What Really Matters – Sermon – Alex Moir – 14 February 2021

WELCOME

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)

Call to Worship

“Know that the Lord is God.  It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” 

— Psalms 100:3

Prayer

How precious it is to be reminded, gracious Father, that in the midst of all our striving and searching You have intended for us to be here and that You provide for our true needs.  On the occasion of this worship opportunity we, once again, acknowledge our need for Your wisdom and guidance in the living of our days.  Accept our gratitude in the name of the one who experienced life as we do, yet without sin … even Jesus.  Amen.   

Song

Today's Message: What Really Matters

Scripture Reading: Ezekiel 18

1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:

“‘The parents eat sour grapes,
    and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

3 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. 4 For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child—both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die.

5 “Suppose there is a righteous man
    who does what is just and right.
6 He does not eat at the mountain shrines
    or look to the idols of Israel.
He does not defile his neighbor’s wife
    or have sexual relations with a woman during her period.
7 He does not oppress anyone,
    but returns what he took in pledge for a loan.
He does not commit robbery
    but gives his food to the hungry
    and provides clothing for the naked.
8 He does not lend to them at interest
    or take a profit from them.
He withholds his hand from doing wrong
    and judges fairly between two parties.
9 He follows my decrees
    and faithfully keeps my laws.
That man is righteous;
    he will surely live,
declares the Sovereign Lord.

10 “Suppose he has a violent son, who sheds blood or does any of these other things 11 (though the father has done none of them):

“He eats at the mountain shrines.
He defiles his neighbor’s wife.
12 He oppresses the poor and needy.
He commits robbery.
He does not return what he took in pledge.
He looks to the idols.
He does detestable things.
13 He lends at interest and takes a profit.

Will such a man live? He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he is to be put to death; his blood will be on his own head.

14 “But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things:

15 “He does not eat at the mountain shrines
    or look to the idols of Israel.
He does not defile his neighbor’s wife.
16 He does not oppress anyone
    or require a pledge for a loan.
He does not commit robbery
    but gives his food to the hungry
    and provides clothing for the naked.
17 He withholds his hand from mistreating the poor
    and takes no interest or profit from them.
He keeps my laws and follows my decrees.

He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live. 18 But his father will die for his own sin, because he practiced extortion, robbed his brother and did what was wrong among his people.

19 “Yet you ask, ‘Why does the son not share the guilt of his father?’ Since the son has done what is just and right and has been careful to keep all my decrees, he will surely live. 20 The one who sins is the one who will die. The child will not share the guilt of the parent, nor will the parent share the guilt of the child. The righteousness of the righteous will be credited to them, and the wickedness of the wicked will be charged against them.

21 “But if a wicked person turns away from all the sins they have committed and keeps all my decrees and does what is just and right, that person will surely live; they will not die. 22 None of the offenses they have committed will be remembered against them. Because of the righteous things they have done, they will live. 23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

24 “But if a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin and does the same detestable things the wicked person does, will they live? None of the righteous things that person has done will be remembered. Because of the unfaithfulness they are guilty of and because of the sins they have committed, they will die.

25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? 26 If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. 27 But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. 28 Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. 29 Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?

30 “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

“It’s not fair!”  All of us, especially if you are a parent, have heard this expression before.  We’ve even thought of it or said it ourselves, and the effects of this basic statement have been felt at the highest levels of society.  Even our premier, at the news conference the other day, was basically addressing this issue. 

However, it’s even more serious at certain times.  When a family gathers at the graveside of a young person who has died prematurely, a life tragically cut short, it’s what everyone is thinking.  Of course, for those who believe in a loving and powerful God the question is more philosophical and theological.  The Psalmist writes, “Why do the wicked prosper?”  Theologian N.T. Wright dedicates a good portion of his book, “Simply Christian” to this question.  And it is, in essence, the springboard for our scripture today.

The question came in the midst of this crisis we’ve been addressing during these Ezekiel studies.  The words of the exiles are to the point …”The way of the Lord is not just.”  And they say it twice (v. 25, 29)!  We may cringe a bit at this honesty, but if you look at the situation, you may not blame them.  The puppet king Zedekiah, placed by the Babylonians to maintain order back in Judea, had what we might call a “brain cramp.”  Instead of keeping order as he was instructed, he had succumbed to some bad advice, given to him by some of the more aggressive and angry in the remnant community.  They had made overtures to the Egyptian government, to help the Hebrew nation shake the bonds of the cruel Babylonians.  When word of this development reached Babylonian headquarters, it made things difficult for those living there in exile … and would eventually result in catastrophe for the remnant living back home.

