Introduction: When Billy Graham was driving through a small southern town, he was stopped by a policeman and charged with speeding. Graham admitted his quilt, but was told by the officer that he would have to appear in court.
The judge asked, "Guilty, or not guilty?" When Graham pleaded guilty, the judge replied, "That'll be ten dollars -- a dollar for every mile you went over the limit."
Suddenly the judge recognized the famous minister. "You have violated the law," he said. "The fine must be paid--but I am going to pay it for you." He took a ten dollar bill from his own wallet, attached it to the ticket, and then took Graham out and bought him a steak dinner! "That," said Billy Graham, "is how God treats repentant sinners!" (Progress Magazine 1992)
Billy had broken the law but there was a gracious judge who paid his fine. Israel was in a much similar situation. When they should have been punished, they were blessed by the grace of God.
At this time, in Ezekiel 33-36, Israel had been driven off their land for their sexual immorality, adultery, idolatry, blasphemy, and murder. (Eze.33:25,26) Desolation was their punishment. The Land flowing with milk and honey was now in the hands of their enemy. How painful it is to see our blessing go to another. We hear the phrase 'you don't know what you have until it's gone'. That might have been the point for Israel. Israel profaning God's name was a greater blasphemy than if Israel's enemies had done so, because Israel had benefited by Gods promises, been blessed under his protection, and enjoyed his provision. What reason did they have to rebel against such a good God? The nations that hated the Jews were amazed that Israel had turned against their own God. What a sad day when our enemies mock how far we have fallen from God. So to restore his own name God restores his people.
Transition: We see three Amazing Graces in three verses in Ezekiel 36:24-26 We first see that God will rescue his people from their captivity, then He redeems them from their impurity, and finally We see how He restores them with a heart of humility
God Rescues His people from their Captivity
“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.” Ezekiel 36:24
You would think the people who have the greatest reason to praise God would be the least likely to complain, but not always. Sometimes, there are those that have so much to be happy for and yet they are the most miserable. They have their health a loving family, prospering business perhaps, and by all accounts have everything that a person can want. Israel must have been seen that way by their enemies, which makes their situation all the more perplexing. Because of their rebellion, God allows their enemies to capture them and scatter them throughout the nations. They were totally corrupt and sinful. They were detestable and as verse 17 puts it they were like a menstruating woman, who according to Jewish law had to be separated from her husband, not allowed to touch anything, including the house of God. Their sin may have been natural, but it wasn't excusable. God's people were unclean and had to be removed from their promised land. They deserved to be captured. They deserved to be punished. They deserved (eternal) death.
So what does God do? God promises to bring them out of captivity and back into prosperity. No bondage? no slavery? No famine? No defeat by our enemies? Nothing but a promise of taking their land back. What did Israel do to deserve such amazing grace? Nothing. If anything, they deserved to be kept captive. So why did God do it? For his name's sake! (v.22) The enemy that doubted God because of his people's wickedness was going to see them be rescued, so everyone would know that God is greater than good, that He is better than merciful, and that He is more than gracious! It's a good thing too. Because without grace our sins would take is where we don't want to go.
Ill. Paul Harvey tells the story of how an Eskimo kills a wolf. The account is grisly, yet it offers fresh insight into the consuming, self-destructive nature of sin. "First, the Eskimo coats his knife blade with animal blood and allows it to freeze. Then he adds another layer of blood, and another, until the blade is completely concealed by frozen blood. "Next, the hunter fixes his knife in the ground with the blade up. When a wolf follows his sensitive nose to the source of the scent and discovers the bait, he licks it, tasting the fresh frozen blood. He begins to lick faster, more and more vigorously, lapping the blade until the keen edge is bare. Feverishly now, harder and harder the wolf licks the blade in the arctic night.
So great becomes his craving for blood that the wolf does not notice the razor-sharp sting of the naked blade on his own tongue, nor does he recognize the instant at which his insatiable thirst is being satisfied by his OWN warm blood. His carnivorous appetite just craves more--until the dawn finds him dead in the snow!"
It is a fearful thing that people can be "consumed by their own lusts." Only God's grace keeps us from the wolf's fate.
God rescues his people from their enemy. Romans 6:6 says “For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin;”
We may have been slaves to sin. We may have been slaves to drugs, we may have been slaves to alcohol, we may have been slaves to pornography, we may have been slaves to our habits, we may have been slaves to greed, envy, bitterness, hatred, anger, and lust, but God put his son on the cross to die so that our body that was once a slave to sin is a slave no longer! His amazing Grace has rescued us from sin's captivity!
