Ezekiel 33:1-9 (text); Leviticus 23:23-25; Romans 10:8-17
© October 30, 2016 (BSCC) • Download this sermon (PDF)
Beloved congregation of Christ: Today, Reformed churches worldwide commemorate Reformation Sunday. Let us recount the events that occurred in Europe on October 31, 1517.
No, I’m not referring to the Halloween celebration 499 years ago. Halloween was a festival celebrated by ancient pagan Druids in the British Isles, and didn’t come to America until about 1900. Germans in 1517 didn’t know anything about Halloween and its wandering spirits of the dead and trick or treating. No, I’m referring to that night when someone posted what was on his mind on his wall: Roman Catholic monk Martin Luther posted his 95 Theses, not on Facebook, but on the wall of the Wittenberg Castle church.
To clarify a few things about this historic event, first of all, this was not a declaration that he was leaving the Catholic Church to establish a Protestant Church. Rather, Luther was an angry Catholic pleading to Germany’s emperor and the Roman Pope to stop the abuses of indulgences. Indulgences, as you may know, provided a way of lessening the time a Catholic—even a dead one—might have to spend in purgatory by paying money to the church. Pope Leo X pushed the idea hard because the church was bankrupt after he had embezzled the church’s money with his riotous lifestyle.
Secondly, Luther’s 95 Theses was an ordinary invitation to an academic debate about indulgences. Thirdly, his theses were almost exclusively about the abuses of the church related to indulgences. Fourthly, he did not expect his 95 Theses to spread so rapidly and widely and spark the Protestant Reformation. Lastly, in 1517, he was not yet a “Protestant” or “Reformed” because he did not as yet understand key Protestant doctrines such as the Five Solas.
However, by the time he was tried at the Diet of Worms in 1521, he was already convinced of the doctrines that are known today as the Five Solas, which I will briefly summarize later. Because Luther was already preaching the true gospel in opposition to the Church’s teaching, the Pope excommunicated him, calling him “a wild boar,” and his break with the Roman church was final. According to the Reformers, since the Church of Rome was not preaching the true gospel, was not rightly administering the sacraments, and was not rightly exercising church discipline according to Scripture, it had ceased to be a true church.
According to our text, Luther was an important watchman who trumpeted the true gospel that was almost extinguished by the medieval church, a proclamation of a new beginning for the church.
Ezekiel 33 also spells out the duty which the LORD assigned to his watchman Ezekiel in Israel. Like Jesus, Ezekiel was a prophet before and during Israel’s exile in Babylon. The LORD appointed him to warn God’s people of impending judgment against them for their multitudes of sins. He was to preach only the Word of the LORD. If he did not do his ordained duty, and the people perished, their blood will be upon his hand. But if he did, and the people did not listen and perished, he is not responsible. And if the people listened, they would be saved.
In preaching the gospel, Jesus trumpeted the good news of the coming of his kingdom. But he also heralded bad news: judgment is coming on those who do not listen to him.
So our theme this Lord’s Day is “Watchmen Trumpeting the Gospel of the Reformation” under three headings: (1) The Trumpet Duty of the Watchman; (1) The Trumpet Message of the Watchman; and (3) The Response of the People to the Watchman’s Trumpet.
The Trumpet Duty of the Watchman
God commanded Israel to blow trumpets made of ram’s horns (shofar) on different occasions. The first one was during the Feast of Trumpets, to be blown on the first day of the seventh month. Leviticus 23:23-25 only tells us that the Feast of Trumpets was a “blast of trumpets,” a day of rest with a holy assembly, and food offerings. This day was the beginning of a new year, and the people were to assemble for worship and thanksgiving through various animal and food offerings.
The second occasion was in the wilderness, when the trumpet sound was a signal to move out of camp or to gather the people to hear God’s Word (Nm 10:1-8). Third, they were blown during times of war, as a call to arms, during battles, or as a call to cease fighting, or when an enemy approaches.
This last use of the blowing of trumpets is in Ezekiel 33. A watchman is stationed in the watchtower high on the city walls, watching for any sign of danger from invaders. As soon as he determines there is approaching danger, he is duty-bound to blow the trumpet to warn the people of Israel to prepare to defend themselves.
This then is the watchman’s duty: to watch for any danger and to warn the people. And how does he warn the people? What message does he announce?
The Trumpet Message of the Watchman
What did God assign Ezekiel to do as a watchman? “Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me” (verse 7). Whatever the LORD tells his watchmen to say to the people, they are to say it with nothing added and nothing subtracted. If it’s good news, they are to proclaim it with joy. If it’s bad news, they are to proclaim it with lamentations and sorrow and a call to repentance.
In the ancient days, there were heralds who ran from battle scenes to the palace of the king to bring the news of the battle. If they won the battle, the herald was welcomed as a hero. If he brought the bad news of defeat, he was executed for being the bearer of bad news.
Such are God’s watchmen-prophets. They are to trumpet God’s Word to the people, regardless of consequences, whether it be the bad news of judgment because of sin, or good news of salvation from their enemies. God warned Ezekiel about his duty: If he didn’t warn the people of impending disaster, and the people perish, “his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand” (verse 6).
Jesus started his ministry with a proclamation, “The kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mk 1:15). This announcement was a double-edged sword. If the hearers repented of their sin and believed in the gospel of Christ, they enter the kingdom of God. If they did not, they are cast into the outer darkness.
