Category Archives: Holy Spirit

Acts 16:1-40 – Being lead by the Spirit

Context

While Paul and Barnabas worked well together in spreading the gospel to the north-west of Israel, they disputed over working together with Mark (formerly known as John). Barnabas and Mark sailed to Cyprus but Paul and Silas went through Syria and Cilicia.

Observation

Structure

  • 1-15 The Spirit leads them to Lydia (gathering gospel partners along the way)
    • 1-5 Paul picks up Timothy
    • 6-10 Paul is led by the Spirit and picks up Luke
    • 11-15 Paul meets Lydia
  • 16-40 The Spirit leads them to the Jailer
    • 16-18 Paul rebukes a spirit
    • 19-24 Paul is imprisoned
    • 25-34 Paul and Silas convert the jailer
    • 35-40 Paul escorted out of jail

1-15 The Spirit leads them to Lydia (gathering gospel partners along the way)

1-5 Paul picks up Timothy

“…a disciple named Timothy…” This young man would become a very close and invaluable partner in the gospel for Paul. He is mentioned in almost all of Paul’s letters (excluding Galatians and Ephesians and Titus), two of which were written directly to him. Timothy was regarded as a son, a brother and a co-worker in the gospel to Paul. His mother was a believing Jew while his Father was a Greek. There is no mention of his father’s faith but his mother and grandmother taught him well from youth about the scriptures (2 Timothy 3). Paul met Timothy while travelling and found a young man who was already growing steadily in the faith and in good regard in his neighbourhood. These are two excellent agendas for life: to grow in love for the Lord and be respected in the community – particularly when the latter flows out of the former. Luke 2:52 says that “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”

“…he circumcised him because of the Jews…” In light of the previous chapter, you may think this is a hypocritical decision. The point though is about being received by the Jewish community so that the gospel can be heard. The circumcision decision was not done for the purpose of religion. Remember 1 Corinthians 9:22 tells us to become all things to all people so that by all possible means (even circumcision) we might save some.

“…as they travelled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles…” Even while Timothy had been circumcised, they intended to continue the encouraging message that life in Christ brings freedom and unity between Jew and Gentile.

6-10 Paul is led by the Spirit and picks up Luke

“…kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching…” Who knows how the Spirit did this. The means are not really important (or else we might be told) but when doorways are closed to the disciples, they regarded this as a sign from the Spirit of Jesus (v6 and 7). When some doors are closed, others are opened and one town that received the gospel as a result is Galatia – the church there would receive the Epistle to the Galatians – a book filled with gospel truths and a strong argument against staying with the law now that Christ has come.

“…concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel [in Macedonia].” This conclusion was reached after Paul had a night vision. Some people claim to receive words from the Lord like Paul did here. I don’t wish to dismiss things too quickly. But the practice overall is that we walk by faith in the knowledge of the word of God. This is the norm. To expect anything else as the norm or more common is to regard the books of the bible as average and common stories. In the first century, the gospel is fresh and the mission of God was to take the name of Jesus to the nations (Acts 1:8). Some areas had been restricted in the wisdom of God but others were opened and Paul was being lead by God to go to Macedonia.

“…we got ready at once…” Notice the pronoun ‘we’. For the first time in the book of Acts, it is written in the first person. Introducing Dr Luke to the story. He doesn’t make note of his joining in the mission and he comes in and out of the narrative without further attention (16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16).

11-15 Paul meets Lydia

“…we travelled to Philippi…of Macedonia. And we stayed…” Philippi is described as the major city of the area of Macedonia and we know that Paul founds a Christian church here which he will write to later in the New Testament. They stopped here since this is where God had directed them and this is where they planned. This is where the story unfolds and we meet Lydia.

“…to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer.” Interesting that they are further and further away from Jerusalem and the use of Synagogues is not as common. Fewer Jews means less money to build such things. But a river makes for a great meeting place to reflect on the creator. Remember that this is where the Israelite exiles met in Ezekiel – they were by the Kebar River and recall Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion.”

