This rather long article is the second in a series of articles I began back in June encouraging us to proclaim Christ to a world that ignores Him.
The primary task of the disciple of Jesus Christ is to proclaim Him and His salvation to the entire world. As followers of Jesus, we are to manifest His saving power by living holy lives and, from that essential foundation, we are to “tell of His glory among the nations” (Psalm 96:3) so that men and women everywhere will worship Him both now and for all of eternity.
The purpose of this series of articles/studies is to examine the various pictures of proclamation presented to us in the Bible and develop those into practical ways to proclaim Christ to a world that is blind to His glory, deaf to His voice and indifferent to the work that He has accomplished by His death on Calvary’s cross. I hope that these articles will equip disciples of Jesus to think through how they can become bolder proclaimers of the Lord.
Part 2 – The Watchman (Ezekiel 33:1-20)
Ezekiel 33:1-6. The sword is coming and the trumpet must be blown.
In Ezekiel 33 the prophet tells of the task of the watchman, and it is here that we will encounter the second picture of what it means for the disciple of Jesus Christ to proclaim Him. As we carefully read through this passage (33:1-20), we will see that, as the watchman is charged to warn of approaching disaster and urge the people to flee to safety, so the disciple of Jesus is to warn men and women of the coming judgment and is to urge them to flee to Christ.
As the passage opens, the LORD is bringing a sword upon the land (33:2). The “sword” represents a genuine threat of death and in this verse (33:2) it seems to be threatening the entire land. More ominous than that is the fact that the LORD Himself is the one who is bringing the sword upon the land. In the Bible, the LORD will bring a threat of disaster (“sword”) upon a people for punishment or for testing. The sword that comes for testing comes upon those who are obedient to God and who are walking with the LORD, whereas the sword that comes to punish and to bring judgment comes upon the wicked and the disobedient. This is clearly a sword that is coming for judgment and punishment. So a sword from the LORD is coming to bring judgment upon this people and the people, who seem to have anticipated this coming sword, appoint a man to act as “watchman” to warn of the sword when it comes so that the people can escape.
It should also be noted that, when the watchman sees the sword approaching, then he is obligated to blow the trumpet loudly so that the people can be warned. To warn the people is the watchman’s sworn and solemn responsibility. If the watchman fails to blow the trumpet and to warn the people, then the people will surely die by the sword, but the LORD will require the life of the watchman because he did not blow the trumpet (33:6).
Let’s take a moment at this point (Ezekiel 33:6) to make sure we are all on the same page so that we can see how this story of the watchman and the sword is actually a very clear picture of the disciple of Jesus and his or her obligation to tell the good news. “The sword coming upon the land” is the fast-approaching day of judgment, the day of the Lord, when God through Jesus Christ will judge all mankind for their deeds. The “trumpet” is the gospel of Jesus Christ, which warns the people of their sin and of the coming judgment, but also declares to the people the way of escape through repentance from sin and faith in Jesus. The “watchman” is the disciple of Jesus Christ, the one who has been saved from the judgment and who has been entrusted with the gospel message and who has been called by the Lord Jesus to be His witness (Acts 1:8). The watchman knows that the sword is certainly coming upon the land and he knows that the gospel message of salvation must be proclaimed (Romans 1:16; 10:14-15), so he knows that he must blow the trumpet if any of the people are going to avoid the sword.
Ezekiel 33:7-9. The watchman is appointed to warn the wicked
This episode continues with the LORD declaring to His messenger that he has been appointed as a watchman. The role has now moved from the theoretical to the concrete, from the general to the personal. The watchman has been appointed by the LORD and has been given a message from the mouth of the LORD to warn the people of the coming judgment. He is obligated to tell the wicked man to turn from his ways (33:9) and if the wicked man does not heed the warning and “turn from his way,” he will die in his iniquity (33:8, 9).
Note that the message from the LORD to the wicked man is both urgent and dire: “O wicked man, you will surely die!” (33:8), and the LORD has entrusted that urgent message to the watchman to communicate to the people. The watchman has been specifically and personally chosen to carry the message and the LORD is expecting him to proclaim the message to all the people.
Again, we will pause briefly to review and to consider the progress of the passage and see how it reflects the gospel and the disciple’s task of proclaiming the salvation of the Lord Jesus. First, then, it must be understood that all those who have been called to faith in Christ have been called as watchmen. The “watchman” in 33:7, then, is none other than every believer. It is also obvious that “the message from the LORD’s mouth (33:7)” is the gospel of salvation, which includes a very severe warning of coming and eternal judgment (33:7b). The believer has been appointed as a watchman to warn the wicked man to turn from his way (33:8). Unless the wicked man hears the message of warning and turns from his way, he will die in his iniquity.
