When God asks you to trust him and it is too difficult – Ezekiel 24, Preview

Do the people in your family trust that God’s way is the best way for people to live?  What about your neighbors?  Do you friends and co-workers believe that Jesus actually lived the best possible life? 

Do they think to themselves, “Jesus is amazing!  I want to learn from him how to live!”? What we have been seeing in our nation over the last 40-50 years is that fewer and fewer people care about living like Jesus.  In other words they don’t trust that Jesus, God, the Bible or the church are sources of truth to guide them on the path of life.  Would you say that is true based on what you know of the people in your life? 

If it is true, why is it true?  Why do people not trust that Jesus’ way is the best way? 

It could be that people simply do not know Jesus’ way.  They might not have an accurate understanding of who Jesus is, let alone how a person could live now in our world like Jesus lived in his. 

Perhaps they have a faulty view of what exactly the way of Jesus looks like.  This faulty view of Jesus may very well have come from people calling themselves Christians, but who are not living like Jesus. For example, in the book Jim & Casper Go To Church, Jim (a Christian) and Casper (an atheist) visit a number of churches across the country, and Casper often asks Jim the question, “Did Jesus tell you guys to do this?”  What Casper means is, “Does Jesus really want his disciples to spend millions of dollars building church buildings with expensive sound, video and lighting systems?” That one hits home for me because my church family just spent $40,000 on a new A/V system in our sanctuary.  We know that Jesus never told his disciples to build buildings.  So how much is it our fault that people in our community have the wrong idea about Jesus?

Or could it be that people disagree with the way of Jesus?  Jesus calls for his disciples to love their enemies, and some people might think that is a terrible idea.  Consider also that Jesus calls us to die to ourselves and follow him.  Even we Christians might admit that we can have a hard time applying that to our lives.  Those are just a few examples. 

The result can be that people do not trust Jesus to be their guide for how to live.  As we continue our sermon series through Ezekiel, chapter 24 includes two important principles that we’re going to learn, each of them requiring trust that Jesus’ way is the best way to live.  These two principles might be difficult, especially in a culture that often tells us to think about life from a different perspective than that of Jesus.  So check out Ezekiel 24 ahead of time, and see if you can discover the two very difficult ways God asks Israel to trust him. Then join us on the blog next week as we discuss it further.

Or start now…comment below…how do you find it difficult to trust God?

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When we ignore social justice, we ignore Jesus – Ezekiel 21-23, Part 5

Anytime injustice is present in a society, it breaks God’s heart. As we learned in the previous post, injustice was quite prevalent in Israel. The people of Jerusalem had rebelled against God, some committing injustice, others ignoring the ones who committed it.

To illustrate this awful rebellion, God has one more very intense story to tell the people in chapter 23.  Chapter 23 is another allegorical parable, and because it has the same message as the prophecies we’ve already heard in chapters 20-22, I’ll just summarize it.  In Chapter 23, God likens Israel’s Northern and Southern Kingdoms to sisters who prostitute themselves to foreign nations and idols, and they will eventually die because at the hand of foreigners.

But look at the very last line of the chapter.  In verse 49, God says, “Then you will know that I am the Sovereign Lord.”  There’s that phrase again!  All of chapter 23 is a bitter allegorical parable where God is saying that Israel has betrayed him, and he just wants to be known by them.   

As we conclude, I want to return to the message of chapter 22, because the message there is so relatable.  In chapter 22, God says that the people practiced wicked false worship and they practiced social injustice.  God’s heart breaks not only when we are purveyors of injustice but also when we ignore it.  We can commit injustice both by sins of commission and sins of omission.  A sin of commission is when we actively, intentionally do something wrong.  Theft, cheating, lying, and so on.  A sin of omission is when we don’t do the right thing we should do.  When we don’t pray, when we don’t give, or when we don’t address injustice. 

Injustice breaks God’s heart.  In Ezekiel 22 he clearly expresses his deep emotion that his people were mistreating others.  But maybe you’re thinking, “Ok, but I’m not like that.  I’m not making anyone a slave or widow or orphan.”  Jesus addressed that when he expressed the same emotion in his teaching of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25.  Turn to Matthew 25:31-46 and read Jesus’ parable.

Do you see the message that breaks Jesus’ heart? When we ignore social injustice, we ignore Jesus! 

