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Thursday, April 30, 2015

A Mark on the Forehead

Three rather obvious lessons from a fairly obscure passage of scripture.

Ezekiel the prophet is sitting at home with a group of Judah’s elders around him when he has one of those very intense visionary experiences that seemed to characterize his relationship with the God of Israel. Some prophets heard voices and others dreamed, but Ezekiel saw overwhelming heavenly splendor — in the middle of his own living room, one assumes.

I have no idea what that must’ve looked like to the elders of Judah there with him, but I suspect it was more than a little disturbing. Ezekiel’s visions were almost invariably about the judgment of God.

In his prophetic vision Ezekiel sees six executioners with weapons in hand coming through the north gate of Jerusalem. With them is a man clothed in linen who has a writing case at his waist. Then the Lord speaks to the man in linen:
“And the Lord said to him, ‘Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it.’ And to the others he said in my hearing, ‘Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity.’ ”
What can we take from what Ezekiel saw?

1) Sheep to the Right, Goats to the Left …

Immediately after commanding his executioners to show no pity, God adds this instruction: “... do not touch any man on whom is the mark”.

God does not judge the righteous with the wicked. Never, nohow.

This is a fundamental principle in God’s dealings with man, and one that Abraham relied upon when he appealed to God for the preservation of his nephew in the doomed city of Sodom. He said, “Far be it from you to do such a thing, to put the righteous to death with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”

To Abraham, judging the righteous and the wicked together so that nobody could see the distinction between them constituted a fundamental injustice that would violate the character of God. The righteous are neither judged WITH the wicked, nor do their judgments lead to similar outcomes (“Far be it from you … that the righteous fare as the wicked”). Now the righteous may certainly experience both the consequences of the Fall and the sins of others around them, but God always goes out of his way to make a clear distinction between those who belong to him and those who do not. Thus Lot was saved from Sodom, Noah was saved from the flood, and those who sighed and groaned over the abominations committed in Jerusalem were preserved from the executioners of the city.

Recognition that this truth is founded firmly on God’s unchangeable character provides a curative to many extra-scriptural theological notions, “purgatory” and universalism among them.

2) There Is No Shadow of Turning …

James reminds us of this with respect to God’s goodness. He doesn’t change his mind. He will not suddenly turn on us. But it is equally true of God’s determination to deal with sin and to hold the unrepentant sinner accountable.

Judgment may be delayed, but once it begins it is irrevocable: “Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity”. God is unbelievably gracious in holding back his righteous wrath against sin. He held back the flood for years while Noah preached righteousness. He waited 400 years to judge the Canaanites. He has waited two millennia for men to acknowledge their responsibility in the death of his Son and repent of it.

But his righteousness demands that he cannot wait forever. The Lord said to Jeremiah, “Though Moses and Samuel stood before me, yet my heart would not turn toward this people”. When God’s judgment finally comes, it is highly unrealistic for us to anticipate last minute reprieves and second chances.

Those who imagine they can live as they please now and deal with God after they’ve had their fun are putting themselves in a place of very great danger. He is not a man that he should change his mind

3) God Knows the Heart

“Put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations”. While deeds and words will ultimately be judged too, all these originate in the human heart, and God knows the heart’s condition perfectly. A sigh or a groan at the state of the world, the church or the condition of humanity may or may not be visible to man but it is perfectly adequate for God to assess our inner state. And there are no mistakes in God’s judgment because he knows us right down to the core of our beings.

While it can be intimidating to remind ourselves that God knows the heart, it is also a source of tremendous encouragement for those who care about the things of God and find themselves wondering if there is anyone else out there who feels the same way. God knows them and treasures their thoughts and the words they share about the things that matter.

If you feel the way God feels about the importance of his Son, his kingdom and his glory, you don’t have to worry about coming judgment.

There’s a mark on your forehead, even if it’s only visible only to the eye of faith.

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