Rev. Deacon Allen J. Batchelder
July 08, 2012, Pentecost VI
Ezekiel 2:1-5; Psalm 123, II Corinthians 12:2-10; Mark 6:1-13
From the Prophet Ezekiel:
“Son of man, I send you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels, who have rebelled against me; they and their fathers have transgressed against me to this very day.”
From the Second Letter of St. Paul to the Corinthians:
I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong.
And from the Gospel of St. Mark:
And he called to him the twelve, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.
Let us pray:
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O God, our Rock and our Redeemer, our Strength and our Salvation.
My sermon title this morning is “Commissioned.” The word commission means: the act of granting authority to someone to carry out a certain job or duty. Like the Federal Trade Commission investigates false advertising. Since this is an election year with only five months remaining; do you think they will investigate any of the campaign ads for false advertising? Don’t we in effect commission our elected officials; do we not grant them authority to enact laws and regulations on our behalf? Our elected officials in turn elect judges, whose job is to interpret the law, and not legislate law. This is why it is so very important for us to be informed as to what our elected officials are doing. They need to realize that they work for us; they are commissioned by us, to do our will not theirs.
A few days ago, we celebrated the anniversary of our country’s independence. Our great country was founded by good faithful Christian men, with Judeo-Christian values and principles. God’s Holy Spirit commissioned and guided these brave men in forming our constitution and this nation. In recent years, however, God is being systematically removed from our society and unfortunately, we have let it happen. It didn’t happen overnight. It was gradual. We all need to repent and turn back to God, so that once again we can be that great nation that our founding fathers envisioned and God wants us to be.
It’s hard to believe that it has been almost four years since I was commissioned or ordained a Deacon. Called by God and this church to preach the Word of God and minister to His people. A calling that I am humbled and that I take very seriously.
But anyone who professes Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, is also commissioned and ordained in Christ; to bring glory to God Almighty; that through Christ there is redemption, salvation and eternal life.
Our Old Testament reading this morning is about the prophet Ezekiel. Like Jeremiah, Zechariah, and John the Baptist, the Prophet Ezekiel, which means “God strengthens,” was called by God or commissioned from being a priest to serving as a prophet. As God’s spokesman to the Jewish exiles in the land of Babylon, he would rebuke them for their sins and expose their idolatry, but he would also reveal the glorious future the Lord had prepared for them. The Jewish people needed to face their sin and repent, but also realize that there is hope. Ezekiel was thirty years old at the time of being commissioned as a Prophet, the normal age for a priest to begin his ministry (Num. 4:1-3).
It would have been much easier for Ezekiel to remain a priest, for priests were highly esteemed by the Jews, and a priest could read the Law and learn everything he needed to know to do his work. Prophets were usually despised and persecuted. They received their messages and orders from the Lord as the occasion demanded and could never be sure what would happen next. It was dangerous to be a prophet. Most people resent being told about their sins and prefer to hear messages of cheer, not declarations of judgment.
Jeremiah had been ministering in Jerusalem for four years when Ezekiel was born in 622 B.C., but surely as he grew up, he paid attention to what Jeremiah was saying. It’s likely that Daniel and Ezekiel knew each other before the Captivity, though there’s no evidence they saw each other in Babylon. Ezekiel’s prophetic ministry was greatly needed in Babylon because false prophets abounded and were giving the Jewish people false hopes of a quick deliverance and a triumphant return to their land (Jer. 5:30-31; 27:1-11, 28:1-17). Jeremiah sent a letter to the Jews that they would be in Babylon for seventy years and therefore should settle down, raise families, and pray for their captors. But Jeremiah announced the ultimate fall of Babylon, a message the exiles were only too eager to hear.
The most difficult task of a prophet is to change people’s minds. This means pulling up the weeds of false theology and planting the good seed of the Word of God. It also means tearing down the flimsy thought structures that false prophets build and constructing in their place lasting buildings on solid foundations of truth (Ezek. 1:10).
Ezekiel was now to receive his official commission as a prophet of the Lord God, and the Lord told him he was facing a very difficult task. Whether it’s raising a family, teaching a Sunday school class, shepherding a church, or evangelizing in a distant nation, we have to accept people as they are before we can lead them to what God wants them to be.
As a result of beholding the vision, Ezekiel fell to the ground, completely overwhelmed by the glory of the Lord and the wonder of His providential working in the world.
Who but the sovereign Lord could have a throne like a chariot and move as quickly as He pleased? Who but the Lord could travel in the midst of a fiery whirlwind to accomplish His great purposes?
Ezekiel is called “son of man” in his book, a title that the Lord also gave to Daniel. “Son of man” is also a messianic title which the Lord Jesus applied to Himself when He was ministering on earth. But in the case of Daniel and Ezekiel, the title “son of man” emphasized their humanity and mortality. Ezekiel was face down in the dust when God spoke to him, reminding him and us of mankind’s humble beginning in the dust (Gen. 1:26; 3:19). “For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust” (Ps. 103:14). God remembers, but sometimes we forget.
There is a time to fall down in humble adoration, and there is a time to stand up and take orders (Josh. 7:6ff). The command of the Word and the power of the Spirit enabled Ezekiel to stand to his feet, and the Spirit entered him and strengthened him. On many occasions, the Spirit would lift him up and give him special power for his tasks. The important thing was that Ezekiel stand obediently before the Lord and listen to His Word.
