“Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember ….” (Ez. 16:63)
For a Bible teacher, Easter always presents a special challenge. The story of Easter is essentially the central message whose thread binds God’s Word together. But it is such a familiar account that we struggle sometimes to present a lesson that brings a fresh perspective. One way that I tried to accomplish that as a teacher was to unravel the thread of the Easter message from whatever passage of Scripture our class was studying at the time, rather than turning to the more familiar passages from the gospels.
Never was that challenge greater for me than when my class was studying the Book of Ezekiel a few years ago. In fact, on that particular Easter Sunday we were in the 16th chapter of Ezekiel, an allegory which paints a graphic picture of unfaithful Israel. God portrays Jerusalem as an abandoned newborn baby left out in a field to die. He describes how he in essence married Jerusalem, and established her as his queen, only to see her prostitute herself, committing adultery with surrounding nations.
But even in this graphically vile and lengthy account, three words leap off the page which identify the thread of the Easter message: wrath, remember, and atonement. In Ez.16:37, God promises to bring upon Israel the vengeance of his wrath. The wrath of God is a topic we don’t hear preached much today, but it is a critical element of the Easter story. On that fateful Friday, the wrath of God that we deserve was poured out on the Lord Jesus Christ.
One of my favorite Christian songs is “In Christ Alone”. It was written in 2002 as a collaborative effort between Keith Getty and Stuart Townend with the expressed goal of encapsulating the gospel story in one song. The following verse stirred up a bit of controversy a couple of years ago. “Till on that cross as Jesus died, The wrath of God was satisfied; For every sin on Him was laid, Here in the death of Christ I live.”
In 2013 a hymn committee with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) wanted to add “In Christ Alone” to their new hymnal. But they requested they be allowed to change “Till on that cross as Jesus died, the wrath of God was satisfied” to “Till on that cross as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified.” When Getty and Townend rejected the proposed change, the hymn committee voted not to include “In Christ Alone” in their hymnal.
When asked why they would not allow the lyric to be altered, Townend responded, “We believe altering the lyric would remove an essential part of the gospel story as explained throughout Scripture. The main thread of what we see revealed throughout the Old and New Testament is the need for man to be made right with God. The provided path toward reconciliation came through Christ’s predetermined and perfect sacrifice on the cross, satisfying God’s wrath once and for all. The hymnal committee wanted to change the lyrics to focus on how Christ’s death on the cross magnifies God’s love for the world. And indeed, God’s love was magnified on Calvary’s hill. Yet the way this occurred was through Christ doing for us what we could not do for ourselves – shedding His own perfect blood to atone for our sins.”
The wrath of God is clearly in evidence in the 16th chapter of Ezekiel. But in that chapter is also a glorious glimpse of the new covenant which was instituted at the cross of Calvary. Verse 60 says “Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you in the day of your youth, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you.” Chapter 16 then closes with these words, “Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed and never again open your mouth because of your humiliation, declares the Sovereign Lord.” (Verse 63)
Easter is a time to remember. But as we remember the atonement, let us also remember the price God paid for that atonement. The 16th chapter of Ezekiel is disturbingly graphic, but it needed to be graphic in order to have the emotional impact that God intended. Sin is ugly and offensive to God. How else can we explain the obscenity of the cross? An innocent man – the only truly innocent man who ever lived- is convicted in a rigged trial, mocked and spit upon, tuffs of his beard torn out, scourged with a leather whip tipped with sharp stones that tore into His flesh, a crown of thorns jammed onto his head, forced to carry His own cross on a back that had been flayed raw, nails hammered into his hands and his feet, and then jarred upright as his cross is allowed to fall into its place.
And then to hang there as the crowd continued to taunt him, until He had no more strength to push himself up against the nails in His feet, causing him to suffocate – the most cruel death one could ever experience. Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of The Christ” portrayed the horror of that scene perhaps more graphically than it has ever been done by any filmmaker. Remember how you felt when you watched that movie. Don’t celebrate the resurrection this year without remembering the crucifixion.
How could God permit such a death by anyone, much less One who had lived a perfect life, and who was His own beloved Son? Why did it have to be such a gruesome death? The answer is because our sin is so offensive to God that only such a death could serve to properly atone for it.
God says “When I make atonement for you for all you have done, you will remember and be ashamed.” His words through Ezekiel are designed to spark us to remember that we were once that abandoned baby – lost and without hope. But because of the price Christ paid at the cross, we are now a new creation, reconciled with God, and destined for eternal fellowship with the One who died that we might live eternally with Him.
But let us also remember that we are surrounded by lost souls who have not been released from the bondages of sin and are still destined for hell. This Easter, may remembering what we once were and celebrating what we are now by the grace of God have such an evangelistic impact on our lives that we are compelled to share the gospel message with those among us who have never met our Jesus.
“For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath, but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.” (1 Thess. 5:9-10)
Note: All Scripture references from the New International Version (NIV)