Sunday after the Ascension
May 13, 2018
Trinity Lutheran Church—New Haven, MO
“So tell Israel, ‘The Lord GOD says this: I’m not doing this for you, O Israel, but for My holy name that you have defiled among the people wherever you went. I will make holy My great name that you have defiled among the nations. Then those nations will know I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when I let them see how I make Myself holy among you. I will take you from these nations, gather you from all the countries, and bring you to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you to cleanse you from all your uncleanness. I will also cleanse you from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My orders and carefully keep My laws. You will live in the land I gave your fathers and be My people, and I will be your God.
In the name of + Jesus.
Last week we meditated upon the name of Jesus, and what a precious gift it is, by which we have access to the Father to bring our prayers, requests, and petitions apart from any priestly mediator. God Himself is our mediator, the God-man Christ Jesus. For His sake and in His name, our prayers are acceptable before God. And so His name is kept holy, and the Second Commandment is fulfilled by prayer.
But it’s not as if our prayer, our handling of God’s name, makes it holy. The First Petition of the Lord’s Prayer explains that God’s name is certainly holy in itself. He has no need of us to hallow what is already holy. In fact, when we get a hold of God’s name, it can only end in misuse, in profanity. And I’m not talking about using a few bad words. Rather, anyone who teaches or lives contrary to God’s Word profanes the name of God among us. Protect us from this, heavenly Father!
Ezekiel’s prophecy spends some time on the name of God: “So tell Israel, ‘The Lord GOD says this: I’m not doing this for you, O Israel, but for My holy name that you have defiled among the people wherever you went. I will make holy My great name that you have defiled among the nations. Then those nations will know I am the LORD, says the Lord GOD, when I let them see how I make Myself holy among you.”
What does it mean to be holy? In the Old Testament, holy things and holy people were those who were associated with the culture and worship of the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. People and things that were in proximity to God were holy. That is, they were set apart for God’s special use. As the temple culture disintegrated in the course of Israel’s history, and as more and more often pagan worship was introduced, holiness could no longer be associated with the outward practices of Jewish worship. God put His name in the temple for prayer and worship, and the people defiled His name, the profaned it by their unholy living and teaching.
God is the One who makes holy. Good and proper worship and life do not make God’s name holy. It’s the other way around—God’s holy name makes good and proper worship. God makes Himself holy among His people.
The prophets were sent to diagnose transgressions, but also to foretell God’s future remedy. In response to the profanity of His people, God acts even more unilaterally. I will take you from these nations, gather you from all the countries, and bring you to your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you to cleanse you from all your uncleanness. I will also cleanse you from all your idols.
To sanctify—to make holy—is to set apart for God’s special use. If you are in the service of an idol, you cannot be in service of God. So to sanctify you, God separates you from the nations and their false idols. And He uses a very specific means. I will sprinkle clean water on you to cleanse you from all your uncleanness. This is not clean water in the sense of water that’s been through the treatment plant, but water that has been set apart for God’s holy use, water that has been sanctified by His holy name.
And water that is combined with God’s name is called baptism. Ezekiel prophesies of the day when God will use water to cleanse people, not of dirt from the body, but of the uncleanness of idolatry. This is water that cleanses a guilty conscience by the forgiveness of sins. This is what separates—what sanctifies—you from the profane world.
St. Paul writes to the Corinthians, Don’t you know wicked people will have no share in God’s kingdom? Don’t be mistaken about this: No one who lives in sexual sin or worships idols, no adulterers or men who sin sexually with other men, who steal, are greedy, are drunkards, slander, or rob will have a share in God’s kingdom. Some of you used to do these things. But you have been washed, you have been made holy, you have been declared righteous by the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1 Cor 6:9-11).
But this sanctification doesn’t come about with simply a superficial change in behavior. That is simply hypocrisy. No, we need to dig a bit deeper. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit in you and move you to follow My orders and carefully keep My laws.
The problem isn’t dirt on the body that needs to be cleansed with a bath, nor is it some bad habits that need to be corrected with some good old self-discipline. The problem is deeper—a callous heart, a heart of stone. It can’t be reformed; it must be replaced. The old spirit is exorcised by the Holy Spirit; the stone heart is replaced with a flesh heart; the hard-hearted becomes tender-hearted with the gift of the Spirit.
This is your sanctification. Only a tender heart of flesh receives God’s Word and lives according to it. The remedy must work from the inside out. This is where your baptism begins. The sprinkling of water doesn’t wash you outwardly, but, as St. Peter writes, In the same way also, baptism now saves us, not by washing dirt from the body, but by guaranteeing us a good conscience before God by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Who has gone to heaven and is at the right of God, where angels, rulers, and powers have been put under Him.
Just this Thursday, we celebrated our Lord’s ascension. He ascended not to vacate this earth, but to fill it in a more substantial way. From the right hand of God, the Father Almighty, Jesus Christ rules the Church sacramentally. He delivers His kingdom, His gracious reign, with the gift of preaching, baptism, and supper. Sanctification isn’t about doing; it’s about location. You will live in the land I gave your fathers and be My people, and I will be your God. This is not a land that you must patiently await, as the Israelites waited forty years in the desert to enter their promised land. This land is right here, right now, in the Church, in the kingdom of heaven. Christ is present, not far above all galaxies, but here and now. He brings His kingdom of heaven to you here on earth.
You are a community of new hearts, because you are the community of the baptized. The Spirit of God is among you, sanctifying you, setting you apart for God’s service.
The Gift of the Spirit, Which Is Yours in Baptism, Gives You a New Heart
In the name of + Jesus.
Jacob W Ehrhard