God's Promise of Restoration to His Exiles
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Delivered By
John Mathis
Delivered On
December 29, 2013 at 11:30 AM
Central Passage
Ezekiel 11:14-25
Description

I. Introduction

Christmas has come and gone again, and the Lord continues to be gracious to each one of us. In the hustle and bustle of buying gifts and visiting family and friends, I pray you all had time to quietly reflect on the unspeakable gift given to us by God in His one and only Son. Today’s message is not a “Christmas sermon” per se; I will not be examining any of the texts related to our Lord’s birth nor his early earthly life. What I do want to do this morning, Lord willing, is expound from this text the covenant mercy and faithfulness of God toward us- His blood-bought people. I want to show you also from this text God’s righteousness in dealing justly with rebels who scorn His covenant and mock His grace.   So I hope to show you today both the preserving love of God and His justice. May God help me in this enterprise.

II. Background- First, I want to take a few moments to give you some background and context for this text.

A. When & Where?

The events our text take place in a vision of Jerusalem, not many years after the first deportation of Israelites to Babylon- around the year 592 B.C.. As God had promised through His prophets, the Chaldeans, led by King Nebuchadnezzar, laid siege to Israel’s cities, taking thousands captive and killing many more. This vast judgment came upon Israel because of its rank idolatry and because of its refusal to abide by the Law of God. It is in this period that God sends some of the greatest prophets of the Old Testament: Jeremiah, Daniel, Habakkuk,  Zephaniah , and the writer of this morning’s text, the prophet Ezekiel.

B. Who was Ezekiel?

Ezekiel, son of Buzi, was born about 622 B.C., into the priestly line of Aaron’s son Ithamar. He grew up during the reign of the reformer King Josiah, one of the rare godly kings in the long line of wicked rulers of Judah. In fact, just about a year before Ezekiel’s birth, Hilkiah the priest had found the lost book of God’s Law- the Law that caused Josiah to tear his clothes in righteous fear and that caused him to publicly renew Israel’s covenant with God.  This brought about a brief era of national repentance, especially in Jerusalem, but it was not to last. When Ezekiel was about fourteen, King Josiah was killed in battle, and the king of Egypt installed  Jehoiakim as king over Judah and Jerusalem, and in his eleven year reign he “did evil in the site of LORD” and returned the people to their former abominations.

When Ezekiel is twenty-four and a priest in Jerusalem, King Jehoiakim dies, and his evil son Jehoiachin becomes king in Judah. This is a time of great wickedness in Judah generally, and in Jerusalem in particular. The Word of God tells us that even the priests and higher officials defiled the Temple with idols and other detestable things. The next year, King Nebuchadnezzar returned and took 10,000 more captives, including Ezekiel and his wife, back to Babylon. It is in Babylon that God gives Ezekiel visions of  Jerusalem’s utter destruction and restoration, and that brings us back to our text. I want to concentrate now on three major truths from this passage.

II. First, even in the midst of exile, God is the “Sanctuary” of His covenant people (vv.14-16):

A. Look back at the beginning of chapter 11, to the beginning of this vision given to Ezekiel:

1 Moreover, the Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the east gate of the Lord’s house which faced eastward. And behold, there were twenty-five men at the entrance of the gate, and among them I saw Jaazaniah son of Azzur and Pelatiah son of Benaiah, leaders of the people. He said to me, “Son of man, these are the men who devise iniquity and give evil advice in this city, who say, ‘The time is not near to build houses. This city is the pot and we are the flesh.’ Therefore, prophesy against them, son of man, prophesy!”

On the eve of destruction, these foolish rulers had convinced themselves and the people that they were safe in the midst of God’s judgment of Jerusalem. In their arrogance, they pictured themselves as pieces of flesh floating safely inside the brass walls of a caldron, and in this protective pot they would continue their idol worship, their law-breaking, and their mockery of God’s prophetic Word.

The parallel to our own time is not hard to find. Even within what calls itself the “church,” we see all too regularly those who have convinced themselves they are safe with their idolatrous beliefs, their calling what is evil good and what is good evil, and their scorn for God’s Word. Just     as the inhabitants of Jerusalem were encouraged in their wickedness by false prophets and  blind guides, so too are millions of people who call themselves Christians. And just as those doomed citizens of Jerusalem, they have made for themselves gods to their own liking-gods who wink at their peccadillos and close their eyes to their sinfulness. But God is not mocked. Look at verse five:

Then the Spirit of the Lord fell upon me, and He said to me, “Say, ‘Thus says the Lord, “So you think, house of Israel, for I know your thoughts. You have multiplied your slain in this city, filling its streets with them.” Therefore, thus says the Lord God, “Your slain whom you have laid in the midst of the city are the flesh and this city is the pot; but I will bring you out of it. You have feared a sword; so I will bring a sword upon you,” the Lord God declares. “And I will bring you out of the midst of the city and deliver you into the hands of strangers and execute judgments against you. 10 You will fall by the sword. I will judge you to the border of Israel; so you shall know that I am the Lord. 11 This city will not be a pot for you, nor will you be flesh in the midst of it, but I will judge you to the border of Israel. 12 Thus you will know that I am the Lord; for you have not walked in My statutes nor have you executed My ordinances, but have acted according to the ordinances of the nations around you.”’”

