The end of Ezekiel’s prophecy gives pictures of the God’s promise of the Spirit that will radically change his people and radically change the world. In Ezekiel 34 we saw that God has the heart of a shepherd for his people. God himself will come and shepherd his people, healing them and helping them because they were scattered. When Jesus comes he calls himself the good shepherd who knows his sheep. We are also told that Jesus had compassion on the crowds because they people were like sheep without a shepherd. We considered that the writer of Hebrews concludes his book reminding us that Jesus is the great shepherd of the sheep by the blood of the eternal covenant so that we can be equipped to do everything that is good. The first picture God presents is that nothing can happen until God himself comes and shepherds his people, establishing a covenant of peace with them (34:25). This will allow God to shower his blessings on the people and make the people be a blessing to the world (34:26). In Ezekiel 35-36 God described a radical inheritance that will take place when the Spirit comes. God proclaimed that when he cleansed his people, the land would be restored to like the garden of Eden (36:33-35). When God cleansed his people, he would also establish his throne and exert his rule over earth just as rules over heaven.
But in our last lesson we did not have the time to talk about the radical transformation of God’s people that is explained in Ezekiel 36. When the Spirit is poured out, there is going to be a change in God’s people. To understand the transformation, God must first reveal the problem he has with his people. Open your copies of God’s word to Ezekiel 36:16 and we will begin our look at Ezekiel’s prophecy here.
The Reason for Restoration (36:16-23)
You will notice that God states the problem when the people lived on the land. In Ezekiel 36:17 God says that the people were the defiling the land by their ways and deeds. This was no small defilement. God says that the defilement was to God like a woman during her monthly uncleanness. This gives us a vivid picture of how defiling we are before God when we are stained by sin. Sin completely contaminates us before God.
So God judged the people and cleansed the land of their idolatries and the blood they shed. But in scattering his people among the nations, the nations brought shame on God’s name, mocking how God had to remove them. So God says that he is going to show the holiness of his great name. He must vindicate his reputation and character (36:23). Therefore God says that he is about to act. But he is not going to act for the sake of the people but for his own name’s sake (36:22). God cannot have a radical restoration based on us because we are all sinners, deserving of wrath. But God can initiate a radical restoration based on his own name so that the world can see how glorious he is. So what is God going to do?
Restoration Expectations (36:24-28)
Listen to everything God is going to do for his own reputation. First, God is going to gather his people from the nations and bring them into their own land (36:24). I spent the whole lesson last week speaking about how the land promise pointing to God’s people inheriting the new heavens and new earth. The kingdom of God rules over all the creation and we belong to that eternal inheritance, the better country, a city with foundations whose builder is God (cf. Hebrews 11). But those points were in the last lesson. We need to focus on what else God is promising that will happen for his people.
Look at verse 25. God says he will sprinkle clean water on the people so that they will be clean from all their uncleanness. God will cleanse the people from all their idols (36:25). Think about the picture we just read in the prior paragraph. God’s people stand before as an abomination and as defiled as menstrual rags (36:17). But when the Spirit comes, the stain of sin will no longer be on the people. What is God going to do? God is going to sprinkle clean water on us. Listen to what the writer of Hebrews says regarding the work of Christ for us.
And since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:21–22 ESV)
Now do not quickly run to the idea of baptism yet. Ezekiel is not prophesying and the writer of Hebrews is not merely say that you will be baptized. Look at what is pictured. Our hearts will be cleansed from evil. What is being pictured is an inside out cleansing. This is not a ceremonial washing. This is not a cleansing of the body. This is a cleansing of the heart. This is a cleansing of the conscience. God is forgiving the corrupted heart. God is cleansing the guilty conscience. All of the stains and marks that you have in your heart and soul are being cleansed by God. Every wrong you remember God has cleansed. Every sin that weighs on you God has forgiven. But there is more. Look at verse 26.
God says he will give the people a new heart and new spirit (36:26). There is a picture of surgery happening in this verse. God is going to perform a heart surgery on his people. The hearts of stone will be removed from their bodies and they will have hearts of flesh. The idea is that the people will no longer have stubborn hearts but will now have soft hearts. This is a key for how things are going to be different going forward. The people are going to be cleansed from their sins but they are also going to have hearts that are soft and teachable. They will have repentant hearts, not stubborn hearts of stone.
