June 15, 2010 David Balzer

Ezekiel 18, 33: God in the Dock

People everywhere/ and across all ages/ have looked at the way the world is/ and blamed God. They’ve considered the hand they’ve been dealt, and held God’s responsible. “The world’s in a mess, and it’s all the fault of God.”

They don’t really know much about him. And sometimes they DON’T EVEN BELIEVE IN him. But they still blame him.

It might be because there’s been a WAR, or A DISASTER, or a baby born terribly HANDICAPPED, or a relative dying. It might even be something as minor as a car , or a lost football game.

But people do it all the time, don’t they? “What’s God think he’s DOING?” “If God’s a god of love, why are there so many WARS?” “If God’s so GOOD, why did he let this happen?”

All making assumptions about the character and actions of God from an observation about the world. God’s in the dock. Accused of all sorts of horrible crimes. Fingers pointed menacingly at him.

And the same thing was EVEN happening IN EZEKIEL’S DAY.

And the way God deals with the questions THERE/ speak to us TODAY. His answers are PROFOUNDLY relevant in Australia in the 21st century. Let’s look at TWO of the accusations, and then at God’s DEFENCE.

Accusation One: “God isn’t just! We suffer for our father’s sins” (18:2)

Accusation One: “God isn’t just! We suffer for our father’s sins”. Look at Ch 18 v2.

(Ezek 18:2 NIV)  “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: “‘The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

In other words the people were saying “Our ancestors sinned, and we’re suffering THEIR PUNISHMENT”.

They were walking around Babylon BELLY-ACHING. “How come WE’RE copping it for something our FATHER’S did wrong? Everyone’s been worshipping idols for 400 years. How come WE’RE the ones who end up in exile. It’s NOT FAIR!”

It’s really saying “God doesn’t know what he’s doing. Life is pointless. Why bother trying to change anything?”

And you hear the same sort of negativity TODAY.

It might be a bitterness directed specifically against GOD.

Or perhaps it’s seen in a world-weary ISM – Whatever happens, happens. Or maybe a belief in KARMA, where you pay NOW for what you did in a past life.

Or it might just be a feeling of POWERLESSNESS in the face of the global forces of business and government and greed and capitalism and environmental destruction.

“What’s the POINT of it all?”

Frustration and pointlessness. There’s a tombstone in the Locke Hill Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas. It marks the grave of Grace Llewellen Smith. There’s no date of birth or date of . Just her name, and this epitaph –

Sleeps, but rests not.

Loved, but was loved not.

Tried to please, but pleased not.

Died as she lived – alone.

How sad is that? The sum of a life. “What’s the POINT of it all?”

God deals justly with mankind since he owns mankind (18:4)

And whether God’s acknowledged or not, all these complaints are accusations against HIM. It’s HIS WORLD that’s being mocked.

God’s accused. And so God DEFENDS himself. It’s a defence that starts with the VERY NATURE OF GOD HIMSELF. His point is that God deals justly with mankind since he OWNS mankind. Look at v3.

(Ezek 18:3-4 NIV)  “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. {4} FOR EVERY LIVING SOUL BELONGS TO ME, the father as well as the son–both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.

Right at the start of his defence, God declares that there IS a goal and a purpose to life.

The world ISN’T random. And the reason is because EVERY LIVING SOUL belongs to HIM. He MADE us. HE OWNS us.

It’s HIS world/ that operates according to HIS PRINCIPLES and LAWS. That exists by HIS WORD. That moves towards HIS GOALS.

It’s not just about tiny Israel. But ALL HUMANITY. Every nation is designed to be in relation with their Creator and Maker. There are bigger things going on than just what’s happening to Israel. OR Australia. Or the US.

And God’s ownership even extends right down to every individual. “The father as well as the son – both alike belong to me”. INDIVIDUALS matter to God.

There’s an incredible UNIVERSALITY and PARTICULARITY about God’s ownership. The telescope and the microscope. God sees with both.

What a wonderful PURPOSE that gives life.

