A Watchman For The People [Ezekiel 33-34]
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A long time ago in a galaxy far away called the Discovery Channel, there was an old TV show called Dirty Jobs. If you’ve never seen it - the basic premise was the host of the show, Mike Rowe, would tag along with workers who performed some of the dirtiest jobs in our society. It’s a dirty job, but someone needs to do it. It premiered in 2003, ran for 8 seasons, and then there were a bunch of spinoffs and restarts - it’s a really popular show, with a cool concept. It got nominated for 5 primetime Emmys and it was just one of those classic discovery channel shows. They’re still doing spin offs and restarts, but when the show finished it’s original 8 season run - some folks asked Mike Rowe, “Okay, out of the over 300 dirty jobs you have done - which one was the worst one?” Mike responded with a list of his top five worst dirty jobs. Top of the list was sewer inspector. Someone’s gotta do it, but he said the smell and the heat were incredible, and between the cockroaches and the rats - it was awful. Second worst job was Snake Researcher. Which may not sound that bad, but apparently in one day of filming he got bit more than three dozen times. The one that sounded the worst to me was Cow Inseminator - which is the guy who helps the female cows get pregnant. The old method was to leave a bottle of wine out in the pasture with a Tom Hank/Meg Ryan romantic movie like “Sleepless in Seattle” or “You’ve Got Mail” playing on the side of the barn. But apparently the modern way is more efficient but much, much grosser. The fourth worst job for Mike Rowe was the Concrete Chipper guy. You know concrete trucks, with those big drums? Somebody has to climb inside that - which apparently is a claustrophobic nightmare, and jackhammer the dried concrete out between refills. And last but not least, Mike Rowe’s 5th worst dirty job was Shark Suit Tester. Apparently the only way to test if a shark suit was strong enough - was to put a person in it and test it. He said it wasn’t the dirtiest or grossest, but it was easily the most terrifying job he did on the show. From Sewer Inspector to Shark Suit Tester - the show earned the title dirty job.
But you know, as we have studied the scriptures of the last few weeks, there is another job Mike Rowe might want to consider for a reboot - the job of Prophet. Now, I know, I know - most of us hear prophet and we think, “what? Those guys had it so easy! They were respected men of God, religious authorities who walked around with their heads held high because they were literally the spokesperson of God, they had words from the actual God of heaven for the people.” But here’s the problem with that picture - these guys were messengers from God, but the message was almost ALWAYS bad news. Everybody loves the guy who comes in and just has gumdrops and candy-canes for everyone, “God loves you so much and every day is going to be nothing but sunshine and rainbows forever!” Nobody likes the guy who comes in and says, “oh, and hey - there’s some stuff in your life that’s sinful and you need to knock it off.” Nobody likes the party-pooper prophet. Here’s an example - Isaiah (one of the big prophets). Chapter 6, verse 11 says, [read v.8]. Okay, you have probably heard that before. This is the call of Isaiah. They wrote songs about it! One of my absolute favorite hymns is “Here I am, Lord” - and they borrow the language right out of this passage. God says, “who will be my messenger?” And Isaiah steps up and says, “Here I am. Send me.” But then in the NEXT verse it says, [read v.9-10]. Now I know that might have been a little confusing, but basically God is saying, “Alright, awesome - you’re going to be my messenger, and NO ONE IS GOING TO LISTEN TO YOU.” They’re going to plug their ears, shut their eyes and harden their hearts. You’re job is to be my messenger and it’s going to be terrible. And I love Isaiah’s response, [read v.11]. It’s such a huge switch. “Yes Lord I will be your messenger, I’m so excited to share your message with those around me” And then God comes in and he’s like, “No one is going to listen to you and it’s not going to work.” And Isaiah’s like, “hold up - how long do I have to do this?” And this is not just Isaiah, nobody listened to Jeremiah, nobody listened to Ezekiel - you name a prophet, and probably everybody ignored him. What I’m trying to show you is that the prophet’s job was not as wonderful and honorable as a lot of us assume. It was a terrible job - it was thankless and harsh. Prophets were often driven out of town or thrown into Jail, they were constantly told to shut up and go away. We don’t want to hear that message. Stop it, Mr. Prophet man. It’s a dirty job, but someone needs to do it. As we dive back into the book of Ezekiel, what we’re going to see today is that telling people the truth of what God says - it’s really hard. But someone has to do it.
