The Church has a God-given mission to deliver a warning message to the nations of the world.
[Darris McNeely] Two years ago, Debbie and I attended the Feast of Tabernacles in Prince Edward Island up in Canada. I don’t know, some of you probably have been to Prince Edward Island. But one of the things that we did besides keep the Feast and fellowship with the brethren, which was certainly the highlight, was to go around the island as much as we had the time to do. We never drove the entire circumference of Prince Edward Island, but we drove around looking for lighthouses.
Now Prince Edward Island out in the middle of this vast sea and ships going all over the place. They have a lot of lighthouses there, as you would imagine. We got this map and we saw where they were all plotted on there. We said, in the spare time we had outside some of the activities beyond services, we drove around looking for lighthouses. I think we found 14 or 15 different lighthouses as we drove around. Some of them were down remote lanes, dirt roads. You had to walk across potato fields and get dirty to get up and find them. Some were right in the middle of a town that may have been right on the edge of the water. But we found 14 or 15 of them and we really enjoyed it.
Now, I recognize for some in my audience today looking at lighthouses is not the most exciting thing in the world to be doing at the Feast of Tabernacles. Because you might, on your off time, like to be at a beach or doing something else, fellowshipping there. But at my age in life and at my point in time, just looking at it, standing and looking at a lighthouse was pretty good. It was… My wife was off looking at Anne of Green Gables stuff on Prince Edward Island but I was looking at …we were looking at lighthouses during that time.
Lighthouses are fascinating. They’re rugged. There’s a certain nobility to the scene of a lighthouse standing out on a remote spot, perched as some of them were on Prince Edward Island, on a very precipitous cliff. A hundred feet down, you would walk up and see the lighthouse and walk just a little bit beyond and a straight drop right into the water. They’re out there all by themselves. They’re solitary. They are remote.
A lighthouse is steadfast, it’s always there. A lot of them, most of them were weather-beaten. They have to take all of the elements. Again, a lighthouse is not noticed until it’s needed, in many cases. But every night, the light comes on and it begins to go around. Now on Prince Edward Island, like with most places today, they’re not manned by a human being. They’re all electronic and the light automatically comes on. There is not someone there. That’s a bygone age when someone actually lived there.
But they come on and they warn ships that they’re there and what is there in the coastline. Helps the ship to navigate its course. Every night a lighthouse shows up and knows its lines. Shows up and knows its lines. The light comes on and it sits somewhere out there on a point of land serving one purpose: to give light. Now they’re not really lighting a path. They’re just showing a light and that’s revolving around. It serves as a point of reference for those ships that are passing by.
There’s an equivalency in the Bible to a lighthouse. And I’d like to go through that with you this afternoon. In the Bible, they’re not called a lighthouse. Now I know some of you are already thinking this is maybe a sermon about being a light, Christ said that we are to be the light but that’s not what we’re talking about here this afternoon.
The equivalency of a lighthouse in the Bible is what the Bible calls a watchman, a watchman. Now let’s look at what it says about this in a couple of passages. There are several in the Bible but let’s turn over in your Bibles to Ezekiel chapter 3. Third chapter of Ezekiel, the prophet, one the major prophets of the Bible. Third chapter of Ezekiel is where Ezekiel gets his commission. The first couple of chapters, there’s this magnificent vision of the throne of God.
And let’s begin in verse 1 of Ezekiel 3. A little bit of a background, Ezekiel was a prophet after the fall of Judah. His prophecies took place while the Jews were in Babylon in captivity. Ezekiel was with certain Jews that had been transported from Jerusalem to Babylon. So this is after the fall of the last Kingdom of Judah, the last remnant of the nation of Israel. Ezekiel is given this prophecy and this commission while he is a captive.
“The voice said to me,” in Verse 1 and I’m reading from the New Living Translation, “’Son of man, eat what I’m giving you. Eat this scroll then go and give this message to the people of Israel.’ And so I opened my mouth and He fed me the scroll. ‘Fill your stomach with it,’ and He did and when he ate it, he said ‘it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.’”
