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:
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.