Pentecost 16a

Preached: September 28, 2014

Watchmen Stand Ready to Warn
Ezekiel 33:7-11

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Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. The word from God through which the Holy Spirit strengthens our faith in Jesus is Ezekiel 33

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. You will hear a message from my mouth and warn them from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked one, you will certainly die,’ but you do speak out to warn him about his ways, that wicked person will die for his guilt, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked to turn from his ways and he does not turn, he will die for his guilt, but you will have saved your life.

As for you, son of man, speak to the house of Israel: ‘You have said, “Surely our rebellion and our sins are upon us, and we ourselves are rotting away because of them. How can we survive?” ’ Say to them: ‘ “As surely as I live,” —the declaration of the Lord GOD—“I do not take pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather, that the wicked turn from his ways and live. Turn. Turn from your wicked ways. Why die, O house of Israel?” ’ ”

(Ezekiel 33:7-11)

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

The night watchman snores away as he leans back in his chair with his cap over his eyes. The burglars quietly sneak passed and a few moments later slowly tiptoe back carrying away the loot. That could be a scene from any number of shows, and it often has a comic touch to it.

But a watchman asleep on the job is no laughing matter. The text today brings to mind a watchman standing high on the walls of an ancient city peering into the darkness for any sign of hostile forces. His failure to warn when the enemy approaches brings not only loss of some property but lose of everything: family, freedom, and often life itself. How important for watchmen to stand ready to warn!

If that is true for our physical welfare, how much more so for our spiritual! For it’s not only our physical life that hangs in the balance but eternal life. It’s the difference between heaven and hell. How important for watchmen to stand ready to warn!

And as brothers and sisters in Christ, that’s not just someone else’s job, that’s each of our jobs. Share the watchman’s work. That’s part one. And part two: Listen to the watchman’s warning. For watchmen stand ready to warn. That’s the theme.

A. Share the watchman’s work

“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 33:7 ESV). House of Israel refers to God’s people. Ezekiel was a watchman for them in a special way since the Lord called him directly as a prophet. Maybe the closest equivalent today are pastors and elders, whom the Lord calls through the Church to serve in the name of their fellow believers. But the Bible does not limit the work of a watchman to just pastors and elders. Remember what Jesus said in the Gospel today from Matthew 18. “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault” (Matthew 18:15 ESV). That’s the work of a watchman, and he speaks those words to each of us who follow him as his disciples. Share the watchman’s work. Stand ready to warn your brother or sister in Christ how dangerous giving into sin is.

How do we know what to say? The Lord told Ezekiel, “Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me” (Ezekiel 33:7-11 ESV). God would speak directly to his Old Testament prophets. How does he speak to us today? Through his Word, the Holy Scriptures. His Word makes clear what is right and wrong. His Word makes clear how serious sin is. His word enlightens us to see how important it is for us as watchmen to stand ready to warn.

Yes, the Holy Scriptures give us what to say, for that is how God speaks to us. Listen to the Holy Scriptures so that what you speak as a watchman comes from God. We may have strong opinions on politics, social standards, and the way things should be done. Sometimes those opinions are expressed with dire warnings of disaster if they’re not followed. And there are times and places to express such opinions. But that’s not the watchman’s work. For as watchmen we don’t speak our own opinions; rather, we are to speak only what God has said, nothing more and nothing less. That’s why knowing the Holy Scriptures is so important if we are going to share in the work of the watchman.

And how important that work is! The text says, “If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.” (Ezekiel 33:8 ESV). It’s the matter of life and death. If your house was burning down and you left without waking the rest of the family because they don’t like being woken up in the middle of night, you’d be a horrible, loveless person. When someone’s spiritual house is burning down and their faith has fallen asleep, wake them up. Don’t let their blood be on your hands. Share in the watchman’s work, stand ready to warn.

Most people will leave a burning house, but many refuse to listen to the spiritual warnings we speak as watchmen. But our job is to speak. Our job is not to force them to act. That’s why the Lord says, “But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul” (Ezekiel 33:9 ESV). But that also makes clear that we can’t use the excuse: “Why bother warning them? They’re not going to listen any way.” The work of the watchman is to speak and warn. The rest is in the Lord’s hands.

Notice as well that our motive in warning is our desire that they turn from their wicked ways and live. The warning is not meant to put them in their place. It’s not meant to show that we’re better. It’s an earnest, fervent, heartfelt desire that they turn and live.

We could say much more about the sharing in the work of the watchman. In other places the Scriptures talk about speaking this warning with gentleness, love, and humility, not with in-your-face hostility but as as one lowly sinner to another. In other places Scripture gives us guidance in how long to keep on speaking and ways to approach a particular situation. In other places the Scriptures bring us encouragement and strength to do this work.

But already in just what these few verses say, how my own failure to properly share the watchman’s work has been brought to light. When have I nodded off? When have I failed to warn? How often has my heart not truly longed for the sinners repentance? What about you? How deadly for us to defend ourselves by saying we did our best under the circumstances! Rather I plead only God’s mercy for the blood that is on my hands. Only Jesus has secured the forgiveness I need. Only his blood washes me clean. That alone is my defense. Look to Jesus, dear Christian, in him alone is your forgiveness. For God does not the desire the death of anyone but rather that each of us turn to him and live.

That’s why we not only share in the watchman’s work but we also need to listen to the watchman’s warning.

B. Listen to the watchman’s warning

For you and I need our fellow Christians to warn us. Each of us faces the daily temptations to turn away from the Lord and walk our own path. We need our fellow Christians to be our watchmen to warn us before it’s too late.

How easy not listen! Those kind of excuses have gone through my own heart. “What I’m doing isn’t all that bad. Who are they to judge? They’ve done worse. Maybe they’re right, but they could have been nicer about it. They could’ve approached it better. I think they had mean motives in their heart.” And similar ones. But those excuses come from the sinful nature. Don’t listen to them.

Rather listen to the watchmen. Listen to those who are speaking God’s message to you. And if you are wondering whether they are actually speaking what God says, go to your Bible and find out. For you see, the Lord God himself earnestly desires for you and me to turn from our sin and follow him.

When Israel felt the weight of their sin, when they realized they were rotting away because of it, when all hope for life was gone, listen to what they Lord says, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11 ESV).

Do you hear in those words the Lord’s longing mercy, his fervent grace? That’s why he warns us. That’s why he sends our fellow Christians as watchmen. That’s why he sacrificed his own dear Son for you.

Don’t make light of sin. Don’t dismiss the watchman’s warning. The weight of our sin is more than any of us could bear, and the watchman’s warning helps us feel that crushing, overwhelming weight. But Jesus has lifted that weight off of you and carried it to the cross. He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, your sins and mine. You have God’s word on that, his covenant, his oath: “As surely as I live,” he says. And that wonderful promise, that marvelous love, leads us to resist sin and listen to his call: “Turn, turn from you evil ways and live, live forever with me.” 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

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