The scroll had the Word of God on it such that it was given to Ezekiel at that time. It said it was sweet as honey. You know the words of God, however, they were given specifically to some of the prophets. We have the Word of God in the Bible today and we look this in the same way. As we read the Word of God, it is something that is like honey in our mouth; it is very, very good. It tastes well for us.
It goes on, “And He said, “Son of man, go to the people of Israel and then give them My messages. I’m not sending you to a foreign people whose language you cannot understand. No,” he says, “I’m not sending you to people with strange and difficult speech. If I did, they would listen,” sort of like a Jonah when he to Nineveh; they repented.
But He goes on, “The people of Israel won’t listen to you any more than they listen to Me. For the whole lot of them are hard-hearted and stubborn.” Quite a strong statement. “But look, I’ve made you as obstinate and hard-hearted as they are,” All right? So Ezekiel had certain qualities needed to stand up to a hard-hearted people. “I have made your forehead as hard as the hardest rock so don’t be afraid of them or fear their angry looks even though they are rebels.” Then He added, “Son of man, let all My words sink deep into your own heart first. Listen to them carefully for yourself.” Anyone who stands and speaks for God, whether it was a prophet of the Bible, a minister of Jesus Christ today, or any of us as the disciples of Jesus Christ, the words of God must sink into our heart. They must reside there and we must listen carefully to them for ourselves and let them teach us, guide as, and direct us. Ezekiel was no different from any other servant of God at any other point in time.
Then He says, “Go to your people in exile and say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ Do this,” He says, “whether they listen to you or not. Do it whether they listen or not.” What a job. How would you like that every day? To have to deal with people who would not listen? But you had to do the same thing. You had to give the message, you had to teach. You had to give instructions. You had to work with people that weren’t necessarily glad to see you come in the classroom and to the shop floor, on the job site whatever it might be. This is what Ezekiel’s job was. He said, “Do it whether they listen or not.”
So God lifted him up and the sound and the manifestations of God’s glory continued on that had begun in chapter 1. Verse 14, “The Spirit lifted me and took me away,” he says. “I went in bitterness and turmoil.” He had mixed emotions. His life was was being turned upside-down, inside-out. He said, “But the Lord’s hold on me was strong.” God had given him a job. God had called Ezekiel just as He’s called you and I. No matter what the turmoil might be from time to time, regardless of what may be going on in our life, when God calls us, He’s got a hold on us. He owns us. As we’ve yielded to Him and submitted to Him, we are “bondservants” as Paul would put it in the New Testament. So he found himself among the exiles seven days later.
As we pick it up in verse 16, he’s had a lot of time to think about it and again God begins to talk to him. He says “Son of man,” Verse 17, “I have appointed you as a watchman for Israel. Whenever you receive a message from Me, warn people immediately.”
Now a watchman in the form of the Old Testament was an individual who would normally stand on the walls of an ancient city watching for invasion, the enemy to come. If they saw the enemy come, they gave a warning. That was a common feature in the ancient world with walled cities. A watchman might also have a large tower in a field of grain before the harvest. Watchmen would stay in the fields watching out for predators or people who might come and try to rob the produce that was growing. That was also something that we find from the Scriptures as well. So a watchman is someone who’s keeping guard and watching out, and this is what his job is. This, again, post, kind of like a lighthouse.
Here’s what God says you’re to do, “Warn the wicked” in verse 18. “Say to the wicked, ‘You are under the penalty of death.’ But if you fail to deliver the warning, they will die in their sins and I will hold you responsible for their deaths.” So he had to give a warning, but if people didn’t listen, they have that responsibility upon them. “If you warn them and they refuse to repent and keep on sinning, they will die in their sins. But you will have saved yourself because you obeyed Me.” So that’s why he had to go and do it and show up and to give the Word of God even if they didn’t hear it, listen to it, or like what they had.
He goes on to give specific instructions, more about this is said in verse 20, “If the righteous people turn from their righteous behavior and ignore the obstacles I put in their way, they will die. And if you do not warn them, they will die in their sins. None of their righteous acts will be remembered, and I will hold you responsible for their deaths.”
