Wednesday, September 23, 2009


Marked for life: discernment ministry in light of Ezekiel 9:1-11

By Pastor Larry DeBruyn

Someone once said that sin is as much a breaking of God's heart as it is the breaking of His Law. When God looked down on the perversity of the people on earth before the Deluge, it was recorded that He "was grieved in His heart" (Genesis 6:6b). When confronted by resident wickedness both without and within the professing church, Christians can manifest one of three reactions: approval (1 Corinthians 5:2), indifference (Zephaniah 1:12), or disapproval as indicated by the presence of either anger (Psalm 119:53) or grief (Psalm 119:136). So the question becomes, as we see the worldliness-wickedness invading the church, how do we feel about it? Are agitated by, indifferent to, or accommodating of it?

Not unlike the society and church of our times, during Ezekiel's ministry Judah found herself in a moral and spiritual "melt down." Fraud, violence, adultery, and idolatry were running rampant amongst God's chosen people. Idols had been set up in the Temple (Ezekiel 8:17; 9:9). From his location in Babylon, the Lord took Ezekiel on a virtual reality tour of the Temple, the place where on the Mercy Seat beneath the Cherubim, God's Shekinah glory was to have been seated (Ezekiel 8:4). What he saw in that place of worship stunned the prophet. On his guided tour of the inner court, the Lord showed the prophet where first the people had substituted an idol image for Yahweh; where second, the elders worshiped animals; where third, the women sobbed over the death of Tammuz, a mythological fertility god who had married the Egyptian goddess Ishtar; and where fourth, the priests worshiped the sun (Ezekiel 8:5-18). Up-close and personal, the prophet saw how the nation had abominated into apostasy, how Israel had turned from worshiping the Creator to idolizing the creation and its creatures (See Romans 1:21-23.).

Yet in the midst of all those "alternative spiritualities," and like the remnant of Elijah's day who refused to bow their knee to Baal and kiss the idol god (1 Kings 19:18), some believers preserved themselves to be holy unto the Lord. So the Lord instructed the angel dressed in white to mark an "X" on the foreheads of the faithful, a mark that would spare them from the coming divine judgment (circa 600 BC).[1] Most have heard about "the mark of the beast", the mark the deceived will receive at the end of the age, an identity without which they will neither be able to buy or sell (Revelation 14:9-12). The prophet Ezekiel wrote about a different mark, an "X" that was to be written on the foreheads of those in Judah who had refused to go along with the popular spiritual trends of that day. The "X" would spare them from the coming divine wrath. So the Lord instructed the angel: "Go through the midst of the city, even through the midst of Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations which are being committed in its midst" (Ezekiel 9:4).

Pause with me . . . for a moment let's project back to that era and ask ourselves the following question: If we had been alive in Ezekiel's day, would the angel have marked us to be spared from divine judgment?

It was a remnant who strongly disapproved of the apostasy of the majority. In the words of the Lord, they groaned and sighed over the "abominations" (Ezekiel 8:6, 9, 13, 15, 17; 9:4) they saw being committed in the name of religion in their midst. What they saw sickened them to the core of their spiritual and emotional being. Would the angel have marked us if we had lived in that day? We should check out our feelings. Charles Feinberg observed: "Grief is always the portion of those who know the Lord in an evil day. The marked ones were penitent and faithful at a time of widespread departure from the will of the Lord."[2] Another commentator adds that the criterion for receiving the mark was "an affair of the heart--a passionate concern for God and His people. Failing that, there was no mark . . ."[3]

Some in the mainstream Christian media have called those involved in discernment ministry "Christian attack dogs."[4] Maybe a better metaphor-label would be "Christian guard dogs"! Discerners so love their Master (i.e., the Lord Jesus Christ) and His Bride (i.e., the church) that they agonize to protect His truth and her purity.

Allow me to propose a litmus test as to whether or not we might have been marked in Ezekiel's day.But before asking some questions, we should note the Apostle Peter's warning: "But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will also be false teachers among you" (2 Peter 2:1; Compare Matthew 7:13-15; Jude 17-19.).
  • Based upon Peter's prediction, does the worldliness that is invading the church bother us? (James 4:4)
  • Does it concern us when we see churches being manipulated by the mechanics of church growth, when the end of growth justifies any means to achieve it? (2 Corinthians 2:17)
  • Does it bother our souls to see the goal of growth eclipsing Gospel, to see methods employed usurping the Message preached? (Romans 1:16)
  • Does it grieve us to observe the church believing God's truth less while enjoying "worship celebrations" more? (Matthew 15:8-9)
  • Does the rampant immorality amongst professing evangelicals cause us to sigh? (1 Corinthians 5:2)
  • Were you bothered a few years ago when one evangelical leader, who led a movement in his state to preserve the institution of traditional marriage, was cornered into admitting that he solicited sex from a male prostitute? (Jeremiah 23:14)
  • Do false teachers with their strange and unbiblical teachings annoy you? (Revelation 2:2)
  • Given our media age, does the development of the personality cults around evangelical leaders and speakers, where appearance and a schmoozing style trump substance, concern us? (1 Corinthians 1:12; 2 Peter 2:3; Jude 16)
  • Are some of us even unaware that there are such critters as false teachers who stupefy their followers with their heretical teachings? (Romans 16:17)
  • Does it upset us to see the Christian faith being publicly maligned for reason of the immoral behavior and unbiblical teachings prevalent amongst professing evangelicals? (2 Peter 2:2)
  • In short, are we discerners? (Hebrews 5:14)
If we are not, then we should not expect to be marked.

