Summary: We are the watchman and have a responsibility for knowing God ourselves and making him known to others.
In a major speech to the country on March 23, 1983, Ronald Reagan outlined a national plan of defense called the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which soon became known as “Star Wars.” In the speech he said, “What if free people could live secure in the knowledge... that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil...?” The plan was that instead of retaliation, any incoming missiles could be detected and destroyed by a space-based system of lasers. The cost of the new system was estimated to be over $1 trillion. President Clinton is now trying to sell a program called the National Missile Defense system (NMD), aimed at fending off missiles launched by a “rogue state” like North Korea or Iraq, at a cost of $60 billion. Our national safety depends on our alertness. At this very moment, every satellite, airplane and other objects in flight are being carefully tracked before they ever enter our airspace. Readiness teams stand by to launch defensive maneuvers or counterattacks. The president is ready with an ever-present special briefcase in case of an emergency involving our national defense.
But what if after all the time and money which has been spent, those responsible for watching out for our welfare saw signs that we were under attack, and yet for some reason decided not to alert the military, inform the president, or warn the American people? What if the radar screens were showing clear signs of an impending nuclear attack, the satellites were sending all the right information, the computers were functioning properly, lights were flashing and warning sirens were going off, but those responsible for passing along the warning decided they would rather remain silent than to cause national panic? What if they had fallen asleep because they stayed up too late watching the final episode of “Survivor.” What if they were too engrossed in playing cards with the other members of the alert team in the lunch room to tend to their duties. What if they were on the phone with a friend, or just didn’t care to take the situation seriously. What would happen to them and the people they were asked to protect?
That is the modern day parallel to the parable which God spoke about to Ezekiel. A military disaster was approaching the nation and those whose responsibility it was to warn the nation were silent. The parable was based on the strategic defense initiative of that day. The defense system consisted of a large wall, sometimes a double wall, several feet thick. The wall was made with very large stones, and tall towers were built at the corners. Watchmen were stationed high in the towers to watch for the approach of hostile forces. Other watchmen walked on top of the wall or were posted at the gates. If an enemy was approaching they were to blow the trumpet to alert the armed troops and call out a warning to the people. If they somehow failed in their responsibility the city would be overrun and the people would lose their lives. The watchman would pay for his failure with his life.
But what if the watchman sounded the warning and no one responded? What if they had just a little more shopping they wanted to do, or the latest episode of Samson and Delilah was being played out in the town square? What if they didn’t want their party to be interrupted by the negative message of the watchman? Then, the Lord said, they would be responsible for their own death as well as the destruction of the city.
There are some very important lessons that we dare not miss in this passage in Ezekiel. The first lesson we learn from Ezekiel is: We are accountable for ourselves. God said to Ezekiel, “If anyone hears the trumpet but does not take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head.... If he had taken warning, he would have saved himself” (Ezekiel 33:4-5). Each of us are responsible for hearing and obeying the Word of God. It is my responsibility as a pastor to preach the Word of God, but I cannot make anyone listen. I cannot change anyone’s mind, and I certainly cannot change anyone’s life. That is up to you. My responsibility is to be faithful in presenting God’s Word; it is your responsibility to hear and obey what God is saying. The Bible says, “Each of us will give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:12). Others may tell us and warn us, but we are ultimately responsible for where we stand with God and whether our lives match up to his commands. At the final judgment you will not be able to blame your parents for your failures. You will not be able to point out all the things wrong with your pastor or the ineffectiveness of your Sunday School teachers. It will not wash if you try and talk about how people who were supposed to be Christians disappointed you or let you down. You will only answer for what you have done and the person you have become.