And what a wonderful MOTIVATION that is to EVANGELISM. Why should an Iraqi, or a Nepali, or a Mongolian, or an Aussie become a Christian? We sometimes find ourselves wondering that, don’t we?

And God says, “Because that’s what they were DESIGNED for. I OWN them. And you’re simply helping them to RETURN to their RIGHTFUL OWNER.”

God owns everyone. And God’s point in it all/ is to remove the ISM, the INERTIA which stopped people making a decision. People who weren’t willing to take responsibility for their choices in the world.

He was about ENABLING and ENERGISING people to make the choices which would affect their own destiny. “You are mine, you have purpose and importance. MAKE YOUR CHOICE.”

And then God moves on to show the consequences of choice. How his principles of justice work. On an individual level. A case study. With PARTICULAR/ FATHERS and SONS.

First up, he declares that he deals justly with an OBEDIENT man. That’s in v5-9. If a man does RIGHT, he will surely LIVE. That’s JUSTICE! You can’t get fairer than that! No-one suffers for anyone else’s sin.

But it’s not just good-living IN GENERAL. That’s the mistake that most people make today. “I’m a good person. God’s bound to accept me!”

Notice what SORT of right living it is. V9. “He follows MY decrees and faithfully keeps MY laws. He will surely live”.

It’s right living IN RELATIONSHIP to YOUR CREATOR and OWNER that matters! Not just ANY OLD right-living. Any PARTICULAR set of rules.

Secondly, God deals justly with a DISOBEDIENT man. That’s v10-13. Suppose the righteous man has a violent SON. Also owned by God. But he sheds , and generally does wicked things. The question is asked in v13. Will such a man live? What does JUSTICE say?

“He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he will surely be put to and his will be on his own head’

That’s justice. Innocence isn’t inherited.

But the reverse is ALSO true. Since God owns individual fathers and sons, each is individually VALUABLE. So GUILT isn’t inherited EITHER. That’s v14-20.

Suppose the EVIL son has a son. And he DOESN’T do evil. He does the good his GRANDFATHER did. V17, justice says that he will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely LIVE. That’s justice!

Neither guilt nor innocence is inherited. V20 God sums it up. “The soul who sins is the one who will die.”

In other words, there is no ISM in the world. It’s not a set course that can’t be changed. You have the power to determine your future. That’s God’s message. So don’t make excuses and be istic. Be active.

And look at his conclusion to it all. Down in v30. What sort of ACTIVITY is PARTICULARLY important? What IS the right response to make?

(Ezek 18:30-32 NIV)  “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. REPENT! TURN AWAY FROM ALL YOUR OFFENSES; then sin will not be your downfall. {31} Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? {32} For I take no pleasure in the of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. REPENT AND LIVE!

Turn away from your sin. Turn to God. Live for him. That’s what you were DESIGNED for. It’s where you’re headed. Why will you die? REPENT and LIVE.

And we have the same message to give to a cynical world out there. A world which sees no purpose. No hope. No reason to try to change anything. Just a great big machine. Winding down towards .

But God says that He owns EVERYONE. Every individual from one end of the globe to the other. And his plan is for them to Turn to him and LIVE.

Is that the message we’re giving them? Is that the message we’re LIVING?

Accusation Two: “If God is just, and declares us guilty, what hope have we got?”

There’s a similar section over in Ch 33. God’s responding to a DIFFERENT accusation from the people. And God’s REPLY BUILDS on some of the things from Ch 18. So flip over there with me.

The people have been hearing about how wicked they are from Ezekiel for MONTHS. Probably even YEARS. And it seems like the message has finally struck home. And the enormity of the problem drives them to despair. Ch 33 v10.

(Ezek 33:10 NIV)  “Son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?”‘

Another accusation. “If God is just, and declares us guilty, what hope have we got?” How can we possibly live, if we’re as bad as God says. And God is just?

What’s the POINT? Where’s the HOPE?

It’s like the Peanuts cartoon. Lucy is talking to Linus at the base of a hill. She says, “Someday I’m going over that hill and find the answer to my dreams…. Someday I’m going over that hill and find hope and fulfillment.

