Why Will You Die?

Text: Ezekiel 33:7-20
Date: Lent III + 2/28/16

Today’s theme is all about repentance. Lent is a special season about repentance. The entire Christian life, Martin Luther reminds us, is all about daily repentance. Repentance is a life and death issue. Today we hear Jesus’ warning, “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Lk 13:3). In the same way we heard the call of the prophet Ezekiel because he was sent by God to warn God’s people of the need of repentance. Now on one level we could treat the issue of the responsibility of prophets and pastors to preach the Word that we have been given, commanded and sent to preach. Whoa to us if we do not preach what God has commanded. But there are some deeper issues before us.

For how often do you think about repentance? These texts say that we need to be reminded. There are two questions in our text. On the one hand is the question of despair which is not yet repentance, God’s people saying, “Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?” On the other hand is the question of a loving God saying, “As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?” “How can we live?” “Why will you die?” Now we know the cause of death. You sin, you die. But that’s not what we’re asking. When God asks, “Why will you die, O house of Israel?” He means to reach out to turn us around from pursuing the ways of sin and death. So also Jesus disabuses us from the idea that there is some sort of mechanical cause and effect, a one-to-one relationship between a particular sin and some disaster as if it is pay back or punishment.

That’s what’s behind the first question in our text, “How then can we live?” God’s people were in despair without hope. “Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them.” Well, of course, there are certain results associated with particular sins. All suffering and death is the result of our sinful fallen nature. As the scripture says, “None is righteous, no, not one…no one does good, not even one” (Ps 14:3; Rom 3:10-12). “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Yes, we agree. It seems that there is no end to suffering, to threats to our life and health. We live in a certain fear; a fear of accidents or a fear of illness, maybe even fear of advanced age all of which are but a fear of death. We rot away because of fear. We are quite helpless.

That’s why God decided of Himself, because of His love, to send help and salvation. He has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. That turning is repentance. And it is brought about not by our own bootstraps or anything we do but solely as a result of hearing God’s Word, His Word of Law and judgment that reveals our sin but then the Word of Gospel, what God has done for us through the death and resurrection of His Son, our Lord Jesus.

The biggest problem is that people don’t know what sin is. And that’s simply because they have not heard God’s Word of Law. Like Ezekiel and Jesus we are sent to call sinners to the awareness of their need, their need of repentance and forgiveness.

No better discovery of sin can there be but in the Ten Commandments. Consider them from a serious attitude of self-examination.

The First Commandment. You shall have no other gods. What does this mean? We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Then ask yourself, “in what or whom do I trust above all else?” “In what or whom do I trust most for financial security, physical safety, or emotional support?” “Do I fear God’s wrath, avoiding every sin?” “Is my love for and trust in God evident in my daily living?” “Do I expect only good from God in every situation, or do I worry, doubt, complain, or feel unfairly treated when things go wrong?” “Do I withhold from God what is rightfully His?” Just from this first command alone God’s Word makes us aware of our sin and need.

Probably the most popular command people either ignore or have never heard is the sixth. You shall not commit adultery. We should fear and love God so that we lead a sexually pure and decent life in what we say and do, and husband and wife love and honor each other. Ask yourself these questions. “Am I in a sexual relationship with someone other than my spouse?” This seems to be the most rampant in our society. “Do I look at others lustfully and thereby commit adultery with them in my heart?” The widespread production of pornography certainly encourages that. “Do I give myself freely and selflessly to my spouse?” Besides that these days the question is “and who is my spouse?” “Do I dishonor marriage by ridicule or divorce?” “Do I engage in any form of sexual immorality?”

There are eight more commandments that reveal the huge load of sin and our need to “turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die?”
“Antinomianism” is the word that describes the preference to operate against or without God’s Law. But such a cover up cannot stand against the accountability all people have toward God. Without God you/they wouldn’t be here. We are His creation; a lost, misguided, dying creation to be sure, but His before and after all.

Facing up to sin much less confessing it is not the way the world sees it. When their sin is revealed, exposed, uncovered they retaliate with anger even to the point of murder. You know, that’s what the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ is all about. We put Him to death because we are sinners.

I went and saw the movie “Risen.” It picks up at Jesus’ crucifixion as administered and witnessed by a Roman military tribune named Clavis. He, of course, considers the rumor that Jesus is risen from the dead as a phony cover up brought about by the disciples stealing and hiding Jesus’ corpse. His assigned task is to find that corpse. The high point of the film for me was, just as Clavis tracks down the disciples and breaks into the room where they were, suddenly, no audible words being spoken, sitting with the disciples you recognize Jesus, the same One he saw on the cross, crown of thorns, nail wounds in His hands and feet, the pierced side. But there He was. There He was, smiling and having conversation with His disciples. Then, suddenly, He wasn’t there. This resurrection thing is a whole new reality. It reminded me of Jesus’ real presence today through His Spirit and means of grace. I mean real presence.

So we didn’t just read about Jesus in today’s Gospel. We heard Him, Jesus, calling us to repentance, faith and eternal life. We heard Him speak of the reality of Judgment Day and how any and all who do not repent and believe will perish eternally. If the fig tree, after the Lord’s three year earthly ministry of tending and care still does not bear the fruit of repentance and faith, then, Father, “you can cut it down.”

Don’t be cut down. See the Lord with the eyes of your heart this morning as He comes and says over bread and wine, “This is my body, this is my blood, take and eat, take and drink. Receive me to live in you and you in Me.”

Let all mortal flesh keep silence
And with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
For with blessing in His hand
Christ our God to earth descending (again, now)
Comes our homage to demand. (LSB 621)

Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.