The Final Purging

21 In the twelfth year of our exile, in the tenth month, on the fifth day of the month, a fugitive from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has been struck down.” 22 Now the hand of the Lord had been upon me the evening before the fugitive came; and he had opened my mouth by the time the man came to me in the morning, so my mouth was opened, and I was no longer mute.

23 The word of the Lord came to me: 24 “Son of man, the inhabitants of these waste places in the land of Israel keep saying, ‘Abraham was only one man, yet he got possession of the land; but we are many; the land is surely given us to possess.’ 25 Therefore say to them, Thus says the Lord God: You eat flesh with the blood and lift up your eyes to your idols and shed blood; shall you then possess the land? 26 You rely on the sword, you commit abominations, and each of you defiles his neighbor’s wife; shall you then possess the land? 27 Say this to them, Thus says the Lord God: As I live, surely those who are in the waste places shall fall by the sword, and whoever is in the open field I will give to the beasts to be devoured, and those who are in strongholds and in caves shall die by pestilence. 28 And I will make the land a desolation and a waste, and her proud might shall come to an end, and the mountains of Israel shall be so desolate that none will pass through. 29 Then they will know that I am the Lord, when I have made the land a desolation and a waste because of all their abominations that they have committed.

30 “As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes from the Lord.’ 31 And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with lustful talk in their mouths they act; their heart is set on their gain. 32 And behold, you are to them like one who sings lustful songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. 33 When this comes—and come it will!—then they will know that a prophet has been among them.” Ezekiel 33:21-33 ESV

Exactly three years earlier, “in the ninth year, in the tenth month, on the tenth day of the month” (Ezekiel 24:1 ESV), the prophet Ezekiel had received a message from Yahweh concerning the coming destruction of Jerusalem. He was told to “write down today’s date, because on this very day the king of Babylon is beginning his attack against Jerusalem” (Ezekiel 24:2 NLT). And God informed His prophet that the Babylonian siege would last three years, then end with the city’s fall.

“Son of man, on the day I take away their stronghold—their joy and glory, their heart’s desire, their dearest treasure—I will also take away their sons and daughters. And on that day a survivor from Jerusalem will come to you in Babylon and tell you what has happened. And when he arrives, your voice will suddenly return so you can talk to him, and you will be a symbol for these people. Then they will know that I am the Lord.” – Ezekiel 24:25-27 NLT

Up until that point, Ezekiel had been struck mute by God and was completely unable to speak to the people. He was restricted to conveying his messages through dramatic demonstrations as dictated by God. But Ezekiel was informed that his muteness would come to an end on the day he received news of Jerusalem’s destruction. And chapter 33 of Ezekiel records that fateful day.

The night before the messenger arrived from Jerusalem with news of the city’s devastating end, God had opened Ezekiel’s mouth so that he could speak. The prophet’s renewed capacity for speech would be put to use immediately as God provided him with a message for “the scattered remnants of Israel living among the ruined cities” (Ezekiel 33:24 NLT). It seems that for seven-and-a-half years, Ezekiel had only been able to speak when God allowed him to do so.

“I will make your tongue stick to the roof of your mouth so that you will be speechless and unable to rebuke them, for they are rebels. But when I give you a message, I will loosen your tongue and let you speak. Then you will say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says!” – Ezekiel 3:26-27 NLT

But with Jerusalem’s demise, this on-again-off-again condition was removed and Ezekiel had full freedom to speak on behalf of God with no restrictions. His first message was to all those Israelites who were living as exiles in foreign lands or who had taken up residence in the wastelands of Canaan. Within these two groups, there were those who believed they had every right to return to the land and make it their own. Their assumption was based on their identity as children of Abraham, and the logic behind it was simple.

“Abraham was only one man, yet he gained possession of the entire land. We are many; surely the land has been given to us as a possession.” – Ezekiel 33:24 NLT

In a sense, they were right. The land had been promised to them by God, but that promise came with conditions. God expected them to live in obedience to His commands. Their status as descendants of Abraham was not enough. Prior to them entering the land of Canaan for the first time, Moses had clearly communicated God’s expectations.

