To really get an appreciation of Ezekiel 2 we need to see how we were left at the end of Ezekiel 1 ...
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake.
Ezekiel had seen a tremendous vision, the vision in chapter one is remarkably similar to Revelation 4, in some ways it is even more complete. As we saw this morning the Old Testament is not, in and of itself, complete. But it does contain some remarkable fragments that go into a level of detail that the New Testament doesn't even begin to touch upon. Ezekiel 1 is such a fragment of the glory of the Lord. And look at the effect it has upon Ezekiel, he fell flat upon his face. Brother Dallas touched on this on Thursday, how much time to we spend on our faces. Have we been gripped by the magnificence of God. In the light of his magnificence have we been aware of our own unworthiness, and if so have we fallen upon our faces. Not necessarily literally, I wouldn't want to be responsible for a spate of broken noses, but a spate of broken and contrite hearts would be superb.
However, this isn't the subject of this evening's message. This evening's message really tackles the following question: If you have fallen on your face because you are awed by the magnificence of God, what is likely to happen next.
Well the first thing to notice is that if we fall on our face before God then he will not leave us there. Humility and reverence before him is good, but it is not His aim or desire to leave us in the dirt. Notice Ezekiel was told to stand upon his feet, there is almost a mild rebuke in there. We are supposed to be servants of God, so what are we doing on the floor. Bob asked you how much time you spend on your face, I want to ask you how much time you spend on your feet? Are we really ready and willing to go where we are sent? Or if God has a job for us will we see how we can fit it in?
Notice too the word order, stand and I will speak. God wants us ready for action before he tells us what the action is going to be. How often do we find Christians loafing around waiting to be 'called'? How often do we find Christians frustrated that the call doesn't seem to come? How often do we find that when we finally do stumble upon an avenue of service then there are actually 101 things that need doing as well as the one we thought of? Is there a clue in there somewhere?
So if standing is the required posture, if it leads to God communicating with us, why don't we stand more often? Because it is hard work, we can get very passive in worship, even in adoration but service takes effort.
But much less effort than we think. Look at verse 2, and set me on my feet. Again the sequencing here is very suggestive. Ezekiel was awestruck, God gives him a command, Ezekiel is spiritually receptive and then the spirit enables Ezekiel to carry out the command he has been given. The same works for us. If we are willing to obey God, if we are willing to put in the effort to try to obey God, then God's spirit will actually give us the strength we need to be obedient. God supplies just about everything, all we need to supply is obedience.
There are a couple of other points worth spotting. The Spirit entered at the point God spoke. Now we are in a far more privileged position, we have the Holy Spirit indwelling all the time, but that Spirit is still as sensitive to the Word of God as it was in Ezekiel's time.
We sometimes get the idea that Christians fall into a couple of different camps, those that are spiritual airheads, and the dry stuffy Bible-worms. This is absolutely not the way it works, or it shouldn't be. If you want more Spiritual heat and further, spend more time reading God's word. Do you want a better, deeper understanding of scripture? Then spend more time praying to the God that wrote it! As we saw this morning, the New Testament especially is a set of information about the message, the message is the Lord Jesus Christ, you cannot get the message other than through your relationship with Him.
The other point is that Ezekiel heard. God doesn't try to keep us in the dark. He wants us to know he has communicated.
Before I get on to the meat of this verse I should probably take a moment just to note this phrase, Son of Man. In is an absolute characteristic of Ezekiel, it occurs more than 90 times, almost half the total number of appearances in the Bible. And of course the other person commonly referred to by this name is the Lord himself. I don't think this is an accident, the other characteristic of Ezekiel is how entwined he becomes with his ministry and how he experiences for himself many of the deprivations that will happen to the people he has been sent to. Of course the Lord was the ultimate example of this, when he not only took on the suffering that we would naturally take on, but he took it on instead of us, rather than as well as us.
