AUSTRALIAN BIBLE CHURCH September 20, 2009
A CONTINUATION OF THE THRUST
AND BASE OF THE
OF AUSTRALIA ON BIBLICAL LINES …
EZEKIEL 18-34: CULMINATIONS OF THE LOVE AND THE JUDGMENT OF GOD
STEP I Ezekiel 18
Ezekiel 18 gives blunt indications, as one might to a somewhat spiritually deaf person, of the need to be real, in earnest, sincere, not exploiting ideas, but being subject to reality. If you sin, YOU do it. It is YOUR fault. It is not that of your father or child. It is yours ... Y O U R S. That is the first impact. If however you turn from it to the Lord, then it is repented of, and you return to your spiritual base; and He is not the one to reject you as a returnee, or despise your new perception and relationship, no longer that of an alien, but of a participant. You forgiven, back with Him: THAT is what mattes. His mode of forgiveness was long before in painful detail expressed by Isaiah and the Psalms: what He would do to secure it in terms acceptable to Himself and His purity and heart and disposition of loveliness.
This is not fair ? you think so ? the Lord asks (18:25).
Iniquity, turned to and died in, He says,
this is what he will have to cart with him. Iniquity dumped ? did not the man consider his ways and turn ? So he lives in what he has turned to, towards mere continuance in his own will and way , or even to the Lord. What then ? Let's be practical. REPENT, repent now from your evil ways. Yes,
"Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit..." Here we reach new depths. Not only does the behaviour change, not only does the heart wither to evil and turn with sincerity to good, but it ACTUALLY CHANGES. It becomes a 'new heart' and one's very spirit, that which is distinctive of man in the very image of God, as a creature, this too becomes new.
Think of that! A new spirit inhabits the bosom, activates the motivations, corrals one's thoughts, inspires one's feelings: how glorious. Why ? It is because it obviously is one not merely acceptable to the Lord, but of His actual making, what in the New Testament in Paul at II Corinthians 5:17ff., is called "a new creation", so that all things become new. It is not tiresome, but true, not an inhabitant of the land of vagrancy, but at peace with God! How glorious a thing is this, that He who created the universe in 6 days, now creates a new heart and a new spirit in one of the components of His then creation, in a current new creation, into that it is comparable to the very act of the first creation: that of man as a being!
This is clearly the way, the thing: for since God is willing to do this, not only to provide PARDON for sin (as in Isaiah 55, and inferentially here in Ezekiel 18), but to enable a new relationship of peace and power with Himself, so that one's very equipment is restored to the balmy presence of His power and gentleness, as a child of God: this is too real to be released and realised. It must be FOUND, gained, accessed, taken up at once.
This however is not all. God actually urges such a step, action, restoration, access. As in Micah 7:19ff., "He delights in mercy." To Him, to show mercy is like winning a lottery for the brash, a race for the strong, and to GIVE is like gaining a fortune for the rapacious. He LOVES to do it and as to Him, He is LIKE THAT! The liberality of divine love is as vast as the insistence on divinely wrought cleansing. He continues to be most practical. Cast those sins away and get yourself a new spirit, He declares, invites, urges, but then He gives an overpowering reason. "For why should you die, O house of Israel ?" It is not just that He remonstrates that dying is not to the point, not desirable, not a desideratum; and indeed, what other than judgment does sin have but death, or what to commend it, but excision. Yet the Lord gives this as a REASON for turning.
He empathises to the point of vast depth, as in a spiritual bathysphere, into the depths of the heart. Turn to Me, He urges, FOR why should you die ? It is not just that it is His merciful and gracious desire that you should so turn, but He shows you His deepest concern at your option of death. It is no mere symptomatic summation or opportunity for operation. It is terse, filled with the tension of truth upon waywardness, an enlistment of the armies of the heart for their deliverance from defeat, and presentation in triumph, with the very power and privileges of the knowledge of God, at a personal and not merely a principial level, though all things being given, nothing is then lacking. He activates the conscience, stays the fibrillation of the thoughts with clarity. FOR WHY do this ? He asks. Why die ?It is such a loving urging, with such a gracious urgency. Nor however is this all.
