171015 Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32

Last Updated on Sunday, 15 October 2017 Written by Pastor Pagels

Text: Ezekiel 18:1-14, 25-32
Theme: The Way Of The Lord Is Just

Does the name Mike Rowe ring a bell? For about a decade Rowe was the face of a Discovery Channel program called Dirty Jobs. The show aired footage in which the host performed difficult, strange, and sometimes messy occupational duties alongside the regular employees.

Here are just a few of the dirty jobs Mike Rowe did over the years: beekeeper, stump grinder, coal miner, hot tar roofer, sewer inspector, reptile handler, chimney sweeper, and my personal favorite, shark suit tester.

Some of these jobs are dirtier than others. Some of these jobs are more dangerous than others. But they all have one thing in common. They aren't easy. And if the difficulty of the job is what qualifies something as a "dirty job," I have one more to add to the list: Old Testament prophet.

Ezekiel was a prophet of God. He had a direct line of communication with God. But that didn't make his job easy. The Lord had given Ezekiel the difficult task of warning the people that God's wrath was about to be unleashed on the nation of Judah.

When Ezekiel wrote the words of our text, Judah was already under the control of the Babylonians. King Nebuchadnezzar had invaded the land from the north and carried some of the people (including Ezekiel) into exile, but the worst was yet to come.

The Lord instructed Ezekiel to predict the fall of Jerusalem. He prophesied that the city would be destroyed and that the temple would be burned to the ground, all because God's people had turned away from God.

When the people heard what Ezekiel had to say, they got defensive. They complained that God wasn't being fair. They claimed that they were being punished for the sins of their forefathers. They even went so far as to accuse God of being unjust.

The Lord listened, and then he responded. And what he said to and through Ezekiel applies to anyone who has ever entertained the thought that God wasn't being fair. In words inspired by God the prophet of God reaffirms this timeless truth...

THE WAY OF THE LORD IS JUST

I. The soul who sins is the one who will die
II. The sinner who repents is the one who will live

Today's text begins with a question, a question that leads to a number of other questions. The Lord asked: "What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: 'The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge'" (2)?

First, we need to decipher the proverb itself. If you have ever bitten into something sour, perhaps you experienced that strange sensation in your mouth. It's hard to explain. It's hard to put it into words. The English translation of the Hebrew expression is probably as good as any. The bitter taste sets a person's teeth on edge.

The next question is: If the fathers were the ones who ate the grapes, then why didn't they get the sour taste in their own mouths? Why were the children's teeth set on edge instead? And what was the meaning behind the taste transfer from father to child?

Apparently this was a well-known proverb in Israel (it appears again in Jeremiah 31:29), and it was a thinly veiled accusation against God. What the people were really saying is: "Lord, our ancestors were the ones who sinned against you, but we are being punished. They did the crime, but you are making us do the time. And that's just not fair."

It wouldn't be fair if it was true, but what the people were saying wasn't true. And the Lord let them know it. "'As surely as I live,' declares the Sovereign LORD, 'you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son—both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die'" (3,4).

God flatly rejected the idea that the people were being punished for the sins of their fathers, but he didn't stop there. In the twenty verses that break up our text (verses 5-24), the Lord used an extended illustration to emphasize the fact that he is a God of personal accountability.

The first man in the story was a devout believer. He had faith, and he lived his faith. He obeyed the law of the land and the law of the LORD. And the LORD said of him: "That man is righteous; he will surely live" (9).

The righteous man had a son, and you could say that the apple fell pretty far from the tree. In fact, the son was nothing like his father. He was violent, disobedient, and his father's goodness didn't do him any good. God said: "He will surely be put to death and his blood will be on his own head" (13).

The wicked son had a son of his own, but the third man didn't follow in his father's wicked footsteps. He was more like his grandpa. He trusted in God. He obeyed God. And instead of paying for his dad's evil deeds, his faith was rewarded. The LORD said: "He will not die for his father's sin; he will surely live" (17).

