You Will Be Clean

Ezekiel 36:25 “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.”

The God of the Bible once chose a people for himself. It’s not that he ever desired some people not to belong to him. He was happy to have them all. But in general humanity kept running away. So he chose the family of Abraham, which became the nation of Israel. These people became his very own.

But they kept running away from him, too. After a thousand years of trying to work with them, he kicked them out of their homeland. He stopped treating them like his special people. This same prophet Ezekiel saw a vision in which the Lord picked up his presence and left the temple in Jerusalem. Then the Babylonians came and took the people away. For seventy years they lived in a foreign land.    

Still, God had a plan to take his people back, and to take his people home. In order for him to take his people back, and have them live with him, some things had to change. His people needed to be cleansed. He promised through Ezekiel: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean.”

Don’t think that this cleansing was just a formality. Every human needs it desperately, no exceptions. We bring far more filth with our sins than the filthiest flee- or lice-infested stray dog or cat ever did. The Old Testament prophets and New Testament apostles both confront the peoples of their times with long laundry lists of common sins–not just sins common among the “heathen,” but things believers, Christians, struggle to do or let go.

Some of these we might categorize as sins against holiness. These are the kinds of sins in which we indulge our personal desires. We lose our self-control. We misuse God’s gifts like food, or drink, or sex.

Some of these we might categorize as sins against love. We care only for ourselves. We ignore our neighbor’s needs. We live selfishly in the way we use our time, our money, our talents.

At the root of our Lord’s concern are “all your idols.” Something or someone creeps into first place in our hearts ahead of God. In Ezekiel’s day, this was often literally gods of other religions. The cult of Baal and Asherah promised you fertile land and fertile animals, a more bountiful life, if only you would embrace unmarried sex. That wasn’t very hard to promote. The cult of Molech promised power and success if only you would sacrifice your own babies, your own sons and daughters, to death by burning them in the arms of the idol.

More or less these same gods, minus the religious trappings, still spook around in our own culture today. Anything can become our idol, a rival god. To the Lord, that is disgusting filth. In fact, the word Ezekiel uses for “idol” is related to a word that means “manure” in the Hebrew. The Lord may love us, but he is not content to have that filth in his home or around his person. If he is going to take us for himself, he needs to cleanse us.

So that is what he does. Notice the pronouns here. “I will sprinkle clean water on you…I will cleanse you from all your impurities.” He doesn’t say, “Go take a bath and come back.” He says, “I will do this.” The Lord is in the business of making his people clean and washing their sins away.

For Ezekiel’s original audience, sprinkling with water was something they knew from the temple. There was a sprinkling ceremony that purified the men who worked in the temple. Another sprinkling with water was used to cleanse people who had been in contact with dead bodies. All of this was a picture, a foreshadowing of a greater sprinkling and cleansing to come.

Referring to the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice, the author of Hebrews says in chapter 10, “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water” (vs. 22). When we come to faith, Jesus’ blood is sprinkled over us, so to speak. We receive the full cleansing of his sacrifice at the cross. We have been washed of our sins, and we don’t have to carry a guilty conscience around with us anymore.

Then there is the literal sprinkling of water at our baptisms. Baptism is always connected to Jesus’ death and resurrection. Baptismal water is always mixed with Jesus’ blood, spiritually speaking. That is why Ananias could say to Paul at his conversion, “Get up, be baptized, and wash your sins away” (Acts 22:16). In the waters of our baptisms God is saying, “I am cleansing you.” We are passive, but God is active, promising us the forgiveness of our sins.

God’s cleansing makes us a people acceptable to him, a people he welcomes into his own home.

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