June 6, 2017

June 4, 2017 - Ezekiel 36:24-28

Theme: May the Pentecost Force Be With You
1) Christ-specified
2) Spirit-driven

Just over 40 years ago, if you would have gone up to someone on the street and said, “May the force be with you” you would have undoubtedly gotten a strange look in return. Today, however, everyone knows what that phrase means. The saga of Star Wars has indeed taken over our culture and the “force” is really the driving force behind it. Star Wars even has its own day on the calendar, exactly one month ago today, May 4, as in May the force(the) be with you!” Actually, though we just passed the 40th anniversary of the release of the very first Star Wars movie (May 25, 1977). For many, it’s hard to believe that it has been that long. For others, it’s simply astounding how popular the franchise has now become, with a new generation of movies coming out. 

The newest of the movies, Rogue One, features a character who is in complete harmony with the force. He’s a monk-like follower of the ancient Jedi ways, but he’s also blind. As you can imagine or as you’ve probably heard, he’s a fan favorite too, approaching an almost Yoda-like devotion. In the movie, he’s known by the poetic phrase he repeats again and again, “I am one with the force and the force is with me.”

The religious metaphor is not lost on the Star Wars faithful. There’s a reason this character is blind. He embodies the faith-based element of the Star Wars “force.” It moves in unseen ways, it is indiscernible to the skeptic, it is mysterious and powerful. Obi Wan Kenobi first defined like this in episode IV: The Force is what gives a Jedi his power. It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together. For many current Star Wars fans, this blind monk has taken on an almost religious, cult-like following. The “force” becomes something real in their minds, a form of positive energy that can keep you focused on the important parts of life. Some, being so discouraged by life around them, take up this character’s motto and actually live by it, “I am one with the force, the force is with me” as if it is actually going to help them.

Witness the blurred distinction between fact and fiction in spirituality. There is a force that is real, one that has absolute power, and it is the Holy Spirit. This Spirit came to mankind in a forceful way, in the sound of a mighty rushing wind. Our text to consider today comes from the prophet Ezekiel’s description of that Spirit, from Ezekiel 36:24-28:  

24 "For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. 25 "Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. 26 "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them. 28 "Then you shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; you shall be My people, and I will be your God.

Part 1: Christ-specific

One of the reasons that the “force” resonates with humankind is because we are feel the presence of God in one way or another, and many have a hard time putting a name or definition to it. God created us with a basic knowledge of His presence. It’s part of who we are by nature. It’s natural that people would gravitate toward different ways of finding Him, that’s why we see so many different religions. Most people want to follow God but follow what they want as well. So you get different smatterings of cultures mixed into religions and different teachings about God. What most people don’t want is to be told what the truth is and to have only one, fixed way of following God. But, if there is only one God, then there is only one truth, and one way of following Him.

The differences between the Bible and Star Wars are many, but these thoughts about the force all come down to one thing, Christ. The force of the Bible, if you would call it that, is Christ-specific. Star Wars…not at all. What do we mean by Christ-specific? Well, first it is all about Christ, and second, it is not a generic faith. The thing about the force in Star Wars is that it is always so undefined and ambiguous. Perhaps that is the point. It is meant to be generic so that people can make of it what they would like. A shot of spiritual adrenaline, if you will, to pick ourselves up and move forward in life.

The truth of Christ, on the other hand, is extremely specific. In fact, that’s kind of the point of the Gospel. The Old Testament books hold over 50 direct Messianic prophecies that give exact details about the Savior such as: where He would be born, what He would accomplish, how He would die, and even what His nature and the purpose of His work would be. Jesus took the time to affirm several of these prophecies while He was on earth, just so that people would not get mixed signals. And Peter preached on the first Pentecost saying, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Acts 2:36). There’s no wiggle room for different interpretations there. It is absolutely clear that Jesus is the one and only Savior of the world, according to the Bible anyway.

