For close to thirty years I have labored in the ministry of teaching and preaching the Word of God. I have carried this out both as an itinerant evangelist and (for the past twenty years) as a pastor. This divine calling and stewardship has been an unspeakable joy and privilege. To know, as I stand each week before God’s people, that what I have been set apart to deliver via exposition are the sacred, infallible scriptures of the living eternal God – is both staggering and overwhelming, to say the least. In the truest sense of the word – it is awesome. There is nothing therefore I can think of more amazing, formidable, and stunning than to open up God’s Word and proclaim “the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).
But as much of an honor and weightiness as I genuinely feel in setting God’s Word before others, this is not exactly the same reception which people have when they hear it. In fact, what I have found to be the general case as to how the preaching of God’s Word is received, at least in my experience, – is that it is by and large, “out of season” (2 Tim. 4:2). By this terminology, the preached Word of God is unwelcome. It’s not what the majority desires to hear – that is, the majority within the visible church. To the world of course, God’s Word is foolishness. The message of the cross is nonsense (1 Cor. 1:18). But should not those within the church have an entirely different response? You would think so. But sadly, this has never really been the case throughout redemptive history. There only seems to be a remnant who desire and crave after the Word of God. And in some instances, there’s not even a remnant.
This was certainly the circumstance faced by the prophet Ezekiel. When God called Ezekiel to declare “Thus says the Lord” to Israel, He prepared His prophet for the worst. “I send you to the people of Israel, to nations of rebels, who have rebelled against me” (Ezek. 2:3). This did not sound like a promising ministry. It certainly would not fit the “glory-story” ministry which so many of today’s pastors seem to covet after – that whatever they teach or preach it is received as gold by the hearers. This ideal ministry couches them in a celebrity status among their congregants combined with thousands of admirers on Facebook. There’s no dislikes nor blocking to whatever they say. But this would not be Ezekiel’s experience. In fact, the Lord sobered His prophet with even more dreaded news, that these people he would preach to were “impudent and stubborn” (Ezek. 2:4), likened to “briers…thorns…[and] scorpions” (Ezek. 2:6). Let’s think about these descriptions of Ezekiel’s hearers. They would give God’s man no respect despite the fact that he was a man of God. They would show an utter dogged iron-will in opposition to what God’s prophet was proclaiming. And to Ezekiel personally, they would give to him no comfort but only pain.
However, in the face of this, God commands His prophet: “Be not afraid of their words, nor be dismayed at their looks, for they are a rebellious house. And you shall speak my words to them, whether they hear or refuse to hear, for they are a rebellious house” (Ezek. 2:6). The essence of this divine call is that God’s man must preach God’s Word because He has commanded His Word to be preached, period. Ezekiel was not to gauge what he said by the reaction of the people. Whether they listened or not wasn’t the point of his ministry. His call was to obey God not to get results. And what this says to every minister of God’s Word is that faithfulness and fortitude, under God’s grace, must carry the day in all their labors to remain steadfast in preaching and teaching. The man of God cannot buckle under the opposition of his hearers. He cannot let the fear of man ensnare him to tickle the people’s ears, in order to keep them warming the pews. No, what matters most for God’s man is what God has called him to say wherever he is sent – to few or many, to rich or poor – because God’s man will answer only to God for what he has said and done in obedience to God’s call (see 1 Cor. 3:6-15). So then, if we minister among “briers, thorns, and scorpions,” so be it. What people say about us or attempt to do to us because we give them God’s Word, they will answer for it. As for us, it is only God’s command that determines what we do. As John Calvin (1509-1564) once mused: “We must learn, therefore, when God calls us to the office of teaching, not to regard the conduct of mankind. For if it please God to exercise us while we strive with the rebellious and refractory, yet God’s word must be uttered, because he commands it.”