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Author:Rev. Mendel Retief
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:Christ appoints watchmen in His church
Text:Ezekiel 3:16-21 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Preaching
 
Added:2014-11-19
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Old Book of Praise (2004)

Ps. 28: 4, 5

Ps. 50: 8, 11

Ps. 122: 2, 3

Ps. 134: 1 – 3

Ps. 77: 7

 

Scripture reading:       Ezekiel 3: 1 – 27; 33: 1 – 20

Text:                         Ezekiel 3: 16 – 21

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Watchmen of the Church                  

Old Book of Praise (2004)

Ps. 28: 4, 5

Ps. 50: 8, 11

Ps. 122: 2, 3

Ps. 134: 1 – 3

Ps. 77: 7

 

Scripture reading:       Ezekiel 3: 1 – 27; 33: 1 – 20

Text:                         Ezekiel 3: 16 – 21

 

Beloved congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ,

 

The prophets of old had to proclaim God’s Word.   Whatever God told them, they had to speak.

A prophet was never allowed to speak his own word.

It was not the prophet’s choice what he wants to tell the people.

 

Nor were the prophets allowed to pick and choose from God’s Word, or to proclaim to the people what they would like to hear.   Instead, the prophets often had to bring a message which they found very hard to proclaim.   They often had to proclaim a message which the people did not want to hear.

The Lord continued to call His people back from their sinful ways, and it was not easy for the prophets to proclaim these messages of warning and admonition.   It was not an easy task, especially when the majority of God’s covenant people rejected the warnings and admonitions, and persecuted the prophets for the words they spoke. 

 

The faithful prophets continued steadfastly to speak God’s word, even when it was clear that the people did not want to hear the word.   They spoke God’s Word even when they knew that the message is not making them popular among their own people, and that they face rejection and persecution.

 

But there were also false prophets.

The false prophets preached what the people wanted to hear.   While the true prophets came with lots of warning and admonition, the false prophets proclaimed nothing but peace and comfort.

 

Now, that was also the case in the time of Ezekiel.   The Lord made him a watchman for the house of Israel.  

Our text, here in chapter 3, was written when the first captives of Judah were already in exile in Babylon, and Ezekiel has to preach to these exiles.  

One would think that the exiles in Babylon need to hear nothing but comfort, yet, Ezekiel has to warn and admonish and correct them, even there in their terrible state in Babylon.

 

And therefore the Lord says: I made you a watchman for my church.

To understand this image we have to picture in our mind the task of a real watchman in olden days; a watchman on a city wall.

Jerusalem had a high and strong wall to protect it.   If an army would draw near to attack, the people could flee into the city, close the gates, and defend the city from their fortified position.   There was not much that the enemy could do in such a case, except if they were able to besiege the city for many months, or even years.   And thus the city with its high fortified wall was, humanly speaking, quite safe from almost any attack.

 

But, there was one exception.   If the enemy could make a surprise attack and enter the city before the gates are closed, the enemy could then take the city from the inside.

And for this reason the city needed watchmen.

 

The watchmen were placed on the city walls so that they could see far and wide.   If a watchman would see horsemen appearing on the horizon, charging towards the city, he would make alarm.   He would blow loud and long on a horn.   Then everyone who hears the horn would flee into the city as fast as they could, and the gates be closed, and the city be safe.

 

Now, brothers and sisters, the LORD has indeed appointed watchmen for the safety of His church.    That will be the theme of the preaching this morning:

Christ appoints watchmen in His church

 

We will note…

  1. The task of the watchmen
  2. The accountability of the watchmen
  3. Our response to the watchmen

In the first place we note…

The task of the watchmen

 

The Lord said to Ezekiel:

 

“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from my mouth, and give them warning from Me.   When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.”

 

The watchman had to do two things.   First he had to hear what the LORD says, and then he had to proclaim that word to whom the LORD sends him.   And in this case the word which he has to proclaim is a word of warning.

 

At the beginning of chapter 3 we read how the LORD gave Ezekiel a scroll to eat.   That scroll symbolised the Word of God.   He had to receive the scroll from the LORD’s hand and eat it.

 

“Son of man, feed your belly, and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you…” – verse 3

 

He had to make the LORD’s Word his own; he had to feed on it and fill himself with it.   And then, after he had eaten this scroll and filled himself with it, the LORD commands him:

 

            “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them.” – verse 4

 

He had to speak God’s words to them.  

Ezekiel, you may not go to My people with your own word.

Speak to them only what I say.

And so, in order to be a watchman in the church, he must first listen carefully to what the LORD says.   He must first eat the scroll and fill himself with that Word.