“…The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.” A little reminder that it is not Paul’s persuasion but God’s pull to the gospel of grace. Many scholars have read the bible and discussed it thoroughly without seeing clearly that Jesus is Lord. It is with the mind and the Holy Spirit that we hear the good news and respond. Remember what Jesus said to Peter when he finally confessed that Jesus is the Christ, “Blesses are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (Matt 16:17)

“…her heart…” This is also a little reminder that the gospel ought to be felt. Tears of repentance, grief over sin, thankfulness for mercy and joy to be free.

“…When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home.” Paul invited her whole household to hear and respond to the gospel. She accepted and the household presumably followed her lead. Paul and Silas and Luke and Timothy had no place to stay, but when the gospel found a home in someone’s heart, a home was opened to them. Once they were strangers but now, through faith in Jesus, they are brothers.

16-40 The Spirit leads them to the Jailer

16-18 Paul rebukes a spirit

“…a spirit by which she predicted the future…” Who knows what access the spirit world has to future events? Who even knows what access the Almighty has to it? That’s not to suggest that the future is out of his control or takes him by surprise, but can we ever resolve the coexistence of God’s sovereignty with man’s free will? The spirit was in a slave girl and her owners were profiting from her apparent skill. Paul did not know the future, nor did the Spirit of Jesus reveal it to him (except that he should go to Macedonia), but the Spirit of God will lead Paul to the ears of a jailer. We don’t need to know the future to be sure that God has the future under his control. We walk by faith and obedience.

“…he turned and said to the spirit…” For some bizarre reason, the spirit which turned out to be an annoying spirit, was proclaiming the truth that Paul and co were working for the Most High God and are here to show the way to salvation! At first, this might have amused Paul since it was the truth. But even the truth said over and over with no purpose can be counterproductive. Paul cast out the spirit in the name of Jesus – apparently not a spirit ion the side of Jesus.

19-24 Paul is imprisoned

“…her owners realised that their hopes of making money was gone…” The love of money will take many people to hell. Paul’s message of salvation was, to them, a message of poverty and ruin. And they hated him for ruining their livelihood. Their idol was greed and wealth and wanted nothing to do with Paul’s message.

“…the crowd joined in the attack against Paul and Silas…” Like some of the towns around Judea that rose up against Jesus, the apostle is up against crowd mentality.

“…and the jailer was commanded to guard them carefully.” So, they were locked up as public nuisances and found themselves with an audience ordered to be with them. God works in mysterious ways. Who could have planned for Paul to find his way to this jailer – but God worked all things out for good. Though the townsfolk meant their actions for evil, God intended it for good. They will still receive their condemnation for rejecting the gospel of life but their actions were used by God to bring the gospel to one who would respond.

25-34 Paul and Silas convert the jailer

“…praying and singing hymns to God…” The mission has come to a halt – or so it seems. Locked up in a prison cell with only themselves and a guard. Far away from their home church in Antioch where their friends would not know to be praying for their release. But Paul and Silas continued to trust in the Lord. Why not take the time to remind one another of God’s goodness and to praise Him from the heart. While many were safely sleeping in their beds, these missionaries were chained up, perhaps cold, probably uncomfortable, they were awake and praising God. We can’t help associate the earthquake as the intervention of God.

“…Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” This is the sort of question every Christian longs to be asked. It’s really the most important question. Is God real? Is the bible God’s word? Why does God allow suffering to go on? These are all very good questions too but ought to lead everyone to the first question: what must I do to be saved? This question, of course, is answered with, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Both the question and the answer are loaded with side issues and questions, for sure. But this is the heart of importance. John’s entire gospel is aimed at answering this question. Romans 10:9 explains that “if you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” The difference between heaven and hell is this one decision: do you believe in the Lord Jesus. Not simply that a guy named Jesus lived – but that he is Lord. He is your Lord. He is the Lord of all. This is the difference between life and death. Perhaps the jailer understood that the Almighty took care of Paul and Silas and also that the prisoners were not desperate to preserve their own freedom. He may have witnessed the power of God over nature as well as the power of the gospel in the lives of these two men. Whatever he perceived, he was struck to ask these two men about salvation.