If you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully keep all his commands that I am giving you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the world. You will experience all these blessings if you obey the Lord your God.” – Deuteronomy 28:1-2 NLT

Obedience was the key to blessing. And those blessings would help to set them apart as God’s chosen people.

“If you obey the commands of the Lord your God and walk in his ways, the Lord will establish you as his holy people as he swore he would do. Then all the nations of the world will see that you are a people claimed by the Lord, and they will stand in awe of you. – Deuteronomy 28:9-10 NLT

But now, centuries later, the Israelites were the laughingstock of the world. Hundreds of years earlier, the northern kingdom of Israel had fallen to the Assyrians and now the southern kingdom of Judah was a vassal state of the Babylonians. Its cities lay in ruins and its people had been relegated to a life of poverty and dispossession. Yet, they still believed they had every right to return to the land and enjoy all its benefits.

But God had other plans for them because He knew they remained unrepentant and unworthy to occupy His holy land. Their sinful actions had left the land of promise defiled and in need of divine purging, and God was merciless in exposing their culpability.

You eat meat with blood in it, you worship idols, and you murder the innocent. Do you really think the land should be yours? Murderers! Idolaters! Adulterers! Should the land belong to you?” – Ezekiel 33:25-26 NLT

They were law-breakers and covenant violators and God knew that even the fall of Jerusalem would not cause them to acknowledge their sins and repent. Over the centuries, they had developed a track record of stubborn resistance to God’s calls for repentance, and now they were going to experience the full extent of His wrath, just as He had outlined it to Moses centuries earlier.

“…if you do not listen to me or obey all these commands, and if you break my covenant by rejecting my decrees, treating my regulations with contempt, and refusing to obey my commands, I will punish you.” – Leviticus 26:14-16 NLT

God had given Moses a detailed description of His judgments, clearly indicating the escalating nature of their intensity if the people refused to respond.

And if, in spite of all this, you still disobey me, I will punish you seven times over for your sins. – Leviticus 26:18 NLT

“If even then you remain hostile toward me and refuse to obey me, I will inflict disaster on you seven times over for your sins. – Leviticus 26:21 NLT

“And if you fail to learn the lesson and continue your hostility toward me, then I myself will be hostile toward you. I will personally strike you with calamity seven times over for your sins.” – Leviticus 26:23-24 NLT

“If in spite of all this you still refuse to listen and still remain hostile toward me, then I will give full vent to my hostility. I myself will punish you seven times over for your sins. – Leviticus 26:27-28 NLT

Every if-then statement was fulfilled because the people of Israel refused to listen. No judgment awakened their sense of shame or caused them to repent of their sins. They stubbornly clung to their ways and watched as wave after wave of God’s judgments came against them. And now, God declares that He is going to bring the last phase of His judgment, just as He had predicted through the pen of Moses.

“And for those of you who survive, I will demoralize you in the land of your enemies. You will live in such fear that the sound of a leaf driven by the wind will send you fleeing. You will run as though fleeing from a sword, and you will fall even when no one pursues you. Though no one is chasing you, you will stumble over each other as though fleeing from a sword. You will have no power to stand up against your enemies. You will die among the foreign nations and be devoured in the land of your enemies. Those of you who survive will waste away in your enemies’ lands because of their sins and the sins of their ancestors.” – Leviticus 26:36-39 NLT

That day had come. God declares to Ezekiel, “I will completely destroy the land and demolish her pride. Her arrogant power will come to an end” (Ezekiel 33:28 NLT). The time for purging and cleansing had arrived.

And as for the exiles among whom Ezekiel ministered, God had a word for them as well. Their plaintive pleas for the prophet to give them a message from God were a sham. They had no intentions of keeping the commands of God, whether written on a scroll as part of the Mosaic Law or spoken from the lips of His prophet.

