There are two great lessons which every man must learn, and learn by experience, before he can be a Christian. First, he must learn that sin is an exceeding great and evil thing; and he must learn also that the blood of Christ is an exceedingly precious thing, and is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto it.
Setting the Scene
Take a moment to pray. Ask God to speak to you through his word—for his Spirit to convict you of sin, teach you the truth, and lead you in walking by faith.
We rarely feel the true weight of our sin. I think one of the main reasons among many is that we have so many distractions. We rarely take time to focus on who we are in the sight of God. We often fail to appreciate the depth of our sin because we have a faulty view of God; we mistakenly believe his grace means he’s soft.
We need God’s help to see the depth of our sin. In his second vision, God is showing Ezekiel the persistent idolatry of Israelites left behind in Jerusalem. Part of his purpose is to help Ezekiel and those in exile understand just how wicked idolatry was and is.
There’s no easy way around it: we don’t like talking about God’s judgment. That’s a symptom of cultural influence on our thinking. In the next part of this vision God commands our attention by sentencing Jerusalem for her sin. He even calls angelic executioners to do their job.
Paradoxically, a greater understanding of the sinfulness of sin enables us to have a greater understand of God’s grace. Some of us we tend only to talk about grace without ever acknowledging our guilt before God and our deserved judgment for sin. On the other hand, some of us tend only to talk of sin and condemnation without ever applying the healing touch of the grace of God. In God’s Word, we find both topics clearly addressed.
As we will see, God’s judgment is never devoid of his grace. But before we get to his grace, we must first feel the weight of sin. When was the last time you soberly assessed your guilt before God? When was the last time you realized how much you desperately need God’s grace? Let’s walk this hard road with Ezekiel, knowing that it ultimately leads to forgiveness and restoration.
Ezek. 9:1 Then he called loudly in my hearing, “Come near, executioners of the city, each of you with a destructive weapon in his hand.” 2 And I saw six men coming from the direction of the Upper Gate, which faces north, each with a war club in his hand. There was another man among them, clothed in linen, carrying writing equipment. They came and stood beside the bronze altar.
In the vision, six angels are tasked with executing judgment. A seventh was assigned the job of marking believers, sparing them from the judgment of God. This judgment would come to pass in the form of the Babylonians returning to Jerusalem six years after this vision. The Babylonian army would besiege the city again and destroy it, burning the temple to the ground. Needless to say, many lost their lives in the destruction.
Ezek. 9:3 Then the glory of the God of Israel rose from above the cherub where it had been, to the threshold of the temple. He called to the man clothed in linen and carrying writing equipment. 4 “Pass throughout the city of Jerusalem,” the LORD said to him, “and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the detestable practices committed in it.”
At this point in the vision God’s glory is visible above the golden cherubim on the ark in the holiest place. As we know from Ezekiel’s first vision, God’s throne is mobile. His glory moves out of the holiest place to the entrance to the temple. Don’t miss it: God’s glory is departing the temple. God is leaving his dwelling with his people!
As this happens, the Lord assigns the seventh angel to mark the foreheads of people who mourn the sinfulness of Jerusalem. Here we see the hint of God’s grace. Not all will be judged. Jerusalem was not entirely corrupt.
God’s people mourn sin, no matter where they see it, or how prevalent it is. This is particularly difficult when believers are a minority in a culture because of the temptation to adopt the culture’s morality. The faithful, however, remain sensitive to sin.
How would you know if you were growing desensitized to sin? What are influences in our lives that water down our understanding of God’s holiness and man’s sinfulness? When we see ourselves thinking too much like the culture, we need to return to God’s Word and let him transform our minds.
Ezek. 9:5 He spoke to the others in my hearing: “Pass through the city after him and start killing; do not show pity or spare them! 6 Slaughter the old men, the young men and women, as well as the children and older women, but do not come near anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the elders who were in front of the temple. 7 Then he said to them, “Defile the temple and fill the courts with the slain. Go!” So they went out killing people in the city.
God’s judgment started in the temple—with those who were most flagrant in their rejection of God for false gods. Being religious and knowing Christian terminology is the not the same as having repented of our sins and put our faith in Jesus. Hypocrites were the first to be judged.
We see that the purpose of the mark was to spare the faithful from judgment. God would preserve his remnant, and he would restore Israel. In the vision, however, Ezekiel needed to see just how few those marked out ones were left.
As Ezekiel witnessed the judgment of Jerusalem in the vision, he cried out to God for grace.
Ezek. 9:8 While they were killing, I was left alone. And I fell facedown and cried out, “Oh, Lord GOD! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel when you pour out your wrath on Jerusalem?”
