Mercy and Repentance (Ezekiel 33)

Intro: Teens in Cocoa Beach watched a disabled man drown and did nothing to help. They even videotaped the event and mocked the man as he struggled in the water. Initially it was indicated that these teens would not face any charges, since there was no law if Florida that required someone to render aid to a person in peril. The police chief has since announced that there is law requiring a person to report a death after it occurs – so they will be charged with a crime.

God’s words to Ezekiel take a different view of accountability than Florida statutes. The watchman (God-appointed) would bear the guilt and punishment of the wicked if he failed to warn them. He could not sit back and watch them perish.

Read Ezekiel 33:10-20

Guilt is a powerful emotion. The clear message of the watchman was designed to bring Israel to a conviction of guilt. They were personally guilty of wickedness, and God was surely bringing punishment commensurate with their crimes. What is the cry of the guilty conscience?

I. How can we then live? If Israel was going to be punished for that they had done, was there anything they could now do to change that? It was a matter of life and death.

• If our sins be upon us – as a heavy burden that cannot be lifted off. If we are truly responsible, how can we undo this?

• “Pine away” – from a single Hebrew word that means to consume away or dissolve, waste away in a foreign land. God had warned Israel against this in Lev 26:37-39 They shall stumble over one another, as it were before a sword, when no one pursues; and you shall have no power to stand before your enemies. 38 You shall perish among the nations, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up. 39 And those of you who are left shall waste away in their iniquity in your enemies’ lands; also in their fathers’ iniquities, which are with them, they shall waste away.Ezekiel had prophesied this as well in 24:23- “But you shall pine away in your iniquities and mourn with one another.” This is a discouraging moment for Israel. How does God respond?

A. God tells Ezekiel to anticipate this question and provide God’s response. The words of the prophet spoke about the chance that they might live. Ezekiel 33:5 – “…But he who takes warning will save his life.” So how could this happen?

B. “I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked”This may be one of the most comforting thoughts that we could entertain. God does not want to destroy us or see us die. Do you doubt this?

1. Jamieson in his commentary says… A yearning tenderness manifests itself here, notwithstanding all their past sins; yet with it a holiness that abates nothing of its demands for the honour of God’s authority. God is not simply being sentimental here. His love for the sinner forbids any malicious intent, even to the worst of sinners. But His absolute holiness demands just punishment for every sin.

2. It also demands repentance from sin. Three times in the book of Ezekiel God says that He takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. In each of those instances there is a clear call for repentance. (Ezek 18:23Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die?” says the Lord God, “and not that he should turn from his ways and live? Ezek 18:32 – For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,” says the Lord God. “Therefore turn and live!”)

a. 2 Peter 3:9 – The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. The longsuffering of God is at the heart of our salvation. Without it there would be no answer to our discouraging position.

II. “Turn, turn from your evil ways!” (Ezek 33:11) – God’s answer is a call for repentance. The word turn here is also translated as repent. It signifies a complete turning or reversal of direction. The NT describes the response of the sinner in becoming a Christian as a turning to the Lord (Acts 11). This indicates a change of direction.

A. The N.T. word that is often translated as repent is Metanaeo – [met-an-o-eh’-o] It expresses the true New Testament idea of the spiritual change implied in a sinner’s return to God. The term signifies “to have another mind,” to change the opinion or purpose with regard to sin. It is equivalent to the Old Testament word “turn.” Thus, it is employed by John the Baptist, Jesus, and the apostles (Matt 3:2; Mark 1:15; Acts 2:38).This word seems to stress the mental attitude and direction of the person involved.

B. What does God require? Consider what repentance is not – some popular substitutes for actual repentance:

1. Repentance is not just remorse or sorrow 2 Cor. 7:9-10 – 9 Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. 10 For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. Some folks are simply sorry they were caught. Godly sorrow is genuine regret over the moral guilt and consequence of your sin. It leads one to repentance. (Therefore sorrow is not repentance itself).

2. Repentance is not merely confession of guilt. When one confesses guilt it may be a sign of true repentance. But that is not always true.Pharaoh said, I have sinned, but he didn’t repent, because he continued to hold the Israelite nation in cruel bondage. King Saul said, I have sinned, but the attitudes that led him to disobedience still ruled his heart.

