Friday, January 17, 2014

Taking You to the Cleaners

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.  And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you.  And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.  And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.  (Ezek 36:25-27)

Israel had sinned greatly, defiling all the Lord had given them, and for this they were judged by being scattered to the nations.  But the Lord was concerned for his reputation.  The fact that Israel was dispossessed spoke volumes to the nations.  God chose to right the situation.  To an outside observer, the fact of God's working would be an indication that the nation of Israel had learned its lesson and was coming home as a son who had once again earned his place, yet the Lord plainly says this is not the case.
Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.  And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.  (Ezek 36:22-23)
Nothing the people offered could prompt God to act.  They were bereft of sufficient moral character to earn his attention.  Only an intrinsic attribute of divine character would spur the Almighty to right the situation, and his name would once again be glorified.  Therefore, the promise is made to  draw the people from the nations where they reside and perform a cleansing action only the Lord can achieve.  The heart, stony and lifeless as it is, would be replaced with one of flesh—a heart beating with new life.  Instead of operating with a spirit dead in all respects because of sin, we receive the Holy Spirit, so that we might live rightly according to God’s word.

This passage is special, not just because the Lord promised this wonderful renewal and rebirth for the future, but we see it come to light when reiterated by Jesus to Nicodemus: Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God (John 3:5).  The promise is once again extended, but this time with an expectation of accomplishment.  We can afford some leniency in Nicodemus’ confusion.  Mankind was corrupt and the Law was iron-clad in its requirement, yet the promise of permanent cleansing remained.  How could God bring about such a marvelous transformation?  Nicodemus did not realize the fulfillment of the cleansing work will be accomplished by the person with whom he is speaking.  Neither would we.  The Lord Jesus was yet to go to the cross and make final payment for sin on the cross.  It is that one work that secured for all time the obligation due from Adam to his creator.

At Pentecost, the house of Israel began believing Jesus was their Messiah, receiving the cleansing that could never be accomplished through the continual sacrifice of bulls and goats, but which could only be wrought by God himself as the Holy Spirit took residence in each one.  They were baptized into Christ, buried with him, walking in newness of life (Rom 6:3-4) and “saved by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5) having nothing in themselves.  The same is true for today.  The promise is still in effect.  Believers are cleansed and can stand before a holy God without spot or blemish.

What if we do not feel clean or walk perfectly in all God’s ways.  Has the effect worn off?  We do not consider our opinion of inadequacy to determine standing or acceptability.  Sin still remains in this world, and we succumb to it in various ways.  For that we confess transgressions and receive His absolution (1 John 1:9).  Sin will be extinguished on the last day.  We look forward to it.  Then the ultimate promise and ability of our faithfulness will be realized.  Until then we hearken to the words of grace: Christ died, arose, and returns again for me.

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