Ill. Many Years Ago, a man named Felix of Nola was escaping his enemies, He took temporary refuge in a rugged cave on a hillside. He had scarcely entered the opening of the cave before a spider completely sealed off the mouth of the cave with it's rather obvious web, giving he appearance that the cave had not been entered for many weeks. As Felix's pursuers passed by, they saw the web and didn't even bother to look in. Later, as the godly fugitive stepped out into the sunlight, he uttered these insightful words: “Where God is, a spider's web is as a wall: where He is not, a wall is but as a spider's web.” God has never run out of ways to protect His own. (Frank E. Gaebelein ed., The Expositor's Bible Commentary)
Transition: His Grace would be amazing if it were just left at rescuing his people from their captivity, if we were just set free from bondage, but he goes further, and redeems his people from their impurity.
God Redeems His people from their Impurity
“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.” Ezekiel 36:25
God begins to deal with His people while they are still in sin. He doesn't wait for them to get clean before he gives His love to them. Jesus saves sinners not saints. If they are truly saints they are already saved. It's not the healthy that need a doctor but the sick. He transforms sinners into saints.
You can not look for any good in yourself when you come to Jesus – come as you are.
In Numbers 8:7 we read how the Levites were purified - “To purify them do this: sprinkle the water of cleansing upon them . .” Like the menstruating woman, the Levites are in the same situation, God's holy priests were shut out until they were ceremonially clean. Even the most holy and religious people are shut out from God, . . until they are made clean. All of our righteousness', all of our holiness' all of our good deeds, are but filthy rags before the Lord.
And there are so many who try to gain entrance into God's presence by doing all they can to clean themselves from sin, and the more they try, the more miserable they become. They say “I have to quit drinking first.” “I'm going to quit smoking first.” “I have to wash away this sin or that sin first and then I will visit my friend in church!” “Once I kick these bad habits then I will come to God.” No. You must come as you are!
God says “I will sprinkle clean water upon you” Where could this clean water come from? Even if you had the cleanest spring water and filtered it a thousand times using double reverse osmosis, it would not be clean enough to cleanse you from your sin. Then what? What can wash away my sin? Nothing but the blood of Jesus! God doesn't ask the people of Israel to find the purification, He brings it himself.
You don't have anything within you to save yourself. Some of the most noted Christians were the most filthy. The drug addict takes as many drugs as he can to take away the pain from being abused, and as he is about to take his life he cries out to God and miraculously something changes! He doesn't know exactly but by and by he learns the grace of God that saved him. Think of the prostitute that strays into a church and feels that she has no right to be there – but God led her there and she hears for the first time that God loves her and that a savior can wash away the stain of shame! And she believes and is changed! Our feelings can't save is either.
Ill. In his book 'Visions of Heaven and Hell', John Bunyan wrote that after listening to his atheist friend, about there not being a God, he was so depressed and hopeless that he decided to take his life and find out either way, after going into the woods with a knife, he heard a voice from heaven telling him not to commit suicide, He wrote “this touched my heart with such a sense of my own unworthiness that I could only cry out 'O, How utterly unworthy I am of all this grace and mercy” the rescuing angel then said “when God decided to show mercy, He did not consult your unworthiness, but his own unbounded goodness and vast love.”
Some people take pride in feeling unworthy, not realizing pride will take you to hell faster than feeling unworthy will take you to Heaven. As if feeling unworthy can redeem them? I don't know about you but I don't know of anyone who went to heaven because they felt unworthy of it. This is just another form of self-righteousness. Our unworthy feeling can't redeem us. It is only by God's Amazing Grace that we are redeemed through the blood of the lamb.
Transition: By his Amazing grace God rescued his people from their captivity, then He redeemed his people from their impurity, and finally we see how he restored his people with a heart of humility.