“…my people come pretending to be sincere and sit before you. They listen to your words, but they have no intention of doing what you say. Their mouths are full of lustful words, and their hearts seek only after money. – Ezekiel 33:31 NLT

God informs Ezekiel that his audience only feigns interest. They listen politely and intently to what he has to say but have no intentions of changing their behavior. Yet God assures His prophet, “when all these terrible things happen to them—as they certainly will—then they will know a prophet has been among them” (Ezekiel 33:33 NLT). God hints at a day when the people will finally wake up and realize what they have done. The full weight of God’s judgment will have its full effect, awakening His rebellious people to their need for God’s healing and forgiveness. While this chapter ends on a negative note, it gives a glimpse of the good news to come. God’s judgment had a purpose and His plan was not yet complete.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Knowledge of the Holy

10 You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean…– Leviticus 10:10 ESV

26 Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. – Ezekiel 22:26 ESV

When God commanded His people, “You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy” (Leviticus 19:2 ESV), it was clear that He had certain expectations He was communicating. This divine imperative is found in a whole section of Scripture in which God reiterates His  requirements for what it meant to “be holy.” In verse 2 of chapter 19, God commanded Moses to tell the people, “You shall be holy,” and then He followed it up with a list of specific rules and regulations outlining acceptable and unacceptable behavior for His people.

Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father – vs 3

you shall keep my Sabbaths… – vs 3

Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal – vs 4

When you offer a sacrifice of peace offerings to the Lord, you shall offer it so that you may be accepted. – vs 5

On that last one, God was very specific and indicated that the portion of the offering that was theirs to eat had to be consumed on the day the offering was made or no later than the day after. Failure to heed God’s command came with dire consequences.

If it is eaten at all on the third day, it is tainted; it will not be accepted, and everyone who eats it shall bear his iniquity, because he has profaned what is holy to the Lord, and that person shall be cut off from his people. – vs 7-8

Don’t miss what God says here. Deciding to keep the portion of the sacrifice graciously provided by God for His people and eat it just one day late resulted in the entire offering being made profane. Not only that, the one who offered it was to be cut off or separated from the rest of the congregation. The Hebrew word is karath, and it carries the idea of a body part being cut off. This was a severe punishment, resulting in the removal of the guilty party from the family of Israel. They were to be banished from the faith community. Why? Because they had profaned what was holy to the Lord.

The Hebrew word for “profaned” is chalal, and it refers to the polluting or desecrating of something that had once been sacred or set apart as holy. The offering became unacceptable to God because the one who offered it failed to follow God’s explicit instructions. And not only did the sacrifice become profaned and, therefore, unacceptable, so did the one who offered it. They were no longer fit for God’s presence. They were no longer welcome among God’s people. This is serious stuff.

And God was far from done. His list of requirements for holy living goes on for several more paragraphs, and notice how everyday practical they are.

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge… – vs 9

you shall not strip your vineyard bare… vs 9-10

You shall not steal… vs 11

you shall not deal falsely… vs 11

you shall not lie to one another… vs 11

You shall not swear by my name falsely, and so profane the name of your God… vs 12

You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him… vs 13

The people of Israel were not free to live however they wanted to live. Their daily activities and interactions with one another were regulated by God and not left up to their own opinions or devices. The rules regulating their behavior were far from subjective and never left up to the personal whims of the individual. God was demanding behavior that was in keeping with His will, not theirs. And if you look closely, so much of what God commanded them to do was in direct opposition to the natural inclinations of the human heart.

God required selfless behavior, reflecting a concern and care for others. He was demanding that His people treat one another justly and with dignity. They were to view one another as holy, set apart by God, and worthy of respect and honor. They had been sanctified or set apart by God as a unit. The entire nation of Israel was considered as God’s chosen people, His possession. And they were to practice holiness as a community, not just as individuals.

Which brings us to the two verses that opened today’s blog. In the Leviticus passage, God warned Aaron, “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean.”  As the God-appointed priest over the people of Israel, Aaron had a responsibility to teach the people what God considered holy and clean. In doing so, he was also to make clear distinctions as to what was common and unclean. These words are important for us to understand if we are to grasp the concept of sanctification.

Just a few verses prior to this one, we have the record of God destroying Nadab and Abihu, the two sons of Aaron, who had offered strange or unacceptable fire before the Lord. Acting as priests before God, they had done something God had not authorized or commanded them to do.

