The Dichotomous Response to Gospel Preaching
Preachers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ are called by God to perform a task. The calling is to present the Word of God for the glory of God. This includes the unique features of each person of the Trinity. A preacher may or may not be faithful to God’s calling based on what he preaches, or how he heeds the calling. No man is called by God to be a false preacher, although there are many who fall into this category. When a true preacher of the Gospel proclaims God’s revealed message, the response is dichotomous. Simply put, Gospel preachers cannot control the response of their hearers.
Ezekiel was called by God to be a prophet (Ezek 2). He was told to stand and receive the Word from God (Ezek 2:1). The Holy Spirit filled him, and Ezekiel could hear the Word of God (Ezek 2:2). The receipt of God’s Word is dichotomous in a different way for the Christian. There is the external reading or hearing of the Word, and there is the still small voice of God that speaks to the believer internally. This is the indwelling Holy Spirit leading, guiding, teaching, comforting, filling, anointing, empowering, etc (Is 63:14; Mic 3:8; Jn 14:17, 26; 16:13; Acts 1:8; 2:4; 4:8, 31; Rom 8:14; Gal 5:18; Eph 5:18; 1 Jn 2:27).
Ezekiel’s calling from God was ominous,” Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, I am sending you to the sons of Israel, to a rebellious people who have rebelled against Me; they and their fathers have transgressed against Me to this very day (Ezek 2:3).’” A call from God to preach to rebellious people is a formidable task. How does God deal with rebels? First, He sends a preacher to speak to them. Therefore, it takes a Spirit-filled man of God to perform the fearsome task.
God’s assessment of people is not good. In Ezekiel 2, the words to describe His own refractory people, Israel. Old Testament Israel did resonate trouble, as rebellious; transgressors; stubborn; and obstinate children. Of course, Christians will tell you they are not good, but the descriptions employed by God carry much more weight than, “not good.” Obviously, based on this evaluation, we tend to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to (Rom 12:3). This is what the preacher faces when he is called to pastor a flock of God’s people (Acts 20:28).
The prophet Ezekiel was to proclaim, “Thus says the Lord God (Ezek 2:4).” To be the spokesman of the sovereign God is significant. Whereas the idols of the people are dumb, the God of Israel has spoken to us through the prophets and through His Son (Heb 1:2). This is a profound condescension on God’s part. When God speaks, what does He say?
When God spoke the Law to Moses, and this man of God struggled to preach to Israel, their response was affirming with lips, but it was not confirmed with obedient actions. When the prophets were raised up to preach, their message was for disobedient Israel to return to God and His Law. Mingled into the message was the hope of Israel. God knew the people could not obey Him to the necessary standard of perfection, so the promise of the coming Messiah was in the message. These are the prophetic passages foretelling of Jesus Christ’s first advent.
In this way, we see how the global church is experiencing the same thing as Old Testament Israel. Christians should read the Old Testament and identify with the people of Israel. We, too, are looking forward to the coming of Messiah, Jesus Christ, in His second advent (Mt 24–25; Mk 13; Lk 21; 1 Thess 4:13–5:11). We, too, wrestle with the same deficiencies that described ethnic Israel. They were sinners, and so are Christians, today.
God sends a preacher to the flock of His pasture to demonstrate His faithfulness to them. The response is dichotomous, “As for them, whether they listen or not — for they are a rebellious house — they will know that a prophet has been among them (Ezek 2:5).” The truth telling preacher is obvious. How is he obvious? If he preaches the Word, he must show the people the Law, in order to convict them of sin (Ex 20; Dt 5). This is an external work of the preacher, but it is an internal work of the Holy Spirit (Jn 16:18).
Listening to God means a congregation is listening to the man of God, sent by God to minister His Word in their midst. The preacher is called. The preacher is sent. The preacher brings the Word to God’s people, a rebellious house. The response of the people is either to listen to the preacher, or not. Still, they will know a prophet has been among them. How?
The prophet has a calling, and with that calling comes an anointing by the Holy Spirit (1 Jn 2:27). This is the measure of the man of God being set apart for the stewardship of the Gospel. His method and message distinguish him from the false prophets. The true Gospel preacher does not rely on gimmicks to allure people into his favor. Rather, his message calls them out on sin. This is bizarre to post-modern man, who has been taught to tolerate every view on everything, and every practice performed by anyone.
In the dichotomy of response by the people receiving the preacher and the Word, there is the negative response, “And you, son of man, neither fear them nor fear their words, though thistles and thorns are with you and you sit on scorpions; neither fear their words nor be dismayed at their presence, for they are a rebellious house (Ezek 2:6).”
