16th Sunday after Pentecost
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
Ezekiel 33:7-9 Sermon
September 4, 2005
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
415 "Thee We Adore, Eternal Lord"
377 "Sinners Jesus Will Receive"
342 "In Christ There Is No East Or West"
478 "He Leadeth Me, O Blessed Thought"
WORDS YOU CAN TRUST
TEXT: (vs.7) "So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel; whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me."
Every day, you and I both hear and read about various things; and with this, we are called upon to make a judgment. We have to judge whether or not what we hear and read about is true or false. And so, we sort of go through a process of analysis, based upon what we already know to determine what is true or false.
For example, I'll make a statement, and I'll rely upon you to determine whether it is true or false. I'll say, "The moon is made of green cheese." True or false?
For those of you who might have said it is a true statement, you perhaps based it upon something you read in a children's fairy tale book, or something you heard from your mother when you were very young, or some other childhood source. And you have to admit, the texture of the moon looks like a nice slab of cheddar from a distance.
However, the rest of us who would determine that statement as being false, would do so based upon better evidence. Even though none of us have ever been to the moon, and we can't say first-hand that the moon ISN'T made out of green cheese, yet there is enough evidence to assure us that the moon is, in fact, NOT made out of green cheese. We would choose to believe the astronauts who have actually been there and collected soil samples and rocks; and for the majority of us, the testimony and witness of the astronauts would be far more convincing than some old wives' tale about the moon being made of cheese.
Unfortunately, not all cases are this simple. It isn't always easy for us to make an accurate determination between what's true and false. We live in a world that is filled with all sorts of superstitions, myths, half-truths, wives' tales, and strange notions. The shelves of alternative book stores are filled with various publications, each of which claim some sort of "new truth;" and the funny thing is, you'll find two books sitting on the shelf next to each other, each professing to be true, yet they completely contradict each other!
How do we end this confusion? What can we believe and what can we discard? Our text for today gives us the answer. For we can see that any word the Lord speaks, any word that is recorded for us in the Bible, any testimony and witness of the prophets, apostles, and evangelists of old, they will be the words that we can trust, absolutely and completely.
In our Old Testament lesson for today, here we see the prophet Ezekiel, who has been appointed as the watchman for the whole people of Israel. It was Ezekiel's job to receive the word of the Lord directly, and pass it along to the people. But most importantly, we see the type of words which receive special attention. These were the Lord's words of warning to the people.
Now you may be wondering, what were these people doing that needed such special words of warning?
All we need to do is take a brief look at the history of God's people to see a pattern that had developed in the early years; and that continuing in this pattern was going to lead to the eventual downfall of the people, which would happen in Ezekiel's lifetime. Their downfall would be because they followed false religions, instead of worshipping the one true God as he had directed.
Prior to Ezekiel's time, God's people had been divided into two kingdoms: the northern kingdom called Israel, and the southern kingdom called Judah. The northern kingdom had fallen a little over a hundred years before Ezekiel.
Why? It was because many in the northern kingdom of Israel decided to follow the Canaanite superstitions and practices. The southern kingdom of Judah should have learned their lesson from this. They should have heeded Ezekiel's warning, but they didn't. Instead, they were carried off into captivity by the Babylonians. God's people would be disciplined for their wrong, of course with the hope that they would turn away from their false religious practices, and turn to God once again.
But still, you might be tempted to ask, "What was going on that was so wrong? What did God find so detestable?"
People of that day and age were very serious followers of the occult and astrology. They were a very superstitious people. The heathen kings of that day had in their entourage an entire group of astrologers and practitioners of various forms of the occult and magic. Before a king would enter into battle, or have an important meeting or conference, he would consult this entourage of people for advice. They would then consult complex astrological charts and interpret other signs and omens to give the king advice on what to do.
Moreover, there was also a strong belief in reincarnation. They believed that when a person died, his or her soul would be born again into another body. If he did well, then his station in life would be improved; and if he did badly, his station in the next life would be somewhat more miserable than the last.
People were also into practicing the arts of magic, telling fortunes by any one of a number of elaborate means, and also acting as spirit mediums for contacting the dead. They were even in some more drastic measures offering human sacrifices to their heathen gods.
But the warning had been given by the Lord against such activity. Listen to the words of the Lord as recorded by Moses in Deuteronomy 18: "When you enter the land the Lord your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the Lord and because of these detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the Lord your God." Even with this warning, God saw his people sliding further and further into the heathen practices of the day.
Do you see a close parallel with what was happening then, with what is happening today? Think of the number of palm readers, and tarot card readers, and fortune tellers, and the many astrologers who cast horoscope after horoscope, and the number of newspapers and magazines who publish a daily or weekly horoscope. Think of the mediums who contact departed spirits. Think of those who admit to witchcraft and who advertise their ability to work magic and cast spells. We're not talking about the make-believe, fairy tale theme of a Harry Potter adventure either. No, this is something far more serious and deeper than that.
