Ezekiel 33: God’s people, rebooted

Today, we begin a four week series through several important chapters in the book of Ezekiel (33-37). You can listen to it from the sermon audio section of this site, or enjoy it in the traditional, text-based format we all know and love…

Wouldn’t it be good if you could reboot life like you can reboot a computer? This relationship isn’t going so well; control, alt, delete—reboot. Done. I hate my career choices; hold down the power key for one second and press restart. Done.

Wouldn’t it be good if you could reboot your life when you make a mess of it? When your history is cluttered with the evidence of your bad choices; when you’ve stored too many negative thoughts in your memory and it’s crowding out your ability to function; when life freezes on the blue screen of sin and death. Wouldn’t it be great to reboot and start over again?

God’s people need a reboot

In the book of Ezekiel, we find God in that situation with his people, Israel. They’d been infected with the virus of idolatry. So they couldn’t execute their subroutine as his representatives—his image-bearers to the world. God’s people were in need of a serious reboot.

You can almost imagine the intra-Trinitarian conversation God had with his tech support… (Or you can click the audio link and have me imagine it for you.)

That’s what this series in Ezekiel is all about: when God started the reboot of his people. When he powered down the Temple, and deleted his people from the land he’d given them. And when he promised that one day he’d come down and fix it in person: reload them into the land and install a new leader, a new heart, and give them a new life that would last forever. When he began to form God’s People 2.0.

Ezekiel in the big story

Now this big picture’s really important for us to grasp as we look at the book of Ezekiel, because it’s not written to us in any direct sense. The warnings and criticisms and judgements it contains are not written about us. And the lessons we learn from it are not necessarily the same lessons the original audience was supposed to learn from it. That’s because you and I are at a radically different point in the big story of God and his people.

So before we look at our place in the story, let’s spend today setting the scene for the book of Ezekiel. Where does it feature in God’s big story?

We find it in the Old Testament at a pivotal period in Israel’s history. It had been hundreds of years since God had led them out of Egypt, and given them the Promised Land. There had been prophets like Samuel and Elijah and Isaiah; kings like Saul and David and Solomon. But increasingly, God’s people had become a mess.

A little over a century before Ezekiel, in the year 722 BC, the northern tribes of Israel had become so sinful, God allowed the Assyrians to come and destroy them. The southern tribe, Judah—it was a little more faithful to God. But by the first decade of the 6th century BC, they, too were facing judgement. In 597, the Babylonians turned up: they didn’t destroy the city; but they captured Judah’s king and carried him and many of the upper classes back to Babylon. This first group of exiles, who settled by the Kebar river, included a priest named: Ezekiel.

And while he was in exile, in about 593BC, Ezekiel began to perform prophetic signs. Things like building a model of Jerusalem and laying siege to it with toy soldiers, as a way of predicting the coming destruction of Jerusalem. Because the people in Jerusalem had become so rebellious that nothing was going to stop the disaster that was coming upon them. That’s what the first 32 chapters of Ezekiel are essentially about.

But get this: Ezekiel wasn’t prophesying to the people in Jerusalem. He was prophesying to the first wave of exiles by the Kebar river. Warning them about what was going to happen in Jerusalem. Why?

I think there are two main reasons:

Firstly, so that they wouldn’t think Jerusalem was coming to save them; that things would ever go back to the way they were. God was doing something new amongst them, and the future of God’s people lay with them, not with Jerusalem. And secondly, so they’d learn the lesson Jerusalem hadn’t managed to learn: to repent. To turn back to God, so the same fate wouldn’t come upon them, too. To repent, if they want to be part of God’s rebooted people.

Tomorrow, we’ll start looking at this prophetic message in more detail. For now, spend a few minutes contemplating the things that you would like to do over. What, in your life, has also needed a reboot?

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