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Tomorrow is Reformation Day.
It has now been 505 years since the day that represents the start of the Protestant Reformation.
You and I worship today as protestant Christians largely because of the courage of a German Monk named Martin Luther.
Luther believed in the authority of the Holy Scriptures.
He believed that in the Bible God had spoken and that everything we believe and every way we are to behave is to come from the authority of the word of God.
The world has never been the same since the Reformation, so it can be rightly argued that the world has been forever changed by the belief in the absolute authority of God’s word.
We turn our attention this morning to Ezekiel 12-14.
“The word of the LORD came” to Ezekiel, reminding him that he dwelled “in the midst of a rebellious house.”
This was the insight that Ezekiel was given about his fellow exiles back in chapter 2, where Ezekiel received his commission, being sent “to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against” their God (Ezek 2:3).
Let’s talk about rebellion against God.
This “rebellious house” was not the Gentile, pagan nations but the chosen nation.
How is it that anyone, including God’s own people, can rebel against him?
In short, we rebel against God when we lose confidence in his word.
We rebel against God when his word becomes irrelevant to us, or when it is misunderstood by us, or when it is insufficient for us.
Are you a rebel against God?
When God’s Word Is Irrelevant
In chapter 12, we see that Israel’s rebellion against God was fueled by the irrelevance with which they viewed God’s word.
Willful Ignorance
God describes Israel as a “rebellious house” because they had “eyes to see” but did not see, and because they had “ears to hear,” but did not hear.
In other words, their rebellion against God is not described in terms of brash idolatry, as if the people had decided to explicitly worship some other god rather than Yahweh.
Their problem is different.
On the one hand, their rebellion is owing to a certain spiritual blindness or deafness.
They rebel because they don’t see and because they don’t hear.
If they did see and if they did hear, then they wouldn’t rebel.
On the other hand, it’s not like this blindness and deafness could be excused as something entirely out of their control.
They had eyes for seeing and ears for hearing.
The reason they did not see and did not hear is not because they could not but because they would not.
It’s kind of like staying willfully ignorant of something in hopes that you won’t be accountable for it.
But God calls this rebellion, not ignorance.
Acting Exile
God told Ezekiel in this chapter to perform another sign-act.
In verse 3, God tells him to “prepare yourself an exile’s baggage, and go into exile by day in their sight.”
This last phrase, “in their sight,” is repeated five more times through verse 6. It’s all in hopes that “they will understand” (v.
Understand what?
We find out a bit later, because in verse 9 we are told that the exiles came to Ezekiel asking him to explain his sign-act: “What are you doing?” they ask.
God tells him to explain, “This oracle concerns the prince in Jerusalem and all the house of Israel who are in it.”
And in verse 11, Ezekiel is to explain that what he has enacted is what will happen to them.
It's a prophecy about the coming siege of Jerusalem.
The prince is Zedekiah, Nebuchadnezzar’s puppet king, who rebelled against him.
You can read about it in 2 Kings 25 and compare what happened there with what is predicted here in verses 12-13.
It seems that the exiles already in Babylon were holding on to hope that Zedekiah and the people still in Jerusalem would prevail over Babylon.
Well, of course they would hope so!
These were their fellow countrymen.
But of course, this is no ordinary country.
Remember, we’re talking about Israel here and the fact that God had made a particular covenant with this nation of people.
The rebellion described here is not because the people had rejected God and his covenant outright but because they wanted, expected—even demanded—that God would renege on its terms.
They expected and demanded that God, since they were his people, would defend their land, the capital city, and the monarchy, and especially his own temple, no matter what.
Even Ezekiel’s audience, already exiled to Babylon, demanded that God come to their aid.
And God calls this demand rebellion, because his word was that the city must fall, and the temple must come down.
Those stubborn Israelites!
The Fulfillment Is Near
But wait just a minute, what did God want these exiles to do?
What would it look like for them to not rebel?
Were they to hope for Jerusalem to fall to Babylon after all?
Were they to cheer God on as he sent the rest of the inhabitants of Jerusalem into exile?
Were they to betray their countrymen and express loyalty to pagan, idolatrous Babylon?