3. Repentance is not political reformation. A person may reform their life for various reasons. Not all of it is true repentance. A man reforms because his wife threatens to leave him. Someone quits drinking because a rich aunt threatens to leave them out of her will. This is not repentance… It’s mere reformation. We must not think that political reformation, doing something to please others, is Biblical repentance. Genuine BIBLICAL repentance demands proper motive… It is born out of a consideration of my sin as it relates to God.

4. Notice how God defines repentance in this context: Ezek 33:14-15 – …if he turns from his sin and does what is lawful and right, 15 if the wicked restores the pledge – (keeps his word, does what he has promised) gives back what he has stolen – (restitution of wrong) and walks in the statutes of life without committing iniquity, (brings forth the fruit of obedience) he shall surely live; he shall not die.

C. Why should you die? God responds to their cry of despair with a rhetorical question of his own. The better question concerning the guilt of sin is “why should you die?” You can turn away for sin and save your own life. So here repentance is presented as the way to life. Again we see the emphasis of personal responsibility. There is no reason for you to die because you are responsible for your own salvation. Certainly we recognize that this is not teaching a meritorious approach to salvation, but we can change direction and not die.

1. When Peter was defending his actions in the house of Cornelius, he convinced his Jewish comrades that God was extending the gospel to the Gentiles. Acts 11:18When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” – God was going to extend them the same opportunity to live, in spite of their past sins.

D. Day to Day Response (v. 12-16) – One’s past righteousness does not make him righteous today. One’s past wickedness does not forbid his return to God and life. The call to repent is presented as a continuing obligation and response to God’s word. I cannot trust in my past choices, I must choose today to serve God and place him first.

E. The call to daily repentance is just and fair. – Ezekiel 33:17-20 – 17 “Yet the children of your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair.’ But it is their way which is not fair! 18 When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, he shall die because of it. 19 But when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is lawful and right, he shall live because of it. 20 Yet you say,’The way of the Lord is not fair.’ O house of Israel, I will judge every one of you according to his own ways.” Some sought to impugn God because they were being punished in exile for the sins of their fathers. But Ezekiel again turns to the principle of individual responsibility and the role of repentance. God will judge each person according to his own ways. What could be fairer than that?

III. “…As a very lovely song” – What a difficult task Ezekiel had. Repentance is not an easy message. Most people will refuse the invitation to live. Notice how God describes to Ezekiel the response of the people to his words: Ezek 33:30-330 “As for you, son of man, the children of your people are talking about you beside the walls and in the doors of the houses; and they speak to one another, everyone saying to his brother, ‘Please come and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ 31 So they come to you as people do, they sit before you as My people, and they hear your words, but they do not do them; for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain. 32 Indeed you are to them as a very lovely song of one who has a pleasant voice and can play well on an instrument; for they hear your words, but they do not do them. 33 And when this comes to pass — surely it will come — then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”

A. The people were coming to hear him speak. They were even talking about him at the Mall, and at work… “come and hear this Ezekiel speak” What more could a prophet ask for?

1. vs 31 – they even come as My people, but they have no intention of doing what is right. There is no desire or inclination to change.“…for with their mouth they show much love, but their hearts pursue their own gain.” They are going about business as usual.

2. vs 32 – You are like a lovely song to them – they hear the words, but it means nothing to them. Have you ever liked a song for the tune, but didn’t know (or care) about the words. I didn’t know for years that many of my favorite songs in the 70’s were really advocating drug use or eastern religion – “My sweet Lord”)

Conclusion: Repentance is at the heart of the gospel message. John the Baptist preached it; Jesus preached it; the apostles preached it. It is a call to life, because the opportunity to turn is an act of God’s greatest mercy.

  • Peter’s second sermon: Acts 3:18-26 – 18 But those things which God foretold by the mouth of all His prophets, that the Christ would suffer, He has thus fulfilled. 19 Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, 20 and that He may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, 21 whom heaven must receive until the times of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began. 22 For Moses truly said to the fathers, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you. 23 And it shall be that every soul who will not hear that Prophet shall be utterly destroyed from among the people.’ 24 Yes, and all the prophets, from Samuel and those who follow, as many as have spoken, have also foretold these days. 25 You are sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying to Abraham, ‘And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ 26 To you first, God, having raised up His Servant Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from your iniquities.”