Life’s not fair. That’s not fair. This isn’t fair. Have you ever thought or uttered words like this? It’s not fair! It’s not fair that I didn’t get that promotion at work. It’s not right that my classmates never get in trouble but I do. It’s bogus that I’m barely getting by while others who don’t deserve it seem to always have success. It’s unfair that as the youngest my parents let me get away with way more than my older siblings – well maybe the oldest sibling would think that, not the youngest. But have you? Have you ever thought like this? Have you ever said words similar to this? Is life not fair? What about this? Have you ever, as you pondered the unfairness of life, let this slip: “God’s not fair”? Because, today, in the book of Ezekiel, as exiled Israelites griped about their lot in life, we see that complaint being made. “God is unjust…God’s not fair.”
And this complaint, this statement, is made known through an old proverb, “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?” Now, we talked about Ezekiel and the book of Ezekiel a few weeks ago. You might recall that Ezekiel was a prophet of God sent to serve God’s people living in exile in Babylon and that these people were convinced that Jerusalem would never fall to a foreign invasion and yet here was Ezekiel to dash those hopes and pronounce God’s judgment – in the latter half of the book Ezekiel’s message would change to one of deliverance by a coming Messiah. But we sit in this section of judgment and destruction which is why we are hearing this proverb from the exiled Israelites “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge?” And this proverb means what? Do you know?
The people were ranting and opining that “It’s not fair!” God isn’t being fair. Our grandparents and great-grandparents were the ones who ignored and rejected you, Lord. They were the ones who committed “detestable sins” worshiping false gods and leading unholy lives. Yet, they are not the ones in exile! No! They lived comfortably in their homeland and died in their homeland. Why are we being punished? Why are you being unjust? And that right there that thought, that God is unjust, is the question we today will answer. Is he, is God, unjust? Well, let’s take a look. Let’s look at what we as human beings deserve
We don’t need to look any further than verse four, “The soul who sins is the one who will die.” Do you see any wiggle room in that short statement? “The soul who sins is the one who will die.” “But God it was their fault…” No, no, “the soul who sins!” “But God I didn’t mean to; I had no choice…” “The soul who sins!” “But God you were the one who allowed this situation…” “THE SOUL WHO SINS!” There is no wiggle room. There is no blame to be passed. It all falls on the individual. It all falls on us, doesn’t it? I sin. Does it matter why I think I sinned or who I think led me to sin or what the sin was? Does God say. “The soul who sins, except those souls who are troubled, angry, unhappy, jealous, selfish, ambitious or prodded by someone else…” Do I need to go on? Here God through Ezekiel clearly puts the blame of sin on one person, on each of us individually. You. Me.
And what is the resulting punishment for that sin? “The soul who sins is the one who will die.” Death. Eternal separation from God. Eternal suffering in hell. Is that unjust? If you think it is, I ask you to look at your life – look real hard – and tell yourself, tell God, that you deserve better. That’s what these Israelites were trying to do. They were trying to avoid the blame of their own sins. They wanted to believe they had been treated unfairly, their sins weren’t that bad, and, in their zeal to make it true, whom did they blame? God. Look at verse 25.
“Yet, you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just’” You say, Israelites, that I am unjust. What an accusation! I picture it this way. You’re in the kitchen with a younger sibling and there is a pot of water boiling on the stove. The child beings to reach out towards the pot. “Don’t touch it! It’s hot!” They look at you but the arm doesn’t drop. “I said don’t!” They start to reach out a little more. “You’re going to hurt yourself.” A little more. “I’m not joking.” And then the child full on grabs the pot and burns his hand. And as mom rushes in and asks what happened, he, screaming and crying with pain, points at you with the burned hand, evidence of his own foolishness, and proclaims boldly it’s your fault!
Would you take that accusation lying down? Does God take the accusation that these exiled Israelites are making lying down? No! But marvel at his response. First, he says, “Is it not your ways that are unjust?” Who is the unjust one here? Let’s be honest. It isn’t me. It was never me. Here is why: “If a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life. Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live; he will not die.”
Do you see the importance of these words? Marvel at what God proclaimed! Life! To the sinner, to you and me, God offers life. Is God unjust? Well, what had these exiled Israelites just said to God? They said he was unfair for how they were being treated. And what did we just see that they deserved – the same thing we do? “The soul who sins is the one who will…what…die!” They deserved to die eternally because of their sins! Yet what does God say here. What does God say to those Israelites whom we have seen over and over again sitting on their hands, spurning his will, ignoring his commands. “He will save his life…he will surely live; he will not die.” We see patience. “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone.” We see a message of repentance “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses.” And a message of forgiveness “…sin will not be your downfall.” Here in these words we see a just God who offers a message of deliverance and life to sinners. That is why we marvel.
Because here we sit, each of us, you and me, sinners. Let that sink in for a minute. Wrestle with it. Understand what it means. You and I willingly and at other times unwillingly reject God by disobeying what he commands and you and I will die because of those sins; our sins, not anyone else’s. But God he doesn’t want anyone to die and suffer in hell. He “takes no pleasure in the death of anyone.” So what did he do?
A promise. A birth. A death. Our Savior. Jesus. God offered life. Not by providing us an out, someone to blame or something we can do. He provided us his Son. His only Son. He laid upon him all our sins. He left him to die. To suffer a hell that was meant for us. Then, by his Spirit, he came to each of us, breathing life into our cold dead bodies as we were made anew at our baptisms and nurtured by his Word. Marvel! Marvel at what you each have received, something we didn’t deserve or earn: A new life. A new heart. A new spirit. And the ability to “repent and live.”
And that’s something unique to us as Christians. We have Christ living in us and through us and now we, by his power, can recognize the sins we commit daily and we can go before God as we did at the beginning of this service and we can say, “God, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for my failure to live according to your standards. I’m sorry for missing the mark and breaking your commandments. But I know, I believe, I trust, and you have said, that ‘If we confess our sins you are faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ And so I repent, I turn my back on those sins and I turn to you for the assurance of my forgiveness. Father, forgive me.”
When we do that what happens? Forgiveness. God doesn’t sit there and say, “Let me think about it.” No, he forgives! He forgives you! So, he buried your sins. He buried them with Christ at his burial and left them in the grave when he rose victorious. How can we not marvel at this? At what we have received? A new life in Christ. An eternal life with him forever. And do you know what that does to us? It changes how we live! How can it not?
You’ve been set free from sin! You’ve been set free from guilt! You don’t live to die in sin, but now you live to live for Christ. And through Christ you now have that power to say “no” to sin, to turn your back on the sinful nature that still clings and claws at your new heart, and to say “God my life, my all, my desire, is to serve and follow you only.”
So repent! Live! Serve God in everything you do. Grow in your faith by feeding it with the Word. Why? Because in faith you have seen what you deserved for your sin but now you marvel at what you have instead received. God has made you his own. He has called you by name. “Sin will not be your downfall” rather by grace through Christ you have been saved and your place is with your Father in heaven. So, I have just one question for you, “Is he, is God, unjust?” Look. Marvel. Tell each other. Tell others. Amen.