God tells the preacher to be fearless in dealing with obstinate rebels. This is no rudimentary task. The things said and sometimes written to preachers evidence the truth of Ezekiel 2. I emphasize again the fact we are talking about God’s people here. These are not the idolatrous moon worshippers of Babylon; but rather, this is the rebellious house of God’s children.
The preacher is sent into the field of the prickle bushes. It is a thorny calling. The man of God is cut, scraped, poked, jabbed without end and sometimes mercilessly. In the midst of the barb are the scourge of scorpions. The death threats are real. They may not be threats to the death of the body, although pastors are gunned down on occasion. Scorpion stings are attempts to remove the preacher, thus an attempted murder of his ministry.
Preachers often dilute the Word of God to sustain themselves in their pastoral charges. They do what they can to garner enough popularity to protect themselves from removal. The politics of pastoral ministry is vicious. One recounts the treatment of Presbyterian pastors by the Act of Uniformity in A.D. 1662. The restoration of the monarch brought great vengeance, in a royal grab for ecclesiastical power, following the era of Oliver Cromwell. The Free Church and Presbyterian ministers were rounded up and imprisoned or killed for refusing to kowtow to Bishops in the Church of England.
God’s charge to the preacher is twofold: “do not fear their words,” and “do not be dismayed at their presence.” The grace required to keep a man of God in the ministry of the Gospel is essential. With fierce antinomian independence, the post-modern antagonist barks, “If you don’t change your message, I’m leaving this church, and I am taking my extended family with me.” The preacher is in the exact same position as Ezekiel and all the other true prophets of God.
God reinforced His imperative command, ”But you shall speak My words to them whether they listen or not, for they are rebellious (Ezek 2:7).” God employs the word, “rebellious” four times in ten short verses in this chapter. One might object to the association of Israel and the church. Everyone knows Israel was disobedient, but is it possible for the church to be disobedient, considering the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit? Jesus answers this inquiry in Revelation 2–3. The seven churches of Asia represent a diverse configuration of God’s called out flocks. Addressing five of the seven, He says, “But this I have against you…”
God warned the prophet Ezekiel not to be rebellious like Israel was rebellious. In other words, God was saying to the prophet, “Obey all I am commanding you to do and say.” Or put another way, “Don’t be like the people I am sending you to.” Preachers must go in obedience and preach the truth in love for God and for God’s people (Eph 4:15).
The receipt of God’s Word by the prophet comes with figurative language, “Open your mouth and eat what I am giving you (Ezek 2:8).” This is what preachers do. We taste and see that God is good (Ps 34:8). We eat up the Word of God, and it is so sweet to us. Ezekiel received a scroll (Ezek 2:9) with writing on the front and back (Ezek 2:10). The bitter problem was the contents on the scroll: lamentations; mourning; and woe (2:10).
This is the bad news of the Gospel. It is contrasted with the good news of the Gospel. The bad news makes the good news, really good. God’s displeasure with the rebellion of His chosen people requires discipline (Heb 12:4–11). God loves those He disciplines. The true preaching of the Word is the essential tool in the discipline of God’s people.
The Word of God calls all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30). Without repentance we cannot see God’s holiness and be like Him (1 Pet 1:16). Turning from sin and rebellion will turn lamentations into praise. Repentance will turn mourning into rejoicing. The change of one’s heart and mind will remove the woe and replace it with the sense of being blessed.
Will you heed the preacher? Will you listen to what God is saying through the man of God sent to you? Will you obey what God is requiring of you, as communicated through the preacher? Or will you continue in rebellion? Resisting the preacher is resisting God, who sent the man of God to you. It seems reasonable not to resist the messenger of the Most High, but the history of the church is riddled with the poor treatment of the prophets.
If you have been a party in the resistance toward a man of God, as you see it clearly written in Ezekiel 2, then listen, repent, and obey. This is the alternative and right response to the Gospel ministry brought by the man of God. God is working all things together for good for the preachers who love Him, and who are called according to His purpose (Rom 8:28). If He is doing that for the preacher, He will do it for the people that the man of God ministers to in truth. What is your response?
Whether you listen or not is the test. Israel resisted the prophets, and there was some costly discipline (ie. wilderness wandering, Babylonian exile, etc.). Paul wrote to the rebellious Corinthians and warned them not to make the same mistakes as Israel (1 Cor 10). How are you faring under the Word of God, brought to you by your preacher? Today, if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts (Ps 95:8). Only believe and obey the message of the preacher (the sermon), the message of God (Scripture), from the messenger of God (called man of God).
Spokane Valley, Washington
May 4, 2021