"A Faithful Watchman"
(Delivered Sunday, June 3, 2007 at Bethany Bible Church. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture references are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version; copyright 1982, Thomas Nelson, Inc.)
Some passages of the Bible are difficult because of the hard work it takes to understand them. And then, there are passages that are difficult because it's very evident what they mean.
I have been interacting this week with a Bible passage that is of the later category. It's one that, quite frankly, I would prefer not to preach from. But it's one that I believe the Holy Spirit would have us consider this morning as a church family. I ask that we give ourselves to Him for His instruction today from this difficult passage; and if needs be, also for His gentle rebuke from it.
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The passage I'm speaking of is found in the thirty-third chapter of the Old Testament book of Ezekiel. It's there that we read these words, spoken by God to the prophet Ezekiel:
Here, we see God speaking to Ezekiel about his role to his people. Ezekiel was a priest during the time when the Jewish people were removed by God from their homeland because of their sinfulness and idolatry, and were taken captive into the land of the Babylonians. God had called him to a prophetic ministry in Babylon, and to the captive people of Judah during the dark time of their exile from their homeland. And God uses the figure of a "watchman" to describe Ezekiel's role.
It was the task of the watchman to position himself high on the city wall or on a tower, watch carefully, see if an enemy approached the land, and take up his trumpet and blow the warning to his people. His service to his people was a matter of life-and-death importance! If he should fail to see the enemy approaching, or if he should--for whatever reason--fail to blow the warning signal, some of his people would perish. But if he was faithful, and if he succeeded in warning them, the lives of many of his people would be spared. The armies of his people would be able to prepare themselves in time, meet the enemy with a sufficient defensive attack, and perhaps save the city or the nation from destruction and loss.
Obviously, the watchman had to be a trustworthy man. He had to be faithful and alert to his task--a man who understood the significance of his purpose, and who gave himself fully to it. It may have been an unwelcome message he had to give at times; but he had to be utterly committed to give it when it was needed--no matter what the cost.
And here, God calls Ezekiel to be a most sobering and serious task--a task for which Ezekiel will be held responsible by God to the highest possible degree. He was appointed by God to be a spiritual "watchman" to his people. He was called to "blow" a warning that the people didn't want to hear.
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I believe that our passage this morning is a particularly important word from God to pastors such as myself. As one charged with the task of preaching, it is the pastor's duty to be faithful--no matter what the cost--to fulfill the mandate from God given through the apostle Paul to Timothy:
But I also believe that it is a work that each one of us is charged with as believers. As a pastor and a preacher, I am an ambassador for Christ in this world (2 Corinthians 5:18-20) . But so are you, dear brother and sister. The Lord Jesus has given it to all of us in the church--together--to be "the light of the world" (Matthew 5:14).
And what's more, you even have a 'watchman-like' duty to perform toward those who profess the name of Jesus Christ and who claim to be His followers. The apostle James speaks these sober words;
So; you and I are called to the task of watchmen! And as I read this morning's passage from Ezekiel 33, my question to you today--as well as to myself--is this: What kind of a watchmen, dear brother or sister, will we prove to be? Will we prove to be faithful to our watchman's call?
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Look at this morning's passage with me again, and notice some of the principles we can learn from it.
First, notice . . .
1. THE WATCHMAN'S ORIGIN (vv. 1-2).
God spoke to Ezekiel and said, "Son of man, speak to the children of your people, and say to them, 'When I bring a sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchman . . ."
One of the remarkable things that God says in these opening words is that the sword was coming upon the land because He--God Almighty—was bringing it upon the land. It may be that one nation comes upon another for its own reasons; just as the nation of Babylon came upon the land of Judah for its own reasons. But whatever its motivation, it ultimately comes because God brings it; just as it was God who sent Babylon to Judah in order to punish and correct His disobedient people.
But God--in mercy--does not leave His people without the warning of a watchman. He brings the sword of discipline; but it isn't His will that the people perish. If you look down to verse 11, you see that God tells Ezekiel, "Say to them: 'As I live,' says the Lord GOD, 'I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die, O house of Israel?'" That's God's desire--the repentance of those against whom He brings the sword. And so, He is merciful and permits that a watchmen be raised to give His people a warning.
And the thing that I ask you to notice is from where it is that the watchman is taken. He says, ". . . and the people of the land take a man from their territory and make him their watchmen . . ." It's someone that comes from out of the midst of the people themselves. It is one of them--someone they know, and trust, and can relate to.
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I see in this a very important spiritual principle that relates to us who are given the watchman's call. God does not send angelic beings from heaven to be the 'watchmen' to His people. Rather, He has chosen to take fallen, sinful people, redeem them, make them His spokesmen and spokeswomen, and leave them in the midst of the people from whom they were drawn.
Have you ever wondered why it is that God does not save you and then simply scoop you up immediately into heaven? Why does He leave you here? Why does He leave you in your family? Why does He leave you in your neighborhood? Why does He leave you in your workplace? Why does He redeem you from the wrath that is to fall upon a sinful culture; and yet, leave you in that sinful culture? Could it be because, in His wisdom, He has decreed that there is nobody better to reach such lost and dying people--and to serve as His watchmen to them and warn them to flee from the wrath to come--than someone who is one of their own?
