By Simon ManchesterSunday 14 Jun 2015Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
The Serious God – New Day New People
Ezekiel Chapter 36
Our gracious God,we remember the words of the Lord Jesus,’My sheep hear My voice’ and we pray that as Your Word is opened this morning,that we would hear the voice of the Lord Jesus and that we would respond. And we pray that those who are not yet the sheep of the Lord Jesus would hear the voice,the call,to follow and live. And so we commit these minutes to You now. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
We are doing a very rare thing on Sunday mornings. We are doing a very sensible thing. We are trying to work out about God and we are trying to work out about ourselves and we are trying to work out about the world that we live in. And we are doing that by taking a text-book which is about 2,500 years old,which is the Book of Ezekiel in the Old Testament. And we are doing it because we have discovered that it is the key book which unlocks so many of the truths that we need for the world and it is,in many ways,a magic book. We are of course lazy people and so we are prone to do much more superficial and easy things than study,but this book,if it is studies,produces gold or oil which will provide and fuel us for Life.
My hope today,as we look at Ezekiel 36,is that you will see that God is the only God,the only One who can create the world that people are looking for. We have people promising that they will produce it,but God is the only One who can do it.
Malcolm Muggeridge (brilliant journalist of the 21st Century)… he was writing for his newspaper in the 1920s and the 30s,after World War 1,absolutely passionate that his politics and the right education would bring peace on earth and when his Party in the UK came to power,he saw that nothing really changed and he was grateful to be given a job as a correspondent in the Soviet Union,where he moved,hoping again to see the utopia set up by human powers. And the Soviet regime of course turned into a tyranny and he came back to the west and after some time in the west,he wrote this,’Man,it seems,has decided to abolish himself,creating his own boredom out of his own affluence,his own vulnerability out of his own strength,and his own impotence out of his own erotomania. I now have no expectation that man can perfect his own circumstances or shape his own destiny.’ Ezekiel,Chapter 36,tells us that God is able to do it,and we are not.
So far,if you want a quick catch-up,we have seen that Ezekiel,for the first 24 chapters (the first half of the book) has been a refugee,off in the land of Babylon with the other people of God who are refugees. He has explained to them that they are homeless because they have been disobedient. And the next twelve chapters,the next quarter of the book which we have pretty well gone through,is on how God brings down the proud and He lifts up the humble and He will always do that because He is a God of justice and He is a God of mercy.
And Chapter 36,which we come to today,is a feast of a chapter. One commentator says that God’s agenda is spelled out more clearly here than in any of the other prophets. And I want to divide it into three points -God’s reversal … He reverses the fortunes. Second,God’s reasons – why does He do it? And third,God’s renewal … working on people and then a land.
First of all,God’s reversal. Chapter 35 and Chapter 36 of Ezekiel – there is a word spoken to a place called Edom,then there is a word spoken to Israel. Now what is behind this? You have to picture in your mind the absolute devastation of the Promised Land. Tens of thousands of the best people have gone off to other places. Tens of thousands have been exported by force,off to Babylon. The city of Jerusalem is being besieged and it is dying. The golden days of the Promised Land are over and the people around about are mocking the country and they are looting the country. And the No 1 enemy that God picks,as a kind of a representative of these nations,is Edom. Edom,down in the south (in what we would now call Jordan) and Edom was traced back to Esau. If you have heard of Jacob and Esau … they were the sons of Isaac. They were the grandsons of Abraham. And that’s where the two divided. Jacob became Israel and the nation of Israel. Esau became Edom and the outsiders – the Edomites. And Edom looked on and saw Israel collapse and loved it and laughed about it and mocked and no doubt looted. And so Edom is kind of like the symbol,the long-standing enemy of God’s people,with this opposition.
And in Ezekiel Chapter 35 – we are not going to read it,we are not going to study it – I will just say to you very simply that God says to Edom,the one mountain of Edom: I am going to make you desolate. And in Chapter 36,God speaks to the many mountains of Israel that are desolate and says: I am going to turn you into pasture land again. He is going to reverse the fortunes. The proud will be brought down. The humble will be lifted up,because He is a God of justice and mercy.
