Monday 19 October 2020

In Exile with Ezekiel #3: God’s Restoring Power

I wrote this week’s ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

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. 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. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.

Ezekiel 36:25-27

It would be all too easy to blame our lack of missional success as God’s people on the fact that we are a disenfranchised minority. Or perhaps, we might think, it’s down to the apathy and stubbornness of people in society.

Ezekiel knows the real reason often lies elsewhere, and it’s altogether more sobering.

It’s clear as we read the Old Testament prophets that the biggest obstacle to God’s people making good on their call to be a light to the nations was not primarily persecution or resistance but their own failure to follow God’s ways. The greatest threat to mission was the worship of other gods.

Called to live among the nations, Israel was to walk in the ways of the Lord and reflect his character to the world in their daily lives. That they had not done so means, as God tells Ezekiel, that ‘wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name’ (36:20). At stake is the reputation of God’s name, and his desire for it to be known in all the earth.

For Ezekiel, and for us, God’s promises of restoration come at the point of deepest loss. And at the heart of those promises is the renewal of the people themselves, which God will bring about as he pledges to cleanse them and give them a new heart and a new spirit.

Reinforced by his vision of dry bones raised to life, Ezekiel sees that this renewing work will come about through the Spirit, who will enable God’s covenant people to walk in his ways. In an action reminiscent of God forming Adam from the ground and then breathing into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7), God restores his people to their original design – a new humanity, no less.

That hope expressed in Ezekiel speaks of a larger, deeper restoration which would come about through Jesus, whose death, resurrection, and gift of the Spirit continue to animate God’s people today.

So it is that God’s promise through Ezekiel opens up to include us, who carry forward the same mission to represent God to the nations. For us, too, it is the permanent, transformative presence of the Holy Spirit who empowers us to live out our calling as witnesses to who he is and to what he has done, as we point others to Ezekiel’s God and ours.

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