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Friday, July 4, 2014

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Recently, I preached a sermon series on parts of Ezekiel.  When I came to chapter seven, I skipped it and preached on chapter eight instead.  To be honest, I skipped chapter seven because it is a hard chapter. It’s all about judgment, and I have always struggled with judgment.

When I was young, I was in trouble a lot.  I was what my wife calls a “full-throttled” child.  I was constantly doing what I wasn’t supposed to do and constantly not doing what I was supposed to do, and as a result I faced a lot of discipline and judgment. I was manipulative and quick to shift blame and responsibility to other children in the family, but justice in the form of judgment, even if I successfully delayed it for some time, always found me with full force. 

I have never had a big interest in judgment, so skipping chapter seven wasn’t a hard thing for me to do. But, as I worked on the next chapters in my sermon series, the Lord convicted me not to skip this chapter but to go back to it and preach what was in the text.  As I studied and prayed over it, a few things stood out to me about this chapter such as how complete and devastating the judgment against Israel was to be, and how personal the act of judgment was to God (notice all of the personal pronouns in verses 8-9). What a complete failure Israel’s idols were in protecting them from Babylon.

I studied this text, looking for some glimpse of God’s grace, but all I found was His personal and all-encompassing judgment. That’s when God really began to speak to my heart.  Because I tend to see grace and judgment as vastly different, and I hope that the grace on God’s measuring scale will be much heavier than the judgment on the scale’s other side, I missed seeing the grace of God in His judgment. How can judgment be grace-filled? When my mother disciplined me as a child, her goal was not just to punish. Her goal was the same for me as God’s to Israel—character development and growth.  God’s discipline is gracious because it alerts us to the fact that God takes sin seriously. Discipline, sometimes needing to be severe, keeps sin from spreading even faster than it already does, and His judgment exposes how completely useless our idols are.  In fact, when facing judgment, God’s people threw their silver and gold into the streets as if they were unclean (see verse 19).  By God’s grace in judgment we too realize the futility of the idols we have been depending on to satisfy us and to erase our fears.

The judgment that Ezekiel prophesied was not Judah’s eternal judgment.  In the midst of the judgment, they had the opportunity to repent and return to the one, true God.  As judgment continues today, by God’s grace we too have been given the opportunity to turn from our idols and return to God.  There’s great news of grace in judgment!  Amen.

Dr. Eric Bates, Pastor