A transforming Spirit – Worship @ Home Sunday, 02 May 2021

The Salvation Army, Prestonpans Corps
Major Steven Turner

Song: God who touchest Earth …

God who touchest earth with beauty,
Make my heart anew;
With they Spirit recreate me
Pure and strong and true.
Like thy springs and running waters,
Make me crystal pure;
Like thy rocks of towering grandeur,
Make me strong and sure.

Like thy dancing waves in sunlight,
Make me glad and free;
Like the straightness of the pine trees
Let me upright be.
Like the arching of the heavens,
Lift my thoughts above;
Turn my dreams to noble action,
Ministries of love.

Like the birds that soar while singing,
Give my heart a song;
May the music of thanksgiving
Echo clear and strong.
God who touchest earth with beauty,
Make my heart anew;
Keep me ever by thy Spirit
Pure and strong and true.

Mary Susan Edgar (1889-1973)

Song: Lord, I come to you

Lord, I come to you,
Let my heart be changed, renewed,
Flowing from the grace
That I found in You.
And Lord, I’ve come to know
The weaknesses I see in me
Will be stripped away
By the power of Your love.

Hold me close,
Let Your love surround me.
Bring me near, draw me to Your side.
And as I wait
I’ll rise up like the eagle,
And I will soar with You,
Your Spirit leads me on
In the power of Your love.

Lord, unveil my eyes,
Let me see You face to face,
The knowledge of Your love
As You live in me.
Lord, renew my mind
As Your will unfolds in my life,
In living every day
By the power of Your love.

Geoff Bullock.
© 1992 Word Music/Adm. by CopyCare.

Song: All over the world…

All over the world the Spirit is moving,
All over the world as the prophet said it would be;
All over the world there’s a mighty revelation
Of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

All over His church God’s Spirit is moving,
All over His church as the prophet said it would be;
All over His church there’s a mighty revelation
Of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

Right here in this place the Spirit is moving,
Right here in this place as the prophet said it would be;
Right here in this place there’s a mighty revelation
Of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea.

Roy Turner.
© 1984 Kingsway’s Thankyou Music.

Bible Reading

22 ‘Therefore say to the Israelites, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: it is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. 23 I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.

24 ‘“For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. 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. 26 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. 28 Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.

Ezekiel 36:22-28 NLT

Prayer

Holy God, as we come before you this morning, we pray that you would speak to our hearts and minds about what you wish to do in us and through us.

May we be ready and willing to respond to what you have to say, so that we may bring honour to your name and show people the way to Jesus. Amen

A Transforming Spirit

Introduction

On 3 December 1967 Dr. Christiaan Barnard performed the first human heart transplant on Louis Washkansky  at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, using techniques developed by Norman Shumway and Richard Lower. Adrian Kantrowitz performed the first paediatric heart transplant on 6 December 1967 at Maimonides Hospital (now Maimonides Medical Center) in Brooklyn, New York, barely three days later. Shumway (widely regarded as the father of heart transplantation) performed the first adult heart transplant in the United States on 6 January 1968 at Stanford University Hospital.[1]

D Dinneen~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). – CC BY‑SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1393699

None of the patients (who would all have died without the operation) survived very long. However, over the succeeding decades, advances in anti-rejection drugs, donor matching and supporting technologies have led to higher success rates and survival times longer than 15 years.

Surgery on the heart and its arteries was not new. Throughout the 19th century surgeons performed operations on the pericardium, which surrounds and protects the heart. In 1895 Axel Cappelen operated on a bleeding coronary artery in a 24-year-old stab victim. Over the next 60 years, increasingly complex procedures were developed, extending the lives of countless patients.[2] My own father received a pacemaker in 2018, to ensure his heart kept a regular beat.

Skilled surgeons can replace heart valves, bypass diseased arteries, insert stents in blocked blood vessels. But despite all these clever techniques, there are still patients whose hearts are so weak that the only means to save their lives is a new heart.

