Sent to a Nation of Rebels

“The Calling of Ezekiel” by Marc Chagall

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He said to me, “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” And as He spoke to me, the Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet, and I heard Him speaking to me. And He said to me, “Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against Me. They and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. The descendants also are impudent and stubborn: I send you to them, and you shall say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God.’ And whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them” (Ezekiel 2:1–5).

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ!

Ezekiel, the son of Buzi, a priest of Jerusalem, belonged to the company of Jews who had been carried into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon about 597 B.C. In the fifth year of his captivity, he was called by God to be His prophet. In this capacity Ezekiel labored for at least twenty-two years among the captive Jews. He lived in the northern part of Mesopotamia, at Tel-a-bib, by the river Chebar. He owned a house there and was married. He apparently enjoyed the confidence of his fellow-exiles, for their elders frequently sought his advice; yet he shared the lot of other true prophets in that most of his hearers did not listen to him.

The task that the Lord gave Ezekiel was to testify to the Babylonian Jews, who were, for the most part, comfortable and prosperous in their new home but were still hard-hearted and idolatrous. He was to show them that the destruction of Jerusalem was not only inevitable, but also well-deserved under the circumstances, lest they harden their hearts by a false comfort and refuse to be brought to repentance. It was necessary, moreover, to dispel the false and foolish hopes which had been raised in the hearts of the exiled Jews by the alleged visions of false prophets and prophetesses.

Ezekiel was eminently fitted for this task, for God had given him an unusual measure of mental and spiritual gifts; he had a good education; he had a pastoral attitude and viewpoint; he was endowed with a wonderful imagination and a powerful gift of oratory; and he had received the firmness and courage necessary for his difficult calling. His activity, therefore, had a decisive influence on the development of the Jewish people during the Exile and brought comfort to the remnant who longed for the salvation which was to come out of Zion.

As is proper, the Lord initiated the call. “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.” Throughout the Book of Ezekiel, God never addresses Ezekiel by name, but calls him “son of man” 93 times. Perhaps this form of address was meant to teach him something. Although the Lord was granting him special visions and the privilege of transmitting God’s truth to His people, Ezekiel was still a son of man. He was just a human being, a sinful son of Adam. It was not because of any strength in him that Ezekiel was called to be the Lord’s spokesman, but as a frail mortal who brought nothing but weakness to the task.

People in leadership positions, including leadership positions among God’s people, are in circumstances perfect for fostering pride. Despite its heavy promotion over the last month, Scripture tells us that pride is not something to be celebrated, but a deadly sin. Pride not only is a direct violation of God’s command to love, but it gets in the way when people attempt to carry out service for God. Pride builds barriers and makes God-pleasing interpersonal relationships difficult.

Since Ezekiel was a sinful son of man, he couldn’t on his own stand in the presence of God, nor could he properly receive orders from the Lord. But the Lord made up for Ezekiel’s spiritual insufficiencies. The Spirit stood him on his feet and made him ready to listen to the Lord. God is always the one who is responsible for making sinful humans into people who can stand in His presence. He makes them into people who have the courage to receive and carry out orders from Him.

Ezekiel was to take his message to the people of Israel. Because of God’s choice of their nation to produce the Savior, these people had a special national relationship with God. Most of them, nevertheless, had rebelled against the Lord. They had insisted on following other gods. They had insisted on disobeying God’s will, therefore they were in exile. But even their years of exile had not led most of them to repent of their rebellious ways. Despite their lack of repentance and what appeared to be a lost cause, God still sent His prophet to these people.

Ezekiel was not called to preach to any ordinary community or to be a missionary to some new pagan culture, but to a covenant community that had rebellion in its genes. The fathers and their sons had rebelled and had been unfaithful time and again and continued to behave that way down “to this very day.” That emphasizes both original sin inherited from Adam and all subsequent fathers, and the actual sin committed by the fathers and sons alike. Like us, Israel was a people that cannot not sin, that had rebelled against the Lord, personally rejecting the personal God and Father who had created and redeemed them.

Throughout the call account, God emphasizes one central theological issue: the prophet is called to proclaim faithfully a message that Israel will not hear. The prophet is responsible for faithfully speaking God’s Word; he is not responsible for how the people receive that Word. The prophet is prepared for “failure,” measured in human terms, by the repeated emphasis on the rebelliousness of Israel, past and present. The central issue, from God’s perspective, is that by the faithful preaching of God’s Word, “whether they hear or refuse to hear (for they are a rebellious house) they will know that a prophet has been among them” (2:5).

