God’s Command Concerning
He said to me, “Son of man, stand upon your feet and I will speak to you.” As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me. He said: “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious house—they will know that a prophet has been among them. (NIV1984)
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
When I was growing up I had a front row seat to a continuing debate that was taking place between my father and another member of my family— let’s call him Joe. Joe did not like our pastor. As far as Joe was concerned the pastor was too old, too dry, too rigid, too old-fashioned and too repetitive. Joe was convinced that if we got a new pastor— someone younger and more exciting— then our congregation would grow! Every time Joe started to lay into our pastor my Dad would respond with the very same question: Is he preaching God’s Truth? Joe usually responded with something along the lines of, “Yeah, he is, but he’s too….” That’s when my Dad would cut him off and say, “As long as he’s preaching God’s Truth everything else is secondary.”
When I graduated from the Seminary I actually anticipated that the congregation I was assigned to serve would be filled with people like my Dad. I was wrong. My own personal experience has taught me and more than one elderly pastor has reminded me that it is not unusual to find people like Joe in the congregations we serve— people who are not fond of the pastor because he is too old or too young or too dry or too old-fashioned or too whatever.
Since that is an issue that has been debated in many congregations by many people for many centuries the Lord God made sure that He addressed that issue— directly— right here in His holy Word. Our text for today is just one example of this. In order to help us see how God not only handles but also settles the debates that may arise concerning pastors, today let’s study this text under the theme: God’s Command Concerning God’s Prophets. There are two aspects of God’s command concerning God’s prophets revealed here in this text. First, God’s command concerning God’s prophets is that a prophet needs to be someone who listens to the Lord. Second, God’s command concerning God’s prophets is that a prophet needs to be someone who speaks for the Lord.
Ezekiel was among the first group of people to be carried into exile in Babylon. The beloved City of Jerusalem had not yet been destroyed. Suddenly, five years after Ezekiel had been taken as a prisoner of war, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob granted Ezekiel a vision— an awesome vision in which Ezekiel saw awesome “living creatures,” a powerful vision in which Ezekiel heard the powerful voice of the Lord God Almighty, a vision in which the God of heaven not only called Ezekiel to be His prophet, but a vision in which God also revealed His command concerning His prophets. The first part of that command reveals that from God’s perspective a prophet needs to be someone who listens to God! Look at how clearly this truth is emphasized in the opening verses of our text. We read, “He said to me, ‘Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.’ As he spoke, the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet, and I heard him speaking to me.”
Like Abraham and Jacob, Moses and Joshua, Isaiah and Jeremiah before him, Ezekiel was given the privilege of listening as the Lord spoke to him directly. Over and over again Scripture emphasizes that true prophets of God need to be men who listen to and learn from the Lord Himself. Then and only then are they qualified to serve as a prophet of the Lord. In fact, the Lord God made it very clear that if someone was not willing to listen to the Lord, that person could not be considered to be a true prophet— a prophet of the one and only true God. (See Jeremiah 23:22)
Does this aspect of God’s command concerning God’s prophets still stand right down to this very day? It most certainly does, my friends! There have been any number of people down through the history of this world and there are any number of people in our own day and age who claim to be prophets of God. There are those who claim that God still speaks to them directly. There are those who claim that they still receive visions or dreams directly from God.
So how do we know, my friends? How do we know if someone who claims to be a prophet is in reality a prophet of the Lord? It all comes down to God’s command that a prophet needs to be someone who listens to the Lord. This means that you need to compare. You need to compare what the prophet is saying to what God says on the pages of His holy Word and see if the two line up! Sadly, there are modern-day “prophets” who clearly contradict what God says here in His Word. That automatically disqualifies them from being a true prophet of God. The writer to the Hebrews emphasizes this very same truth from a New Testament perspective. In Hebrews 1:1, 2 we are told, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” Where do we find the words that Jesus, the Son of God, has spoken to us? We find them right here in the holy Scriptures that God the Holy Spirit has given to us! (See John 14:26; 16:13)
What this means, my friends, is that no one— not even me— no one can claim to be a prophet of the Lord unless they listen to what the Lord says here in His Word. What this means is that I have no right to stand up here and proclaim my own personal opinions. I have no right to “interpret” what I think the Bible says in order to make it more “logical” or more “acceptable” to you. I have no right to add to Scripture and/or to subtract from Scripture. I have no right to twist and turn what the Bible says in order to make it fit in with whatever the latest public opinion polls may reveal. God Himself commands that a prophet needs to be someone who listens to Him as He speaks through His holy Word!
