During the ongoing Covid pandemic, the topic of cleansing has probably been on your mind from time to time. Do you remember early in the pandemic when it was recommended that we cleanse our groceries after we got them home? People would buy cleanser and wipe down their cereal boxes and soup cans, trying to eradicate Covid from their lives. Hand-washing was and is important. But would it surprise you to learn that God also desires cleansing? It’s a very different kind of cleansing.
As Ezekiel continues writing about God’s prophetic word in Ezekiel 37:15-28, we find out that God not only desires unity for his people, but he has three more desires. God’s second desire for his people (found in verse 23) is that they are cleansed, so that they are his people and he is their God. In the prophecy, Ezekiel addresses the sin of the nation. The Israelites practiced idolatry, and they committed offensive sin.
It would be tempting to read this and think, “Yeah! That’s what’s wrong with America. America is having so many problems because we have turned away from the Lord.” But remember that when we read the Old Testament and hear God making pronouncements about Israel, we search for the principle, and then we apply it, not to our nation, but to the church. That is because God’s new covenant, which we is the fourth desire, and which we will learn about in the next post, is not with a nation but with the church. God doesn’t have a covenant with America. So what we need to do, when we hear about God’s desire for his people to be cleansed, is to look in the mirror. In what ways do we Christians need to turn away from idols? In what ways do we need to stop our offensive sinful acts?
These are big questions. My guess is that very few of us think of ourselves as worshiping idols or committing offensive sinful acts. Maybe none of us think of ourselves that way. But we would do well to consider it. What are the uniquely American Christian idols that you and I might be worshiping? And what are the offensive acts that even we might be committing? We need to talk about that.
As we can see in verse 23, God wants a people for himself that is cleansed from idolatry and sin. He wants us to be his people, and him to be our God. He wants to be in relationship with each of us. If we are committing idolatry and offensive sinful acts, those things get in the way of us having a close relationship with God. We might call ourselves his people, and we might think we are his people, but if we are not living the cleansed life, we are not living as his people.
Thankfully he has made cleansing available to us. God acts in love on our behalf, helping us to have forgiveness. Through Jesus’ life, death and resurrection, God has won the victory over sin, death and the devil. Do you need, therefore, to give yourself over to him? Do you need to turn away from sinful acts? We all sin. But what I am talking about are what we could call lifestyle sins. The people of Israel were practicing idolatry and offensive acts as a lifestyle. How about you? Do you need cleansing from lifestyle sins?
God desires unity for his people and cleansing for his people. In Ezekiel’s prophecy, God shares a third desire for his people. Look at verses 24-25. God says he will save them, placing a new king of the line of David over them. This is a prophecy that finds its fulfillment in two stages. The first stage is the near-future fulfillment when the people of Israel are gathered back to the land of Palestine, which took place under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah, and the temple was rebuilt.
In the second stage of the fulfillment of the prophecy, God says, they will have a new king. But notice how the prophecy describes this future king. The people listening to the words of the prophecy should know that God is talking about a very different kind of king. He gives them a clue about how different this king will be. Do you see the clue? He says in verse 25 that this king will be “forever.” What kind of king will be king forever?
Queen Elizabeth of England just celebrated her 70th year in that role. Hers is an astonishingly long reign. Depending on how you count the length of a monarch’s reign, Elizabeth nears the top of most lists. 4th place on one list, and on all lists, she is the longest reigning female monarch. 70 years! But that’s nothing compared to “forever”.
When the people in Ezekiel’s day heard him talk about a king that would reign forever, they should have asked the question, “How can that be?” They knew their history. King David reigned 40 years and then he died. In the history of the Kings of Israel and Judah, 40 years was a very long reign. Not the longest, but it was a very long reign. But “forever”? Kings don’t reign forever! What kind of king can reign forever? Clearly, this will be a very different king. Who is this king?
The king mentioned in the prophecy, we know from hindsight, is Jesus. If you read Matthew’s genealogy of Jesus (Matthew 1), legally, he was adopted by his father, Joseph, who was a descendant of the family of David. Then if you study Luke’s genealogy (Luke 3), Jesus is also biologically, through his mother Mary, a descendant of David. But Jesus was different from the Davidic dynasty. All the Davidic kings were born, lived, and died. Jesus is the king who will reign forever.
Also notice that Ezekiel’s prophecy describes the future king’s reign as an era in which the people will follow his laws and be careful to keep his decrees. We know that the prophecy is depicting a future time when Jesus returns in person, takes the throne, and ushers in his Kingdom. For now, though, we participate in advancing Jesus’ Kingdom here on earth, in expectation of that future. Obviously, our Kingdom work now will not achieve the full expression as when Jesus returns. But we still work now to see King Jesus honored and glorified in all we do. That’s why we pursue sharing the good news about Jesus in both word and deed. We preach the content of the Gospel, and we do the deeds of the Gospel. Both word and deed proclaim the good news, the Gospel, that Jesus is King and that there is true hope only in him, so people should give their lives to follow him.
We are King Jesus people. We see everything we do as followers of the King. God’s desire is for his people to live as followers of King Jesus. Whether you are a student in school, an athlete on a team, a worker, a parent or grandparent, you live out those roles as a follower of King Jesus. Jesus’ way of life should inform and shape how we live our lives. We seek to root out and eradicate, both in our lives and in our communities, that which is opposed to the way of Jesus. That’s why we are so concerned about the fruit of the Spirit flowing from our lives, and why we pursue justice in our community.
I invite you to check back to tomorrow’s post, as we’ll learn that God has one more desire for his people.