The prophet Ezekiel was a contemporary of Jeremiah. He lived during the time of the fall of Jerusalem and was among those who were exiled to Babylon. He was exiled in 597 BC, eleven years before Jerusalem fell, and his prophetic ministry took place in the context of the exile. Ezekiel was from a priestly line, and much of his ministry centered on issues concerning the temple. He spent much of his time telling the exiles that Jerusalem would indeed fall (as it did in 586 BC), and so they should not expect a quick return to their land. Instead, they should focus their energies on living in this foreign land where they now found themselves.
But then Ezekiel gives them God’s promise of hope for the future. This passage in Ezekiel 36 is one of the clearest Old Testament Prophecies about what God intended to do. Its fulfillment took place in the New Testament on the Day of Pentecost. And we are the continued recipients of that promise!
In a few weeks we will be celebrating Pentecost Sunday. Today, let’s spend some time examining Ezekiel’s prophecy so that we can open our hearts and minds up to receive the Promise that God wants to fulfill in our own lives.
- THE SOURCE OF GRACE
- In the verses leading up to this passage, Ezekiel tells the people that the reason they are in the predicament they are in is because of how they disgraced the Name of the Lord while in Judah and later after they were in other nations. Instead of being true to God, they had disobeyed God and practiced idolatry. Their conduct had not only been wrong, it had been a disgrace to the very Name of the Lord.
- We need to understand that our actions are a reflection on our God. When we act dishonorably, we are not only disgracing ourselves, but we also are dishonoring the Name of the Lord. In Hebrews 6:6 we are told that when we continue in sin we are in fact “crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace.”
- Ezekiel, and the rest of the Bible, makes it clear that our salvation is not because of anything we deserve. It is only because of God’s initiative! “We love Him because He first loved us!” (1 John 4:19)
- Ezekiel tells the Jews that the reason God is promising restoration is because He desires to restore His own honor. Ezekiel 36: 22: “Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people 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.”
- And while Ezekiel is speaking to the Israelite people, the New Testament makes it clear that the same thing is true for all who seek God’s Promise of Salvation. Romans 6:23 says it this way: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Salvation is not something we have earned. Nor is it something we deserve. It is a gift freely given by God to all who will receive it.
- Illustration: When Billy Graham was driving through a small southern town, he was stopped by a policeman and charged with speeding. Graham admitted his quilt, but was told by the officer that he would have to appear in court.The judge asked, “Guilty, or not guilty?” When Graham pleaded guilty, the judge replied, “That’ll be ten dollars — a dollar for every mile you went over the limit.”Suddenly the judge recognized the famous minister. “You have violated the law,” he said. “The fine must be paid–but I am going to pay it for you.” He took a ten dollar bill from his own wallet, attached it to the ticket, and then took Graham out and bought him a steak dinner! “That,” said Billy Graham, “is how God treats repentant sinners!”(Progress Magazine, December 14, 1992.)
- Grace is the free gift of God given from a heart of Love and Mercy. And beyond that, It is God revealing His Holiness and Character to all who would see!
- THE RESCUE
- Remember that the Prophet Ezekiel was living in exile far away from the land of Israel and Judah. The people to whom he was speaking were Jews who had been forcibly removed from their homeland and brought to Babylon as captives and forced to live in this foreign country. In fact, many Jews had been displaced because of threats in their homeland and were scattered throughout the nations in the ancient world. But God in Ezekiel 36:24 gave them all a promise of hope: “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.” For a people who had been told that their nation’s capital would be destroyed and that they needed to settle down and prepare for a long stay in this foreign land, this promise must have brought joy to their hearts. We read of the literal beginning fulfillment of that in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah when a remnant of the Jews was allowed to return to Jerusalem and rebuild the Temple and the Wall. And over the centuries we have seen how God has sustained the Jewish People and how He is still bringing them back to their homeland. And in 1948 God allowed Israel to once again become an independent Nation. And Jews from all over the world are still returning to their homeland.
