Don’t Switch the Labels
Ezekiel 13:1 - 16
Ezekiel 14:12 – 23
Don’t Switch the Labels
Don’t switch the labels!
One of my favourite places in the world, is Bunnings.
It’s a sign of both the kindness and sovereignty of God, that he caused a Bunnings to be built just 2 minutes’ drive from our house!
The frequency of my visits to Bunnings, has been highlighted for me, by 2 things recently,
One is that our daughter Abby, who’s just turned 2, among her very first words, were “Daddy, Bunnings”, every time the family drove past.
She seems to think I work there!
And then on top of that, just last weekend, we were home in the afternoon, and I walked up to Jamie, who’s 4, and without me even opening my mouth, as soon as he saw me, he said “No, Daddy, I don’t want to go to Bunnings”!!
But one time I was there with my kids, we were looking at paint, and thinners, and all that kind of thing. And the kids were quite taken with some of the mineral turpentine, which, comes in all different, quite delicious looking colours! In fact I’ve seen people drinking sports drinks in exactly those same colours!
And it occurred to me, how dangerous it might be if someone were to switch the labels!,
To put the turps label on the drink, And I’m sure people would drink it, because that’s exactly what is looks like!
Now, I’m not suggesting anyone do this! I’m really not!
In fact it would be a terrible thing to do to another person, to take the label off some bottle of drink, and swap that label, with the label on the turps, that should say “Poison!, If you drink this go straight to hospital!,
Extreme risk of death!”
What an atrocious thing, to do to another person, to take something that leads to death, and to label it as harmless, or lifegiving.
False prophets are messengers of deception 13:1 - 16
And yet that’s exactly what the false prophets who we encounter in Ezekiel 13 have done.
Look at the beginning of chapter 13 with me. The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel who are now prophesying. Say to those who prophesy out of their own imagination: ‘Hear the word of the Lord!
These people claim falsely, to have a message from God for the nation, and in doing so, they’ve switched the labels.
They deceive God’s people, in 2 opposite ways.
First of all, through their false teaching, they’ve undermined God’s people, when they should have been building them up.
See there in verse 5, God says to these prophets, You have not gone up to the breaches in the wall to repair it, for the people of Israel, so that it will stand firm in the battle on the day of the Lord.
Here are men, who verse 3, follow their own spirit and have seen nothing, they have no word from the Lord, God has said nothing to them, they just speak, out of their own imagination.
But look at the situation they’re speaking into, God pictures Israel, like a city in ruins.
Well the people in a situation like that could really do with some help, couldn’t they?!
Here is a people who need to be built up,
God’s people need to be strengthened,
Their spiritual lives need reinforcing,
Their moral convictions need invigorating!
What a great opportunity for someone to speak God’s Word into that situation,
To see God’s people invigorated and restored, as the Word of God penetrates deep into their hearts and lives,
And yet these false prophets who claim to speak for God, well, they do the exact opposite!
They’ve switched the labels!
When they should be building up and encouraging, instead they offer lies and deception, and the people who are so desperately in need of spiritual and moral revitalisation are left helpless.
But secondly, these false prophets switch the labels in a second way, because they’ve also been offering false hope, when they should have been speaking a warning.
See God’s promise of judgment, in verse 10, they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash,
The people of Israel have hopes for their nation,
Hopes that the temple of God will be preserved,
Hopes that they’ll escape God’s judgment,
And these futile hopes are encouraged, with empty platitudes, which means the people are completely unprepared for what is about to come.
What a terrible thing, to lull someone into thinking they’re at peace with God, when in fact they’re about to face his judgment.
To make promises on God’s behalf, but promises that God has never made.
Where does that leave people? When God doesn’t fulfil, the promise that he never made.
The most distressing funeral I can recall being a part of, was for the wife of a church pastor. She had cancer, and her husband, and all their church friends, had clung to a promise of complete healing, a promise that God has not made. We have to wait for a new heaven and a new earth, before that becomes a reality.
But because someone had convinced these people, that God had spoken,
Then when what God had apparently promised did not come to pass, not only did they lose someone they loved, but an entire community of people came to the conclusion that God could not be relied upon to keep his word.
And if that’s what God is like, well, is it any wonder that the funeral was entirely without hope.