Can we apply Jesus’ teaching from ancient Israel to our world in 2021?  I recently heard a quote that seeks to apply Jesus’ parable of the Sheep and the Goats to our contemporary world:

“Jesus is the refugee.  The man on death row. The child at the border.  The single mom with two jobs.  The person with a disability.  The friend with an addiction.  The transgender co-worker. The kid with no lunch money (although that one doesn’t apply as much, as I am writing this during a pandemic when many schools offer free lunches to all students).  How you treat them is how you treat Jesus.”

This is not a political statement.  It is a biblical one.  Let us not be like Israel who committed acts of social injustice and ignored God’s heart.  Let’s instead be like Jesus who preached the Gospel in both word and deed, balanced. 

This is why Faith Church supports the local Christian social services agency started by our ministerium. Conestoga Valley Christian Community Services reaches out to our community helping those in need.  CVCCS has recently started an initiative called Connect, in which they connect clients, who show interest, to a local church.  In the last month, CVCCS has connected Faith Church and two clients.

Consider the balanced approach demonstrated in Connect.  We support CVCCS who is helping the clients with their physical needs, and CVCCS supports us as we seek to minister spiritually to clients.  I love that balance.  We see Jesus in the clients and we seek to lift them up in word and deed.  Our hearts beat for this because God’s heart beats for this. 

We share the love of Christ in word and deed to our community.   

Photo by Stefan Spassov on Unsplash

When God looks for one person to practice social justice, and he finds none – Ezekiel 21-23, Part 4

Preaching the content of the Gospel vs. Doing the deeds of the Gospel…which is more important? In the first post, I tried to argue that we need both. The deeds of the Gospel are many, and one important area is social justice. Some Christians teach that social justice is not necessary for the Gospel. I beg to differ, as the previous post clearly showed us God’s heart for justice. That theme continues.

Ezekiel 22, verses 13-16 are very similar to what we learned in previous chapters where God says he will strike his hands together, a symbol indicating he will punish the rebellious people, so that they will know him.  They forgot about him, and he wants them to remember!  How did they show they forgot about him? Keep reading as we’ll find out.

In verses 17-22, God has another parable for Ezekiel.  This parable is from the world of metallurgy, where God envisions the dross or the unwanted part of the metal that is discarded when the metal is heated up in the purification process.  The people in Jerusalem will experience this when Babylon lays siege to the city, and the people are trapped there. So the theme of punishment continues, but why?

In verses 23-29, Ezekiel tells us why. The people are being punished for committing social injustice. This time Ezekiel describes the evil injustice perpetrated by the various leaders of the city.  After comparing the people to a land that has been dried up in a drought in verses 23-24, he says in verse 25, that the princes have conspired to treat people horribly.  They stole treasures, impoverishing the people.  They kill people, leaving widows helpless.  The princes who are supposed to lead the people in righteousness are themselves unrighteous, and it has affected the citizens deeply.

In verse 26 God focuses now on the priests, who are unholy, and who teach the people false theology and unbiblical lies.  The priests ignore it when people are not following God’s ways, such as the Sabbath.  Think about that.  The priests are supposed to pointing people to God, to live God’s ways, but the priests themselves are not living examples.  Worse, the priests are not intervening when the people abandon God. 

In verse 27, God now talks to another category of leaders, the officials.  They, too, are murderous, profiting off their crime.  They are like mob bosses, getting rich and killing people in the process. 

In verse 28, God addresses the prophets who prophesy lies that make it seem like the people are fine, though injustice surrounds them. 

In verse 29, God now focuses on everyone.  Notice the many kinds of social injustice they commit: extortion, robbery, oppression of the poor and needy, mistreatment of the alien/foreigner, denying them justice. 

God concludes in verses 30-31 that he looked for one righteous person to deal with this.  Just one!  One person who would restore the city, one person who would follow God’s way, so he would not allow the invading Babylonians to destroy the city.

But God found no one.  Not even one.  Imagine that.  Not a single person with a sliver of a heart to do what is right.  That’s how deeply the people of Jerusalem had fallen in wickedness in both their worship and their treatment of others.  People from all levels of society, God says, were committing injustice and wickedness.  From the king, to the priests, to the officials, to the prophets.  All the leaders were corrupt and unjust.  All the people.  It was so, so bad. 