Well, you might be asking, how can we know whether or not a person is a false teacher? Through Jeremiah the Lord provided this description of false prophets: "The prophets are prophesying falsehood in My name. I have neither sent them nor commanded them nor spoken to them; they are prophesying to you a false vision, divination, futility and the deception of their own minds" (Jeremiah 14:14). Of such prophets Jeremiah said that, "They speak a vision of their own imagination, not from the mouth of the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:16b).

Again, I ask you, do you know of any false prophets today? You may protest the question saying, "Well, I know men who speak for God who are true." But that's not the question. Do you know any false teachers? I know this is a discomforting question--but do you? If you don't, I would say that you have a very grave problem . . . a very grave problem indeed. And it is this: You may not value God's truth enough to know what it is and thereby be incapable of discerning "the spirit of truth, and the spirit of error" (1 John 4:4-6).

From his study of human history, a famous historian once remarked how he observed that the majority was seldom right. Jesus agreed. He said: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it." He continued to say, "For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it." Then the Lord concluded: "Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves" (Matthew 7:13-15).

Interesting, isn't it . . . that the Lord warned the multitudes to watch out for false prophets in the very context in which He differentiated the way of the majority from the Way of the minority. Jesus knew that to their own destruction the majority will follow the way of the false prophets and teachers. They will not be marked out for salvation. They will not be "X-Men". Like the compromisers of Ezekiel's day, they went along to get along.

So allow me to ask you again: Dear Reader, do you know of any false prophets around today, or are you living in denial, in "a spiritual never-never land"? Will you choose to remain unwarned by the very warning that Jesus and the rest of the prophets and apostles warned you about; mainly, that false prophets and teachers will arise who will lead multitudes to walk the broad way leading to destruction? Remember: Seldom is the majority right.

For any Christians concerned to discern, they may be comforted to know they're taking the narrow Way. A spirit of discernment is symptomatic of true faith. The Lord's sheep care, yes, even "sigh and groan" when they see fellow evangelicals lapsing into worldliness and ungodliness. Goats however, are unmoved (Matthew 25:31-46). Yet the caring can be comforted to know that their discernment evidences their solidarity with the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Being concerned to discern marks them out-- "X" -- as true believers (See 1 John 2:18-24.). Yet the overriding emotion of discernment ought to be that of grief. Yes, there may be a time for anger. God gets angry. He was with Ezekiel's generation, so much so that after He had told the angel in white to mark the believing remnant, the Lord instructed the other six angels, "Go ye after him through the city, and smite: let not your eye spare, neither have ye pity: Slay utterly old and young, both maids, and little children, and women: but come not near any man upon whom is the mark; and begin at my sanctuary. Then they began at the ancient men which were before the house." (Ezekiel 9:5b-6). Yet we must remember that, "the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God" (James 1:20).

So it's truly a sad day when we see those professing to know God believing and behaving as if they do not. So it's significant to note that the divine judgment was to begin in the sanctuary and then work its way out through Jerusalem and the rest of the entire nation (Compare 1 Peter 4:17.). This order of judgment compelled Paul to command the congregation at Rome: "Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offenses contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17-18, KJV). But if we are to engage in such marking, we ought to be reminded that the accompanying emotion ought to be one of grief. Yet we ought also to be reminded that in the end those who refuse to mark false teachers may not be marked by the Lord to be spared divine judgment.

Used with permission. Reformatted slightly for blog posting. See original here.

[1] Charles Lee Feinberg, The Prophecy of Ezekiel (Chicago: Moody Press, 1969) 55.
[2] The mark was the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet, a taw (i.e., the Hebrew "T"). Early Christian commentators noted that often the last letter was written as an "X" that could substitute for a person's signature. See John B. Taylor, Ezekiel (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press, 1969)103.The marking of the faithful finds precedent at the time of Israel's exodus from Egypt when at the first Passover the Lord instructed the Israelites to "take some of the blood and put it on the two door posts and on the lintel of the houses in which they eat it," after which He explained: "And the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt" (Exodus 12:7, 13).
[3] Ibid. 102.
[4] David Aikman, "Attack Dogs of Christendom," Christianity Today, August, 2007, 52. Aikman writes: "By all means criticize fellow Christians if necessary, but do so with grace." Real discerners do it with a sigh and a groan.