Today, pastors are commanded by God to preach the true gospel. According to the Second Helvetic Confession (1566), “The preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God.” But how do we know that the pure Word of God is being preached? The confession states two qualifications. First, the preacher must be “lawfully called.” Only ordained ministers of the Word are to preach during the worship service, not just any self-proclaimed “pastor.” Second, “neither any other Word of God is to be invented nor is to be expected from heaven.” Therefore, the preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God insofar as it is faithfully exposited and applied by the preacher according to inspired Scripture.
Many pastors invent their own “word” of God in preaching all kinds of false gospels or half-gospels. They fail to be faithful watchmen of the Lord. So as members of Christ’s church, you too must also become watchmen to stave off destruction. When you hear your pastor preach self-inventions, you must blow the warning trumpet. When your pastor says God whispered a “new revelation” in his ear, or saw a vision from God, blow the trumpet! When you hear the name-it-and-claim-it gospel or the prosperity gospel, sound the trumpet! When God’s law, sin and repentance go missing from your worship service, sound the trumpet!
When your pastor teaches that you are saved by faith and works and not by faith alone, sound the alarm, because he is going back to the false gospel of Rome! When your pastor declares that you are saved because you exercised your own free will in accepting Jesus, blow the trumpet. When your pastor teaches that the declarations of popular theologians and the creeds and confessions of the church are more authoritative than the Holy Scripture, sound the trumpet. On the other hand, if your pastor teaches that you, by yourself, can rightly interpret the Bible without the help or counsel of any other, blow the trumpet.
If your pastor neglects his duty as God’s watchman, it is your duty as God’s people to be the watchman. Paul commands you to test all spirits, to be like Bereans, to listen only to sound doctrine. But if your pastor dutifully does his responsibility as a watchman, what must the people do?
The Response of the People to the Watchman’s Trumpet
The watchman has his duties. But the people are also responsible.
If Ezekiel proclaimed God’s warning of judgment against the gross sins of the people, he already did what God commanded him to do. Then if the anyone did not heed his warning and he perishes, “his blood shall be upon himself” (verse 5). They are responsible for their own destruction, not the watchman. The watchman cannot make them repent or believe in the Word of the LORD. These are the works of the Holy Spirit alone—giving new hearts and new minds to the elect.
What is the sinner to do? He has two options. First, he may heed God’s Word announced by the watchman, whether it be good or bad news. If it’s the good news of salvation from enemies or from sin or from God’s wrath, he is to be thankful for such salvation. If it’s the bad news of judgment and punishment against sin, he is to repent and turn away from sin and turn to God for redemption.
Second, the sinner can reject God’s Word proclaimed by the watchman. If he does, God’s Word is only bad news, the bad news of eternal death. His blood is upon his own head. No one else is responsible for his own condemnation except himself, “For all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God… And the wages of sin is death” (Rm 3:23; 6:23). He “shall die in his iniquity” (verse 9).
This is why the watchmen of the new covenant of grace—ministers and elders of the church—carry a heavy burden on their shoulders. They are the ones who “are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give account” (Hb 13:17). Paul speaks of their duty as apostles sent by Christ, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” And what is his appeal to all? “Be reconciled to God [in Christ]. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2Co 5:20-21).
They are to preach the gospel, “in season or out of season” (2Tm 4:2), because God’s judgment is upon them if they didn’t. Paul warns himself, “Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1Co 9:16). Only then can he declare his innocence, “I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God” (Ac 20:26,27). He has faithfully declared good news and bad news, law and grace, repentance and faith, God’s mercy and justice, his love and wrath, and heaven and hell. He is what Isaiah and Paul declares, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!” (Rm 10:15)
These watchmen must continue blowing the trumpet till the last trumpet is blown to announce the return of Christ from heaven to complete the salvation of his people, “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed (1Co 15:51-52). His return will be an earth-shaking, loud, visible event, not a secret coming as many pastors mistakenly teach, “For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first (1Th 4:16 ).
According to the Apostle John, when this last (seventh) trumpet is blown, loud voices in heaven will announce, “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever” (Rv 11:15). It will also signal Judgment Day, “the time for the dead to be judged, and for rewarding your servants, the prophets and saints” (Rv 11:18).
Brothers and sisters, you too are all watchmen, bringers of good news. You are to trumpet the gospel proclaimed by Ezekiel, Paul, and the Protestant Reformers: justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone. You are to be bringers of good news to everyone along your path, till the last trumpet is blown to announce Jesus’ Second Coming.
The bad news is that the state of the Church today is very much like the state of the Church that the 16th century Protestant Reformers wanted to change. False teachings abound today. The Bible is given lip service as the final authority, many relying more on new revelations. Many are Biblically illiterate—so they are confused—because many “pastors” are not well-educated. Zeal and knowledge are not balanced. Many have zeal for the Gospel, but no knowledge. Others have great knowledge, but no zeal, so faith becomes a formality, an outward observance, a going through the motions. Many unbelievers despise Christianity because of sexual and financial scandals in the televangelist culture of selling Jesus and manipulating followers. Even Christians themselves have become cynical and apathetic towards the church, so they stay away, much less become members of a local church. These are all bad news for today’s Christians.
But the good news is that Christ is the merciful, pre-eminent watchman. He knew judgment was coming upon sinners, and he sounded the gospel trumpet of forgiveness. But he himself provided the way of forgiveness when he took the blood of sinners upon his own head. As the gracious watchman, he bore upon his body and blood the judgment of God upon sinners who would repent and believe in him. And we must take comfort in his promise that the church will prevail even against the gates of hell.