No believer would argue that we are responsible for getting the gospel of God’s salvation out to others. For many, this is a great passion of daily life, as it should be. The wrinkle occurs when we ask the question, “Yes, but how?” And sadly, methodology sometimes becomes the focus point, rather than the message. We may even be inclined to adopt Marshall McLuhan’s famous statement: “The medium is the message.” In an effort to de-complicate the plethora of processes and plans abounding, perhaps a fresh look at a simple truth is needed.
Consider the prophet Ezekiel. He was told up front that he was being sent to an audience who would not listen. He was told that their hearts were cold and their minds were closed, and that the warnings he would issue them would fall on deaf ears. As motivational talks go, this would not be a first choice for most of us. Yet he was told to go, and he went… albeit somewhat reluctantly. Regardless of the outcome, he was to warn the people of post-theocratic Israel about their backsliding. Their captivity had come about as a result of their disdain for their God, and yet He was still stretching out His offer of forgiveness to them. Ezekiel was to deliver the message; God would take responsibility for the results.
So, he came to the captives who were encamped by the Chebar River, about 70 kilometers from Babylon. It was likely an agricultural labor camp, as the literal meaning of Chebar implies. There they were weeping, and singing songs of lament about what they had lost (Psa. 137:1-4). With a collective moan, they hung up their harps, and bowed under the burden of their situation.
We are living, we may say, in post-theocratic North America. The constitutions of both Canada and the United States contain lofty statements like “one nation under God,” but that is hardly the case any more in practical terms. Despite this situation, our longsuffering Lord still holds His loving arms open, and offers His salvation to any who will receive it. We are to be the ambassadors delivering that message, to a continent of people who are singing the blues and don’t really know why.
There are three phrases in Ezekiel 3:15 which are worthy of note:
“I came to them”
There was a time when we invited friends to a gospel meeting, a tent meeting, or some other such gathering, so that a capable evangelist could preach to them. People would come, people would hear, and some people would repent and believe the gospel. Yet for most believers today, the real work was done when a loving Christian took them under their wing, and faithfully risked their disapproval to tell them the good news. The Christian came to them.
Even when societies have been encompassed by restrictions in various forms, there was always a way to reach someone with the gospel. There was still a backyard conversation, a visit with an offer to assist with something, a chat on the worksite, or an opportunity to share a grief or sorrow with someone in mourning. When we first draw near to Him, He draws alongside us, and we can then draw alongside someone else who desperately needs compassion. We have eternal treasure in earthen vessels to share with them, and a God hears who hears prayer when we intercede on their behalf.
“I sat where they sat”
The principle of identification, in a biblical sense, is most often associated with something like the scapegoat of Leviticus 16, and its ultimate fulfillment by our Lord Jesus at Calvary. He identified with us, took our sin burden upon Himself, bore our penalty in our place, and died the death that was rightfully ours. He took the principle of identification to a degree that eternally endears us to Himself. As He walked among us, as He listened to us, as He heard our thoughts, our fears, and witnessed our rebellion, He entered into our situation more thoroughly than we understand it ourselves.
The principles of human-to-human comfort, found in 2 Corinthians 1:3-7, put us in a unique place. Having experienced the comfort of God in our own lives—and we have each experienced it—we can then freely distribute this to others in need. Divine comfort is a limitless resource, with more than enough to go around. As we sit where others sit, we identify ourselves with their situation. We then have the Spirit of God to give us insight into what is needed, and the Word of God to apply to those needs. It really is an amazing privilege and opportunity, when we think about it for a moment!
“I remained there astonished among them”
The astonishment mentioned here means to devastate, to ravage, and to show horror at the situation. This work most certainly is not for the faint of heart. And to maintain our presence in this situation—as the word “remain” implies—will take a mental and emotional toll on us. Here is my own demotivational comment! Any who take up this venture will likely experience tears, heartache, sleepless nights, and other after effects which are the symptoms of truly caring for someone.
Our Bibles reveal to us a God who has “remained there” for thousands of years. The short years our Lord Jesus spent on earth, provided us with a brief and visible manifestation of our longsuffering God. Since Adam’s day, His heart has been breaking with our sorrows, as we try to stumble through our existence without Him. Yet He has employed every means imaginable, and extended to us every opportunity possible, to be reconciled to Him and experience His deliverance.
Who will receive this great commission?
It can be observed that these mediations apply to any form of interaction with another person. Whether they are an unbeliever who needs the Savior, or a Christian encompassed with despair, identifying with anyone who will grant us an audience is needed now. Although this statement is not in the Bible verbatim, people don’t care what we know until they know that we care. It is however, consistent with the character of our God. And we are each in the precious position of being able to reflect a measure of that to someone else.
Ezekiel was reluctant to this call, as many of us may be. This is asking a lot of anyone, and like the prophet, our attentions may not always be welcomed. That said, can we do any less than reciprocate for the great love which has been shown us? The apostle viewed himself as a debtor to all men (Rom. 1:14) with both an obligation and an opportunity to share Christ with others. If our lives count for nothing else, may they at least count for the fact that we sought to demonstrate the love of God to others.