Dear brother or sister; it is not by accident that you have the family you have, or live in the neighborhood you live in, or work with the people you work with, or dwell in the midst of the culture in which you dwell, or are a citizen of the nation you call home! God has called you to be His spokesperson--His "watchman"--to your people!
Are you a good, faithful watchman in the place He has divinely, sovereignly called you and appointed you? Are you faithful to speak His word to those to whom He has given you?
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Second, notice . . .
2. THE WATCHMAN'S TASK (v. 3).
I looked up some of the passages in the Bible in which the duties of a watchman were described. In 2 Samuel 18:24-27, for example, a watchman was sent up at the time of King David to take his stand on the roof over the gate of the city. From that vantage point, he was able to see a man running toward the city, and to cry out and tell David who it was that was coming. He was able to call out to the gatekeeper and announce the approach of someone who was bringing news at a time of conflict. Similarly, in 2 Kings 9:17, another watchmen in the time of King Joram of Israel positioned himself high in the tower of Jezreel. He was able to warn his people of the approach of a possibly hostile enemy. Clearly then, one of the roles of a watchmen is to 'watch'! He is to have his eyes opened to what is going on that may be a threat or a concern to the welfare of his people.
And then, having watched and having apprehended that danger approaches, he is to warn and alert his people in the clearest and loudest way possible. Amos 3:6 says, "If a trumpet is blown in a city, will not the people be afraid?" God used this analogy often to call His people to attention. Jeremiah 4:5-6 says,
Similarly, Hosea 8:1 says, “Set the trumpet to your mouth! He shall come like an eagle against the house of the LORD, because they have transgressed My covenant and rebelled against My law."
It's the watchman's two-fold duty, then, to first faithfully watch and see the danger that approaches to his people; and second, to blow the warning to his people loudly and clearly. And so, in our passage, the watchman "sees the sword coming upon the land", and "blows the trumpet and warns the people" (v. 3).
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And again, I see here another spiritual principle that relates to you and me. As God's appointed watchmen--in that place in which He puts us--we are not to sit silent at our post and be idle. We are to see ourselves as having a task to perform, and we are to perform it faithfully.
First, we are to be a people who are accurately informed by God's word. We are to believe what God says, and apply its truth to life around us. Specifically, we are to be aware of the danger that is coming upon the people in the midst of whom God has placed us. We are to remember what the Bible says--that "the wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23); and that "[t]he soul who sins shall die" (Ezk. 18:20). We're to remember that, in God's program of redemption, a clear and dreadful line is drawn: "He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:36).
We are to remember that, in mercy, God has placed us as a watchman in the midst of people in whose death He takes no pleasure--but whom He calls to repent while there is still time. We're to remember that He has entrusted us with the message by which they may be saved—the gospel of Christ. We're to remember that there is not salvation in anyone else, "for there is no other name under heaven, given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12)--that it is in Him and Him alone that "we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace . . . " (Eph. 1:7).
And knowing these truths from the Scriptures--and being convinced of what they say--we need to open our mouths and cry out the alarm—telling the people around us about Jesus; and urging them to flee from the wrath to come by fleeing to Him. It may not be that we are to stand on a street-corner, or shout from a soap-box through a megaphone. It may not be that we are to cry out all the time or in every situation. But the call to be His watchmen is to be the constant basis of our how we look at people and our relationship with them. And when He opens the door and gives us the opportunity, we are to say, "as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:20-12).
Dear brother or sister, God has appointed that His saving gospel be proclaimed through no one else but through those of us who have been saved by it! Are you seeing the needs of the people around you? Are you sounding the call? Are you pointing the people that God has placed in your sphere to Christ?
Are you faithfully fulfilling the task of a watchman?
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Now frankly, I think that the verses that follow are among the most disturbing in the Bible. Next, we see . . .
3. THE WATCHMAN'S ASSESSMENT (vv. 4-6).
If the watchman is faithful to his task, he sees the danger and sounds the alarm to his people. And if someone hears the alarm, but does not take warning. and if the sword comes and takes him, then this passage tells us, "his blood shall be on his own head". He will be responsible for his own loss. He heard the sound of the trumpet, but he chose to ignore the warning. And of course, if he does take warning, he will save his life.
But what if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet? Perhaps he falls asleep on the job. Or perhaps he sees the danger but fails to recognize it for what it is. Or perhaps he is negligent. Or perhaps he plays the wrong sound on the trumpet and gives a confused alarm. Or it could even be that, perhaps, he is hard-hearted and malicious; willing to see his people fall victim to the sword.
For whatever reason, suppose the watchman doesn't give the alarm to his people. Suppose he fails to be faithful to his task. The people, of course, will not be warned; and as the Scriptures here say, the sword comes and takes some man away "in his iniquity". He is receiving the judgment of God. But "his blood", God says, "I will require at the watchman's hand."
