Watchmen for God’s People

 

Christ’s blood was required of him by his Father in heaven—not because he failed in his watchman’s duties, not because he did not listen to God’s commandments—but because he willingly took the blood of his people’s sins on his hands. He was bloodied and murdered on account of his people’s wickedness—blood for blood, but his innocent blood for his people’s guilty blood.

Ezekiel 3:16-21 (text); Acts 20:24-31 • Download this sermon (PDF)

Preached at Pasig Covenant Reformed Church on May 5, 2013 at the Installation of Officebearers and Baptism of Covenant Children

Let me start with a bit of Philippine history that most Filipinos do not know. I’m sure everyone knows about Intramuros, the old walled city of Manila. It is a fort ringed by massive walls impregnable to invaders for centuries until the advent of high-powered artillery. Along the walls in strategic places are watchtowers where sentries were posted round-the-clock to watch for invaders.

American flag raised over Fort SantiagoRaising the American flag over Fort Santiago, Manila, on the evening of August 13, 1898, after the “Mock Battle of Manila.” From Harper’s Pictorial History of the War with Spain, Vol. II, published by Harper and Brothers in 1899.

For three months from May to July of 1898, the Filipino revolutionaries surrounded the Walled City where the Spanish colonialists took refuge. It was the last Spanish stronghold in the country, and they knew that it was only a few weeks before they would fall to the revolutionaries. Fearing a massacre by the Filipinos, the Spaniards made a deal with the Americans to stage a mock battle in August 1898, wherein they would surrender to the Americans after a short “mock battle.” So the Americans entered the walled city, thus ending the Spanish colonial regime in the Philippines.

But to the great chagrin of the Filipino revolutionaries, the American invaders who promised to help them in their fight for independence prevented them from entering Intramuros. Thus, the Filipinos were denied by the Americans the complete victory they so richly deserved. So it was only a matter of time before hostilities between the American the Filipinos started six months later in February 1899. That was the start of another War of Independence that the Filipinos fought for twelve years until Miguel Malvar finally surrendered in 1911.

The watchtowers of Intramuros manned by sentries were effective against the Filipinos, who could not invade without warning or bring down the massive walls. So they resorted to a siege.

Ezekiel was commissioned as Israel’s watchman in the 6th century B.C. Babylon was at the gates of Jerusalem, and as Israel’s watchman, Ezekiel was to sound the alarm of God’s coming judgment against the people’s wickedness. Ezekiel had a vision of the departure of God’s glory from the temple before it was destroyed by Babylon, but he also had visions of a future restored temple, a more glorious one.

God told Ezekiel that Israel would not listen because of their hard hearts, but Ezekiel was still commissioned to warn them, whether they listened or not. If he failed, he would be held accountable for the sinner’s blood. Whether the people choose to hear or disobey, the watchman must warn them of the consequence, which is death. If the wicked responds in faith and repentance, his life will be spared. If, however, the prophet fails to warn the wicked of his ways and he dies as a result, the Lord will hold him accountable for his blood. But Ezekiel’s warning was not only for the wicked, but also for the righteous to be constantly reminded of God’s Word, lest he also falls into disobedience like the wicked.

Today is a joyous but sober occasion as we installed our new elders and deacon. We rejoice that we now have enough men qualified for these noble offices. But this is also a somber occasion when we reflect on the gravity of their duty towards God and the church, and our duty towards them. So we will meditate on the theme, “Watchmen for God’s People,” under three headings: (1) “I Have Made You a Watchman”; (2) “His Blood I Will Require at Your Hand”; and (3) “He Shall Die … He Shall Surely Live.”

“I Have Made You a Watchman”
Ezekiel’s duties as watchman came seven days after he was called by God to be his prophet the preceding verses. “Seven days” means that his time of contemplation of God’s call was complete. The LORD himself appointed Ezekiel (verse 17). A “watchman” is someone whose duty is “to look out, to spy, to keep watch.” Just like Intramuros, in the ancient Near East, watchtowers had watchmen who were posted on strategic watchtowers to watch the enemy’s presence or movements (Ezek 33:1-6). Ezekiel sounded out the alarm that the Babylonians were about to invade Israel (7:1-7).

