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Author:Rev. C. Bouwman
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Congregation:Smithville Canadian Reformed Church
 Smithville, ON
 www.smithvillecanrc.ca
 
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
 Kelmscott, Western Australia
 frckelmscott.org
 
Title:In the face of his bride's blatant harlotry, the God of grace remembers the covenant
Text:Ezekiel 16:60-61a (View)
Occasion:Reformation Day
Topic:God's Amazing Grace
 
Preached:2002-11-03
Added:2004-04-15
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Text: Ezekiel 16:60-61a "Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed"

Scripture Reading:
Ezekiel 16
Ephesians 2:1-10

Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise" Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 36:2,3
Psalm 103:4
Hymn 24:1,5,6
Psalm 78:1,2,23,26
Psalm 103:1,2,3
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!

October 31, 1517: Martin Luther posted his 95 theses against the practices and teachings of the Roman Catholic Church. That small event of nearly 500 years ago was spectacular in its significance, for the Lord used it to set in motion the reformation of His church. Central to that reformation was the gospel of salvation by grace alone through faith in Jesus Christ. On this first Sunday after Reformation Day we open the Bible to Ezekiel 16, a portion of Scripture that very much stresses the good news of salvation by grace alone. Possibly no other chapter of Scripture draws out the wealth of this glorious doctrine as richly as does this chapter, and that's true because white is never so white as when it's contrasted against a background of black. And white as Ezekiel's white is in our chapter, so black is Ezekiel's black!

I summarize the sermon with this theme:

IN THE FACE OF HIS BRIDE'S BLATANT HARLOTRY, THE GOD OF GRACE REMEMBERS THE COVENANT.


The dazzling heights of God's amazing grace to Israel.
The glorious purpose of God's amazing grace to Israel.


1. The dazzling heights of God's amazing grace to Israel.

We read in our text this morning God's statement to Israel that "I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth." The term 'remember' means much more than an action of the memory, a recollection. When God in the Bible says He "remembers", the point is that His recollection drives Him to action. After Noah had floated for 150 days on the waters of the great flood, "God remembered Noah" (Gen 8:1), and the result is that God sent a wind to dry up the earth. With God 'remembrance' leads to action. When God says in our text that He will remember His covenant, His point is that He will abide by the promises of the covenant, will deal with Israel in mercy, will fulfill for Israel all the promises He once gave to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Those promises, we know, were incredibly rich; not only would God bless Israel, but God would also make Israel a blessing for the whole world. That is: through Israel the Savior promised in Gen 3 would come into the world, and His work would provide redemption for Israel and for peoples of every tribe and tongue and nation around the globe. A glorious, wonderful gospel!

In our chapter, though, the Lord does not accent the wealth of the gospel's content. Instead, in our chapter the Lord stresses the nature of the people to whom God gives this gospel. It's this element that points up how much the gospel is grace, pure grace. What, then, is the nature of the people to whom God gives this gospel? That concept is caught in the word 'you' as found in our text: "I will remember My covenant with you."

You. That's the people God had described in the first 59 verses of the chapter. This picture is far from nice, is in fact revolting, but it needs our attention - if only because the Lord has seen fit to include it (with its offensive details) in the Bible He gave us.

The chapter begins with God's instruction to Ezekiel in vs 2 to "cause Jerusalem to know her abominations." The term 'abominations' captures the theme of this chapter, and refers to the harlotry this chapter describes in such lurid detail. In fact, in Ezekiel 16 the Lord invites Israel to look back on her history, yes, the Lord analyses the history recorded in the Bible from Genesis to Chronicles. As we for our part read to and teach our children the history for God's people as we find it in the Old Testament, we do well to keep in mind God's interpretation of Israel's history as we find it in our chapter.

God's description of Israel's history begins with the concept of rejection. Vs 4: "on the day you were born your navel cord was not cut, nor were you washed. nor wrapped in swaddling cloths." Instead, "you were thrown out into the open field," loathed, an unwanted child. That captures exactly Israel's place in Canaan in the days of her infancy. Read through Genesis: the Canaanites were not comfortable with the tribe of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in their midst; from infancy the Israelites were strangers in a strange land. Though not 'at home' in the land of Canaan, the Lord preserved them alive, told Israel in her blood to live. In the course of time Israel thrived "like a plant in the field" (vs 7), became a family of 70 persons by the time Jacob moved his descendants to Egypt.

When God passed by her again, God saw Israel was of marriageable age. That is, Israel had become a people numbering in the millions. In Egypt, though, Israel was still naked, rejected; they were slaves. But God entered into a covenant with Israel, made her His bride. At Mt Sinai God established His covenant of grace with Israel, married her (Ex 19f). Only then, after marriage -says vs 9- did God wash from Israel the blood of her birth; that's a reference to the blood of the covenant that was sprinkled over Israel for the washing away of sins at Mt Sinai (Ex 24).

God also clothed His bride "in embroidered cloth and gave [her] sandals of badger skin," and endowed her with necklaces and rings and other delightful adornments. The embroidered cloth, the badger skin, the gold and silver: it's all a reference to the tabernacle God commanded Israel to build in the desert, the tabernacle where God dwelt in the midst of His people, where the gospel of salvation through Jesus' blood was daily proclaimed in Israel. God poured out His blessings upon His people in food and drink in the desert, defense and protection too, and the result is that Israel's reputation spread among the nations - to the point that Rahab, for example, described Jericho's fear of Israel-who-had-such-a-God..

All of this, we understand, points up the gospel of grace. That Israel was rejected at birth, still unwashed and naked in her teenage years, cuts to shreds any thought that somehow Israel earned God's favor. No, God loved Israel, God married Israel, God endowed her with the glorious riches of the gospel of reconciliation with Him, simply because He wanted to; it was grace, grace alone (cf Dt 7:7f). What a God this is, deep in compassion!

But Israel's history continues after the marriage ceremony at Mt Sinai. The Lord describes this further history in vs 15: "But you trusted in your own beauty, played the harlot because of your fame, and poured out your harlotry on everyone passing by who would have it." It started in the desert already in the days of Balaam; "the people began to commit harlotry with the women of Moab" and bowed down to Moab's gods, I read in Num 25 (vs 1f). Though God, jealous Husband though He was, expressed His righteous anger at His bride's unfaithfulness, she continued with her unfaithfulness. It's the theme of the book of Judges; says chap 2: "they forsook the Lord God of their fathers., and they followed other gods from among the gods of the people who were all around them.. They played the harlot with other gods, and bowed down to them." (vs 11ff). It's equally the theme of the period of Jerusalem's kings; time and again the people of Israel refused to entrust herself to own Husband, but sought protection instead from foreign kings and their gods.. A political alliance here, a nod of appreciation to that god there; Israel's Husband called it all by its proper name: adultery!

Look at the details in the vss 15 to 29. All her Husband's riches, the garments He gave her and the jewelry and the embroidered cloth and the oil and the fine foods: all His blessings she cheerfully gave to other men in order to obtain their favors. God's blessings in good crops, fat cattle, numerous children: all were given to idols to express gratitude to them for the good things they'd given, given to them to manipulate them to bless Israel in the coming year again. Use God's gifts as God's gifts, use them in faithful thanksgiving for His blessings?? Not at all! Harlotry, adultery, prostitution: that, says God through Ezekiel, characterized Israel ever since He married her at Mt Sinai and washed her clean in the gospel of Jesus' blood. The history of Israel from the book of Joshua through to Chronicles is caught in the loaded words of vs 30: "'How degenerate is your heart', says the Lord God, 'seeing you do all these things, the deeds of a brazen harlot.'"

That persistent unfaithfulness -to the point of paying men for their favors instead of having the men pay her!- that persistent unfaithfulness and rejection of her Husband and His love provokes at length God's righteous response. Vs 35: "Now then, O harlot, hear the word of the Lord!" And the Lord proceeds to explain the judgment He will bring upon the wife of His youth. All those lovers of so many years God will bring up against Jerusalem, and He will expose her nakedness for them all to scoff at.. Then God will strip Israel of all the wealth God had given, and leave her naked and bare (vs 39), as bare as she was at the beginning. The wealth God will strip away: that's first of all the temple with its gospel of reconciliation. That temple would be destroyed, the city razed, the people carted off into exile. Indeed, "naked and bare" as they were before Mt Sinai, rejected, thrown out.. In the days of Ezekiel the first Israelites were already in exile, and the destruction of the city of Jerusalem a mere half dozen years away.. All her abominations, all her harlotry over the years, the decades, the centuries: finally, finally this Husband has had enough and would pour out His jealous vengeance on His unfaithful bride..

