3 Reasons You Should Preach through Ezekiel
Recently my wife overheard one of the older members of our church exclaim that before I arrived almost nine years ago, she’d never heard a single sermon on one of the Old Testament prophets. And she’d been a member of the church for over 40 years!
This didn’t surprise me. The prophets aren’t exactly feel good books, nor do they seem to contain the kind of practical, “news-you-can-use” found in the epistles and wisdom literature. And if you’re just looking for a good story, they’re frankly confusing.
Nowhere is all that truer than Ezekiel. So, unless you’re one of those people that is into arcane prophecy and end-times speculation, then why should you preach the book of Ezekiel? Here are three reasons.
1. It helps people see their sin more clearly.
The first reason to preach Ezekiel is that it will help your congregation see their sin more clearly. The prophet Ezekiel was commissioned to be a watchman sounding the warning for the early waves of exiles in Babylon (3:17). The problem was that the people didn’t want to hear his warning (2:4–7) in large part because they didn’t have an accurate understanding of themselves and their relationship with God.
Ezekiel repeatedly holds up a mirror to Israel so that they can see their idolatry (e.g., chs. 8, 14, 16), their pride (e.g., ch. 19), their misplaced hopes (e.g., ch. 17), their self-righteousness (e.g., ch. 18), and their unfaithfulness (e.g., ch. 23). He doesn’t let them look away, or minimize their sins, or take refuge in flimsy excuses. In graphic and sometimes shocking language, he helps Israel see the painful truth of their condition before the Lord. And because they don’t want to listen, because they refuse to look into the mirror of God’s Word, God has Ezekiel act out the message, in sometimes comical but often painful “street theater.”
None of us likes to look in the mirror and admit there’s something wrong with us. We’d rather preach (and listen to) messages of how much God loves us, and what great plans he has for us (which is true). We’d rather mine God’s Word for practical wisdom and solid help for navigating the challenges of life (which it has). But if we never see what’s wrong with us, we won’t take action to address it. And that’s one of Ezekiel’s goals—to help us see the true nature of our problem so that we will repent and turn to God for the forgiveness and mercy we need (18:30–32).
2. It helps people to gain perspective on God’s plan.
Ezekiel prophesied in the decades before and after the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the Temple. That cataclysmic event marks the center of his prophecy and the turning point of the book. With the city overrun and the Temple destroyed, God’s people wondered what God was doing, if his promises had failed, and if their future was gone.
So Ezekiel makes plain that God will judge the nations, just as he had judged Israel (chs 25–32). The justice of God shows no partiality. But having judged his son, Israel, God would also display his faithfulness by bringing his son back to life. In an act of powerful recreation, God’s Spirit would restore Israel (ch. 37). For the sake of his own glory, he would make a new covenant with his people that could not be broken, and he would put his own Spirit in them (ch. 36). They would live peacefully and safely under David their shepherd and God himself would be their shepherd (ch. 34). This restoration would culminate in an ideal Temple (chs 40–46) and a new creation promised land (chs. 47–48), from which God would never again depart (43:7).
People in your congregation wonder if God has a plan, and preaching Ezekiel’s visions should give them both hope and certainty. To be sure, some of these visions are obscure in their details, but their point is clear. Christians sometimes disagree on the time and the place of their fulfillment, but not the certainty of that fulfillment. The lack of details is frustrating, but that same lack makes clear that God isn’t giving us a blueprint that we must accomplish through our politics, diplomacy, or human efforts. Rather, he’s assuring us that through the power of the Spirit and the establishment of the New Covenant, fulfilled in the finished work of Jesus Christ, God will certainly accomplish what we neither deserve nor can attain on our own.
It’s easy to lose perspective in the midst of life’s challenges and trials. It’s easy to be consumed and distracted by disputes over the details and timing of the last days. Ezekiel lifts our eyes and refocuses our vision on the centrality and certainty of God’s gratuitous, saving work in the gospel. Despite what we see in the world around us, or in our own lives, God’s plan was accomplished at the cross of Jesus Christ, is displayed now in the life of the church, and will be consummated in a New Jerusalem, in which there will be no temple “for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (Rev. 21:22).
3. It helps people to find hope in the midst of suffering.
One of the burning questions of Ezekiel is “Where is God?” The book opens with God’s people in exile and then God unexpectedly shows up (ch. 1). But what’s he doing in Babylon? Why isn’t he in the temple in Jerusalem? In dramatic and moving imagery, Ezekiel is shown that God has abandoned the temple, driven away by the sins of Israel (chs. 8–10). The exile cannot be avoided because God’s judgment cannot be averted (ch. 12). This question haunts the first half of the book, and the answer seems self-evident: “The Lord has forsaken the land, and the Lord does not see.” (9:9)
And yet, almost from the very beginning of the book, God makes clear that in the midst of suffering and judgment God’s people have misunderstood God’s heart. God declares, “Though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone” (11:16). His arrival in Babylon not only marks his judgment on Jerusalem but anticipates his triumphant judgment over Israel’s enemies (chs. 38–39). His purpose is to put his Spirit within his people (36:27) and to restore them under a king like David (37:24–28). The book ends with a final glance at the restored city, which is never called Jerusalem, but rather, “The Lord is There” (48:35).
When we preach Ezekiel, we have an opportunity to remind our congregation that God is where he always is; he is with his people. He’s with them in the midst of their judgment because that judgment happened at the cross, when the Son bore the sins of the sons. He’s with them in the new life of the new covenant because he has put his very Spirit within them. In other words, Jesus has fulfilled the promise of Ezekiel 36–37. When he ascended to the Father, he sent us the Spirit (John 14:16, 26), and even now he makes us alive by the power of the Spirit (John 3:5–8). And God will be with them forever in the New Jerusalem, which is the people of God, a city which will need no temple, because God himself will dwell in their midst. (Rev 21).
Your people want to know where God is when their world falls apart, when God’s promises seem impossibly far off, when the enemy seems to have the upper hand and it feels as if God doesn’t see and doesn’t care. Ezekiel knew from bitter experience the reality and pain of those questions. But we don’t preach Ezekiel because he gives voice to our questions. We preach Ezekiel because he gives voice to God’s answer. Hope is found not in our circumstances, our feelings, or our efforts, but in the confidence that God is with his people, for what Ezekiel prophesied, Jesus Christ fulfilled: “And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Mat 28:20)
That’s why you should preach Ezekiel.
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Editor’s note: You can read the rest of the articles in this series here.