And if you turn now to Chapter 36 at Verse 2,you will see: this is what the Sovereign Lord says,’The enemy said of you,”Aha! The ancient heights (Israel) have become our possession”‘.
In a sense,it was true that the people of Israel had become the possession of the nations around because the nations around were able to move into this weak place and capture and trample. But in a sense,of course,they were never able to possess the land of Israel. It was always God’s possession. He had always promised it to His people. And here was Israel,defeated and trampled,and those who looked on and saw Israel defeated and trampled,they didn’t scratch their heads and say,’Wow,this God is serious! We must revere Him! We must respect this land.’ No,not at all. They completely disregarded God,they disregarded the land and they moved in (Verse 5) and they plundered the pasture land. And of course they were plundering pasture land that was no ordinary land. The Lord says in Verse 6 and 7 that He will give the nations who do this their own medicine because they have been scornful of God and scornful of His nation and they are going to be scorned themselves. But the mountains of Israel (Verses 8-11),they are going to be fruitful. And He calls them,in Verse 8,’My people’. They have not heard that for a very long time,and here He says to them: exile is over,you are My people,I am going to bring you back,you will soon come home. You know that lovely phrase – I will soon be home. Those of you who have to travel – and travel loses its sheen after a while,doesn’t it – and you say to yourself,’I am going home’. And those of you who know what it is like to have fought or been moved into another place and you hear the words,’You are going home’. And that is what Israel heard after these decades of exile,’You will soon be going home’. And Verse 9,because,says God,I am concerned for you. Literally,I am for you… I am on your side.
Somebody wrote this in our Visitors’ Book once when they stayed with us. I never could understand why they would put down beside their name,’Ezekiel 36 Verse 9′. I looked it up,’I am for you,says the Lord’. What a lovely text.
In Verse 10,He is going to gather the whole house of Israel. It is an echo of the twelve tribes,filtering back together into the Promised Land and He is going to make everything fruitful and numerous… echoes of the garden of Eden. And the land,He says,My people will walk on you,My people will possess you,My people will inherit you,My people will never lose you. It all talked (Verse 13) of the land being a beast,devouring people. That is all going to be finished. You can imagine some of the nations around about said,’Don’t go into that place. Don’t join with the Israelites. Don’t join the people of Yahweh … anything could happen if you join the people of Yahweh. You could be dead within days,you could be exported to Babylon. It’s a terrible place,it’s a place that swallows you.’ And God said all that mocking,all that taunting,all that disrespect,all that misunderstanding… I will bring it to an end. He is going to reverse the fortunes.
Now why? Why is God going to do this? The answer is in Verses 11 and 12. It is: that people will know that I am the Lord. That does not just mean that God is on an ego-trip and He wants people to know that He is big and strong and mighty and nobody bosses with Me. It’s not that at all. The word,’LORD’,capital letters in our Bible,do you notice that – LORD – that is the word for Jehovah,for Yahweh. It is that people will know that I am the covenant God,that I pick My people and I look after My people and I guard My people and I stand by My people and I love My people. That’s what God wants to them to know. He wants the nations to know that He is the Lord. He is not just in charge; He is in covenant. This Israel is His spouse. If His spouse gets mocked,He gets mocked. If His spouse gets hurt,He gets hurt.
I don’t know if you realise that when you put your faith in Jesus Christ,you become God’s spouse. And if you become God’s spouse,He is deeply,deeply committed to you. He is not mucking around with you. He is not having a casual relationship. You may say,’Let’s have a casual relationship.’ You will never have a casual relationship with God. He is going to absolutely transform you. As Paul says,in Romans 8,He is going to work everything for good,and the good is going to be that we will become more and more like Jesus Christ. And if you think the Christian life is like going off to the spiritual gym,where you can do your choice of two push-ups and two sit-ups and go home,I tell you: God has decided,since you have put your faith in Christ,that He is going to transform you into the likeness of the Lord Jesus. And that’s why so many of the things happen to us and that’s why so many trials and tests come,because He is working on us,because He is committed to us and because He loves us. That’s the first thing. God,the reversal.
