BaptistWay: Called to speak God’s message

• The BaptistWay lesson for April 27 focuses on Ezekiel 1:28-3:4.

Ezekiel’s experience

As we move from the book of Jeremiah to the book of Ezekiel, we move from a time when exile was promised and initiated for God’s people to a time after it became a reality. Jeremiah introduced and prepared the people for exile; Ezekiel exhorted them in the midst of exile. Neither job was appealing or easy, but Ezekiel’s begins more bizarrely, with an impressive vision by the Kebar River (1:1).

Interpreters have puzzled over the vision he receives in the book’s introductory chapter. Some have even gone out on a limb and connected it with a UFO and alien sighting. I doubt that, but the windstorm, fire, winged creatures and moving wheels portrayed were quite a sight.

What we know for sure is God used this vision to get Ezekiel’s attention and point him toward God’s radiance: “Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. When I saw it, I fell facedown, and I heard the voice of one speaking” (1:28).

How did Ezekiel know this vision was from the Lord? I’m afraid if I encountered such a vision I might tuck my tail and run in the opposite direction. On Ezekiel’s part, there had to be an openness to God. In our world where logic and reason are championed, it’s easy to close ourselves off from experiencing God. We expect our sermons to come to us with three points in less than 25 minutes and our worship services to stay on schedule and follow the bulletin. We have quiet times to check off our spiritual duty for the day. It’s difficult not to fall into a habitual pattern where we control our experience of God.

Ezekiel’s call

Because Ezekiel is open to God’s vision, he is able to receive his calling as a prophet. Several elements about Ezekiel’s call deserve attention: He is called to speak to a nation in rebellion (2:3); God does not tell him whether or not the people will heed his message (2:5); he is told to have no fear (1:6); and, his call is a command from God, not a request (2:8).

In some respects, Ezekiel’s call is similar to Jeremiah’s. They both were given tough jobs and commanded to be obedient and trust God. However, God speaks to Ezekiel with less certainty than he does Jeremiah. Jeremiah was assured the people would not listen to his words and they ultimately would end up in exile. Ezekiel, on the other hand, is told to speak on behalf of the Lord “whether they listen or fail to listen” ( 2:5). Why would God say it that way? Certainly he knew what would happen. For Ezekiel, it was not important. The important thing is he responds in obedience.

It’s difficult not to base our decisions on the way others will respond. Following college, I was faced with deciding what seminary I would attend. I, along with my soon-to-be-wife, visited two in Texas,. I visited with seminary presidents, deans, professors and students. Most of my close church friends from back home, as well as my first pastor, assumed I would end up in Fort Worth.

They all had close connections with the seminary there and never would have given going somewhere else a second thought. However, my wife and I could not shake the strong draw we felt toward George W. Truett Theological Seminary in Waco. We just knew it was the right fit and had to make the decision to go there without worrying how others might respond. Of course, this decision pales in comparison to the decision Ezekiel had to make.

Ezekiel’s response

The actions that follow Ezekiel’s call symbolize his acceptance of what God commanded him to do. He was given a scroll with “words of lament and mourning and woe” (2:10) and told to eat it before speaking to the people of Israel (3:1). Ezekiel describes the scroll as tasting “sweet as honey in my mouth” (v.3). The point of this comment is not to emphasize the actual scroll or even to suggest that obedience always is enjoyable. Rather, it is to call attention to the blessedness that comes with obedience. God’s word tasted sweet to Ezekiel, not because of the harsh message he had to deliver, but simply because it was God’s word.

I’m convinced another reason we often fail to experience God is because we look for him only in the things we think are good. Frederick Buechner said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.”

Where is this special place for you? Wherever and whatever it might be, you can be certain you will experience God in it.

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