In verse 31, then, God says, there is no stopping his wrath, and he specifically says that this was their own doing.  They chose this.  It’s not like they were unlucky, or that this was random, or that they were really good people who were just mistreated.  Not even close.  They persistently chose to turn away from God and turn toward evil, committing injustice and allowing injustice to go unchecked.

When injustice reigns in a society, it breaks God’s heart. But injustice doesn’t have to be at that level of wickedness to break God’s heart. Any injustice breaks God’s heart. Will you be the one person who follows God’s heart, making choices to live in such a way that you pursue justice?

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How false worship and social injustice grieve God – Ezekiel 21-23, Part 3

As we continue studying Ezekiel 21-23, God asks Ezekiel to perform another skit to dramatize the invasion of Israel by foreign armies.  Look at Ezekiel 21, verses 18-23.  Ezekiel is to make what was probably marks in the dirt in front of his house, illustrating two roads.  Much like children would do with their toys in a sandbox, making roads for their matchbox cars.  After making roads, Ezekiel was to make signposts.  “This way to Rabbah,” on one sign, and “This way to Jerusalem” on the other.  Through this skit, God explains that an invading army will be led by the King of Babylon, who will cast lots to determine which way to continue his invasion, and the lot will fall toward Jerusalem.  Babylon will take the road to Jerusalem, lay siege to the city and take the people captive, because they are guilty.  Guilty of what?  The answer will not surprise you.

In verse 24 God says that the people of Jerusalem are guilty because of their rebellion and sin.  That’s why they will be taken captive. We’ve heard God ask Ezekiel to prophesy this very message many times since the beginning of Ezekiel.  At this point, though, the message is vague.  Sin and rebellion, yes, but what sin and rebellion? Ezekiel has talked about it more specifically many times, but not yet in chapter 21. 

Skim over the rest of the chapter.  Verses 25-27 proclaim punishment against the prince, which is the king of Jerusalem.  Then verses 28-32 are very similar to the previous poem, but this time they are about the Ammonites, a non-Jewish neighboring nation of Israel, which was mentioned back in verse 20, as Rabbah is the capital of Ammon.  What God is saying is that, though Babylon will go down the road to attack Jerusalem first, they will eventually circle back, go down the other road and destroy Ammon too.  Again, though, the reason for the judgment is vague.

That brings us to chapter 22, and now God’s accusations get really specific.  The prophecy will be vague no longer.  In verses 1-2, God asks Ezekiel to judge the city of bloodshed, and that refers to Jerusalem.  This reminded me of Philadelphia, a word that means “City of Brotherly Love,” and ironically it has a major problem with murder and crime.  Or take Philadelphia Eagles fans.  Are they known to be people who practice brotherly love?  No.  Eagles fans have a reputation for being some of the most brutal in the league.  That’s very similar to this new label for Jerusalem.  It was God’s city, and the people were to be living God’s way, the way of love.  But instead, God says the city needs a new name, the City of Bloodshed.  In verses 3-5, in addition to the evil of bloodshed, God says they also committed idolatry.  These are two specific categories.  In their worship and in treatment of humans, they have not followed the way of God.  As a result, God says he is putting a stop to this.

As God continues, he lists specific ways the people of Jerusalem have committed false worship and social injustice. 

In verse 6, the leaders use their power to shed blood.  This is some kind of government-sponsored murder. 

In verse 7, we have three issues: contemptuous treatment of parents, oppression of foreigners, and mistreatment of the fatherless and widow. 

In verse 8, he returns to discussing worship, as they despised the holy articles in the temple, and desecrated the practice of sabbath-keeping.

Verse 9 is likely all about worship.  Shedding blood could be a reference to child sacrifice in worship, which we’ve heard about before in previous chapters.  But the people also worship at pagan ritual sites in the mountains, and there they commit lewd acts, which likely involved prostitution in worship.

Verses 10-11 mention unrestrained sexual impurity, particularly violating women who are vulnerable.

In verse 12, the people commit the injustices of bribery and financially ripping off their neighbors.

Worst of all, God concludes in verse 12, they have forgotten him.  That’s why he says over and over throughout Ezekiel that he wants his people to know him, because they have forgotten him.  Notice that the people forgetting God is proven by their actions.  It’s not as though they have forgotten about God in their memories.  Of course they know about God.  Instead, by their wicked actions that he just described, their sinful worship and social injustice to their fellow humans, they show they have forgotten God in the sense that they have no relationship with him.  God cares, therefore, about the choices and actions of their lives.  How they treat one another is perhaps the best indication of their faith in him. 