There is another way in which we see this today,
And that is the false teachers, who have effectively the same message as these leaders condemned and destined for judgment in Ezekiel 13,
These false teachers today, who say, “God will tolerate your sin.
God will accept you regardless.
There is no pattern of behaviour, or lifestyle, they say, that will put you under the judgment of God,
That will see you cut off, from among God’s people.
These false teachers are welcomed into churches,
Given platforms to speak from,
Invited to conferences,
All in the name, it seems to me, of seeking to offer an inclusive tolerant, loving, Christian message.
But it is not tolerant, to encourage people in sin that leads to death!
It is not loving, to say Peace,” when there is no peace,
It’s not caring for others, to switch the labels, and offer poison, as refreshment.
If anyone speaks a message offering peace with God on terms other than, through repentance and faith in Jesus, as the sole means for us to be reconciled to God, then that person, and those who believe and receive their message, will find themselves facing God’s righteous judgment.
And the picture of God’s judgment in Ezekiel 13 is horrific.
Their work will be destroyed, and them with it, verse 14.
Don’t switch the labels, and so put others and yourself, under God’s judgment.
Don’t seek God’s word only to ignore it 14:1 - 11
Similarly, God says to the people of Israel, don’t seek God’s Word, and then ignore it!
Look at the beginning of chapter 14, Some of the elders of Israel came to me and sat down in front of me. 2 Then the word of the Lord came to me: 3 “Son of man, these men have set up idols in their hearts and put wicked stumbling blocks before their faces. Should I let them inquire of me at all?
The leaders of the people, are having a bet each way.
They’ve come to hear what God has to say, but they’re simultaneously ignoring what God has already said in the way they live their lives.
These people are supposed to be the spiritual leaders of Israel.
They’d been dragged off into Babylon, but now they have dragged Babylon into their hearts.
The idolatrous pagan religions of Babylon, have become their religion.
It’s interesting we’re told, that they come to Ezekiel at all!
They recognise that he is the one who speaks for God, for the LORD, verse 2, Yahweh, the covenant God of Israel.
So even though we know that Israel are not going to respond to Ezekiel’s message, we saw last week that God had made that pretty clear, even so, the nations’ leaders recognise that God still speaks, and that Ezekiel is where you go to hear God speak.
It’s a pretty brazen kind of rebellion, isn’t it?
It’s one thing to dismiss those who claim to speak God’s word, because you don’t believe that they do actually represent God or bring his message.
But to acknowledge that well, here is someone through whom God does in fact speak,
To acknowledge, “yes, here is God’s Word”, and then to turn around and ignore the message, well that’s a particularly audacious kind of rebellion, isn’t it?
Of course, we would never do anything like that, would we?
We would never be so unabashed, would we, as to say “This is God’s Word.
We believe this is God’s authoritative Word to us,
This is where we turn to hear God speak”,
And then, having heard God speak, deliberately push that message to the side, so we can continue to go about our life our own way?
Many of us, most of us, I imagine, would stand firmly in the tradition of Christian orthodoxy, and say that we are convinced that Bible is God’s Word,
That the Scriptures are breathed out by him, and are useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 2 Timothy 3:16 for example.
And yet, there are times aren’t there, when, even having acknowledged that, we’re tempted to ignore what we know to be true,
That which by inward conviction and personal experience we have come to know is the true message of God,
Yet the temptation is to set that aside, because we prefer what the gods of our age have to say.
We set aside what we know is true, in order to chase after the idols we have set up in our hearts.
We’re just like Israel,
Verse 3, these men have set up idols in their hearts
Verse 7, when they set up idols in their hearts
The language here pictures, building something, in your heart. Deliberately and wilfully remembering something, so as to keep it with you all the time.
And the idols of the hearts are the hardest kinds of idols to tear down, aren’t they?
Remember the footage from Iraq following the Coalition forces’ arrival in 2003?
Cranes toppling statues of Saddam Hussein,
Jubilant Iraqis, chipping away at the statues, chiselling them into pieces.
It’s one thing to take away the physical signs,
But what the Coalition forces discovered since then, is that the ideology hidden away in people’s hearts, is a lot harder to dismantle,
It’s idolatry that got Israel exiled to Babylon in the first place, and there can be no chance of peace with God, until these idols have been rooted out of people’s hearts.
God’s goal, did you see it there, is to recapture the hearts of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols
And the way back into relationship is repentance. Look at the language of turning around in 14 verse 6, Repent!