Second. God’s reasons for His actions (Verses 16-23). God whispers in Ezekiel’s ear and He takes him into His confidence,and He tells him why He has done what He has done and why He is going to do what He is going to do. And He says in Verse 17 – the reason that I did what I did and I kicked the people out of the land is because they defiled it.
There are two ways that you can defile. One is to ritually defile in the Old Testament. And if you ritually defile – you come into contact with something that is unclean – you can just fix that up by going through some ritual sacrifice. Ritual defiled – ritual sacrifice. But the other way to defile is to morally defile. You turn your back on God. You say,’I don’t care what you say. I am going to do what I want to do. I am going to murder if I want. I am going to commit adultery if I want. I am going to worship idols if I want.’ And that’s what the people had done. They had morally defiled themselves and that’s why,by coming into contact with the land,the land was ritually defiled. There is no human answer for moral defilement. There is no human answer. You cannot just go and do something moral and cancel what has been immoral. It needs a divine answer.
Moses had said (in the Book of Deuteronomy and in the Book of Leviticus) that if Israel moves into the Promised Land and they become like the nations around them,do you know what the land will do? It will puke. ‘The land will vomit you out’,said Moses. It’s very graphic,isn’t it. And that’s what really happened. The land,under God’s leadership,vomited the people out because they defiled it.
The divine answer for this moral defilement is that God has to do two things. He has to work on us and make us repent and turn back and He has to provide a payment or a sacrifice,whereby we can be forgiven. And you don’t need to be a Bible scholar to see here in Ezekiel the embryonic gospel – that here is a people who are by nature removed from God and have no access to God. And that’s exactly what I am like and that’s exactly what you are like – we have broken God’s law,we have turned our back on Him,we deserve to be removed and to be exiled and there is absolutely nothing we can do about it,but God Himself is able to make us come to our senses and repent and turn to Him,and He has provided,in the Lord Jesus,a payment,a sacrifice. In fact,He caused His son to be exiled for us,so that we might be able to come home and have access to Him. And that is what God has so wonderfully provided.
There is another reason God says to Ezekiel why He is going to act and bring His people home. And that is in Verse 20: wherever My people went,among the nations,they profaned My Holy Name,for it was said of them,’These are the Lord’s people,and yet they had to leave His land.’ What a painful thing for God. It was painful for Israel,but it was excruciating for God,because as God exiled His people,the nations looked on and they said: who is this God? He is a failure. He cannot look after His people. Or,He doesn’t care about them. He has neglected them. Or,He is powerless; He doesn’t know what to do. And so God,you see,was insulted. He was defamed. He was dishonoured. And He had to act for the honour of His Name.
We cannot be surprised that the nations drew any other conclusions. As they looked on and they saw God’s people get booted out of God’s land and get taken off by God’s enemies,they must have drawn the conclusion: the place has been decimated,God either hates them or He is hopeless. And God says (Verses 21-23) that He is going to act for the sake of His reputation. And look at what He says in Verse 22: it’s not at all flattering – say to the house of Israel,this is what the Lord says,’It’s not for your sake,O house of Israel,that I am going to do these things,but for the sake of My Holy Name which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.’ It’s an aggressive verse,isn’t it,very aggressive. It’s almost accusatory. One commentator says – you read Verse 22 and you can hardly have an enhancement of God’s image. Where is the compassion,says the commentator? Where is the bleeding nation care? Where is the mercy? Where is the forgiveness? It looks like God is sort of heartless,doesn’t it,that He is only interested in Himself and His own reputation. But friends,that is because we have forgotten that we are in a kind of a courtroom and the issue is justice and justice calls not for Israel to be pardoned – that is mercy – justice calls for God to be honoured,and that is what God is talking about here.
