Scripture Readings: Ezekiel 36:22-32; John 3:1-8; Text: Ezekiel 36:24-29
|April 22, 2012||Download this sermon (PDF)|
Consider these words of a contemporary worship song:
I want to know You / I want to hear Your voice / I want to know You more /
I want to touch You / I want to see Your face / I want to know You more
Because of our “I-me-my” self-centered culture, the title of this sermon might be mistaken for one of these songs. Did you notice the use of the “I” words? True, the Psalms also use many first person words, but what is the difference between contemporary songs and the Psalms? A huge difference. While contemporary music merely repeats the same words many times, the Psalms do not. Instead of focusing mainly on our own emotions, the Psalms continue with giving the reasons for praising God: his mighty works in creation, redemption, providence and preservation.
Our theme today will focus on self-centeredness, but not man’s idea of self-centeredness. Our text from Ezekiel 36 are full of “I will” do this thing and that thing. But man is not the speaker. It is the Lord who speaks.
Ezekiel was a priest who was exiled to Babylon around 593 B.C. after the Babylonians conquered the southern kingdom of Judah. His entire prophetic ministry lasted until 571 B.C., and was conducted during the Babylonian exile. His prophecy can be outlined into three main parts: judgment against Judah and Jerusalem (1-24), judgment against foreign nations (25-32), and the restoration of Israel after the exile (33-48). Our text is part of the third section, specifically in his vision of how God will restore his own chosen people. It is this restoration and salvation that Israel hoped for after they suffered the punishment of the exile.
How will the Lord restore his people unto himself? From its beginning days, Israel was always in a vicious cycle of rebellion and restoration. Therefore, if Israel is to be permanently restored, he has to do more than merely forgiving and restoring them. Something else has to be done, and all of the restoration must come from the Lord because his people are unwilling and unable to break the grip of sin upon themselves. The Lord has to intervene in a supernatural way.
When the land was destroyed and the people exiled as slaves in foreign lands, Israel’s enemies mocked them, “These are the people of the Lord, and yet they had to go out of his land.” So the Lord would vindicate his holy name, “But I had concern for my holy name, which the house of Israel had profaned among the nations to which they came” (vv 20-21). And so, “the nations will know that I am the Lord” (v 23).
Today, we will study three “I wills” that the Lord promised his chosen people: (1) I Will Cleanse You; (2) I Will Transform You; and (3) I Will Possess You.
I Will Cleanse You
The Lord‘s word to Ezekiel and to his exiled people is a series of “I wills,” a total of 13 occurrences in our English Bibles. In verse 25, the Lord says he will cleanse the people, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you.”
The law of Moses demands ceremonial cleansing with the sprinkling of blood, and sprinkling and washing with water (Lev 14:7, 52; Num 19:17-19). The people are to be cleansed from their uncleannesses, usually sin and idolatry, which are violations of God’s covenant with them.
Not only the people shall be cleansed with the “water of purification,” but the priests and the Levites as well (Exod 29:4; Num 8:7). On the Day of Atonement, the high priest is to perform his own ceremonial purification before entering the Tabernacle’s most holy place (Lev 16:4, 24).
Ezekiel also recalls the cleansing of a person from being unclean for touching a dead body by sprinkling with water (Num 19:13, 20). The implication by Ezekiel 36:25 is that touching an idol is equivalent to touching a dead body since idols are lifeless.
So sprinkling is the outward, visible sign of an internal, invisible reality, the forgiveness of sins, of being washed and cleansed from inward uncleannesses. In this ceremonial purification, God performs a complete cleansing from sin, which is required for spiritual communion between God and his people.
Zechariah prophesies that there will be a day coming when God will purify the people, “On that day there shall be a fountain opened for the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, to cleanse them from sin and uncleanness” (Zech 13:1). Isaiah also prophesies that the Servant of the Lord will come and he shall “sprinkle many nations,” so that many people from all nations will be cleansed of their sin and uncleanness (Isa 52:15).
That day of the Lord was inaugurated when Christ, the Servant of the Lord, came to save his people from sin. The fountain of Zechariah 13:1 was opened when his blood poured out from his side that was pierced when he died on the cross. On that day, the Lord fulfilled his promise, “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and pleas for mercy” (Zech 12:10).
So Jesus says, “Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). Being born of water and the Spirit means being cleansed of uncleannesses by being forgiven of sins.
