This way or that?
3rd Sunday in Lent – C LSB #’s 423, 609, 579
Text – Ezekiel 33:17
“Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just.”
THIS WAY OR THAT?
In 1979, at the age of 20, I moved to the city of Idaho Falls. It’s a town with a unique system of roads due to the fact that 20 different canals, creeks & laterals, as well as the Snake River, dissect the community in every direction.
Making it even more complicated, roughly 4 out of every 5 streets do not bridge those waterways & there were numerous one way streets for good measure. It would have been really helpful to me if google maps had been invented back then. For the 1st month or two every time I went somewhere new I was asking myself, “Is it this way or that?”
Yet, the consequences of a wrong turn were relatively minor. It would just take extra time getting from here to there or back again. Not all the decisions we’re faced with in life have such minor consequences. Nor do those decisions have such a useful tool as a GPS to help you make your choices.
And decision making is not an instinct that human beings are born with like cats are born with the instinct to hunt mice. All of us learn how to make decisions, for better or for worse. Some of it we are taught & some of it is learned by trial & error. How well do you make decisions? Do you invite God to be part of that process?
The sermon for last Sunday was based on a text from the prophet Jeremiah & the people were calling for his death because he had prophesied the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. King Solomon had it built & it was one magnificent building. The people had turned it into an idol such that God could no longer live in the house that was built for Him by man.
The prophet Ezekiel comes along after Jeremiah & is actually writing from exile in
Babylon. He was already there when God called him to speak to the Jewish exiles that were living there. They had seen the destruction of the northern kingdom that God prophesied, but took no heed. Now, in exile, they are still ignoring the word of God, just like the people who remained in Jerusalem were still ignoring it.
Immediately after today’s reading from Ezekiel, word makes it to Babylon that the city of Jerusalem had fallen. Destruction had arrived & the temple was gone. Jeremiah’s prophesy was finally fulfilled. God’s people were not doing well with their decision making. They’d learned too many bad habits from their parents. Abraham, their forefather, was long dead.
There was only the tiniest remnant of faith left among God’s people. And those people were complaining to Ezekiel that Yahweh was acting in an irrational manner. They said that His ways were inscrutable & unpredictable. They felt that, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ No matter how red-handed they are, as God catches them in their sin, they blame God for it all.
That is a very true picture of what it is to be impenitent, or unrepentant, or just plain not sorry for committing sin. This lack of repentance is the essence of unbelief & Ezekiel has been called by their Creator to warn them of the mortal danger they are in. The destruction of Jerusalem was but a foreshadowing of the devastation that hell will bring. This is serious stuff.
As a result, Yahweh inspires Ezekiel to write, “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way & live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” (33:11 ESV)
Whether it be simply the consequences of our sinful actions, or God’s intentional discipline & punishment for our sins, the pain, suffering & distress visited upon us here on earth is never an end to itself. God always has the goal of turning us back from our evil ways that we might truly live. Have you been inviting God to be part of your decision making process? Up to the fall of Jerusalem, Ezekiel was accenting God’s judgment on Israel & on the pagan nations because the people would not turn from their evil ways. Once the city & the temple were destroyed, once the idol of the people had fallen, Ezekiel speaks more of God’s grace to a new Israel that will consist of repentant & regenerate believers.
Ezekiel then becomes the preacher of restoration who faces two types of poor decision making. The 1st type is despair over what has been lost. Coming face to face with the reality brought upon them by their sin, some people resign themselves to wasting away: “What’s the use, why bother, nothing good can ever come out of this.”
Sorrow over sin exists with them, but no belief that God can bring their soul to life again. That attitude is like one that believes Jesus died on the cross, but did not rise from the tomb. That person has only turned from one sin to another.
The 2nd type of poor decision making is the claim that God is not dealing justly with those He judges. To this complaint that Yahweh is acting in irrational, inscrutable or unpredictable ways, Yahweh responds that their refusal to simply accept His offer of amazing grace, even in this very last hour before destruction, is irrational & inscrutable.
Although this type of decision making may recognize their sins, they don’t want to be held accountable for it. They are still seeking to place the blame elsewhere & don’t really want God’s forgiveness & the life that it brings.
The book of Revelation tells us that unbelievers are judged according to the record of their deeds, whereas believers are saved simply because their names are written in the Lamb’s book of life. Salvation is the work of God & He is faithful no matter how long it takes or what our eyes see or what our hearts feel along the way.
The exiles were grieving over their sins & the loss of their city & their land, over the loss
of their very heritage. People in our nation are experiencing similar feelings about the way things used to be here in America. We grieve over what we have given up because we were not diligent to raise our children in the faith, or to stand for the Word of God. Instead, due to our comfortable lives we became soft & unfit for the battle that Satan is always waging.
It was to people, or cultures, like ours that St. Paul wrote, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” (1 Corinthians 10:12 ESV) However, that’s what sinners do, we fall & God created a plan or a way even for us to be saved.
The people of Israel, who were in exile in the foreign land of Babylon now had nothing to return to but devastated cities & lands. It’s very similar to what is happening in Ukraine as the current Babylon, that calls itself Russia, is laying waste to entire cities & peoples. Yet, Ezekiel is giving great hope in the OT reading today.
Verse 12 says, “…as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness,” in other words, even the wicked can receive eternal hope & glory. None of their wickedness will be remembered on Judgment Day. And verses 14-16 tell us:
“Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin & does what is just & right, if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, & walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just & right; he shall surely live.”
If, at some point in life, you find yourself crushed by the weight of your sin & don’t know which way to turn, “This way or that?” remember that not even wickedness can keep the crown of righteousness from your head if God has washed you & made you clean.
The church season of Lent is not meant simply to prepare us for the arrival of the Easter bunny. It is meant to help us focus on repentance for our sins, so that God can make us clean & holy through His love that extends even & especially to sinners. In the name of the Father & of
the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
We deserve but grief & shame, yet His words, rich grace revealing, pardon, peace & life proclaim; here our ills have perfect healing. Firmly in these words believe: Jesus sinners doth receive. Sheep that from the fold did stray no true shepherd e’er forsaketh; weary souls that lost their way Christ, the Shepherd, gently taketh in His arms that they may live: Jesus sinners doth receive. Amen. LSB 609:2-3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet