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First, let me introduce the book of Ezekiel. The author is the prophet Ezekiel, who was a younger contemporary of the prophet Isaiah. In the year 597 B.C. when Babylon conquered Judah, Ezekiel was one of the captives taken into Babylon. About 10 years later Babylon destroyed Jerusalem, but before that there was a period where Judah had surrendered. During that period, the King Jehoiachin and many of his people were taken as captives to Babylon. So the people of Judah were divided: some in Babylon, and some left behind.
Ezekiel was one of those taken to Babylon, and there he received his calling to be a prophet. While in Babylon, he prophesied that Jerusalem would be destroyed. During this time, by the way, the prophet Jeremiah who had remained in Jerusalem was also speaking messages from God to the people left in the city. Meanwhile Ezekiel served as a priest in Babylon, teaching the Law of Moses to his people and speaking of God’s great plans for the future. He spoke about human sin, God’s judgment, a coming Savior, rebirth and cleansing for sinners, and a future glory—in other words, all the elements of the gospel.
The book of Ezekiel has three main sections, divided by time period. Chapters 1 to 24 were prophecies before the siege of Jerusalem, chapters 25 to 32 during the siege, and 33 to 48 after Jerusalem’s surrender.
Out of the book of Ezekiel, I have chosen today’s verse as the focus because I would like us to turn our attention again to Old Testament prophecies about the coming of the New Testament era. When we read the book of Jeremiah previously, we saw that Jeremiah, too, prophesied about the coming of New Testament times. Jeremiah 31:31 says, “‘The days are coming,’ declares the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah.’” That new covenant was fulfilled when the Old Testament era ended and the New began. Ezekiel prophesied that God would turn the people’s hearts of stone into hearts of flesh—which speaks of the new covenant and the coming of the Holy Spirit.
God Himself brought the Old Testament era to an end and ushered in the New Testament era, through the birth of Jesus Christ. In last week’s message, missionary Ray Tavarez spoke about the power of Christ-centered fellowship. He quoted from the book of Acts, which begins with the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day—it is the Holy Spirit who works to change people’s hearts, creating a community that is able to forgive and help each other by the love of Christ. I was reminded that we live in this new era, so listening to Ray’s message gave me joy. Indeed, today we are witnessing how people led by the Holy Spirit are helping and loving each other. The Holy Spirit gives us new strength to live this way. This is the era that Ezekiel foresaw.
Let’s look at the passage in which Ezekiel was called to be a prophet. This is in chapters 2 and 3. The part that especially stands out to me is 2:6, which says, “do not be afraid of [the people] and their words.” Also, God says in 2:7, “You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen.” 3:17 says that the prophet is a watchman who warns the people. 3:19-21 says that the prophet’s warning can determine life or death for his listeners.
Those are some of things that God said to Ezekiel when he was called. I believe they can be applied to us as well, as we share the gospel today. On our part, we are to share the gospel with passion. And with joy. Whether or not our listeners believe—we leave that outcome to God. Living in the New Testament era, we are entrusted with the great responsibility of sharing the good news of Jesus.
Now I’d like us to look at chapter 11, which is the focus of today’s message. In verse 3, the leaders of Israel said, “Haven’t our houses been recently rebuilt? This city is a pot, and we are the meat in it.” The pot refers to the walls of Jerusalem, and the meat are the people living in Jerusalem.
These leaders are saying: the walls of Jerusalem are strong and will not be destroyed. And there is pride behind the statement about meat, claiming that those of who weren’t taken captive to Babylon are the most worthy of Judah’s people. They didn’t think Babylon would destroy them or that God’s judgment would come on them as well.
But God’s reply is very clear: God would judge them for their lack of urgency and lack of repentance. The reality was that Jerusalem was no safe zone and they were destined for judgment as well. In verse 9, God says, “I will drive you out of the city and deliver you into the hands of foreigners and inflict punishment on you.” The foreigners here are the Babylonians, and because of a lifestyle of sin, God would surely judge the remaining people of Judah. That is Ezekiel’s message here.
However, a message of hope can also be found, in verses 17 to 20. Although God judges them, He will also provide a way for them to rebuild.
Verse 17 says, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.” God’s time for rebuilding and restoration will come. Verse 18 says, “They will return to [the land] and remove all its vile images and detestable idols.” With the Lord’s help, they will be renewed, freed from idol worship, and become a people who believe in God again. Verse 19 says, “I will give them an undivided heart.” That is, a heart that obeys God. It is also a heart that receives the Spirit of God. They will receive new hearts, by the Holy Spirit, turning from stone to flesh. Turning from stone to flesh is a huge transformation.
In the eyes of God, the most worthy people are not those who pride themselves in being safe within their walls. But rather, those who have experienced and understood suffering are precious in God’s eyes. God will raise up such people in His time. They are people who are humble before God and accept His work with meekness. They live in obedience to His will. They don’t live for their own glory but His. God will raise such people among those who believe in Jesus. Even now God is continuing to raise such people who obey him and live to bring him glory. And that is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.” We are saved through the work of the Holy Spirit. Jesus’ love is unconditional, in that it does not depend on whether we love him in return. I believe that a heart that rejects Jesus is a heart of stone, while a heart that is cultivated to accept him is a heart of flesh.
I think we can say that the people of the old covenant believed and lived according the laws of Moses written on stone, while the people of the new covenant live by the guidance and work of the Holy Spirit. Are we all living in the grace of the new covenant? In Ezekiel 11:20, God says, “Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will be their God.” I follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. I live in obedience to God’s word. Together, let’s live our lives with these intentions.