Within the city I live in, there is limited natural, green space in which to escape the cacophony and the concrete. But there is one place my family and I frequent that gives us some sense of escape. It is a small water reservoir with a dirt path on the perimeter and populated by a variety of birds and flowers. It’s a nice place, other than the the greenish, contaminated water, the beer bottles, the lost shoe, the bag of garbage, etc.
This little reservoir reminds me of how sin contaminates our world and compromises its goodness and beauty. I don’t just mean sin in a general sense, I mean my own sin. My sin makes this world an ugly place because it hurts others and is an offense to God.
That was true for Israel as well. God had promised his chosen people a land flowing with milk and honey – symbols of its flourishing. It was to be a little bit of Eden in a desert of sin. It was to be a holy land and a place where people could go and catch a glimpse of what the world was like before sin crept in and infested everything under the sun.
But Israel could not keep herself holy. The nation was rarely a light to the nations and the land was frequently defiled with immorality. Despite the prophets warnings, Israel persisted in her sin and continued polluting the land.
And then God said enough! The land that God had set apart to be clean and holy and beautiful was now littered with injustice and stank to the heavens of idolatry. In the prophecies of Jeremiah we read exactly this:
“Lift up your eyes to the bare heights, and see! Where have you not been ravished? By the waysides you have sat awaiting lovers like an Arab in the wilderness. You have polluted the land with your vile whoredom.”Jeremiah 3:2
“But first I will doubly repay their iniquity and their sin, because they have polluted my land with the carcasses of their detestable idols, and have filled my inheritance with their abominations.”Jeremiah 16:18
Israel’s sin constituted both adultery and idolatry. Whoredom and worship of false gods permeated the holy land and the holy people who lived there. In a place designated to be an oasis, there was the putrid filth and icky green sludge of sin.
The only way to clean the land was to remove the source of the pollution – the people. Thus, God sent his chosen people into exile; just as if he had swept up all the garbage in the land and sent it off to the dump.
But even the drastic event of the exile did not purge the land of the stubborn stain of sin. It did however point forward to a future event where sin would fully and finally be dealt with. That ancient grime that stuck to our hearts would be scrubbed clean and the polluted creation would be renewed to pristine condition. Only the blood of the God-man Jesus Christ could accomplish such a deep and permanent cleansing.
While that full restoration is guaranteed by what Christ did on the cross, it remains but a foretaste. That means sin is still present, polluting our hearts, our lives, our world.
The task of the Christian then, is to be less and less the foul odor of sin, and more and more the pleasing aroma of Christ. We are to be little pockets of the new creation in the midst of a desert of sin. Or, to put it another way, we are to be reservoirs of beauty and greenness in the middle of the smog and harsh realities of sin.