Now, our scripture lesson is from chapter 34 of Ezekiel, but to really understand it - what we need to do is back up a little bit and then build TO chapter 34. Chapter 33 starts out like this, [read v.1-6]. Can you imagine being a watchman? Like, you live in an old timey city, and you’re whole job is look out to the horizon and keep watch for bad guys coming. And you see the bad thing coming, but you think to yourself - “huh, well I don't want to bother people.” And so you just.. don’t?!? That’s like, the fire alarm goes off in your house. And you wake up, but everyone else is still sleeping, and you see the flames coming - but you’re sleepy and so you go pull the batteries out of the fire alarm and go back to bed. It’s insane! But that’s what it looks like when there are people who have the key to heaven - they have the secret to eternal life, they have a relationship with Jesus - and they don’t tell anyone. One of my favorite quotes from Charles Spurgeon, I know I’ve said it before (Spurgeon was this brilliant preacher like a 150 years ago), and he once said, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let no one go unwarned and unprayed for.” Penn Jillette, famous magician from the duo Penn and Teller - he’s an atheist, but he said this, “I’ve always said that I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and a hell, and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward - and atheists who think people shouldn’t proselytize and who say just leave me alone and keep your religion for yourself - how much do you have to hate somebody to NOT proselytize? How much do you have to hate somebody to believe everlasting life is possible and not tell them that? I mean, if I believed, beyond the shadow of a doubt that a truck was coming at you, and you didn’t believe that truck was bearing down on you, there is a certain point where I tackle you. And this is MORE important than that.” This guy is an atheist, he doesn’t believe - but he says, “for those who DO believe, how are you not telling everyone?” God tells Ezekiel, “you are a watchman on the wall, you’ve got to tell people about what’s coming” - and that teaching echoes into our lives here and now. If you’ve got people in your life who don’t know Jesus, or they say they do - but their life has no fruit, if nothing in their life smells like Jesus - we need to be praying for them. We need to be looking for every opportunity to try and share the greatest good news they will ever hear. About Jesus Christ, the son of God and savior of the world. Before we move on, I really want you to hear God’s heart in this. Verse 11, [read it.] We all know that sin leads to death, but God doesn’t want that death for us. He wants us to turn from sin, to repent and follow him, to follow Jesus to new life!
But there’s an important piece I don’t want you to miss. Verse 3 [read v.3-5]. This is so crucial - our job is to tell everyone about Jesus, but not everyone is going to listen. It is not our job to save people, it’s our job to warn them. You’ve heard that old phrase, “you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t force it to drink.” We can lead people to Jesus - do everything in our power to help them understand the nature of sin in our lives, the way it keeps us away from God, and the beauty of grace and forgiveness that reconciles us through Jesus. We can lay out all the facts, but we can’t force people to believe. I think this is really hard for people to accept - especially for family. Our kids, our nieces nephews, brothers and sisters - it’s incredibly difficult. We try so hard to guide people to God, and it’s so frustrating when they won’t listen. My grand-father was a preacher way back in the day, and he had an atheist brother. My great-grandfather told gramps, “you’re going to be an engineer. You’re going to pick a job that makes a lot of money and be successful.” My gramps ran away from home to go to seminary. Becoming a pastor was an act of rebellion. But his brother stayed. Got a successful job - I think he was a doctor or something. And he became an atheist. It was a source of tension between the brothers for years. But my gramps never gave up, and over the years - eventually his brother did come to know Christ. It reminds me of a story of this guy George Mueller. Mueller was known in his day as a prayer warrior. His life was full of miracles and “coincidences.” And as the legend goes, George Mueller had 5 friends who did not know Christ. And he committed to pray for them every single day. After a couple of months, one of them came to the Lord. Ten years later, 2 others were converted. They chose to give their life to Jesus, were baptized and became followers of Jesus. It took 25 years for the fourth man to believe. But Mueller kept praying. Everyday he prayed for them. He kept praying for friend number five for 52 years until he died. He died and his friend still didn’t know Jesus. But Mueller’s faith was rewarded, and soon after his funeral, the last man accepted Jesus Christ as his lord and savior. It’s not our job to save people, but how can we call ourselves Christian if we won’t even tell people about Jesus.
