Text: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32 The word of the LORD came to me: “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: ‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? “As surely as I live, declares the sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. For everyone belongs to me, the parent as well as the child – both alike belong to me. The one who sins is the one who will die. “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? If a righteous person turns from their righteousness and commits sin, they will die for it; because of the sin they have committed they will die. But if a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die. Yet the Israelites say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, people of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust? “Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each one of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!” (NIV 2011) It’s no secret that people of every age demand justice. We demand that justice be carried out in our courtrooms, that our judges be just in their decisions. But justice doesn’t always seem to be carried out. Do you remember as a child when it seemed you were unjustly punished for the broken window, even though you didn’t do it? It was your brother or sister who threw the ball that broke the window, although the two of you were playing catch where you weren’t supposed to – right next to the house. So were your parents really guilty of unjust punishment? Sometimes we find ourselves asking the same question about God when we have troubles. Is God guilty of unjust punishment? The people of Israel who were living in captivity in Babylon during the time of Ezekiel were wondering the same thing and questioning God’s justice. Like those Israelites, we might feel that we’re not being all that presumptuous to ask the question: IS GOD UNJUST? 1. Human nature says “Yes!” and looks down on God’s judgments. 2. Christian faith says “No!” and looks up to God’s merciful judgments. Ezekiel, the former priest now made God’s prophet to Israel, was among the first group of Israelites that were taken by King Nebuchadnezzar and deported to Babylon. As each decade passed, the hopes and dreams of the exiles of returning to the Promised Land were fading. Though the tiny kingdom of Judah and her capital city of Jerusalem were still intact, it was because of her disobedience and impenitence that God was still planning the downfall of Judah and the destruction of Jerusalem. Through prophets, like Ezekiel, God predicted Judah’s impending doom. Such news was heartbreaking for the exiles. They grew bitter and resentful of God and his prophets. To them it wasn’t fair. By quoting the well-known proverb: “The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge,” the exiles were complaining “It’s like our parents ate bad grapes, but we are the ones whose teeth feel funny, dull and gritty. We haven’t been as bad as our parents were, but our parents didn’t get nearly the punishment we endure!” The exiles felt they were the victims of unjust punishment by God. He was punishing them for the sins of past generations. How unfair? They pleaded: “The way of the LORD is not just.” Don’t those words sound familiar? It’s a natural tendency of ours to look down on God’s judgments and say they are unjust. It’s natural, easy and convenient for us to place the blame of our troubles on others. That’s what Adam and Eve did. After Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command and ate the forbidden fruit, God approached them. First he asked Adam for an explanation. Adam blamed Eve, “Lord, ever since you created her, she’s been nothing but trouble. Look at the trouble she’s brought on me.” God asked Eve if that was so and for an explanation. Eve too passed the buck. “If it weren’t for that snake, Satan, I wouldn’t have gotten into trouble.” Things haven’t changed much since Adam and Eve. Don’t our children still say, “But he hit me first!” Adults still rationalize, “He/she started the argument!” Young people still try to explain their ways with, “But everyone else is doing it!” And don’t we church members still blame others for budgetary concerns, “If only they would give their fair share,” even though we may not be giving proportionately to the blessings that God has gifted us. True, others may be guilty, but that doesn’t excuse our own guilt. That’s really the attitude of our self-righteousness speaking. And of course, as we blame others we’re really pointing the accusing finger at God for his injustice. Is God unjust? In our text God says, “Everyone belongs to me.” Since each person is God’s creation, each person is held accountable by the Lord for their own way of life. Those who persist in “the sin of their parents to the third and fourth generation” will be punished by God. Israel had turned away from God and now they were being punished for their disobedience. Those who were deported and exiled were just as guilty of rejecting God as those who centuries before had rejected God. So today, those who separate themselves from God in this life by sin and unbelief will be judged and punished by God. And the climax of that punishment is eternal separation from God in hell. “The one who sins is the one who will die.” Or as Paul says in the New Testament, “The wages of sin is death.” Like Israel, we sinners have no one to blame but ourselves. Justice is one of God’s attributes; love and mercy are another. God says, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone.” God is more than just, he is love. Though we daily sin much against God, still he wants all people to be saved. That’s why he says to us sinners, “Repent and live!” “Turn from your sinful ways and live!” God is looking for true repentance. True repentance is a sincere desire to turn away from the sin that has offended our holy God. True repentance puts aside all excuses for our sins or blaming others for them or feeling sorry only because we got caught. True repentance humbly says with the tax collector in the temple, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” But true repentance also involves turning to God for the solution to our sin problem. That is Jesus Christ, our Savior. Jesus came into the world and lived the life of perfection for us. He also gave up his own life and died the death we deserved to save us from all our sins, including our self-righteousness to blame others for our sins. Because of our Savior, God the just judge acquits us of all our sins. He declares us innocent, not guilty of the charges brought against us. And faith in Jesus grabs hold of his righteousness and makes it our very own. So God says, “If a wicked person turns away from the wickedness they have committed and does what is just and right, they will save their life. Because they consider all the offenses they have committed and turn away from them, that person will surely live; they will not die.” Believing in Jesus and living the Christ-centered life means life. This is the judgment of a just, but merciful God. For the repentant sinner there is the hope of everlasting life. Once separated from God by sin, we believers in Jesus are restored to an unbroken relationship with God in this life and eternally in heaven. Once in heaven we are assured of pleasures forevermore at God’s right hand. That’s a judgment anyone can live with, but guaranteed only to the righteous through Christ. Is God unjust? To our human nature the answer often is “Yes!” But through faith in Jesus our answer is “No!” God is just, but merciful in his judgments.