This is why baptism is called the “washing away of sins” (Acts 22:16) and the “washing of regeneration” (Tit 3:5). Q&A 69 of the Heidelberg Catechism says that Christ’s promise in baptism is “that I am washed with His blood and Spirit from the pollution of my soul, that is, from all my sins, as certainly as I am washed outwardly with water, whereby commonly the filthiness of the body is taken away.” Because of Christ’s sacrifice, we “have the forgiveness of sins from God through grace, for the sake of Christ’s blood, which He shed for us in His sacrifice on the cross” (HC 70).
Therefore, the believer’s comfort in Christ is this: since we have been cleansed of our inward pollution, we can now—with confidence and without fear of God’s judgment—”draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb 10:22).
I Will Transform You
If cleansing by sprinkling is an external sign of the forgiveness of sins and purification, the giving of a new heart and a new spirit is the inward work involved in God’s restoration of his people:
First, the Lord will give them a new heart. The mind, will and emotions—the total person—will be changed. Because they have a heart of stone—stubborn, rebellious, cold, unresponsive—they are not able to obey God’s law. In all of Israel’s covenant relationship with God, they continually swung like a pendulum: from obedience and faith to rebellion and unbelief and back. What is God to do to break this cycle?
Remember the first heart transplant? In 1967, Dr. Christian Barnard performed the first heart transplant in South Africa on a dying man. Although that man only lived for 18 days after the operation, today the average patient survives about 15 years.
God will do a heart transplant on his people—not physical like Dr. Barnard’s, but spiritual—“And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (v 26). Thus, their hearts will be soft, pliable, warm and responsive. Moses prophesied this event centuries before, when he gave instructions to Israel before they entered the Promised Land. When the Lord exiles them into foreign lands because of their rebellious and unfaithful hearts, “the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live” (Deut 30:6).
The second transformation is of a new spirit. While God will give them a new heart, he will put within them a new spirit (vv 26-27). This spirit is his own Spirit indwelling them. Man’s spirit is that element which regulates his desires, his thoughts, and his behavior. And this spirit has been corrupted by sin. In fact, Paul says that the unbeliever’s spirit is dead in sin (Eph 2:1).
What will God do to enliven this dead spirit of his people? He will implant his own Spirit within them. His Spirit will then surely transform their desires, thoughts and motives. He tells them, “[I will] cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules” (27). Thus, his people’s spirit of disobedience will be replaced with his own Spirit.
This transformation is only an initiation into a new life for his people, since having a new heart and a new spirit will enable them to continue to walk in God’s commandments. Ezekiel recalls Jeremiah’s “new covenant” prophecy during “the days [that] are coming”:
The parallels between Jeremiah 31:33-34 and Ezekiel 36:24-29 are many. For Ezekiel, the giving of a new heart and a new spirit (vv 26-27) is the same as God writing his law on the hearts of the people (Jer 31:33). Because of this divine intervention, God’s people will walk in his statutes and obey his rules (v 27), which Jeremiah calls “knowing” the Lord. Moreover, what Ezekiel calls cleansing from all uncleannesses (v 25) is the same as the forgiveness of iniquity and not remembering sin anymore (Jer 31:34).
Again, Moses foresaw this transformation because God will circumcise the people’s hearts, “you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul… And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments” (Deut 30:6, 8). God will change their hearts to enable them to be faithful and obedient.
The prophets also revealed this day of transformation when God will pour out his Spirit through his Servant—“I have put my Spirit upon him” (Isa 42:1; 61:1)—and he himself “will pour [his] Spirit upon [his] offspring” (Isa 44:3; Joel 2:28), giving them life (Ezek 37:14). Here again, it is impossible to miss outward sign of an inward reality: baptism by pouring signifies the pouring out of God’s Spirit and of being forgiven of sins and given life by God.
Jesus still commands us today, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). From the day of Pentecost, God started pouring out his Spirit on all nations, and he will continue to do so until the “day of the Lord comes” (Acts 2:16-21). With this command written on your heart, it is impossible for you to not be faithful and obedient. Because with God’s Spirit dwelling in you, you are enabled to bear the fruits of the Spirit, for as Paul says, if you “walk by the Spirit… you will not gratify the desires of the flesh” (Gal 5:16).