But you know what? I know why we don’t tell people about Jesus. Even though it is the greatest good news that any human being could ever have - I know why we keep it to ourselves. I remember when I was in college, I was on my way to class one time, and there was this guy - he didn’t go to our school - but he was standing on the sidewalk outside of the building waving a bible around screaming at the young women who were trying to get to their gen ed classes. He was saying that women belong in the kitchen, and that going to college was sinful and that they were probably possessed by demons. (Remember, this was a Christian school, and I was headed into the religion department). Now, I’m not a violent man - but if campus security hadn’t showed up to escort him away, we might have had words between us. We don’t tell people about Jesus because we don’t want to be like THOSE people. We all have examples in our minds, don't we? Westboro baptist church and the like - holding up horrible signs, screaming at people about wrath and damnation. We stay silent, because we don’t want to get lumped in with the bad examples. Hypocrites in the church drive so many people away, and they get all the publicity - and we don’t want people to get it mixed up, I’m not one of those. I mean, I’ve had it myself. I mean, do you know why every door in this building has a glass window cut into it? Maybe you don’t know this. Every door in this building from the Pastor’s office to nursery - unless it's a bathroom or a closet has a window cut into it. Back in 2001, there was this horrifying news story where they uncovered child sexual abuse in the catholic church in Boston. And our church said, “we need to do something to protect our children.” We have this whole protection policy to keep our children safe - background checks and the works - and part of it is windows in our doors. I take it very seriously. As an ordained pastor I have gone through extensive background checks, I have written protection policies, I have run the trainings and when I got here I said, “you run the background check on me again, and I’m going to sit through the training all over again.” Because if we’re going to be a church that puts children first, we’re going to do it right. Same thing with money. There are preachers out there taking people’s tithes and offerings and using it to buy private planes and giant mansions. And so in our church we have to be extremely transparent with our finances. And so we publish these reports - every year, you can come see our budget, where every penny goes. We don’t share people’s private information, but the budget is public - because we are fighting a PR battle with the bad actors of the religious world, and they have a bigger microphone.
What’s crazy is that Ezekiel had to deal with the exact same thing. Chapter 34 he starts talking about shepherds - shepherds are the leaders, right? Verse 2 says, [read v.2-5]. It’s a cold reality of the world that institutions are as broken as the people who run them. But listen to this, verse 9 [read v.9-10]. I want you to hear God’s heart in this. I now consider these shepherds my enemy, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. You think child abuse and corruption with money makes YOU angry? Imagine how our perfect Father in heaven feels about it. I’ve always loved working with children and youth - my whole life I’ve worked in those fields, and every time I would heard a story about a child getting hurt or traumatized - it would simultaneously break my heart and fill me with a white hot rage. It’s absolutely horrifying that such a thing exists in this world. But now that I have children of my own? And I think about my boys. I think about the little girl we have coming in January. The thought of someone hurting them - I only thought I was mad before. How much more is our perfect Father in heaven outraged by the things that hurt his sheep? Some people think that when there’s corruption in the church, we need to cover it up or hide things to “protect the church” or to “protect the ministry” - but that’s not how it works. I need you to see this. God says, “if you’re going to hurt my sheep, even if you’re inside the church - I’m going to consider you my enemy.” It is okay, in fact it is necessary for us to call out injustice, to root our oppression and stand up against evil. Jesus had this to say, Matthew chapter 18, verse 5, [read v.5-6]. If you don’t know what a millstone is, it’s this giant rock wheel kind of a thing, and they would roll it in a circle to crush seeds and wheat and whatnot to grind things down to a powder. Jesus Christ the perfect son of God, said if you’re going to mess with children - it would be better if you took this big ol’ rock, tied it to your neck and got thrown into the sea.
