Warning From a Watchman
Date: March 3, 2013
Sermon Texts: Ezekiel 33:7-20, Luke 13:1-9
100 years ago, on the evening of April 14th, 1912, the Titanic’s wireless operators Jack Phillips and Harold Bride had received ice warnings from ships, saying there was much heavy pack ice and a great number of large icebergs in the area. Those messages had been given to the upper deck, but somehow never received by Captain Smith. Within range of the wireless station at Cape Race, Phillips was trying to send hundreds of backlogged passenger’s messages. Cyril Evans, the only wireless operator on a nearby ship (the Californian), was also trying to send messages. In 1912, the radio telegraph was still in its infancy. Evans’ signals were interfering with Phillips’ ability to send his messages. Using curt language, the Titanic operator told the Californian operator to stop transmitting even as Evans sent Titanic an ice warning: Shut up. Shut up. I am busy. I am working Cape Race. Fatally, Evans did exactly that. He turned off his wireless and went to bed. Ten minutes later the Titanic hit an iceberg. The Californian was less than an hour away from Titanic. She could have saved thousands of people but she could not receive radio signals asking for help after that. Ignoring warnings will have deadly consequences.
Prophet Ezekiel was God’s watchman for the house of Israel. A watchman is someone who keeps guard over a building, or a ship at night and issues warnings when he sees or hears a danger coming. In the first verse of today’s OT text, God says to Ezekiel, “Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me.” So, basically God’s watchman is to issue warnings against the people according to God’s Word. But the problem for Ezekiel, and for all the prophets and pastors for that matter, is that people won’t necessarily listen. The warning messages could be ignored. They may be received by our ears and minds, but somehow may never be received by the captain of our soul. When I read the book of Ezekiel, I sympathize with the prophet. I can feel the pain and the dilemma he experienced. Think about it. What would happen if I deliver a similar message to you? What if I say to you “O wicked one, you shall surely die”? Would you slam on my face and walk away? Or, as I stand here and issue some warnings, will you ignore them as simply another sound bite in the wind? Maybe worse, like Philips, you may use curt language and say to me in your heart, “Shut up. Shut up. I am busy.”
Yes, you are busy, but busy with what? Somewhat like Philips who was busy with customers’ messages, maybe we are busy with pursuing prosperity, or maybe even busy with sins. We may have “don’t bother me” attitude and say to God, “I am busy. It’s none of your business.” More importantly, when God’s people turn away from God and go their sinful ways, one huge characteristic is self-justification and self-righteousness as if we know better than God. We may blame God and say, “The way of the Lord is not fair and just.” America has been turning away from God and heading to her evil ways. One argument from homosexuality supporters is that it’s not fair and just for the Bible to say homosexuality is sin and not to accept homosexual marriage. Similar argument comes from abortion supporters. They say, “It’s not fair and just for women not to have choice and control of their body.” However, at the end of today’s OT reading the Lord says to Ezekiel, “Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just.” So, it’s our ways that are not fair and just. Why? It’s because God hears the painful cries from innocent unborn babies during abortions. Recent medical science tells us unborn babies DO feel pains. Also, God sees rampant perversions of sex and the proliferation of pornographies and various sexual sins (homosexual and heterosexual) that lead to breaking down of traditional families. All these start with or at least are accompanied by apostates of God’s people. Under the pressure of political correctness, more and more Christians, even some pastors fail to acknowledge before others Jesus is the only way. They are afraid of recognizing Jesus Christ as the only true God, as if it would not be fair and just to other gods and religions. You may think I am talking about some other people or some other Christians out there. No, I’m talking about you, you, you and me. It’s all of us. We always find fault of others, but not of ourselves, right? We always try to justify ourselves. Jesus warns us of this in today’s Gospel text. When some people heard and then told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices, they thought these Galileans were worse sinners than themselves. When people heard eighteen people died after the tower in Siloam fell, they thought these eighteen people were worse offenders than themselves. Jesus corrected their thinking and warned them saying “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Thanks be to God. He is merciful and gracious; slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. He patiently gives us more time to repent. That’s why God told Ezekiel, “Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live.” That’s why Jesus asked His heavenly Father, “Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure.” God is giving us another year to repent and graciously nourishing us with His Word. To repent is to turn. It’s about turning to a totally different direction. Where do we turn to? We turn to God in faith. It’s not so much about your effort and how hard you try. It’s all about directions. Let me give you an analogy. If you want to go to Washington, DC, instead of driving on 66 east you drive on 66 west; what do you expect? The faster you drive the farther you are away from DC? True repentance is to admit that we are heading to eternal death and we should make a U-turn. Yes, we need the fruit of repentance. But the fruit of repentance should come from the tree of faith, which is rooted and anchored in Jesus Christ, and in His forgiveness and His new life of resurrection.
As a called and ordained watchman of God I ask you today, what is your reason for not heeding the warning? Philips lost the sense of importance of warning in the busyness of sending customer messages and in the background noise from Cape Race. Likewise, we can be lost in our busyness of prosperity and background noise from this world so much so that the captain of our soul cannot get the real warning. Or if you’ve got the warning, what is your reason for not turning to God in faith? It’s maybe our self-righteousness, our sinful flesh, or our sheer stubbornness and pride. Please allow me to end the sermon with this story. Maybe you heard this before. This came from a magazine of the Naval Institute. While on maneuvers, a battleship lookout saw a light in the dark, foggy night. After noting the light’s coordinates, the captain recognized his ship was on a collision course with the other vessel. The captain instructed, “Signal the ship: We are on a collision course, advise you change course 20 degrees.” The return signal countered, “Advisable for you to change course 20 degrees.” The captain signaled, “I’m a captain, change course 20 degrees.” The response was, “I’m a seaman second class, you’d better change course 20 degrees.” By this time the captain was furious. His signal curtly ordered, “I’m a battleship. Change course 20 degrees.” The reply: “I’m a lighthouse. You make the call.” God is an unchanging lighthouse. Though the warning came from a seaman second class, we’d better change directions.