Psalm 119:113–120; Ezekiel 36:8–36; 1 Peter 4

Psalm 119:113–120: Our psalmist’s world view is binary. There are the followers of God’s law like him and there are the evildoers, whom he hates:
The perverted I hated
and your teaching I loved.” (113)

Evildoers are to be avoided at all costs because theY create a hinderance to one’s ability to follow God’s laws:
Turn away from me, evildoers,
that I may keep the commands of my God.” (115)

It’s worth noting that this entire psalm is about loving God’s law, but not necessarily God himself. In fact, God comes across as a pretty unpleasant, saber-rattling character who shows no grace whatsoever but mainly exists to punish miscreants who fail to follow God’ law:
You spurned all who stray from Your statutes,
for their deception is but a lie.
Like dross You destroy the earth’s wicked.
therefore I love Your precepts.” (118, 119)

The final verse of the stanza gives us an insight into the psalmist’s true feelings about God, which are quite a contrast to his feelings about God’s law:
My flesh shudders from the fear of You,
and of Your laws I am in awe.” (120)

Of course when we think about God’s true nature there’s no question that shuddering flesh (great phrase) is an important aspect of our response. That’s why I’m grateful for Jesus interceding with God on our behalf. But again, how much better (even easier?) to have faith in Jesus Christ than in God’s law.

Ezekiel 36:8–36: Still speaking as the voice of God to the mountains and other geography of Israel, Ezekiel describes how Israel will one day be restored: “I will cause many people to live on you—yes, all of Israel. The towns will be inhabited and the ruins rebuilt. I will increase the number of people and animals living on you, and they will be fruitful and become numerous. I will settle people on you as in the past and will make you prosper more than before.” (10, 11)

Which must have sounded pretty good to those Jews stuck in exile in Babylon.

The chapter goes on, becoming increasingly explicit, about how Israel will one day be restored. But before there is restoration there is God’s reminder of Israel’s vile deeds that led to their present situation: “when the people of Israel were living in their own land, they defiled it by their conduct and their actions. Their conduct was like a woman’s monthly uncleanness in my sight.” (17) We’ve encountered a lot of metaphors and similes in our readings, but the comparison of israel’s sins to a woman’s menstrual period certainly stands out!

Because of their manifold sins, God “dispersed them among the nations, and they were scattered through the countries; I judged them according to their conduct and their actions.” (19)

But now there will be restoration, but it’s certainly not because of anything that Israel has done. It’s not even clear if there’s any repentance on their part. Rather it’s because God, being God, will just do for them because he wants to: “It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.” (22)

For me, the centerpiece of this chapter is God’s magnificent promise not only to restore the land but to restore the people—and that includes us—through baptism: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (25, 26)

Moreover, God will send what I take to be the Holy Spirit to these restored people—and to us: “And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (27)

This is one of those points in the OT where it becomes completely clear that there is great continuity between what the prophets foretold and what became reality through Jesus Christ. Jesus’ saving power indeed returns our stone-cold hearts to flesh, which is feeling and emotion, and caring for ourselves and for others.

This passage is also the great antecedent for the sacrament of baptism, and gave John the Baptist sound theological ground for his message and baptism in the wilderness. And as Jesus promises in the Upper Room Discourse, God has planned all along to provide the Holy Spirit to us.

As Ezekiel’s voice of God states over and over, God is not doing this because of anything Israel—or we—have done. It is strictly God’s own initiative: “ I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign Lord. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, people of Israel!” (32) God acts from pure grace—grace that our psalmist does not know or understand. And neither do we. At the core of Lutheran theology is the fact that it is Jesus who comes to us, not of any good works we have done to make God happy.

Unlike our evangelical brethren who talk about “making a decision for Christ,” Ezekiel makes it clear that God has made a decision for us—even though we don’t deserve it.

1 Peter 4: Because of what Christ has done for us, we “do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires,but rather for the will of God.” (2) In other words, we must abandon our former habits. Our former friends may be surprised and even angered at our change in behavior: “They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you.” (4)

This is certainly something to center our own lives around as we live in an increasingly post-Christian world. The Colorado baker who refused to bake a cake to celebrate a gay wedding has certainly felt the impact of Peter’s assertion. The question for me is, would I be courageous enough to stand up to friends who encourage ungodly behavior?

Peter’s remarks are a terrific checklist for how to live an honest Christian life: “Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others,as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms.” (7-10)

In fact, Peter continues, when we are confronted and reviled by others, “if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” (16)

As always the challenge is, do I meet these standards? When measured against these standards I’m afraid the answer is generally ‘no.’

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