Ezekiel was a prophet living in Babylonian captivity. The first part of his book explains that the Israelites lost their land because of their sin; the middle part chronicles how other nations will experience judgment for their sins as well. Beginning in Chapter 33, God begins to unveil for Ezekiel what revival and restoration will look like. We will begin in Chapter 36, verse 16:
“When the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions…I dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions. And wherever they went among the nations they profaned my holy name, for it was said of them, ‘These are the Lord’s people, and yet they had to leave his land.’ I had concern for my holy name, which the people of Israel profaned among the nations where they had gone.”
“I had concern for my name” seems like an understatement. God’s people show up places, and everybody around them says, “What a bunch of losers. Their own God kicked them out.” They had broken a key commandment: “Don’t take God’s name in vain.” God is not pleased. And yet…
“Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.”
That’s an astonishing passage. After all that God has just said about them profaning his name (his character and reputation), God says He will be show His holiness of His great name through them so much so that everybody who sees them will know that the God of the Israelites is God.**
“‘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. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God. I will save you from all your uncleanness…"
God is going to gather up a profane people who defiled the land he gave them, clean them up, give them a new heart, give them His Spirit, and put them back in a land they didn’t deserve – and then he will proudly claim them as His own. Israel is terrible. This wasn’t like The Voice, where Israel is auditioning while God’s chair is turned around, and He’s waiting until they hit the right note to turn His chair and beg them to be on his team. That’s just not Israel.
God's not doing this because Israel is awesome. He’s doing this because He is awesome.
I’m still waiting for Blake Shelton to hit the button on someone who couldn’t carry a tune if it was in a bucket, and when asked why he did it, I just want him to say, “Because this will settle the debate about who the best coach is. You all keep choosing people who are already amazing. Have any of you chosen someone who sounds like cats fighting? No? Watch what I can do with this.”
“‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: On the day I cleanse you from all your sins, I will resettle your towns, and the ruins will be rebuilt. The desolate land will be cultivated instead of lying desolate in the sight of all who pass through it. They will say, “This land that was laid waste has become like the garden of Eden; the cities that were lying in ruins, desolate and destroyed, are now fortified and inhabited. Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the Lord have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it.’" (Ezekiel 36:16-36)
Lest there was any doubt, this wasn't going to happen in a way where the Israelites could take credit. The nations will know that God rebuilt what was destroyed and replanted what was desolate. There wasn’t going to be a couple builders hanging around on the walls saying, “Hey, did you see that cool stonework I just did?” There would be no farmers sitting by the road at their market taking credit for their amber waves of grain. This was the kind of restoration where the people around them would say, “Are you kidding? How did this happen? Only a God could do this.”
So that’s what God says he will do for the land and for His name. But in the next chapter, Ezekiel has a vision of a valley full of dry bones, lifeless skeletons. God reveals to him what the vision means for the people within the land:
"These bones are the people of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, my people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them. I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord.’” (Ezekiel 37: 11-14)
Rebuild what is destroyed, replant what is desolate, and bring life and hope to the dead people returning to a land they had broken but God would heal. God says to the people of Israel that He will do it for them not because they are great, but because He is great. The nations will know, and His people will know.
Here’s the bad news: we are like Israel. People look at us at times and say, “Seriously? You’re a Christian?” Our spouse or kids or friends know that we can make the land desolate. We will knock our homes and our church to the ground if we aren’t careful. On our own, we are the dry bones, lifeless shells that make a mockery of what it means to be fully alive. Without Christ, we were dead in trespasses and sins (Romans 8:7–8; Ephesians 2:1; John 15:5). While we were yet sinners, Christ went into the grave to bring us back out.
Here’s the good news: What God did with Israel, he offers to us through Christ. Christ alone has the ability to genuinely heal us, to bring us back to fullness of life, to rebuild our homes, our relationships and our souls and bring a bountiful harvest in the midst of desolation in ways we cannot comprehend. Look what we read in the New Testament:
“Blessed be God, the Father of our Lord Jesus the Anointed One, who grants us every spiritual blessing in these heavenly realms where we live in Christ—not because of anything we have done, but because of what He has done for us. God chose us to be in a relationship with Him even before He laid out plans for this world; He wanted us to live holy lives characterized by love, free from sin, and blameless before Him.
He destined us to be adopted as His children through the covenant Jesus inaugurated in His sacrificial life. This was His pleasure and His will for us. Ultimately God is the one worthy of praise for showing us His grace; He is merciful and marvelous, freely giving us these gifts in Christ. Visualize this: His blood freely flowing down the cross, setting us free! We are forgiven for our sinful ways by the richness of His grace, which He has poured all over us.