“…he was filled with joy…” Oh I wish that we could perpetuate that feeling. If only the church – all of us – would perceive the joy that it is to know Jesus. Our faith is one of knowledge of the truth. We can speak with philosophers who wonder and say that we know God. We can speak with scientists who study and say we know who did this. We can speak with the lost and say that we know the solid rock who gives us freedom from sin. We can speak to those burdened by religion and say that we know the mind of God and his invitation to come and find rest. We can speak to those who have sold themselves to money and say that we know the God of hope who has prepared an inheritance for all who turn to Jesus and believe the good news. We can also talk to God, the one whom we know in truth, and we can ask him to fill our hearts with joy – the joy that comes by faith in believing.

35-40 Paul escorted out of jail

“When it was daylight…” Between midnight and dawn, a man had been delivered from darkness to light. An earthquake had taken place and a man’s whole household had been baptised in response to the good news that Jesus is Lord. A man who previously only knew the fear of his Roman authorities, now was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God. He had opened his home to the prisoners and apparently lead them back to their cell before morning. When the morning came, officers of the magistrate may have thought they were bringing good news to Paul and Silas to release them. But that is no news at all compared to the release of the jailer from his bondage to sin and death.

“…No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.” The boldness of Paul makes me smile. An earthquake came and opened the doors for him to be free, yet he stayed. The jailer took him home and fed him and yet Paul and Silas returned to their cell before morning. Now they are given permission to leave and yet they want to demand their rights as Roman citizens. It’s quirky of Paul. But it illustrates his co-citizenship of earth and heaven. The gospel that he preaches is ultimately about right and wrong. If you are on the wrong side of Jesus you are in the wrong, so turn to him and be saved. He has been dealt with wrongly as a citizen of Rome and he chooses to make an issue out of this too. Sure, he could have dismissed it and gone on with his mission. But he has an opportunity here to declare that they are in the wrong! According to their rules, they have wronged him and they need to make amends.

“…they went to Lydia’s house…” This had become a base in Philippi for the believers and Paul encouraged them with the news of what had happened to him and Silas just as Peter encouraged the believers in Jerusalem after his rescue from prison by the hand of God. He undoubtedly let them know about the jailer and his family. When he left the believers, they supported him financially in his mission and even sent money to him when he was abroad (Philippians 4:14-16)

Meaning

Finding people and places to preach the gospel is as much a part of following the lead of the Spirit as it is setting an agenda and a plan. The plan will fail without the Spirit of God. But the plan must be to preach where the Spirit opens doors (or locks you in). The gospel itself is a work of the Spirit to open the hearts of the elect to respond. And our message must be directed to Jesus as Lord – this is the good news.

Application

  1. Discuss ways in which you have seen the Spirit of God directing you in your life? How have you been aware of this? What principals must we follow to know whether it is the Spirit of God or not?
  2. Our plans do get changed and it is important to understand the sovereignty of God in all situations. Bad events in life are also used by God for his good purposes. Do you have examples of this in your life? How might you see your current situations (today, this week, a specific function) as an opportunity to spread the gospel and to glorify God?
  3. Would you describe your life as full of joy for knowing God? Would you use the word joy at all to describe your life? Why or why not? Discuss.

John 16:1-33 – The Plain Truth

Context

Jesus has been speaking to the 11 disciples who will take the message of the gospel out into the world when the time comes. It’s the night of his arrest but his disciples don’t understand this yet. Jesus has told them that they must remain in him and that the world will treat them badly because they remain in him. Even so, they are told to go and testify about Jesus as witnesses who have been with him since the beginning of his earthly mission.

Chapter 16 are Jesus final words in this lengthy speech to the disciples. Besides being able to listen in on His prayer in chapter 17, these will be the last instructions from Jesus to his disciples before the great disaster takes place – the arrest of Jesus and the scattering of the disciples.

Observations

Being a lengthy section this week, you may want to ask your group how they would divide the text into sections – what would their structure look like? Take suggestions and discuss why they chose those breaks. Passages can be broken up in different ways. Sometimes it’s obvious and sometimes it’s not. Although there are certainly wrong ways of dividing the text, there are usually options in parts. Here is how I’m dividing up the text based on themes or messages in each section:

Structure:

  • 1-5a – Be strong and courageous
  • 5b-15 – I must go so that the Spirit of Truth can come to you
  • 16-24 – Your grief will turn into joy
  • 25-33 – Jesus speaking plainly

Verses 1-5a – Jesus warns the disciples that what is coming is a time of persecution. It’s important to recall two things here: 1) that Jesus is talking specifically to 11 men about their future and 2) that what Jesus teaches these 11 men is the same principal for us. That is, we do not need to see a prediction for us but we do need to listen to the same lesson of encouragement: to be strong and courageous in a world that has rejected the love of the Father.

