"Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, each according to his conduct," declares the Lord GOD. "Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," declares the Lord GOD. "Therefore, repent and live."
Why will Anyone Die?
My Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, said "Repent" [in Matthew 4:17], He willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. That is what Luther said in the first of his 95 Theses. He was teaching one of the most consistent messages of the Bible, the message of repentance. Our Old Testament Lesson, the one appointed to be read on Trinity Sunday says the same thing. Our theme for this week's sermon is, "Why Will Anyone Die?".
Our text comes at the end of a section of Ezekiel in which God announces that the one who sins shall die for his sin. The people of Israel had been using a proverb, "The fathers eat the sour grapes, But the children's teeth are set on edge", to express the proverbial observation that the fathers' generation committed the great sins and the judgment of God fell on the children's or the grandchildren's generation. What they were observing was the great patience of God. What their proverb actually did was accuse God of injustice. It said that the guilty ones got away with their guilt and that God punished the innocent. This chapter of Ezekiel began with God saying that they were no longer going to be using that proverb.
Over and ever again, the Prophet speaks God's Word saying, "Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not right.' Hear now, O house of Israel! Is My way not right? Is it not your ways that are not right?" They didn't say that God's ways were not right - not straight out like that. They said it with their proverb. And God challenges them. And He announced the principle I memorized as a Bible passage as a Sunday School student, "The soul that sins, it shall die!" That was always the way God worked it, but the people fancied themselves to be innocent and righteous and suffering for the sins of their parents and grandparents. God says to them, "No, if you suffer for sins, you earned it."
That is where we come in with our text. God says, I will judge each of you according to your own behavior. God has even discussed repentance before the words of our text. He talks about how a good man who turns from his goodness and does evil will die for the evil he begins to do, and how the evil man who turns from his evil and does good will live because of the good which he has begun to do. These are judgments with which we are all familiar, but they were seemingly contrary to experience because God was so patient and waited so long for repentance.
Mind you, they did some of the good churchy-things that people think of as repentance. They did their sacrifices, required by their religion, however unfaithfully and reluctantly. They went to temple and they attended the festivals, when they were held. But God was looking for more. First of all, he wasn't looking for merely good "churchy" behavior. He was looking for character and righteousness. Listen to the description of the good man from earlier in the chapter: "But if a man is righteous, and practices justice and righteousness, and does not eat at the mountain shrines or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, or defile his neighbor's wife, or approach a woman during her menstrual period - if a man does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, does not commit robbery, but gives his bread to the hungry, and covers the naked with clothing, if he does not lend money on interest or take increase, if he keeps his hand from iniquity, and executes true justice between man and man, if he walks in My statutes and My ordinances so as to deal faithfully - he is righteous and will surely live," declares the Lord GOD."
Some of those things were part and parcel of the commands of the covenant with the nation, Israel, but most of them were just daily decency and compassion. God called it oppression to take interest on loans, and called it robbery not to show compassion to the needy. He looked for true justice and decency — and also faithfulness to the religious duties. And repentance was not simply to say that you were sorry, but to stop doing what was wrong and start doing what was right. God looked for man to be holy in the little things in life, not just in the big things. By the way, God is still looking for those same things today.
The people of Israel at the time of Ezekiel were confident that they were holy in the big things. But they were not, and they were not holy in the little thing, either. And they were blaming God for their troubles and calling Him unjust in troubling them for what they thought were the sins of their fathers. They were completely unaware of their own sins. They saw their world falling apart, and felt cheated, and blamed God. That is something we might be tempted with in these days.
We see the world falling apart around us. Our nation is slipping into socialism. The economy is still declining, and the way our leaders are dealing with things, they don't look like they will be climbing back up to the prosperity we have known for a long time, if ever. We remember the highlights of the good times that we have known and wonder what we have done to deserve the collapse that appears to be overtaking us. We can look around at others, and sometimes we can imagine that maybe they have earned this, but surely we have not. We have a sense that somehow we deserve something better. Even if we don't vocalize it, our thoughts along this line accuse God of being unjust with us. "Yet you say, 'The way of the Lord is not right.' Hear now, O house of Israel! Is My way not right? Is it not your ways that are not right?"