For our part, brothers and sisters, we hear all this, and we understand that Israel's sins have reached to high heaven, the measure of her sins is full, and so she deserves totally to be destroyed, God's covenant with her broken. It would be right on God's part to divorce Israel altogether, stone her. For the wages of sin is death, and we appreciate that Israel's conduct toward her Husband was sin in the most loaded sense of the word, black as night..

But behold then, brothers and sisters, the glorious words of our text! Says God here: "Nevertheless I will remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth." We understand now who the 'you' is. That's the bride of the Lord who has been so brazenly adulterous!! Though so deserving of damnation, her Husband-by-covenant is going to give her life, life in the fullest sense of the word; He's going to renew the covenant, take her back, lavish upon her again the blessings He'd earlier given at Mt Sinai in the gospel of Jesus Christ. This, beloved, this is grace: God reaches out to His brazenly adulterous bride, and in the midst of her adultery does more than pour out His wrath; in the midst of adultery He remembers mercy!

Ezekiel 16: it describes in such offensive detail the first part of the Catechism with respect to Israel, her disgusting Sins and Misery - Lord's Day 2-4. But God does not permit Himself to be defeated by Israel's sins and misery; after the first part of the Catechism comes immediately the second, the part on Deliverance, God's immeasurable grace - Lord's Day 5-31. It's the glorious confession of the church, so wonderfully rediscovered through the work of Martin Luther: salvation is by grace alone, not because of works, lest anyone should boast - as Paul writes in Ephesians 2. And it's exactly the deepest blackness of Israel's sins that makes the glory of this gospel stand out so wonderfully; God saves the lost, God saves the spiritually dead, the radically undeserving. Lord's Day 2-4, that part on Sin and Misery, parallels the black of Ezekiel 16, as Lord's Day 5-31, that part on Deliverance, parallels the white of our text. It's the undeserving of Lord's Days 2-4 that receive the grace described in Lord's Days 5-31!

And if this undeserved gospel of free grace is not enough, brothers and sisters, to fill one with awe for the God of glory, come and see the infinite extent of God's mercy in Jesus Christ. Vs 60: the covenant of youth God would remember would, says God, prompt Him to "establish an everlasting covenant with you." That is to say: despite the ghastly transgressions of which Israel was guilty, despite the despicable track record Israel displayed in the many centuries since God first claimed Abraham for Himself, God would yet dare to establish an eternal covenant with Israel, a covenant He would never break! Why? Because God knows that in future Israel would be so exemplary in behavior as to earn God's eternal favor? No, beloved, no! With the track record Israel has there isn't the slightest reason in the world to suppose that Israel's future behavior will be more appealing to God! But here again is God's infinite mercy in Jesus Christ. The judgment Israel deserves will be poured out on Another, onto Jesus Christ, and so the people who daily earn God's damnation will be saved - grace alone!

The gospel of salvation-by-grace-alone is not new to us; it's the life-blood of the preaching we've heard over all the years we've been in the Free Reformed Church. But it's here as with so many things: familiarity breeds contempt. So we need to realize that when the Lord in our chapter describes so much of Old Testament Bible history as such barefaced harlotry, He does more than describe Israel's Sins & Misery. Rather, precisely by describing Israel's lewd behavior so pointedly and so accenting Israel's Sins and Misery, the Lord is laying the stress so firmly on the overwhelming depths of His grace. For white is never so white as against a background of black! Israel is black, black, and therefore the whiteness of God's grace so dazzling. Get used to such whiteness, accustomed to the gospel of salvation-by-grace-alone? No, beloved, No! May God grant that we never get used to it, never take it for granted; may God grant that we always delight in the dazzling whiteness of His grace, and therefore also readily acknowledge the blackness of our sins and misery.

I come now to our second point:

2. The purpose of God's amazing grace.

In grace alone, then, the Lord promises to dredge vilest Israel up from the depths of her iniquity and clothe her again in robes of righteousness for Jesus' sake. What will the effect be of such amazing grace upon Israel? Vs 61: "Then you will remember your ways and be ashamed."

