The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost
September 24, 2017
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself. 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?” ‘ Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death 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?” (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
What comes to mind when you hear the word “watchman”? Some of the first words that pop into my mind are the words police officers. While I will admit that I do get a little nervous if I look in my rear-view mirror and see a police car directly behind me, I am extremely grateful for all the men and women who are willing to put on that blue uniform and “watch over” us. While there are times when they watch over us to protect us from our own foolishness, their primary duty is to be there to watch over us if someone is trying to harm us in any way. The same point can easily be made for the various branches of our military. They are there to “watch over” us— especially if a rogue nation were to try to harm us. Prior to September 11, 2001, our military was poised as a protective ring around our nation to watch for any threats that may come from outside our borders. September 11 revealed that they also need to be on the alert for threats that may come from people who are already inside our nation.
Once we get past the obvious examples of people who serve as “watchmen” in the world around us, it is not difficult to see examples of people who serve as “watchmen” in our personal everyday lives. Think about it. Who serves as our “watchmen” as we are growing up? Our parents! Who serves as our “watchmen” while we are in school? Our teachers! Who helps to serve as our “watchmen” when we are adults? Our family and our friends! And who very often serves as our “watchmen” when we get old? Our children and our grandchildren!
Whether it is the police officer who pulls over the speeding driver, the fireman who willingly goes into a burning building, the security personnel at just about every major public event, or all the men and women serving in our military, whether it is our parents or our grandparents, our children or our grandchildren, our family or our friends, we are very thankful that there are people who are willing to serve as our “watchmen.”
The fact that we are thankful to have so many people who are willing to serve us by serving as our “watchmen” gives us an even greater reason to make sure we have a proper understanding of our text for today. Just as we have learned how important it is to be watching for threats against our nation, so also our sermon text reminds us that as Christians we need to be watching for those things that can harm people on a spiritual level. With that in mind let’s see how the Lord reminds His servant Ezekiel and how the Lord reminds us, His servants today, that we are called to be: The Watchman.
The prophet Ezekiel had been taken as a captive to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar attacked a rebellious Jerusalem in 597 BC. In Babylon Ezekiel’s ministry focused on making sure that God’s people continued to hear a clear proclamation of both Law and Gospel even though they were now prisoners of war in a foreign land. While Ezekiel was there in Babylon to encourage God’s people and to assure God’s people that the Lord would most certainly keep His promise and allow them to return home to Jerusalem, Ezekiel was also there to make sure that Gods’ people did not forget why they were in exile. God had allowed the Babylonians to conquer Judah because of Judah’s own sinful and rebellious ways!
In addition, to help make sure that Ezekiel did not forget why the Lord had allowed him to be taken captive to Babylon we hear the Lord say to Ezekiel, “Son of Man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.” Normally we picture a watchman as someone who is standing on top of a high tower or walking along the city walls scanning the horizon for imminent danger— much like our military’s defense shield around our country. Here, however, the Lord reminds Ezekiel that as God’s “watchman for the house of Israel” Ezekiel’s first priority was to listen. “So hear the word I speak,” the Lord says to Ezekiel. Why is that? Why is it that in order for Ezekiel to be a good “watchman for the house of Israel” he first needed to listen to the Lord’s Word? The answer is pretty obvious, isn’t it? Ezekiel was to make absolutely sure that the message he proclaimed to God’s people was indeed the message the Lord wanted His people to hear. Therefore, before Ezekiel could go to God’s people and said, “Thus saith the Lord!” he had to make sure he himself knew what the Lord had said!
At the same time, there is no avoiding the fact that the message that Ezekiel was given to proclaim to God’s people was predominately a message of Law, a “warning” from the God of heaven. The people of Judah had sinned against the Lord God Almighty. They had rebelled against the living God of heaven and earth. They had shattered the covenant which the Lord had graciously established with their ancestors— Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They needed to realize that their captivity was the direct result of their own sin.
Such a powerful message of Law is never easy to proclaim, my friends. To openly confront someone with their sin can be a very difficult thing to do— but it is an absolutely necessary thing to do! To make sure Ezekiel understood this the Lord said to him, “When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.”
