Sermon on Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Text: The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: “‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?
3 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. 4 For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child — both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.
25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? 26 If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. 27 But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. 28 Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. 29 Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?
30 “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own 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, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!”
In a few weeks, we will be observing the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation. On October 31, 1517, Dr. Martin Luther went to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany, and fastened 95 theses, or points of debate, to it. He was concerned about some abuses which he saw in the church, particularly regarding the sale of indulgences. An indulgence was a piece of paper sold by the church, which would take care of part of the satisfaction that was to be made for sins. Dr. Luther realized that this was wrong and wanted to discuss it. The first thesis read: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, ‘Repent’ (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” What exactly is repentance, though? This morning, as we study God’s Word, we will study repentance as GOD CALLS US TO REPENTANCE. 1. He Leads Us To Recognize Our Guilt. 2. He Leads Us To Rely On His Grace.
The prophet Ezekiel was among some of the first people that were taken away into captivity into Babylon. In their misery, the people held onto one hope. They hoped that somehow the city of Jerusalem and the temple would be spared destruction at the hands of the Babylonians. God sent Ezekiel to dash their hopes. His divine judgment would include their beloved city and the temple’s destruction.
After Ezekiel made this pronouncement, the people began to complain about what had been said to them. God said to them, “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: “‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?” (Verse 2) In other words, the people were saying that it was their ancestors who had sinned. They were the ones who had forsaken God and run after idols. The exiles felt that they were not nearly as bad as their ancestors were, but they were being punished more harshly.
It is true that the Lord said of King Mannasseh a generation earlier, “Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. Therefore this is what the LORD, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle.” (2 Kings 21:11&12) The disaster that was foretold was the invasion of Judah by the Babylonians. Obviously, the present generation felt that they carried a lot less guilt than their ancestors. They felt that they deserved far better treatment for their vastly superior conduct. That is why they said, “The way of the Lord is not just.” (Verse 25) They felt that they weren’t being treated fairly by God.
However, God did not share their opinion. In answer to their charge, “The way of the Lord is not just,” he said, “Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?” (Verse 25) The people accused God of not being fair. They felt that they were being punished for what others had done. The fact of the matter is that their criticism of God was a refusal to look at the real issue, namely, their own guilt before the Lord.
God shows that he judges everyone individually in verse 26, “If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die.” Later, God said, “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways.” In God’s eyes there is no guilt by association. Each person is responsible for their own actions. God is also quite clear about the consequences of the individual’s sins. He said, “They will die.” God isn’t just speaking about the physical end of life. He is talking about an eternal separation from him in the fires of hell. God spoke clearly to them about their sins, so that they would see their guilt and repent.
When we are confronted with the harsh reality of our sins, don’t we often react as the people Ezekiel was speaking to? We begin to make excuses showing how that sin really wasn’t our fault. The child, after they have been caught hitting a brother or sister says, “It’s not my fault. They hit me first!” We get into an argument with someone and we say, “They started it!” We sin, but make the excuse “Everyone else was doing it.” Whatever, the case may be, we point out that it really wasn’t our fault. This is nothing new. Think back to the first sin in the Garden of Eden. Adam blamed Eve for the sin he committed. Eve blamed the serpent. It wasn’t their fault. However, God does not allow us to use these excuses. We cannot come to him and say “It wasn’t my fault.” God holds each one of us responsible for our words, thoughts, and actions.
We, also, cannot come to God and tell us that he is being unjust or not fair. “It’s not fair that God would punish for a couple of mistakes. Nobody’s perfect. There are a lot of people far worse than I am!” That fact is that God is perfectly just. He has laid before all of us those things that he will not tolerate. He tells us exactly those things that we are to do. He has also told us, in no uncertain terms, what the penalty is for disobeying him. It says in verse 4, “The one who sins is the one who will die.” If God were not just, he would look the other way when sin was committed. Because he is just, we know that he will carry out this sentence. God speaks to each of us in these unblinking terms so that we see the seriousness of the sins that we commit. God does not want us to continue in them and spend our eternity apart from him. God leads us to recognize our guilt. This is the first part of repentance.
The second part of repentance is shown in verses 27&28, “If a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die.” Repentance is a turning. It is a turning away from sin and death to life. The Christian comes to God, confessing their sins, and finds life. That life is nothing that they bring about by themselves. It is not something that is earned by staying away from sin. That life comes to us through the work of Jesus Christ. Jesus offers this life because of the life that he lived while here on this earth. Though Jesus was tempted in every way that you and I are, he did not sin. There were many who assaulted him first, whether physically or verbally. Jesus did not retaliate. There were temptations to join with the rest of the crowd and do what would not be pleasing to God. Jesus did not cave to the peer pressure. His life was sinless. Jesus took that sinless life to the cross and offered it as payment for the sins of the world. He suffered and died to pay for all of the times that we have fallen into temptation. Because Jesus came back to life on Easter morning, he is able to offer life to all who believe in him. This is the life that is given to us as we repent of our sins. The first part of repentance is turning away from sin. The second part is trusting that, in Jesus Christ, we have forgiveness of sins. Repentance is a turning from death to life.
Since we have been forgiven, we have a new direction in life. Instead of serving ourselves and our sinful nature, we want to serve God to thank him for all that he has done for us. He encourages us in verses 30&31, “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.” As we go through life, we see that sin is not the little mistake or harmless fun that it claims to be. Rather, we see it as something that would displease our God. Because he has done everything for us, we want to thank him with our whole lives. We don’t want anything in our lives that will trip us up. We have been given a new heart and a new spirit that live to please God. We cannot manage this on our own, either. The strength and the ability to continue to live for God come from God. He strengthens us in our daily battle against sin through his Holy Word and the sacraments. We, also, have the assurance that, when we do stumble and fall, he forgives us. He then picks us up and strengthens us as we daily do battle against sin. We pray that God would continue to help us in this battle.
We live in a society where few will take responsibility for their own actions. It’s always someone else’s fault. ‘I did this because of my poor upbringing. I am doing this because society is unfair.’ The list goes on and on as to why it wasn’t my fault. Yet, as Dr. Luther reminded us, “The entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” God calls us to repent. He leads us to see our guilt as he holds before our eyes the mirror of the law. We confess that we have sinned against him time without number. However, God also shows us his grace by pointing us to the bloodied cross and the empty tomb and telling us that all of our sins have been forgiven. Because he has done this for us, we want to turn from our sins to a life that is pleasing to him. In response to God’s call to repentance, we pray, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with your free Spirit.” Amen.
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