volume 13, number 26, June 26, 2014
Son of man, prepare for yourself baggage for exile and go into exile by day in their sight; even go into exile from your place to another place in their sight. Perhaps they will understand though they are a rebellious house,
Yahweh had repeatedly warned both Israel and Judah of impending doom if they did not return to Him, if they did not repent of their idolatry and all the vileness and wickedness that went with it. He sent them many prophets to preach to them, men like Isaiah, Hosea, Amos, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. By the time of Jeremiah and Ezekiel the northern kingdom of Israel had already been taken away into exile by the Assyrians. So Yahweh called Jeremiah and Ezekiel to warn the southern kingdom of Judah of impending doom for their recalcitrance. They were not listening. So Yahweh commanded Ezekiel to act out the judgment. Three times in these verses of Ezekiel 12 he refers to Judah as rebellious. At other times God calls His people stiff-necked, uncircumcised of heart (Jeremiah 7:26, 9:26, 19:15). So, in order to break through their stubborn, rebellious, obstinate hearts He uses an object lesson. He tells Ezekiel to gather up a piece of baggage and take it outside his house in full view of the people. Then, later that night he is to dig a hole in the wall of his house, crawl outside the house through the hole in the wall, cover his head, and take up his baggage and walk. He tells Ezekiel that this is to show demonstrably what is soon to happen to His people. Their princes, who have so much “stuff” will be reduced frantically and hastily to gather whatever they can of personal value to take with them as they flee for their lives from their opulent residences of comfort and affluence. They will lose everything because they are soon to be invaded by a foreign, tempestuous nation which will show no mercy (Habakkuk 1:6).
Can you imagine how foolish Ezekiel must have felt when commanded by Yahweh to act out the coming judgment. I mean, it was one thing to prophesy to a valley of dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1ff), but now, in front of royalty, he was to pick up baggage, make a hole in the wall of his house, and crawl through it; in order that perhaps this would do what verbal warnings had not yet accomplished-namely, move them to repentance. It never is enough merely to give information. People are not changed by addressing their minds only. Not until their hearts are captured will people respond in a true, sincere, heartfelt action of repentance.
In 1 Corinthians 4 Paul the Apostle glories in the fact that he was a bond slave of Jesus, that he was a man condemned to death. He says that he was a fool for Jesus (the Greek word for fool is moron). He also said that he and his fellow preachers were the scum of the world, the dregs of all things. But he also said that they were a spectacle to the world. The Greek word used here is theatre (1 Corinthians 4:9). In other words, preachers are men at which the world should look in wonder. Clearly the way the people of Judah looked at Ezekiel and his fellow prophets, and the way Paul derisively describes himself is a humiliating one. Preachers will be mocked (Jude 18) by those who are following after their own lusts, who cause divisions, who are worldly minded, who are devoid of the Spirit. Jesus told his disciples that they would be hated by the same ones who hated Him (John 15:18-20).
So, why are preachers to be object lessons, spectacles to the world, and what does this look like? Sometimes words are not enough to break through to people’s rebellious, obstinate, recalcitrant hearts. They need word pictures which communicate zeal, self-denial, and death. Why? If you were to ask most people if they think they are going to hell when they die, they would say, “No,” or “I hope not”, or “I try not to think about it.” If you simply try to speak to someone about his sin and impending doom, he typically blows it off or becomes incensed that you are suggesting he is not a fine, moral, God-fearing person. Why? Because such people have rebellious hearts. Because the poison of asps is under their lips. Their feet are swift to shed innocent blood. There is no fear of God before their eyes. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness (Romans 3:10ff). They have been blinded by the devil (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). They are helpless and ungodly (Romans 5:6). They are dead in their sins. They have no hope and are without God in this world (Ephesians 2:1,12). How can a preacher or evangelist possibly break through to these people? The Holy Spirit must convict, regenerate, and convert and He always works through the preaching of God’s word (Romans 10:11-15).
But the preacher’s life must illustrate his words. Mere words are empty, lifeless, unconvincing. Okay, how must the preacher live? To be sure, he must be above reproach. He must be free from the scandal of the two things which so commonly trip up preachers-money and women. But we must go further. We must look at the apostles and prophets. What do we find? These men were willing to risk ridicule, rejection, false accusation, imprisonment, beatings, and even death. They knew they had a message from God and they would be faithful to communicate that message fully. Until preachers are willing to be spectacles to the world, object lessons to the rebellious and obstinate, then the church in the western world will continue to limp along to Sodom. I remind you that Ezekiel is preaching to the covenant people of God. He later preaches to the pagan nations but in Ezekiel 12 he is preaching to Judah, the apple of God’s eye, those who had turned their backs on the great lover of their soul. So preachers must warn the covenant community to flee judgment, to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. They must speak to kings, princes, fathers, and to all people within and without the covenant community. They must surely proclaim all the will of God from their pulpits, but they must also do so in as many ways as possible-social media, sermon audio, radio, newspapers, and yes, even in street preaching.
The reason most of us preachers are unwilling to preach on the streets and to address the ills of the church and society is because we are unwilling to be embarrassed, unwilling to be fools for Jesus sake. To preach in the open air requires a man to die to himself, to open himself up to severe rejection by the world. To share the gospel of grace to people in the streets at a Spring or Fall downtown festival is to appear like a fool to those who are casually strolling by, hoping to enjoy a nice respite from the pressures of fast-paced living in the western world, only to have their day “spoiled” by a crazy street preacher. I remember a few weeks ago while several of us were preaching at Churchill Downs in Louisville when a man walked by with his girlfriend or wife and said to anyone who would listen, “There is all kind of foolishness going on here.” But preachers must shine the light of the gospel into the dark places of this world. The very act of street evangelism-whether street preaching, handing out gospel tracts, or doing personal questionnaires makes the evangelist a spectacle to the world, an object lesson of zeal, sacrifice, and solidarity with the One who was despised and forsaken of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, like One from whom men hide their face in shame and embarrassment (Isaiah 53:3).
So, when you see fellow Christians acting as “fools for Jesus’ sake” pray for them, encourage them, support them financially; and also venture out of your comfort zones to labor with them. There is nothing more glorious than lifting up the only Savior of the world.