So if Ezekiel got to a point where he didn’t do his job, God would hold him responsible, regardless of how the people reacted. So it was something, again, Ezekiel was bound to and God held him accountable. And so he began to do this.
In verse 22, “The Lord took hold of me and He said ‘Get up. Go to the valley and I will speak to you there,’ and he went and I saw the glory of the Lord.” In verse 24, “The Spirit came to me and set me on my feet. He spoke to me and He said, ‘Go to your house, shut yourself. You will be tied with ropes and you cannot go out among the people.’” Ezekiel had to do a lot of different things in his particular role as a prophet.
But in verse 27, He said, “I will give you a message. I will loosen your tongue and let you speak and you will say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says,’ and those who choose to listen will listen. But those who refuse will refuse, for they are rebels.”
In Ezekiel 33, there’s a parallel passage to this. There again in Ezekiel 33, in the beginning in verse 1, “God says, ‘I’m setting you up for the people of the land because I’m going to bring an army against the people of the land. And you’re a watchman set upon the walls, and when you see the enemy come, you’re to sound an alarm to warn the people.’”
So he goes through the same thing in Chapter 33 with a bit more detail. Again, his responsibility was to go. And if they wouldn’t listen, at least Ezekiel would save himself even though people would die in their sins. But if they repented, if they came back, then they would save themselves, and Ezekiel’s job would have been a success as well. That’s how it worked. And yet, God told him, “They’re not going to listen to you because of the nature of these people.”
This, brethren, is a conundrum that we deal with even today as we do our job of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. This is why our report, our message today is not heard because Ezekiel was not heard. Nor was Isaiah, nor was Jeremiah, nor for that matter was even Jesus Christ, the greatest of the prophets. He was rejected and despised, and you know what happened there.
We are in the business of proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God as our mission in the United Church of God. From time to time, as we evaluate ourselves, as we look at what we are doing, we ask ourselves, “Why there aren’t more people in the Church today?” We might just as well ask, “Where are all of those who were, even when we had larger numbers from years past, where are they?” That should be asked at the same time that question is asked in regard to our current work.
We ask this question of ourselves in our media department all the time as we evaluate our efforts. The General Conference of Elders members, from time to time, will ask it in sometimes even more pointed ways. Standing on the floor of the meetings and asking a very good question, as we have as our part of our custom within the United Church of God.
All of which are fair questions, but no one asks it any moreso than those of us that are working directly with it today: writing articles, doing television programs, speaking publicly to audiences. We’re in the midst of our personal appearance campaigns, “America, the Time Is Now,” and we have hundreds of people who will sign up online and indicate they are coming to attend. We have thousands on our mailing lists for the Beyond Today magazine in some of the areas, and we invite them.
We go and we will have… where hundreds might sign up, we might have 60, 63, 50, 40, sometimes even lower. We are glad for what we have. We are glad that we are able to engage with those that we have with us. Each week through our website, through print, through television, we are proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. At the end of all our evaluations and our searching for ourselves, as we seek to do better jobs, to do effective jobs with what we do, we ask ourselves, “Why have they not heard our report?”
And then we look at the world today and we look at the conflicting messages that are in the world today, the distractions that people have, an increasingly, progressive, secular world that we are a part of. Certainly, a Laodicean world that we live in, if we want to use that biblical term, a world that is “rich and increased in goods and does not need nothing” and yet at the same time, it is a world that is and a nation, America, that is going through a great deal of turmoil.
Witness our current political landscape. And people are concerned, people are fearful. Voices that talk about that sound even more urgent sometimes than we might. And yet, that’s the world we live in. We haven’t yet come to a point where people would turn to God perhaps in larger numbers because of the nature of the world that we live in. Yet our job is like this of Ezekiel and that of any other servant of God and the responsibility that they have.
