The Preaching of Ezekiel
February 24th, 1985 @ 10:50 AM
THE PREACHING OF EZEKIEL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-24-85 10:50 a.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the message entitled The Preaching of Ezekiel. We begin with chapter 3, Ezekiel chapter 3:
Moreover the Lord said unto me, Son of man, eat that thou findest; eat this roll, and go speak unto the house of Israel.
So I opened my mouth, and He caused me to eat that roll.
And He said unto me, Son of man, cause thy stomach to eat, and fill thy body with this roll that I give thee.
Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness.
In the passage from the Revelation that you read, "It tasted sweet – the Word of God is dear – but it made his stomach bitter" [Revelation 10:9]. The message was one of judgment and condemnation.
Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness. And He said unto me, Son of man, go, get thee unto the house of Israel, and speak My words unto them.
But the house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto Me: for all the house of Israel are impudent and hardhearted.
Behold, I have made thy face strong against their faces, and thy forehead strong against their foreheads.
As an adamant harder than flint have I made thy forehead:
fear them not, neither be dismayed at their looks, though they be a rebellious house.
Go, get thee to them of the captivity, and speak unto them, and tell them, Thus saith the Lord God; whether they will hear, or whether they will forebear.
[Ezekiel 3:3-4, 7-9, 11]
Whether they will listen and heed, or whether they will not listen and pay no attention.
The preaching of Ezekiel, number one: he was called to be a messenger of God, to deliver the word of God. This is the scroll, this is the word from heaven, take it, assimilate it, make it a part of your mind, and your heart, and your soul, and your body, and your life, and deliver the message of God. That is, he is not to initiate His word, nor is he to invent His message: he is called of God to deliver the word of the Lord.
In my youthful days, there was a tremendously popular and famous modernist, liberal by the name of Harry Emerson Fosdick, who preached at the Riverside Church in New York City. And he said, decrying the method of expository preaching, preaching the Word of God, and describing it as the poorest kind of pulpit ministry because, he said, it gave no scope for the imagination of the preacher. So to him, to stand in the pulpit and to preach is to deliver what he thinks: to philosophize on situations that come to his attention. But the Word of God falls in an altogether different area.
You take this scroll, this roll of the message of the God, and you deliver it to the people, whether they will hear or whether they will forebear, whether they will listen and heed, or whether they will make no make no response and pay no attention, you are called to deliver the Word of the Lord.
Now, to my amazement, His message is filled with the extensive possibility of abject and absolute failure. "The house of Israel will not hearken unto thee; for they will not hearken unto Me: they are impudent and hardhearted" [Ezekiel 3:7]. Isn’t that an unusual call? – a call to apparent failure, not success. You are not going to be adulated and recognized, glorified, received with accolades. When you preach, when you deliver God’s message, they’re not going to hearken to what you say. And their looks will be so foreboding and threatening that you will be dismayed before them.
But the remarkable thing is the rebellious response to the preaching of the prophet in no way and in no wise disannulled his prophetic ministry. Whether the people heeded or whether they didn’t heed, he was the messenger from God to deliver God’s message. And Ezekiel stood before the people, and the Lord made his forehead as flint, as adamant. Isn’t that unusual? Here is God’s messenger, sent with God’s message, and the destiny was failure. They won’t listen to you. But you’re to speak just the same.
Why didn’t they listen to him? Heed him? Hearken to him? Obey him? Receive him? Why didn’t,they did all the false prophets. They were so acceptable, their siren, sweet voices sounded so beautiful. Why didn’t they listen to the prophet of God? Let me read it to you. Isaiah says:
This is a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear the law of the Lord:
Which say to the seers, See not; and to the prophets, Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits:
We want to hear smooth things, things that titillate the flesh, things that are fanciful to the ears. We don’t want to hear the truth of the Word of God. Talk to us about light things and lightsome things and smooth things.
I think of our ancestors. All of us who speak the English language and have come from the British Isles, I think of our ancestors in the faith. One of them said, "Shall I to please the king and to shelter and flatter his vile favorites, shall I compromise my soul? I will not!" [source and author unknown]. And if you have ever been to Oxford, there in the heart of those great colleges that make up that university, you will find a monument in this place, in that spot. There Hugh Latimer, God’s preacher, and Nicholas Ridley, God’s preacher, there were they burned at the stake in October of 1555. And in that same place, March of the next year, Thomas Cranmer, the first Protestant archbishop of Canterbury, there was he also burned at the stake. These were fearless and uncompromising forefathers of our faith. That is the mission of the prophet of God. Whether they will hear or whether they will forebear, you are sent to deliver the Word of the Lord.