Ezekiel was a “sentry,” a guard, who sounded the alarm by blowing the trumpet or the ram’s horn (Ezek 33:6; Hos 9:8; Hab 2:1). Centuries before, Isaiah already condemned Israel’s watchmen because they were blind and without knowledge. They were like guard dogs who were always sleeping, so they don’t bark to warn against evil men who come to steal from the house (Isa 56:10).

In our Installation Service, it says that Christ “the Lord of the church” appoints our elders and deacons. But we know that they were nominated by our pastor and elder and were elected by you as the congregation. How then were they be appointed by Christ? Because we read in Acts 20:28, where Paul was talking to the Ephesian church’s elders, that it is Christ and his Spirit who appoints them, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.”

And since they were appointed by God, the church’s spiritual leaders must first of all pay careful attention to their own spiritual and moral purity and piety and their teachings.

What are these teachings? In the Form of Subscription for Elders and Deacons, they affirm that they “heartily believe and are persuaded that all the articles and points of doctrine contained in [the Reformed Three Forms of Unity] do fully agree with the Word of God.” Not only that; they also bind themselves to “teach and faithfully to defend the aforesaid doctrine, without either directly or indirectly contradicting the same by our public preaching, teaching, or writing.” In addition to teaching and defending our doctrine, and “reject[ing] all errors that militate against this doctrine,” they also promise “to refute and contradict these and to exert ourselves in keeping the Church free from such errors.”

This is why our pastors, officebearers and members alike take it very seriously when others, even those who might call themselves “Calvinist” or “Reformed,” contradict or worse, attack, our doctrines. Unity is very important, but unity in doctrine is more important, and unity at all costs is most undesirable for us. We are to reject, refute, contradict and teach all who oppose us.

“His Blood I Will Require at Your Hand”
Ezekiel’s accountability as a watchman for his people consisted mainly of two parts. First, Ezekiel was to speak only the LORD’s Word, “the word of the LORD came to me … Whenever you hear a word from my mouth” (verses 16-17). In the opening verse of Chapter 3, the LORD commanded Ezekiel, “Eat this scroll, and go, speak to the house of Israel.” The scroll is the Word of God, desirable and sweet-tasting to the soul (Psa 19:10).

After he was full and nourished with the Word of the LORD, Ezekiel was commanded in verse 4, “Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with my words to them.” The LORD commanded him to speak only “my words.” He must not add to or subtract from what the LORD has entrusted to him on pain of judgment. The whole church—pastors, elders, deacons and the people—is warned against twisting God’s Word (Rev 22:18-19).

Paul exhorts Timothy in these last days—between Christ’s first and second comings—to “preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.” Why must Timothy and all pastors and teachers preach God’s Word faithfully? Because, Paul says, in these last days, many pastors and teachers will not preach the truth and “sound doctrine,” but instead preach lies and myths (2 Tim 4:2-4).

Today, pastors and teachers are always on the lookout, but not for the true gospel. Instead, they are always looking for humorous preaching and creative worship ideas to attract and entertain unbelieving goats. In order to sooth the itching ears of wicked goats, they twist the true gospel—the death and resurrection of Christ for the sins of his people—into a promise of health and wealth if they only “name-it-and-claim-it” through faith, not in Christ, but in their own spoken word.

Many pastors and churches are afraid of ridicule if they preach repentance of sins and faith in Christ because these are so “old-fashioned,” even obsolete and irrelevant. As well, they do not want to teach doctrines simply because of lack of Biblical knowledge. This is why Paul’s exhortation to Timothy is so prophetic, “Always be sober-minded [watchful, KJV], endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2Tim 4:5; 1Thess 5:6). The LORD’s watchmen are to guard the church’s sound doctrine from God’s Word and warn the church against false teachings.