Ezekiel was appointed by God as a watchman over the house of Israel from his captivity in Babylon, and that’s important to remember. The message that Ezekiel had is a very interesting message, as are all the other prophetic messages. In his case, it is addressed to the whole house of Israel. At times, it is addressed to the nation of Judah. But you have to keep in mind that both Judah and Israel were in captivity. They no longer existed at the time that he gave the messages. Even scholars who have looked at this and understood that Ezekiel was 130 or more years after the fall of the house of Israel, the northern 10-tribe nation, and a few years even after the fall of Judah. Yet, he is going to the house of Israel, to the house of Judah with all of the messages that he has.
Ezekiel’s message is clearly, when you look at it, it is a message with a future component. It applies to today and the age to come. This is not something that we have fabricated and we look at it in our particular interpretation of the book of Ezekiel. Other scholars, who have studied the prophecy, look at it and recognize the same thing, that there are passages in the Book of Ezekiel that seem to be obviously directed at specific Israelites that are in exile and that are not hearing the message.
That is an important matter for us to understand. Because we, in the Church of God, have long felt that this role of Ezekiel aptly describes our commission today. That our work, our calling to salvation in this age—before the mass of humanity will be called and receive the gift of salvation in that period, beyond the Millennium and the Great White Throne Judgment—the reason we are called today is to take the message of God, and in specific application even the message of Ezekiel, to give a warning message in the spirit of a watchman to the modern peoples of America and Britain and the English-speaking nations based upon our belief and our understanding that these peoples today are descendants of these ancient nations. That the message that Ezekiel is told to give to Israel, in exile, with all of its components present and future, is to be given today.
This is what we have believed. I say this so that we will understand something about the nature of the United Church of God. The entire Church of God movement and experience that we have been a part of and others have in their fellowships as well. That I came up among and grew up in from the age of 12 as a young man and many of us as well, and the very reason that we do what we do. We have done what we have done in these decades with the Church of God with the belief that these nations of the modern English-speaking nations also needed to hear the message of Ezekiel and of Jeremiah and of Amos and of Hosea and of Jesus Christ and of the apostle Paul, in the spirit of a watchman.
To sound a message that there is a need to repent. There is a need to turn to God and that, yes, there is even coming a time of tribulation and trouble called “the time of Jacob’s trouble” upon our peoples. Because of a neglect of the law of God and the way of God in the same spirit and way that Israel and Judah had neglected that of God in their time and suffered. So we have felt based on our understanding of the Bible that there is a duality to those prophecies that apply today. That is a very critical matter for all of us to understand.
This prophetic understanding is a touchstone belief for us, in our work and in the story of who we are and what we do. It holds a key to the answer of why do we do a media work. Really, it is the answer as why we are a church that is doing a media work, which is not always something everybody understands.
We are a church that does have a mission and, through the use of media, we accomplish that mission. Some have understood that. I have understood it from my earliest years in the Church. But from time to time, I recognize because of the issues that we have had in the last 20 to 25 years and depending upon the emphasis or our own ability to hear and listen and our proclivity to understand, we don’t understand necessarily what the Church is.
Today, some might feel that the purpose of the Church is to only take care of the members with the programs that we have—the Sabbath services, the pastors, camps, and Ambassador Bible College in our case, other programs, weekends for youth, young adults, all of this— which are a very important part of what we do as a Church, and we should do and will do. It is important because as well, a critical component of our mission statement is to care for the disciples that are called. There was a lot of thought that went into placing even that word and that phrase into our mission statement at the beginning of the United Church of God. We are going to care for those whom God calls, but we are also going to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom of God. Taking care of the members is important. But it’s not the only reason for the church, and that speaks to our identity as a church. For over 20 years, in the United Church of God, it has been one of the reasons for some of the conflicts that we have had because members, even some ministers, have not fully understood who we are and what we are to do.
We all need to think about that and understand that. For me, from my experience, for others of us, this is the spiritual reason to exist. It’s what I cut my eyeteeth on in the Church from my minister who loved me, had the youth activities for us and took care of us in the local congregation, even before we ever had any organized effort to do that in our in our church. Before YOU, before ABC, I had a minister that really liked us, the Church and especially the young people.