“…so that you will not fall away.” How do they avoid falling away? By listening to Jesus words! By “remaining” in him! (John 15:7). Can Christians fall away? Yes. They fall away when they stop giving Jesus their attention. When they “walk in the way of sinners” (Ps 1). But the word of God is what prevents us from falling away. It is the power of God (Romans 1:16-17). God keeps us for eternity by his word and with his Spirit. This is the distinction between those who are truly called by God and those who enjoy the benefits of grace but do not remain in Jesus. 1 John 2:19 (the same writer of John’s gospel) says that those who depart from Jesus show that they were never really saved to begin with. Are you nervous that you might fall away? Good. Keep listening to Jesus and the word of God.

“I did not tell you this from the beginning…” Jesus has in mind the beginning of his ministry with the disciples – back when he called them from their fishing boats (some of them) to become fishers of men. Back then, Jesus had a three year education in store for them. They didn’t need to worry about the specifics of their future and Jesus’ departure back then, but Jesus now tells them everything they need to hear to prepare them for what is next. We can learn from this same idea when we teach others about Christ. Every one of us continues to grow in our knowledge and understanding of Christ. We must be patient with one another and also not be anxious if we don’t have the same depth of understanding as others.

Verses 5b to 15 focus on the Holy Spirit who will come when Jesus departs. It’s helpful to realize that the disciples are growing in their grief as Jesus says that he is departing. But it’s for their good that he goes. In this section, we learn that it is good because unless he goes, the Spirit cannot come. In the next section, 16 onward, Jesus tells them that they must grieve before they see joy.

“When he comes he will…” three things Jesus says that the Spirit will do (specifically).

  1. The Spirit will prove the world to be wrong about sin because people do not believe in Jesus. This is the conviction of the Spirit. Sin will not be reduced to small occurrences of lies, stealing and adultery (not that any of these are minor) but the guilt of sin will land on where you stand with Jesus. The Father will come and make a home with anyone who loves Jesus and obeys Jesus’ commands (Jn 14:23-24). People that very night will show their ignorance of Jesus and will nail him to a cross. This will be the world’s ultimate act of sin.
  2. The Spirit will prove the world to be wrong about righteousness because Jesus is going to the Father. Righteousness is not found in our works because nobody can please God by their own righteousness. Righteousness is not found through the Jewish laws and religion because they will turn on Jesus and crucify him. The Spirit will show their actions to be wrong when Jesus is raised from the dead and returned to the Father (Romans 8:11).
  3. The Spirit will prove the world to be wrong about judgment because the prince of this world now stands condemned. Jesus had mentioned the ‘prince of this world’ back in Jn 14:30 and said that he has no hold over Jesus. The person being referred to is commonly understood as Satan – the deceiver. A great moment occurred at the cross, which the Spirit of Truth has ever since been speaking into this world: Jesus has died for our sins and we need not ever listen to the lies of Satan again. He was wrong to deceive Adam and Eve in the beginning and wrong to deceive every human ever since. He cannot, ever more, stand and tell any of his holy ones that they are guilty and must pay for their crimes. We stand with the Holy Spirit and say back, “I am with Jesus who died for me so that I do not have to listen to your lies any more!”

“The Spirit of truth…will receive from me what he will make known to you.” Verses 12-15 center on the Spirit serving the Father and Jesus to make known to the disciples the truth. This truth captures what we’ve already looked at above and everything that the Father has revealed to Jesus. Notice again the language here that has made up the doctrine of the Trinity. It’s not a man-made myth or something that the church has adopted on its own but a way of taking the words of the bible and giving that relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit a name. “All that belongs to the Father is [Jesus’]”. “…the Spirit will receive from me…” “[The Spirit] will glorify [Jesus]” “The Spirit will not speak on his own.” Add these words to the description in chapter 14 and 15 and you build a great vision of the Godhead from Jesus’ lips alone! Notice too how integral the Spirit is to the word of God. His role is focused on truth and sharing the words of the Father. The Spirit of God and the word of God cannot be separated.