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The Parables of the Forest Fire and Sword – Ezekiel 21-23, Part 2

When we left Ezekiel in the previous post, he was staring again. The Prophetic Stare is when God asks Ezekiel to “set his gaze” against something. Remember that Ezekiel’s Prophetic Stare has no power; it is a symbolic gesture that shines the light of God’s truth on something.  This time, as we read in Ezekiel 20:45-49, Ezekiel is staring at the south, which refers to the Southern Kingdom of Israel, called Judea, where Jerusalem is located.  As Ezekiel stares at Judea, he eventually is to speak, God says, to the forest.  Weird, right?  A prophecy to the forest?  I can imagine Ezekiel staring, and the people in his village gather around him, saying, “Tell us, Ezekiel.  Why are you staring?” 

Without breaking his gaze, he proclaims that God will burn down the forest.  Forest fires are horrible, as we know from the awful situation in our western USA. The fire that Ezekiel prophecies goes one step further as he says it will not only be all-consuming, but he also says “every face will be scorched by it.”  Face?  That’s people he’s referring to.  That’s terrible and graphic.  Faces burning?  I wonder if the moms shooed their kids away from Ezekiel as he said that.  As with nearly all prophecy, this is figurative language, likely referring to the armies of a foreign power invading the land.  God says it will be devastating.

In this story, God is again asking Ezekiel to prophesy using the method of allegory.  Surprisingly, Ezekiel responds to God!  We hardly ever hear Ezekiel talk back to God in this book, but look at Ezekiel chapter 20, verse 49, where he complains to God that the people in his village are saying to him, “He’s just telling parables.”  Ezekiel is saying that the 10,000 Jews living there in Babylon with him are not taking him seriously.  Would you take him seriously?  Think about all the strange ways God has asked Ezekiel to prophesy so far.  Not just the Prophetic Stare.  But remember all those skits?  Ezekiel also played with models.  He laid on his side for over a year.  He cut his hair.  He had strange visions.  He told parables.  It seems that what God said early on had become reality, “Ezekiel, you will prophesy, but the people won’t listen.” 

As I thought about that, I feel for Ezekiel.  I don’t think he was one of the glamorous prophets.  Though the elders visited him for advice, it doesn’t seem that he was a celebrity because his prophetic methods were so odd.  I wonder if Ezekiel ever thought, “Lord, why don’t you give me a normal prophecy?  Maybe a word of blessing for once.  Even the words of hope you do give me are always mixed with terrible judgment.” 

Notice that God doesn’t answer Ezekiel’s complaint in verse 49.  Instead he asks Ezekiel to stare again.  Read chapter 21, verses 1-5.

How about that?  More staring and another parable.  Ezekiel is now to stare at Jerusalem, and preach against the sanctuary, which is the temple of God.  Some churches, like mine, have a large room where we gather for worship services, and we call it “the sanctuary,” but it really isn’t that.  It’s just a big room that is convenient for meeting.  The actual sanctuary, the holy place, was in God’s temple.  What is Ezekiel to preach against the sanctuary and against the land of Israel?  It’s another parable.  This time the parable is about God’s sword, and he will unsheathe it, he says, against everyone in the land, south to north.  This is another way of talking about a foreign army that will devastate the land.  God concludes this section with the line that has become the most repeated, and thus most important line in the book, “Then you will know that I am the Lord.”  Because God repeats it, I am going to talk about it again too:  God wants to be known by you.  God wants to be in relationship with you.  Just as it did with his rebellious people Israel, his heart beats for you. 

At this point, God asks Ezekiel to do another skit.  Look at verses 6-7, 

Ezekiel is to groan!  Pause reading this, and do an experiment. Walk to the nearest place where there are at least a couple people nearby, stand among them and start groaning really loudly.  Any takers?  No? Too embarrassing and awkward, right? Imagine how Ezekiel must have been feeling!  If I’m Ezekiel, I’m thinking, “Why can’t I just be a regular prophet?”  Imagine his neighbors watching him groaning, saying to him, “Ezekiel, now what?  Are you hurt?  Do you need to the doctor?”