He proceeds: "For I have no pleasure in the death of the one who dies.” You see that eminently in Hosea 13:14, where this lack of pleasure, indeed, is seen as a complete alienation of heart from such a result for man, for what otherwise becomes tantamount to his last post! Such a result, in effect, He proclaims, is repugnant to His mercifulness. Whatever lies within Him, this will not have it. Whatever lies in man, this is solicited, and way by an act greater in significance than the creation, is made open. It is not a command merely, by which He does this, as in the six days of the creation. It is by coming. He says this: "I will ransom them from the grave, I will redeem them from death." Such is the intention and warrant. Then we learn from Hosea's inspired word, HOW He will do this. He proceeds: "O Death, I will be your plagues." Fancy that, Himself becoming a plague, as He pursues this dynamic negativity, death, to its own devastation. How glorious! Nor is even this all: "O Grave, I will be your destruction!"
Even hell itself will not have octopus-like suckers to drain out the blood of life and devastatingly persist in this life, to the sinner's demise. THAT HE, the Lord, will prevent, by BEING the destruction of this destroyer. THAT, it is deliverance, salvation indeed. In Isaiah 53, we learn that for each of those who has thus turned to Him, been healed thereby, it is HE WHO ACTUALLY BEARS the sin (vv. 4-6). It is penal servitude, wrought by God, done by Himself, and the service is to die with it, to take it away. For that clearly He would become man that for man He might bore through the rock of guilt and justice, to bring mercy and peace.
We return for more news from Ezekiel 18. Recall: WHY should you die! and indeed, more to the pitiful point, "For why should you die, O house of Israel. For I have no pleasure in the death of the one who dies," He continues. It is then that He completes the exhortation, offer and invitation in this way: "Therefore turn and live." What a magnificent opportunity, and what complete foolishness to reject it!
STEP 2 A THE MOVEMENT TO THE HEIGHTS THROUGH THE DEPTHS
We move on now in Ezekiel to see that even this matter, it develops as we proceed, first moving into sustained condemnation, climaxing in Ezekiel 20, which even there, has a place for their early return to the land. How often the Lord delayed, stayed His hand, mercifully laboured to deliver them. Thus we travel to the desolatory review of Israel's ACTUAL position FROM which it is appealed to turn, in Ch. 19, to the many times the Lord has wrought for it, acted for it, put away wrath, borne with them, in Ch. 20, to the fearful assault to come, as they continue amiss, from their enemies, the review of their sins in 22, the metaphorical presentation of the matter in terms of 2 sisters, Judah and Israel, in 23, the cooking pot analogy in 24 with its deep and grizzly feeling, to judgments on other nations, for while Israel was special as a sin-waylaid messenger, those to whom it was sent as an exhibit (Isaiah 41:23) were by no means innocent. Great was the calamity to come, from driving, if you will, insistently, persistently and consistently on the wrong side of the moral road.
With such nations we are concerned, Tyre, Egypt and the like, and they are given their come-uppance, in the case of Egypt, that NEVER AGAIN will it be a great power on the earth, but rather will it be as it has been, undergoing subjugation by many, a lowly one (cf. 29:15), as we read till Ezekiel 32. How sensational is the panorama of judgment, and how appealing is the sense of what is so needlessly lost! What a feast for insight and a stimulus for understanding is available, with which one may be spiritually regaled in these chapters! Indeed, in their very midst is another glorious rendition of divine mercy, found in Ezekiel 34.
