Main Idea: God does not desire for us to perish. He wants us to live.
You may have heard this story about two hunters. They were out in the woods hunting when one of them collapsed. He didn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes were glazed over. The other hunter quickly whipped out his phone and called emergency services. He gasped, “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator replied, “Remain calm. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There’s a silence; then a gunshot is heard. Back on the phone, the hunter says, “OK, now what?”
Of course, that’s just an absurd joke. In 2002, it actually won a contest and was called “The World’s Funniest Joke.” Of the jokes tested, this joke had the widest appeal and understanding among different cultures, demographics and countries. And part of what made it the world’s funniest joke was simply that it seems that everyone, no matter what your background or worldview, everyone knows just how ridiculous it would be. No sane person would kill someone they were trying to save!
And yet, that’s exactly what a lot of Christians think God does. They think that God is just waiting for an opportunity to kick us while we’re down, or even to send us to hell when we die, like that makes Him happy or something. But Jesus stated that His purpose in coming was to seek and to save the lost. John 3:16 says:
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16)
And does anyone know what comes right after John 3:16? John 3:17. It says:
For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:17)
And yet it seems to me that most Christians think that God is perfectly content for lost people to perish, and that God is even eager and happy to see them to do that.
But I hope that you know that while it’s true that unless we repent, we shall surely perish, this isn’t what God wants. God wants you to know Him. God wants you to live.
That’s what it says in our Scripture text this morning: Ezekiel chapter 18. Please turn there with me. We’re going to start by reading the beginning of the chapter. Ezekiel 18:1-4. Please stand with me for the reading of God’s word.
The word of the Lord came to me: “What do you mean by repeating this proverb concerning the land of Israel, ‘The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’? As I live, declares the Lord God, this proverb shall no more be used by you in Israel. Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:1-4)
The word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God.
Today, Adam Riojas, Jr. is a pastor in Oceanside, California. But in September of 1990, when he was just 18 or 19 years old, Adam Riojas, Jr. was arrested for the murder of Jose Rodarte. During his trial, Adam pleaded innocent, saying that he was at home with his girlfriend at the time of the murder, and his girlfiend testified that this was true. Adam also claimed that his own father was guilty of the crime, and that he was only picked out of a lineup because he and his father had a similar appearance. Well, the jury didn’t believe him, and Adam Riojas, Jr. was convicted of second degree murder, and spent 13 years in prison, at which point he was released on parole for good behavior.
Around this time, Adam’s father got sick. And in order to have a clean conscience, before his death, his father admitted to several family members that he, in fact, was guilty of the crime, and that he had allowed his son to take the blame. So Adam Riojas, Jr. was wrongfully convicted and spent 13 years in prison for a crime his father committed.
We see in our passage this morning that the people of Israel were accusing God of punishing children for the sins of their fathers. There was a proverb floating around. A “proverb” is simply a short saying or piece of advice. In this case, it wasn’t a biblical proverb because it didn’t come from the Bible. It was just a common saying that people were familiar with. The proverb, as we see, was, “The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” And the common understanding of this proverb was that God punished children for the sins of their parents.
Is that what God does? Does God punish children for what their parents have done? Will God punish my kids for something I did?
No. That would be like me saying, “My children all got sick because I ate 5 gallons of ice cream for breakfast!” No, if I eat 5 gallons of ice cream for breakfast, as delicious as that might be, I’m going to be the one that suffers for it, not my kids.
God doesn’t punish children for the sins of their parents.
However, it is true that our children often suffer because of our sins. That’s why this proverb originated in the first place. There’s a hint of truth in it. If I go to prison, my kids are going to be fatherless. They’re going to suffer because of my sins. But it’s not that God caused them to suffer; it’s because I caused them to suffer.
Don’t worry kids, I don’t plan on going to jail.
There are even a few verses in the Bible that seem to suggest that God does, in fact, allow children to suffer for the sins of their parents. Exodus 20:5 is one.
I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me. (Exodus 20:5b)
And when you read a verse like that, you might immediately react that it’s not fair. But I want you to be careful to notice that this only happens because the sins of the parents become the sins of the children. The key phrase here is “of those who hate me.” You see that? When parents hate God, and teach their children to hate God, then they’re in a cycle of sin that can only be broken through humble repentance. It’s not that God punishes children because of their parents’ sins, it’s that everyone is punished for their own sins, and if your parents sin in a certain way, it becomes that much more likely that you’ll sin in that same way, too.
That’s why we often see so many crooked politicians have children who become crooked politicians.
There’s also a clear example of this in the Bible. Genesis 12:11-13.
When he was about to enter Egypt, he said to Sarai his wife, “I know that you are a woman beautiful in appearance, and when the Egyptians see you, they will say, ‘This is his wife.’ Then they will kill me, but they will let you live. Say you are my sister, that it may go well with me because of you, and that my life may be spared for your sake.” (Genesis 12:11-13)
Basically, Abraham was willing to let his wife be raped in order to save his own life. In fact, Abraham did this twice. And fast forward a few decades, and we read about Abraham’s son doing the same thing. Genesis 26:6-7.
So Isaac settled in Gerar. When the men of the place asked him about his wife, he said, “She is my sister,” for he feared to say, “My wife,” thinking, “lest the men of the place should kill me because of Rebekah,” because she was attractive in appearance. (Genesis 26:6-7)
So it’s true that we can pass on our sins to the next generation. Our kids can so easily follow our bad example. That’s why we also have the unbiblical proverb, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Right? I heard that one a lot growing up.