God tells Ezekiel to answer them, “I’m groaning to show you what you will do when you hear the news that is coming.  It will make you groan.”  News coming that will make them groan?  Connect that with the prophecies we heard already, and it is pretty clear that the news will be what the Prophetic stare and parables of the forest fire and of the sword foretold. A foreign army will invade and destroy their beloved homeland, city and temple. 

Skim over verses 8-17, and you read a poetic, lyrical presentation of the same prophecy, including verse 14 where God asks Ezekiel to clap his hands, and then verse 17, where God says he himself will clap his hands together too.  This means the end is coming.  You can picture Ezekiel there in Babylon calling out this poem, groaning and clapping his hands as he speaks it. 

But we’ve heard all this before, haven’t we? From nearly the beginning of Ezekiel, God has asked Ezekiel to prophesy about the end coming for Jerusalem. I wonder if the people living in Ezekiel’s village there in Babylon were bored with his endless prophecies of destruction. They ought not be. Neither should we. As we continue studying Ezekiel 21-23, we’ll see how specific and practical this prophecy will be for us. In the next post we’ll more.

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Gospel and Social Justice…is it one or the other? – Ezekiel 21-23, Part 1

When my wife Michelle was running Imagine Goods, she made about 30 trips to Cambodia, primarily to work with women who were survivors of trafficking, helping them have employment as seamstresses, thus lifting them out of the precarious economic and cultural situation that initially made them vulnerable to being trafficked. Every now and then when she would return home and tell the stories of the work in Cambodia, people would ask, “But when did you share the Gospel?” 

Over the last few years I’ve heard Christians make bold comments about the intersection of the church and social action.  Some have said that if your pastor preaches about social justice, leave the church immediately.  Some have said that if your pastor doesn’t preach about social justice, leave the church immediately.  Those who think that a pastor should not preach about social justice believe that the focus should be the Gospel.  A pastor should preach the Gospel, they say.  Those who think the pastor should preach about social justice believe that the way we live our lives is the best preaching, very similar to the classic phrase, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words.” 

Is it one or the other?  And what am I talking about when I use these words, “social justice” and “Gospel”? 

Each and every Christian should be able to tell the story of the Gospel and how it matters to your life and to the lives of every human.  Turn to 1st Corinthians 15:1-11, and read it.

There the Apostle Paul summarizes the Gospel, which is a word that means “Good News!”  In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, there is good news for all that believe and become his disciples.  The message is such good news because it not only gives us the hope of eternal life, but also, as Jesus himself promised in John 10:10, we can experience eternal life now.  He called it abundant life.  Jesus himself taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  And that is what leads us to think about the next word, “social justice.”

Social justice is what happens when the Kingdom of God comes on earth now.  Social justice is when people experience abundant life now.  It is the overturning of injustice so that God’s justice and righteousness reigns in places and lives where God did not previously reign.  That is also good news.  Christian preaching, then, is both the message of good news for salvation to eternal life, and also the message of good news for justice now.  The way I have described this over the years is that we preach good news in word and deed.  Biblical preaching includes both the Gospel and social justice.  We see this very clearly in the ministry of Jesus who not only proclaimed the good news of the kingdom in his preaching, but also lived out the good news by changing lives in his miracles and in his discipleship. 

But don’t take my word for it. Instead allow God’s word to guide us as we evaluate these important questions.  In other words, what does the Bible say?  As we continue our study through Ezekiel, we are studying a section that I think will help us answer that question.

Last week in the previous 44 verses of chapter 20, David preached about the unique history of Israel presented in that chapter. 

This week we finish chapter 20, and we find that the Prophetic Stare is back.  God has asked Ezekiel once again to set his face against something.  You can imagine Ezekiel walking out of his house, and his neighbors turning to look at him, thinking, what would this strange man do now?  Ezekiel turns to the south and stares.  The neighbors roll their eyes and say, “Oh, there goes Ezekiel staring again.”  I wonder how long Ezekiel held the stare?  I wonder if people came up to him and said, “What is this time, Ezekiel?  What are you staring at now?” 

In the next post, we’ll find out.

The most famous verse in the Old Testament? – Ezekiel 21-23, Preview

What do you think is the most famous verse in the Old Testament? Even though we’re studying Ezekiel, I don’t think the most famous OT verse is in Ezekiel.

How about Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Or maybe all of Psalm 23, but especially its opening verse, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” What about the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20), and especially “Thou shalt not kill”?

Better yet, maybe the two greatest commands, as affirmed by Jesus: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength” (Deuteronomy 6:5) and “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18)?

