Turn and Live

The Gospel in Ezekiel

Open a book that you have not read and turn to its middle chapters. Start reading. What will you likely find? Confusion. Why? Because, you neither know how this book started nor what led its storyline to this point. Some books, however, offer summary chapters. A reader is fortunate if she starts in the middle of a story and by chance lands upon one. Ezekiel 18 offers us such a fortunate middle. Here you have the gospel summarized in the Old Testament.

To begin, this passage exalts the centrality of God. God is present. He speaks, listens, and engages us (Ezek. 18:1–4). He also commands, takes issue with ways of life that run contrary to his convictions, and declares justice and mercy. God wants people to love him and to love each other (vv. 5–8). We love him by having no other gods but him (v. 6). We love each other by our respect for marriage and sex, by our unwillingness to oppress another human being, by our protecting rather than stealing from one another, by our aversion to murder and violence, and by how we handle money with integrity and use our resources sacrificially to advocate for those who have none (vv. 6–18).

Next, this passage exposes fallen people. Families damage one another. Neighbors hurt each other. To account for this, people create their own proverbs to navigate life (v. 2). For example, if a parent sins, the child is stained and must pay for the parent’s mess. In reverse, if a child sins, the parent must pay for the child’s sins (vv. 19, 20).

But God’s wisdom differs. Individual souls belong to him (v. 4). Those who turn toward God’s convictions on the basis of God’s forgiveness find new life. Those who turn from God and against neighbor, will be judged accordingly and die (v. 30). So God earnestly pleads with us. He takes no pleasure in judgment that leads to death for anyone, even death of the wicked (vv. 23, 32). Mercy and love forge his desire for us. And his judgment is not mean. It says, “enough!” to those who sin against God and their neighbors. It therefore defends those who are victimized, as well as the repentant.

No wonder, then, that Jesus, the Lamb who takes away sins, started his first sermon with, “the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:14–15). No wonder, too, that he died as a judged soul so that you can receive the welcome of a pardoned one. He rose to new life so that you can leave the old one. Our ruin is not God’s goal. “Why will you die?” the Lord beckons. “Turn and live!” (Ezek. 18:31–32)

This article by Zack Eswine is adapted from the ESV Women's Devotional Bible.

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