Ezekiel 33: A new people (part three)

On Monday we looked at the background to Ezekiel’s prophetic message, and the big picture of a promised reboot of God’s people. If you’re just joining us, it’s best to start there and work your way forward. Today, we start to ask the question: what’s that got to do with us?

We’ve got to be careful when we start applying Ezekiel to us (or, indeed, any part of the Old Testament). Because, as I said on Monday, it’s not addressed to us. We’re neither the people of Jerusalem destroyed by the Babylonian army, nor are we the exiles by the Kebar River. So we’ve got a bit of work to do before we can answer some of the scary questions this chapter has probably raised for you. Questions like:

Are we supposed to be watchmen, like Ezekiel? If so, what happens if we don’t do our job? And what exactly is that job, anyway—is it to tell the world on Facebook to repent or they’ll go to hell?

And what about those warnings—are they for us, too? Can we lose our salvation if we turn away from God? Are we putting our trust in a relationship with God that’s not backed up by our actions? And worse—do we turn up to church each week hoping our preacher will perform a few Ed Sheeran numbers for us? That is, do we merely want to be entertained by the word of God, rather than be transformed by it?

As I said, scary questions. But before we look at the answers, we need to remember something very important. We need to remember that a lot more of the story has happened since the end of Ezekiel chapter 33.

The next chapter…

The first significant thing happened about 70 years after Ezekiel’s time. Some of the people began to return to the Promised Land. They rebuilt the temple, and then walls around Jerusalem. It’s like God had moved his people off the external backup hard drive in Babylon, and reloaded them back in the land of Israel. That was phase one.

But phase two was yet to happen. They might have been back in the land, but the new operating system hadn’t been installed. First the Persians, then the Greeks, and then the Romans were in control. 500 years had passed. Where was the promised software upgrade Ezekiel had told them about? Where were the cool new features: the new leader, the new heart, the new life? Was this reboot really going to make a difference?

But this is where God—dressed for the product launch in a black turtle neck—pauses for effect and says: one more thing. And out of a rather plain-looking envelope comes his son, Jesus. The “son of man” who takes up the role of representing God to his people, just like Ezekiel did centuries before.

He’s the son of man who also does the job of a watchman, warning his people:

Matthew 4:17 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”

Jesus is the son of man who also warns his people not just to be entertained by his words—but to put them into practice:

Matthew 7:26-27 “…everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.”

Jesus is the son of man who also mourns the coming destruction of Jerusalem:

Matthew 23:37-38; 24:2 “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. 38 Look, your house [your temple] is left to you desolate… Truly I tell you, not one stone here will be left on another; every one will be thrown down.”

Jesus is the son of man who also  had his message rejected by the leadership of Jerusalem; indeed, by the majority of the people:

Matthew 20:18-19 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will hand him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified.”

But this time Jesus is the victorious son of man who defeats sin and death once and for all. This time, he’s the victorious son of man who is raised to new life and is seated at the right hand of God. This time, he’s the victorious son of man to whom all authority in heaven and on earth has been given. So that he can now take the few in Israel who did repent and embrace him as God’s representative—he can take them and say:

Matthew 28:19 go and make disciples of all nations

so that God’s people now includes people not just from Israel but from every tribe and nation and language.

And that is precisely the point at which we fit into this story. All those of us who’ve heard Jesus’ watchman cry to repent. Who have heard his words and put them into action. Who turn up to church each week not to be entertained but to have God’s operating system installed, configured, and fine-tuned so that we might live as his new people.

That’s where you and I fit into Ezekiel—we’re its goal; we’re its completion. We’re the ones who realised we couldn’t reboot ourselves, and asked God to do it for us. We’re the ones who’ve been given that new leader; that new heart; that new life. We are God’s people 2.0!

Now how that exactly plays out is what the rest of this series is about. Tomorrow, we’ll look back at Ezekiel chapter 33 in light of where we are in the story and ask: what lessons does it have for us?

To think about

How does knowing where we fit in the story (post-Jesus, post-Pentecost, as the goal and completion of Ezekiel’s prophecies) help you understand what it’s saying to us? What questions do you still have?

Spend some time thanking God for the reboot he’s offered us in Jesus, as part of God’s People 2.0.

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