You hear it, beloved? God's outpouring of amazing grace upon the undeserving will, says the Lord, prompt a positive response in Israel - finally! After all those years of habitual adultery and so abuse of God's good gifts, Israel will finally respond in a manner pleasing to God. How will Israel respond to God's flood of grace? Israel will "remember [her] ways", will remember her Sins and Misery. But the awareness of her Sins and Misery, all her transgressions over the years, will not, says God, will not lead Israel to the depths of despair as if there is no hope. No, says God, the remembrance of her Sins & Misery will cause the Deliverance of God's grace to stand out in more glorious terms than ever before. And it's that contrast, the revolting blackness of her Sins and Misery over against the dazzling whiteness of God's Deliverance, that will make Israel "ashamed". You see, congregation, the shame, the repentance does not appear in the Catechism between the section on Sin and Misery and the section on Deliverance (say, in Lord's Day 5), as if our repentance moves us from a state of Sin and Misery onto the path of Deliverance. No, it is the genius of the Great Reformation -so Biblical to its core- that the Catechism placed the concept of repentance after the second section of the Catechism, in Lord's Day 32, after it confessed God's work of Deliverance in Jesus Christ. Shame, repentance is not the fruit of seeing your Sins and Misery; shame, repentance is the God-give fruit of seeing your Sins and Misery against the background of God's glorious grace in Jesus Christ. See there, beloved, the glorious purpose of God's amazing grace to Israel; the infinite extent of His free grace in Jesus Christ was designed to move His people to shame and to repentance - that in turn (vs 63) they might know that God is the Lord, and so live lives of Gratitude to Him for the Deliverance He so graciously gave to the undeserving.

Let that order of things, beloved, be fixed in our minds. Repentance from our sins is not the cause of our Deliverance, as if we through our works have to earn God's grace. That grace comes for free; it is grace. Repentance from our sins is the fruit of our Deliverance, is the work of God that flows from seeing the splendors of God's free grace lavished liberally on the harlotrous. That is why all praise for salvation belongs to God alone and not a dot of it to man.

Certainly, this gospel of free grace takes nothing away from our responsibility always to repent of all our sins day by day. As far as our responsibility is concerned, our repentance comes before we can receive God's grace. That duty needs to be held before us time and time again; from human perspective, the onus lies on us. But as far as God is concerned, our repentance comes after we receive God's grace, shame for sin is the result of seeing God's amazing grace against the background of our vulgar depravity. That is the emphasis of Ezekiel 16, yes, that is the emphasis of the gift of God in Jesus Christ -Eph 2- and that is the gem rediscovered in the Great Reformation: salvation is for free, salvation is by grace alone -undeserved, unearned- so that he who boasts can boast only in the Lord.

In our chapter the Lord mentions a second purpose for His amazing grace. Not only will His grace prompt His bride to shame and repentance and a life of gratitude; God's amazing grace will also supply His bride with daughters. According to vs 46 both Samaria and Sodom were sisters to Jerusalem, the threesome were partners in their adultery. In fact, Jerusalem, God's bride, had out-performed both these sisters with her sins so that both Samaria and Sodom look good when compared to Israel - says God in vs 51. Given what we know of Sodom, this is no small indictment for God's people by covenant..

But look: such is the purpose of God's amazing grace -says God in vs 61- that Israel will "receive" her two sisters as daughters. Point? When God dredges unworthy Israel from the depths of her Sins and Misery up to Himself again, He has to reach past Sodom and Samaria, deeper than Sodom and Samaria to collect Jerusalem. So when He pulls Israel to Himself again He pulls Sodom and Samaria along in Israel's wake. Salvation is of Israel, O yes, but it is not for Israel alone. So great is the grace of God for the undeserving that even the heathen get carried along in the wash of His compassion! So the people of God receive children, spiritual children, fellow believers from every tribe and tongue and nation. Exactly because grace is so very much grace is it freely given -without cost to the recipient- to all sorts of people and all sorts of sinners. Even Israel, even Samaria, even Sodom can be washed of sin, delivered from Sin and Misery, and transformed by the Spirit of God to produce works of Gratitude. And that is why we too can be saved!

Familiarity breeds contempt; we come to take God's grace for granted. But in Ezekiel 16, brothers and sisters, the Lord would put 'amazing' back into our understanding of grace - that in turn we might delight in the riches of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and so respond in awe and adoration for a God of such mercy - and so in turn be daily ashamed of our sins and seek to seek to show our gratitude for His deliverance by a life of thankful obedience. Such clear vision of what God's grace really is will translate in turn into a manner of living, and of acting towards each other, that will draw the Samaritans and the Sodomites of our world to the splendor of God's amazing grace - to His greater glory and their salvation. Amen.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. C. Bouwman, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://members.iinet.net.au/~jvd/Sermons/Ez16,60-61a.htm

(c) Copyright 2002, Rev. C. Bouwman

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