Our text emphasizes this very same point from a slightly different perspective when it reveals to us that God’s command concerning God’s prophets is that a prophet not only needs to be someone who listens to Him, but God’s command concerning God’s prophets is that a prophet needs to be someone who speaks for God. Look at verses 3 – 5 of our text. We read, “He said: ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their fathers have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, “This what the Sovereign LORD says.” And whether they listen or fail to listen— for they are a rebellious house— they will know that a prophet has been among them.”
Remember, my friends that Ezekiel’s call was to preach God’s Word to God’s people — people who had been sent into exile because of their sin! Do you think that God’s people were always happy to hear Ezekiel proclaim to them both God’s Law and God’s Gospel? Do you think Ezekiel “tailored” his message so that the people who had been carried off into exile could still “feel good” about themselves? Absolutely not! God expected that as a prophet of the Lord the prophet Ezekiel would speak for the Lord. God expected that as a prophet of the Lord the prophet Ezekiel would always be able to say, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says.” God’s goal for God’s people was that they listen to what the prophet Ezekiel was proclaiming to them. God’s goal for God’s prophet Ezekiel was that no matter whether the people listened or not, in the end— “they will know that a prophet has been among them.”
Does this aspect of God’s command concerning God’s prophets still stand right down to this very day? It most certainly does! When I was at the Seminary we were told over and over again that when we stand in front of God’s people we need to be able to say, “Thus saith the Lord!” If we could not back up what we were saying with what God says here in His Word, then our professors very bluntly said to us, “Sit down because you have no right to be up there.”
This is where I think some preachers today get lost. Instead of standing up for the Truth of Scripture, instead of speaking for the Lord they “tailor” their message to suit their audience. They “soften” the powerful message of God’s holy Law so that people don’t “feel bad” about what they believe or what they are doing. They “generalize” the message of God’s Gospel so that instead of pointing people to the cross on Calvary’s hill (Pointing to the cross), instead of proclaiming that faith in Jesus as one’s Savior from sin is the only way to eternal life in heaven, the preacher leaves the people thinking that as long as they live a “good” life or as long as they try their “best” or as long as they do this and this and this then God will let them into His heavenly Home.
I can tell you from personal experience that a preacher doesn’t want anyone to leave church upset because of something we said. I can also tell you from Scripture that any preacher who takes his calling seriously needs to remember what God said to Ezekiel here in our text. No matter what kind of reaction the preacher receives he must stay focused on saying, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says.” Over and above everything else the only legacy any preacher should ever be concerned about is that long after he is gone God’s people will be able to look back on his ministry and “know that a prophet has been among them.”
Permit me to address one more question before I close. It is my favorite question— Why? Why is it so very critical for a preacher to make sure that he is speaking for God? Why does God command that His prophets are always able to say, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says”? Why does God insist that His prophets stay focused on speaking for the Lord so that whether people listen to them or not, “they will know that a prophet has been among them”? It all comes down to one word: accountability. God Himself will hold His prophets accountable for how faithfully they proclaim His Word. If I add anything to God’s Word, the Sovereign Lord Himself will hold me accountable for that. If I subtract anything from God’s Word, the Sovereign Lord Himself will hold me accountable for that. If I twist God’s Word and try to force it to say something that it was never intended to say, the Sovereign Lord Himself will hold me accountable for that. (See Hebrews 13:17; James 3:1)
At the very same time, when you stand before the Judge of the living and the dead you will be judged according to what God says here in His Word. Any changes you might make, any changes I might make, any changes anyone might make are deemed irrelevant and inadmissible in God’s heavenly courtroom. God’s Truth as He gave it to us here in His Word is the standard according to which all people will be judged. (See John 12:48) That’s why it’s important for me to make sure that I am speaking for the Lord. That’s why it’s important for you to make sure that you are listening to someone who is faithfully proclaiming God’s holy Word.
“He’s too young, too old, too boring, too rigid, too old-fashioned, too repetitive, too whatever.” “Is he speaking God’s Truth?” Debates over individual pastors will probably continue for as long as this world is allowed to stand. While someone might say that everyone is entitled to their own opinion in this debate, God Himself puts an end to the debate when He tells us His command concerning His prophets. God’s command concerning God’s prophets is that a prophet needs to be someone who listens to God as He speaks to us here in His holy Word. God’s command concerning God’s prophets is that a prophet needs to be someone who speaks for the Lord by proclaiming His Word faithfully. May God grant that both you and I will always take to heart His command concerning His prophets.
To God be the glory!