|JANUARY 2006||NEW YEAR MESSAGE||
“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh” [Ezk 11:19, 36:26]
Prophet Ezekiel lived in Babylonian exile. Ezekiel’s Prophetic book has three main messages.
Without knowing the background it is difficult to fully understand the prophetic message. The background is the fall of Judah. Israel as a nation was under the direct care of Jehovah. The relationship was guided by covenants. A covenant is an agreement between God and his people. God’s Covenant was an act of showing grace mostly spoken having full force of the law on the binding party and often culminated in rituals to make it reality. The gist of all covenants was that “I will be your God and you will be my people.” The covenant was always conditional. Violations had terrible consequences. All covenants had the common element in it.
God’s Covenant with Noah, Gn 9:11-17.
Covenant with Abraham, Gn 12:3, 15:8. 17:6-8.
Covenant with Moses
Covenant with David
When the nation defied God’s law God punished them with foreign oppression, captivity, famine, etc. The nation, king and people alike broke God’s covenant and turned sinful and immoral, which debilitated them against enemies. Jehoiakim first ruled as vassal of Egyptian Pharaoh and then of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon who won the battle of Carchemish. Jehoiackim died in BC 597. His son Jehoiachin became king. Nebuchadnezzar deposed and carried him captive and some nobility with him to Babylon and installed Zedekiah instead. Zedekiah later revolted. Babylonian army besieged and burned down Jerusalem, captured him, put out his eyes, ransacked the temple, and carried people captives to Babylon. Ezekiel justifies that the Babylonian captivity is God’s will. But the love of God is so great that He cannot forsake Israel for ever; He will restore them. But before that the people have to turn from their evil ways and seek after God. God himself initiates the reversal by putting a new heart in them, a heart of flesh instead of their stony heart.
What is the stony heart? Stone has varied meanings but here it stands for infidelity, pride and unrepentant mind. Stony heart is defiled with worldly thoughts, delights of the flesh and full of hate and resentment. It is unrepentant, unforgiving, unkind, unloving, cruel, away from God and spiritually dead. It represents the old sinful being. There is no room for goodness, morality and righteousness in it. It is stumbling to gospel. Mathew 19:8 employs a Greek term, Skleerocardia, to convey a condition of heart which is closed to God’s grace. As dysfunctional heart-valves cause death stony-heart prevents the flow of God’s grace causing spiritual death. Satan takes control in this condition and impels the victim to commit all sorts of sins. Change of attitude (heart) is difficult in such vicious condition. Stony heart rebels against God. God calls Israel, “House of rebellion, impudent, heard-hearted, adamant and harder than flint.” Wickedness, infidelity, ruptured relationships, family feuds, social unrest, etc are the results. God shall initiate restoration because sinful human is unable to restore himself, says Prophet Ezekiel.
Heart of flesh is just opposite of stony heart. It nurtures and delights in the Word of God. Psalmist says, ‘Word is my delight.’ Be it sick with sins of the flesh, infixed in worldly desires or imperfect, it approaches Christ who is life and perfection of virtues, the doctor who heals and fountain of mercy. Heart of flesh is free from burden of iniquity because Christ is its justification and strength; the way to eternal life, light and imperishable beauty. “Taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy is the man who takes refuge in Him,” says the Psalmist. It yearns free from worldly impurities. It is full of love, compassion, morally upright and righteous; forgives, considers no offence to others where relationship with spouse, siblings, kids and others are in proper place.
Destruction of Jerusalem, Judah, Israel and the captivity were according to the sovereign will of God to teach the erring nation a lesson. Think how God made Israelites wander in the wilderness for forty years! How and why the horrible judgment of God fell upon Zedekiah? Like his most predecessors, “He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord his God and humbled not himself before Jeremiah the prophet speaking from the mouth of the Lord,” 2Chr 36:12. “He rebelled against the king, who had made him swear by God, he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart from turning unto the Lord God of Israel,” v13. “Moreover all the chief of priests and people transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen and polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem. The Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God and despised his words, misused his prophets until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people till there was no remedy. Therefore he brought upon them the king of Chaldees, who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary… and he gave all into his hands,” v14-17. Babylonians ransacked the palace and the temple, took all the valuables and holy vessels of the temple, killed the people and took captive those remaining, v18, 19. This total destruction of the nation fulfilled Jeremiah’s prediction, Jer ch 25-27; v20. This reminds us, not to rebel against admonitions; Word of God.