God Restores His people with a heart of Humility
“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.” Ezekiel 36:26
This is the greatest grace God gives his people. Israel has been cold toward God. Their sin has hardened their heart and while God will suffer our sin for a long time, because he is slow to wrath. He will not suffer it forever. Something must be done, and incredibly something is. He promises to take their old heart and give them a new one. He promises to Remove the heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh
A sinful heart is like a dilapidated house, it must be torn down and rebuilt from the inside out or else it must be condemned. We must allow God to change us, renew us, or we must be condemned. The heart of man is stone cold, by nature. I remember going to a rock quarry and there was one piece of Rock that the owner wanted me to see and it wasn't for the way it looked but for how it felt. It was interesting because it was a hot day and the stone was cooler than the rest. Like marble, it was always cold. You can put some rocks in the fire and they will get hot and retain heat for awhile but eventually cool back down and become cold again. Our hearts are like stones, they are naturally cold toward the gospel and cold toward the things of God, but they are naturally hard as well.
It is a scary thing when there is no passion in the pulpit, but it's worse when there is and there is no emotion from the pew. It is concerning, if you don't feel love, or inspiration, or motivation, or love, or peace, or hope, or conviction. Nothing. I remember a man in our first church that would always fall asleep. I was told before I preached my first sermon to 'ignore the snore'. It didn't matter who was preaching or what they were preaching on. They could have been speaking about his favorite subjects and he would go to sleep. Even the loudest, most flamboyant, most fiery preachers would put him to sleep like a tired baby in the car seat.
There was another couple I remember from the same church that used to live right next to the railroad tracks. And if you ever lived in McAlester, Ok you know the train is always on the move. We had dinner with them one night and I asked them does the train bother you when you go to sleep? He said “Oh no. we are used to it” When it comes to the preaching the gospel I'm afraid that while an anointed preacher comes bearing down with all the power and might of the Holy Ghost behind him too many people are “used to it”. Some people have heard the gospel preached six ways from Sunday and have become so accustomed to it, they could sleep through it. That is dangerous! Its dangerous when we hear the preacher preaching and the choir singing and yet we are so used to the sounds we ignore the meaning! The more we hear the gospel the more we will be effected by it. We will either grow ripe or grow rotten. Our heart will become tender or it they will become hard.
The hard heart can live in sin and not care about it. It says “God? What God? I only care about myself and my conscience doesn't accuse me of anything?” But when God makes you a new creation, when God makes you a new heart, when he gives you a heart of flesh, you feel the pain of the slightest sin. This is an assurance of Christ's work in our lives. Even perceived sin - your desire is to run from it. The slightest bit of sin, you feel guilt, you feel shame, you feel something is wrong. Praise God for those who are tender enough to feel their toes being stepped on once in a while.
Those who are born again with a heart of flesh, have a heart that is so sensitive that they can't forgive themselves if they forget to pray, they are ashamed if they miss too many church services, (remember those days) They feel guilt if they don't give their all during the worship service. Hard hearts can't comprehend such a thing, and don't believe it. The born again heart never wants to sin, never wants to lie, never wants to gossip, never wants to steal, if it could it would be perfect before it's creator. A heart of stone can hear blasphemy and laugh but the heart of flesh is appalled whenever God is dishonored.
The born again heart repents at the very thought of sin. Even if a sinful imagination lingers too long in their mind they cry out “Forgive me Lord!” I heard that “Great sins are small to the heart of stone, and small sins are great to the heart of flesh.” To put it another way “Big sins are small to the unsaved, and small sins seem big to the born again.” These are sure signs of a tender conscience that only the grace of God can give us with a heart of flesh.
Conclusion: A man once came to Dr. John Gill and said “Dr. Gill, you have been preaching the doctrine of human inability, I don't believe you. I believe that man can repent and can believe, and is not without spiritual power.” “Well” said Dr. Gill “have you repented and believed?” “No” he said “Very well then” . . . “you deserve double damnation.”
Anyone who resists the Holy Spirit and rejects his grace deserves double damnation.
[Call to stand]
Don't allow your heart to be hardened. As our hearts passes through the fire, it will either be purified or petrified. Over time, that heart will either melt like wax or harden like a stone. Only God can break hard hearts and melt cold ones. If our heart is soft like wax he can put his impressions in it and if it's hard only his grace can remove it and replace it with a heart of flesh. We only need to ask him to do so.
If you feel you have a hard heart then ask God to break it and melt it, and give you a new heart, give you a new spirit. Say “Lord, melt my heart, soften it like wax and mold it the way you desire. Put your seal on it, so that everyone will know that I belong to you.”
Tell God “I accept your sacrifice on the cross for my sin and I beg you to change me from the inside out, Lord.”