Ezekiel 2:1-5 The LORD spoke to Ezekiel and said: “Son of man, stand on your feet, and I will speak to you.” When the heavens are opened and Ezekiel sees the glory of God, Ezekiel lay with his face in the dust before the LORD because that is the only position a sinful man can take in the presence of a holy God. God is God and we are not and the Bible says, “If thou LORD shouldest mark iniquities, O LORD who shall stand?”
Sinful man may not stand in God’s presence as if we are equals and Ezekiel is indeed a son of man—a part of the human family that is, by nature, broken by sin, riddled by guilt, and consumed by shame—and so is every other man who is called to preach.
Certainly members of this congregation understand that! That I have very real, sinful failings surely does not come as a shock to anyone who has been paying attention over these last four years of my ministry here at Trinity. I too am a son of man!
But it doesn’t hurt for both pastors and people to be reminded of the fact that those who preach-- are called out from the exact same sinful people of those whom they are called to preach to—they are no different and certainly no better!
For preachers, this text is a healthy remedy and corrective for any temptation to pride of position: that somehow preachers are a little bit better than everyone else or have a step up on everyone else because of their calling. It’s simply not so.
And for those who are hearers of the Word, the call of “sons of men” to preach is an important reminder that no preacher has a right to hold himself up as the standard for his congregation and no preacher ought to have an expectation to be heard on the basis of his own holiness or experience—but only because he brings God’s people God’s Word through which the Spirit does his work of raising us from sin and death. The Bible says:
Then the Spirit entered me when He spoke to me, and set me on my feet; and I heard Him who spoke to me.
Ezekiel had to be lifted up by God’s Spirit who worked through the Word that was spoken so that he could stand in God’s sight unashamed and unafraid.
That is true not just for Ezekiel- and not just for those who preach- but for every one of us here today! It’s exactly the way that God continues to work in every sinner’s life! We can stand in God’s presence ONLY when he himself has raised us up from the death of sin by his Word in Baptism, Preaching, Absolution, and Eucharist.
That a sinful man can be used of God and speak his Word and administer his sacraments is a sure sign of God’s grace that none are beyond God’s ability to save.
Now, having said that there is absolutely no difference between pastor and people when it comes to their standing before God—no difference in their sinfulness and need for salvation--there is, nevertheless, a difference between them in their vocation and responsibilities.
That difference is found in the pastor’s call to go and proclaim God’s Word in a particular place to a particular people. The LORD said to Ezekiel: “Son of man, I am sending you to the children of Israel…” Ezekiel was sent by God!
No less than Ezekiel, every pastor’s call comes from the Lord. Ezekiel received his call directly from the Lord without any mediating groups or individuals. Pastors today receive their calls via congregations or church bodies who gather to ask the Spirit’s blessing and guidance in choosing a pastor.
But whether they are prophets or apostles or pastors, they are no less calls from the Holy Spirit to go to a particular place and people and preach the Word. The call of the Holy Spirit is the basis of the preacher’s authority!
Ezekiel had absolutely nothing in himself to commend him to the people of Israel—in and of himself he was no better than the next guy. But what he did have was much more important than his own personal gifts and abilities and worthiness! He had the call of God the Holy Spirit to go and preach!
That was his authority and that was the foundation of his ministry and so it continues to be today.
I am more thankful than you will ever know that God has blessed me with this congregation. I can honestly say that I love you in the Lord as your pastor—as I am called to do—and that I also genuinely like you and enjoy your company and count my service to you a joy.
But my preaching- and your hearing- is not based upon our liking one another but upon God’s love for us all and his desire to save us from our sins which is why the ministry of the Word exists at all. The LORD said to Ezekiel:
I am sending you to the children of Israel to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day. For they are impudent and stubborn children. I am sending you to them.
The “them” that Ezekiel is sent to, are described by God as “rebellious, impudent, and stubborn” and of course we know from the biblical history of the Israelites that was exactly the case! God was absolutely right in his judgments!
Despite knowing God’s expectations for their lives—despite having witnessed some of the greatest miracles recorded in the Bible—despite having promised countless times to “straighten up and fly right”—the Israelites continued on a path of disobedience and sin. They were indeed “rebellious, impudent, and stubborn.”
But their story is the universal story of humanity—of our waywardness from God’s path, our resistance to God’s correction, and our unwillingness to put our whole-hearted faith and trust in God.
We may have trouble seeing ourselves as “rebellious, impudent, and stubborn” but according to our sinful flesh that is exactly what we are—just like the people of Ezekiel’s day.
And yet God loved them and us and wants all people to turn from their sinful ways and put their whole-hearted trust in him and be forgiven and restored in his sight and that is why he sends preachers to say: ‘Thus says the Lord GOD.’
Ezekiel’s ministry of the Word—his proclamation of God’s enduring, steadfast love-- was the means through which God accomplished his saving purpose in the lives of his people—turning them from their sin and renewing their status as his sons and daughters.
Ezekiel, as a prophet of God, had but one purpose and that was to give voice to God on earth—to tell all who would hear: God’s correction and rebuke to be sure! But more importantly to assure them of God’s love for them and his promise to deliver them from their slavery and restore them in his sight.
The content of every pastor’s message today must be exactly the same: to say to those to whom he is called: thus saith the Lord! To preach the law of God in all its severity-- but also to preach the Good News of God’s love for us in Jesus Christ.
Business success is gauged by an owner’s ability to give the consumer what they want in an ever-changing marketplace but the preacher has no right to change God’s Word or tailor it to fit his audience—his success is measured by one criteria alone—his faithful proclamation of God’s Word. That’s what Ezekiel did.
The promise of deliverance and freedom that Ezekiel preached to the people of Israel was true indeed—they were set free from slavery in Babylon--but it was still only a picture/sign/promise of what was to come in God’s ultimate deliverance-- of not just the Jews but the whole world in the Messiah—his own Son Jesus Christ.
You see dear friends in Christ, Jesus Christ was the true prophet of God from whom all other prophets and priests and pastors derive their office.
Jesus not only spoke the Word of God, he was the Word of God incarnate, and he is the content of every preacher’s message today and he is the means by which God reconciles the world to himself. The Gospel of Jesus’ death and resurrection is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes.
But then and now, what the Lord says must be believed if we are to be saved from sin. The LORD said to Ezekiel:
As for them, whether they hear or whether they refuse—for they are a rebellious house—yet they will know that a prophet has been among them.
The exiles saw the promises of God through Ezekiel come to pass as they returned home from exile. We know the promises of God fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
And so when we come into God’s presence each Lord’s Day to hear and study God’s Word, we ought to have the glad confidence that we have heard nothing less than the voice of God himself and willingly give him our faith and obedience. Amen.