- But that Promise of Rescue and Return is paralleled in the New Testament when God promises that “All who call on the Name of the Lord will be Saved “ (Romans 10:13). In Romans 7 Paul describes the state of humanity as being enslaved by the evil slavemaster called Sin. In desperation He writes in Romans 7: 24, “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?” We see that the Law cannot save us. We can never be good enough no matter how hard we try. Like the Israelites n exile, we too are prisoners to Sin and forced to do things that we don’t even want to do. But Paul answers his cry of desperation in Romans 7:25: “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
- When I was a boy of about 8 or 9 I heard that if you dug a hole deep enough you would find yourself in China. Have you ever heard that? Well, I decided one morning that I was going to find out. So I went out into the field just north of our house and began digging. Now understand that I didn’t live in the Ozarks like I do now where after a few inches of digging we find solid rock. No, I lived in eastern Arkansas in river delta country and the old farmhouse in which we lived was in a swampy area. And there was lots of dirt to be dug before a person would find any rock. The hole I dug was just wide enough for me to stand and shovel and throw the dirt up and out. But when it was getting close to lunch I decided I needed to take a break. That’s when I discovered a miscalculation. I had dug the hole deeper than I was tall and I couldn’t get out. And trying to climb on the sides of the hole didn’t work because the loose dirt caused me to keep slipping and falling back into the hole. I finally decided that I was stuck and there was nothing I could do on my own to escape from this hole I had dug. So I started yelling for help. Luckily, I was close enough to the house that someone heard me and came and pulled me out. And that is just a simple illustration of the predicament of Israel in Ezekiel’s day and of all of us who are enslaved by sin. No matter how hard we try, we cannot rescue ourselves. We must have Someone come and rescue us. Thanks be to God we are saved through Jesus Christ!
- THE RESTORATION
- As Ezekiel continues with the message the Lord had given him to share, we read, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36: 25-28).
- In the Old Testament religious life there were several occasions for ceremonial washings. In 1996 when I went with a group of local ministers to Israel we visited the archeological site of Qumran where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered. In the community there was a large cistern-like area where we were told the Essenes who lived there would do their ceremonial baptisms.In the Masada Fortress that was carved in a desert mountain, where the Jewish zealots held out against the Roman Armies until they finally took their own lives rather than allow the Romans to claim the victory over them, there was another large cistern that we are told was used for their ceremonial washings.So when Ezekiel told the Jews they would be “sprinkled with clean water,” they understood that this was a symbolic religious ritual that signified the cleansing of guilt from the sins they had committed.But the promise of a new heart and a new spirit was a glimpse of the new relationship that God desires to have with them and with us.
- We are told in 1 John 1:9 that, “If we confess our sins He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” John 14:16 & 17 says, And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
- So the promise that God through Ezekiel gave to the Jews in Babylon finds its ultimate fulfillment in the New Testament in the Atoning Sacrifice of Jesus and the Coming of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost.And in the Pentecostal Day Sermon, Peter said of this new relationship with the Holy Spirit in Acts 2:39, “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off-for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
From before the foundations of the world we are told that God had already made plans for our salvation. The Old Testament gives us the groundwork, the preparation, for the fulfillment of His plan. The Prophets foretold of the great things God would do for His people. And Old Testament Prophets like Ezekiel told about the transforming work of God through the Work of the Holy Spirit . Those prophecies were fulfilled in Jesus and in the ushering in of a new age on the Day of Pentecost with the coming of the Holy Spirit. We are living in that Age.
God desires to give us that new heart of flesh and put His Spirit in each of us. But the condition is that we have to ask Jesus to forgive us and come into our hearts. And we have to surrender ourselves to the Lordship of Christ in order to receive the Holy Spirit into our lives.
The Day of Pentecost is still a few weeks away—on June 4th this year. But that is just the anniversary. The Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost some 2000 years ago and He is actively seeking to fill each of us today who will allow Him.
Trust Jesus for forgiveness of your sins. And then, consecrate yourself fully to His Control and allow the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Christ—to take over the controls of your life—your will, your all. And enjoy His presence daily as you continue your walk with Him!