At the end of the story the Lord put an exclamation point on this three generation illustration. To avoid any confusion, to make it perfectly clear that God judges each person individually, he repeated the words with which the story began: "The soul who sins is the one who will die" (20).

"The soul who sins is the one who will die." That's the good news...and the bad news. It's comforting to know that God won't hold me accountable for something I didn't do. It's comforting to know that God will never require me to pay off my parent's debt. It's a comfort to know that the person for whom I am ultimately responsible is me.

But the more I think about that last statement, the less comforting it gets. As those words sink in, they confront my conscience with all kinds of questions, questions like: What about my sins? What about the times when I fall short of God's perfect standard? What about the times I fall flat on my face? What happens when I try to make excuses for my sins? What happens when I try to blame my friends or my parents or my children or maybe even God?

This is what happens. The Lord lays down the law. The Lord repeats those words again, but this time they don't sound very comforting at all: "The soul who sins is the one who will die." And because we are the ones who are guilty, we deserve to die.

Confronting people with their sin was a dirty job, but someone had to do it. The Lord gave that difficult task to Ezekiel, but that wasn't the prophet's only job. He gave the people a stern warning, but he also gave them a promise, the same promise God gives you and me: The sinner who repents is the one who will live.

The text continues (with God speaking): "You say, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' Hear, O house of Israel: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it; because of the sin he has committed he will die. But if a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life. Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live; he will not die. Yet the house of Israel says, 'The way of the Lord is not just.' Are my ways unjust, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust" (25-29)?

No matter what God did, no matter what God said, the people still found a reason to complain. And the Lord was tired of it. He was tired of arguing with the people. He didn't want to fight with them. He wanted a relationship with them. He didn't want them to make excuses. He wanted them to make a change. To summarize God's will in a single word, the Lord wanted his people to repent:

"O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. 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. Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live" (30-32)!

The Hebrew word that is translated "to repent" literally means "to turn." And that gives us a good picture of what repentance is. God calls sinners to turn away from their sin and turn to him for forgiveness. It sounds pretty simple, but it's not. Asking sinners to turn from their sin is like asking a driver to turn a car without a steering wheel. It can't be done. So why would God ask us to do the impossible? Why did God plead with his people to turn away from their offenses? Why did he tell them to get a new heart and a new spirit?

Because the spirit God asks his people to get is the Spirit God himself freely gives. The Holy Spirit comes to us through the Word. He convicts us of our sin. He creates faith in our hearts. And he leads us to repentance.
Repentance should never be viewed as something we have to do to fix our broken relationship with God. When we repent of our sins, we are humbly acknowledging what God has done to restore our relationship with him. We express sorrow for the sins of the past, and we express our desire to serve God in the future.

Maybe the people had a point. It wasn't the point they were trying to make, but there was some truth to their claim that the way of the Lord wasn't just. The way God deals with us isn't fair. If God was just, there would be no forgiveness. If God treated us the way we deserve to be treated, there would be no second chances.

The ultimate injustice is that God made his sinless Son take our place. Jesus didn't receive a fair trial. Jesus didn't get what he deserved. He was punished for our sins. He suffered in our place. He willingly sacrificed his life for us because he wants us to live, because he wants us to live with him forever.

And so the next time someone complains to you that God isn't being fair, the next time you hear someone make the accusation that the way of the Lord isn't just, you can respond by saying something like this: "I totally agree. I know that God isn't fair. I know that God doesn't treat me as my sins deserve. And for that I am forever grateful."

When we hear about all the dirty jobs that people do, there is probably a part of us that's thankful because that means we don't have to do them. But there is another reason for us to be grateful. We give thanks for the people who perform those thankless tasks because the rest of us benefit from what they do. Like Ezekiel.

Ezekiel was a prophet of doom and gloom. He warned the people that judgment was on its way. His job wasn't easy, but he did it. He did it because it was a message God's people needed to hear. And God's people continue to benefit from his inspired words today. This morning the Lord comes to us through Ezekiel and says: "My way is just. My word is clear. The soul who sins is the one who will die, but the sinner who repents is the one who will live." Amen.

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