Ezekiel 36: A new heart (part four)

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.

Yesterday, we saw how Jesus turned up announcing good news: the new heart promised in Ezekiel 36 was coming. A donor heart was on its way! Today, we see how that happened, and how we fit in to the story.

How did the transplant happen?

Well, just like with any heart transplant, someone first has to die. And this is where Jesus separates himself from every other religious and philosophical guru who’s ever tried to show us how we should live. He doesn’t just paint this Utopian picture of a people living with changed, obedient hearts—and then call us all, somehow, to live up to it. To change ourselves. No, he paints that picture and then makes it possible.

For sins to be forgiven, someone has to die. And that “someone” should have been us. All humanity has rebelled against God, and deserves its punishment. All the more so with God’s people Israel, as God had chosen them to be his image-bearers to the rest of the world—but still, they rebelled. All have sinned and deserve death.

So Jesus steps up. God himself in human form. As the representative of God’s people, he dies in their place. The innocent in place of the guilty. The spotless lamb sacrificed for sin. The purification offering, cleansing his people from their idolatry. On the cross, Jesus gave up his life—gave up his heart for his people. And from Good Friday afternoon, all that could be heard in the cosmos was the long, steady tone saying the Son of God had flatlined.

But if that’s all that happened—what’s the point? Swapping one dead heart for another isn’t a successful transplant. It’s just a horrible mix-up in the morgue. If Jesus had just died—if his heart hadn’t started beating again—what’s the point?

But on the third day, just as the universe was about to call the time of death, God said: “clear.” He rolled away the stone of the tomb as Jesus’ heart was jolted back to life. The steady beep of the heart monitor announced that Jesus had taken on sin and death—and won. Death did its worst. But Jesus, the representative of his people, not only took the punishment they deserved—he beat up death once and for all. Death now knows it has no power over Jesus or anyone who belongs to him. Anyone who shares in his new heart.

And it’s at that point that Jesus is now able to give his people that new heart; that new Spirit promised by Ezekiel so long ago. God himself could now dwell in his people—because they’ve been cleansed from their sinful idolatry once and for all.

Ezekiel 36:25-27 “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.”

The heart transplant God promised his people was—after all the waiting—a success.

What’s that got to do with us?

So what’s all that got to do with us? Where are we in the story?

If we go back to the start of the chapter, when God was busy prepping the patient, do you remember what he said to the mountains? How the nations around them were mocking God’s land and God’s people: You say you follow the one true God—but you’re no better than the rest of us! You’ve brought shame to your God, and he’s even kicked you out of the land! Do tell us again: why would we want to follow your God?

That was us. We were part of the nations who were mocking God and his people. We were the nations who were polluted by sin and idolatry and who didn’t know God; who were supposed to see Israel bearing God’s image—living his way and having him on their side—and want to get a piece of it. We were Israel’s mission field! Yet Israel’s failure became God’s shame. And it left us without a rescue plan.

But in Jesus, God restored his honour. And the honour of his people. He cleansed them from their sinful idolatry, to the point where God’s people started to do their job. Only a dozen of them at first—bearing God’s image instead of worshipping other images—so that the risen Jesus could tell them:

Matthew 28:19 “go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit”

John 20:21-22 “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.”

Just like in the previous two weeks, that’s where we fit in. Once again, we’re the goal; we’re the completion of Ezekiel’s prophecy. God’s people with that new heart were up and running around doing their job once more—so that we, the nations, might repent from our sin and idolatry. So that we, the nations, might become a part of God’s people, joining in worship of the one true God. So that we, the nations, might be cleansed from sin and share in that new heart; the indwelling Spirit of God.

As Peter said in Acts chapter 15:

Acts 15:8-9 “God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them [the Gentiles] by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us [the Jews]. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith.

Do you get that? If we’ve joined God’s people we’ve been given that heart transplant. That’s where we fit in to the story.

To do

Spend some time in prayer, giving thanks to God for the gift of that new heart, remembering what it cost him. And be thankful that God has extended that to include all the nations, even after how we’d treated God and his people in the past.

Tomorrow, we’ll look at the post-operative care instructions for our new heart.

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