At this point you may be asking yourself, “I thought he was going to show us how God is a sanctuary to his people in exile?” I’m getting to it- bear with me. Look at verse 13:

13 Now it came about as I prophesied, that Pelatiah son of Benaiah died. Then I fell on my face and cried out with a loud voice and said, “Alas, Lord God! Will You bring the remnant of Israel to a complete end?”

So while Ezekiel is prophesying about the soon judgment of Jerusalem, one of its leaders, Pelatiah, dies. This is the same Pelatiah that God indicted earlier in the chapter as a deviser of iniquity and an evil adviser.  Ezekiel is obviously distressed by his death, falling to the ground and crying out to God. But why? Why would the death of this wicked leader cause Ezekiel to ask God if He was going to destroy even the remnant of Israel?  We get a hint in the next verse; look at verse 14:

14 Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 15 “Son of man, your brothers, your relatives,your fellow exiles and the whole house of Israel, all of them, are those to whom the inhabitants of Jerusalem have said, ‘Go far from the Lord; this land has been given us as a possession.’ 

So those in Jerusalem not only had convinced themselves that they were safe within their pot- within the walls of the city, but also they deceived themselves into believing that the reason so many were taken into exile was to show that God had given the land to those who remained! At some point, Ezekiel- the same Ezekiel who had seen the visions of God’s glory and who was sent to comfort his fellow exiles and    warn those in Jerusalem- even he was deceived by this lie. If even Petaliah, a leader of Jerusalem, died under God’s judgment, what hope was there for the remnant?  If God had not spared one who ruled in the city where God’s temple stood, would He spare the Israelites exiled in    Babylon?

Is this not the way we often think?  We see churches, particularly in this country in doctrinal freefall. Heresies long ago condemned are taught openly from pulpits with the greatest of pride. We see churches all around us capitulating to the world’s redefinition of marriage, and on, and on, and on. Are we not tempted to doubt that God is still about the    business of preserving His exiles and bringing glory to His name? So    how does God reply to this doubt? (read v.16)

Thus says the Lord God, “Though I had removed them far away  among the nations and though I had scattered them among the countries, yet I was a sanctuary for them a little while in the countries where they had gone.”

The answer to Ezekiel’s impassioned question is “No”! God will not make a “complete end” of His remnant. On the contrary; God removed them from Jerusalem to SAVE them from the impending calamities. The wicked people of Jerusalem had it backwards; they were left in the city to be destroyed- not to inherit the land. Once the land was cleansed of their abominations, the REMNANT would be brought back to possess    the land and the city.

And even more than this, God says that He was the remnant’s SANCTUARY during its captivity. When we read the word “sanctuary” we often think of safe place- a place where we can escape harm- a REFUGE. This what God was to His people in their exile.  Jerusalem had the Temple, with all its grandeur, but it was doomed to soon destruction. The exiles had something infinitely better- the actual presence of God among them. His glory would soon leave the Temple, but He did not leave His remnant; He was their SANCTUARY.

Brothers and sisters, we are but a small flock. We are having services in a store front, and we are thinking of moving to a house. As we see the mega-churches and the grand cathedrals, we may be tempted to wonder why it is not so for us. We may even wonder if this church will survive, or if we will slowly dwindle and eventually disband. Let this text remind us not to judge by outward appearance. As long as God is our refuge, our SANCTUARY, it does not matter where we meet. God knows how to preserve His remnant in exile, and He does it by being their sanctuary.

III. The second truth I want you to see in this text is that God will gather His exiled covenant people. Verse 17:

Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries among which you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.”

First, notice Who is at work here. God says He will gather and assemble His remnant out of the peoples. God had scattered them among the nations, and He would unscatter them. The same God that had delivered His people out of Egypt with a mighty hand would deliver His exiles out of captivity in Babylon.

Also notice that this promise was unconditional. God does not here say if the exiles do such and such, I will gather them. No; it is by His grace that He will gather them. God is under no compulsion to gather them; they had done nothing to deserve God’s favor. So why then does He gather them? Though we are not told explicitly here, God makes it abundantly clear later in this book. Listen as I read from chapter 36, starting in verse 22:

22 “Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “It  is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you went. 23 I will vindicate the holiness of My great name which has been profaned among the nations, which you have profaned in their midst. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord,” declares the Lord God, “when I prove Myself holy among you in their sight. 24 For I will take you from the nations, gather you from all the lands and bring you into your own land. 