And the other thing is that this is a God-centred universe. It doesn’t matter what you think about God. He doesn’t actually exist there for me or for you to say to Him,’Well,it is Your job to basically dance around me and make everything great.’ No. We have the huge privilege of coming to know Him. And when we come to know Him,He becomes our Shepherd and He leads us and He looks after us. It is a God-centred world and these are the two reasons that God gives Ezekiel for why He did what He did in the past – because they defiled the place – and why He is going to do what He is going to do in the future – to bring them home – primarily because of His Name.
Last thing this morning – God’s renewal of His people and His renewal of His land. This is where the Book of Ezekiel hits the heights. If you sit there this morning and Verses 24-28 leave you completely cold,see your doctor! You are in big trouble. These verses describe the work of God in an absolutely wonderful and extraordinary way and if you don’t find these verses enthuse you,the problem is not the verses,the problem is you. I don’t think I will be able to do it for you,but I will do my best,because if you look at these verses,this is what God says: He is going to gather His people from the wide world,He is going to gather His people back. I presume there was a remnant scattered around and He is going to bring them all back together (Verse 24) just as He gathers people from the wide world to the Lord Jesus. Verse 25 – He is going to make His people clean. Water? Well,that will do an outside job. But He is going to do an outside and an inside job. He says,’You will be clean.’ That is something no human can do for another person. Only God can make a person clean,truly clean,before Him. Third thing He is going to do (Verse 26 and 27) is He is going to give His people a new heart and new Spirit. Notice it is not just you are going to have a new human heart and you are going to have a new human spirit. No. You are going to have a new regenerate heart and you are going to have a new divine Spirit – God’s Spirit – Verse 27 – My Spirit will take up residence in you. And,Verse 27,I will move you to obey. No religion can get anybody to obey,except externally. No rules,no volume,no screaming,no preaching,humanly,can get anybody. But God,when He makes a person have a new heart and a new Spirit,He moves them inwardly and nothing can stop them.
Fifthly,Verse 28,He will set up the new covenant,or at least He will renew the covenant. Jeremiah taught that there would be a new heart. Ezekiel says that there will be a new Spirit in the new covenant.
I need to say to you that the Old Testament faith was always about the heart. Please don’t think that the Old Testament was just surface and then the New Testament becomes internal. Surface faith in the Old Testament was a false faith. When Jesus spoke to Nicodemus about the Holy Spirit,He expected Nicodemus to understand,because Jesus was talking about the things of Ezekiel. But this prophesy in Ezekiel looks forward to the work of the Lord Jesus who will come and die on the cross,in order that the person might be really cleansed of sin. And He will rise from the grave and He will send His Holy Spirit,in order that a person who puts their faith in Jesus would receive God’s Spirit and live,and live eternally. This in-dwelling Spirit of God becomes a reality for every believer.
And then,says God,in Verses 29-38,He will renew the land. But notice the order – get the people new,then put them in the land. And when He renews the land,He says there will be great fruitfulness,there will be no famine,He will make the people loathe their former life,He will rebuild the cities. Everybody (Verse 36) will see that the Lord is the Lord.
God is going to do this (Verse 37) because He is going to yield to the plea of Israel. It’s a lovely phrase,isn’t it – I will yield to the plea. And the cities will be refilled with flocks of people. This is something that God loves to do,but He is so smart,you see,that He doesn’t just take unfaithful people,a new bunch,and put them in the Promised Land. He takes unfaithful people to renew them and put them in the Promised Land. See,He understands what so many people don’t understand. It’s no good just doing the Exodus all over again,getting people out of somewhere,pushing them into the Promised Land,watching them disobey all over again and then removing them and doing the whole cycle. Not at all. God is going to make the people new. It’s new people,for a new place. And that’s the gospel. That’s why cartoons get Heaven wrong all the time,because they always imagine that anybody – as long as they are not Hitler – has gone straight to Heaven and they are basically just the same. Use your brains,cartoonists… if a person moves up to Heaven and they are just the same,pretty soon,Heaven is going to be like earth. I mean,if God doesn’t make me totally clean before He takes me to Heaven,I will wreck the place! And friends,so will you. But the wonder of the gospel is that He brings forgiveness. And then,when we come face-to-face with Christ,we will be like Him and then we will find ourselves in glory,perfected. Because God knows what He is doing,you see. We mustn’t miss the significance. He is not just coming up with a new policy or a new strategy or a new philosophy or a new leadership. He sees that people need to be converted,regenerated,born-again; that’s the only way the world changes,when somebody’s heart changes. Everything else is just fiddling with the surface. That’s why Paul says,in 2 Corinthians 5,that if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation,ready for the new creation. Galatians 2 Verse 20: it is no longer I who lives,says Paul,but Christ who lives in me and the life I live,I live by faith in the Son of God,who loved me and gave Himself for me. This is the gospel. That’s why we preach the gospel.