Now Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron, each took his censer and put fire in it and laid incense on it and offered unauthorized fire before the Lord, which he had not commanded them. – Leviticus 10:1 ESV

And so, God cut them off – literally. He put them to death. And then He instructed Moses to give the following message to their father, Aaron:

“This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” – Leviticus 10:3 ESV

Their behavior had not sanctified the Lord. Their actions had not glorified Him. So, God punished them for their unsolicited and unacceptable behavior. And then He had Moses gather the remaining priests together and provided them with additional words of warning and instructions concerning their behavior in their role as priests. And this concluded with His words: “You are to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean.”

They were to recognize and respect the differences between the qodesh and the chol, the tame’ and the tahowr. The Hebrew word qodesh is derived from the word for “sanctified”: qadesh. They were to know the difference between set-apartness and profaneness. The Hebrew word chol refers to anything unholy or unsanctified. It is common, having not been set apart for God’s use and His glory. As priests, Aaron and his sons had been set apart by God, and they were no longer free to live common lives, doing things according to their own wills or wishes. As God’s chosen possession, the people of Israel were no longer free to live common lives, conducting themselves like all the other nations around them. They had been set apart and were now considered holy by God. And He expected them to live that way. But to do so, they needed to know the difference between the holy and the common. They also needed to know the difference between the pure and the impure.

The Hebrew word tame’  refers to that which is unclean or defiled. And in this context, it means anything that had not been set apart and sanctified by God. This included not only the people of Israel, but their behavior as well, and all the rules that were intended to regulate that behavior. The Hebrew word tahowr is intended to reflect the opposite of defilement. It has to do with purity and cleanness. And God’s commands were to be considered pure, clean, and holy, and treated that way. That is why the apostle Paul wrote, “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12 ESV).

Every rule and regulation that came from the lips of God was to be considered holy and pure, and worthy of obedience. To disregard God’s commands was to treat them as unclean, an act that profaned and desecrated them. That’s why God wanted Moses to clearly articulate the difference between the holy and the unholy, the clean and the unclean. There was to be no confusion on the part of His people. They needed to know the difference so that they might live set-apart lives, in keeping with God’s commands. And that’s why God commanded Aaron and his fellow priests “to teach the people of Israel all the statutes that the Lord has spoken to them by Moses” (Leviticus 10:11 ESV).

An essential part of sanctification is the knowledge of what God expects of His people. It is impossible to live a holy life if you have no idea what that life is to look like. God does have expectations of His people. As Christians, we are to live lives that are in keeping with God’s holy requirements, just as Jesus did. We do not do so to win favor with Him or to earn our way into heaven. We do so because He has set us apart for His glory. Our lives are to reflect our status as His children. But we must be able to distinguish between the holy and the common, and between the unclean and the clean. And to do that, we must know God’s Word and be willing to receive instruction from His Holy Spirit. God did not save us and sanctify us so that we can continue to live our old lives according to our own selfish desires. We are no longer common. We have been set apart by God for His use and for His glory. We are holy, and our daily behavior should reflect that reality. 

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Don’t Oppose What God Approves.

But Peter began and explained it to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying, and in a trance I saw a vision, something like a great sheet descending, being let down from heaven by its four corners, and it came down to me. Looking at it closely, I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’ But I said, ‘By no means, Lord; for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has made clean, do not call common.’ 10 This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. 11 And behold, at that very moment three men arrived at the house in which we were, sent to me from Caesarea. 12 And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brothers also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. 13 And he told us how he had seen the angel stand in his house and say, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon who is called Peter; 14 he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’ 15 As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. 16 And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17 If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” 18 When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”Acts 11:4-18 ESV
The first question we have to ask ourselves when reading this section of Luke’s account, is why did he include it? After all, it simply appears to be a retelling by Peter of all that happened while he was in Caesarea. In fact, it is virtually identical to what Luke wrote in chapter 10. But the key difference is the audience to whom Peter is sharing the story of the conversions of Cornelius and all the other Gentiles who had gathered in his house to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. Peter is addressing his fellow apostles in Jerusalem. He is explaining to a room full of Jews what went down in Caesarea. And he is having to do so because he had been accused of wrongly associating with Gentiles. There were some in Jerusalem who, when they had received news of what had happened in Caesarea, where less-than-happy. In their minds, Peter had done the unthinkable. He, a Jew, had mingled with the unclean. He had defiled himself by associating with those whom the Mosaic law declared to be common and unclean. When Peter had arrived back in Jerusalem, rather than rejoicing with him over the exciting news of the conversions of Cornelius and his friends, these men said, “You went to uncircumcised men and ate with them” (Acts 11:3 ESV).
Their response brings to mind the kind of reactions Jesus had received from the religious leaders regarding what they believed to be His questionable choices in relationships.