Number two: the preaching of Ezekiel. It was a call to the true faith in a foreign land of idolatry. One of the most amazing of all of the things I read in the Bible is this, the constant and unwearying and continual penchant and affinity of Israel for idolatry.
Finally, it brought to them the judgment of God. "I will plead with them no more. I will call them to repentance no more. I will seek their love and favor no more." And the judgment of God fell upon them. So when I read in the prophecy of Ezekiel, over and over again, there is the bitter and fierce denunciation of the idolatry of the people. The Word of God sweet in his mouth, but as he delivered it, it was a word of judgment and condemnation. In the Book of Ezekiel, chapter 6, chapter 8, chapter 14, chapter 16, among other passages, the denunciation of idolatry, here in chapter 6:
,I will cast down your slain men before your idols. I will lay the dead carcases of the children of Israel before their idols; and I will scatter your bones round about your altars.
In chapter 14,
Son of man, these men have set up their idols in their hearts, Thus saith the Lord God; Every man of the house of Israel that setteth up his idols in his heart,I the Lord will answer him according to the multitude of his idols: because they are all estranged from Me through their idols.
Therefore say unto the house of Israel, Thus saith the Lord God; Repent, and turn yourselves from your idols; and turn your faces from all of your abominations.
[Ezekiel 14:3- 6]
Isn’t that an unusual passage? These people of the captivity have the idols in their hearts! How many times in the New Testament will you find idolatry defined as anything that comes between you and God? God must be first alone, a jealous God who brooks no other intermediary; no other idol, no other worship [Deuteronomy 5:9]. He must be first above all. And anything that is worshipped above God is idolatrous, and the message and the preaching of Ezekiel was a burning condemnation of idolatry, and, of course, the judgment that inevitably followed it: The people were brought into slavery; they lost their nation; they lost their state; they lost their city; they lost their temple; they lost their lives – the judgment of God upon idolatry.
Now the preaching of Ezekiel was addressed to these captives who had been judged of God because of their idolatry, and now, what should they face? If they were enticed by those crude idols in Judah and in Jerusalem, think of the excitement, and the invitation, and the interest, and the allurement of the massive, impressive idolatry of Babylon. And the assignment of Ezekiel, the call of Ezekiel, was to bring to those captives the faith of the true God in the face of Babylonian idolatry [Ezekiel 2]. How would you keep these captives from sinking into mere idolatrous Babylonians? That was the call and the preaching of Ezekiel; and may I make a comparison? As Moses led the children of Israel out of Egyptian bondage, Ezekiel resurrected and raised and delivered the people of God out of the graves of Babylonian idolatry.
And did he succeed? Bear witness in your own knowledge of Israel. They went into captivity idolatrous. They were there slaves in a foreign land because of their idolatry. But after the preaching of Ezekiel and after the purifying fires of the captivity, when they emerged from the graves of that foreign land, they willingly laid down their lives for the true faith of Jehovah God. They were never, ever, idolatrous again. Never!
And one other thing: not only through the preaching of the prophet Ezekiel and through the purifying fires of the captivity, they were able in the years and the centuries that followed to face the fierce temptations of Greek Hellenization and Roman paganism. And though buried for centuries in the nations of the world, they have been of all people monotheistic, non-idolatrous, worshipping the true and only Jehovah God. This the great result of the preaching of Ezekiel.
Number three: not only was he called of God to deliver the message of the Lord and that alone, not his word, God’s Word, and not only was he called of God to bring to the people a faith, pure and holy, separate from idolatry, third: he was called of God to bring the people to a worship, separate and apart from ritual and ceremony, ritualistic and ceremonial religion.
They in the land, as you will find in reading the Bible, they in the land, in Judah, in their homeland, they came to the conclusion that Jehovah God was a God in the land, but He was not the God out of the land. He was not the God in other lands. Other lands had their gods. Other nations worshipped their idols, their gods. But Jehovah was a God in the land, in Judah – not out of the land, in the land.