Just think of the people who blindly follow after such practitioners, eagerly hanging on to every word and buying every book that comes along. Think of the people that won't make a move unless they've consulted their horoscope. People spend literally thousands on having their own personal horoscope prepared especially just for them. In fact, just this past year it was estimated that over 1.2 billion dollars was spent on astrology and the occult. This translates into very big business indeed.
What's amazing too is that if you have your horoscope cast by two different astrologers, they're going to be completely different! To get an idea of the inconsistency of all this, just check the horoscopes against each other in several different newspapers. Which one is right?
I know of a lady who went to a medium who told her that she was a particular person in a past life during a certain period of time. She was all enthusiastic about this, until she went to another medium who told her she was someone entirely different during that same period of time! She was then more curious than ever, so she went to a third--and guess what? That's right, yet a third person in her past during that very same period of time! She got the message, loud and clear.
But the real question is why. Why do people go chasing after astrologers and mediums and practitioners of the occult? Why has this been happening for countless generations over thousands of years? Why did people spend over 1.2 billion dollars last year on astrology and the occult?
Quite simply it is because people seek answers. People have a strong "need to know" sense about them. And the sad part of all this, is that there will always be someone out there who will make up an answer to fill that need. All the new books and new truths that fill the shelves of the bookstores amount to little more than very old heathen ideas dressed up in new clothing.
This is the same sort of thing Ezekiel warns his people against, and the same thing the Lord tells the people through Moses. The Lord says that all of this is detestable to him, and he even repeats that word "detestable" twice for emphasis. The Lord doesn't want us to go chasing after astrologers and horoscopes, but come to him and only to him. The Lord doesn't want us to go chasing to the bookstore to buy someone's latest idea on supernatural truth, but go to his Word in the Bible. And it is there that he analyses us and gives us direction and hope for the future.
The Bible tells us that all people, regardless of who they are, are sinners. What that means, is that we have all made our share of mistakes. We've all done wrong. We aren't perfect. In fact, we are imperfect from the very beginning. What parent has ever had to teach their child to misbehave? They come by that quite naturally.
Now considering that we have a perfect God, how do we correct this situation? It is only through faith in Christ Jesus as our Saviour. God promises to forgive us if we admit our imperfections, if we don't try to make ourselves righteous or think that by being pretty good, then we'll be right. No, it's only through believing in Jesus our Saviour and believing that God loves us and forgives us because of Christ that we're put right with him.
And where does that leave us? Well for one thing, Jesus says that when we die, we will be with him in paradise. We don't have to worry about what we'll come back as in the next life, because our life on earth will be done. What kind of paradise would we have, if all we had to look forward to was to return here once again and face sickness, and heartache, and air pollution, and taxes? What kind of paradise or future hope could we find if we had to worry about whether we were going to come back as another person, or if we were going to come back as a toad or garden slug?
Jesus promises the believing Christian that we will be with him forever when we die, in a new and perfect environment which will be completely free of the ills of this world.
But what about now? God tells us that he knows us and looks after us, even to the point where he knows the very number of hairs on our head. He knows this world so well, that he even knows when a sparrow dies. We can be sure he looks after us, and that nothing will happen to us apart from his knowledge. He has our eternal good in mind all the time. Why do we need to go searching beyond that?
And how reliable are God's promises, you might ask? How do we know that we can trust him? In all the hundreds of prophecies God has made in the Bible, he has proven himself to be 100% accurate. Not one prediction God has ever made has failed to come true. If you compare that to the best astrologer in the world today, she only has a 23% accuracy record. So why not consult the only one who knows our future for sure, and has proven to be reliable all the time?
But people will still leave their Bibles sitting on the shelf collecting dust, and go buy the latest book on some new truth of the supernatural that someone has dreamed up, all trying in vain to discover what God has already said, and each trying to find the peace that is already there through faith in Christ Jesus our Saviour.
Which would you rather believe--someone who gets up and tells you the moon is made of green cheese, or would you believe the testimony of the astronauts who have been there? In a similar sense, would you rather base your philosophy of life on some wild ideas someone had, or on the testimony of God himself through Scripture? If you go following spiritists and mediums and astrologers, you might as well believe the moon is made of green cheese, for all the credibility they have.
But what about those people who seem to be accurate, or those who seem to be able to do magic or cast spells, or contact the dead spirits, or tell the future? Couldn't that be God working?
We find our answer in Revelation 16, 14: "For they are the spirits of devils, working miracles, which go forth unto the kings of the earth, and of the whole world."
So heed Ezekiel's warning. Don't seek your answers in the ways God describes as detestable, but accept them as he has given them to you. God's words are words you can trust.
The next time someone asks you what star you were born under, tell them "The star of Bethlehem." That's the star that announced the birth of your Saviour, that Saviour who has given you new life. Look to him in faith for your forgiveness and salvation.
So what's your horoscope for tomorrow? Instead of seeing what some astrologer says, let's see what God says. In Micah 6, 8 we read, "He has shown you, O man what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God." If you live by those words, now and every day, you'll never go wrong.