Ezekiel 9:1-6Then I heard him call out in a loud voice, “Bring near those who are appointed to execute judgment on the city, each with a weapon in his hand.” And I saw six men coming from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with a deadly weapon in his hand.Now the glory of the God of Israel went up from above the cherubim, where it had been, and moved to the threshold of the temple. Then the LORD called to the man clothed in linen who had the writing kit at his side and said to him, “Go throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.”As I listened, he said to the others, “Follow him through the city and kill, without showing pity or compassion. Slaughter the old men, the young men and women, the mothers and children, but do not touch anyone who has the mark. Begin at my sanctuary.” So they began with the old men who were in front of the temple.
God’s word is amazing. Here in this old testament writing of the prophet Ezekiel that is filled with rich imagery that is regarded as difficult to understand, here in the midst of ferocious punishment of God we have a beautiful picture of the work of Christ and a reminder of our baptism and salvation.
Earlier, God tells Ezekiel about the wickedness of Israel and His coming punishment:
And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing–the utterly detestable things the Israelites are doing here, things that will drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see things that are even more detestable.” Ezekiel 8:6
In other words, the wickedness was blatant, but that was the tip of the iceberg. There was even worse stuff going on. Consequently, severe punishment was coming: men, women and children were all going to be slaughtered by the six men with deadly weapons. None would be spared, there was no escape.
But before the six men with deadly weapons were released to slaughter everyone, “the LORD called to the man clothed in linen”, and instructed him to “put a mark on the foreheads of those who grieve and lament over all the detestable things that are done in it.” And to the six men, he commanded them “Slaughter [everyone], but do not touch anyone who as the mark.”
Sinfulness is a big deal. Holiness cannot tolerate sinfulness: sinfulness will always be violently destroyed. Slaughtering men, women and children is uncomfortably harsh–but not unwarranted or unfair. Those who have reduced their understanding of God to only a simple “God is love” are undoubtable shocked, confused, fearful and angry at this righteous punishment. But the fact is that holiness cannot tolerate sinfulness.
Sinfulness cannot be made less sinful or less abominable, and holiness cannot be made to be more accepting of sinfulness. Holiness and sinfulness are by their natures incompatible: like fire and ice, light and darkness. God is holy and all-powerful: sinfulness will be destroyed. That is just what happens when sinfulness encounters holiness, just like ice melting in fire and darkness being obliterated by light.
We are without hope and face only certain slaughter…except for the man in linen who places his mark upon our foreheads.
The Bible tells what happened to the body of Jesus after he died on the cross:
So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. Mark 15:46
Jesus Christ, the man in linen. The only holy, sinless one. The only one who could literally do the impossible by providing a way to not only spare the sinful from certain slaughter, but to actually make the sinful holy.
Jesus Christ, the man in linen whose sign is placed upon our foreheads in baptism: “Receive the sign of the cross upon your forehead and upon your breast as a token that you are redeemed by Christ the Crucified.” We sing “All newborn servants of the crucified bear on their brow the seal of Christ who died.”
Jesus Christ, the man in linen whose sacrifice we remember on Ash Wednesday as we impose on our foreheads his mark, covering ourselves with ashes as we grieve and lament over all the detestable things done in the world.
Jesus Christ, the man in linen who is our only hope of salvation…but who is our sure and certain hope of salvation.
Why should God spare me, a sinner, from the righteous slaughter of his punishment? There is only one reason: my forehead bears the mark of the man in linen.
And now what? Beginning at his sanctuary we too go throughout the city with the man in linen, placing his mark upon the foreheads of all who grieve and lament over sin.