But back to the topic: Ezekiel was about to be sent. He was going to become, if you will, a missionary. But the interesting thing about Ezekiel's sending is that it didn't actually involve him going anywhere. Ezekiel was a Jew, probably even a priest. He was living in Babylon along with the rest of the second wave of exiles. And lo and behold that happened to be exactly the group of people he was sent to! How fortunate! I'm being facetious of course but I'm doing it to make a point. Ezekiel was about to be sent by God, but God has already place him where he wanted him. The same is probably true of you and I. Overseas mission is superb and it is great that some of us are called to that. But by default we should assume that we have been sent to where God has placed us. And we should remember that we have been sent here.
If you want to see a mission field go a walk down 3rd avenue, I'm serious, try walking down it rather than driving through it! We know that the house nearest us had two needy souls in it. I wonder about the next house? And the house beside that? Why is it that we readily feel a burden to pray for spiritual growth thousands of miles away but feel almost no urgency to go and visit the people God has place on our doorstep?
The remainder of this verse probably gives us the answer. Israel was in rebellion, and so is this nation. Rebellion is a very specific word, it implies that previously there had been a degree of subjection. Possibly the signs of the subjection were still there, but the reality was rebellion. Some of the evidence is so commonplace we don't even notice it today. If you hear that someone is divorce and remarried, if you hear of a couple living together, if you hear of homosexuality, do you even bat an eyelid? 150 years ago you would have stiffened in shock, 2000 years ago you would have reached for the stones to end the problem for two of those, today we at most raise an eyebrow. They do it and we are used to it. But that is the kind of people that Ezekiel had been sent to and in all probability there are people like that today that God would like us to go to too.
I wonder how the people outside would react to being described as impudent children? The word impudent also appears in Prov 7, there it is used of a wanton adulteress that seduced gullible youths. The impudence referred to her face, anyone that has raised naughty children knows the look. It is that look that shows the child clearly knows right from wrong but they have chosen to do wrong because they are certain they can get away with it. This form of impudence really comes in two forms, warm and cold. Warm impudence is what happens when your relationship with someone is so strong that they know they can wriggle around you. Cold impudence is when your relationship with someone is so weak they really don't care whether or not they can wriggle around you. This phrase stiff hearted clearly shows us that what we have here is cold impudence. God doesn't stop us so why should we stop?
Now look at the message, 'Thus saith the Lord'. We hear again and again about personal evangelism. And if that means that each person should be involved in evangelism, and that our lives should measure up to what we preach then I am all for it. But if it means we try to win people by showing them how nice we are and then try to wean them onto the bits of the word of God that we think they might find acceptable then I think we've missed the ball. In England you will hear about non-threatening evangelism is a bit like non-fattening chocolate cake, it may look the job but it doesn't do the job. We have a message, we saw this morning that the message is the Lord Jesus Christ, how dare we presume to believe that we are more acceptable, and more profitable for people to know, than Him.
If you really get hold of this verse it will release you from a huge burden and make you a far more effective evangelist. It is real simple but our minds really have a problem accepting it. "They, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear". God has sent Ezekiel with a mission but Ezekiel is not in any way to be judged by whether or not people respond to the message. If they don't respond it is because they are rejecting God, not Ezekiel. Let me repeat it, if we are faithful in putting forth Gods word then there is no blame attached to us if people do not respond, equally there is not merit attached if people do respond. Ezekiel was, and we will be, judged simply on the basis of how faithfully he told for the message, not upon the response.
Beautifully, God gives Ezekiel a promise. If Ezekiel tells forth Gods word then people will know that that is what he is doing. Doesn't say they'll like it, doesn't say they'll do it, but they will know what is happening. I've said before, when I'm preaching the Gospel, if someone is saved, or someone walks out, I consider it a hit, anything else is a miss.
One of the reasons we are often ineffectual evangelists is fear. I believe it is true of us and from this verse we can probably intuit that it would have been true of Ezekiel given half a chance. But he wasn't, be not afraid of them. I think this is quite literal, he was about to challenge people, he could easily suffer physical abuse. He could also suffer verbal abuse, that is the second part, neither be afraid of their words. Look into your own heart, how many times this week could you have said something to further the Gospel if only you hadn't worried about what the other person was going to say, or how they were going to react.