God indicates His weariness with fraud, falsity and self-service in the case of prophet and pastor, as found to so vast an extent in Israel, and announces that HE HIMSELF PERSONALLY is going to come and BE the GOOD SHEPHERD (Ez. 34), as later confirmed in John 10. Here Christ so identifies Himself, having already made it most plain that He is God-incarnate, sent on mission to save - as in Isaiah 48:16, avoiding the negligence and selfishness syndrome, and actually DOING THE WORK of deliverance and care. That, it was more than exemplary, being the forerunner of the path for man, that is, as many as believed in, received and were regenerated through the power of the Spirit and His word of truth. This led directly to the premises of rehabilitation, indeed life from the dead first spiritually and then in physical resurrection, for His people as a blessed result (as in Isaiah 26:19
This comes of course in synthesis of thought with the Lord's declaration in Hosea 13:14, about His BEING the destruction of death, in, by and through His own Godhead. It was a costly procedure, involving incarnation through a virgin, growth in humility, preaching in vulnerability, power in staggering degree for others, discipline for Himself, envy and fear concerning the results of such a Being with power even over death and for resurrections, consequent arrest, mockery, crucifixion, display as if a sinner, in order to display the sin from others, vicariously borne, death in the flesh and resurrection of the same, and ascension to heaven for the Gospel Age to run its course till His return to rule. It was costly ... but love does not pause at its requirements, though they be soul-piercing (as in Luke 22). If some other way will do, well, but if not, then THIS IS TO BE FACED (cf. Luke 9:51).
STEP 2 B REACHING THE HEIGHTS
This Ezekiel 34 reference to God as man, to be the Good Shepherd is linked to three other references in Ezekiel to the Ultimate Solution for Israel, as also for her oppressors when such repent: and that, it is the Messiah. One of these references is found just before our first focus on Ezekiel 18, and its merciful pleas, in the preceding Ch. 17. Here we learn of a young twig, a tender one (as in Isaiah 53:2, a root out of a dry ground), stressing His non-advantageous conditions for growth into manhood, and it is cropped from a high branch, as a 'tender one', and this taken, it is set on a high mountain, yes and a prominent one, not unlikely to be Mt Zion, featuring the central place for the twig when grown, as it is to grow (17:23), into a majestic cedar. In Matthew 13:31ff., Christ, the ‘sprout’, the ‘twig’, adapted it for the kingdom of heaven; as in Ezekiel, it is He Himself, its King, who is in view, for all the birds will nest in it, and we follow the familiar pattern from the inconspicuous and apparently trivial, to the majestic and all-sheltering Lord, God become man (cf. Isaiah 4:6, 32:1-4, Psalm 72).
Again, in Ezekiel 37, we have the direct observation concerning the final return of Israel to its land, when the Son of David will rule in it (37:24), at the resurrection and millenium, where there converge both that final return of Israel to its land (36:26ff., 37:23ff.), and His majestic entrance, as in Zechariah 14, Isaiah 11 and Psalm 2, as its Ruler and indeed that of this world (Psalm 72). It is then that the New Covenant applies, as forecast in Jeremiah 31:31ff., and Ezekiel 16:60ff.. Finally, in Ezekiel 44, in symbolic form, there appears the Temple which has a place in its 'gate' for the Prince, who is to eat bread there, belonging in the religious as well as in the princely realm, as in Zechariah 6:12ff.. He is indeed One who acts both in the domain of priest and prince, a thing forbidden except where the Messiah is present, as the all encompassing Son of God (cf. II Chronicles 26:16ff., Psalm 2, 72). Here was forecast the One who was not only a religious office bearer, but offered Himself as sacrifice in the Temple of His flesh, as in Isaiah 53, to grant a free salvation, (as in 12 and 55).