Turn from your idols,
and renounce all your detestable practices!
And in order to lead the people towards repentance, God decided that he would not answer those, who come to him, seeking a word from the Lord, while still devoted to the idols they have set up in their hearts,
See verse 8, I will set my face against them and make them an example and a byword
God’s not going to give these people the word, the insight they desire,
He’s not going to answer them with words,
He’s going to answer with action.
And his action will serve as an example,
It will demonstrate to people what the outcome of idolatry is, where following false gods will get you.
Israel has been taken from their land,
Now God says, if they persist in idolatry, the ultimate separation will happen;
They’ll be cut off from God and his presence, and that will serve as a warning to others.
And it’s all in order that people might repent!, Turn from their idols, and return to God.
See, even though they’re in exile, God longs to recapture the hearts of his people, and so he gives them the opportunity to repent.
I think it’s significant for us, that the idolatry condemned here is idolatry of the heart. Because isn’t this exactly the kind of idolatry that we are most prone to?
We know how verse 11 of chapter 14 is fulfilled, They will be my people, and I will be their God,
We know how that becomes a reality.
We know how God was able to deal with our sin our rebellion against him, not just the sin and rebellion of Israel, but of all people,
We know that when Jesus died as a willing substitute, the self-substitution of God, God is able both to judge sin, justly and rightly, and also forgive sin, There is now no barrier to us being God’s people, and he being our God.
And yet isn’t it also true, that even having been made God’s people.
We, too many of us, and too easily, we dabble with the setting up of idols in our hearts.
One issue I’ve been wrestling with recently, is the entirely respectable idolatry, of our children.
Now for some of you, this isn’t an issue, or it’s not an issue yet, but maybe if you don’t have kids, or kids at home, then you can help those of us who do, be on our guard against this.
Because there seems to be this model of Christian parenting, that says “I will work hard to make sure I don’t let anything become more important than God in my life, except my children!”
So it goes like this,
I’m not going to let my career dominate my life,
I’m going to make sure I’m regularly meeting with God’s people., I’m in church, in Bible Study,
And I really want the people around me, those I work with, my friends and colleagues to know that I’m a Christian.
But then I look at my kids,
And I really want them to get into that good school, so working my way up the career ladder, and earning lots of money, becomes really important,
And the kids want to play 3 different sports each, all of which are on Sunday mornings, and so now I’m only in church 2 out of 4 weeks, and I’m just too tired to get to Bible study.
And lest I upset the very carefully balanced social setting of my kids’ friends, and their parents, and their friends, I’d better tone down the talk about my Christian faith, so that, to the rest of the world, a Christian looks just like one of them.
I’m not saying don’t provide for your family,
I’m not saying keep your kids out of sport!
But if the suggestion that our children and their success might be an idol we have set up in our hearts, if that question grates on us, is it’s too close to home, and we’ve allowed something to come between us and God.
That’s just one, that’s come up in conversation a lot recently, and one that I think as rich, middle-class Christians, we are particularly prone to.
But the idols of our age are almost all idols of the heart aren’t they?
And it is a grave error, to keep building them up, even as we go through the motions of listening to what God has to say through his Word.
You can’t buy salvation insurance! 14:12 – 23
And idolatry needs to be dealt with,
The state of our heart before God needs to be dealt with, by every single person, because you cannot buy salvation insurance.
That’s the lesson in the second part of chapter 14.
There are 4, hypothetical situations, that God presents in answer to some people who seem to be arguing, that surely God’s judgment won’t be as bad as Ezekiel says it’s going to, after all, surely God will spare his people, spare the beleaguered city of Jerusalem from a final destruction, for the sake of the few righteous people who live there,
We’ll just look at the first one of these examples, the sending of famine, as God’s judgment on sin.
Chapter 14, verse 12 The word of the Lord came to me: 13 “Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, 14 even if these three men—Noah, Daniel w and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign Lord
It’s a case of God’s rebellious people, thinking they can buy salvation insurance.
Like most of you, I’m sure, I consider myself a fairly good insurance risk.
I don’t think I’ve ever made an insurance claim in all my life, and so each time I pay the premiums, I think to myself, there is someone else, some less careful driver, who is reaping the benefits of my safe driving.
OK, so I know that’s kind of the point of insurance, and my turn will probably one day come, but I can’t help thinking like that, so don’t judge me!