Verses 16 to 24, describe a passing event which will begin with grief but then be replaced with joy. Compare verses 16, 20 and 22. The illustration of the woman in labour describes the comparison of the two moments: great pain will give way to great relief and excitement – such joy that the pain will be overlooked. Jesus is surely talking about the cross and resurrection. That is what has been on his mind over these past few chapters and he has been telling the disciples that he must go away. The pain they will face will begin at his arrest (chapter 18) and continue beyond his death right up until they hear and see that he has been raised from the dead! Then they will bring back to memory all that Jesus has said to them about this event (John 16:4).

“Jesus saw that they wanted to ask him…” (v19). Jesus and John (the narrator) draw attention to this little phrase quite a bit. Perhaps more than seems natural. The words of Jesus could have simply continued as John reflects back at this conversation without the little issue of the disciples not understanding. Why does John tell us what the disciples were thinking and then have Jesus know what they were wanting to ask? You could say that any perceptive person may have known what the disciples were wanting to ask, but even the disciples are amazed when in verse 30 they are convinced that Jesus knows what they want before they ask it! Furthermore, Jesus talks about being asked things in verse 23, 24, and 26. It’s like he takes the “unasked question” and converts it into a lesson about asking for things but no more asking Jesus, but asking the Father. What draws all of this together? Firstly, that the disciples are convinced of Jesus’ truth because he was able to know what they wanted without being asked but secondly, that he came to earth in the first place to give his disciples something that they didn’t necessarily ask for: “I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” This was all the initiative of the Father and Jesus. This is grace. Not that we asked God but that he saw what we needed and came to deliver. Now that we have been given access to the Father even before we asked for it, we are invited to talk directly to the Father about anything we desire. Perhaps my words have not been clear here, but seeing how Jesus plays with the idea of “not asking” is kind of awesome and impressive – and it teaches us about grace.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” What a great way for Jesus to end his dialogue with his disciples. It’s a solemn and serious way to end his ministry with them but an important one. They are promised PEACE and TROUBLE at the same time. The first will come from God and the latter will come from the world. But take heart! Don’t be discouraged. Grasp onto this truth: that Jesus has overcome the world. He is superior. He is the boss. He is the one who has returned to the Father with a mission accomplished! If God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8:31)!

The disciples will truly need to remember these words. Even with the conviction that they share in verse 30, they will be scattered before the night is over (verse 32). When we are confident in our faith, be careful, because there are times when we may feel very weak. But when we feel weak and failing, take heart because Jesus has been strong for us.

Meaning

Jesus’ mission on earth is almost complete. He will go to the cross and see the disciples scattered before he conquers death and replaces their grief with joy. As Jesus prepares to leave, he promises that the Spirit of truth will come and bring clarity to the events that are about to take place. Sin, and righteousness and judgment are all seen at the cross as Jesus’ mission is accomplished. Sin is exposed. Righteousness revealed. And the prince of this world is stripped of all his power. The disciples declare their understanding and belief over who Jesus is as Jesus warns them to stand firm and not fall away.

Application

  • Negative influences from the world that we live in will bring us trouble. It might be silent or audible sniggers from family or acquaintances. It might be public shame from a position that makes no sense to people outside of Christ. But Jesus says to us: don’t fall away. Don’t take your eyes off Jesus. Listen to the Spirit of truth and not the spirit of this age. The world can judge us all it likes, but God has sent his Son into the world to give us grace and peace! So take heart!
  • Thank God for the gift of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that it was crucial that he go away, otherwise the Spirit could not come. Jesus thinks very highly of the Spirit when he puts it that way: “it’s better that I leave”, he said. The Spirit has upheld the 11 disciples to bring them clarity on all that Jesus did and said and so that they could deliver this message to the world. The role of the Spirit is to testify, or bear witness, or reveal to people everything in truth about the Father and the Son. Thank God for his gift to us! We are not alone.
  • Although Jesus spoke of this death and resurrection as the time of pain which gives way to joy – surely we can see the similarity between our lives which endure trouble and hardship while we wait for the joy of our own resurrection and of seeing God in glory! Suffering, in the bible, is seen as part of the process leading to great joy. James said, consider it all joy when you face trials of every kind. This is not because the Christian loves pain, but because we know that this pain will give way to liberty, freedom, eternal peace, joy and rest. The memory of the pain of this world will pass away as we celebrate with excitement the very real deliverance into glory.

