16th Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Dear friends in Christ, “No, no, no, you’re doing it all wrong…here let me show you.” How often have you heard those words? If we’re honest with ourselves each one of us has to admit that at some point we’ve probably heard words like those. About 2 years ago in my intern year I remember the first bible study I wrote. I spent at least 20 hours working on it. I handed it in to my supervising pastor and after looking at it he handed it back to me and said, “You’ll have to redo it. You wrote a good study for Seminary students. Instead of asking people what the theological significance of Jesus being called “the Word” in John 1, ask how it impacts their lives to know that God has communicated His love to us through Jesus.” Am I glad he told me I was wrong? Yea, because I know better how to make God’s word more meaningful to people instead of impersonal truths. Yet, how many of us really enjoy being told we’re wrong? Anyone? It’s not much fun, is it?
But many times when we are told we are wrong it is actually for our good. For example, you’re working on a project at work and you think it’s supposed to be done one way and a coworker comes along and tells you that you’re doing it wrong and shows you what you’re really supposed to be doing, well, then you’d appreciate their warning- they saved your job! Yet, sometimes we are told we are wrong when there’s danger involved those are called warnings. Just think about it. If you are golfing and someone yells, “Fore!” You duck down because you don’t want to be hit by a golf ball. Or if you’re standing in a street not realizing a semi is barreling down the road toward you, you are glad when someone warns you or the truck honks its horn. Same goes for a train whistle, or a smoke alarm in your home, there are warnings all around us to keep us from danger. Whether or not we admit it, we do all appreciate warnings because they keep us from danger.
God wanted the prophet Ezekiel to give a warning to the people of Israel. Ezekiel lived at a time in Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, when the nation had wandered far from God. Many people were wicked. What is it that made them “wicked”? Well, in Ezekiel 18 we’re given a sampling of who these “wicked” people are: “He eats at the mountain shrines. He defiles his neighbor’s wife. He oppresses the poor and needy. He commits robbery. He does not return what he took in pledge. He looks to the idols. He does detestable things. He lends at usury and takes excessive interest” (Ezekiel 18:11-13). Its people who lived in unrepentant sin and their sins were done in public for everyone to see. It’s these people whom God wanted Ezekiel to warn. To tell them that because of their unrepentant wickedness they would die. God’s warning to these people was serious and God’s warning to their watchman was just as serious.
Speaking to Ezekiel God said, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood.” Did you hear it? God is deadly serious about people listening to him and doing what He tells them. At the same time God is deadly serious about His watch men and women who speak God’s words of warning. If they know of someone’s sin and yet do nothing, don’t warn them, leave them in eternal danger, then God will hold the watchman accountable.
In our world God has set up three institutions to address people’s sin and God says He will demand an accounting from each. It is interesting that each one of our readings today addresses each. One is the government. God requires those in authority to govern wisely keeping law and order and punishing those who do evil. Everyone who has a position of authority in government will be asked to give a special accounting to God for the way they ruled. That’s why God directs us to give them honor and pay our taxes. God has also called people to positions of authority in the church. That includes the pastor. As your pastor you have called me to do certain forms of ministry publicly in your name and on your behalf. As a pastor it is part of my called duty to lovingly warn someone who is unrepentant and living in sin. God will ask me to give a special accounting. If I don’t warn someone who is stuck in sin, my silence condones that sin and God will hold me accountable for that sin. That’s why if you are stuck in a sin and I come and knock on your door to address that sin to you, don’t be upset because a. I’m doing my duty as a pastor and b. the warning is for your eternal benefit. Finally, God is also addressing all Christians (Matthew 18). It is the loving duty for every Christian to have the eternal welfare of their fellow Christians as a top priority. If someone you know is living in unrepentant sin, it is your loving duty to warn them. If you do not warn them your silence condones their sin, they continue on their path to eternal death, and God will demand an accounting from you as to why you didn’t warn them. This is serious stuff! When it comes to matters of eternal life or death- God is absolutely serious!
Yet, what if they don’t listen to our warning? Will God still hold us accountable? God says, “But if you warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.” You see, we are not held accountable whether or not the person listens to us; it is our job to warn someone, we are not responsible for the results.
But what does the devil like to whisper in our ears when we consider warning someone caught in sin? He says, “You’re going to warn someone? Why that’s just plain mean, cruel, hypocritical, narcissistic, and unloving! It’d sure be much easier to say nothing. It’d sure be easier to look the other way!” Yet, God’s words are words of warning for us too. God has in fact made us our brother and sister’s keeper. God has told us to love our neighbor as ourselves. God has told us the most loving thing we can do is to be concerned about someone’s eternal welfare. God wants us to speak the truth in love, to warn those in danger. It’s not cruel to lovingly and gently confront someone living in sin. Rather it is cruel, mean, and unloving to let someone continue on their path to hell!
But what is God’s point with all of this warning? Why is it important for us to speak God’s words of warning? Why is it important for us to see how serious God is that those stuck in sin be warned? What’s the purpose? It’s for the law to do its work: “Son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what you are saying: ‘Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?’” This acknowledgement of sin, this realization of complete inadequacy on our own before God, this repentance, is what God is looking for. God is serious about His warning because He is absolutely serious about His desire.
God says, “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?”
God made this oath and He backed it up. How? He backed this oath up by sacrificing His own Son Jesus Christ on the cross as the full payment of all sins of all time. He sent His Son to death for the life of the world. God is the only one who can provide the way out of eternal death. It’s God’s sincere desire that the judgment that is prepared for all those who have rejected Him, who obstinately live contrary to God’s Word, it is God’s desire that they turn, repent, and live. That they acknowledge their sinfulness and rely and trust in God for salvation. God’s arms are open wide. He has provided the forgiveness of sins and the free gift of life to all who trust in Him.
And that includes you! God has completely cleansed you from all of your sins, including those times when you and I have failed to properly warn someone caught in sin and those times when we have been caught in sin- God has forgiven you! And in His gracious love He includes you and me in His work of spreading this news, with the law to warn the unrepentant sinner and the gospel, the news of complete forgiveness in Jesus, to all who repent and turn from their ways. Are warnings a good thing? God’s warnings always are! Thank the Lord for His warnings of law. Thank the Lord for His life-giving words of Gospel! Amen.