Second, if the watchman fails to warn the people from God’s Word, he is responsible for the death of the wicked people who were not warned, “his blood I will require at your hand” (verse 18). This is similar language to Genesis 9:5-6, “And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning … From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man. ‘Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed.’” The penalty for murder is vengeance by God in the form of shedding the blood of the murderer, that is, death.

The LORD tells Ezekiel that if he fails his duty as a watchman, and his people die of their sins, he too will be considered a murderer! The preacher of Hebrews have this in mind when he reminds believers of their duty towards their pastors and elders, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account” (Heb 13:17). So the people of God are accountable to the elders, and in turn, the elders are accountable to God.

So many pastors today fail in their duty as watchmen! They are like the false prophets whom Ezekiel condemns, “They have misled my people, saying, ‘Peace,’ when there is no peace” (Ezek 3:10). They preach a half-gospel, which is not the gospel, of God’s love for everyone, never warning the people of God’s wrath against sin. They preach a false gospel of God pouring blessings of wealth and health in return for tithing. They preach a false gospel of carnal Christianity, which is nothing more than lawless Christianity. They preach a false gospel of signs and wonders and miracles, instead of spiritual healing and maturity. They preach a false gospel of worship based on human creativity, innovations and entertainment, instead of God-centered worship with reverence and awe.

Many churches also boast of the number of souls they have saved, asking, “How many souls did you save today in your church?” On the contrary, Ezekiel’s task does not include a promise of success, but of failure because the people ”will not be willing to listen to you … because [they] have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart” (Ezek 3:7). God also told Jeremiah about the same stubbornness by the people, “I set watchmen over you, saying, ‘Pay attention to the sound of the trumpet!’ But they said, ‘We will not pay attention’” (Jer 6:17).

In our text, God lays out four cases of responses to God’s call: two from the watchman and two from the individual. In verses 18 and 20, the LORD makes the watchman accountable for his failure to sound the alarm, resulting in the death of the unrepentant sinner. But the watchman is held responsible by God. But in verses 19 and 21, we read that if the faithful watchman does his duty, it does not matter if the people listen or not; God will still “deliver his soul.”

Does this mean that Ezekiel will also come under God’s judgment if he failed in his duty? No, this means he will not be held accountable for those who die of their sins. Paul has this mind when he exhorts Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim 4:16). A pastor’s endurance in sound doctrine and life will lead him to persevere in the faith, away from false gospels. In so doing, his salvation will be confirmed.

The pastor’s task is not to “save sinners”—only the Holy Spirit can do that—but to preach the pure gospel of Christ. The Spirit alone knows who to save, how many, and when he will save a particular individual. The watchman of God’s house is called to a duty—to preach the gospel of repentance and faith in Christ—and is accountable to God in the performance of this duty. He does not look for a reward because he “saved many souls.”

“He Shall Die … He Shall Surely Live”
But the watchman is not the only one accountable to God. Every single individual in the whole world is accountable to God, whether good or evil (Rom 14:12; 2 Cor 5:10). Every church as a whole is also accountable to God. It will be judged whether it was faithful to the Scripture’s doctrines, worship and practices. Churches who are faithful are to receive the “crown of life” (Rev 2:10), but to those who are not, God will remove their lampstand as a true church (Rev 2:5).

Although Ezekiel addresses God’s covenant people as a whole, the warnings of his preaching are addressed to individual members of the covenant household. If an individual does not listen and does not repent of his sin, he shall die. In these verses, it is obvious that the focus of God’s Word to the people is warning the unrepentant wicked person of his death. God refers to “the wicked” four times and “wicked ways” three more times, while he mentions “the righteous” only twice.

Who are the “wicked”? In the old covenant context, these are those who have rejected the LORD and his covenant laws, preferring to live a life of evil deeds. They despise law of the LORD instead of delighting in them. To give the impression that they love God and his Word, they quote his Word, but twist them for their own wicked use. In so doing, they show their ignorance of God’s Word.

