It is very easy to become distracted from our purposes. I started this week with a great plan and schedule. I had untended to write this sermon on Monday By Monday 8.30am, it was off the rails. I had not even arrived at the office, but heard the news that vandals had spray painted most of our vehicles. Then we had some concerns about security, and then after a couple of meetings it was time to go home! It is very easy to get taken away from our true purposes. Israel had been distracted from their true purpose.
The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your forefathers that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love forever to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commands.
A Holy Name
The whole purpose of God’s people is to share the name of God. That name is holy. It is set apart from all other names. No other God shares that name. It is a name that renews us like eagles, heals us, and empowers us. We have a God like no other. But sometimes we get distracted and we have to be reminded that our God has a Holy name, a holy heart and so we become a holy nation.
Ezekiel tells us that God’s purpose on this earth is that people will know his name. If you have been reading through Ezekiel with the Bible in a year or following along with us as we have preached this series, you will have come across the phrase over and over again “Then they will know that I am the Lord, Yahweh”. It is a holy name. It is only God that can have that name, live up to that name, and more importantly for us, show that name. At the end of verse 23 we see an astounding statement by God. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I show myself holy THROUGH YOU before their eyes. God’s name has been profaned, dragged through the mud, distorted, degraded, stomped on, shredded, sworn, twisted, turned around and trashed. Not by others, but by God’s own people. But now God is going to use those very same people to show just how holy his name is.
While it is a mystery why God would do that, it is a blessing. We have all been guilty of bringing down God’s name. Not one of us is clear of that charge. By word or by action we have not lived up to that most precious name, above all names. Ezekiel was talking to those who though they were chosen and special, and because of that they could act and talk badly. They thought because they belonged to their church they were not individually responsible. But as we heard last week, God holds each of us accountable for our own sin. And we need to be reminded and not distracted.
A Holy Heart
How is God going to do show the nations that his name is holy through the worst people? After all when we mount the Christmas publicity campaign for the Salvation Army who do we use? We use the best stories of success. Of people we have helped who have made it. We use the better looking people as faces in our ads. We use the best script writers we can manage. We use soft focus lenses to make the hardened images look dreamy and attractive. God however is going to use what appears to be his worst commercial – his own people. Verses 24 to 27 say
’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. 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.’
God gathers his people from all kinds of places, from the richest nations to the poorest, from the highways to the alleyways, from the far away to the next door neighbour. He cleanses and replaces a heart of stone, an unforgiving, cold, unresponsive heart for a heart of flesh. A living tender, responsive heart that will change a life from the inside.
How is a hard heart turned soft? Only by God performing cardiac surgery. A heart transplant. Most hearts that are medically transplanted in our hospitals today, are because the owners forgot that they were to keep healthy. They took their eyes off the good food and were distracted by the fatty and sweet. That led to arteries being clogged and a heart that becomes hard to pump blood through. And blood is life. God said that life is in the blood. And when the blood doesn’t flow through the heart, there is no life. A hard heart has no life in the spirit either. And we choose our spiritual hearts every day. WE choose our actions. Our hearts in a Biblical sense are our motivations, our inner being. And when we are distracted from our purpose of giving praise to God and living our lives as God’s people, we become stone dead. O for a heart that is whiter than snow, kept ever kept beneath the life giving flow, cleansed from all evil, self seeking and pride, kept pure and holy by Calvary’s tide. A heart kept from turning concerned comments turning into cruel criticism. A heart kept from mercy by misery. A heart kept from compassion by needing control. A heart kept from delight by sinful distraction. Oh don’t you long for such a heart. Well it is available by God’s grace. Ezekiel’s people were the worst advertisement for holiness and God made them into a holy nation. A people of God. And God can make you a holy and whole hearted person too. Only believe. Only plead with the Master for a clean heart and it will be yours. A holy heart experience that will turn your heart from evil. Is it a scary thing? Yes. It is terrifying, but it is wonderful. Will you be free from sin? Yes. And you will be free indeed to be holy, and to live holy lives with holy hearts. Free from what troubles you the most. Free form the things that hold you back. Free to change with the power to change that comes from a holy heart made whole by the holy, most powerful God, who spilled his own lifeblood through his son Jesus for us.
A Holy Nation
And what does this holy renewed heart mean? It means that we can belong to a holy nation. I don’t mean a nation on earth. I mean that we become citizens of heaven. We are different.
Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.
We become not Scots, or English, or Canadian, or Irish, or Spanish, or Latvian, we become God’s people, a holy nation.
Citizens, who are ruled by a different set of standards and laws. Nations are defined by the laws they create and follow. Canada has a constitution. A set of governing principles. Many times people try to change those rules in order to change the nation itself. That is why the interpretation of a constitution and set of laws is so important. When we interpret the laws a certain way that is different from before, we change the very society we live in. But God’s people live by God’s laws. Laws that are filled with grace. Laws that are life. They are laws that in the Old Testament were attested to by blood sacrifice. And to us they are attested to by the ultimate sacrifice of blood of God’s own son. And why was that necessary? It was because the people of the earth do not know that Yahweh is God. They have, we have, become distracted by other things. And in doing so give up our citizenship of heaven. We may backslide. If a person goes to another country and learns the language and speaks it as well as the people of that country. If he becomes used to the habits and the customs of that country, his own people would say he had changed so much that he had exchanged his citizenship. Regardless of whether he had the documents he would look and act like a new citizen. Paper is just paper, but what you do, and how you do it defines who you really are. And so if someone who changes from a life of selfishness to one of selflessness, if they change from bad to good we can fairly say that they are a new creation. And if they claim Christ as Saviour we may know that Christ is their new constitution. But this works both ways. Suppose that man decided that the old country wasn’t so bad after all. And he lapsed into old ways. He would regain his old citizenship and lose his rights. We must remain firm in our citizenship of heaven. And we can only do that by remaining in, and practising being a citizen of heaven. Our eyes must indeed be fixed on the finishing line. We must as Paul says in Hebrews 2:1 pay more careful attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away.
We can only do that with a renewed heart given to us by a God with a holy name, who cleanses us and calls us into a holy nation.