Ian Hamilton at the Aberystwyth Conference 2003
Ezekiel 33:11 "Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the SovereignLord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked. but rather that they turnfrom their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, Ohouse of Israel.’"
What urgency we meet in this 33rd chapter of Ezekiel. A sword is coming uponthe land (v.1). There is but one place of shelter and his name is Jesus Christ.In this passage the prophet is commanded to make this astounding plea.
These are remarkable and breathtaking verses. The people there felt the weightof their sins, but for years they had not felt like that. They had lived forthemselves, but the exile had failed to humble them. Ezekiel spoke to them theword of the Lord, but their hearts had been callous. Now all had changed. Theycry out to God that their sins were weighing them down and they were rottingbecause of them. How then could they live? God says, "As I live, declaresthe Lord, I take no pleasure in the wicked’s death."
What had caused the change? Their sins were crushing their life out of them.God told them, "I am against you. I will draw my sword from its sheath andcut off righteous and wicked." Here were a people who had long lived incovenant presumption. They ran off after other gods, honouring God with theirlips. But now everything has changed. God was against them so how could theylive? The seriousness of sin lay precisely in this fact, that your sin sets Godagainst you. The people finally sensed this. One more step and they wereconscious that they would perish.
The heart and horror of sin is not that it defiles my life, but that it grievesthe heart of the living God. It denies and defiles him. How that truth camehome to King David as he confesses it in Psalm 51. He pours out his soul beforeGod in repentance. "You only have I sinned against," he says. Ofcourse he had sinned against Bathsheba, and his own wife and family, and thechurch in the eyes of the world. But he had come to see that the heart andhorror of sin is that it is against God. It defies his wisdom and love. Hasthat truth dawned upon your inmost being yet?
1. God is set against the heart and seriousness of sin – unless that sin bedealt with in Christ.
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. "We rotaway: how then shall we live?" There is something more remarkable still,for the Lord has a response to these broken people. How can we live who havelived so brutishly and wilfully against the God who has dealt with us sokindly. Have any of you have known the good hand of God upon you? Who has not?Have you become presumptuous towards God? You have been showered with theblessings of God, but your heart has never been breached by the grace of God.Is that true? "As I live," says the Lord, taking a self-maledictoryoath, and then he cries to them pleading with them to turn back from their evilways, for whyÂ should they die?
The devil would seek to persuade men that God is hard and mean in dispensinghis grace, and that when they fall that God has washed his hands of them. Weneed to learn what God is like. God is personally and persistently andpassionately pleading with sinners to be saved. What mind and heart could yousee of such a God who bends and pleads with broken sinning humanity? He is theGod who is takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked. He who cannot lie saysthis. He announces an oath – let me be no longer God if I gained a grain ofpleasure over the death of the wicked. Judgment is God’s strange work. He isslow to anger and plenteous in mercy. That truth so infuriated Jonah. Heprotests to God, "I knew that you would do that. I wanted you to wipe theNinevites from the face of the earth, and blast them all, but you held out yourarms to them." You remember Moses pleading with God to show him his glory,and the Lord showed him that tenderness and steadfast love of which millionsare beneficiaries.
Let me press those truths on your heart and mind this evening. If God tookpleasure in the death of the wicked then many of us would be in hell tonight.If God took pleasure in the wicked’s death then why the cross of Christ?Â Why send him there to that wrath andjudgment? God preferred to strike his Son rather than send a world of lostsinners to hell. Consider who God is, light, and holy, but One who will go toany length to gather lost sinners to himself.
2. God takes great pleasure in seeing the wicked turn back to himself.
The wonder of the gospel is that God takes the greatest pleasure in turningjudgment-deserving sinners back to himself in order that they might live,finding life in fellowship with our God. God would rather save you than damnyou. Damn you he will and rightly, if you don’t lay hold of Jesus Christ, buthe would rather bring you to glory than condemn you. So whoever you are, if youwill but turn to God, he will welcome you with open arms, for all the day longhe opens his arms to wayward sinners. I know this from the testimony of God’sword in the prophet and on the lips of Jesus. But he depicts for us in pictureshow he responds to returning sinners. The parables of Luke 15 begin with agrumble that this man eats with sinners, and Jesus says, "My Father and Iin fact welcome sinners." The father saw the marks of sin on his Son, andran and embraced him. Welcome sinners! You don’t know the half!Â Jesus said whoever came to him he would inno way drive them away. He has never yet from the dawn of time turned any back.Heaven erupts with joy as another comes home. God delights to save.
3. God personally and passionately pleads with the wicked to turn and be
I will give you life, he says – the offended, grieved and wounded God, the holyGod, is actually pleading with them. God desires all men everywhere to besaved. More, he personally beseeches all men and women to be saved. Paul showshimself to be a very different kind of ambassador from those of his age. He isone through whom the King of heaven makes his plea and implores on bended knee,with all his soul, that you be reconciled to this great King. Here is theuninventable God, and he is pleading with men and women, sinners, who are theobject of his offers of mercy. You may be asking why. Because, I say again, hewould rather take you to heaven than send you to hell.
His arms are outstretched in pleading love.Â That beseeching adds a bright lustre to his glory and all heaven standsin utter amazement that such a God should bend down to such sinners. He is notcoldly dispassionate. You are thinking you could be stepping into hell tonight.Turn to God and you will find him where you are. He will give rest to those wholabour and are heavy laden.
Is there any other hope for sinners under the heavens? As surely as Christlives and saves there is hope. How can he restore such sinners to himself? Howthen can we live? The inexplicable wonder of our God is that he has devised away. In the place of sinners, and for their sake, Christ himself has bornetheir sin and taken their death. If we could have listened in to the heart ofGod when Jesus asked him "Why?" the answer would have been, "Fortheir sake." That the objects of his wrath might become the sons of hismercy. God loved us not because we first loved him. This is the true God, andstill today he stretches out his hands to sinners.
Do not harden your heart for God will not always stretch out his hands to you,and the sword of the Lord is going to come, later or sooner, to consume theworld in righteous judgment. Before his throne all sinners will be gathered.The impenitent and unbelieving will be ‘outside’ for ever. This is not anabstract theological issue. This is rather something that has to do with oureternal well-being. God is sovereign and he has determined that he will losenone for whom his Son died. All the ransomed will be safe. How then can welive? For this reason, because the righteous one is full of grace, more full ofgrace than we of sin. In Jesus Christ he has supplied for us a gloriousall-sufficient Saviour.
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