The Sermon for Sunday, October 1st, 2023, the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
The Lessons: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32; Psalm 25:1-14; Philippians 2:1-13; Matthew 21:28-32
The Text: Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
In The Grace Awakening, Charles Swindoll recalls the sense of freedom he had when as a teenager he first received his driver’s license. His dad rewarded him.
“Tell you what, son…you can have the car for two hours, all on your own.” Only four words, but how wonderful: “All on your own.”
I thanked him…. My pulse rate must have shot up to 180 as I backed out of the driveway and roared off. While cruising along “all on my own,” I began to think wild stuff – like, This car can probably do 100 miles an hour. I could go to Galveston and back twice if I averaged 100 miles and hour. I can fly down the Gulf Freeway and even run a few lights. After all, nobody’s here to say “Don’t!” We’re talking dangerous, crazy thoughts! But you know what? I didn’t do any of them. I don’t believe I drove above the speed limit. In fact, I distinctly remember turning into the driveway early…. I had my dad’s car all to myself with a full gas tank in a context of total privacy and freedom, but I didn’t go crazy. Why? My relationship with my dad and my grandad was so strong that I couldn’t, even though I had a license, and nobody was in the car to restrain me. Over a period of time, there had developed a sense of trust, a deep love relationship that held me in restraint.
In the same way, our love for Christ keeps us from abusing the freedom he gives us.
– Charles Swindoll: The Grace Awakening. Dallas, Texas: Word, 1990.
INSIGHTS FROM OUR FIRST LESSON, EZEKIEL 18:1-4, 25-32
The opening verses of our First Lesson today reflect a proverb that appears to teach that the sins of the fathers cause their descendants to sin. Behind it lay the people of Israel’s mistaken view that God is unjust because he punishes the children for their fathers’ sins. Of course, Exodus 20:5 contains the truth that God holds the third and fourth generations responsible for the sins and hatred of God that they have learnt from their ancestors. But the prophet Ezekiel here relays the truth that God holds each person answerable for his own sin. Whatever the effects of generational curses and sins, each one has to answer for his own sin, for each one has the freedom to choose to obey God’s laws or to disobey them. The fundamental truth here is that all souls, all people, belong to God and each must answer for his own wrong, and not for another’s. The proverb “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2b, KJV), seems to imply that the children are governed by the evil way of life of their fathers, that they have no freedom to change, and God will punish them for the sins of their fathers.
In the passages between Ezekiel 18:1-4 and the final verses of our Lesson (vv.25-32), the Lord shows clearly through a series of examples, that a good father may have an evil son, and an evil father a good son, but each is held responsible for his own way of life. All this is to show that the Lord’s way is just, or equal, and not unjust, or unequal, but that the ways of the people are unrighteous.
If we look at this chapter through the spectacles of the New Testament, we might ask if the teaching of Ezekiel conflicts with the doctrine of salvation by faith and grace alone. It is right that we should believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for forgiveness and eternal salvation from sin and from everlasting hell. What we cannot do, though, is apply the principle of salvation by faith and grace alone to our lives while fully intending to live a sinful life. We can discern from Ezekiel 18 that even before the first Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ, God honored the principle of repentance. In Ezekiel 18:21-22, we read:
But if the wicked will turn from all his sins that he hath committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live, he shall not die. All his transgressions that he hath committed, they shall not be mentioned unto him: in his righteousness that he hath done he shall live.
(Ezekiel 18:21-22, KJV)
What we must do then, is take care that our way of life reflects our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We must turn away from all sin and obey God with all our heart and soul. It is the will of God that all people should do this, for elsewhere in Ezekiel 18, the Lord testifies:
Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God: and not that he should turn from his ways, and live?
(Ezekiel 18:23, KJV)
At the end of our First Lesson, God issues the call to his people to cast away their sins and make for themselves a new heart and a new spirit, for God would rather have his people live instead of die because of their sins. Let us all follow this call to repentance, so that our lives may be filled with the new life of God in every way. Let us experience the freedom God gives to all who have received Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and continue to let Him rule and direct their lives as their Good Shepherd!
 p.185, 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers and Writers, from Craig Larson and Leadership Journal. Baker Books, 2002, 2nd Printing, 2008.