Jeremiah and Ezekiel are fairly gloomy books that deal by and large with the wickedness of Israel, Judah, and the surrounding peoples. Prophecy after prophecy rails against the sins of God’s people and His impending judgments, potentially leaving the casual reader wondering whether God has now become a vengeful, angry God who is out to destruct and destroy. One particular verse in Ezekiel 33, however, sheds an entirely different light on these apparent prophecies of doom:
11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?
God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked. Wait a minute. Is God seriously saying that all those prophecies of destruction, gloom, and peril are actually expressions of His heart of love for the wicked? What a different perspective on the prophecies of the Old Testament! I have heard countless times that the God of the Israelites is a harsh and vengeful God. But His heart is not bent on destruction at all – it is bent on salvation. His desire for repentance and salvation drive His messages to the people of Israel and the surrounding nations. He longs for even the most wicked of men and women to turn back from their evil ways and be saved. And how else can people turn back unless they are confronted with their deeds and the consequences of those deeds if they do not repent from them?
A message that reveals sin and calls to repentance is often seen as the antithesis of a message that expresses the grace and love of God for mankind. God’s call through Ezekiel here sheds an entirely different light, however, on that perspective. Throughout the Old Testament, God sends prophet after prophet to call the people of Israel back to Him, to see them change their hearts and their ways, to be reconciled with them. Ezekiel reveals to us that rather than being the antithesis of love and grace, the revelation of sin, its consequences, and the call to repentance are an integral part of God’s plan of love and salvation. God wants to let people know the consequences of their deeds not because He is harsh and vengeful but because He is loving and patient and compassionate! God’s call to repentance is really a call to love.
This pattern is not limited to the bookof Ezekiel alone. At the very birth of the Church, we see the same cry for repentance emerging:
36 Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” 37 Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
After what some call ‘Peter’s first sermon,’ the people are cut to the heart. Peter boldly proclaims the truth of Christ crucified and points out that it was the people of Israel themselves that crucified them. The response was tremendous: people were cut to the heart and were asking Peter what they needed to do to be saved. The first word out of his mouth says it all: Repent. The very Church of the Living God was birthed upon the foundation of revelation of sin, repentance, and faith in God.
Matthew 4 confirms the same thing again, but this time from Jesus Christ Himself:
17 From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
The central message that Jesus Himself started his ministry with was unquestionably clear: Repent. The thread of the prophets runs past Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel through the entire Old and New Testament, reminding us that God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. Calling out sin and calling people to repentance need not be a vengeful, legalistic endeavour. No, it is a loving call from the heart of God to see people turn from their wicked ways to serve the Living God in truth and righteousness. The ministry of prophets such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel lives on through Jesus Himself, Peter, Paul, and people like you and me.