I wonder if any other verses came to your mind? There are so many excellent options! Comment below with your pick!

How about this one, “Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” I wouldn’t be surprised if many or most of you are familiar with that verse. It’s a really good one! Look it up for yourself at Micah 6:8. Then skim through Micah, which is basically as gruesome as the most graphic horror movie from start to finish, except for that one verse. What that tells us is that in the middle of awful terror and wickedness, we cannot forget that God’s heart beats for justice, mercy and humility.

What are justice, mercy and humility? This week I listened to a brief podcast that did a great job explaining those words. It is Leonard Sweet’s Napkin Scribbles episode on Oct 14, 2021, “The Greek and Hebrew Words Every Christian Should Know: Chesed”. I encourage you to listen to it.

On the blog this coming week, we’re going to talk about one of those words: justice. What we’ll learn in the next section of Ezekiel is a clear picture of God’s heart for justice. In Ezekiel chapters 21-23 God tells his people Israel how they have wandered from his heart. If you’ve been following the blog series studying Ezekiel, it will not surprise you to hear that. What might be surprising in these chapters is how specific God gets when he describes Israel’s rebellion. Furthermore, it is amazing how it relates to American Christians in 2021. Read those chapters ahead of time and see what you think, then check back in on Monday as we begin to discuss them.

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Our mission of reconciliation – Ezekiel 20, Part 5

Editor’s Note: Thanks to guest blogger David Hundert for continuing the Ezekiel series this week.

I believe there are at least two things that we can learn from Ezekiel 20 and apply to our lives. If you have read the previous four posts, in which we studied Ezekiel 20:1-44, you can do so starting here.

The first is that rebellion will inevitably be punished. Israel can never simply choose to be like the nations and thus remove herself from God’s authority. There are only two choices for Israel: She can choose to accept her election and live on the basis of God’s laws, or she can rebel as she has done so many times before and face the consequences of certain death.

Likewise, our generation needs people within the covenant community who are prophetically willing to call a spade a spade, to call sin a sin, to speak about death and hell and the judgment to come.

The second thing that we can get from this passage, is that Ezekiel 20 should fill Christians with incredible optimism. It asserts that, come heck or high water, with or without the help of his church, God’s kingdom will come. His purposes in election are so sure that not even Israel’s continual history of sin can thwart them. Even though the first exodus God provided for His people didn’t bring to fruition his purpose of a pure, worshiping people, His second exodus will.

So what does that mean for us?

Romans 5, verse 10 reads, “For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

We need to live our lives consistently and daily, with the idea that we have been reconciled to God through Christ. That’s what evangelism is all about. It’s inviting people to take part in the new life that we experience in Christ. In order to do that, we need to live that life in such a way that they can see it. They need to see the difference between what we are offering and what they are seeing in the world.

I will leave you with this one final thought. In 2 Corinthians 5:17-21 Paul writes, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

The Lord has given us the ministry of reconciliation. This is something that is all of our responsibility. We are ambassadors of that reconciliation to the world. Will you commit your life to that goal?

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Do our choices matter? (or is the future determined?) – Ezekiel 20, Part 4

Editor’s Note: Thanks to guest blogger David Hundert for continuing the Ezekiel series this week.

In Ezekiel 20, verses 39-44, we read that Israel has a choice. They can go and serve their idols, if they wish. But they need to remember this: God’s purpose in the election of Israel will stand. A time is coming when, in place of the profane worship offered on every high hill and under every leafy tree, there will be pure worship offered in the one true place, God’s holy mountain, the high mountain of Israel! The positive result of the new exodus will be pure worship offered by a purified people, in whom the Lord’s holiness is publicly displayed to the eyes of the nations. There the oath made in Egypt that we read in vs. 5 (“I am the Lord your God”), we see will be fulfilled in vs. 42 (“You will know that I am the Lord”), and there the remnant who survived the desert judgment—not on merit, but by God’s grace—are going to appreciate the immensity of their own sin and the faithfulness of God to his covenant promises that we saw in vs. 44 (“You will know that I am the Lord, when I deal with you for my name’s sake and not according to your evil ways and your corrupt practices”).

The future for Israel depends entirely on God and his commitment to his Word. But those who refuse to trust God to fulfill his promises and instead have turned their backs on him will never enter the new Promised Land.