10 Later, Matthew invited Jesus and his disciples to his home as dinner guests, along with many tax collectors and other disreputable sinners. 11 But when the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with such scum?” – Matthew 9:10-11 NLT

1 Tax collectors and other notorious sinners often came to listen to Jesus teach. This made the Pharisees and teachers of religious law complain that he was associating with such sinful people—even eating with them! – Luke 15:1-2 NLT

For some in the Jerusalem church, the idea of Peter eating with Gentiles was unacceptable. To think that he shared the gospel with them was even more disconcerting. How could he do such a thing? Well, Peter goes out of his way to tell them. He explains all that had led to his decision to make the journey to Caesarea. And he makes it clear that this had been God’s decision, not his own. He had simply obeyed orders and followed the divine directions given to Him by God. He recounts the vision he had received from God. And he once again makes note of the fact that the sheet containing all the unclean creatures had descended to him out of heaven. It had come from God’s very throne room, which meant that the very creatures Peter had viewed as unclean and defiled, had come from God’s presence. He had sent them. And at the end of the vision, the same sheet, full of supposedly unclean creatures, ascended back into heaven. And three separate times, God had told Peter, “What God has made clean, do not call common” (Acts 11:9 ESV).

Notice what God said to Peter. He was very specific in His word choices. God had told Peter that he had “made clean” these once unclean animals. The Greek word Luke used is katharizō, and it means to cleanse or purify. In a levitical or sacrificial sense, it means to pronounce something clean that has been purified by sacrifice. In a moral sense, it means to free something from defilement of sin and from faults (“G2511 – katharizō – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). God was telling Peter that He had made a divine determination to purify what had at one time been considered unclean. He had done it. God had declared the creatures to be clean. He had passed judgment and declared His decision. And He had expected Peter to accept it.

And the vision had been just that: A vision. It had been a visual tool used to teach Peter a real-life lesson regarding Gentiles and his view of them. God was about to let down a sheet full of unclean creatures, in the form of Cornelius, his family members and friends. But God had cleansed them through the sacrifice of His Son. Their sin debts had been paid for on the cross. They had once been defiled by their sin and separated from God as a result of their impurity, but God had done something to redeem and restore them. He had sent His Son to die for them. And long before Peter and his six companions had made the trip to Caesarea, God had already chosen those who would be saved there. And Peter was not to call common what God had already made clean. God had chosen to remove the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles. Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, wrote of this important determination on God’s part.

In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us. – Colossians 3:11 NLT
The gospel was not reserved just for Jews. Jesus had come as the Jewish Messiah, but He had become the Savior of the world. And once again, Paul describes that what Jesus did on the cross had opened up the doors of heaven to all – both Jews and Gentiles.

13 But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing. For it is written in the Scriptures, “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree.” 14 Through Christ Jesus, God has blessed the Gentiles with the same blessing he promised to Abraham, so that we who are believers might receive the promised Holy Spirit through faith. – Galatians 3:13-14 NLT

Peter had seen this happen first-hand. He had seen God bless the Gentiles with the same blessing He promised to Abraham. He had watched in amazement as the Holy Spirit filled those Gentile converts and empowered them in the very same way He had the disciples on the day of Pentecost. And Peter could only say, “If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God’s way?” (Acts 11:17 ESV). Peter knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that what he had witnessed in Caesarea had been of God. His vision, Cornelius’ vision, the coming of the Spirit, the gift of tongues – it had all been evidence of God’s divine hand. And he had no desire to stand opposed to the will of God.