 

It reminds us what the apostle Paul said to Timothy:

 

“All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3: 16, 17)

 

Ministers of God’s Word need to eat the Scroll.   They need to study God’s Word and make it their own and be filled with it.

Nor can any other office bearer in the church serve faithfully if he has not eaten the Scroll, and if he’s not filled with it.

 

That was Ezekiel’s first task: feed your belly and fill your stomach with this scroll that I give you, go then to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them.  

 

And again the LORD says to him:

 

“Son of man, receive into your heart all My words that I speak to you, and hear with your ears.   And go, get to the captives, to the children of your people, and speak to them and tell them: ‘Thus says the LORD God,’ whether they hear or whether they refuse.”

 

All the emphasis is on hearing God’s Word first, and then to administer to the church nothing else but God’s Word.   Go to them and say: “Thus says the LORD God”.

 

That is then the task of the watchman:  hearing God’s word, and administering God’s Word.

 

It is as simple as that, and yet, it is never easy.

 

Ezekiel was not the only watchman.   All God’s prophets had the same task.   Also Isaiah and Jeremiah speak about the prophets in general as being watchmen.  

 

Now, Ezekiel, preaches to the captives in Babylon.   Here in chapter 3 many Jews were already taken captive, the Babylonian exile has already started, but Jerusalem was not yet destroyed.   In that time many false prophets prophesied in the Name of the LORD, saying that Babylon will soon fall and that all the captives will return very soon, even within two years time (Jeremiah 28 and 29).   But, these false prophets did not get their pep talks from the LORD.   It was their own self-invented message.   It was a message which the people wanted to hear.   They reckoned that, in these circumstances, the people need to hear only comfort and need to be encouraged, and so they proclaimed only peace, but their message was not from the Lord.

Yes, the false prophets preached what the people wanted to hear.

 

While the false prophets proclaimed that the Babylonian exile will last less than two years, and that all will soon be well again, the prophet Jeremiah prophesied that the Babylonian captivity will last seventy years!   And do you know what the people of Jerusalem did with Jeremiah when he proclaimed this word from the Lord?    They beat him and persecuted him and mocked him and cursed him!  

His message was not popular.   Moreover, there were a multitude of false prophets who said all will be well; why would they then listen to the warning word of one man?

 

While Jeremiah and Ezekiel came with a very unpopular message of warning, calling the people to repentance, all the false prophets where proclaiming peace.  

And thus it was not easy to be a faithful watchman in these circumstances.   Because: the people did not want to hear their message.  

Jeremiah says:

 

            “…Everyone of them curses me.” – Jer. 15: 10

 

Jeremiah found it very hard to be a watchman, to proclaim the warnings and admonitions to people who do not want to hear the message.   It was so hard for him to be a watchman in these circumstances that in the end he cursed the day he was born – Jer. 20.   He says:

 

“…I am in derision daily; everyone mocks me.   For when I spoke, I cried out; I shouted, ‘Violence and plunder!’   Because the word of the LORD was made to me a reproach and a derision daily.” – Jer. 20: 7, 8

 

Everyone cursed him and mocked him.   Why?

Because: the people did not want to be admonished, and they did not want to be warned.   All they wanted to hear was comfort and peace, and so they gathered for themselves many false prophets who would tell them what they want to hear.  

 

And for some reason these false prophets always outnumbered the true prophets.   And they had a popular message: all is well, don’t fear, nothing will happen to you, everything is okay!

These false prophets proclaimed: “Peace, peace!” while the LORD Himself was declaring judgement and punishment. 

 

The LORD, speaking about these false prophets, says:

 

“They continually say to those who despise Me, ‘The LORD has said, ‘You shall have peace’; and to everyone who walks according to the dictates of his own heart, they say, ‘No evil shall come upon you.’” – Jer. 23: 17

 

So then, it is now during this time that the LORD calls Ezekiel to be a watchman for the house of Israel.  

And Ezekiel, just like Jeremiah, finds it very hard to proclaim to the people warnings and admonitions, while the false prophets are all proclaiming peace.

 

But the LORD tells Ezekiel that these false prophets will be cursed:

 

“…because they have seduced My people, saying, ‘Peace!’ when there is no peace…” – Ezekiel. 13: 10

 

So then, while the prophet Jeremiah continues his unpopular message in Judah, Ezekiel has to bring the same message of admonitions and warnings to those Jews who were already in exile.  

And that is where our text starts.  

For a week Ezekiel sits there in the midst of the captives astonished and silent.   He was not very happy to be given this task.   We read in verse 14:

 

            “…I went in bitterness, in the heat of my spirit…”

 

It was not an easy task to go and admonish a stubborn people who refuse to listen, and who persecutes those who admonish them.  