So then; if the watchmen is faithful, he is not held guilty--even if the people do not heed the warning. But if he is not faithful, and the people do not heed a warning that they did not receive, God holds them responsible for their sin; and He holds the watchman guilty for their death! It's hard for me to imagine anything more dreadful than the spiritual implications of this!
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For pastors and teachers, it reminds me of Pastor James' sober words in James 3:1; "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment." It is an unspeakably horrible thing for a pastor or preacher or teacher in the church to be a silent "watchman" who does not preach God's word; or to be a confusing "watchmen" who mixes God's word with error. Such preachers will lead the people entrusted to them astray.
The people to whom they speak will not be able to heed the warning that God sends to them, because they never heard it. They will not repent and escape the coming wrath, because they were not clearly urged to do so. The people will bear the guilt of their own sin and iniquity; and that's terrible enough. But what dreadful wrath will fall upon those who should have been their faithful watchmen--who, as the Bible says, will receive a "stricter judgment" for their failure?
And again, I remind you that the warning isn't just for pastors. Do you have opportunities and open doors that the Lord lays before you to speak the warning to those in your sphere? And have you remained silent when you should have spoken out?
May God have mercy on us all!
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Well; God, in His love, has given this passage to us to help us correct our negligence. He wants us to be good, faithful watchmen. And so, let's look at the remaining verses and see . . .
4. THE FAITHFUL WATCHMEN'S RESOLVES:
These closing verses suggest to us some fundamental commitments we should develop if we would be faithful watchmen in the place God has called us. And first, we see that we must resolve, as watchmen, to speak boldly what God has said.
We aren't faithful watchmen if we don't speak when God calls us to speak; but neither are we faithful unless we speak what God tells us to say. And so, we read in verse 7 that God tells Ezekiel, “So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me."
As we mingle with and live among the people to whom God calls us to be the watchmen, let's be sure that we speak God's word to them. People don't always appreciate it when we do so. They don't always welcome God's word into the discussion. In fact, the often tell us to keep the Bible out of the discussion. But as appointed watchmen, it's our duty to bring God's word to them anyway. There are lots of different voices and opinions in the world; but even if you would search out the very best of what the greatest human minds had to say, and collect the best of their wisdom together in one place, it would still be useless to save anyone from the wrath to come. Only what God has to say can have any authority. Only God's word can make a man or woman "wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15).
And so; as God's watchmen to the people of this world, let's be sure that what we speak is what God wants said to them. Let's give them His word. Let's be bold. Let's faithfully bring God's word of salvation to this lost and dying world.
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Second, we see that we must resolve to announce God's message as clearly as possible. In verse 8, God tells Ezekiel, "When I say to the wicked, 'O wicked man, you shall surely die!' and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand."
We are not faithful watchmen if, when we speak, we speak a muddled and unclear message. When it's time to blow the warning on the trumpet, it's not time to mute the horn with our hat and play smooth jazz! And yet we do this all the time. When it comes time to call sin "sin", we soften the 'trumpet blast' by calling it something else—saying it's a “sickness” or a “mistake”. When it's time to spell out clearly the wrath of God for sin and the judgment to come, we talk in vague terms of the life-hereafter; when we should speak in clear terms of the Great White Throne judgment and of the Lake of Fire. We talk about "God" to people; but not of Jesus Christ. No one is offended by talk about God; but the message of Christ is often a great offense to people. And out of our fear of man, we deliberately neglect to be as specific as God's word is. We neglect to talk about Jesus Christ as God's only begotten Son sent to us from the Father; the Son of God in human flesh; the crucified Savior of mankind; the resurrected Judge of all the earth. We give people the impression that God is everyone's 'heavenly Father'; but fail to mention that Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).
Obviously, people don't like that kind of clarity. It will offend people. But we're on a rescue mission to save souls; and I say this with all reverence: No one is saved by vague talk about God. They are saved by calling them to a clear, conscious, intentional faith in the sacrifice of God's Son, Jesus Christ.
So, let's resolve to be as clear as we can be about the subjects that are necessary for people to know and believe in order to be saved. Otherwise, we're not being faithful watchmen.
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And finally, having spoken forth the warning as faithful watchmen, we must resolve to leave the results confidently in the hand of God.
Not all will accept the warning. Not all will heed the trumpet blast. And the fact that they won't should break our hearts—just as it breaks the heart of the One who sent us to them. But we must then leave the matter to Him; knowing that we've done what we were called to do. In verse 9, God tells Ezekiel, "Nevertheless, if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul."
Even if that man does not obey, you and I must.
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Now; in closing, would you like to see a great "watchman" in action? Just look at the apostle Paul.
I believe that Paul was deeply committed to the watchman's call. He completed his ministry to the people of Ephesus; and as he was about to leave them, he said something that I am convinced was inspired by the words we have read in Ezekiel 33, "Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:26-27).
Dear brother or sister; may we so faithfully live and serve that Our Lord will not require us to give an account for the blood of someone else. By His grace--wherever He chooses to place us in His service--may we prove to be faithful watchmen.
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