With all wisdom and insight, He has enlightened us to the great mystery at the center of His will. With immense pleasure, He laid out His intentions through Jesus, a plan that will climax when the time is right as He returns to create order and unity—both in heaven and on earth—when all things are brought together under Christ’s royal rule. In Him we stand to inherit even more. As His heirs, we are predestined to play a key role in His unfolding purpose that is energizing everything to conform to His will.
As a result, we—the first to place our hope in Christ—will live in a way to bring Him glory and praise. Because you, too, have heard the word of truth—the good news of your salvation—and because you believed in the One who is truth, your lives are marked with His seal. This is none other than the Holy Spirit who was promised as the guarantee toward the inheritance we are to receive when He frees and rescues all who belong to Him. To God be all praise and glory!” (Ephesians 1:3-14)
As a kid, I was always the last one chosen at school recess when captains picked teams. I dreaded every time we lined up. I just wanted one captain to say, “I want Anthony,” not, “I guess we’ll take Anthony. There’s nobody else left.”
God didn’t say to Israel, “I guess I’ll take Israel seeing how Horus already got the Egyptians and Baal has the Philistines. Fine.” God said, “I want you. I will make something of you, and because it is through you that I will display my glory, what I make of you will be glorious.”
God doesn’t say to us, “Fine. I guess I’ll take Anthony. Or Sheila. Or…” God says, “I choose Anthony.”
And if I see myself honestly, my reply is, “But…do you see what I have to offer? I’m proud, self-centered, forgetful, offensive, short-sighted, overly sensitive at times and not sensitive enough at others, I over think some things and under think others, I fail as a husband and a father and pastor and teacher and friend. I wish I could take back so many things I’ve said and redo so many situations in life. I want to date my wife again and do it right, and then learn how to communicate effectively early on, and learn how to honor her and love her before 20 years have slipped by …”
And God says, “I know. This is going to be awesome! Have you seen what I can do with even guys like you?! My name will be made great not because you are awesome, but because I am awesome, and that’s going to be really clear when my Glory begins to make something glorious out of the ruin and desolation you brought to the family.” That’s an imaginary conversation, but the principle is in the Bible:
“Now all of us, with our faces unveiled, reflect the glory of the Lord as if we are mirrors; and so we are being transformed, metamorphosed, into His same image from one radiance of glory to another, just as the Spirit of the Lord accomplishes it.” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6; 18)
We see that with the greatest clarity when he brings the dead to life, when he makes something beautiful from the ashes of our life, when the old, broken, and used becomes new because of Christ. That’s why Paul writes,
“Wake up, sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.” (Ephesians 5:14)
God is glorified when it’s clear that He is awesome.
There are times we will not want to rise up from the deadness of our selfishness and pride. I promise you that if you really try to live up the biblical standards for what it means to be a man and be a woman, if you really look hard at how you handle headship and humility… it is not a pretty picture. The only way genuine beauty is brought from the ashes we make of our lives is through Christ.*** So we read in Hebrews
"Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need" (Hebrews 4:16; ESV).
If you have failed to be the kind of man or woman God wants you to be – and you have - commit your life to God, pray for Christ to shine on you as His Spirit gives you life. God will be glorified as you are transformed into the image of Christ. Boldly ask God for mercy and grace… and freely pass it on to those around you who need it, which is all of us... and God will be glorified.
* Listen or watch Casting Crown’s “Broken Together” for a poignant look at how we need the work of Christ in order live together well. Listen or watch Mercy Me’s “Greater” for an invigorating look at the promise and hope we can find when we really experience the greatness of God in our lives.
** We see this principle in the New Testament as well. Often, when talking about how men and women are to live together in Christian community (think of the Household Codes and Church codes we talked about earlier in the series), the writers of the New Testament letters give a clear reason: so that God and His Kingdom will be glorified. Three examples:
- “Live honorably among the outsiders so that, even when some may be inclined to call you criminals, when they see your good works, they might give glory to God when He appears.” (1 Peter 2:12)
- “…give the enemy (opponents, adversaries) no opportunity for slander. (1 Timothy 5:9-10)
- “…that the word of God may not be dishonord. (Titus 2:3-5)
*** There is a great episode in the life of Moses. Not long after the Golden Calf incident, Moses goes to God with a poignant request:
Moses said to the Lord, “You have been telling me, ‘Lead these people,’ but you have not let me know whom you will send with me. You have said, ‘I know you by name and you have found favor with me.’ If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people. The Lord replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Then Moses said to him, “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (Exodus 33:12-16)
How will anyone know that God is pleased or that His people are blessed? Not because of their past actions, that’s for sure. And it wasn’t because of their current righteousness. Ever since the golden calf incident God has referred to them as Moses’ people, stiff-necked and stubborn (Exodus 32:7-9). And yet Moses has the audacity to ask, “Will you go with me?” It is a haunting question all of us ask as we go into the dark, into a scary situation, into a new place. God’s presence matters. How will God be made glorious unless He goes with us?