempting to use God’s word to complain about how bad the people out there are. Look at how society gets worse and worse. But then we are not inwardly digesting God’s word. We’re not taking it to heart. You see, God’s word first of all confronts the sinner right here, in my heart. I’m not as good as I want to think I am. And I’m not just talking about in comparison to God. Compared to other people, I am not as good as I want to imagine I am. How often haven’t I been stubborn, wanting it my way. How often haven’t I figured I ought to have better from God. I know that I don’t deserve better, but they don’t deserve better either. So why don’t I have it at least as good as them? I fail to see God’s loving hand working even through those things that hurt me most. The Israelites could not see how their exile and the coming fall of Jerusalem could work out for good. Maybe they had messed up, but the Babylonians were even worse than them. How could God let them win? In the same way it’s easy for us to wonder why things aren’t better for us.

But God’s Word confronts us. His law convicts us. We don’t deserve better. We deserve worse, much worse. We deserve hell. That’s what you and I have earned for ourselves. Hell.

And to your heart crushed by that realization, to your broken heart, the Lord says, “Come to me you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest. I will bring you through this earthly exile to the heavenly Jerusalem. For I have carried your sins to the cross, that crushing burden. I have taken them away from you as far as the east is from the west. Be at peace. For see, I am your risen Savior. No matter how bad things get, believe with all your heart that I am with you. I have given you my Holy Spirit to comfort, encourage, and strengthen you. So stand firm as you share my word.”

How sweet those words of Jesus are as you take them to heart and inwardly digest them! How sweet they are as you remember the water of your Baptism washing over you bringing you God’s promises that you have been reborn as God’s child washed clean of your sin! How sweet his words as you eat and drink his Supper and hear him say, “This is my body given for you. This is my blood poured out for you for the forgiveness of your sins.” How sweet his words as the Bible brings us the promises of God’s help here and now and the assurance of the inheritance in heaven that Jesus has prepared for us!

And just as the taste of honey can reinvigorate our strength, so the sweetness of the Gospel brings us spiritual strength. For the Holy Spirit comes to you through God’s word and sacraments. Through the word and sacraments he strengthens you. He strengthens you to face the opposition not only from the world but also from those who ought to know better. He strengthens you to stand firm as you share God’s word. So stand firm and speak the Lord’s message, just as Ezekiel did. Amen.

The peace of God that surpasses all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313