It is hard to imagine a viewpoint more radically different from that of Ezekiel 20. Ezekiel’s prophecy shows is that it isn’t Israel’s choice but the Lord’s choice. Israel in the past had consistently chosen wrong. “Attending the church or synagogue of their choice” had led to worshiping idols in Egypt and the pagan gods and goddesses in the land of Canaan. People voted with their feet and chose the false rather than the true. Yet even though they were unfaithful, God remained faithful to his covenant promises and his own character. The one nonnegotiable for Ezekiel is God’s choice. Israel’s “choice” only occurs in the context of their having been chosen as the covenant community. They can choose to fulfill their calling, to be a blessing and so to receive life. Or they can choose to rebel against that calling, seeking to be free of that calling like the nations around them, and face the consequences. If they choose to be like those nations, according to what we read in verse 33, there will be heck to pay.

What, then, is the point of Ezekiel’s prophecy? There are two important principles God teaches, and we’ll look at them in the next post.

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We can always depend on God’s reputation – Ezekiel 20, Part 3

Editor’s Note: Thanks to guest blogger David Hundert for continuing the Ezekiel series this week.

Do you wonder how God feels about you? Do you wonder if you’ve been so bad that God would never forgive you? How does God feel about us when we have done things that are awful, whether big or small?

As we continue studying Ezekiel 20, we’ll observe God’s relationship with Israel to try to answer those questions. In the previous posts (here and here), the Lord uses the reciting of Israel’s historical track record as a teachable moment for the elders of Israel. What, then, does God want to teach the elders? Read Ezekiel 20 verses 29-32, and let’s see if we can discover what God says.

Thinking about those verses, let me start by quoting again a comment I mentioned in the previous post, “God’s people cannot be destroyed completely, not because they do not deserve it but because God has staked the reputation of his own name on the covenant promises made to them. He may and does in fact chastise them and judge them, but he can never abandon them. His divine nature requires faithfulness to his promise, even in the face of unrelenting human sin.”

Because of this, we read in Ezekiel 20 a prophecy of a new act of salvation on God’s part, a new exodus. Israel won’t be abandoned to “be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve wood and stone,” as the elders had thought! Whether that thought is one of desire (“We want to be like the nations …”) or of despair (“We are becoming like the nations …”), this isn’t the issue. Instead, the focus is on the impossibility of such a thing happening because God has staked His reputation on them!

As believers, we all still struggle with sin. All sin is sin against God. If our salvation was based on our efforts, on our accomplishments, we’d be sunk. But glory to God, because our salvation is based on God’s grace, and not on our works, we have the ability to knock on our Father’s door, ask Him if He has a minute, crawl up in His lap, and say, “Daddy, I’m so sorry for sinning against you. This is what I’ve done, and I’m asking for Your forgiveness.” We have His word, that promises us 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.”

So back in Ezekiel, we left Israel facing the fact that God isn’t going to destroy them, so where does that leave them? Let’s pick up where we left off, and read verses 33 through 39.

God’s divine election of Israel cannot be revoked; the Lord will reign over them. You can see this in verse 33. Here, you can almost see the echoes of 1 Samuel chapter 8. There, the people looked to become like “all the other nations” by having a king, which is interpreted as a rejection of the Lord’s reign over them. They are warned of the very real consequences of their choice, yet ultimately their election is not revocable. They do not, in fact cannot, become like the nations around them: instead, even their rebellious wish for a monarchy is incorporated in the providence of God. The Lord himself gives them the kings of His own choosing, good and bad, to prepare the way for the coming of the King of kings.

However, the message of God’s kingship exercised in this new exodus is not necessarily good news. Yes, His reign comes with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, as in the first exodus; yes, He will bring them out of the nations and gather them just as He once brought them out of Egypt. But, His reign comes with outpoured wrath. Just as the unfaithful Israelites were brought up out of Egypt only to die in the desert, so too the regathered Israel will be purged in the “desert of the nations”. There God will meet with His people “face to face,” just as He met with Moses “face to face” in the tent of meeting. God is going to go to court against the rebels among His people, singling out the transgressors from the faithful just as a shepherd counts and separates His sheep by passing them one by one under his rod.

No matter the situation, we can depend on God, knowing that he is a God of love. Yes, he allows us to face the consequences of our sinful choices, but he never abandons and forsakes us.

Photo by Jackson David on Unsplash