God does not gather His people because of their deeds; He gathers them IN SPITE of their deeds. They- and yes, WE- have profaned His holy name among the nations, but yet in His grace He gathers us. He does this to bring glory to Himself.

One glorious day, God will gather ALL the His people scattered abroad.  With the voice of the arch angel and the trump of God, the mighty Lord will call forth all those He has redeemed by the sacrifice of His Son. He will start with dead in Christ, and then He will gather those who are alive and remain. No good work of ours will compel Him to do this; He will do it of His own free grace, and He will do it to bring glory to His holy name.

As if this not enough, God pours grace upon grace. Not only does He gather the exiles from their captivity, but He also GIVES them the land of Israel. Again, they had done nothing to deserve this. They were covenant breakers just like those haughty souls left in Jerusalem. They had done the very things that God had warned them would cause them to lose possession of Israel. Yet God, in His loving kindness for His exiles, gives them back what they deserved to lose. This leads us to the final truth I want you to see in this text: God will restore His exiled covenant people.

IV. God will restore His exiled covenant people

Look back at verses 18 through 20:

18 When they come there, they will remove all its detestable things and all its abominations from it. 19 And I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them. And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God.

What kind of restoration will this be? It will not be a return to the sins that led to the exile in the first place. When His remnant returns to the land, they will put away the idols and the graven images. No more will they offer their children as sacrifices to false gods. No more will they worship them in the high places. God will use His returned exiles to cleanse the land of these abominations. They will have “no other gods before Him.” Again their confession will be, “Hear, O Israel! Yahweh is our God! Yahweh is One!”

God foretells how He will accomplish this feat- how He will transform these covenant-breaking, idolatrous Israelites into faithful servants who will keep His Law and cleanse the land. The language is all too familiar to us- at least it should be. He will give them a heart transplant. God will remove the dead, stony heart that is at enmity with Him and His Law, and He will replace it with a living heart- one that loves God and His Law. He will change their very nature. He will not force them to obey His Law against their will, but He will change their disposition so that they willingly obey. They will be “willing in the day of His power.”

God gives them the ability, through this heart transplant, to do His will.  By giving them new, living hearts, God frees them from their slavery to sin. Notice again that it is God ALONE at work here. None of the exiles will change the disposition of his own heart. This must be accomplished by God Himself. He will change their nature, and THEN they will walk in His statutes and keep His ordinances. He will not save them because of good works, but He will save them TO DO good works.

8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. (Ephesians 2:8-10 NASB)

At the end of this promise, God declares “THEN they will be my people, and I will be their God.” But wait a minute; weren’t they already His people? I mean, these were Israelites- the physical fruit of God’s covenant with Abraham. How were they not His people?

For they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel; nor are they all children because they are Abraham’s descendants…. (Romans 9:6-7 NASB)

Outwardly, these exiles were Jews- they were the beneficiaries of God’s covenant promises. But inwardly, they were still rebels, kicking against the goads and at war with the God who preserved them. But this will change when God circumcises their hearts. THEN, and only then, will they truly be His people, both outwardly and in the inner parts. THEN they will be truly restored.

As wondrous as this restoration is, God has something even more glorious prepared for us in the New Covenant. Just as the exiles, we too have been given a new heart to serve God. God has raised us to new life in Christ, but we still have the old nature. Though we are “born again” by God’s Spirit, our flesh still wars against the new spirit. But God will grant us restoration. When Christ returns in glory, we will be transformed into His image. The fallen image we inherited from Adam will be done away with forever. The work God began in our hearts, He will finish when He totally conforms us to the likeness of His dear Son.  THAT is complete restoration, and it is ours by grace, through faith in Christ Jesus.

V. Conclusion

As I close, I want to leave you with a warning and a challenge. First the warning. Look at verse 21:

21 But as for those whose hearts go after their detestable things and abominations, I will bring their conduct down on their heads,” declares the Lord God.

The promise of restoration is not for those who continue in their sin.  For them, the only promise God gives is judgment.

26 For if we go on sinning willfully after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a terrifying expectation of judgment and the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has set aside the Law of Moses dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. 29 How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” 31 It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31 NASB)

Finally, I would challenge you, if God has spoken to you through this text, do what Ezekiel did! Proclaim it to your fellow exiles! (vv.24-25)

24 And the Spirit lifted me up and brought me in a vision by the Spirit of God to the exiles in Chaldea. So the vision that I had seen left me. 25 Then I told the exiles all the things that the Lord had shown me.   

           

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