Ezekiel 11:16 Though I (God) removed (my people) far away among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a little while in the countries where they have gone. 17 Therefore (Ezekiel, say to my people): Thus says the Lord God: I will gather you from the peoples, and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel. 18 When they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. 19 I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
After many years of their unfaithfulness to God, God withdrew his hand of protection from the Israelites resulting in their defeat at the hands of the Babylonians. Here God, through the prophet Ezekiel, reveals some important things:
- The people are described as having hearts of “stone”. In other words, they were really stubborn. Despite lots of warnings to turn away from their sin, they continued in their wicked ways. I can relate.
- God was determined to do something about this:
19 I will give them one heart, and put a new spirit within them; I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, 20 so that they may follow my statutes and keep my ordinances and obey them. Then they shall be my people, and I will be their God.
The people didn’t escape their sin and brokenness by trying harder to live the way God intended. They were restored through God’s initiative, not their own. This is not to say the people had no part in their reconciliation with God. They did. But the impetus for their restoration came from the Lord first.
I’ve recently begun a sermon series called “Unstuck” in which we are exploring how people get trapped in ways of sin and death – and how we can be set free through Jesus Christ. You can stream or download this sermon (and other recent sermons) by downloading our church app onto your smart device (phone or tablet). Search for “Rejoice Lutheran” in whichever app store you use (apple, android, blackberry, windows). Once installed, select the “sermons” tab along bottom of app screen and listen to the first installment of “Unstuck”.
Like most of you, I’ve had my fair share of dysfunctional habits, addictions, and self-inflicted wounds. In fact, my freedom is still a work in progress. But a key point to remember is that our freedom is principally God’s work in progress, a work in which we participate. It is God who transforms a heart of stone to a heart of flesh – a heart that resists the temptations of sin and death and embraces the ways of God. All I can do is surrender to the Lord, repent of my sin, and trust in God’s power to set me free. Today’s passage reminds me that God is cheering me on, every step of the way.
Heavenly Father, many of us have turned a deaf ear to you at some point in our lives, perhaps even now. We find ourselves in bondage to sin, unable to free ourselves. By your power, O God, soften our hearts that we might turn toward you and away from sin and death. Give us grace to be your people, as you are our God. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.