And Luke simply records that when the Jewish believers in Jerusalem “heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, ‘Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life’” (Acts 11:18 ESV). Like Peter, they saw that this was of God and that they had no business standing in opposition to what God had predetermined to do. If He had decided to deem Gentiles worthy of receiving the gospel, who were they to stand in His way.

As we will say later in Luke’s account, many of the same individuals who had called Peter to task over his association with Gentiles, would raise their voices again in protest over the growing movement to convert Gentiles to the faith. In fact, in chapter 15, we will see where Paul and Barnabas are accused of not requiring circumcision of all Gentile converts. Luke records, “But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses’” (Acts 15:5 ESV). These men were teaching that Christianity was nothing more than a kind of reformed Judaism. They were demanding that all the requirements of the Mosaic law be kept in order to any Gentile to be accepted as a true believer. This matter will come up repeatedly in the later chapters of Luke’s account, as we see Paul and others continue to spread the good news regarding Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.

There were those who could not accept what God was doing. It went against their preconceived notions of religious right and wrong. They had put God in a box and determined that there was only one way for people to have a right relationship with Him – and that was through some form of law-keeping or adherence to a set of religious rules. But Paul, the apostle who spent his life ministering the gospel to the Gentiles, would later write:

27 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.

29 After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. 30 There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. – Romans 3:27:30 NLT

Peter and Paul were ministering in a new day. The rules had changed. The Redeemer had come. The way of salvation had been paved by the blood of Jesus Christ. No more hopeless attempts to try and live up to God’s holy standards on your own. No more need for physical circumcision. God was circumcising hearts and setting apart a people for His own, whom He had declared to be clean. And that would include Jews and Gentiles.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Contaminated.

Thus says the Lord:
“Behold, a people is coming from the north country,
    a great nation is stirring from the farthest parts of the earth.
They lay hold on bow and javelin;
    they are cruel and have no mercy;
    the sound of them is like the roaring sea;
they ride on horses,
    set in array as a man for battle,
    against you, O daughter of Zion!”
We have heard the report of it;
    our hands fall helpless;
anguish has taken hold of us,
    pain as of a woman in labor.
Go not out into the field,
    nor walk on the road,
for the enemy has a sword;
    terror is on every side.
O daughter of my people, put on sackcloth,
    and roll in ashes;
make mourning as for an only son,
    most bitter lamentation,
for suddenly the destroyer
    will come upon us.

“I have made you a tester of metals among my people,
    that you may know and test their ways.
They are all stubbornly rebellious,
    going about with slanders;
they are bronze and iron;
    all of them act corruptly.
The bellows blow fiercely;
    the lead is consumed by the fire;
in vain the refining goes on,
    for the wicked are not removed.
Rejected silver they are called,
    for the Lord has rejected them.” Jeremiah 6:22-30 ESV

 

The enemy IS coming. God has ordained it and nothing is going to stop it. Unless of course, the people were to change their minds and return to Him. But God gives a bleak prognosis when it comes to any future repentance on the part of the people of Judah.

“They are as hard as bronze and iron,
    and they lead others into corruption.
The bellows fiercely fan the flames
    to burn out the corruption.
But it does not purify them,
    for the wickedness remains.” – Jeremiah 6:28-29 NLT

They were contaminated by sin. It permeated their very existence. And it didn’t seem to matter how much God brought the heat of His judgment against them, they remained unrepentant and polluted by sin. So, God tells Jeremiah that He will now refer to them as “rejected silver”. They had inherent value, but their unrepentant sin had diminished their worth. At one time they had been declared holy to the Lord.

Remember that the LORD rescued you from the iron-smelting furnace of Egypt in order to make you his very own people and his special possession, which is what you are today. – Deuteronomy 4:20 NLT

For you are a holy people, who belong to the LORD your God. Of all the people on earth, the LORD your God has chosen you to be his own special treasure. – Deuteronomy 7:6 NLT

They held the distinct privilege of being God’s own possession. Not because they had deserved it, but simply because God had chosen to make them so. He had rescued them from their captivity in Egypt, where they had been undergoing intense testing under the tyrannical hand of the Pharaoh. God had freed them and set them apart as His own. Not because they had deserved it, but simply because God had chosen to do so. And as a result, they belonged to Him, and their lives were to have reflected their new relationship as God’s chosen people. But over the coming years and throughout the successive generations, the people of Israel would prove to be anything but holy.

“Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them. – Ezekiel 22:26 ESV

They had gone from holy to profane. That word, “profane” has very strong connotations. It refers to something that has been polluted or desecrated. But it is directly tied to the idea of holiness. God had set the people of Israel apart or deemed them holy. They belonged to Him. But their constant sin and rebellion had left them profaned, like damaged goods. Rather than being pure silver, they were marred by sin. And it didn’t seem to matter how hot the fire of God’s judgment got, they remained unchanged and unrepentant. The people of Judah had sat back and watched the destruction of their neighbors to the north in the kingdom of Israel. They had seen the devastating impact of the Assyrians as they had swarmed the northern territory, destroying its cities and wiping out its people. But now that they were faced with the same fate, they remained unchanged.

Oh, they were concerned. Jeremiah describes their reaction to his messages of coming destruction:

“We have heard reports about the enemy,
    and we wring our hands in fright.
Pangs of anguish have gripped us,
    like those of a woman in labor.” – Jeremiah 6:24 NLT

They were scared, but they weren’t repentant. They were wringing their hands in worry, but not lifting their hands toward God. They wanted to escape God’s judgment, but weren’t willing to obey His commands. So, Jeremiah warns them that they are going to mourn one way or another. They could choose to repent and come before God in sackcloth and ashes, expressing their sorrow over the rebellion against Him. Or they would find themselves mourning over the loss of their entire nation.

“Oh, my people, dress yourselves in burlap
    and sit among the ashes.
Mourn and weep bitterly, as for the loss of an only son.
    For suddenly the destroying armies will be upon you!” – Jeremiah 6:26 NLT

God reminds Jeremiah of his role. “I have made you a tester of metals among my people, that you may know and test their ways” (Jeremiah 6:27 ESV). His words of warning and his constant calls to repentance were going to reveal the exact nature of the people of Judah’s moral and spiritual state. So far, Jeremiah’s messages had fallen on deaf ears. His warnings had been rejected. His threats had been ignored. His prophecies concerning God’s coming judgment had been contradicted by false prophets who promised nothing but peace and prosperity. And God assesses the true nature of His people as being “stubbornly rebellious” (Jeremiah 6:28 ESV).

It’s essential that we keep in mind that the people of Judah were not pagans who knew nothing about God. They were not ignorant of who He was or unfamiliar with His ways. They were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. They knew the stories of His rescue of their ancestors Egypt. They had heard about His miraculous miracles as He led them through the wilderness. They had been told of the fall of the walls of Jericho and the ultimate rise of David to the throne of Israel. They were proud to be Jews. But none of this seemed to keep them from turning their backs on God. They had taken His many blessings and turned their noses up at them, acting as if God was not enough. They turned to false gods and sought help from foreign nations. They treated God’s laws as optional. The prophet Ezekiel records God’s less-than-flattering assessment of them.

The people of the land have practiced extortion and committed robbery. They have wronged the poor and needy; they have oppressed the foreigner who lives among them and denied them justice. I looked for a man from among them who would repair the wall and stand in the gap before me on behalf of the land, so that I would not destroy it, but I found no one.– Ezekiel 22:29-30 ESV

They were thoroughly polluted, from top to bottom. From the princes in the palace to the peasant in his hut, everyone was stained by sin and polluted by immorality and injustice. They had become profane and, in the end, they had profaned the name of God. Their behavior had given God a black eye. As His representatives, they had done damage to His holy reputation. And that was not something God could or would tolerate. That is why they would end up in captivity. And even there, long after suffering the shame of defeat and deportation, the people of Judah would continue to profane God’s name. The prophet Ezekiel describe what was going to happen and how God, in spite of their continued unfaithfulness, even after their punishment by Him.