Now here’s where it all comes together. If you have people in your life who won’t come to church because of the abuse and the failure of leadership and the hypocrisy that they have seen splashed across the headlines - people who have walked away from God because it turns out every single institution is as broken as the people who run them, if you have people in your life who are upset about the hypocrites in the church you have the ability to turn to them and say, “me too!” We don’t have to defend bad shepherds. You will never catch me sticking up for the prosperity gospel preachers who lie to people to make themselves richer. We are allowed to be mad about corruption in the church - God sure was when he talked to Ezekiel. God tells Ezekiel, I will consider them my enemies, and I will hold them responsible for what has happened to my flock. If we want to be watchmen, if we want to warn people that the storm is coming - if we want to tell people the truth about sin and the beautiful story of God’s grace offered through Jesus, the forgiveness that is available - sometimes we have to start by acknowledging the hurt people have dealt with, and remind them that the evil that breaks their heart probably breaks God’s heart too.
But it doesn’t stop there, Ezekiel chapter 34, verse 11, [read v.11-16]. This is what everything builds towards. I myself will tend my sheep. God is the good shepherd. Verse 16 again, [read 16a]. In a world full of bad shepherds - the one we can rely on is God. The vital truth I want you to walk out of here with this morning is that God is the only thing that can fully satisfy you, the only thing that can truly care for you, tend to you and provide all you need. God is the only one that can truly shepherd us. God is the good shepherd. Jesus really brought this idea home during his ministry. One of my favorite things about this Chronological study has been the discovery of how much Ezekiel finds itself into the words of Jesus. Two weeks ago, Ezekiel 15 and John 15 fit together like a hand and a glove, even though they were written hundreds of years apart. And we see it again in John 10 - these are the words of Jesus, written hundreds of years after Ezekiel 34, [John 10:6-15]. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He’s not just a hired hand, his purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life. I’m sure you can connect the dots! Lays down his life for the sheep. He’s talking about Calvary! He’s talking about the cross! What Jesus did on the cross, dying for OUR sins, his purpose was to lead you away from sin - to a rich and satisfying life. God is the good shepherd and he and he alone can satisfy every need you have.
Now I always ask at the end of my sermons - why does this matter? How does this affect our life? Well - first, if we are watchmen on the wall - we must remember that we can’t save people, only the good shepherd can do that. The love of God found in Jesus Christ is the only thing that every single person on this earth needs - and we need to tell people about that. I can’t save people, but I can definitely point them to the one who does save. Don’t pull the batteries out of the fire alarm. Wake people up. Tell everyone about Jesus. Tell everyone about the one true king, the deepest ache of their heart and the only thing that can complete them and fully satisfy their lives. Tell everyone about the good shepherd. That's the first challenge.
Second, when it comes to church hurt and corruption - people who have walked away from institutions because they found hypocrites in there - our challenge is to take a step back. Listen to their hurt. Empathize with them. Jesus Christ is still who they need, but they might need us to clarify that the good shepherd is not the same as the hired hands. The presence of a liar doesn’t make the truth less true. If someone is heartbroken because of something a false shepherd has done - be heartbroken right alongside them. For those who hurt, our job is not to defend their abusers, but rather to bring them to the one who can give them healing. We will hold wicked shepherds accountable, and God will count them as his enemies. Listen to the voice of the good shepherd. Step one - tell everyone about Jesus. And step two - if they point at hypocrisy of hired hands or the horrible actions of false shepherds, tell them, “you know who else is upset about evil in the church? ME! And God! He will rescue his sheep from all that” - and then go back to step one.
For over 8 seasons, Mike Rowe hosted a TV show called Dirty Jobs - from sewer inspector to shark suit tester, he explored some of the worst gigs the modern world has to offer. Nobody likes to be the guy who has to bring bad news - like the prophets did. But our job is not as bad as all that. Yes - we have a message about sin and evil in the world and in each of our hearts. But we also bring the greatest good news anyone has ever heard. God is the good shepherd. Better than all the brokenness of human institutions - God brings healing to the hurt, fulfillment to the unsatisfied, and a sense of purpose to those of us who are drifting through life. I think Tim Keller said it best, “The gospel is this: We are more sinful and flawed in ourselves that we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ than we ever dared hope.” Let’s pray.