Are we different today? Do we not live in a more pernicious predicament? Some time ago, the renowned Billy Graham told, ‘if judgment is not brought upon this nation God would have to regret for what He did to Sodom and Gomorrah.’ He was right, for the present generation is engrossed in all kinds of sinful ways more than ever before.
Historically the first batch of Pilgrim Fathers came to this land for free worship. They were pious Christians. They brought with them a seven foot wooden cross and the first thing they did after landing was; they glorified and thanked God and grouted it on the shore dedicating this land to the glory of God, which stands a monument till today, just as Joshua erected 12 stones as memorial after crossing river Jordan. They imprinted their unflinching submission to God in everything they touched. They wrote “One Nation Under God,” in the constitution, “In God We Trust,” on the coin and placed “Ten Commandments” in court rooms. They began the school-day and highest branch of government with prayer. God blessed this nation in the exact measure; plenty of food, wealth and all round prosperity and highest status among the comity of nations.
This all round prosperity has led man to falsely put his trust in his self-righteousness rather than God who sustained them all these years leading to a gradual moral degradation. Satan assumed many glamorous names like fashion, feminism, Civil Liberty, equality, choice, alternate life style, etc to destroy the faithful. Many judges, pastors, politicians and educators act as his chosen agents. Birth of moral decadence was first in the religious circle when people began to belittle the sanctity of the Word of God by interpreting it to satisfy their vindictive, selfish ends. Mining the word of God and twisting it diametrically contradicting one another to justify every conceit of worldly aspiration has become flourishing business devouring the innocent that culminated in never ending fission raising mushroom organizations. Unstable and untaught are easy preys. They manipulated theology, promoted homosexuals, trans-genders and harlots as acceptable way of life, defiled the office of clergy, daringly appointed sinners to the office of bishop though Holy Bible strongly detests these. “Woman should not wear that which pertains to man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all that do so are abominations unto the Lord thy God,” Deut 22:5. God instructed Moses to design priestly vestments to Aaron and his sons, Exodus chapter 28. How women, homosexuals and trans-genders will fit in them when Holy Bible says these are abominations? (Deaconess and nuns are not meant.) Such thing was unheard of until a while ago in Kerala but not anymore. One Anglican priest in Trivandrum voluntarily sent his wife to study theology and upon graduating CSI (Indian wing of Anglican) church created sensational news of ordaining her the first woman priest in Kerala. It took only 6 months for the newly ordained female-clergy to divorce her clergy husband! Since people are not satisfied with duties which God has given them by birth they create their own gods to satisfy their ego. There are more than enough reasons for the Church to be vigilant and watchful. The bad elements have intruded and corrupted many people. Instead of apprehending and warding off corruption they are attracted to it and inject what they learn from such spurious sources into the unsuspecting innocent faithful. A stony heart refuses to accept the undefiled faith of the blessed fathers. “Watch over heart with all diligence to guard the character:” Proverbs 4:23.
“In the old times men were instructed to offer in the temple the first-fruits of the threshing-floor and the winepress (Num. 18:12). Likewise we ought now to offer God self-control and truth, ascetic practice, love and prayer as the first-fruits of the virtue of contemplation. Through the first we repulse the assaults of mindless desire and anger; through the second we vanquish empty thoughts and the snares into which they lead us,” says a Church father.
“Our greatest protection is self-knowledge to avoid the delusion that we are seeing ourselves when we are in reality looking at something else. This is what happens to those who do not scrutinize themselves. What they see is strength, beauty, reputation, political power, abundant wealth, pomp, self-importance, bodily stature, certain grace of form or the life. They think that is what they are. Such persons make very poor guardians of themselves: because of their absorption in something else, they overlook what is their own and leave it unguarded. How can a person protect what he does not know? The most secure protection for our treasure is to know ourselves: each one must know himself as he is, and distinguish himself from all that is not he, that he may not unconsciously be protecting something else instead of himself,” St Gregory of Nyssa.
Let everyone cherish Christ in the coming years, for who is in Christ is a new creation, behold old things passed away, says St Paul. May God abundantly bless all of us. My family and I wish all of you a very prosperous New Year.
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