We come this evening to the heart of the messages of hope which the prophet Ezekiel delivered to the Jews in Exile scattered in Babylon in the first part of the sixth century BC. God makes a number of wonderful promises to the Exiles.
24 ‘ “For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.
God will bring his people back from Babylon into the promised land of Canaan and to the holy city of Jerusalem. The ruins will be rebuilt and the Land will once again be blessed with abundance. More wonderful still, God will cleanse his people from their idols and he will have a closer relationship with them than ever before. Before we look in detail at what God was promising to do, we need to understand just why God was going to act. The people had rebelled against God by injustice and idol worship. So in his judgment God had banished them into Exile. But that had diminished God’s name in the eyes of the surrounding nations.
20 And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, “These are the LORD’s people, and yet they had to leave his land.” 21 I had concern for my holy name, which the people of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.
So God was going to restore his people again. But it was important that they understood why he was doing so. It wasn’t for them – it was for the sake of his own name and his reputation.
22 ‘Therefore say to the Israelites, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: it is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. 23 I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD, declares the Sovereign LORD, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.
Israel did not deserve to be restored. They were still guilty and deserving of punishment. But for the sake of his name and his reputation God was going to bring blessing to them.
32 I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign LORD. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, people of Israel!
So God would bring his people home again – but all for the sake of his glory and his holy name.
34 The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it. 35 They will say, ‘This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited.’ 36 Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the LORD have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the LORD have spoken, and I will do it.”
God was going to bring his chosen people the Jews back to the promised land once again. But that was only the first part of the wonderful masterplan of salvation. Listen as Ezekiel unveils the plans God had for his people.
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.
Salvation begins with cleansing
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.
God would purify his people. Their sins would be forgiven. Their idols would be cast aside and driven out. This cleansing was essential but it was only the preparation for what was to follow.
God would give his people a new heart
26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.
The problem the Israelites had always had was that their hearts were hardened. The Jews in the years leading up to the Exile had stubbornly refused to repent, just like Pharaoh in the time of Moses. Like the people of Nineveh in Jonah’s time, they Jews were proud and stiff-necked. Looking back, the prophet Zechariah described the problem like this.
Zech 7 11 “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and stopped up their ears. 12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the LORD Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the LORD Almighty was very angry.
Hearts as hard as flint. So God would perform a heart transplant. He would remove their rock-hard hearts and replace them with tender hearts which would be responsive and faithful to God. Cleansing and a new heart were both just to prepare the way for what was to follow.
The gift of the Holy Spirit
27 And I will put my Spirit in you
We read of different occasions in the Old Testament where God put his Spirit on people, or where the Spirit came down on them. Here we have an even more glorious promise. I will put my Spirit in you. This is not the Holy Spirit coming upon a person to equip them for a particular task and then leaving them again. The Holy Spirit will enter into God’s people and remain within them permanently. I will put my Spirit in you. The promise of the Holy Spirit is repeated five chapters later.
Ezekiel 39 29 I will no longer hide my face from them, for I will pour out my Spirit on the house of Israel, declares the Sovereign LORD.”
The gift of the Holy Spirit was given to enable the Israelites to keep their side of the covenant.
27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.
In their own strength the Jews by and large had consistently failed to keep their side of the covenant. They had disobeyed the law of Moses in so many ways. But the Holy Spirit living inside them would enable them to keep the Law. This was the essence of the new covenant God would make with his people which was promised in Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 31 33 ‘This is the covenant that I will make with the people of Israel
after that time,’ declares the LORD.
‘I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God, and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbour, or say to one another, “Know the LORD,” because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,’
declares the LORD.
The Holy Spirit living in each Israelite would give each one a personal relationship with God and at the same time help them to keep God’s law.
A deeper relationship with God
28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.
That had been God’s plan from the start. Remember God’s words through Moses to the people when he instituted the Covenant with Israel at Mount Sinai.
Exodus 19 4 “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. 5 Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, 6 you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.”
God had always wanted a special relationship with the people of Israel. Now they would be made clean. They would have new hearts. God would put his Holy Spirit within them and at long last they would be his people and he would be their God.
God had actually made very similar promises earlier in Ezekiel. In the years leading up to the Fall of Jerusalem, God had urged the Jews to repent.
Ezekiel 18 30 ‘Therefore, you Israelites, I will judge each of you according to your own ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offences; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent and live!
God had urged Israel to repent, but he had also promised them a new heart and a new spirit.
Ezekiel 11 19 I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. 20 Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.
The new heart God would give to the Jews would be an undivided heart, a united heart, integrity of heart, hearts which will not betray them so that they would be single-mindedly devoted to God. Then truly, they will be my people and I will be their God. And these blessings will last forever.
Ezekiel 37 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will establish them and increase their numbers, and I will put my sanctuary among them for ever. 27 My dwelling-place will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them for ever.” ’
God will cleanse his people from their idols. He will take away their hearts of stone and give them hearts of flesh. God will put his Holy Spirit inside each one so that they obey his laws. So they will be his people and they will be his God.
This is the wonderful salvation which God promises through Ezekiel. We begin to see it being fulfilled from the Day of Pentecost. Hearts of stone replaced with hearts of flesh and the gift of the Holy Spirit living in God’s chosen people. Remember the promises that Jesus made about the Advocate, the Helper, the paracletos.
John 14 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever—17 the Spirit of truth. … he lives with you and will be in you. 20 On that day you will realise that I am in my Father, and you are in me, and I am in you. 23 … My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. … the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
John 16 13 … when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.
This work of the Holy Spirit in the life of every believer is the fulfilment in our earthly lives of God’s promises in Ezekiel 36. Of course the ultimate fulfilment will only come when the church, the bride of Christ, meets her bridegroom in glory.
But right now we can already enjoy all the blessings of the new salvation which is promised in Ezekiel 36. We have been washed clean. God has given each one of us a new heart and we have received the gift of the Holy Spirit living in each one of us. we are God’s people and he is our God. That is the gift of Pentecost which we celebrate today.