But ask yourself, do we really want what we deserve? I don't think so. We often develop the expectation that we are going to enjoy good times and great abundance, but we don't really deserve that. We deserve the judgement of God because we, too, have sinned. You know your sins, and I know mine. We want better than we deserve. This is where the words of our text come in, "Repent and turn away from all your transgressions, so that iniquity may not become a stumbling block to you. Cast away from you all your transgressions which you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! For why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," declares the Lord GOD. "Therefore, repent and live."
Do we deserve what is going on around us any more than any other people of any other time? No. We did not deserve the abundance of all the good that we have known, and we do not deserve the troubles more than any other people of any other time - or any less. God has given us great blessings and we have taken them for our own, and claimed the right to enjoy life and live well. We know better medicine than any other generation, but we complain about its shortcomings. We have a wider variety of food than at any other time in history - and far greater than the kings of old - and we complain about its price, and we settle for fast-food and junk food. We in America live in the most comfortable time and place in history and do less actual work than any people on earth and we complain about how hard life is.
But worst of all, we live in a land of unprecedented religious freedom, and yet, as a people, our churches are abandoned, and avoided, and where they exist, we often have demanded that they become places of entertainment instead of places of worship - places of hilarity instead of sanctuaries of holiness. And, we who have not surrendered to the spirit of our age are given the high and holy calling of being a light in this darkness, and confessing Christ where His name is no longer welcome, and we find that uncomfortable. But I say again, do we want what we deserve?
No. And, praise be to God, we don't get what we deserve. We hear the Word of God and even in Ezekiel we hear the word of grace, "why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies," declares the Lord GOD. "Therefore, repent and live". We have the wonderful news that God the Father has loved us with the sort of love that caused Him to send His Son to die for us, paying for our sins and receiving what we deserve, so that we might be forgiven, and receive so much more than we deserve, namely, the forgiveness of sins, life everlasting and salvation. We have, in Jesus Christ, the promise of the Word of God through Ezekiel - that life which God gives to the sincere and repentant sinner. It is the life which Jesus won and pours out on the sinner, a life received by the one the Holy Spirit has taught repentance and faith. It is all a gift! It is all completed for you! It is not just a possibility, but the present reality provided by God. He that believes and is baptized shall be saved! Why will anyone die?
In other words, we have the holy and precious Gospel. Your sins are forgiven. God loves you and is watching over you. When this life is done, we have just begun, and we shall live forever with Him. One day we shall rise from our graves and take command of these bodies again - only they will be transformed and outfitted for everlasting life, and we shall live before Him in glory and peace and joy world without end.
Today is Trinity Sunday. Nowhere in our text is the Trinity mentioned or discussed. Nevertheless, the Trinity is here. We rehearsed the truths of the Trinity in the Athanasian Creed, this morning. But we have also heard of the Trinity's work in our Old Testament lesson. The Lord God, who spoke through Ezekiel is the Triune God. The Father spoke the Word, moving the Prophet by the Holy Spirit. He spoke of the love of the Father in sending His Son that we might have salvation by grace through faith worked by the Holy Spirit - although the Prophet did not use any of those words, that is what God was saying. Why will anyone die?
The answer is, by their own choice. They make that choice by refusing the gift of life, by refusing to take God at His Word, and by refusing to humble themselves and repent. Unbelief measures the world by how it feels. The unbeliever trusts his or her own experience of reality, distorted by their sin and their flesh, rather than listen to God and take Him at His Word when He tells you about reality, about His love and His salvation, and your forgiveness. So, look at your life, and see it as it is, richly blessed by God, and yet polluted by your sins - and, knowing the love of God in Jesus Christ, repent, and live. Why will anyone die?
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.
(Let the people say Amen)
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