Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Wednesday, January 29th

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Exodus 7-8, Psalm 22, Matthew 22
Today's scripture focus is Ezekiel 33

Ezekiel 33

English Standard Version (ESV)

Ezekiel Is Israel's Watchman

33 The word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, speak to your people and say to them, If I bring the sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them, and make him their watchman, and if he sees the sword coming upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, then if anyone who hears the sound of the trumpet does not take warning, and the sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head. He heard the sound of the trumpet and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But if he had taken warning, he would have saved his life. But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, so that the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any one of them, that person is taken away in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand.
“So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. But if you warn the wicked to turn from his way, and he does not turn from his way, that person shall die in his iniquity, but you will have delivered your soul.

Why Will You Die, Israel?

10 “And you, son of man, say to the house of Israel, Thus have you said: ‘Surely our transgressions and our sins are upon us, and we rot away because of them. How then can we live?’ 11 Say to them, As I live, declares the Lord GodI have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways,for why will you die, O house of Israel?
12 “And you, son of man, say to your people, The righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him when he transgresses,and as for the wickedness of the wicked, he shall not fall by it when he turns from his wickedness, and the righteous shall not be able to live by his righteousness when he sins. 13 Though I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, yet if he trusts in his righteousness and does injustice, none of his righteous deeds shall be remembered, but in his injustice that he has done he shall die. 14 Again, though I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ yet if he turns from his sin and does what is just and right, 15 if the wicked restores the pledge, gives back what he has taken by robbery, and walks in the statutes of life, not doing injustice, he shall surely live; he shall not die. 16 None of the sins that he has committed shall be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he shall surely live.
17 “Yet your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just,’ when it is their own way that is not just. 18 When the righteous turns from his righteousness and does injustice, he shall die for it. 19 And when the wicked turns from his wickedness and does what is just and right, he shall live by this. 20 Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ O house of Israel, I will judge each of you according to his ways.”

Jerusalem Struck Down

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 GodYou 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 GodAs 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, andher 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.”

Today's passage, according to Rayburn, is about the individual and his responsibility and his opportunity to respond to the Word of God with faith and obedience.

We see here, as we do throughout scripture (isn't it amazing how the entirety of scripture, written over a time span of over 1000 years, remains to consistent in theme and doctrine?!), two sides of a similar coin. We are considered righteous when we turn to God (in NT terms, when Christ's righteousness is imputed to us), and we are considered righteous when we live righteously in response to that turning.

a man’s righteousness is not a matter of the accumulated acts of his life, the sum total of his good deeds, as we do in vv. 12-16; when we read that long life of sinfulness can be made righteous by a turn to God or that a long life of ostensible righteousness can count for nothing if it does not continue in faith, repentance, and love.... A long life of sin is not an insurmountable barrier to salvation and to peace with God precisely because the righteousness men need and can acquire is not a certain proportion of good acts among all the acts of an entire life. If it were, 50 years of sin could not be overcome by turning to God and to holy living at the end of or near the end of one’s life. As Ezekiel makes clear, it is the state of a man, not the accumulated record of his life that tells for life and for eternity.

But just as surely, the character of a man’s life, his ways as we read in v. 20, tell the tale. Here in chapter 33 we don’t read, to be sure, of Christ’s righteousness imputed to us. Actually we will get to that subject in a few more chapters, but here it is perfectly clear that the “turn” that God is after in human beings is a turn in behavior, in one’s way of life. The wicked are wicked because of the wickedness they practice, the bad things they do. The righteous are righteous because of the good things they do....

faith and works in a godly life is a tangle, they are so entangled that it is difficult to treat them as separate things or even precisely to define their relationship. We become righteous before God because Christ’s own perfect righteous life is reckoned to us as if it were our life and not his and that happens when we trust in the Lord, turn from ourselves to count on him. But we are also righteous before God because we live righteously. We are changed from bad to good at the very beginning, at the very outset of faith. Christians are believers; they are also livers of a new life. That is often said in the Bible and at very important junctures not least in descriptions of the last day and the vindication of people before the final judgment of God.

Sometimes the relationship between faith and works is explicitly described, as when Paul summarized his message by saying that he preached that people “should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds” or when Paul says that “faith expresses itself through love,” or when James says that “faith without works is dead” because, as he goes on to say, good deeds are the proof or demonstration of faith. More often it is simply stated either that Christ is our righteousness or that righteous people live righteously, often with no effort made to relate the one righteousness to the other.

As Ezekiel puts it in vv. 12-16, a righteous man is one who lives righteously. He even is willing to speak of a man living righteously and then becoming wicked. We might well think, well, if he became wicked later, they he was not truly righteous before. And that would be true enough. But Ezekiel speaks phenomenologically, according to what can be seen of a man’s life, of how we observe it, of what we can know about it. And it is certainly the case that we can sometimes think a man is righteous because he seems to be living righteously – he is in the ways that we can observe – and then, to our chagrin, we watch him begin to live unrighteously. From the vantage point of our observation he has changed from righteous to unrighteous. And the Bible often speaks this way. The secret things belong to God – what the true state of a person’s heart maybe at any time – we can judge only what we can see. And by that standard men are righteous if they live righteously.

Two sides of the same coin.   Both are true and repeated numerous times in both the Old and New Testaments.  Indeed, both are inseparable.  You cannot turn to God in faith and remain unchanged.

And the turning is the key.

Call it the new birth or the new creation from God’s side or conversion from man’s side. Think of it in terms of putting faith in Christ or think of it as a transformation of one’s way of life. It matters not. The point is: there must be this turning. The people of Judah had not turned. Nothing the Lord had done or said had brought them to turn. No matter their circumstances they continued in the same direction they always had. They wouldn’t turn. All God required of them was that they turn. But they would not....

The history of the world is the history of men and women turning or refusing to turn, choosing to live or choosing instead to die, answering the Lord’s appeal or turning a deaf ear to it. Most magnificently it is a history of vast multitudes of lives that changed, root and branch, and became something very different, more beautiful, more worthy than they were or ever could have been had they never turned...

in Chronicles, their righteousness and their salvation upon their repentance is described in terms of the Lord’s forgiveness of their sins. Here in Ezekiel, it is put in terms of the transformation of “their ways,” their behavior. Both, of course, are true, part of the same grace and the same salvation.

But here in Ezekiel, we are reminded .... that God is summoning us to live a beautiful life, a good life, a kind and loving life, a reverent and devout life, a generous, gracious, loyal, faithful life. That too is salvation. That too is the will of God. That too is righteousness. All of you know very well how your lives ought to be different than they are: how you ought to be righteous, how your “ways” should change. Well it is high time. Turn to God and change then. You can, life is before you; choose it! As we rejoice in the forgiveness of our sins, we must not forget that we are forgiven precisely to live a new life, a different life, better by far.

Choose life, and then live out that choice.

Tomorrow's scripture focus: Ezekiel 34
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Exodus 9-10, Psalm 23, Matthew 23

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