As Seen On Sunday: "Not For Your Sake"
I have been thinking a lot after Josh's sermon about the Gospel and liberation. I originally was looking for an answer to the question “is liberation only from sin or is it also within society.” So I decided to take a look at a people group who were professionals at being oppressed and taken captive - that group being the Israelites. Yet, I never really found an answer to the question I was looking for. Instead, I found myself reflecting on my place since I am a sinful man being compared to a Holy God.
The Bible reading plan that I have been using has been in Ezekiel. Most of the book talks about God punishing the Israelites since they worship idols and consistently went against the commandments of God but finally I came to a point where God says He is going to bring them back. This, of course, is because they had finally learned their lesson and God was finally smiling down on them AND my sermon is 3 easy ways to get God to smile and bless you? Nope.
Ezekiel 36:22-32 starts out with “It is not for your sake.” I actually got stuck right there. What does God mean it wasn't for their sake? Isn’t everything that God does about us? Okay, God punished them but NOW it’s time to bless them! Right? Apparently not. Everything that God says He is going to do is for His own Holy name!
Even in their punishment, the Israelites were still looking to false idols. Charles Dyer says that the “Other nations viewed the sovereign God through the actions of Israel, thus besmirching His holy name” . The nations looked on and believed that the God of the Israelites was powerless to help them and now God is going to up the ante.
So God lays out a plan to prove that He IS God.
First, He is going to physically bring them all back. It feels like the Israelites get exiled often because it is something that God warned them about often if they did not change their ways. But it’s already clear that God is not bringing them back to the land that He gave them because of changes in their hearts. It’s purely a message to the nations.
The next thing God says he will do is cleanse them. This basically refers to ceremonial washing that was required for different defilements. Even Jesus asked some people to fulfill the ceremonial cleansing rites that were required under Jewish law.
Once they are clean he will give them a new soft heart. One that is not closed off from Him but one that is teachable and open. There are many examples of people having heartened hearts (pharaoh is just one), but the Israelites as a whole had hearts of stone, which needed to be dealt with.
And finally, He would give them His Spirit to help them obey Him. “27 And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” It is obvious that humanity cannot obey God when we are left to our own devices. We need help and so did the Israelites. Although God was doing everything for His name, God was not going to leave them without a way to be able to follow Him.
Because of all of this they would be His people and He would be their God and He would bless the land. Not without remembering all of the bad things they had done.
Does this sound familiar? As I was writing this I found that there are parallels between this and salvation. I wouldn’t go as far to say that this is a “pre-salvation” but certainly, the two have similarities. They are by no means mirror images of each other.
- Gathered - This one might a stretch but I connected the kingdom of God being at hand to the Israelites returning to their land. If believing transfers a person from one kingdom to the other, salvation means we have returned to the promised land. Another connection could be seeing the earth as being in exile and going to heaven to returning to the promised land. Either way, it does seem as if there is a returning aspect for modern day Christians.
- Cleansing - There is definitely a lot of talk of being cleansed in both testaments. We even sing about being washed in the blood of the lamb. After a list of people who won’t inherit the kingdom of God, 1 Corinthians 6:11 says, “And such were some of you. [meaning that we all fit into those categories] But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
- Heart - just as God would give them a new heart, we talk about how God had made us new creations. 2 Corinthians 5:17 “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” We also talk about being in a new bloodline, the old man passing away, and our minds being renewed - all in connection with God.
- Spirit - The Holy Spirit is a big part of the Christian faith. Jesus leaves and says He isn't leaving us alone. Because of the Holy Spirit we are supposed to do greater things than Jesus. But there is not anything to be prideful about in this. We are helpless without God’s Spirit. The Israelites needed His Spirit and so do we.
After all of this, We will be God’s people and He will be our God.
Finally, once we have come to our senses we will remember all of the things we have done. It serves as a reminder of all the things God has done despite our sinfulness.
But Sean! We have a mission to go and make disciples of all nations, surely God does things for our sake right? I just want to remind us that Israel was meant to be a nation of priests for all the other nations and that did not exempt them from being punished by God. It also did not mean that God restored them for their sake. The delayed judgment of God is mercy. God does not owe us anything and anything good He does for us is grace. It is God’s grace and mercy that He chooses to use us to make His Holy Name known. We are renewed for His Name’s Sake.
- Do you think this applies to us today? or was this just a cutesy comparison but God now raises us up because we have been saved by grace through faith?
- Do you think God is doing any of this for our sake or any reason besides for his name?
- What would modern equivalents of being gathered, cleansed, and renewed look like?
- Are we still here because God is going to make himself known through making examples out of us?
- Are God’s motives wrong for helping us? - “I’ll help you so that everyone knows how awesome I am.”
Charge of Mission:
We should stop thinking so much in terms of what God is going to do for us and start focusing on who God is and the honor and glory which the Holy God deserves. If that means that He will use us to form relationships with more humans, we still cannot boast, as we are sinful and God is holy.
We provide a recap of the Sunday sermon to encourage you in the faith each week but it's not the same thing as being here.
 Charles H. Dyer, “Ezekiel,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, vol. 1 (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985), pg 1297.