July 8 2012 Sermon
Ezekiel 2:1 And he said to me, a”Son of man,1 bstand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” 2 And as he spoke to me, athe Spirit entered into me and bset me on my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. 3 And he said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to anations of rebels, who have rebelled against me. bThey and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day. 4 The descendants also are aimpudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’ 5 And awhether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are xa rebellious house) ethey will know that a prophet has been among them. (Eze 2:1 ESV)
Once again our Old Testament and Gospel readings today can be very troubling. They overturn many of our long-held notions about a sweet, sugar coated Jesus and a successful and growing victorious church.
Ezekiel had a vision of heaven and God. What he saw was very similar to what Isaiah saw and what the Apostle John saw in the Book of Revelations. And like Isaiah and John, Ezekiel fell to his face in reverence and worship. Then someone spoke to him and said: “Son of man, stand on your feet and I will speak with you.” God spoke to Ezekiel. And his words have the power to do what they say. He told Ezekiel, “Stand on your feet.” Then by the power of these words the Holy Spirit stood him up on his feet. If you pay close attention to the text, it does not say Ezekiel stood up, but that as he was speaking the Spirit stood him up. And it is the same word to “stand” that God used in the New Testament when he says that he “raised” Jesus from the dead. God’s word does what it says. God’s word has power; the power to give life. The power to raise you from the dead.
Then God sent Ezekiel to the people of Israel, God’s own people, to proclaim his word and say to the people, “Thus says the Lord.” Ezekiel was not to preach his own words, but God would speak through Ezekiel. God would speak that very word of power; the word that raises from the dead. Indeed, later on in his ministry we remember that God’s word spoken through Ezekiel raised the dead, dry bones of an a defeated army and put flesh on them and breathed life into them.
It is important to note that Ezekiel was sent to preach to God’s people. Not to pagans, not to unbelievers, but to the very people of God, to the church.
But, the troubling thing is that his congregation would not listen to him. They would refuse to hear, for “they are a nation of rebels and their fathers have transgressed against me,” said God. He goes on in verse 6 to say that this congregation would be like briars and thorns, and preaching to them would be like sitting on scorpions. This is not a text you would likely hear at an ordination service for a pastor today. Even though it may well reflect the situation the new pastor will soon find himself in.
But Ezekiel was to proclaim God’s word and only his word. God then gave him the word he was to proclaim. It came written on a scroll which Ezekiel was told to eat in verse 9 of this same chapter. To faithfully proclaim the Word of God one must first devour God’s word and make a steady diet of it in his own life. But what was written on the scroll? Verse 10 of this chapter tells us: “Words of lamentation and mourning and woe.” God’s Word is not always sweet, pleasant, and comforting. It includes law, judgment, condemnation and death. It is often an unpopular message. It is offensive to the ear, threatening to the conscience, and repugnant to our value system of the independent, self-make man, success, and prosperity.
No wonder Ezekiel was rejected by his hearers. They did not want to hear a message of lamentation, mourning, and woe. But this was not only a problem for Ezekiel but for all who proclaim God’s Word. Over and over we are told that the “Whole congregation of Israel grumbled against Moses.” (Ex 16:1 et al). Jeremiah was arrested, sentenced to death, cast into a well, and later kidnapped and forcefully dragged to Egypt where he died. St. Paul in our Epistle reading today says he suffered “insults, hardships, persecutions and calamities.” The same can be said for all the Apostles and countless millions of believers and missionaries and pastors throughout history, including Martin Luther who narrowly escaped death for confessing Christ.
Jesus warned his followers, “You will be persecuted for my sake and reviled. Evil will be spoken against you on my account, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
And the same continues today. The faithful men and women who sincerely try to serve the Lord, to build God’s kingdom, to spread the gospel, to do outreach in their communities and to lead their church to expand its ministry and outreach are often bitterly excoriated, chastised and persecuted for their efforts to serve God, not by outsiders, but by their fellow church members. Instead of everyone working toward a unified goal of serving Christ and reaching out to the lost, often it is other members of the church who not only oppose them but who rebuke and chastise those who are humbly trying to serve Christ.