Israel’s heart disease

When Moses brought the Israelites out of Egypt, they soon got tired of life in the desert and started to rebel. First, they would not go into the Promised Land, then they persuaded Aaron to make an idol. Over and over, Moses had to challenge them about their behaviour (though he did not get to the Promised Land because of his own rebellion!).

For I know how rebellious and stiff-necked you are. If you have been rebellious against the Lord while I am still alive and with you, how much more will you rebel after I die!

Deuteronomy 31:27

Despite promising to remain faithful once they reached the Promised Land, we read in the book of Judges:

In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.

Judges 21:25 NASB

Later, the Israelites demanded ‘Give us a king to lead us,’ (1 Samuel 8:6), even though Samuel warned them how a king would lord it over them. Eventually, the  rebellion got so bad that God sent them into exile in Babylon.

On their return, the wealthy were quick to rebuild their houses and curry favour with the Babylonians who still controlled it over them but did not build the temple or treat the poor fairly. In all of this period, God challenges the Israelites for the discrepancy between their public actions – worship, sacrifice, protestations of faithfulness – and their moral behaviour. God even goes so far as to demand the temple doors be shut (Malachi 1:10)!

Physical restoration

A recurring theme in the Old Testament, and especially in the prophets, is the faithfulness of God in the face of Israel’s rebellion. Despite condemning the nation, and especially its leaders, the prophets who lived before and during the exile all told of a future when God would restore Israel to her land and her birthright.

Ezekiel was born into a priestly family about the time that King Josiah was seeking to restore Israel’s loyalty to God (2 Kings 22-23). Ezekiel was taken captive in 597BC, aged 25, and carted off to Babylon. His prophecies date from 593-571 BC, the later ones dealing with the restoration of Israel.

In our reading today, we see first that the motivation of God in bringing Israel back from captivity was not the restoration of the glory of Israel, or even the rebuilding of the temple; God was acting “for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone” (v22). In Old Testament time, one’s “name” represents the person. In rebelling, the Israelites had defamed God’s person; he intended to restore his honour before the nations.

In The Sound of Music, Maria and Max sing of their love under the arbour:

Here you are, standing there, loving me
Whether or not you should.
So somewhere in my youth or childhood
I must have done something good.

Oscar Hammerstein II

We like to think that good people are rewarded and bad people punished. But the world does not work that way, and nor does God – at least not in the short term. The Bible is clear that God allows bad things to happen to good people – think of Job, Paul, Peter and John – and bad people do seem to get away with murder. The return of the Israelites to their homeland was not a sign of their loyalty to God, but a sign of his faithfulness to the covenant and a demonstration of his power (v23).

But the return to Jerusalem was only the beginning of God’s plans for his people.

Spiritual transformation

God has a five-point plan for drawing the Israelites back to himself.

1.   Relocation

I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land (v24)

First, the Israelites would be allowed to return from exile.

2.   Cleansing

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. (v25)

Sprinkling with water was a ceremony used to represent cleansing and forgiveness. It was symbolic of the blood that was sprinkled on the altar as part of the ritual of sacrifice, and also of the ritual of washing that made the priests fit to offer sacrifice. God promised that, as the people acknowledged their sin, he would make them clean and worthy to worship him.

3.   Heart transplant

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh (v26)

But an outward transformation is no transformation at all. The real issue had always been their hearts – the seat of the will and emotions. As part of that restoration, the truly repentant would experience inner transformation; their stubborn heart of stone would be replaced by a heart of flesh – capable of experiencing the joys and pains of a covenant relationship with the living God.

4.   Holy Spirit

How would this be different from the other occasions when Israel had recommitted to God? The Bible warns that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9). What would stop them from “backsliding” on their promise?

And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (v 27)

With God’s Spirit inside them, their natural wayward inclination would be replaced by a deep desire to live in accordance with God’s decrees and laws.