Ezekiel senses the danger that all Israel will be destroyed. So many cherished their idols! So many loved their prosperity! So many cheated and stole! So many murdered and defrauded! Would anyone remain?
I wonder if God gave us this same vision today, how our communities would fare. I fear that due to the prevalence of ungodly thinking and the lack of biblically informed faith, we would find ourselves in the same spot as Ezekiel, begging God to save some.
Ezek. 9:9 He answered me, “The iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is extremely great; the land is full of bloodshed, and the city full of perversity. For they say, ‘The LORD has abandoned the land; he does not see.’ 10 But as for me, I will not show pity or spare them. I will bring their conduct down on their own heads.”
Ezek. 9:11 Then the man clothed in linen and carrying writing equipment reported back, “I have done all that you commanded me.”
God clearly answered Ezekiel’s cry for mercy: their sin was too great. They killed each other, they perverted God’s justice. They manipulated and took advantage of each other. They believed the lie that God was no longer reigning, that he was off the clock.
God explains to Ezekiel that his judgment was just. He said, “I will bring their conduct down on their own heads.” In other words, they earned it. So often Satan whispers through our culture, “No one deserves judgment. Everyone deserves grace.” The Lord says otherwise.
Can you recall times when you thought God had abandoned you? Times when you believed God doesn’t care about your sin? Maybe you said to yourself, “What’s the big deal? Everyone else is doing worse.” We need to feel the weight of this part of the vision: sin matters to God, and he will judge it.
As we have noted, six years later the exiles in Babylon would get word that Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed. They would be stunned, but they shouldn’t have been. The Lord graciously sent prophet after prophet to confront their sin. They simply did not listen.
The Big Picture
We need to feel the weight of this passage. Yes, it is shocking. Yes, it is uncomfortable. Yes, it is tragic. Charles Spurgeon, the famous 19th century preacher in London, made the point well preaching on this very passage, “There are two great lessons which every man must learn, and learn by experience, before he can be a Christian. First, he must learn that sin is an exceeding great and evil thing…
When Jesus died for our sin, he died to satisfy the wrath of God that is illustrated in this vision. God cannot sweep sin under the rug. He cannot just look the other way. What kind of God would he be? To tolerate rape and murder and theft and pride?
This vision dramatically displays God’s righteous judgment, which helps us understand the need for the cross. The Apostle Paul teaches us that Jesus died to absorb God’s wrath for our sin. He says in Romans 3:25, “God presented him [Jesus] as an atoning sacrifice in his blood…” The phrase “atoning sacrifice” is Old Testament language that refers to God showing grace to his people due to a sacrifice satisfying his wrath.
To be sure, this is a weighty matter. But we must not stop here, we must continue on to see the power of God’s grace. Spurgeon went on, “…and he must learn also that the blood of Christ is an exceedingly precious thing, and is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto it.”
His point takes into account the rest of the story of the Bible. In Jesus, God provides the costly purchase price for our salvation. Many have rightly said that grace is free to us but it isn’t cheap. Jesus paid it all.
Taking It Home
As we apply this sober passage, we need to candidly assess our attitude towards sin. In what areas are we soft? In what areas have we allowed our conscience to mimic our culture rather than be informed by God?
When it comes to sin we must insist on leaving no room for compromise. Remember that the Lord sees it all. God is intimately acquainted with all of our ways. We can’t delete our web browsing history from his watchful care. We can’t sneak off to a hotel on a Friday night outside of his jurisdiction. We can’t hide our bitter and angry hearts from his penetrating gaze.
Here’s the remarkable truth of the gospel: he doesn’t want us to. God wants us to confess our sin—all of it—and to receive forgiveness in Jesus. What was Ezekiel supposed to do? What were the exiles supposed to do when he shared this vision? God wanted them to repent of their idolatry! He graciously showed them his judgment so they would throw themselves on his mercy. Our greatest hope is not to hide who we really are. Our greatest hope is in confessing our sin and seeking forgiveness in Jesus.
We also need to stay sensitive to sin around us. God’s people mourn sin, even the sin of others. Sometimes the bad news can be so constant in our world it becomes white noise. When murder rates rise, or criminals get away with their crime, or we see our neighbors worship their idols, let us mourn. We should pray for our neighbors. We should beg God to be merciful. We should share the good news of the gospel with those around us destined for God’s judgment.
- If you know you are tolerating sin, confess that now to the Lord. Be specific, and repent before the Lord.
- Ask God to cultivate a sensitivity to sin in your heart. Ask the Spirit to sharpen your conscience, and to help you say no to the temptations you will face today.
- Praise God that Jesus died so that you could be marked for grace. Praise him for paying that costly price. Praise him for the depth of his mercy.