Indeed, in passing one might note the glory of the Lord in this also, that this visionary temple, seen in Ezekiel 40ff., is one where the Messiah acts as if set in a transitional figuring, as an active participant in Temple work, indeed with precedence. In this Temple, we find that there is the gate through which the Lord has entered, the East gate (44:2), that through which Christ in fact entered when the incarnation occurred. The Palm Sunday episode was indeed His coming, that of God, at last on earth in human form, past all possible pretence, without pretension, no pretender, but Prince indeed. Since the LORD has entered this gate, and did so at that time, when present in the flesh, it is to be shut and remain closed. Such was the prophecy of Ezekiel 44. That gate, in the reconstructed Temple, was indeed shut by the Muslim ruler in 1535, and has remained shut for centuries, not even being opened when it might have helped Israel in the 1967 war, as noted by J. H. Hunting in his book, Israel, My Son.
Thus through many visions, to awaken the imagination, and stir the heart, and symbolic presentations, to fix the realities in the mind, as through many direct statements as in Ezekiel 37, Isaiah 42, 49, 52-55, 65, Micah 5, Psalm 2, 16, 22, 110, Zechariah 9, 11, 12-13, God has prepared the world, as also Israel, for its greatest moments, which alas, were not its finest except for the Christ who was central and glorious in vivid and lively contrast. The greatness lay in this, that when GOD appeared in human history DIRECT, and as predicted and promised, no greater monument to His glory is possible: moreover it was more than a monument, being a massif, a majesty and HIS MAJESTY who is king over all, the Lord of glory. The smallness for man lay in his treatment of this privilege, opportunity and access. The wonder is in those who found Him, and all since, through His record, Spirit and proclamation; and that this has been in the very terms foretold by the prophets and in particular Isaiah.
It was Israel who provided the dark contrast, at the face to face and national level, as have Gentile nations in droves, since that time. As to these, sometimes they have begun to awaken to the Lord, but then have come fallings, failings, flappings, yappings, turnings, yearnings, burnings in various moods and modes, but all with one accord, as now, almost without exception, are becoming flaccid in faith, or furious in disposition, heartless or heady, as the case varies, some lurking in indifference while the case rots. The nations of this world are not at all keen on the Lord and His Christ (cf. Psalm 2); but this merely makes the cost of their folly to be the more ruinous for them, when the time, as it always does, duly comes. Their testimony, alas, appears to be rotting. But Christ did not rot; and all this is as clear an indication of His return, with the key feature of Israel's return to its land (crucial feature as prelude as it is, as seen in Luke 21:24 cf. Answers to Questions Ch. 5), as were the features noted for His first coming.
As for Christ, not only was He rejected then, though the most famous and gloriously pure, powerful and majestic Being ever to inhabit this earth, with a testimony nothing can dim, but He both accepted and was accepted by all the predictions concerning Him, involving things to do, which only God could perform, not least arising bodily from the dead ON TIME, after three days, since God's own power uniquely was required for their fulfilment. Such was the case, whether in healing or in dating His death, or in the pre-characterisation of the Gospel, later in history to pulse through the earth for two millenia after He came, precisely as forecast by Isaiah 700 or so years before He so much as arrived.
Amid these environs in Ezekiel, we have an introduction to Ezekiel 33, just as it in turn is prelude to Ezekiel 34, which focusses this same Messiah at considerable length, making it abundantly clear that it is the LORD indeed, who in this field would Himself be planted in flesh. Here, there is the climax of divine warning, yearning, invitation, as in 34, the representation of the time when all this past, these same principles of love will reach into this world, through this same Lord, Prince of peace and ruler (cf. Isaiah 9:6-7). We await His return to thrill, drill evil, and favour this earth, with peace in all purity, grace in every dimension, relief and comfort, and dazzling rejection of sin’s oppression (Is. 11, Ps.72).
With Alpha and Omega, the First and the Last (Revelation 1:19, 2:8, 22:13-16, Isaiah 44:6), the world may come and go (Psalm 46, Isaiah 51:6), but HE stays, and we who belong to Him, we stay though the former wonder of a glorious creation goes, its path perishing, its sins a load not to be borne, liberty in love enduring in the purity of holiness and the grace of the love of God for and to all His people.