This portion of our text revolves around the word “accountability.” God holds each individual sinner “accountable” for their own sin— not for the sins of anyone else. At the same time when God places someone as a “watchman” over His people God holds that “watchman” accountable for doing their job. For example, if— God forbid— the events of September 11 are ever repeated here in our country there are going to be any number of people both in the military and in the government who will be held accountable. Their job now includes watching for such events. Their job now includes warning us if such an event is about to take place. Their job now includes doing everything they possibly can to make sure that such events are never repeated. If they do not do their job they need to be held accountable. A similar thing holds true for the “watchmen” that God places among us, His Chosen People today.
Now the easiest application of this text would be for you to say to me, “Pastor, you are the watchman here at our congregation.” Such a statement would be perfectly true. It is my “job” you might say to watch over you— the people whom God has placed under my care. It is my “job” to warn you if I become aware of something in your life that is displeasing to our God. While God holds you accountable for every word that comes out of your mouth (see Matthew 12:36) He will hold me accountable if I do not warn you of something that jeopardizes your relationship with your Lord (see Hebrews 13:17). But that’s the easy application of this text.
Another perfectly valid application of this text is to look at these words that God spoke to Ezekiel so many years ago and look at them in the light of the words that Jesus speaks to us in our Gospel reading for today (Matthew 18:15-20). By virtue of the fact that you are a Christian, by virtue of the fact that God Himself has graciously “called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (I Peter 2:9) each and every one of you are to be a “watchman” for your Lord. (Pointing to the cross) As a watchman for Him Jesus says to you, “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you” (Matthew 18:15). If you know from first hand experience that someone is involved in something that is sinful you don’t go around and talk behind that person’s back. We need to adopt the same attitude of heart that God reveals here in our text when He says, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.” This means that out of love— love for Jesus (Pointing to the cross), love for God’s Word and love for that person’s immortal soul— out of love you go to that individual and you warn them face-to-face that they are rebelling against God’s holy will. For example, if someone has broken the law— whether it be man’s law or God’s Law— you don’t help them cover it up and you don’t just look the other way and pretend it never happened. You warn them that what they are doing is wrong. You warn them that if they continue down the road they are on they can only expect to get in even more trouble with both man and God. Or if someone is holding to a belief that goes contrary to the Bible you don’t say, “Well, I guess everyone has a right to believe whatever they want.” You warn them that the God of heaven expects His children here on this earth to strive to remain 100% faithful to what He has revealed to us in His Word. If we refrain from warning someone because we don’t want them to be mad at us, if we refrain from warning someone because we don’t want to be labeled as a “goody-two-shoes” or some kind of religious fanatic, then God will say to us exactly what He said to Ezekiel, “…that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.”
We are all “watchmen” for the Lord, my friends. Whether it is in the confines of our own family circle— both at home and here at church— or whether it is in the context of our dealings with the world God Himself has called us to be a “watchman.” This means that like the prophet Ezekiel we first of all need to listen to and to communicate with our God on a regular basis. That is why the top priorities of a Christian “watchman” center on worship, Bible study and prayer. If we are not growing in our own knowledge and in our own understanding of God’s holy inspired Word, if we are not growing in our own personal relationship with the Lord through regular use of the Means of Grace (the Gospel in both Word and Sacrament) we will not be able to be the effective “watchman” that God has called us to be.
Ever since September 11, 2001 America has forever been changed. We are not as safe as we thought we were. We are far more vulnerable than we ever imagined. We need people like firemen and police officers and the military to watch over us and protect us. But as true as all of that is on a physical and earthly level it is even more important on a spiritual level. Whatever threats the terrorists of this world may level against us, they don’t even begin to compare to the threats of our greatest enemy, Satan. Whatever safety and security our government can provide, pales in comparison to the safety and security that our God provides for this world through the cross of His Son. (Pointing to the cross) May the good Lord grant that out of love for Him and out love for our neighbor we will humbly see both ourselves and each other as people who have been called by God to be: The Watchman.
To God be the glory!