Bishop Taylor Smith was preaching once on John Chapter 3 on the new birth and he said in his sermon,’You know,you can be a regular church goer and not be reborn. You can be a regular church leader and not be reborn.’ Turning to the archdeacon who was leading the service,he said,’You can be an archdeacon and not be reborn’. During the week,he received a letter from the archdeacon which said,’Dear Bishop,you have caught be out. I have been in churches for years. I know nothing of the rebirth. I do not have eternal life. I need to talk.’ There are some,maybe many here in this congregation,who are not reborn. The lights are off for you. You do not see. You do not hear. You are not alive,you do not have eternal life. Some of you know that that’s your situation,some of you don’t know that that is your situation. But if you fear that is your situation,I hope you will ring and talk to somebody. Ring me and talk to me,because if you do not have a new birth,you do not have a new life. If you do not have a new life,you do not have any hope,you do not have any future. And God,who gave His Son,holds out to those who respond to Jesus a brand new life. And it’s given to those who give to Him their heart. This world is not profoundly impacted by surface policies. I know the newspaper and the television think that’s all we need to do,but just live a few years and you will work out this world is not seriously changed by surface stuff. It is only changed when people respond to Jesus Christ and of course hear about Jesus Christ and turn to Jesus Christ and are made new by Jesus Christ and there is no other person in the world except Jesus Christ who can do the change.
And if you are a reborn person in this church and you are new,I want to ask you: what is the evidence that you are reborn? Because if there is evidence,it will be seen. If we film you for 24 hours,it will be seen. The visible proof that you have new life is that there will be a new lifestyle. So look at your life,because your lifestyle will tell you whether you have new life. And if your lifestyle is about sin and selfishness and self-indulgence and you are pandering to yourself and you have very little interest in Christ and you have very little interest in the Scriptures,don’t pretend any longer. You are just not reborn. Or,you are on a drift,and you need to turn back and give yourself seriously to Jesus Christ.
Luke-warmness is very impressive to the world. Australia will never vomit you out if you are luke-warm. But Jesus says He is made sick by luke-warm Christians.
Let me finish by saying to you that if you are a person with new life,which has come to you through the death of Jesus,and you are seeking to follow Him,I want you to notice the wonderful way that Ezekiel 36 thinks,and that is this: your future welfare is bound up with God’s reputation. I cannot tell you how important that is this morning. The fact that you will keep going as a Christian,the fact that you are secure,the fact that you will arrive one day,face-to-face with Christ,God’s reputation is bound up with that because as soon as you threw yourself on Him and said,’Be my Saviour,be my Lord’,He is bound to keep His promise and to see you through to the end. And if you get lost and if you fall away,then of course He is dishonoured and He is dishonourable and that is impossible and so your future,having thrown yourself on Christ is utterly and wonderfully secure. Ezekiel 36 Verse 9: I,says God,am for you. That’s the change that has taken place. Or,as Paul says,in Romans 8: if God is for us,who could be against us.
Let’s pray. Let’s give Him thanks. Our gracious God,we thank You for sending into the world that You have made,Your Son,for His death on the cross and His gift and offer to us of new and eternal life. We thank You that You are gracious,merciful and faithful and we pray that You would cause people to hear Your Word and we pray that You would cause those of us who have heard Your Word to walk faithfully with You in the world,to Your glory. And we ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.