But the LORD tells him: you have to do this.   I appoint you as a watchman, son of man.

 

These words, son of man, refer to the fact that God does not call an angel, but a mere man, a son of Adam.   He gives this responsible task to a man who, in himself, is only flesh.

 

So then, what must Ezekiel do?   The Lord says:

 

“…I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me.   When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand.

 

He must warn the wicked among God’s covenant people in order to save their lives.   He must also exhort and admonish the righteous to persevere in righteousness:

 

“…when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand.

Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul.”

 

The task of the watchman is then not only to warn the wicked and to call wayward members back from their sinful ways in order to save their lives, but also to warn the righteous to keep the way of righteousness, and to caution the righteous lest they stumble and fall.  

The watchman has to guard and warn for the sake of all the people of God’s household – the wicked and the righteous, the backslider and the one who stands.

He may not flatter the wicked, but he may also not flatter the righteous.  

In both cases he has to bring the word of God’s covenant; both promise and obligation.   He has to proclaim the blessing and the curse – blessing to those who believe and obey; curse to those who break God’s covenant and turn aside. 

 

Even the righteous needs to be warned, lest he falls away.

 

Yes, the watchman is accountable to God for the very souls of God’s people.

We note that in the second place…

The accountability of the watchmen

 

When the watchman fails to warn, the LORD will require the blood of those who perish from the hand of the watchman!

The Lord will hold the watchman responsible for their death.

Yes, he will be responsible for their eternal damnation!

 

When the LORD repeats this phrase, “his blood I will require at your hand”, He uses the same expression as in Gen. 9: 5, where He said:

 

“…for your lifeblood I will demand reckoning; from the hand of every beast I will require it, and from the hand of man.   From the hand of every man’s brother I will require the life of man.”

 

In that passage the Lord speaks about murder.   When a man is murdered by the hand of a murderer, God will avenge his blood.   God will require his blood from the murderer.

 

And now the LORD uses that same language here in our text, and says: “his blood I will require at your hand”.  

If the watchman fails to warn, he will be held responsible for the death of those who perish!

He will be counted a murderer of the souls of God’s people if he does not warn and admonish – if he does not warn both the wicked and the righteous to keep God’s ways.

 

Brothers and sisters, this is an awfully solemn word to the watchmen of the church; also to the elders whom He appointed as overseers over the flock.

 

You, elders of God’s flock, know that the Lord has entrusted the souls of His people in your hands.   

Think for example of Hebrews 13: 17 where the apostle exhorts the church members to be submissive to the elders, and says:

 

“Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account…”

 

They watch out for your souls, as those who must give account!

 

Dear congregation, the elders are called overseers, appointed by God, to watch out for your souls.   And they must give account to God!    Therefore, in that same passage the apostle tells the congregation that they must not make the task of their overseers burdensome – Hebr. 13

 

This responsible task of being watchman in the church was not given only to Ezekiel.   The apostle Paul applies it to all ministers of the Word.   He also applies it to himself.   He speaks to the elders of Ephesus and makes a direct reference to this passage in Ezekiel, when he says to them:

 

“…I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all.   For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.   Therefore take head to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with his own blood.”

 

He says: I am innocent of your blood, because: I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.

The implication is that if he did shun to declare the whole counsel of God to them, he would have been guilty of their blood.  God would require their blood from his hand.

Yes, God would count him a murderer of souls if he kept silent when he should have been warning.   The reference is clearly to our text here in Ezekiel.

 

Now, the watchman is not responsible if the people refuse to be warned.   The watchman cannot force God’s covenant people to obey, and he cannot work faith in their hearts.  

The Lord does not require that the watchman must be successful, but that he must be faithful in his task.

 

The faithful watchman does not ask:

 

“What do the people want me to say?   What will go down best?   How can I make myself popular in the congregation?”

 

No, he first has to hear God’s Word, and then speak God’s Word, in season and out of season, convince, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and teaching.  

 

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.   But you be watchful in all things, endure affliction, do the work of a minister, fulfil your ministry. – 2 Tim. 4

The apostle Paul tells Timothy to preach only God’s Word, even when church people would not want to hear it.

 

Now, those prophets who failed to warn God’s people, who only said what the people wanted to hear – do you know what the Lord calls them?   Blind watchmen! 

He speaks of Judah’s watchmen, and says:

 

“His watchmen are blind, they are all ignorant; they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber.” – Isaiah 56: 10

 

There are many watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem, but they have become blind, ignorant, and silent.   There comes no warning from their mouth, they are vast asleep while the enemy invades the city!