I think, for me, all the answers to life lie beyond these clouds and over the grassy slopes of that hill!”

Linus removes his thumb from his mouth, points toward the hill, and responds: “Perhaps there’s another little kid on the OTHER SIDE of that hill who is looking this way and thinking that all the answers to life lie on THIS side of the hill.”

Lucy thinks about it for a moment, looks at Linus, then turns toward the hill and yells, “Forget it, kid!”

Hopelessness. Resignation. Despair. Is that all we can look forward to?

Again, it’s nothing more than another attack on God and his world. And once again, God comes to his own defence. And once again, he begins with a declaration about HIS OWN CHARACTER. It’s WHO HE IS which drives the way the world operates. Look at his response. 33.11

(Ezek 33:11 NIV)  Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I TAKE NO PLEASURE IN THE OF THE WICKED, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’

Yes, it’s TRUE that you’re wicked. Yes, your ancestors sins ARE heaped up. Yes, it’s true that I’m righteous and just.

But the response is not to sit in a heap on the floor and SULK. Because I LOVE LIFE. I take no pleasure in . I’m a God who CREATES life. Who REJOICES in it.

I’m not capricious or vindictive or ic. That’s the forces of THIS world. Of Satan. Forces that delight in putting others down. Destroying others. Forces of chaos and disorder and devastation and hatred. But that’s not me.

The response is to TURN from EVIL and LIVE. “I DELIGHT in life, so REPENT and LIVE!

Perhaps there’s something of their PREVIOUS complaint in there as well. Remember they said “Our fathers sinned, and now we’re copping it”. Perhaps this meant they felt RESIGNATION.

400 years of their ancestor’s sin, layer upon layer. A huge debt that couldn’t be paid off. Time and again God warning destruction, and with the axe hovering over our heads, and finally about to fall.

And so they wonder, “What hope is there NOW? What can WE do against the weight of history?”

And God answers in v12. The PAST doesn’t matter. TODAY’S decision does. V12.

(Ezek 33:12 NIV)  “Therefore, son of man, say to your countrymen, ‘The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him WHEN HE DISOBEYS, and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall WHEN HE TURNS FROM IT.

It’s what you do TODAY that determines your future. Yesterday is irrelevant. Obedience or disobedience THEN doesn’t come into it. It’s your choice TODAY that counts.

Just because you were righteous YESTERDAY, it won’t save you if you disobey TODAY.

And the flipside is ALSO true. Just because you were WICKED yesterday, it won’t disqualify you if you TURN FROM IT TODAY.

There’s both WARNING and PROMISE there. First, the WARNING. If a righteous man sins, he will die (33:13). So don’t be complacent and presumptuous, since God deals justly with the BACKSLIDER.

That’s in v13.

(Ezek 33:13 NIV)  If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done.

You see, trusting yesterday’s deeds is worthless. God promised this guy LIFE, but it was always a CONDITIONAL promise. “You will surely LIVE…. (As long as you keep trusting ME and not your works. As long as you keep OBEYING.”)

If you’re pretty happy with how you’re doing, just cruising along nicely, don’t be COMPLACENT AND PRESUMPTUOUS. You might FALL, and you will receive what you JUSTLY deserve.

But there’s also PROMISE.

In the very next verse. If a wicked man REPENTS, he will LIVE. So don’t despair! Repent, since God deals justly with a REPENTANT SINNER . Look at v14

(Ezek 33:14-15 NIV)  And if I say to the wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right– {15} if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he will surely LIVE; he will not die.

No-one is too far gone. No sinner is too bad. No list is too long. It’s your decision TODAY that matters.

Warning AND Promise.

And it’s these same warnings and promises that God gives his people in the New Testament. In the book of Hebrews. Turn there with me – p847.

My guess is there are two sorts of people here this morning. Some of you need WARNING. And some of you need PROMISE. (Perhaps there are some who need a little of both).