Not only that, but Jehovah was worshipped in the temple. There, the altar, and the laver, and the porch, and the Holy Place, with its beautiful accouterments, embellishments: the golden altar of incense, the table of showbread, the seven branched lampstand, the veil, and the Holy of Holies with its ark, and the wings of the cherubim meeting up above, with the priests and all of the rituals that went along with the worship of Jehovah. That was the way Jehovah was worshipped; was in the temple in Jerusalem with all of those beautiful golden vessels and all of the accouterments and embellishments of ritualistic religion.
It would be hard for us to describe the tragedy of the catastrophe that overwhelmed the people when their city was destroyed, and their temple lay in ruins, and they were carried to a foreign land. How would you worship God outside of the land? And how would you worship God without a temple, without an altar, without a laver, without a Holy Place, without a Holy of Holies, and without an officiating priest? How would you worship God apart from the ritual and ceremony of religion? The reply and the answer to that on the part of the captives was several.
Number one: some of them fell in catastrophic distress. It was the end of life and worship and of God for them. Jehovah was impotent. He couldn’t defeat His enemies. And with the temple in ruins and the priesthood dispersed and the secret vessels in pagan hands, they cried in Psalm 137, verse 4: "How can we sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?"
How can we worship God outside of the great nation and the great city and the beautiful temple? How can we worship God apart from its ceremonial and ritualistic expression?
A second response to the destruction of the city and the nation and the temple: some of them fell into listless, listless despair because of the judgment of God upon their transgressions and their sins. Ezekiel quotes them in Ezekiel 33:10: They said, "If our transgressions and sins be upon us, we pine away in them." There is no hope for us. We are judged. We are as dead.
There was a third thing that was possible, and that was brought by the preaching of the prophet Ezekiel: there were some of them, there were some of them, not all of them, a few of them, who listening to the Word of God and to the prophet from heaven; there were some of them who turned, who repented, who listened to the voice of God, and who found a new way of worship, and meaning, and spiritual relationship in a strange land, apart from all of the rituals and ceremonies of religion. And that came in a threefold way under the preaching of Ezekiel.
Number one: to my amazement as I read it, the judgment of God upon Israel was an affirmation and a confirmation of the true prophet, Jeremiah in Judah and Ezekiel in Babylon. The false prophet said, "There will be no judgment. There will be no visitation from heaven. You can thumb your nose at God! You can do despite to His Spirit of grace! You can worship your idols, for there will never come any army to besiege or destroy Jerusalem or the nation to which it belongs." The false prophets: they love to listen to them.
But Jeremiah and Ezekiel warned the people: "Except you turn and get right with God, there is a judgment day that faces us!" And when that judgment day came, the false prophets were ashamed and hid themselves, but the great men of God, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, were confirmed as the prophets of the Lord.
That’s one thing.
A second thing was in the destruction of the city, and of the nation, and of the temple, and of its ritualistic ceremonial exercises, in the destruction of that worship, Ezekiel came and in chapter 3, and in chapter 18, and in chapter 33 of his prophecy, he brings a new kind of religious faith. Ezekiel preaches in some of the greatest passages in the Bible personal responsibility to God. Just between you and the Lord, no intervening priest, no instruments of ceremonial worship, no approaches by ritual, but just you and God, a spiritual religion in the heart and in the soul. That was the great message of the prophet Ezekiel. You don’t need a priest. You don’t need a house. You don’t need a ritual. You don’t need a ceremony. A kitchen corner is as good a place to worship God as the greatest cathedral. Anywhere, anytime, any how is a wonderful how or a wonderful place to call upon the name of the Lord.
A spiritual religion: that was the great denominator in the preaching of Ezekiel that lifted up that remnant in the very presence of heaven. And that’s our great doctrine today. Religion is not something expressed by a ritual or a ceremony or in a house. Religion is something in your soul. It’s something in your heart. It’s a relationship between you and God.
The preaching of Ezekiel brings to my heart an infinite encouragement. He was preaching as Isaiah did, the doctrine of the remnant. The doctrine of the remnant, that is, not all will turn, not everyone will repent, not everybody will believe. They will not all respond [Ezekiel 11:13-20; 14:22-23].
I just am rebuffed as you are all the time in seeking to encourage others to the Lord. I met a young fellow in the middle of the week. And he said, "I and my wife will surely be there, and our little baby girl, we are coming."
So I asked him for the telephone number of his wife. I said, "I want to call and encourage her." And so last night I finally got a hold of her, and I said, "It’s going to be wonderful – you and your young husband, and you are going to bring your baby to the nursery – it’s just going to be wonderful to welcome you."