Prophets weren’t people who majored only in foretelling the future, although that was part of their ministry. They were primarily forthtellers who declared God’s Word to the people. Sometimes they gave a message of judgment, but it was usually followed by a message of hope and forgiveness. The Jews needed to hear Ezekiel’s messages because they were rebellious, stiff-necked, and hard-hearted. They had revolted against the Lord and were obstinate in their refusal to submit to His will. Their refusal to obey the terms of the covenant had led to their defeat and capture by the Babylonian army. Even in their captivity, they were nursing false hopes that Egypt would come to their rescue or the Lord would do a great miracle.
Israel was God’s chosen people, a special nation, and yet they were acting like the Gentiles who didn’t have all the blessings and privileges God had given the Jews. This wasn’t a very encouraging word for the young prophet, but he was told in advance that his work would be difficult. But whether the people listened and obeyed or turned a deaf ear, Ezekiel had to be faithful to his task (1 Cor. 4:2).
In our Epistle reading, Saul, later to be called Paul, had a very dramatic commissioning on the road to Damascus. In the ninth chapter of Acts we read: “Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he journeyed he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed about him. And he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And he said, “Who are you Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting; but rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
God honored Paul by giving him visions and revelations. Paul saw the glorified Christ on the very day he was converted or commissioned (Acts 9:3). He saw a vision of Ananias coming to minister to him and he also had a vision from God when he was called to minister to the Gentiles (Acts 22:17).
During his ministry, he had visions from God to guide him and encourage him. It was by a vision that he was called to Macedonia (Acts 16:9). When the ministry was difficult in Corinth, God encouraged Paul by a vision. After his arrest in Jerusalem, Paul was again encouraged by a vision from God (Acts 23:11). An angel appeared to him in the midst of the storm and assured him that he and the passengers would be saved (Acts 27:23).
Along with these special visions that related to his call and ministry, spiritual revelations of divine truth were also communicated to Paul. God gave him a profound understanding of the plan of God for this present age.
God also honored Paul by taking him to heaven, and then sending him back to the earth again. This marvelous experience had taken place fourteen years before the writing of this letter to the Corinthians, which would place the experience in about the year A.D. 43. This would be the period in Paul’s life between his departure for Tarsus (Acts 9:30) and his visit from Barnabas (Acts 11:25-26).
So wonderful was this experience that Paul was not quite sure whether God had taken him bodily to heaven, or whether his spirit had left his body. Obviously, God had the power to do either. Paul affirmed here in his letter the reality of heaven and the ability of God to take people there. The third heaven is the same as “paradise,” the heaven of heavens where God dwells in glory. Thanks to modern science, man is able to fly above the heavenly clouds in an airplane; climb aboard a space ship and fly amongst the planets and heavenly stars, but man cannot get to God’s heaven without God’s help.
God honored Paul by granting him visions and revelations, and by taking him to heaven; but He honored him further by permitting him to hear “unspeakable words” while he was in heaven. He overheard the divine secrets that are shared only in heaven. These things could be spoken by God and by beings in heaven, but they could not be spoken by men.
There is no doubt that this vision of God’s glory was one of the sustaining powers in Paul’s life and ministry. No matter where he was – in prison, the deep, in dangerous travels – he knew that God was with him and that all was well.
You and I are not going to heaven till we die or till our Lord returns. But we have a marvelous encouragement in the fact that we are today seated with Christ in the heavenly places (Eph. 2:6). We have a position of authority and victory “far above all” (Eph. 2:21-22). While we have not seen God’s glory as Paul did, we do share God’s glory now (John 17:22) and one day we shall enter into heaven and behold the glory of Christ (John 17:24).
In our Gospel reading this morning, we have Jesus calling His disciples together, and sent them out two by two, and He commissioned them; He gave them authority over the unclean spirits. When the Lord originally called the 12 Apostles, His purpose was to teach and train them so that they might assist Him and eventually be able to take His place when He returned to the Father (Mark 3:13-15). Before sending them out, He reaffirmed their authority to heal and cast out demons.
He told them to take what they already owned and not go out and buy special equipment for their itinerant travels. They were not to be loaded down with extra baggage. Jesus wanted them to be adequately supplied, but not to the point of ceasing to live by faith.
As they ministered from place to place, they would encounter both hospitality and hostility, both friends and enemies. He cautioned them to stay at one house in each community and not to “pick and choose” when it came to their food and accommodations. After all, they were to be fruitful servants, not pampered guests. If a house or a village did not receive them, they had His permission to declare God’s judgment on those people. It was customary for the Jews to shake the dust off their feet whenever they left Gentile territory, but it was something new to do this to a fellow Jew.
The word Apostle means “to send someone with a special commission to represent another and to accomplish his work.” Jesus gave these twelve men both the apostolic authority and the divine ability to do the job He sent them to do. They were not alone; they represented Him in all that they did and said.
The men went out and did what Jesus told them to do. It is remarkable that a band of ordinary men could go out in this way to represent Almighty God, and that they could demonstrate their authority by performing miracles. God’s commandments always include His enablements (2 Cor. 3:5-6). They proclaimed the Good News of the kingdom, called on sinners to repent, and healed many who were sick (Mark 6:12-13).
Each of us as ordinary people, have been commissioned and called by God to be Jesus’ disciples; to represent Almighty God. We may not be given the authority to perform miracles, but each of us has been given one or more gifts of the spirit, which enables us to proclaim the Good News of the kingdom: that Jesus Christ is the Messiah! That Jesus Christ is Lord! Hallelujah!
Let us pray:
Almighty God, you have built your church upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone: Commission us so to be joined together in unity of spirit by their teaching and witness, that we may be made a holy temple acceptable to you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever and ever.