Many in the churches today are like these wicked people in Israel. They look pious, they quote God’s Word, but twist them for their own shameful grab for money, power, and prestige. These are the hypocrites in the church, and many of them are pastors who post all kinds of pious words on Facebook and preach pious words on TV, but whose intentions are for shameful gain. In Chapter 34, the LORD condemns these watchmen—the shepherds of Israel—because instead of feeding the sheep, they eat the sheep! “No longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, that they may not be food for them” (Ezek 34:10). So the sheep are scattered, but God would require their blood on the hands of these greedy watchmen. How tragic for Christ’s church!

And who are the “righteous”? Verses 20 and 21 may present a difficulty for Reformed believers: Can a righteous person who is saved lose his salvation and “die,” which means be under God’s judgment? But here, the New Testament concept of being “righteous” before God through justification by faith alone in Christ alone is not in play. The “righteous” in these verses refer to those in the Old Testament who obey God’s covenant laws, the Ten Commandments, and are faithful in keeping Israel’s religious observances.

Some of these were true saints, but many others were not. Obedience to God’s law, not outward sacrifices, by his people are evidence of being “righteous” before God, “Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your deeds from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good …” (1 Sam 15:22; Isa 1:16-17). These are those who are truly “righteous,” because their circumcision is of the heart, not outward (Deut 10:16; Rom 2:29), and they listen to the watchman’s warning and “does not sin.”

Thus, some of these “righteous” people were part of the covenant community, “the house of Israel,” but in reality, they were not. They are the “wicked” Israelites who do not turn away from their sin, “And she has rebelled against my rules by doing wickedness more than the nations … for they have rejected my rules and have not walked in my statutes” (Ezek 5:6).

The wicked are also the apostates who fall away, of whom the writer of Hebrews warn churches today, “For it is impossible … to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt” (Heb 6:4,6). John also warns us of those who leave the church completely or to join false churches, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us” (1 John 2:19).

Three times God repeats that the wicked and the ones who pretend to be righteous “shall die for his sin (or iniquity).” Everyone will die, some after a short life, some after a long life. Since Ezekiel has little or no concept of life after death, he must be referring to a life cut short because of sin (see Judah’s two sons and Naomi’s three sons). A long and prosperous life in the land is no punishment, because God promised long and prosperous lives to children who are obedient to their parents.

Then, because they are wicked, God will place a “stumbling block” on their way, so they are offended and scandalized by the true gospel. This does not mean that God intentionally wills the person to stumble, but that he tests a person’s faith and obedience by allowing trials to come his way. The person’s will is tested by his choice; the unregenerate will always choose the wicked way, but the regenerate will be able to choose the way of righteousness. How is a regenerated sinner able to choose godliness? Because he has the Spirit of God, he listens to the watchman’s warning.

To Albert Medina and Paulo Macaraig, elders; and Ariel Crisostomo, deacon: you have been appointed by Christ as watchmen over his congregation here at Pasig Covenant Reformed Church. It is your duty to watch over your flock, so you are accountable to them. Most of all, you are accountable to God himself, as you are his sentries posted to watch for the devil and his false gospels and false teachers who want to invade and destroy Christ’s church.

But you are not always to be on the defensive; you are commanded by Scripture to rebuke and correct according to Scripture (2 Tim 3:16). Specifically, you are commanded to be on the offensive, to “refute and contradict” against all errors contrary to our creeds and confessions.

One of these doctrines that is precious to our 16th century Protestant Reformation heritage is the doctrine of infant baptism. Obviously, we are in the minority, so why refute those who don’t baptize their young children? Because from the very basic doctrine of Christian baptism, we differ from them. While they teach that baptism is a person’s profession of his faith in Christ—what he has done for Christ—we teach the opposite. Water baptism is a testimony of what God has done for us and for our children, salvation by faith in Christ. In baptism, God seals and signifies to us the washing away of our sins through the death and resurrection of Christ. As well, God initiates us and welcomes us as members of the eternal covenant of grace.