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what the sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake that I am about to act, O house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy reputation which you profaned among the nations where you went. I will magnify my great name that has been profaned among the nations, that you have profaned among them. The nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the sovereign Lord, when I magnify myself among you in their sight.” – Ezekiel 36:22-23 NLT

God was going to protect the integrity of His name. He would prove to the people of Judah and the nations around them that He was faithful and that He was all-powerful. He would redeem His people once again. He would restore them to favor. He would make them His holy nation once more. Not because they deserved it, but simply because is faithful, loving, gracious and merciful. And He keeps His covenants.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Day 59 – Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23

Silly Rituals. Serious Business.

Matthew 15:1-20; Mark 7:1-23

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Mark 7:6-7 NLT

The Pharisees took themselves way too seriously. But in reality, they were silly. They had become so wrapped up in their “age-old traditions” that they lost sight of just how ridiculous it all appeared. They had all kinds of cleansing ceremonies they went through before they could eat. Mark tells his primarily Gentile audience just how silly it all was. “The Jews, especially the Pharisees, do not eat until they have poured water over their cupped hands, as required by their ancient traditions” (Mark 7:3 NLT). Notice he makes a point of saying that this was required by their ancient traditions, not God. He goes on to say that “Similarly, they don’t eat anything from the market until they immerse their hands in water. This is but one of the many traditions they have clung to – such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers and kettles” (Mark 7:4 NLT). They had convinced themselves that all this madness somehow made them clean and acceptable before God. They lives in fear that they could have somehow become defiled by coming into contact with something unclean of unholy. But they gave no thought to what was going on in their own hearts. Jesus makes this distinction quite clear. When they confront Jesus and demand to know why His disciples don’t follow their traditions, Jesus pulls no punches. He quotes the prophet Isaiah who was quoting God Himself. “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God” (Mark 7:6-7 NLT). This was God speaking against the city of of Jerusalem and the people of Judah. Their religion had become routine. They were going through the motions. They thought that offering sacrifices was enough. But God was more concerned about their hearts than their offerings. And Jesus was more concerned about the hardened hearts of the Pharisees than He was their silly ceremonies for staying clean.

Their real problem was that they gave more credence to their own rules than God’s commands. They came up with all kinds of convenient work-arounds and loop holes that allowed them to ignore God’s commands and do what they wanted to do. And Jesus made it clear what they were doing. “And so you cancel the word of God in order to hand down your own tradition” (Mark 7:13 NLT). Their rules trumped God’s laws. Their silly rituals held more sway in their lives than the righteous demands of a holy God. And not only that, their rituals were worthless. They didn’t even accomplish what they hoped they would. Because the only impurity God is concerned about is that which is on the inside. God is obsessed with clean hearts, not clean hands. Jesus tells the crowd, “It is what comes from inside that defiles you” (Mark 7:20 NLT), not what comes from the outside. It is that which comes from a person’s heart that defiles him, and no amount of ceremonial hand washing is going to fix that problem.

These men had focused on the wrong thing. They were wasting their time obsessing over the externals, when inside they were corrupt, selfish, self-centered, egotistical, and in direct opposition to the will of God. They refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah. They credited His power as having come from Satan. They called Him a drunk. They ridiculed Him and tried everything in their power to discredit Him and, ultimately, would go out of their way to see that He was put to death. Their example of ceremonial hand washing and ritualistic cleansing was sending a wrong message to the people, and Jesus cleared it up. He made it painfully obvious that these men were far from pure and anything but holy. And the list He gave was more than likely one that applied to these sanctimonious religious leaders. “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you” (Mark 7:21-23 NLT). Interestingly enough, there is no recorded response from the Pharisees. No rebuttal. No defense. No denial. The conversation simply ends. Which speaks volumes. Jesus knew their hearts better than they did. And while they were content to play their silly games and pretend that they were holy, Jesus was letting them know that God takes holiness seriously and saw the true condition of their hearts.

Father, You can see into our hearts and You know things about us that we don’t even know ourselves. Forgive us thinking that the silly religious rituals we go through somehow make us right with You. Keep us focused on our own hearts and never let us forget that only You can cleanse the heart. We simply need to confess our sin and allow You to forgive and cleanse. You are in the heart transformation business. Don’t let us settle for the anything less. Amen.

Ken Miller

Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org