She said, "That’s not so. I’ll not be there, and our baby is not going to be there. And I can tell you another thing, he’s not going to be there either. We are not coming!"
Well, I live in that kind of a world, rebuffed all the time: "I will not turn, I will not believe, I will not accept, I will not bring my family. I’m not going to bring up my children in the Word of Lord. I am not coming." I live in that kind of a world all the time. But they’re not all that way. There is always that doctrine of the remnant. There are some who will come. There are some will turn; some will believe; some will be present, and some will come down that aisle, giving their hearts and homes and lives to the Lord. Some will!
And may I couch that now in the doctrine of the New Testament? I am a Calvinist. I believe in the elective sovereign purposes of God. And a man could say to me, "If you believe that, why do you preach? They’re not coming."
That’s right. Some of them will not come, but the doctrine of election is, some will. And that’s a great encouragement to me in my work. When I preach, not everyone will be saved, not everyone will respond. But God will always give us some. He gave us you. He gave us you. He gave us you. Always the elective purpose in the sovereign grace of God will move the hearts of some, and some will respond.
The doctrine of the remnant, the doctrine of the elective purposes of God: God will not see His Son die and He have no response and no reward and no recompense. God will give His Son a people – you. God will do that: The elective purpose of God, the remnant. I come to the – we’re going to pick it up next Sunday. We’re just start next Sunday.
The last part of the message that I had prepared was Ezekiel. Of all of the prophets, Ezekiel is the prophet of a golden, millennial tomorrow. So much of the words of Ezekiel; condemnatory against idolatry and iniquity and transgression that brought judgment upon the house of the people of the Lord, but Ezekiel beyond any other prophet is a prophet of the golden tomorrow; God, having provided some better thing for us. And may I make this observation? Anytime a true preacher of Christ stands up to deliver the message of God, however condemnatory the message may be for our sins and our transgressions, and however the threat of the judgment of God upon us, always, always the message of Christ ends in a beautiful, and golden, and millennial hope. There is salvation in Christ; deliverance in the cross; grace and love in the atoning blood and death of our wonderful Lord. There is heaven beyond the grave. There is resurrection beyond death. There is light beyond darkness. There is everything wonderful, and sweet, and glorious that God has waiting for those who place their life and their trust in Him.
That always is the gospel message, and that is the message of Ezekiel. It ends, all of those final chapters, it ends in a glorious depiction of the millennial kingdom of our Lord. And that is our possession forever. It is ours. God hath given it to us in the love and mercy of our blessed Lord Jesus. I don’t deserve it, but He gives it to me. I don’t work for it. I could never amass the money to buy it. I could never be good enough to deserve it, but God bestows it upon me; the free gift of grace extended to all of us; no one of us left out. The Lord loved and died for each one of us. And when I find it in my heart to respond, heaven comes down and glory fills my soul. It’s the way of heaven, it’s the way of life, it’s the way of blessing, and I have just to take it. And that’s our appeal to your heart today.
A family you, "Pastor, my wife and our children, all of us are coming forward today." Somebody you accepting the Lord as your Savior, "This day, I open my heart heavenward, and Christ-ward, and God-ward taking Jesus as my Savior; going to let Him be the best friend to walk with me in this life, into the hour of death, into that grave, and out of it to the glory of the heaven beyond." Everything is ours in Christ Jesus. Every good thing, God will give to us if we will just open our hearts to Him. Do it. Make the decision now, and when we stand in this moment to sing our hymn of appeal, on the first note of the first stanza, come. Down that stairway, down this aisle, "Pastor, this is God’s day for me, and I’m on the way. Here I am." May the angels bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
BOOK OF EZEKIEL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Overview of the book
A. Considered most difficult book in the Bible
B. Written in great chronological detail
C. Style more varied than any other prophet
D. Ministry divided into two parts
E. Book divided into three parts
1. Judgment of God upon the nation
2. Prophecy addressed to nations around Israel
3. Future restoration of Israel
II. The prophetic message
A. Apocalyptic visions
B. Sign sermons
C. Direct predictions
III. Concerning Israel
A. Why the devastating judgment
B. The glory of the Lord leaves the Holy of Holies, temple, and city
1. The unpardonable sin
C. God’s elective purpose in Israel is restoration
1. Purifying judgment
2. Return to the land in unbelief
4. Millennial glory