Dear people on watch,
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Here it comes! Look out! Duck! You give those warnings to people when you see something coming that may harm them. You don’t want them to suffer injury. Don’t touch! Stop that! You’re going to get hurt! Warning others is a part of living in community. It is a part of the Fifth Commandment: “You shall not murder. What does this mean? We should fear and love God so that we do not hurt or harm our neighbour in his body, but help and support him in every physical need.” We help by warning of danger that might bring them physical harm.
How cruel it is to sit by silently when you see danger approaching just so that you can witness someone fall, or get hurt. I confess that sometimes these videos come up on the internet where people are pranked or trying some silly stunt, and I can’t hold back my laughter at the outcome. But even in my own dark cruel streak, there are some of those videos that make me cringe, and I want to call out a warning (sometimes I do), because I really don’t want to see anyone seriously injured.
The LORD explained to the prophet Ezekiel, if the city hires a watchman and he sees an army coming to attack the city but does not sound the alarm, the watchman will bear the guilt for every injury that occurs because of the attack (Ezekiel 33:1-6). Indeed, should the city survive in some way, there will surely be a sentence imposed on the watchman who did not sound the alarm to warn the people. And whether the city survives or not, the LORD promises that He will exact retribution from that watchman for all the blood that is shed in the attack. The LORD’s justice is inescapable.
But to highlight the point, the LORD said to Ezekiel, it is not the city who hired you to be a prophet. “I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from My mouth, you shall give them warning from Me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezekiel 33:7-8).
Ezekiel would not be permitted to stand by and watch the wicked suffer the consequences of their sins. He was not to watch with relish or for entertainment as the Lord’s justice was carried out even upon those who did wicked things and lived a wicked life and whom everyone knew to be wicked. No funny fails to sit back and enjoy, not even at the expense of the wicked.
For the LORD GOD takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live (Ezekiel 33:11). Out of unmerited grace and mercy, the LORD desires to save even the wicked. He does not want to lose them, not even one of them, not even the worst of them. That is why He gave Ezekiel to the people. He gave them the gift of a watchman, to warn them from their wickedness, to sound the alarm if he should see them depart from the word of the LORD, to give them warning from their loving God and Saviour whenever he heard a word from the mouth of their gracious God.
Jesus repeated much the same thing to the disciples when He said, “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother,” that is, if he repents of his sin you have saved him for eternal life. And as is often Jesus’ fashion, He ramps it up even more. Whereas the prophet Ezekiel was simply told that if he warned the people and they did not repent it would not be charged against him, Jesus told the disciples that if one of them would warn their brother and he does not repent, then their job is not yet over.
They should take one or two others along with them. And if the brother still will not repent, then tell it to the gathered church. And if he still will not repent, then he is to be excommunicated, sent out from the community of believers so that it is clear to him that as long as he does not repent he is outside of the family of God, not one of the saved, doomed to eternal destruction and everlasting punishment by the hand of God unless he should turn from his wickedness in repentance and faith.
It is because God does not desire the death of the sinner, but rather that he turn from his wicked ways and live, that he has given us watchmen: like Ezekiel; like the disciples who are to show their brothers their sins; like the pastors He continues to call to speak His Word to the church; like parents who are to bring their children up in the knowledge and instruction of the Lord; like you, to warn your family, your friends, your neighbours, co-workers, your schoolmates, your community, your country.
Although the consequences of not speaking the warning are severe (their blood will be required at your hand), the blessings of their repentance are glorious. You will have gained your brother, not just as a friend, but as an eternal companion in everlasting life. You will have saved not just your life, not just his life, not just your very soul, but his also. The Lord will have worked through you to find His lost sheep and rejoice greatly over it (Matthew 18:13). The lost will have been found. The dead will be alive again (Luke 15:32). The wicked will be declared righteous. The angels will rejoice.
Everything necessary for the salvation of the whole world has been accomplished in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Because of the sacrifice of His divine life, everyone who repents of their sins has forgiveness and is given all the riches of salvation. We truly have a gracious God, who truly desires all people to be saved, and has truly suffered and died Himself in order that it may be.
Just as He has graciously borne all the punishment to redeem the world, so He has graciously sent out His word of warning to repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 3:2). “He gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds (pastors) and teachers” (Ephesians 4:11). He has given parents and grandparents and godparents. He has given friends and neighbours and citizens. He gives and gives and gives so that the wicked will not die in their sins.
You have been called by God to be a watchman. To stand on the battlements of His Word and to keep watch; to sound the alarm when temptation threatens to attack; to call to repentance those who fall into sin; to rescue from death and hell those who have fallen into wickedness, snatching them out of the fire. In the various vocations, to which God has called you, He has set you to be a watchman for your fellow man.
You don’t need to be a detective routing around in people’s garbage trying to find some dirt that you can rub in their face. Not even the great prophet Ezekiel did that. Rather, He listened to the Word of God and sounded the warnings as he received them. Your call to be a watchman is to watch the Word, not your neighbour. Watch the Word and speak to your neighbour.
The Word is received by you first, before you can speak it to others. In the Word is your word of warning and it comes to you by the mouth of those whom the LORD has placed to be your watchmen: parents, teachers, pastors, spouses, in no particular order because the warning is the Word of the Lord. Watch the Word and heed the alarm that sounds to call you to repentance, to snatch you from the eternal fire.
We have failed to be the watchmen that the LORD has called us to be. We have, rather, preferred to be entertained by the fails of others, to sit back and watch the drama unfold, as we take delight in their folly. We have decided to remain silent as we let our children choose their own path. We have been too ashamed of our God to have a talk with our neighbours and friends who go about their wicked ways. We are content to let our community and our country move consistently toward more overt paganism. We won’t even speak out against it by silent vote in a government election as we choose not only what will bring economic benefit, but also give people the most freedom to live in their sins.
We are well aware of the warnings in God’s Word but we don’t often sound the alarm to save our fellow man. “If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezekiel 33:8). We are guilty of our sins and of the blood of those who have died in their sins without our warning call to repentance. The LORD will require their blood at our hands.
But if we hear this warning cry coming to us today, from Ezekiel; if we heed the call to repent of our wicked delight in the failures of others, and our negligence toward our called responsibilities, and our lack of love that would proclaim a way of salvation to those around us who are caught in their wickedness; then their blood and ours will have its full accounting at the hands of another.
His hands are marked with the print of nails. His hands were pierced and bleeding. His hands were affixed to a cross where He gave His life for the sins of the world, for our sins, for all of our sins, for these particular sins. The LORD does not delight in the death of the wicked, but that he turn from his evil way and live (Ezekiel 33:11). Jesus said, “So it is not the will of My Father that one of these little ones should perish” (Matthew 18:14). It is not His will that you should perish or that any of those around you should perish.
The peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.