“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O city that brings on herself doom by shedding blood in her midst and defiles herself by making idols, you have become guilty because of the blood you have shed and have become defiled by the idols you have made… Therefore I will make you an object of scorn to the nations and a laughing-stock to all the countries.”
Ezekiel 22: 3, 4b
“For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
I encountered something truly amazing last week – I read something that magnified the wonder and brilliance of Christ even more to me. At the moment I’m going through the Old Testament, reading in Ezekiel. Last week I read chapter 22 – which is all about Israel’s sins. Anyone who has read through the Old Testament will know and be familiar with Israel’s constant rebellion and wickedness up to this point: over centuries, God had shown them mercy time and time again, by providing ways for them to repent and be delivered from judgement because of their evil. Chapter 22 has a few categories that make up different kinds of people, and the sins they commit:
Verses 1-5, and 17-19, describe the people; 6-12 describe the princes, or royal people, and their sins; verses 13-22 describe the judgement that God will unleash upon Israel, 23-29 describe the sins of the priests and prophets, and verses 30-31 highlight God’s unfailing mercy in His attempt to find a righteous man to save them, so that He might show mercy. I want to note some particularly remarkable things that I learned from this one chapter:
1. Murder is just as repulsive in God’s eyes as denying justice or compassion.
“See how the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the foreigner and ill-treated the fatherless and the widow.” v. 6-7.
It is a common misconception that true sin is any one of those actions that are really, really bad – such as murder, rape, stealing, and the like. But this is false – all sin is evil in God’s sight. Sin is any action, word or thought that does not reflect the perfect, holy nature of God. This is something Jesus stresses to us in Matthew 5, when He is showing us that even though we may not actually murder, commit adultery, or commit any outlandish sin, we are very far from being righteous:
“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’ But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement.” Matthew 5:21-22.
From this, then, we should never be so indifferent to holiness, or assume our own righteousness based on any ‘goodness’ we think our actions might represent in us. Even if we are the goody-two-shoes of our group, the gravity of our sin and, thus, our need for redemption is still just as desperate as those who live blatantly in sin; people we often look on as the “most” sinful. Our standard is, and always should be, Christ’s perfection. And since we will not achieve this perfection until heaven, we struggle and strive against our sin, in constant humility, repentance and faith, to be conformed to the image of God’s Son. We all need mercy. Which leads me to:
2. Regardless of the sin of man, God will always try to find a way to show mercy.
“I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so that I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.” v. 30
If you read any book of the Old Testament (particularly 2 Chronicles) you will be overwhelmed with the unrelenting sin and rebellion of the Israelites. Israel were God’s holy people, chosen specifically to be set apart from the rest of the world, that they might display His holiness. This was the reason behind a lot of the ceremonial and civil laws (such as not wearing clothing with more than one fabric, cooking foods a certain way, etc.), to demonstrate that Israel was different from all the other nations, because their God was holy and set apart from all others as well.
But, despite this great privilege and God’s provision, their sin still carried on from generation to generation; sinning against God, but also against one another. From stealing and extortion, to building altars to other gods, sacrificing their children through fire; living in violence and debauchery, and many other iniquities. To come across a verse like this in which God – who has just described the kind of judgement Israel will receive – says that He sought out a man to take the punishment on behalf of Israel is absolutely incredible!
At the moment I’m also reading a book by Barbara Hughes, called “Disciplines of a Godly woman”. Last week I read the chapter, ‘Discipline of the Gospel: The Source of Godliness’. In this chapter, she outlined a wonderful story of a very challenging night at bible study. A very new Christian had come along; she was quite bubbly and friendly but kept fairly quiet throughout, since she didn’t know much about the bible. At the end of the night, she piped up: “I found the most wonderful verse last night!”, and with everyone looking at her, she slowly read out, in absolute wonder and awe:
“For God… so… loved… the world… that He gave… His one… and only Son… that whoever believes in Him… shall not perish… but have eternal life.”
Needless to say, every other person in the room was humbled, some to the point of tears.
How susceptible we are to familiarity, and the indifference it breeds! Let us not ever take for granted the precious truth of the gospel, especially in light of the hopelessness of our sin. Let us with Paul rightly say, “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature.” Romans 7:18, and then again look to Christ and see how more brightly His mercy and salvation shines in the light of this truth. Let us also be comforted, knowing that we have a God who is as infinitely holy as He is merciful; who delights in showing love and compassion to those who trust in Him. What an awesome truth and privilege! What a remarkable foundation for a perfect joy.
Read Romans 6 – 8. How does Paul describe sin, and its place in our lives? What do you understand grace to mean? Are you cultivating a better understanding of grace as you grow in your knowledge of your own sin, but also God’s holiness? Are you constantly falling more and more in love with Christ, our Lord and Saviour? Rest in good faith, brothers and sisters – for there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set us free from the law of sin and death. And sin shall no longer be our master, for since we have died with Christ, we are not under law, but under grace. And what a beautiful, amazing grace it is.