 

Well, just imagine: a blind watchman on the city wall!   

The enemy is approaching, an army is drawing closer and closer, but there is no warning.   Finally the enemy enters the gates, and then, while the city is falling by the sword, the blind watchman is calling: Peace, peace!  All is well, all is well!

Another watchman is like a dumb dog that cannot bark – to use the Lord’s own words.

Another watchman is vast asleep even in the midst of the noise of war.  

Yes, imagine such watchmen on the city wall!

That is the image which the Lord uses when the watchmen refuse to proclaim His word of warning and admonitions.  

 

Yes, it would be terrible if a city would have such blind watchmen in a time of war, but it is much more terrible when this happens in the church.   When there are blind watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem. 

It is not just a matter of life and death; it is a matter of eternal life and eternal death!

 

The responsibility of the watchmen in the church is overwhelming. 

It is not just a matter of blood; it’s a matter of souls – to be lost by negligence, or to be saved by faithful admonition and warning when it is needed.

 

This word comes also to you, elders of Christ’s flock here in this church.   It is a solemn thing to be appointed an overseer and watchman in the church; to watch out for the souls of those whom the Lord has entrusted to your care.

 

But let us also note the responsibility of the congregation to listen to the sound of the trumpet when the watchmen signal warning.  

We note that in the last place…

Our response to the watchmen

 

Brothers and sisters, when the Lord warns us by the service of men whom He appointed as overseers in the church to watch out for our souls, watchmen who has to correct and admonish us, exhorting us to keep the way of righteousness, then the warnings and threats they administer to us may not be pleasant or popular, but – if it’s the Word of God – these warnings and admonitions are for our good; even to save our souls!

 

The Lord says to His people:

 

“…I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live…” – Ezekiel 33: 11

 

And here in our text he says:

 

“…if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning…” (verse 21)

 

He shall live, because he took warning!

 

Imagine a city that has faithful watchmen, but where the people refuse to be warned.   All is quiet and at peace, but suddenly one of the watchmen sees on the horizon an army approaching.   Immediately he blows on the horn – loud and long.  

Imagine that the people refuse to heed the alarm!  

Someone leans out of the window and starts shouting at the watchman:

 

            “What is all that noise for!?   Go blow your horn somewhere else!”

 

A lady throws her shoes at the watchman, shouting:

 

“Keep quiet, and allow us some rest, will you!” 

 

Yes, what will happen to such a city if they refuse to hear the sound of the trumpet?

The LORD said to Judah:

 

“…I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Listen to the sound of the trumpet!’  But they said: ‘We will not listen.’” – Jer. 6: 17.

 

Brothers and sisters, the Lord in His grace provides us with watchmen.

This time of the year new elders are being ordained in the churches.   God Himself, by His Holy Spirit, appoints them as overseers over His flock – Acts 20: 28.

They are to watch out for your souls.   Heed their instruction, even their admonitions and warnings, to remain on the road of righteousness.

They are gifts from Christ’s hand to His church (Eph. 4: 11), called and appointed by God.

 

When they blow the trumpet, it is not in order that we me know: we are going to die!

No, they blow the trumpet in order that we may live!

 

When they come on a home visit and exhort you, yes, maybe even admonish or rebuke you when necessary – when the sound of the trumpet makes you uncomfortable, when the Word of the LORD exposes your sins – don’t become angry with your elders and minister, but receive them.  

Don’t reject the Word of the LORD, but take warning, and live!

For: there is forgiveness as often as we hear and repent.

The Lord does not desire our death, but that we heed His Word, and live.

 

Therefore, receive those who administer God’s Word to you; for they are watching out for your souls.

Let us head their exhortations when they instruct us with the Word of Christ, and live.

 

We confess in the Canons of Dort, chapter 5, article 14 that God uses the preaching of His Word, not only to give us faith, but also to preserve us in the faith:

 

“Just as it has pleased God to begin this work of grace in us by the preaching of the gospel, so He maintains, continues, and perfects it by the hearing and reading of His Word, by meditation on it, by its exhortations, threats and promises, and by the use of the sacraments.”

 

There we confess that God does not preserve us by proclaiming to us only the promises of the gospel, but also by its exhortations and threats.

And God will not preserve us without these exhortations and threats.

 

Let us therefore not strive to gather for ourselves teachers to say what we want to hear, and to proclaim nothing but peace.   Let us rather receive from God’s hand the watchmen appointed by Him, and heed His Word.

 

Let us thank the Lord for His grace in giving faithful watchmen on the walls of Jerusalem, yes, also in this church.

 

Amen.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Mendel Retief, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright, Rev. Mendel Retief

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