Prayer

Father God, you sent your Son, Jesus Christ, into this world in order to set us free from sin and shame. Keep us, we pray, in your love and teach us to serve you through good times and poor. Keep our hearts from despair as we live our lives listening to the Spirit of your word. Amen.

Ezekiel 2-3 – The Sweet Scroll and the Watchman

context

Where as chapter one was filled with visions of God, these chapters contain the words of God and the command to Ezekiel to receive His word and speak it to the nation n of Israel. We remember the greater context of Ezekiel living with the exiles in Babylon – an exile which came about because of Israel’s persistent rebellion. The chapter opens with Ezekiel by the Kebar river in Babylon and fallen face don because of the awesome visi n of the Almighty that he has seen…and he hears the voice of one speaking.

Observation

As far as a structure to these chapters go, it should be seen to include chapter one also. This allows us to see that Ezekiel’s vision bookends the section of 2:1-11 and that 3:16-27, although related, make a separate event.

  • 1:4-28 vision of the LORD
    • 2:1-7 Speech
      • 2:8-3:3 Action
    • 3:4-11 Speech
  • 3:12-15 vision of the LORD
  • 3:16-27 The Call to be a Watchman

The theme of this section seems to revolve around God commanding Ezekiel to take His words and speak to Israel, who are most likely not going to listen – but Ezekiel is to listen. Let’s look at some of the interesting phrases that appear in the text.

“Son of man” This appears several times. It is aimed at Ezekiel and could mean either, he is just a man in comparison to the Almighty voice speaking to him, or it could point to a biblical title for all of Israel. Daniel 7 uses the phrase as a title which we know points to Jesus as the true Israel and the true King on the throne. It’s likely that it simply compares Ezekiel with the Almighty.

“stand up on your feet…the Spirit came into me and raised me to my feet…” 2:1-2 The voice commanded Ezekiel to rise (since he was prostrate) and then sends the Spirit to raise him. This is a beautiful picture of God’s command for us to follow and giving us his Spirit to obey. The image is of a ‘dead man’ being raised up – an image that will come again in bulk at chapter 37! Notice the amount of times the Spirit is described as raising and moving (2:2, 3:12, 14, 24). This Spirit was active throughout the vision of chapter one also.

“the Israelites…a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me.” Israel is called rebellious (2:3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 3:26, 27), obstinate and stubborn (2:4, 7) and also thorns, briers and scorpions (2:6). This is why Israel is in Exile and why they will be further removed from the land. They are stubborn rebels who will not listen. But they will not be allowed to be punished without warning – this will further mark their doom.

“They and their ancestors.” 2:3 This is not to state that the sin is from their ancestors but that God has been very patient with them.

“Do not be afraid…You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen…” (2:7, see also 10-11). It is not wasted to speak the words of God to the people of God even if the expectation is not to listen. God is with Ezekiel and he is not to fear those he will speak to. God will give Ezekiel a head that is hard as Israel’s heart to protect him and keep him firmly on task. Is this where the expression “he’s a hard headed man” come from?

“But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you…” 2:8. In contrast, this is the expectation of Ezekiel. He will prove to be a very loyal prophet but not without a hiccup. 3:14 seems to suggest that Ezekiel was not looking forward to this assignment. 3:15 places him among the Exiles in Tel Aviv saying nothing and deeply distressed. See below on 3:16.

“…a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll…And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat the scroll…”…So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” (2:9-3:3) This is odd. The hand comes from the glory of the LORD and in it is a scroll. These symbolise the message that is to go to Israel by Ezekiel, and they are words of “lament and mourning and woe.” The scroll is full of these words on both sides. Ezekiel is being “spoon fed” the message to go back to the rebel nation. They refused to receive God’s word but Ezekiel is asked to feed on it and fill his stomach (3:3).