Ezekiel 33:10-20. “How then can we survive?”
It is hard to not go verse-by-verse through the passage, since the verses are so packed with meaning and they so clearly foreshadow the gospel message and the gospel call.
In 33:10, the watchman’s hearers have understood and believed the warning from the watchman’s mouth, and they make the correct response: “Our sins and our transgressions are upon us (‘we know ourselves to be guilty sinners’) and we are rotting away in them (‘our sins condemn us and we know that the LORD’s wrath rests on us’); how then can we survive (‘what must we do to be saved?’ Acts 2:37; 16:30; etc.)?” The watchman’s warning has brought conviction and the hearers have cried out for mercy. Does the LORD have a ready answer for them?
Indeed, He does! “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn back, turn back from your evil ways!” (33:11) Through His appointed watchman the LORD calls to the wicked to turn from his way and live. And this is exactly the same message that the New Testament watchman also proclaims: “Repent!” But now the New Testament watchman proclaims repentance and also calls the sinner to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and he will be saved.
The passage goes on to say that no human righteousness is righteous enough, because one single sin will ruin all accumulated righteousness and in that sin the person will die. But also, no sin or even an accumulation of sin is enough to condemn a man or a woman the day that they repent of their sin, turn from their wicked ways and put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. No human righteousness is good enough to be accepted by God, but no human sin is wicked enough to withstand the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ when a person confesses faith in Him.
Throughout the Scripture there have been these same great themes and these urgent messages: The “sword” of the LORD’s judgment is certainly coming one day (Where will you hide to find refuge from that sword?) and the LORD has appointed His people to proclaim the news of salvation; but the huge, over-arching question of the Scriptures is: “How can the wicked survive?” Who can stand before a holy God on the day of judgment? What defense can any person offer? How can anyone be counted righteous before this holy God? The good news that every Watchman has to proclaim is that now we have the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and we know that, through faith in Him, we can be forgiven and reconciled to God.
What is distinct about the role of “the Watchman?” Each different role in which we “proclaim Christ to a deaf world” is somewhat distinct from the others. We have talked about “the Sower” whose role is to scatter abundant seed extravagantly and somewhat indiscriminately in the expectation that some will find good soil to bear much fruit. The Watchman is one whose ministry and preaching lean heavily toward a warning of approaching judgment. The Watchman brings an urgent message of warning. The unique role of the Watchman is the emphasis on imminent judgment and the need to flee from the wrath. This is a “John the Baptist” type of person, more passionate about rescue from hell and less concerned about being winsome. “Flee to safety, even if you despise and loathe my presence. Disregard me, but please pay heed to my message!” When the building is on fire, you don’t care about the looks of the fireman or the sound of his voice. Just so the main task of the Watchman is to announce with trumpet sound and crystal clarity the approach of the sword.
APPLICATION OF THE WATCHMAN:
How do we take these ideas of being a Watchman who warns and convert them into practical action steps for the believer to implement?
First, there must be a determined boldness and a settled courage. The Watchman must decide that he (or she) is going to warn of the coming sword of judgment regardless of the consequences. The Watchman has decided to speak and has thought about what they will say. They have also decided that they will not shrink back or shy away from declaring the truth of the coming judgment. The hearer must know about their peril and about the need to escape, and the Watchman is going to communicate that warning. This resolve and determination is found probably alone or with a strong and courageous partner who will blow the trumpet with you. However your task is done, you must decide that you will not shrink back.
Second, I would suggest a planned approach to the warning task complete with knowing the Scriptures that you will proclaim and how you will proceed to the need for a warning.
Then begin and don’t turn back.
Have those you are trying to evangelize heard that there is a terrifying judgment that is coming on every person who does not know Jesus? Do your hearers know that if they delay and are taken away suddenly by death, there will be no end to their misery and their punishment? Have they heard from your lips not only the blessings of forgiveness that accrue to all those who believe in Jesus, but also the misery and unceasing agony that awaits all those who do not place their faith in Christ?
For those who follow Jesus, there is the sobering responsibility to be a watchman for Jesus. “Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men (2 Corinthians 5:11).” As we proclaim Christ to an increasingly deaf world, we must make sure that we are watchmen who warn of the fast-approaching sword of God’s judgment.
SDG rmb 11/18/2018