Of course it is fine to say that we shouldn't fear, but how do we actually stop ourselves from doing it. Well the first step in conquering any fear is working out what it actually is that you are afraid of, and we find in the latter half of the verse that this is precisely what God goes on to tackle. Though briars and thorns be with thee. Briars and thorns occur frequently is the prophecy of Isaiah, they represent barrenness. In fact in Isaiah they are seen as a curse that God will bring upon the land. There they are almost certainly literal, in Ezekiel I suspect they are rather more metaphorical. In Judges 8 Gideon declares that when he gets hold of his enemies he will tear them with briars and thorns. So whilst briers and thorns suggest a natural peril they are often exacerbated by the malicious intentions of those around. And isn't this often what motivates us towards fear, the landscape around us, cultural if not physical, seems tough. Particularly in America life is great whilst you have the money to deal with it, but it isn't a particularly good place to be poor. So we fear the barrenness around and then we fear the threat for the more malicious people we dwell amongst.
But the real fear of thorns comes from something else, look at the next clause, "thou dost dwell among scorpions". The real fear of the prick you get from the thorn is that you wonder if a scorpion has just struck you. The initial pain of both is very similar you have to wait, if the pain intensifies to the point of agony and you get a fever and you die it was a scorpion, if it doesn't it was just a thorn. The vast majority of the time in turns out to be a thorn but wasn't the waiting to find out nerve wracking. Often our reaction to a thorn prick is not actually a reaction to the thorn but a reaction to the fear of a scorpion. So here is my question, the next time you are being tested, or if you have a thorn in the flesh to quote Paul, are you going to react as if you've got a thorn or react as if you have a scorpion. Notice what Ezekiel was told, the thorns will be with him; the scorpions will be around him. As New Testament believes we have the same promise, nothing can actually harm us in any important sense; we are scorpion immune, so we really don't need to fear.
One last lesson before we leave this section. The thorns cause the pain but it is the briers that tend to immobilise us. I don't know if you have ever fallen into a briar patch, I have. As I landed in there I expected agony, it didn't come, there were a few prickles but nothing I couldn't deal with. The problem came when I tried to move, the briars had enfolded me and I was tangled, every time I tried to move a limb the thorn would go from being a prick to being a tear. Yet I had to move or spend the rest of my life in a brier patch. This is the challenge to Ezekiel and that is the challenge to us. Moving hurts, but God wants us to be standing and active and moving and only by doing that will we ever break free of the briers.
The verse continues ... even amidst the briers we should not be afraid of their words, and the new twist, neither be dismayed at their looks. We are very good at reading people, years of training have taught us to read body language and if people are not interested we back off, we don't want to upset them. Look at the command to Ezekiel, don't let the body language put you off, we have a job to do, a message to dispense and we should dispense it. Their disinterest is due to their rebelliousness; we should not compound their rebelliousness by being rebellious ourselves and not delivering the message.
This is a kind of top & tail verse. In verse 4 we were told that we should speak from God, in verse 7 it is driven home that it is his very words that should be used. Scripture. Anecdotes and cutesy stories may be interesting, personal testimonies may carry emotional weight, but ultimately the only weapon we have is the word of God. Some people will accept that for adults but then we water it down for children. This is a mistake; young minds soak up information like a sponge. When Matthew finishes one of his Bible reading courses I check over his test results, it is scary how often I have to fish out my Bible to check his answer. They will remember what we tell them, is what we tell them worth remembering?
Now we get another switch. Ezekiel had his commission, he was to go to his own people and not change his actions based upon their response. Now in this verse he is told to be careful not to change his actions based upon their response. Hang on, that is exactly the same as before! Yes but in a different way. One danger is that we will back down because of other peoples reaction, the bigger danger is that we will actually begin to become more like them. What use will we be to rebellious people if we loose our distinctiveness? One of our keys distinctive characteristics should be our obedience to God.
So how do we avoid this? Four steps are provided in this verse. Step 1, understand that God is communicating with you. That may seem obvious but take hold of it. God saved us, one day we will be with Him, and we tend to assume we're on our own until then. This is not true, God has a plan for every minute of every day of our lives and he wants to communicate it to us. Think about that, God has a plan for you for tomorrow morning. Do we know what it is? Do we want to know what it is?
This brings us onto Step 2. hear. God talks to us, but are we listening. If we are listening are we acting upon what we hear? I wonder how many opportunities we let run by us because we don't take the time to find out what God wants us to do?