Part 2: Spirit-powered

Where does the Holy Spirit come into play? He is the promised Helper of believers. He is the real force that keeps the Christian alive spiritually. And just as Jesus is not unclear in who He is, so also the Holy Spirit works in a very specific way.

One might find one of those very specific ways in verse 25 of our text, namely Baptism. The sprinkling of blood in the Old Testament was a very common thing. However, this is the only time water is spoken of as being sprinkled. We wouldn’t fault anyone for seeing Baptism here, although we have no knowledge of whether or not Ezekiel was actually talking about it. We know from the rest of the Bible that the act of sprinkling water in connection with God’s Word is a Baptism, but the Bible also speaks of simply being cleansed by the Holy Spirit, much like one would be cleansed with water in a shower or bath.

Regardless of Baptism or not in our text, it’s what the cleansing of the Lord does that is special. Verses 26-27 are the meat of the matter: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. 27 "I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.

The Bible looks at the heart as the center of a person’s emotions. In Biblical terms the heart was equal to the mind. Literally, the heart is the center of our physical existence. It pumps blood throughout our body and supplies each member with the oxygen it needs to live. But, we are more than just material creatures. We have a soul. We have emotions. We use our logic. These things are not made of flesh and blood. We often look at the mind as the center of these immaterial attributes. In the Biblical sense, they are one and the same. To be cleansed in the heart, emotionally, is to be renewed in the mind. To have life in Christ. (David – Psalm 51)
Think of how the Bible depicted Pharaoh’s unbelief during the ten plagues. Time after time it says that he “hardened his heart.” In contrast consider how forgiveness in Christ is described, Ephesians 4:31-32 Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. 32 And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.

The difference between a heart of stone and a tender heart is the difference between unbelief and faith. And the Holy Spirit is the force behind this transformation. The wording of verse 27 is eye-opening to say the least. God says He will give (put) His Spirit in people which will make (cause you) to walk in His Word. Through this you will uphold (keep) His judgments and do them. Let’s simplify it a bit. God gives and does. We keep and do.

God gives and does: The idea of “put My Spirit within you” literally means to give something, as in a gift. Think here of God’s grace, the undeserved gift of love and forgiveness. This comes to us without effort or work on our part. It is a free gift. When this happens, the Holy Spirit “causes us to walk in His statues.” Literally, to do His Word. God doesn’t shortchange what is needed for salvation. He doesn’t cut corners. He upholds it all. So when our record is examined, the gift of the Holy Spirit ensures that we are actually holy through Christ. His works, his doings, become ours. And so the passage continues:  

We Keep and do: Once the gift of God has been given and received by the Holy Spirit, we live for Him. Our lives are dedicated to His honor and glory. The renewed mind of faith allows us to follow God’s Word. We are able to keep His commands, but not because it was in our nature to do so. Quite the opposite actually. We resist this transformation on our own. We need to be changed (think heart of stone vs. heart of flesh). At the very end of this whole process, we do just as God did.

This is what is extremely profound about this verse: Our works are sanctified by Christ and therefore they have just as much merit as the ones He did. The word is the same in our text, except one is applied to God and one to us. The difference is in the one who gives and the one who receives. To trust God by faith is to keep that relationship as it is, with the Holy Spirit as the force, as the sanctifier, and we as the sinners who need His help. Anytime faith or conversion becomes something different, it lessens the work of the Spirit, and it de-rails God’s method of producing life; and the works that we do will not be the same as God’s. Only the Holy Spirit can do that (Hebrews 11:6). 

“I am one with the force and the force is in me.” He’s talking about a union, a relationship. Some people actually believe it to be true, but they know nothing more about this “force” other than that it makes them feel special. The force of Star Wars is certainly a dramatic thing, but it has nothing on the Holy Spirit. He gives us true unity with God by faith in Jesus. With Him working as the force in our spiritual lives, feeding and building on the Word of God, we will keep and do. Think about that. The very same work God does in perfection is done through our imperfect bodies by the Holy Spirit. Should we expect anything less, we are, after all, meant to be His temples. That is true union which means something and which promises a much better future. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen. 

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