Ezekiel 36: A new heart (part three)

This is week three of a series in Ezekiel 33-37, about God’s promised reboot of his people. If you’ve just joined, you can either go to the start of the series, or simply begin the new chapter with us starting from Monday’s post.

We finished yesterday with the realisation that Israel didn’t deserve their new heart—and neither do we. Our only hope is to become part of this reboot God’s preparing to perform on his people, and to share in that new heart. Let’s continue the story:

God himself performs the surgery

Ezekiel 36:24 ‘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.’

Ok, God, you’re going to bring your people back again. They’ve done their time on the naughty step out in Babylon, and they can come home. But how will that fix the problem, long term? I mean, they’re still unclean because of their idolatry! So Godsays:

Ezekiel 36:25 ‘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.’

This is what God told Moses to do to the Levites—back in Numbers chapter 8—in order to set them apart for their priestly duties.

Numbers 8:7 To purify them, do this: Sprinkle the water of cleansing on them; then have them shave their whole bodies and wash their clothes. And so they will purify themselves.

Sounds a bit like they’re being prepped for surgery: shaved and swabbed.

Later on in Numbers, God tells Moses that for anyone who becomes ceremonially unclean, they need to be sprinkled by someone who’s already clean:

Numbers 19:19 The man who is clean is to sprinkle those who are unclean on the third and seventh days, and on the seventh day he is to purify them.

So in Ezekiel, when God says “I will sprinkle clean water on you,” he’s making a point. There’s no human left qualified to do it. Israel is so thoroughly contaminated by idolatry they couldn’t purify themselves. So God says: I’ll do it for you.  

What’s more:

Ezekiel 36:26 ‘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.’

There’s the heart transplant we’ve been talking about! A new heart that isn’t hard toward God. One that’s connected with a new spirit:

Ezekiel 36:27 ‘And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.’

That’s what the new heart does. It’s the spirit of God within; giving God’s people the ability to live his way. Rather than an external law to live up to, it’s the internal power to obey from the heart. This means that God can once more live with them and be their God:

Ezekiel 36:28 ‘Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.’

And God’s reputation among the nations will be restored:

Ezekiel 36:30,36 ‘I will increase the fruit of the trees and the crops of the field, so that you will no longer suffer disgrace among the nations because of famine… 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.’

When did the transplant happen?

So when did this all happen?

Right throughout the chapter, we’ve seen Ezekiel linking the new heart with their return to the land. But as we noticed over the past two weeks, the fulfilment of Ezekiel’s prophecies seem to happen in two stages.

After 70 years the people begin to trickle back into the land. They rebuild the temple, and then the walls of Jerusalem. Sure, they’ve mostly purged pagan idols from the land; but they’re still selfish and greedy and rebellious. They’ve set up God’s law almost as an idol—hiding behind a façade of obedience to avoid what’s at the heart of the law. As Jesus said about the Pharisees in Matthew 23:

Matthew 23:23 “…you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.”

500 years after they returned to the land, Israel is still waiting on the transplant list. They still need that new heart.

Then John the Baptist turns up preaching in the wilderness, giving them hope that good news is just around the corner. The people flock to him, being baptised with water as a sign of cleansing and repentance, ready for the arrival of God’s kingdom. They prep themselves for surgery, being cleansed with water and putting on one of those camel’s hair hospital gowns that doesn’t quite do up at the back so they have to fasten a leather belt… OK, I’m overstretching the John the Baptist surgery metaphor, but you get the point.

Then Jesus himself turns up. Announces the kingdom of God. He says:

Matthew 5:6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.”

Jesus is saying: You’re wanting that new heart that brings about a righteousness from God that you’re not capable of? Good news! That’s about to happen. The donor heart is on its way.

And he then illustrates what that new heart will look like: a people who go beyond the letter of the law and obey it from the heart:

Matthew 5:21-22 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister, will be subject to judgement.

The law says “don’t murder.” But someone who obeys from the heart doesn’t give in to the anger that causes murder in the first place.

Matthew 5:33-34, 37 “Again, you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfil to the Lord the vows you have made.’ 34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: … All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.”

The law says “don’t break your oath.” But someone who obeys from the heart always tells the truth anyway.

Matthew 5:43-45 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven.”

The law says “love your neighbour.” But someone who obeys from the heart doesn’t squabble over the question “who is my neighbour.” They follow God’s example and show love to everyone.

That’s what the Sermon on the Mount is about. It’s the good news that a donor heart has been found, and a description of what life with that new heart’s about to look like!

How did the transplant happen?

So how did this transplant happen? That’s for tomorrow…

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