In our Gospel reading today, Jesus sends out his 12 disciples to proclaim His word just as he sent Ezekiel 600 years earlier. He warns them that they would be rejected. He tells them that if they are not received and people do not listen to them, then they should shake the dust off their feet as a sign against them. But, he warns, if they called their master the devil, they will malign his disciples even more. He says they will be delivered up and put on trial, and be handed over to the courts. Their own brothers would deliver them to death, and they would be hated for his name’s sake. Jesus tells his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you on my account. Rejoice and be glad for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
All of you who sincerely desire to serve the Lord and to see his word proclaimed to more and more people can expect this very same harsh treatment, ridicule, and opposition, even from your own brothers in Christ. Yet he promises, “The one who endures to the end will be saved.”
Most of all, Jesus himself was rejected, as we read in our Gospel reading today. In his very home town the people rejected his message. They ridiculed him, and did not listen to him. “Isn’t this that little boy, the son of the carpenter. What does he know? Who does he think he is coming here to teach us?” Then they dragged him out of town and tried to throw him over a cliff. At the hands of the church leaders, Jesus was scourged, beaten, and crucified. These were not pagans and unbelievers, but fellow church members.
Finally, on the cross, Jesus was abandoned by his own Father. “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” he cried. He was forsaken by his Father on account of sin. Your sin! It was your sin that nailed him to the cross. He was rejected by his Father, because he carried your sin in his flesh. He took your sin in order to make you acceptable to his Father. He was rejected so that you would be accepted. He died for your sins so that you would not die, but have everlasting life. He was rejected by his Father so that you can be brought into his Father’s love and received by him in his grace. The Father rejected his very own Son so that he could accept you into his household as his sons and daughters. What greater love than this! If you ever wonder if God loves you, all you have to do is look at the cross of Christ. Because you deserve to be rejected and spurned by God, but Jesus offered himself as the one to be rejected and spurned by God in your place, to make you well pleasing to God, a precious jewel in his eyes, a well polished treasure that God will love and desire for eternity. Jesus made up for all your sin and imperfection. His death removes the tarnish and stain from your soul and presents you to God as pure and holy and precious in his sight.
And because Jesus was rejected and suffered and persecuted, he is able to comfort and console you when you are reviled and scorned for your faithful service to him. He knows what it means to be chastised and excoriated for his name’s sake and comes to your defense. He says, “If any man confess me before men, I will confess him before my Father.” So “Do not fear someone who can kill only the body but cannot kill the soul.” Mat 10:28.
If Jesus was rejected and persecuted, so will his faithful followers be. But Jesus will restore all justice. He will make all things right. “The sufferings of this present day are nothing compared with the glory that waits for us.” You will be more than compensated for what you suffer for his sake now. God will execute vengeance and wrath on those who persecute you. All injustice will be set to rights. And you will then see that no matter what you suffer here, God is well pleased with you and that all your sufferings and afflictions are nothing but pure and precious merits, your most valuable treasures.
So, do not be afraid to confess the name of Jesus. You may be shunned and rejected by friends and even family. But as Jesus said, “If you gain the whole world, but forfeit your soul, you have lost everything.” Justice will be done, and Jesus will confess your name to his Father in heaven. God will right all wrongs. As Paul says in our Epistle reading, “For the sake of Christ, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Jesus is with you. You have a high priest who can sympathize with you because he has suffered as you suffer. When they refuse to hear you, he can strengthen you because they refused to hear him too.
And that word that you proclaim, yes, it will be unpopular with many people, just as Ezekiel’s message was unpopular. But it is a strong word, a word of power, a word that forgives sins, a word that raises from the dead. Just as by his Word the Holy Spirit stood Ezekiel upright, by that same power of the Word he will stand you upright on the last day. He will raise you from the dead. The Word is the strong foundation of the church so that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Life is not an aimless moré or a deathward drift. He sends us into all the world to reveal his word to sinful hearts. His word that gives life and raises from the dead, so we sing in our hymn.
But when you face opposition and resistance to God’s word, remember what you sang in the Psalm: “I will lift up my eyes to you, O Lord, who is enthroned in the heavens! As the eyes of servants look to the hand of their master, as the eyes of a maidservant to the hand of her mistress, so our eyes look to the Lord our God till he has mercy on us. Have mercy on us, O Lord, for we have had more than enough of contempt. Our soul has had more than enough of the scorn of those who are at ease, of the contempt of the proud.” (Psalm 123). Amen,