Let’s get this conversation out of the way. The theme laid out in your worship folder for today it’s not the best grammar, is it? I can see some of you English majors cringing in your seats. “I got your back?” Would it not be better to say, “I have your back?” But what does that even mean “I got or have your back?” It really is a weird phrase, “I got your back” – what? – but it’s an idiom that, at least to my knowledge, is fairly common. “Hey Pastor Kolander, I got your back” means I will support you or help you if you need it. I’m right behind you. I’m there for you.
And this in my mind is a fitting theme for us as we look at this incredible section from Ezekiel. But first I need to ask: what do you know about Ezekiel? Because I don’t think this is a book many, if any, of us read or study on a daily let alone a yearly basis, and the book is a little confusing. In the first chapter, Ezekiel describes some flying saucer – no joke, take a look – that is supposed to be God’s super-fast worldwide chariot, and at times the book only gets weirder. But this book is part of God’s inerrant word and Ezekiel, he wasn’t twitched in the head, God spoke through him. He called him to serve as a prophet to those Israelites carried off into Babylonian captivity. He was sent by God to remind these exiles that God had their back. Even in these dark days God was there to warn, but also to save.
Now did you notice, as this lesson was read, how Ezekiel was addressed in the verses before us? In verse seven, “Son of man!” In verse ten, “Son of Man!” Never by name. In fact, in the book of Ezekiel he, Ezekiel, is referred to as “son of man” ninety times. We might wonder, “does God not know the name of his own prophet?” or maybe just the opposite, “who cares”, or we might recognize that it’s a little demeaning. I have a name God. I’m Ezekiel your prophet, I’m privy to awesome visions from you. I’m the watchman over your people. “Son of man!” You’re nothing get off your high horse in humility serve these people and remember that you are only special because I decided in my will to use you for my work, otherwise you’d be just like them. “So hear the work I speak and give them warning from me.”
That was what Ezekiel was called to do in these verses to give a warning. A little more background might be helpful. The exiles to whom Ezekiel was speaking were being lied to by false prophets. They were being told that Jerusalem would never fall, whereas Ezekiel was telling them it will fall if they don’t repent. Then it did and those in exile despaired, their promise land, their home, was gone, they had no place to return to, they had no reason to repent and live.
Things changed for these exiled Israelites, yes, and not for the better. So here comes the “son of man” here comes Ezekiel, here comes the watchman who has their back and he comes to focus them on the bigger picture. He comes to warn them of the real fight. The fight against sin and its bride, death. “O wicked man, you will surely die!” That is the message this son of man carries. A warning. A warning of sin and its consequences. You see even though life had changed for these exiled Israelites, their fight with sin remained the same and now more than ever they need to hear this warning of the law.
And it was a message Ezekiel shared. Why? Because God tells him, as one who is a watchman, as one who has or gots – I see you English major’s cringing again – his brother and sister’s back, he will be held accountable. If he doesn’t proclaim this warning, and someone continues in sin, that person’s blood will be on Ezekiel’s hands. But if he proclaims the warning he will have “saved himself”.
As Ezekiel delivered this warning to his fellow exiles, this was the message heard in return “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them.” “God what chance do we have? We’ve seen how you punished our fathers and forefathers. We’ve seen how you wiped your people off the map, and now here we sit. What’s the point? “How then can we live?” And it’s right here that the son of man who has the back of his brothers and sisters is told to change his message. The warnings stop. “Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die?”
“Here is your new message son of man! I don’t want these sinners to go on sinning! I don’t want them to die! And they don’t have to, tell them to repent! Turn! They don’t need to die in sin! Tell them how to live.” And this message is one Ezekiel could deliver with joy. He had the people’s back. He wanted to warn them, to show them their sin, for this purpose: to save them.
Back in college I had a friend, well I had a few friends, but I had one friend in particular with whom I liked to play a game in between classes as we walked the halls. The game was very simple. One of us, as we walked in front of or passed the other, would just fall as if we had passed out and the other person was expected to catch the one falling. We had each other’s back. Now for some reason my friend enjoyed playing this game most often on stairs as I would walk behind him. Which is dangerous, why? Obviously, he could get hurt if I didn’t catch him, but also, if I only half catch or am too slow to respond, I also might fall and be hurt. For this reason, we both made every effort to catch one another, to have each other’s back.