Then look at verse 27. God says he will put his Spirit in his people to cause the people to walk in his ways and be careful to keep his rules (36:27). God says he is going to give his Spirit so that now the people will be compelled to obey him. I want you to think about what that could mean as a promise to those who belong to him. Is God saying that he was going to override human will so that they will walk in his statutes and carefully obey his ways? Is God going to force his people to obey him? That is not the answer we see anywhere in the scriptures. So the question is: how will God cause his people to walk in his ways and be careful to follow his laws? The New Testament can help us understand what God is saying would happen when Christ comes and the Spirit is poured out.
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Not only that, but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. (Romans 5:1–5 ESV)
Now here is our question again. How has God’s love been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us? Ezekiel said that God would put his Spirit in us so that we would walk according to his decrees. Paul says here that God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Spirit. How has this happened? Keep reading in Romans 5:6.
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:6–8 ESV)
How did God pour his love into our through the Spirit? The apostle Paul proclaims that this happened through the cross of Jesus. God has shown, demonstrated, and proven his love for us in that while we were still weak, powerless, ungodly sinners, Christ died for us. What did God do that was so different than ever before so that he could cause us to obey? What radical event did God engineer so that it would cause a radical transformation in our hearts so that we would have a new spirit and a new heart that is repentant and no longer stubborn against him? The cross of Jesus is the radical event that is to radically change us. God loved us in our sins. God reached down to us when we did not care for him. God opened a fountain for cleansing when we were far away from him. God dying for the unrighteous is supposed to radically change our hearts. Paul makes the same point in the letter to Titus.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4–7 ESV)
The goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appearing and saving us is to radically change us. God is pouring out his love, his Spirit, and blessings richly on us so that we would be regenerated and renewed by the Spirit. God’s love is the new operating system for our lives. Our hearts have been rewritten by the Spirit so that now we seek to love and obey God and not ourselves. We are so dramatically changed that it can be called a new life and a new birth. Listen how Jesus used Ezekiel’s words to explain this to Nicodemus.
1 Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2 This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” 3 Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” 4 Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” 5 Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6 That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7 Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” 9 Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? (John 3:1–10 ESV)
Notice that Jesus tells Nicodemus that you must have a new birth to see the kingdom of God. You must be completely new, radically different, and fully changed. Now this stuns Nicodemus to hear this. But Nicodemus’ amazement actually amazes Jesus. How can you be a teacher of the Law and not know this? The work of God through the Spirit is inexplicable as it changes our hearts, our way of thinking, our desires, our concerns, our hopes, and our way of living. We do not have the time but we could go to so many of Paul’s writings that tell us to put off the old self, have a renewal of your mind and spirit, and then put on the new self (cf. Romans 6:6; 12:2; Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10). The Spirit changes us as we come to know God, know his love, know his Son, know the cross, and know the blessings he has richly poured out on us.
Let’s wrap up with the big picture that God is painting for us. God has radically cleansed his people through the cross of Jesus so that we would be radically transformed to be carefully to obey his decrees. Our baptism is to mark the surgery from when God took out of the heart of stone and put in us the heart of flesh. Listen again to the apostle Paul:
1 What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? 3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. (Romans 6:1–7 ESV)
Our baptism symbolizes this experience that we are dead to sin and alive to God to live a whole new life. But here is what we need to consider. God has described what his new people will look like. They will be completely different. Your heart will be different. Your desires will be different. Your will will be different. Your outlook will be different. Your way of looking at God will be different. Your way of looking at the world will be different. Your way of loving others will be different. We will be radically changed people because God’s love has been poured out through the Spirit. We should see transformation in our lives. We should not desire the old life. We should not desire longingly for our way of sinning. Verse 31 says that he will hate our sins and loathe the fact that we committed them.
So here is what I want to say. If we are not being transformed, then we are just not looking at God’s love for us. It is impossible to not be transformed when we fully see and appreciate the appearance of God’s goodness and loving kindness through Jesus. We will be changed when we see and hold tightly the truth that God proved his love for you when he sent his Son to rescue you while you were still a sinner. Your desires and impulses toward sin can be changed to new desires of purity and holiness if you will look to Jesus and let him work on your heart and transform your life. God is ready to cleanse you. God is ready to do surgery on your heart so that you can walk in newness of life with him.