The Lord promised, “I will cleanse you… I will give you a new heart and a new spirit.” Forgiveness of sins. Transformation of the mind and walking in the Spirit. Finally, a new identity.
I Will Possess You
After the Lord exiled Israel to foreign lands, God promised restoration back to their own land. So in verse 24, we find three parallelisms:
Moses also foresaw this restoration after their exile, “the Lord your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. And the Lord your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it” (Deut 30:4-5).
Just as in the exodus from slavery in Egypt, the Lord will bring the exiles back from slavery in Babylon in a new exodus. When they came to Mount Sinai at the beginning of their pilgrimage to the Promised Land, God made them his chosen nation, “You shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Exod 19:5-6). They will then live under God’s abundant blessings and prosperity in their own land (Deut 30:5; Ezek 36:29).
They will enjoy the fulfillment of God’s covenant promise to their father Abraham, “to be God to you and to your offspring after you” (Gen 17:7), and to Israel forever,
But sin marred this relationship between God and his people. They did not obey his voice and keep his covenant.
Therefore, God restored his covenant relationship with his people by sending his Son, the Word of God, to dwell among his people (John 1:14). Now Paul confirms that you, the church, is God’s temple, his people, and he is their God:
Through Christ, the church—not Israel—is now God’s people. This is why Peter refers to the church as the fulfillment of God’s covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai: “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession… now you are God’s people” (1 Pet 2:9-10). All you who believe in Christ—Jew or Gentile, slave or free, man or woman—are Abraham’s children. And if you are Abraham’s children, you are heirs of God’s promises to Abraham (Gal 3:28-29).
And in the end, the new heaven and new earth is where God’s people, the victorious church, will dwell, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God” (Rev 21:3).
Ezekiel’s prophecy of Israel’s regathering from the nations to the Promised Land is now fulfilled in the church as many people from all the nations are gathered by Christ’s saving work. God’s people will then be gathered together in one place—heaven—where he will be their God.
Dear friends, the Lord says he would do everything for your salvation, leaving no part of his redemptive work to you his people, because his main purpose is to vindicate his holy name. So he reassures you that he will accomplish it because he is sovereign, “I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it” (Ezek 36:36).
To you whom he had chosen before the creation of the world, he would put his Holy Spirit within you, so that he might give you a new heart and new spirit. This new creation in you transformed you from from unbelief to faith, from rebellion to disobedience. He is able to do this, because he is the Sovereign Lord. God is able to change the heart of anyone, even mighty kings, “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will” (Prov 21:1). And who can resist his eternal decrees, because “he does according to his will… among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand”? (Dan 4:35).
You were not saved against your will, because “it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil 2:13). If God could create the universe out of nothing, how can he not change a man’s heart so that he becomes willing on the day of his salvation? And there is no one in this age who desire God’s salvation without first being regenerated by his Spirit, because “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom 3:10-11).
To be sure, there are many who resist God’s will. They have no faith and are disobedient, and it grieves God whenever a soul is lost in hell. The unsaved person is a rebel, an enemy of God. But the question is, can this person resist the Spirit once he starts changing their hearts, as some argue Matthew 23:37 and Acts 7:51 teach. But these two verses refer to those who resist the Holy Spirit because has never given them new hearts and put his Spirit within them. If an elect person continues to resist the Spirit’s saving work in him, how can God ever accomplish his eternal decree of salvation in him? He will never be saved, and therefore, God’s word will be broken.
No, the clear teaching of Scripture is that the grace of salvation given by God is effectual, which means everyone whom God elected will be saved through the transforming power of the Spirit. God does not try to save sinners by standing helplessly outside the door of their hearts, waiting for them to open their hearts, depending on their cooperation. He does not do His best to save sinners—he just does it! God saves sinners: sovereignly, effectually, invincibly.
So, dear friends, if you find yourself resisting God’s will in his Word, your prayer must be:
And when you are tempted to resist God’s will, remember Paul’s exhortation to you:
- For more on the arguments for baptism by sprinkling or immersion, see the following: “Is Immersion Necessary for Baptism?” by William Shishko; “The Mode of Baptism: A Refutation of Immersionists” by Brian Schwertley; “What 1 Corinthians 10:2 Means” and “Why Immersion-Only Baptists Would Die from Their Own Baptism” by this author ⇧