If you’re someone who’s feeling PRETTY CONFIDENT ABOUT YOURSELF. You’ve barely missed church in a year. You’ve read your Bible and prayed every day for the last month. Not missed a day. You’ve door-knocked for the Red Shield Appeal.

Then perhaps you need WARNING. Don’t be COMPLACENT, or PRESUMPTUOUS. Listen to Hebrews 3:12 (p847)

(Heb 3:12-14 NIV)  See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. {13} But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

He’s talking to BROTHERS. Those sitting in church, listening to the letter being read. Be warned. TODAY’S decision counts. Don’t turn away from the living God. Keep your eyes on him. Encourage each other, so no one ELSE becomes hardened. Do it EACH DAY.

Because it’s easy to FOOL people. It’s even easy to fool YOURSELF. To think you’re a Christian, just because you HANG AROUND with Christians.

But the proof of someone’s regeneration – being a Christian – proof that someone really is a child of God – is only seen if they STICK IT OUT TO THE END. The very next verse. Verse 14.

{14} We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.

Over in Ch 6, the writer WARNS people who are enjoying all the BENEFITS of being a Christian, but never really turn to God. Look at Ch 6 v4.

(Heb 6:4-8 NIV)  It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, {5} who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, {6} if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. {7} Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. {8} But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

You can’t drink in all the good things of God, then turn your back on it. Reject God’s gift of his son. That’s the ultimate insult to God.

I look out at you all this morning, and I don’t know which of you that might be. There are probably people here who need to HEAR this warning.

People who enjoy the fringe benefits of being God’s people, without really BEING a child of God. They mistake the symbols for the real thing. Like someone who wants a Mercedes car, and so buys the key ring, the cap, the matchbox car, the catalogue, but never owns the car.

Don’t settle for the warm friendship and fellowship and singing and preaching and Bible studies. Make sure you’ve got the REAL DEAL. A daily, obedient, living relationship with Jesus.

If you don’t have that. Then be warned. REPENT and LIVE. I’d love to help you to do that.

The warning is there because we don’t know what’s really going on in people’s hearts. I’m confident that MOST of you DO have that friendship with Jesus. And the writer to the Hebrews has that same confidence. In the very next verse. V9.

(Heb 6:9-12 NIV)  Even though we speak like this, dear friends, WE ARE CONFIDENT OF BETTER THINGS IN YOUR CASE–things that accompany salvation. {10} God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. {11} We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. {12} We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Show that your salvation is real. Be diligent to the end. Real faith keeps on keeping on. Be WARNED.

But there’s also words of PROMISE here. In the very next section. For people who know the blackness of their own hearts only TOO well. Who know their sheer unworthiness to expect anything from God’s hand.

If that’s the way YOU sometimes feel, then God’s got words for you too. Words of PROMISE.

The next section talks about God’s PROMISE to Abraham. And how he CONFIRMED the truth of the promise by an OATH. And then it says in v18.

(Heb 6:18-20 NIV)  God did this (confirmed his promise) so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, WE WHO HAVE FLED TO TAKE HOLD OF THE HOPE OFFERED TO US MAY BE GREATLY ENCOURAGED. {19} We have this HOPE AS AN ANCHOR FOR THE SOUL, FIRM AND SECURE. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, {20} where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

God wants us to TRUST HIS PROMISES. So that we can be SURE of our future. Assurance comes from what God has done. Not what WE must keep doing. Jesus has done all the righteousness we need ever do. And our hope is sure/ as long as it is hope in HIM. That’s a PROMISE.

Warning and promise. Take whatever word you need to hear. If you’re tempted to take God for granted. To be complacent or presumptuous. If you’re trusting your own deeds, instead of the work of Jesus. Then be WARNED. Decide TODAY. Repent and LIVE.

And if you’re tempted to doubt that God would really WANT you. Then take hold of his SURE PROMISE. Christ has offered himself as the perfect sacrifice. For ANYONE who accepts his gift. It’s a hope which is firm and secure. Trust God’s promise.

God’s ways are JUST and RIGHT. He OWNS us. He DELIGHTS to give LIFE. So repent and live.

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