Thursday, November 19, 2009
Sweet and Sour
It was my time to preach at BBC. It was an interesting experience. I really enjoyed preparing something that I haven't delivered before. I wanted to take what I had learned and put it into practise. On the other hand, you are being assessed and that was like being on teaching practise again. You are always aware of the tutors writing (or not writing!) comments down at the back of class.
Anyway here's what I shared....
Sweet and Sour – an introduction to Ezekiel
If you ever have a Chinese, there is so much choice in what you can have. I am always drawn to ‘Sweet and Sour’. It’s an interesting mix. It’s a balanced combination.
I think as preachers our message has to be like SWEET and SOUR. We always have to balance out God’s grace with God’s judgement. Some preachers can focus too much on God’s grace – the SWEET, and forget about God’s judgement – the SOUR. I think if we are to proclaim the good news in its entirety we got to first address the bad news. I remember one gospel tract saying that the good news is so good cos the bad news is so bad!
Today I want to look at a book and a character who as a messenger has a SWEET and SOUR message.
The book of Ezekiel is split into 3 parts
1. ch4-24 – Judah’s judgment
2. ch25-32 – the heathen nations judgment
3. ch33-48 – the future blessings for God’s covenant people
The character of Ezekiel is an interesting one. The author, whose name means “GOD STRENGHTENS” is identified as “Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi” (1v3). Ezekiel was probably around 30 years old when these events are recorded. As Numbers 4 makes clear, the ages of 30 and 50 mark the span of the active service of the priests.
There are so many comparisons between Ezekiel and Christ. Both, it seemed, started their public ministry at the age of 30. The title “SON OF MAN” occurs some 90 times in Ezekiel. While the title is applied to Ezekiel himself, it was used by Jesus as well. In ch2v2, Ezekiel was taken up in the Spirit, just as we read in Matthew 4v1, how Jesus was taken by the Spirit into the wilderness after his baptism.
Although we shall hopefully learn form Ezekiel’s character it is his openness to God’s Spirit that we should try to emulate.
Ezekiel as a messenger can teach us as preachers key lessons. The passage we have read (2v1-3v16) has been entitled Ezekiels call and commission. (New Living Translation)
Ch2 v1 says “Stand up, son of man,” said the voice. “I want to speak with you”
The position is important to note. When Jesus sat down (Matthew 5v1)we understand that sitting down was a position of a rabbi and of authority. To stand then would signal a position of readiness and willingness in serving a master. As preachers we need to be in a position of readiness empowered by God’s Spirit.
Ch2v5 says, “And whether they listen or refuse to listen…”
Here we read of Ezekiel’s need to be FAITHFUL. God told him that he must give the message whether they listen or not. As a preacher it is hard enough to know that people are not listening to you during your sermon, but to know that they will not listen to you before you start would take tremendous faithfulness on the part of the messenger. As preachers we need to be FAITHFUL to God and God’s word.
Ch2 v6 says “Son of man, do not fear them or their words.”
As preachers we can focus our attention son pleasing people or pleasing God. We can fear what people will think or fear what God will think of us. Above all we should have COURAGE in who God is and what God is saying through us.
Ch 2v8 says, “Open your mouth, and eat what I give you.”
This is almost like a bush tucker trial on I’m a Celebrity get me out of here! You have no idea what you are going to eat. But in ch3v2 we read, “So I opened my mouth, and he fed me the scroll.” As Ezekiel was obedient to God so we as preachers should be OBEDIENT to God.
I would like to go a bit deeper and focus on the word ‘SCROLL’. We will look at the word SCROLL in this passage but also look elsewhere in the Bible to when SCROLLS are mentioned and see if we ca learn anything from the Bible teaching the Bible.
In ch2v10 Ezekiel comments that the scroll (which was SWEET) was covered on both sides with funeral songs, words of sorrow, and pronouncements of (which is SOUR). Apparently the reason for the scroll being covered on both sides would mean that the prophet had no room to add anything of himself to God’s message. Very often as preachers we like to add our own slant of things, but we should remember to be FAITHFUL and OBEDIENT to God. I wonder how we would respond when asked to deliver a SOUR message of funeral songs, words of sorrow and pronouncements of doom? I would much rather deliver messages of joy, hope and love.
Secondly, the scroll tasted of honey. (3v3) It was SWEET. So here we have SWEET and SOUR. In Scripture we have other references to God’s word being as SWEET as honey. Psalm 19v10 and Psalms 119v103.
In Jewish tradition when children where learning to memorise the TORAH, apparently they were given a taste of honey. So I want us now to taste some honey and let our senses reveal to us the sweetness of the word of God.
As preachers we need to have the taste and desire for God’s word. I’m reminded of some songs we sing in Church:
“Your name is like honey on my lips…”
“How sweet the name of Jesus sounds in a believers ear…”
If we approach the Scriptures as bees, as children or even as Whinny the Pooh does with honey it will show in our delivery and sermons. When we present the sweetness of God’s word to people, hopefully they should leave with a desire and taste in their mouths and their lives for more. One of the reasons, I believe, we preach is to motive and encourage and challenge people to go home and get into God’s word for themselves.
This brings me to my main point. In ch3 v10 we read, “Son of man, let all my words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself. Then go….”
As preachers we should be letting God’s word sink deep into our own hearts FIRST! The key word here is FIRST. Henry Blakeby says that God is more interested in the work he does in and than the work he does through us. But the more work God does in us, the more God will work through us.”
As preachers we cannot neglect our personal devotion to God. If we neglect the spiritual disciplines of meditating and memorisation we will not only suffer ourselves but our congregations will suffer. This is a SOUR and bitter reality. Normally in Christian Ministry the first area to be neglected is personal study and devotions. Here we see very clearly that God wants us to listen to Him for ourselves and then go on others.
The good news is that Almighty God actually wants to speak to little old us. That is SWEET!
The word SCROLL is mentioned between 35 and 65 times in the Bible depending on your translation. Mostly we find the word SCROLL in the books of Jeremiah and Revelations.
Revelation 10v10 says “So I took the small scroll and I ate it. It was SWEET in my mouth but when I swallowed it, it turned SOUR in my stomach.”
I believe the gospel is SWEET and SOUR. It is a balanced message which is full of contrasting imagery. Light and dark. Life and death. Sweet and sour.
As preachers we would do well to learn from Ezekiel’s example. We are to be READY to receive God’s word for ourselves and then READY to go and take that message to whoever God chooses. We are to be FAITHFUL in presenting God’s message whether people listen or accept it or not. We are to be COURAGEOUS in or delivery and not fear peoples angry looks or ridicule. And lastly we are to be OBEDIENT to God when God asks us to do something.
We finish with ch3v14-15. Ezekiel having tasted the sweetness of the scroll left with bitterness and sourness and ended up sitting among the exiles for 7 days.
Very often the sweetness of being in the pulpit can turn sour when we come down away from the crowds, the stage and the lights. I believe we can deal with this if we remember to let all God’s words sink deep into our own heart first and to listen to Gods words carefully for ourselves.