No, the way of God is never the choice between two different, idolatrous ways, or the demand to pick the lesser of two evils.
God’s purpose in this sign-act, as well as in the brief one that follows it in verses 17-20, is made explicit by the thrice-repeated recognition formula in verses 15, 16, and 20.
What God wanted Ezekiel’s fellow exiles to do was to know their God so they would return to him and away from their rebellion.
To know God, they would need to see that he was not on Babylon’s side against Jerusalem, but he also was not on Israel’s side against Babylon.
Surprisingly, God was showing extreme loyalty to Israel precisely by sending the whole nation into exile.
And what God wanted these exiles to do was to avoid the poisonous and bitter root God warned them of in Deuteronomy 29.
Beware lest there be among you a root bearing poisonous and bitter fruit, one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart” (Deut 29:18-19).
What all of us Christians must beware of is the all-too-common temptation to think that “I shall be safe” because of my identification as a Christian while paying no attention to my behavior as a Christian.
It’s not enough to profess faith in Jesus but to not follow after the Christ we say we believe in.
Sadly, many who profess faith in Christ today do so with little thought about how faith in Christ applies to every area of their lives.
So long as they avoid the “obvious” sins and show sufficient religious commitment, they are good to go.
But, they believe, God’s word is irrelevant for the complexities of our modern world.
So, they don’t give much thought to what God says about new technologies or modern conveniences.
God may have something to say about life after death, but many live as though he leaves it to us to navigate the challenges of 21st century life.
But, as God asks Ezekiel in verse 22, “what is this proverb” that we have, saying, “The days grow long, and every vision comes to nothing”?
Or the one mentioned in verse 27, “The vision that he sees is for many days from now, and he prophesies of times far off”?
As in Ezekiel’s time, so in ours: rebellion against God is fueled by seeing God’s word as irrelevant to our current time.[1]
Yes, of course the Bible is an old book, telling us of events from long ago.
But here we find the warning that God’s word is always relevant in every generation.[2]When
we stop believing that, implicitly or explicitly, we become rebels of God, blind and deaf to what it is he is going to do.
God reminds us in verse 25, “I am the LORD; I will speak the word that I will speak, and it will be performed.”
His word will not return to him empty, “but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it” (Isa 55:11).
When God’s Word Is Misunderstood
Now, let us be quick to add here that there is another way we can end up being rebels against God and his word, and this is almost the opposite problem of viewing God’s word as irrelevant.
We can end up rebelling against God when his word is misunderstood.
We believe it is relevant, but we get it wrong.
Look with me at Ezekiel 13.
Warning to the Prophets
The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel, who are prophesying, and say to those who prophesy from their own hearts: ‘Hear the word of the LORD!’ Thus says the Lord GOD, Woe to the foolish prophets who follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!” (Ezek 13:1-3)
This chapter consists mainly of God’s denouncing the prophets of Israel, both the male (vv.
1-16) and female (vv.
17-23) prophets.
Prophets are those who claim to speak for God, who announce what God has to say.
Back in chapter two, Ezekiel received his commission to be a prophet, and his work involved pointing out treason against God and his kingdom and urging such traitors to repent all while representing the steadfast, loving presence of God.
But the prophets of Israel are here denounced because, verse 4 says, they “have been like jackals among ruins.”
Rather than seeking to build up God’s people, they are like these nocturnal scavengers who live off the devastation of Israel’s rebellion.[3]Down in verses 10-15, God speaks of these prophets as those who have smeared the wall with whitewash.
The image is of someone covering over imperfections in a construction with a thin plastering that makes the building look good but does nothing to fix the problem.
So, God warns these prophets in verse 14 that when he comes and breaks down the wall, they will perish with it.
But they will also in that day know that he is “the LORD,” the covenant-keeping God of Israel.
Proclaiming Peace When There Is No Peace
God’s complaint against these prophets is that, as verse 10 says, “they have misled my people.”
They have led the people into error by, verse 19 says, “putting to death souls who should not die and keeping alive souls who should not live.”
They have led the nation into rebellion by getting completely wrong the will and ways of God.
Take a look again at verse 10.
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