“Repent and live!” (Ezekiel 18:32)

Pastor Ino

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This is my second message on the book of Ezekiel. The main verses for today are Ezekiel 18:31-32, which say, “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, people of Israel? For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” And so the theme of today’s message is “Repent and live!”

Previously I gave a brief background about the book of Ezekiel. The people of Israel were divided in two when Babylon conquered them, taking some away as captives and leaving the others behind in Jerusalem. Ezekiel was one of those left behind, and he prophesied that Babylon would destroy Jerusalem. This message was repeated in Chapter 17.

Chapter 17, verses 11 to 14, describes these events. This is what it says. The king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and took King Jehoiachin and his top official away as captives. Then the king of Babylon took one member of the royal family of Israel, Zedekiah, and made a treaty with him, making Zedekiah swear loyalty to Babylon. The king of Babylon did not expect Zedekiah to rebel, thinking that Israel had been laid low, never to rise again. He thought Zedekiah would obey the treaty and serve Babylon. However, Zedekiah did rebel; he sent a messenger to Egypt asking for horses and a large army.

And so Ezekiel asks in verse 15, “Will he succeed? Will he who does such things escape? Will he break the treaty and yet escape?” It was a treaty between the kings of Babylon and Israel. But it was, of course, a one-sided agreement. But the best and brightest of Israel had been exiled to Babylon; and remaining people were limited in their numbers and strength. King Zedekiah rebelled by turning to Egypt for help, without properly considering the weakness of his situation.

Zedekiah must have thought: this is nothing but an agreement between men; it doesn’t matter if I break it. But God took a different view of his actions. In fact, the sovereign Lord had put Israel under the rule of Babylon—to lead them to repent and return to him. God made use of Babylon to discipline Israel, and he also set them free after 70 years of captivity. They went through great hardship under Babylon, being unable to freely live however they pleased.

I think that we, too, have suffered through such difficult times, like being unexpectedly placed under different leadership. And yet, as Christians we are called not to simply criticize or rebel against those in authority but to pray for them. I believe God is pleased when we honor the promises we have made.

Repent and live—this is Ezekiel’s message to both the nation and to the individual. For the nation, it was God’s will that Israel live under Babylonian rule for a time and honor the treaty. However, King Zedekiah chose to rely on his own ability and, when making decisions, lost sight of protecting the people’s well-being. His decision to rebel against Babylon led to the destruction of Jerusalem.

But, according to verses 22 to 24, even though Israel is destroyed, it will be restored. God promised to replant Israel like tender sprig on the top of a high mountain. God speaks of how he will bless Israel, in verse 23, “On the mountain heights of Israel I will plant it; it will produce branches and bear fruit and become a splendid cedar. Birds of every kind will nest in it; they will find shelter in the shade of its branches.” It’s a beautiful image of how God’s blessing will bring Israel to glory again.

Verse 24 adds, “All the trees of the forest will know that I the Lord bring down the tall tree and make the low tree grow tall. I dry up the green tree and make the dry tree flourish.” In other words, nothing is impossible for him.

Today, those of us in Japan live in a time of peace. We went through a tragic war, but now as one of the leading countries, we are in a position to promote peace and prosperity in the world. Our peace constitution has lofty principles. We should pray that those in authority will continue to remember these ideals and live by them.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul writes in Romans 13:1-2, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.” As Christians in Japan, let us take this word seriously and pray for the leaders of this country that they will govern the nation rightly and according to the principles of our constitution.

Repent and live—this is a call not only for nations but also for individuals.

“It’s not our fault; it was because our ancestors sinned, and we are being punished for it.” This is what the Israelites in captivity may have thought. But in chapter 18, Ezekiel says to such people: children are not their parents. Everyone needs to turn back to God. Ezekiel’s message is a strong message of repentance for each individual person.

In verse 2 he says, “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: ‘The parents eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?” Sour grapes are grapes that are not fully ripe. This proverb means that what parents do has consequences for their children. When the captive Israelites suffered, they blamed it on their ancestors.

But Ezekiel continued to emphasize repentance of sins for all. As verses 14 to 17 say, “But suppose this son has a son who sees all the sins his father commits, and though he sees them, he does not do such things: He does not eat at the mountain shrines or look to the idols of Israel. He does not defile his neighbor’s wife. He does not oppress anyone . . . He will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely live.” In other words, Ezekiel urges the people to live again by the Law of Moses, to love God and their neighbor. God promises that a person who does this will surely live. Life belongs to the God. Before the God of life, if a person is grateful for life, flees from sin, and lives in obedience to God, they will surely have life.

Verse 25: “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, you Israelites: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust?” God did not want the people to simply shift the blame on him for their present suffering. Instead, as verse 30 says, he wanted them to turn away from all offenses so that sin would not become their downfall. If they did that, God would give them a new heart and a new spirit, as verse 31 says. “Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit.”

To conclude, the Lord’s desire is for each of us to recognize that we have sinned in his eyes and to stop continuing in that sin. To help us recognize that was the purpose of Jesus’ ministry on earth. He was nailed to the cross for our sakes, so that we can be forgiven. As 2 Peter 3:9 says, “. . . [he] is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” Christ gave his precious life for us. It was the sacrifice that bought our forgiveness. That is what we believe.

Even if we have sinned as a nation, it is possible for us to correct ourselves and rise again. By repenting from war, we could become a nation of peace. As Christians, by turning towards Christ, we are freed from the power of sin. We say: God, may your Spirit open our hearts again. Please grant us a new heart and a new spirit. Praying this, may our lives be renewed each day. He is a God who generously gives a new heart to those who choose to repent and live.

 ↓Audio link to the sermon:(1st worship recording)
(If you can’t listen on your iPhone, please update your iOS)