But here’s the thing. Even with all that being the case, God doesn’t punish anyone unfairly. Look at verse 4 again. God says:
Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die. (Ezekiel 18:4)
You see, God is claiming that He has authority over all souls. So if anyone sins, we’ve sinned against God. And the Bible is clear that all have sinned.
Now skip down to verse 26. It says:
When a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it; for the injustice that he has done he shall die. Again, when a wicked person turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he shall save his life. Because he considered and turned away from all the transgressions that he had committed, he shall surely live; he shall not die. Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, are my ways not just? Is it not your ways that are not just? (Ezekiel 18:26-29)
I find it incredibly revealing about our culture and pretty much all of human existence that we have almost always universally praised ourselves for our righteousness and condemned all others for their unrighteousness. We condemn people throughout history for not living up to the standards that we have for people today. We condemn other Americans for not being American enough. We even condemn citizens of other countries for not being American enough.
It’s silly. And it’s not just Americans that do this, but I’m an American talking to Americans, so of course I use this as an example. But we pretty much all do this. We all judge everyone else by the standard of ourselves, and we think everyone else is wrong, and we are right.
I read a story about a man who couldn’t find his donkey. He thought he had tied his donkey to a fence using a long rope in order to allow the donkey to graze the field. But when he went back to the fence, he couldn’t find the donkey or the rope. He did, however, see a boy. So he asked the boy, “I tied a rope to my donkey right here, have you seen my donkey?” And the boy replied, “Is your donkey blind in its left eye, with a lame right foot, and carrying a load of rice?” And the man said, “Yes, that’s it! Where did you see it?” And the boy responded, “I haven’t seen it.”
The man started to get angry, thinking that the boy had stolen his donkey. “What do you mean you haven’t seen it? How do you know so much about it if you haven’t seen it?” But before allowing the boy to respond, he grabbed him by the collar and drug him into the courthouse. He told the judge, “This boy stole my donkey!” So the judge asked the boy, “Is that true?” To which the boy replied, “No, I told him I haven’t seen it.” And again the man cut him off, saying, “Then how did you know that it’s blind in its left eye, with a lame right food, and carrying a load of rice?” And the boy replied, “I saw some tracks on the way here. I saw that only grass on the right side of the tracks was eaten, so I figured it was blind in its left eye. And the tracks on the right side were uneven, so I figured it had a lame right foot. And there was rice scattered all around the tracks, so I figured it was carrying a load of rice. And if you follow the rope that you tied to your foot, I bet you’ll find it!”
We always seem to think everyone else is wrong, and we are right. But God’s word is so incredibly clear. We aren’t right; we’re wrong. We aren’t just; we’re unjust. We’re not righteous; we’re sinners. It says it over and over again. Romans 3:23.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23)
1 John 1:8.
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. (1 John 1:8)
there is none who does good, not even one. (Psalm 14:3b)
The Bible is absolutely clear that we’re not right in and of ourselves. Look at the person next to you and say to them, “You ain’t right!” Now tell them back, “Look who’s talking!” The Bible is clear that we’re all sinners. And yet, even while we’re beat over the head over and over again with this undeniable truth that we always seem to try to deny, God gives us an invitation.
“Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways, declares the Lord God. Repent and turn from all your transgressions, lest iniquity be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed, and make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live.”
We often understand these kinds of verses through the lens of eternal salvation. We think they’re talking about how we should repent of our sins so that one day we can go to heaven. And that’s certainly part of it. But the Jews that Ezekiel spoke to initially would have understood this to be talking about the lives they were currently living. There was a real threat of the nations around them coming in and killing them and destroying Jerusalem. And God was going to let it happen, because they had turned their backs on God. So God was incredibly clear with them. He told them, “I will judge you. You will be judged for your transgressions and iniquities. But I don’t take any pleasure in it. So turn, and live!”
And God says the same to us. When asked if a certain group of people died prematurely because of their sinful lives, Jesus responded:
No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. (Luke 13:3)
Listen, every day we wake up, we have so many choices about how we’re going to live. We can live as if we’re dead and dying, or we can turn to God and truly live. God doesn’t just offer us salvation for one day in heaven. He offers us salvation for today. He offers to save us from a life of pointless wandering. He offers us a truly joyful and abundant life. But as long as we continue to cling to our old, sinful lives, we’ll miss out on all that God wants for us.
So God pleads with us the same way that He pleaded with Israel. Starting at the end of verse 31, God says:
Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord God; so turn, and live. (Ezekiel 18:31b-32)
Are you caught up in a cycle of sin? Turn and live. Do you find yourself doing the same things that you parents did, that you swore you would never do? Turn and live. God doesn’t want you to perish, so turn and live.
Adam Riojas, Jr. turned out to be innocent of the crime that he was convicted of, and yet, three months after going to prison, Adam became a Christian, and admitted before God that he was guilty of sin. He may have been innocent of one crime, but we are all guilty before God of so much more.
But it’s not God’s desire that we perish for our sin.
You know, all our sin can be traced back to another Adam. In the garden of Eden, Adam and Eve took and ate the fruit that God commanded them not to eat, and we’ve all inherited the tendency to sin from them. But we can’t blame them for our sin, because we sin, too. We all die for our own sin. And yet, because God loves us, Jesus died for our sin.
1 Corinthians 15:22 says it like this:
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive. (1 Corinthians 15:22)
But that’s not automatic. You will only be made alive when you have faith in what Jesus did for you. So if you’ve been clinging to sin, God begs you: turn to Jesus and live.
Pastor Chris Huff has been with us since July 2009. He and his wife, Abby, have four children. Chris is originally from St. Louis, MO and even though he was raised as a city boy, he has a small town heart. Chris is all over the internet, so you can find him on Facebook, Twitter,… (read more)
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