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Imagine a major automobile accident that not only shatters the windshield and dents the hood but also damages the motor and transmission. Taking the car to an auto-body repair shop would make no difference if the engine remains damaged. Having a shiny, dent-free car with no working engine does the owner no good! Only by repairing the vehicle inside and out will it be properly restored to working condition.

The same is required of God’s restoration of humanity. We have already seen God’s intentions to return the people to the land, forgive their sins, and dwell with them again. Those messages are echoed afresh in Ezekiel. God would “gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land,” and “cleanse you from all your impurities” (Ezek. 36:24–25). We might describe these actions as God’s auto-body repair shop; by His mercy,

God’s people are clean again and restored to their home.

But more is needed than just a return to the land and forgiveness of sins. An internal fix is also required, a repair of the heart itself. As Ezekiel says, “I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees” (Ezek. 36:26–27). Likewise, Jeremiah describes the “new covenant” in the same terms: “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jer. 31:33).

The barriers to our relationship with God include more than the need to deal with our external sinful actions. Our entire inward being is inclined toward sin and rebellion against God. Only by addressing matters of the heart can we be restored to full relationship with God.

Apply the Word

The promises of the new covenant are fulfilled in Christ. At the Last Supper, Jesus called the cup “the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:20). And in Christ, a love of God “has been poured out into our hearts” (Rom. 5:5). As you look forward to Christmas, give thanks that Jesus transforms our hearts and makes possible a relationship with God.

BY Bryan Stewart

Bryan A. Stewart is associate professor of religion at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas. His particular interests are the history of Christian thought and the way that early Christians interpreted the biblical canon. He is the editor of a volume on the Gospel of John in The Church’s Bible series (Eerdmans), and he has done extensive research on the ways that the early Church preached on this Gospel. He is an ordained minister. 

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