Although the words are lament and woe, the taste to Ezekiel is sweet. This is a description of the word of God found also in the Psalms (Psalm 19:10; 119:103). Wisdom is described as honey to taste in Proverbs 24:13-14. This Ezekiel event is replayed in the book of Revelation which describes the message of the scroll to be bitter to the stomach but sweet in the mouth (Rev 10:9-10).

I have an image in my mind of children who refuse to eat what their parents put on the table. They cry and whinge and rebel. But when the hand of the parent stretches out and places the food in their mouth, they agree that the food is yummy to eat. While the word of the LORD that is targeted at Israel is woe and destruction, the word of God contains life and joy to those who will listen and digest it. See the prayer for the week below for an Anglican prayer taken from the Prayer Book.

“I sat among [the exiles] for seven days – deeply distressed. At the end of the seven days…” 3:15-16. Rather than speaking the words of woe to the rebels in Tel Aviv, Ezekiel kept quiet and in distress. This was a massive task for him to do. One man speaking against a nation of rebells and scorpions! These two verses remind me of the prophet Jonah, although Ezekiel didn’t run away. Earlier, in 2:5-6, Ezekiel was reminded that he is not going off to a strange land with strange tongue but to his own people. He is not being asked to do what Jonah did. Actually, this will be harder because a foreigner to Israel would repent and listen!

“I have made you a watchman for the people of Israel.” 3:17. This section from verse 16-27 acts like a second commissioning of Ezekiel. He was commissioned to go and he was sent to the exiles in Babylon but he said nothing. Now, God instructs him on how important for himself it will be to speak. If he stays silent and the people are judged, Ezekiel too will be found guilty. But if Ezekiel speaks, no matter what the outcome, Ezekiel will not be guilty for their blood. See Hosea 9:8 and Jeremiah 6:17 for other times the title ‘watchman’ is used. It is the picture of an eye for the city to see what danger approaches. Isaiah 52:8 has a watchman rejoicing because the Lord returns to Zion but Ezekiel, Hosea and Jeremiah describe the watchmen as keep watch for danger but nobody is listening to them. Ezekiel sees the danger coming and is being asked by God to do his job as a watchman.

“I will hold you accountable for their blood” 3:20. This sounds quite harsh but the warning is for Ezekiel to get on with the task that God has commanded him to do. If he refuses, then judgement will fall on him also. See Acts 20:26-27; 1 Timothy 4:16. Note that the heavy warning in Ezekiel is for Ezekiel. We must remember that this message for God is first and foremost written to that prophet for that time and that reason. Having said that, we ought to take a sober lesson from this principal. If we know that there is judgement coming and remain silent about it, are we serving our King proudly? The guilt of sin remains on the sinner. We, however, ought to be ready to make ways of warning people. See 2 Corinthians 5:18-20. We may not find ourselves guilty of anyone else’s blood, but we have been given the ministry of reconciliation.

Meaning

Judgement against rebellion did not come from God without more than plenty of warnings. God’s word is sweet and we ought to consume it, listen to it, read it and obey! We should also expect many to not listen to God’s word but this is not an excuse to remain quiet.

Application

  • As Christians, we have the word of God and the same choice as Ezekiel to either feed on it or refuse it.
  • The word of God is sweet to those who know and fear God but to the rebel heart, it is bitter and full of bad news.
  • If God has reconciled you to Christ and you still of air in your lungs, you are God’s representative on earth – his mouthpiece. What kind of words can we be speaking to this generation? In what ways can we bring the gospel to others?
  • God is patient with us when we are slow to obey him. But he does desire for us to trust and obey.
  • The Spirit of God is with us to do the work of an evangelist.
  • When we speak, it is not our mission to make sure a conversion happens as if our souls depend on that. The hearer will either respond and live, or walk away at their own peril. Our prayer is that the Spirit of God does what He does well.
  • Especially the ministers of the gospel who have been set apart to preach God’s word – they have the responsibility to preach and teach without fearing what people think, say or do. Not only paid ministers, but especially them! Pray for boldness and courage to fear God more than men!
  • Are there any other applications you get from this passage? Is there anything specific that your group could talk and pray about?

Prayer of the week – this is a prayer (a ‘Collect’) copied and pasted from the Anglican Prayer Book.

BLESSED Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.