Step 3. Open thy mouth. We tend to associate an open mouth with talking, that can actually reduce what we hear. Whilst the picture here is literal for Ezekiel it is really metaphorical for us. He was to receive the word of God and eat it. He had to open his mouth both the show, and to be, receptive to what he was about to get. Similarly, if we want to follow Gods commandments then we have to be receptive, but we also have to show receptiveness. How eagerly do we embrace the direction God has for us? If we think he wants us to do something do we do it eagerly and with our whole heart or do we drag our feet hoping that the responsibility will go to someone else?
Finally Step 4. Eat. Internalise. This is an expression that has been on my mind and on my lips for a few months now. We have read God's word; we may even have learnt it. But have we internalised it? Has it become an inherent and indispensable part of our character? This is what the Lord meant when he said we were to feed on him. We have heard many wonderful messages this year, but have we actually done anything about them. We may be able to tell people what we have learnt but are we able to show them what we have learnt. In fact are we unable not to show them?
Once we have tackled those four steps we find the fifth. Look. We all pray, we all say God answers prayers, but how actively do we look for answers? How actively do we actually look for guidance? Ezekiel looked, and having looked he then beheld. Focussed to use a modern expression. When we see God moving, or communicating does it hold our entire focus or do we allow things to distract us? Here a hand was sent. Interestingly it doesn't refer to the body attached, I'm sure there was one but the bearer of the book was in service. He had almost disappeared it was the hand he was lending that was noticeable. What turned up was a scroll.
There is much speculation in the literature as to what this book is. Some wonder if it was the 7 sealed scroll of Rev 5. Or perhaps the little book of Rev 10, which was also eaten and had a similar sweet taste. Well I don't think it was the book of Rev 10 but I think it was similar. In Rev 10 we saw a book that told forth the purposes of God yet to come upon the earth. In Ezekiel I believe we see a book which told forth the purposes of God yet to come upon the Jew. And it was unrolled, the one in Rev 10 wasn't. Some of the things to happen, especially to the gentiles are not really shown to us, the fate of the Jew is described in great detail in the Old Testament. Notice too that this book was written within and without. Why? Well the standard answer you will hear is that it was to show how overflowing the message of the book was. Personally I find it very difficult to believe that the creator and sustainer of the universe had run out of paper. The key comes later in the verse. It was written within with lamentations and mourning and woe. The paper had two sides because there were two sides to the future. The only piece Ezekiel was shown was the inside, the other portion remained hidden.
So what was written, lamentations, mourning and woe. You really have three different tenses of a very similar thing. A lament is verbal, it suggests the reason for the lamentation is known, and it also suggests that the fate, whilst potential final has not been accepted. Lamentation is very much present tense. Mourning is past tense. You mourn for something when there is not chance of it returning. Woes tend to be a warning. You do sometimes get 'woe is me' which feels like present tense but when you dig further you usually find it is woes is me for something bad is about to happen.
When we look at the fate of the non-believer this is what we see, the troubles the have behind them, the troubles they are living through and the torment to come. How can we possibly be immune to this? Usually by ignoring it. Ezekiel was about to internalise, to eat, to get a belly full to misuse the vernacular, of the problems that his audience were going to face. In fact you will find that this was very much Ezekiel's ministry, he had to suffer much physically, he entered into their sufferings. As we saw Ezekiel is often referred to as son of man, and it was in this role, as a type of the Lord that he did this.
We are not told what the other side of the page contained, but reading the book of Ezekiel we get a hint. Ezekiel is really in two parts, lamentations and mourning and woe up until the fall of Jerusalem. Then you get the promise of the future, including Eze 37 which is the famous passage about the resurrection of the dry bones.
We don't have time to go there but if you read on you'll find Ezekiel ate the book. It must have been a daunting prospect when he thought of the lamentations and mourning and woe he was about to consume. But he found it was sweet.
As we progress through the summer I'm sure there will be opportunities and trials. We are with the briers and thorns, we are among scorpions, the book we have to eat does not look that appetizing. But if we are faithful and go forward the result will be sweet.
Let us pray the God will give us the grace and strength to follow him wherever he leads us.