So baptism is not a person’s profession of faith in Christ, but of God’s witness of his work in us. If this is true, and it is, no profession of faith is required of our children to be welcomed into God’s covenant community. How were Abraham’s descendants welcomed into God’s covenant family? Through the rite of circumcision: “And I will establish my covenant between me and you and your offspring after you … You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He who is eight days old among you shall be circumcised” (Gen 17:7, 11, 12). Peter borrowed these same words in his first sermon, “For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself” (Acts 2:39). This is why whenever a head of household in the book of Acts believes, his/her whole household is baptized. It is because Paul himself taught that baptism replaced circumcision as the sign and seal of the covenant of grace (Col 2:11-13).

And why do we not baptize in a swimming pool? Nowhere in the Bible does it tell us explicitly how the apostles baptized believers. Because the symbolism of salvation, the washing away of sins, is almost always by sprinkling or pouring, not immersion! In fact, in God’s first covenant service with Israel, Moses sprinkled the people with the blood of animal sacrifices. And this became the required ceremony in Israel’s worship. Isaiah says that God will “sprinkle many nations,” which means they will be saved (Isa 52:15). Ezekiel describes what God will do in saving his people, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your unclean-nesses” (Ezek 36:25). Finally, Hebrews 10:22 says that we believers draw near to God “with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water.”

These two doctrines—infant baptism and baptism by sprinkling or pouring—are found in two references in the New Testament. In 1 Corinthians 10:1-2, Paul says that all Israel—both children and adults—“were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,” when they crossed the sea. In 1 Peter 3:20-21, we are told that pouring rain on the ark where Noah and his family took refuge was a type of baptism, “baptism, which corresponds to this,” God’s judgment by water. The water of baptism is a visible reminder of God’s judgment today. But it is also an exhortation to us that our identification with Christ in water baptism is a sign and seal of our salvation by faith in him alone who is our Ark of salvation.

Who were immersed and who were poured on in these two events? We read exactly the opposite of what is popular teaching today: believers were sprinkled or poured on by water, while unbelievers were immersed in the water!

Ezekiel as a son of man whom God appointed as a watchman of Israel, but God sent the Son of Man Jesus Christ to be the Watchman of the church. He came down from heaven in order to ransom you from your sin by his own precious blood. His blood was required of him by his Father in heaven—not because he failed in his watchman’s duties, not because he did not listen to God’s commandments—but because he willingly took the blood of his people’s sins upon his hands. He was bloodied and murdered on account of his people’s wickedness—blood for blood, but his innocent blood for his people’s guilty blood. When these four covenant children confirm what has been promised by God to them in their baptism today, Christ also took their sinners’ blood upon his hands.

After he ascended into heaven, he is seated on his throne as “the ruler of kings on earth.” But he did not leave his people as orphans because he has given “gifts” to them after he ascended: apostles, prophets and evangelists then, pastors and teachers today. Because he “has freed us from our sins by his blood” (Rev 1:5), he now rules his own church from heaven through his pastors and teachers, his watchmen. He stands guard over the walls of his church, and blows his trumpet to warn of approaching false teachers through his faithful watchmen, the officebearers in the church.

Watchmen, study and guard these doctrines with all your heart, soul and mind! Congregation, be noble Bereans, “who received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11).

Centuries ago, the Walled City of Intramuros enjoyed greatness and security with its massive walls and watchtowers. But one day, we as the people of God will behold our eternal heavenly city, most glorious and most secure with its walls of jasper, gates of pearl (Rev 21:15-21). It will not have watchtowers, for God himself will be the Watchman, so nothing unclean, detestable and false will ever enter it (Rev 21:27). The psalmist saw a vision of this majestic city of God:

Walk about Zion, go around her,
       number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
      go through her citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
      that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
      He will guide us forever (Psa 48:12-14).

 

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