Summary: God uses his own worst advertisement, his people, to show the world just how holy he is.
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.