Yet week after week, he taught us this very thing here that I’m talking about today. I understood what we were to do, which is again part of my background and for many of us. So understanding that is critical to a lot of factors that go on in the Church today as to how we are structured, why we do what we do, why we are a church doing media. Sometimes, we look at the millions of dollars—and we’re spending a few million dollars, relatively fewer compared to what we might have done 30 years ago in the church—on media. The vast bulk of our expenditures are spent on taking care of the Church, but we do spend a significant amount of our budget on our proclamation efforts. Sometimes that raises questions and I understand those questions. But the reason we do it is because of what we have just read here. Which brings us back then to why don’t others more respond?
You know there’s also one other critical factor to the response of people hearing the message. There’s something called the “calling of God.” The “calling of God.” Those who are called, chosen, and faithful. It takes God’s Spirit to act upon a person, to open their mind and their heart to understand the truth. Maybe it’s one of those inspeak phrases we have but nonetheless, it is what we understand.
For all my years and my continued efforts and work, I appreciate that central truth, that it is God who calls, but we must take the message. We must explain the truth and the full truth of the gospel, and it is not a message as we should all understand that is all that attractive. You’re gonna have to keep Sabbath. Now a lot of people are wanting to know about the Sabbath today, but it goes beyond that because then we say, “Well there’s the Holy Days, too.”
Then we talk about other aspects about, “Well, that means no Christmas and that means that no Easter.” And that then begins to make people realize, “Oh, this is going to take commitment. This is going to cost me, big time. Maybe my family, maybe my job. Maybe my hopes and my dreams, if I cast in my lot here.” It’s a lot for people to think about. I’ve said in recent years that for many of us that have been around the Church all of our life, and for many years anyway, we forget the cost that is there when a person does respond to God. We need to appreciate that, which is why again, only God can do that. So why do many not hear our report? Well that’s one part of it right there.
Now with all that being said, what about you and I right now? To give a message, to preach the gospel, to phrase it even as a warning, convicting message of repentance. To give it in a fashion that says, “Here it is. What you do with it is up to you, and we hope you will respond to but if you don’t, a witness has been delivered.” Is our responsibility over? Have we done our job? Or is there something that we are yet to do?
Keep in mind that a watchman stood on the wall. Ezekiel was a captive with his people. He did not abandon his people. He was with them in captivity. We don’t walk away from people in need. We don’t walk away from a responsibility we have as citizens, as Christians, as good people, to a neighbor, to a family member, to our community. We don’t walk away.
We have an obligation to do good works. To do good things. To serve, to help, to have a compassion for the plight of people. And to do what we can within our means where we are at a particular time. We give a message of warning. We witness to the truth, but we do not walk away from people. We do not walk away from this world, even while we are not a part of this world. Jeremiah never did, Ezekiel didn’t. Isaiah didn’t, nor did Jesus Christ, and we don’t and we cannot.
So as we bring it down to our level, what does it mean for us today? Well, you know what, Jesus Christ after He talked about some of the horrendous prophecies in His Olivet Prophecy in Mark chapter 13 beginning in verse 32, He told His disciples to watch. Mark 13:32 Mark 13:32But of that day and that hour knows no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.
American King James Version×. He said, “But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven nor the Son, but only the Father.” Take heed, watch. And that word translated “watch” means to stay awake. Take heed, don’t fall asleep. Don’t be a foolish virgin without oil. Stay awake. “It’s like a man going into a far country, he gave to his servants authority, and he commanded them to watch,” in Verse 34. And then in Verse 37, “He said to them a third time, I say to you all, watch,’” stay awake in preparation for the times leading to His second coming.
Spiritual preparation just for every day of our life. We must heed our own message is my point. As we preach the gospel, others listen and are impacted to one degree or the other or ignore it completely, we certainly should heed our own message. Watch and make sure that we are awake. We are living it. We are believing it. We are seriously committed to what we teach, preach, and believe. We’ve got to heed our own message and live in the serious times that we’re in right now.