But that’s precisely the situation that God speaks against here.
It’s a case study on God’s judgment, but actually, it’s far from hypothetical.
If a country sins against me by being unfaithful, well, that word unfaithful is used to describe betrayal in human relationships; betrayal in marriage for example, but in the Bible, the most common use of that word is to describe Israel’s unfaithfulness to Yahweh.
And as the last few verses make plain, God is speaking of his judgment on Jerusalem, and against those who would argue, “Surely God will spare the city for the sake of a righteous few”, he says “No!”
You cannot buy salvation insurance!
You cannot reap the benefit of someone else’s righteousness.
Of course, that’s not to say, there is no benefit to the city, from the righteous lives of these people
Just like today, we can thank God for the blessing that godly men and women are to our society.
And we as God’s people, should strive to be a blessing to our city.
But ultimately, when it comes to facing God’s judgment,
Those righteous men and women of Jerusalem, would be of no value, to the other inhabitants of the city, who had persisted in rebellion against God.
Even if, and Ezekiel rattles off these 3 names, Noah, Daniel, and Job, the most righteous people he could call to mind.
I don’t know who the modern equivalents would be, Mother Theresa, Ned Flanders, Billy Graham, I don’t know!
But even if, those 3 all lived at the one time, and in the one place, would their righteousness, their trust in God and his promises, and the working out of that faith in their daily lives, would that be enough to spare the city?
And the answer is no!
Each of these 4 case studies finishes with the same idea, they alone would be saved.
Can you escape God’s judgment, because of someone else’s right standing before God?
And 4 times the answer comes, No, No, No, No!
In the repetition of these scenarios, and then the explicit description of how this will play out for Jerusalem, you can hear God’s heart breaking with longing, that lost people, unfaithful Israel would return to him, and be spared judgment.
How God longs, for people to be saved from judgement.
We know that sin and rebellion have to be paid for.
We know that God can’t just look the other way when people reject his pattern for life, and as a result, hurt others, damage themselves, and fail as stewards of creation.
God can’t just turn a blind eye to sin and rebellion,
To, to, Gang-rape and murder in India, or whatever it is that fills the headlines and so sickens us,
There has to be judgment!
But you cannot depend on somebody else’s right standing before God, in order to ensure your own.
You cannot buy salvation insurance.
And of course that makes perfect sense!
Think of a thief, in court, standing before the judge.
The judge says, “You have broken the law,
You have broken the trust and the expectations of society” and so he prepares to pass sentence,
But the thief interjects, “Your honour, I ought to be spared the punishment, because, yes, I did offend, but my next door neighbour has never stolen anything in his life!
I shouldn’t be punished, because he’s done everything right!”
Anyone can see the flaw in that logic!
Except that even today, I meet people who view other people, usually some member of their family, as some kind of a lucky charm.
A walking, talking, 4 leaf clover.
Someone in their family, who they see as offering some kind of religious covering, religious insurance.
Oh my grandfather was a pastor,
My parents go to church,
And they talk about this other person, as if knowing them, somehow exempts themselves, from the reality of facing God’s judgment.
Their thinking is something like, “I don’t need to consider the claims of Christ, because Grandpa has that covered for all of us.”
There is no salvation insurance.
But hasn’t God promised, ?
But in living as if there is, these Israelites are taking a promise that God had made in one context, and seeking to claim it, in an entirely different context!
See God had promised, to his people, the ancestors of those in exile in Babylon, God had promised that whole families, would be included within the blessings of the covenant.
So gracious was God, in pouring out his blessing on that first generation of his people, that those who came later, in subsequent generations, they too would reap the fruit of God’s kindness.
So, Deuteronomy 7:9 for example, Know therefore that the Lord your God is God;, he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations, of those who love him, and keep his commandments.
This all becomes particularly important, next week, in chapter 18, but we can get a little head start on it today, because it will help us see why the people of Israel so easily fell into this misunderstanding of thinking someone else’s right standing before God counted for them.
See the assumption built into those promises, in Deuteronomy 7:9, and made absolutely explicit in the very next verse, is that those future generations will reap the benefits of God’s kindness, because they themselves love God and keep his commandments!