Perhaps, that’s not the clearest, nor safest, illustration, but look at it this way. We are all called, like Ezekiel, to be watchman. To have each other’s backs. And you may not want that call, but God tells us this call is not optional; it’s necessary and lifesaving. Because the brother or sister sitting next to you or behind you or five seats in front of you might one day fall or be on the verge of falling. And that falling, that life lost in sin, is something we can and are to warn against.
No one wants to wake up their next-door neighbor at 6:00 am on a Saturday. But if your neighbor’s house is burning, and you let them sleep, you are not just loveless and careless, you are a killer. By letting each other live lives of sin, you aren’t saying “I got your back” rather you are saying I don’t care what happens to you spiritually. I could not care less if you go to hell. In fact, I’ll sit here and watch you as you go. Then as God told Ezekiel, “you will be held accountable.”
That’s harsh. That’s law. “…I have made you a watchman” Part of being a watchman means ringing the bell of warning. You and I, we are called to speak according to God’s Word. We aren’t here to win friends by being a pleasant coward who never dares to disrupt a brother or sister on their way to disaster. We are here to proclaim the hardest parts of Scripture as they are meant to be heard. To proclaim the law and the slippery slope of sin that leads to the bottom of a very real hell.
Yet even as we go and lay the hard law upon those who desperately need to be told of their sin isn’t it just as often the case that we run into a brother, a sister, who has lost the truth of God’s love. One of my professors once told me this story. “A teenager told me, “My parents don’t care what I do.” She seemed to like it that way. “They don’t care where I go. They don’t care when I get home.” But there was a sadness about her, just the same, as if the truth was sinking in. “My parents…don’t care.” That is not what God is like not even a little bit. He cares what you do. who you are, and where you go. Because he cares about you.
This is what we have to share with each other. This is the greatest thing about our call as watchmen. We bear God’s Word, both law and gospel, and though we have both to share, isn’t it the gospel, isn’t it Christ, the anointed one, isn’t it Jesus, he who saves, the one we finally want to share? There is no greater joy than to say to a repentant sinner, “Your sins are forgiven” and I’m not just saying that to you, I mean it, you can take it to the bank. You are forgiven. God forgives you for that sin. God forgives you for that terrible guilt you have been carrying for years. He loves you.
And as we share that message with a brother or sister, don’t we have to apply it to ourselves first. I see your sin – I sin too! I’m tempted just like you are and God’s law reveals that sin clearly, I’m a wretched terrible person. I deserve nothing but hell. But look! Look at what has been revealed to me. Life! My living Jesus, he who saves, saved me, and he saved you too. Come! Turn! Find life through faith in him. Find peace. Find rest. Find forgiveness.
This was the message Ezekiel joyfully shared with his fellow exiles in answer to their question “How then can we live?” Let me show you. Let me show you that the God who causes you to fear and tremble is also a God who wants you to live. “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” he says, and he has given you and me the way to live. He has given us his Son.
It was this Son, Jesus Christ, That Paul, in our second lesson, pointed Peter and the others to who had gone astray. As he had that tough conversation with a co-worker, as he pointed out Peter’s sin, he made known to all that eternal life rests on one thing, not works, Jesus’ death: I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
Christ did not die for nothing. He died for you. He died for you, and you, and you, and all of us. He had our back as his own was torn to shreds by whips and weighed down by a heavy cross. Yet he took that cross willingly and hanging from it shouted out “It is finished!” This was not the feeble voice of tolerance – what is it to me what you do or what you are – but the breathtaking sound of forgiveness, full and free, for the entire world.
This is the message we share as we say to one another “I got your back.” It’s a promise. A promise to bring the full weight of the law against someone falling into sin, to drive one another to the realization of that sin’s danger and the need for a Savior. So that when that same brother or sister asks “How can I live” we can speak of another promise, one who has saved us from despair and hell many a time, we can point them to the cross and the life won for them through Christ. God willing, they will do the same for us. We are God’s watchman.
Let us serve one another in love as we share with one another our Savior’s love. Amen.