We’re in some very, very difficult times of world history. We’re at a turning point, and everyone recognizes it but no one knows exactly where it’s going to lead. Saviors arise that in the streets that proclaim that they have the answers. Time will tell what God’s timetable will have.
You know, in Revelation chapter 16, let’s turn there. God shows a final time of trouble that leads up to what is called “the great day of the battle of the Lord, of God Almighty” in Revelation chapter 16. It’s a moment in history where the two most compelling figures in all of history—the Beast and the False Prophet—work a deception upon the nations that bring the kings and the armies of the earth together to battle against God in what verse 14 calls “the battle of that great day of God Almighty.”
But look at verse 15. Look at what Jesus says for us to do. He says, “Behold, I’m coming as a thief. Blessed is he who watches and keeps his garments lest he walk naked and they see his shame.” In the midst of this time of trouble and upheaval and deception, spiritually and otherwise, Jesus said, “Blessed is he who watches us and keeps his garments,” meaning, has on the righteous garments of righteous living, who heed the message, who know it and live it. That’s us. This is a blessing from Jesus Christ to His Church for watching, but also for doing what is righteous.
In our fascination about prophecy for the Beast and the False Prophet, we can overlook this very direct teaching that Christ pronounces, which is a blessing. For those who, in the darkest moment of mankind, practice righteous living, which is us, which is those who bear this responsibility and frame their lives around the Kingdom of God. That’s the end result of fulfilling the role of a watchman within the body of Christ. To be found standing in faith, blessed of God when His Kingdom finally dawns on this earth.
We’re moving toward this period of time in the world. This describes a future moment. We may not be exactly there yet, but sometimes when you see the headlines that we have to deal with, those headlines in themselves should motivate us. To be like a watchman here and to mount the walls and to sound a clear unmistakable message of righteousness, of warning, and of showing the way, not just to the English-speaking peoples but also to the entire world, to all who will listen. This is a time to make that known, and that’s why we do what we do. And the message is not always popular because it requires change, commitment, which is another way of saying it requires repentance.
But for us to take up that mantle of a watchman, that’s a noble calling. It really is. There’s a nobility in being a light of God’s holiness, God’s righteousness in a world of increasing spiritual darkness and fear. For us to be that light, that is nobility. There is, brethren, a nobility in supporting a work that makes known the eternal truths of God in a world of spiritual darkness. God said, Christ said Himself in Matthew 24 that there is an elect for whom those days would be shortened, and that’s us. That’s any who take up this mantle and this noble calling of a watchman and do what God says to do. Which is why the message of Isaiah chapter 52 and verse 7 is so unmistakably clear.
Isaiah 52:7 Isaiah 52:7How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of him that brings good tidings, that publishes peace; that brings good tidings of good, that publishes salvation; that said to Zion, Your God reigns!
American King James Version×, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news.” The gospel is good news. It has answers of a way of life and of righteousness. It has answers and it has hope. Brethren, our world today needs a message of hope. “Who bring good news, who proclaim peace, who bring glad tidings of good things, who proclaim salvation, who says to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’ Your watchman shall lift up their voices, with their voices they shall sing together; for they shall see eye to eye when the Lord brings back Zion.”
About 10 years ago, Debbie and I were on another trip to another coast, this time Southern California. We were in San Diego. Our good friend Robin Webber took us up on a place called Point Loma. There’s a lighthouse there. It looks out over San Diego harbor, and it is a light for the ships coming in and out of San Diego harbor. It’s a very old lighthouse. There’s a plaque in that lighthouse. On the plaque is a statement that reads like this. It’s attributed to George Bernard Shaw, the English playwright. He wrote, “I can think of no other edifice constructed by man as altruistic as a lighthouse. They were built only to serve. They were not built for any other purpose.” A lighthouse is built to serve. Let’s let God use us as servants to stand in the spirit and in the calling of an Ezekiel, of an Isaiah, of a watchman.
Let’s pray that as God chooses and as God wills, those whom He will call will hear that message and will respond.