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Take a Deep Breath

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Date June 3, 2015

Have you ever read Ezekiel 16? If not, stop now and do so. There are surely few more disturbing chapters in the Bible. Ezekiel has been commissioned by God to bring his word of judgment to his faithless covenant people, a judgment that would culminate in the overwhelming devastation that Babylon would bring to Jerusalem in 587 BC and Israel’s subsequent exile. Sixty-six times in Ezekiel’s prophecy, the phrase, ‘Then you will know that I am the Lord’, occurs. God is intent on awakening his faithless covenant people to the enormity of their sins. The first half of the book is harrowing reading. Israel has behaved so abominably in spite of its glorious privileges, that its wickedness has made Sodom, yes Sodom, appear righteous by comparison (16:51). It is hard to take in the range and depth of the covenant people’s sins: spiritual prostitution, idolatry, and – take this in – child sacrifice (15:20-21). These are the depths that spiritually privileged people can sink to (read about the extent of Israel’s spiritual privileges in Romans 9:4-5). But, and this is the most astonishing feature in Ezekiel 15, God did not finally and irrevocably abandon this vile and wicked people.

At the moment when you are waiting for the final sentence of doom and judgment to fall, the Lord says, ‘yet I will remember my covenant with you . . . and I will establish for you an everlasting covenant'(15:50). There will be judgment (God is holy), but God’s last word will not be judgment but mercy. It is one of the Bible’s recurring themes that God always has ‘a remnant chosen by grace’ (Rom. 11:5). In the darkestof times, our God will always have a people to worship and serve him.

We live today in dark times, if not yet the darkest of times. Good is called evil and evil is called good. Governments vie with one another in the name of ‘equality and inclusion’ to pass laws that trample on God’s living and life-giving word. Even more tragically, churches that bear the name of ‘Christian’ give their blessing to these God-denying and Bible-rejecting laws. The saving, blood-atoning gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ is reduced to ‘be kind to your neighbour and say nothing that will offend anyone’. The unembarrassed supernaturalism of the Bible is ‘demythologised’ and we are left with no God-initiated creation, no mighty, nature-transforming acts of God, no virgin birth, no sin-bearing, sin-atoning death of Jesus, no bodily resurrection, no ascension into heaven, no coming again in power and glory, and certainly no new birth, without which we cannot enter the kingdom of heaven (at least so said our Saviour himself: John 3:3). We are living in dark times. But our God is rich in mercy (Exod. 34:5). Our Lord Jesus did not come into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him (John 3:1). I have often thought that these words must be among the most remarkable in the Bible, and surely they are.

The times are dark, the visible church, in all its manifestations (yours and mine included) is very far from what God has called it to be. God’s sore but always righteous judgments may yet fall more heavily upon us. But his last word is always mercy. In the midst of the encircling darkness, there is always a remnant chosen by grace.

So what is our calling in these dark times? Not first to point the finger at the liberals and modernists who are disfiguring Christ’s church. What then? To seek the Lord while he may yet be found. To confess with Daniel that ‘we’ have sinned (read Daniel 9). To give ourselves like the early church ‘to prayer and the ministry of the word’ (Acts 6:4). To live as Christians should live, counting everything loss compared to the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour (Phil. 3:8). The gospel is worthy of nothing less or better, our great Saviour who is the gospel is worthy of nothing less.

Ian Hamilton is Pastor of Cambridge Presbyterian Church, now worshipping God on Sunday mornings in All Saints’ Church, Jesus Lane, Cambridge and in Resurrection Lutheran Church, Huntingdon Road, on Sunday evenings.

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