This leads us to messianic trajectory of the passage. The mission of the prophet foreshadows the mission of Jesus. For Jesus also, success is not measured in human terms. Like Ezekiel, Jesus was rejected by the people of His own day, even by the people of His hometown (the Gospel), even though He received the Spirit at His Baptism and was the very Word of God Incarnate. Indeed, our salvation was accomplished by an act that appears, in human terms, to be a failure: the death of Jesus on the cross as a condemned and dishonored prisoner.

For God’s messengers, the standards of success are not the standards of the world: acceptance by community, honor among peers, praise of the masses, and (especially here in America) accumulation of wealth. If we are to carry out faithfully our vocation as the Church of Christ in the world, we must understand that God sends us to “go… and speak with My words to them” (3:4) and learn with Paul (the Epistle) that, resting in the grace of God, we may rejoice our weakness, through which the power of God is revealed (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). This makes the cross the perfect symbol of our faith, both because it was the means by which God accomplished our salvation and because it reminds us to rest in God’s grace and trust in God’s power alone as we speak His words to the world.  

Unlike the people of Israel (or you and I!) Jesus came and kept the Law perfectly. He and His Father were always in harmony. He never rebelled, never hard-headedly ignored, never placed His strong will about His Father’s desire (Hebrews 3:2). His perfect obedience pays for mankind’s continual rebellion. His death is our life. He can and does take away all our sins.

Christ, the eternal Son of God, spoke first through prophets such as Ezekiel; later He came and spoke for Himself and for the Father who sent Him (Hebrews 1:1-2). Like Ezekiel, Jesus too, is called the Son of man.” In fact, that was one of Jesus’ favorite names for Himself.

Throughout His ministry, many recognized that, in Jesus, there had indeed been a prophet among them. When Jesus revealed to the woman at the well His knowledge of her sordid past, she replied, “Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet” (John 4:19). The reaction of the crowds to Jesus’ miraculous feeding of the five thousand was “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” (John 6:14). There was a similar reaction to Jesus’ speech “on the last day of the feast, the great day: “This really is the Prophet” (John 7:40). The blind man whose sight Jesus restored at the pool of Siloam, when interrogated by cynics, boldly confessed, “He is a prophet” (John 9:17). Witnesses of Jesus’ restoration of life to the widow of Nain’s son said, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” (Luke 7:16). After Jesus’ Palm Sunday entry into Jerusalem, the verdict was “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth of Galilee” (Matthew 21:11). Even the dejected disciples on their way to Emmaus, not yet aware that the stranger who had joined their company was the risen Jesus, expressed their conviction that Jesus had been “a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people” (Luke 24:19).

Though these New Testament accounts reflect varying degrees of knowledge about and faith in Jesus, the fact remains that all these people, plus many others, indeed knew that there had been a prophet among them. And to the modern Christian the statement about Ezekiel in our text “they will know that a prophet has been among them” can serve as a reminder of Jesus’ prophetic role, for this is the prophet who fulfilled His own prophecy—that He would be rejected, crucified, and risen again—thereby winning forgiveness of the sins of all people.

Risen and ascended, Jesus has the authority to speak forgiveness and to delegate the message and means to others (Matthew 28:18). Today, He sends the Holy Spirit, the gift of comfort to His Church, entrusting pastors with the Word and Sacrament. Jesus gives those He calls His Spirit so they can forgive sins (John 20:22-23). When God’s called and ordained servant speaks, you are washed clean and made a child of God in Baptism. When he speaks, your sins are forgiven in Holy Absolution and the preaching of the Gospel. When he speaks, you are indeed given the very body and blood of the Lord given “for you.”

 From Invocation to Benediction, your pastor speaks God’s Word. You “know that a prophet” (or a called and ordained servant of the Word) “was among you” because you hear the Word. You know that all was done “in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.” You know that the human hand extending you what appeared to be only bread and wine is veiled in the divine hand of Christ, who gave you His very body and blood. You know that it matters not who baptized you for truly you were baptized in and by Christ. You know that your pastor speaks God’s Word because that Word is now written in your heart, and you know that when he says, “I forgive you,” it is only because this is God speaking through your pastor’s mouth.

And you know at the end of the service or when he speaks to you in private, visits your hospital room or stands beside your deathbed, that he is not engaging in wishful thinking when he speaks a Benediction. There’s no guessing or hoping, no “may this happen.” Instead, your pastor speaks God’s Word and lets you know that all is right between you and your Father. Your pastor gives you what God gave him to give—the Lord’s blessing, His good favor, and His peace. Your pastor speaks that you might have the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit both now and forever. Amen.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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