“God Wants You to Live”
Pentecost 17, September 27, 2020
God Wants You To Live!
Text: Ezekiel 18:1–4, 25–32
What makes you happy? A giggling baby? A purring kitty? Your team winning a championship? A Chicago style pizza? Chocolate? A cold beer? How about this one: The day we turn the calendar to 2021?
What makes God happy? Well, the Bible tells us: Joyful worship. Obedience. Prayer. Faith. Love.
All these are parts of the larger answer God gives to that question through the prophet Ezekiel. But did you hear that last sentence in today’s Old Testament Reading? “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live” (v 32). You want to know what makes God happy? That You Live!
Every page in The Bible tells us how important life is to God. Life matters to Him. In the beginning, “the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living creature” (Gen 2:7). This also includes Jesus. He said: “I came that [you] may have life and have it abundantly” (Jn 10:10). Jesus died and rose to give you life. Jesus rose again to pour into you the Holy Spirit, the Lord and giver of life. “We were buried therefore with [Christ] by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4).
Even if you go to the Bible’s last chapter, “The Spirit and the Bride [the Church] say, ‘Come.’ . . . Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price ” (Rev 22:17).
What makes God happy? That you live!
Now this may lead us to some serious questions: Why do people die? Why do people feel empty inside sometimes? Why do some people go to hell? Does death give God pleasure? Never! When God created Adam and Eve the plan was they would never die. People chase their own pleasures; that’s the killer! The Lord says in our text, “Turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin” (Ezek 18:30). God doesn’t want people to die in their sins.
God designed us for life, life like His own. His life overflows with self-giving love. But what if we live just to please us, please ourselves? Well, you know that doesn’t work. James describes the twisted details. “Each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death” (James 1:14–15). Sin brings death!
The sinner believes “I must make myself happy.” We work and work to get a life. We spend so much time chasing things that have no permanence. And we sin and sin and sin. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23). God could not be more clear here in Ezekiel. “As I live, declares the Lord God . . . all souls are mine . . . : the soul who sins shall die” (Ezek 18:3–4). Turn down His gift of life and you’re a goner, gone forever. Yet today, the living God still calls to us: “Turn to me, and live!” God, once and for all, is happy to give you life.
The people who heard Ezekiel say this were not happy with this. They thought this was evidence of God not being fair (remember what we talked about last week?) 50 years before Ezekiel said this, the grandparents of Ezekiel’s audience followed a wicked king named King Manasseh (2 Kings 21). They worshiped idols. They offered their own children in human sacrifice. They did a LOT of bad stuff. Manasseh was the WORST King. And still they lived as prosperous and free! Fifteen years before Ezekiel said this, the Israelites followed more evil kings (2 Ki 23:31–24:20). They, too, turned away from the true God. But God let them live in the Promised Land. Then at the time Ezekiel said this, the Israelites were exiles, slaves of Babylon! The exiles thought it wasn’t fair. They thought, “We aren’t perfect; but we aren’t as bad as our awful parents and grandparents!” They were mad their predecessors weren’t punished for their sins (they thought), but they (Ezekiel’s listeners) were.
Ezekiel’s congregation quoted a lame excuse that had become famous: “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezek 18:2). In other words, by this saying they were saying, “Nothing bad happened to our fathers. They were chomping sour grapes, yet for them life was sweet, delicious. But for us, their innocent children? We’re the ones grinding our teeth (which is a reference to pucker face), sick to our stomach!” (Michigan apfel kuchen) (“Our fathers ate too much but we have indigestion.”) The people listening to Ezekiel thought they were being punished for the sins of those before them. They blamed everyone but themselves.
Six hundred years before Jesus, Ezekiel was hearing the blame game. God’s people have blamed everybody but themselves since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden. God had heard people pass the hot potato ever since Adam said, “It’s not my fault. Blame the woman whom you gave to be with me!” Eve, too, passed on the blame. “The serpent deceived me” (see Gen 3:12–13).
Do people play the blame game today? Yup. People say stuff like, “It’s my parent’s fault.” “It’s How I was raised.” “I’m a victim of circumstance.” Every one of us could name some culprits, find somebody or something to blame.
Well, would you blame God if He stopped listening to us? He could have abandoned us. He could have cut us loose and given up on us. But No! God defends Himself even to us in the text (in your bulletin): “You say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear now, O house of Israel: Is my way not just? Is it not your ways that are not just?” (Ezek 18:25). “You blame others for your own evil. My justice stands true!” “When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it” (v 26). No excuses! The sins we do deserve death. That’s no one else’s fault.
Still, God says, “When a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life” (v 27). God is eager to forgive us, to give life! God declares, “Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die” (v 28).
Here’s another thing. God promises, “You will not be punished for your parents’ sins, not for any others’ wrong. You are responsible for yourself!” Now should we say to that: “Woohoo! That’s fair.” We will not be blamed for other people’s evil. I am accountable only for my own sin. It is true. We don’t want to die because of something someone else has done. But we also don’t want to be punished for what we do, not for our own sins! God commands, “Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit” (vv 30–31)!
That’s the real problem! How do I toss my sins away? My soul is selfish, dark, awful. How can I make myself new? Who can rescue me from myself? Who can rescue you from you?
Hear God’s promise! He will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. “Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live” (vv 31–32).
Only God can “create in me a clean [new] heart….” Only God can “renew a right spirit within me” (Ps 51:10). We need God, we need the Holy Spirit to turn us away from ourselves. To turn us to Him. Away from our sin, and to turn us to His forgiveness. Away from our deserved death, and turn us to His gift of life, the life won for us by Jesus, His death, His resurrection.
To you and me, the crucified and the resurrected Jesus has given the Good News that changes everything. We know what pleases God. “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (Jn 3:16). God gives life! When we have it, that’s what makes Him happy.
In Jesus’ Name.