The point of those promises was not for the following generations to rest on their laurels, and enjoy salvation by proxy,
The point of the promise was to assure the current generation, those to whom God was speaking, that his promises and his covenant were for their children too,
It was to encourage the children to live in obedience, just like the parents,
And it was an assurance that God wouldn’t just unilaterally abandon his covenant once the original generation had died out.
What God was offering in entering into a covenant relationship with the people of Israel, wasn’t just a limited lifetime guarantee.
I bought a new Bible the other week, and much to my delight, I discovered that it has a lifetime guarantee! So if it stops functioning, I’m not entirely sure what that looks like, but if it stops functioning at any point, I can get my 29 dollars back!
But if, when I die, I leave my new Bible to my son Jamie, and then in his old age, the Bible stops working, if all the pages fall out, or something, I don’t imagine that the Bible people will give Jamie the 29 dollars back!
They’ll say, “No, that promise was made to your father.”
That was the kind of relationship that the false gods of the ancient world were thought to offer.
They were a capricious lot, and there was no guarantee that any arrangement you thought you had entered into with them, would count for your children, or your grandchildren too.
But within a context of continued obedience, continued love for God, then generation after generation would receive the blessings of God.
Ezekiel and the rest of the Exiles though, are not in that context are they?
We saw last week that their context was almost the very opposite of what God pictured in those promises,
The exiles were in a context of generation after generation of rebellion.
This wasn’t one generation teaching the next what it means to obey God and keep his commandments.
This was a nation who had collectively walked away from God.
But you cannot buy salvation insurance.
I learned this week that you can buy wedding insurance, in case rain spoils your big day, and you want to re-enact it at some later date when the sun is shining,
You can buy alien abduction insurance, to cover the costs of, well, I don’t know, whatever the costs are that you incur when you’re abducted by aliens.
You can buy insurance to offset the cost of paying a ransom to kidnappers,
One English company even sold insurance to cover women in the case of virgin conception, to cover the cost of raising a child born unexpectedly in that manner!
You can buy insurance for just about any eventuality, but you cannot buy salvation insurance.
The only ones who will escape God’s judgment are those who, through their lives and their actions, demonstrate their right standing before God, those who have responded personally to God, in repentance and faith,
Now, this highlights the challenge that we face, standing where we do in salvation history, after the life and death, the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.
We don’t share the same context as any of God’s people in the Old Testament!
Nothing of what God said to them, did he speak into situations that mirror ours.
There are some similarities, And we’ve seen some of them in Ezekiel already;
The widespread rejection of God and his pattern for life among the exiles in Babylon, sounded remarkably like the wholesale rejection of God in 21st Century Australia,
But we have to make sure that any similarities we see don’t lead us to conclude that the contexts are identical, and therefore any promise or Word of God applies to us in exactly the same way as it did to the original hearers.
We, for example, and most significantly, see God’s plans and purposes fulfilled in their rightful place:, In Christ Jesus.
We stand at a time when God has past tense, judged sin.
We live in the age when, chapter 14 verse 11, we have been made God’s people, through Jesus’ death in our place.
Ezekiel’s countrymen, would see only a partial judgement of sin.
The judgment of Jerusalem didn’t free them from the power of sin,
Their own sin and rebellion still had to be paid for.
And in fact, some, besides the righteous, some sons and daughters would come out of it.
God will be seen for who he is
See verse 22, as a sign and a comfort to others. You will be consoled, God says, when you see their conduct and their actions, for you will know that I have done nothing in it without cause, declares the Sovereign Lord.
When those in exile, see the wickedness, in those who escaped the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, they would see that God is absolutely just and right, and that judgment was both deserved and necessary.
God hadn’t done anything, without just cause.
One of the great themes of this book of Ezekiel, is his concern for God’s honour.
He has a great desire that both Israel, and the world, will see God in all his glory,
See God, for who he is.
I wonder what our, kind of, overarching goal for life is?
Do we long for everything to turn out in a way that we find pleasing and palatable, and measures up to our standards of right and wrong?,
Or do we long for the right thing to be done.
Is our great desire, Ezekiel’s desire, that the God who makes himself known in the person of Jesus Christ is regarded, not as the minor deity of one small group of people, but as Lord over all the earth,
Or, is our great desire, that we be vindicated, on each and every occasion?
It’s a challenge facing the church today, including us,
Will we endure hardship, and persecution, and suffering, so that through us, God’s glory might be seen in the world?