Enter Ezekiel, to address the issue of Yahweh’s role in all of this.  Zedekiah’s decision to involve the Egyptian leadership had stirred up things in Babylon and had complicated life for the exiles, just when they were beginning to accept their lot and adjust to this new living arrangement.  If part of Yahweh’s plan was to give them back their land (see last week’s message) then how was this going to help?  If he was really interested in their plight and had plans for their future, why had he not intervened and stopped this ill-advised consultation?

In some ways, the despair of the exiles can be attributed to the way they look at the past.  “What’s done is done” we might resignedly say … but Yahweh instructs his prophet to challenge this way of thinking;

But if a wicked man turns away from all the sins he has committed
and keeps all my decrees
and does what is just and right,
he will surely live; he will not die (Ez. 18:21).

Likewise, further into the passage (see v. 24) a righteous man cannot assume that his “track record” will save him if the unthinkable happens and “he turns from his righteousness”.  The sovereign Lord is very direct in his word to Ezekiel …”None of the righteous things he has done will be remembered.”

In essence, our Father does not operate a tally system, where the number of our good deeds are measured up against the bad ones.  His math has always been different from ours.  In the parable of the lost sheep, Jesus teaches that the shepherd risks the safety of the “ninety and nine” to rescue the one; and in Matthew 20 in the parable of the workers in the vineyard, the ones who only had the opportunity to work one hour are paid the same as those who worked all day.  Yes, the plot hatched by Zedekiah, to get the Egyptians involved and anger their captors, was a bad one … but, as unfortunate as this was, it won’t necessarily change God’s plans to deliver.

But there is another verse that needs to be considered that has an impact on our understanding of the person of God.  In verse 23 we read these heartening words;

“Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked?”
declares the sovereign Lord.

“Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?”

Another truth that should bring us hope lies in the Father’s ability to place the past behind him … and give full attention to the potential of the moment.  Admittedly, this is hard for us to understand because it’s very difficult to forget what we feel may be “willful” mistakes committed by those who deserve punishment (see “it couldn’t happen to a nicer guy”) … but the Father doesn’t work that way.  His purpose with his creation is restorative rather than punitive.  The best image is that of the “waiting Father” in the story of the prodigal … always waiting on the porch, at the end of the day, in the hopes of seeing his wayward son returning home.

Yahweh proceeds to instruct his prophetic protege as to how the exiles (and all of us) can unlock the secret of “what really matters” in life.  “Repent and turn” we read in v. 30.  I saw a bumper sticker a few years ago that perfectly summarizes life for so many … “I brake for garage sales.”  Now, I have nothing against garage sales … although I’m more cautious of them now after Linda and I spent much of spring, with time on our hands, clearing out our basement!  But the “I brake for …” series may indicate that which is most important in life.  What do you brake for?  Is it worthy of your best energy and time?  Does it strengthen your life or weaken it?  Does it help or hinder you from participating in the advance of the Kingdom?  The first step in new life is “turning” from the past (see v. 21) … and then the past becomes irrelevant to a new future.

There is a second bit of instruction as well, in v. 31; “Rid yourselves … get a new heart and a new spirit.”  The adjective used here, “new”, also has a verbal form “repaired”.  Who amongst us has not watched admiringly as a true technician or trade person takes a damaged item and, almost miraculously, makes it like new?  Is this not a refreshing way to understand the Father … as creator, friend, holy one, but truly able to “repair” our lives as well? 

As we mentioned last week, the cross of Jesus is the power that enables the “getting” of a repaired heart.  And so, we anticipate, even in the midst of an Old Testament lesson, our future Easter celebration …

Prayer

Truly our Father, the more we learn about You the more we are drawn to You.  When we hear in Your word this day about what pleases You most, that You want for all the world for us to make this “turning” in our lives, we realize anew that You are on our side.  Grasping this truth, we become a new people … not, as Jesus taught, just as servants but as brothers, sisters … even friends.

As we ponder Your role in every life, we cannot help but contrast our feelings about others with Yours. We confess to sometimes being very slow coming around to appreciating the change in a life newly given to You.  Through the miracle of Your spirit, remove the clutter of what may be hurt feelings or resentment.  Give us a heart for the lost, a heart like Yours …

Finally, gracious Father, as we enter into another week, we are buoyed by the news that in a few days our communities will begin to look a little like they did before.  As all of us experience a “re-entry” of sorts, we have been encouraged to continue exercising caution … another reminder that our independence is tempered by our lives in community.  May the spirit of agape, truly viewing others as better than ourselves, characterize our behaviour during this challenging time.  For we pray in the strong name of Jesus … amen.    

Song

Benediction

“He is worthy … to be praised with every breath, loved with every faculty of our souls, served with every act of our lives.” 

(Puritan Prayer)