“Paul was occupied with the word, testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus. And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go the Gentiles.’” (Acts 18:5-6)
When Paul arrived in Corinth he went straight to the synagogue. These were his people and he was anxious to tell them about the incredible Christ their scriptures foretold. But when they threw up a wall of opposition, Paul declared to them that he was done with them and physically demonstrates it by shaking out his garments. The synagogue-goers would have understood the significance of his words: “Your blood be on your own heads!” Paul quotes from Ezekiel, where God speaks to the watchmen of Israel whose job it was to blow the trumpet to warn the city of enemies or danger. When the watchman had done his job, but a citizen refused to heed the warning, the citizen’s blood would be on his own head. The watchman would be innocent.
The parallel to Paul’s ministry is clear. Paul had done his job. He preached the truth to his Jewish brethren in good faith. If they rejected Jesus now, their blood would be on their own heads, not Paul’s. Any consequences for rejecting Jesus would not be because of ignorance, but willful rebellion. Now Paul will sound the watchman’s call to the Gentiles, who might actually listen and respond to it.
To the watchmen who proclaim God’s word today the message is clear: we have a responsibility to sound the alarm. There are people in darkness who need the Gospel and sinners who need to repent. But the watchman cannot obey on behalf of the hearer. There are only so many ways to communicate messages like “repent of your sins,” “obey the gospel,” and “take up your cross.” When you find yourself standing on your head trying to get those messages across, it may be time to stop casting your pearls before swine (Mt 7:6).
To the hearer of God’s word the message is equally clear: we must listen carefully and respond. These synagogue-goers could not claim ignorance. Their sin was not ignorance, but rebellion. And if you’re reading this, you’re probably in the same boat. We have heard plenty of watchmen in our time preaching about sin, righteousness, and discipleship. If we ignore the message of the watchmen, our blood will be on our own heads. Even if our parents were imperfect, our spouse is discouraging, the preacher is boring, and the brethren are annoying, we will each give an account for ourselves about how we heeded the warning. The watchman has an important job to do. But when he has faithfully done his task, the responsibility falls on the hearer to listen and respond.