5.   A New Covenant

 you will be my people, and I will be your God. (v28b)

What a promise this is: that the relationships God had intended from his call to Abram would finally become a reality – God and people living in perfect harmony.

What a fantastic prophecy – who wouldn’t want it to come true? But God’s Spirit can only work in the hearts of those who are willing to change. Sadly, most of the Israelites were still set on going their own way.

You may recognise many of these images from the teachings of Jesus and the apostles and the book of Revelation. Only with the coming of the Messiah, and ultimately with the restoration of heaven and earth, will these prophecies finally come true.

Conclusion

What has this to say to us, who claim to be God’s people in the 21st Century?

We, like the Israelites, sometimes try to take shelter behind the rules and practices which we create, claiming that this makes us godly. Useful though these rules may be, they are not a sign of godliness. We can fall victim to the same misconception: turning up to church, giving in the offering, praying and reading the Bible, making sure we and everyone around us wears the right clothes, sings the right songs and stands up or sits down in the right places.

But these things do not make us holy. Remember, Jesus never condemned the Pharisees for obeying their finicky rules, just for elevating them above the commandments to love God and to love people. We must not make the same mistake as the Israelites. Rather than tinkering around the edges of our hearts, we need a full transplant, allowing God’s Spirit free reign in our hearts, to make us holy and worthy of carrying God’s name.

Since Pentecost, it’s an offer open to all who believe in Jesus’ name. Have you responded to that offer? If not, will you allow God’s Spirit to cleanse and renew you in the likeness of Christ?


[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_transplantation

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cardiac_surgery#19th_century

Song: He wills that I should holy be

Tune: Duke Street

He wills that I should holy be;
That holiness I long to feel,
That full divine conformity
To all my Saviour’s righteous will.

On thee, O God, my soul is stayed.
And waits to prove thine utmost will;
The promise, by thy mercy made,
Thou canst, thou wilt in me fulfill.

Thy loving Spirit, Christ, alone
Can lead me forth and make me free,
Burst every bond through which I groan
And set my heart at liberty.

Now let thy Spirit bring me in,
And give thy servant to possess
The land of rest from inbred sin,
The land of perfect holiness.

Lord, I believe thy power the same,
The same thy grace and truth endure;
And in thy blessed hands I am,
And trust thee for a perfect cure.

Come, Saviour, come and make me whole,
Entirely all my sins remove;
To perfect health restore my soul,
To perfect holiness and love.

Charles Wesley (1707-88)

Prayer

Lord God, we recognise that you were always faithful to the Israelites. Even when they wandered from your ways, you called them back, forgave them and set them on the right road. And because you do not change, we know you will be as faithful to us.

We ask that you perform the same heart surgery on us that you offered to the Israelites: where are hearts have become hard like stone, renew them by your Spirit into hearts of flesh. May we be so overcome with your love that we never wish to stray again.

And as we become more like your holy Son Jesus, may others “see our good works, and glorify our Father in Heaven.” In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Song: And can it be…

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Saviour’s blood?
Died he for me who caused his pain,
For me who him to death pursued?
Amazing love! how can it be
That thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

He left his Father’s throne above,
So free, so infinite his grace,
Emptied himself of all but love
And bled for Adam’s helpless race.
‘Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For, O my God, it found out me.

Long my imprisoned spirit lay
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke; the dungeon flamed with light.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in him, is mine.
Alive in him, my living head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach the eternal throne
And claim the crown, through Christ, my own.

Charles Wesley (1707-88)

Benediction

May God’s blessing surround you each day,
As you trust Him and walk in His way.
May His presence within guard and keep you from sin.
Go in peace, go in joy, go in love.

Cliff Barrows

About prophetable

My wife Elizabeth and I were commissioned as Officers (ministers) in The Salvation Army in 1997, and have served in appointments in England and Scotland. Since July 2016 I have been working in The Salvation Army's Scotland Office as combined parliamentary and ecumenical representative.
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