Do you remember the little 45 records from years gone by? Also called “singles” the little 7-inch record had two songs on it. The “A” side (or track) was usually the song deemed to be a hit while the “B” side was more like an added bonus. Most of the time it never did as well as the A track.
However, there were a few exceptions.
- In 1956 Elvis Presley released a 45. The A track was “Don’t Be Cruel.” The B track was “Hound Dog.” Both songs became #1 hits.
- In 1962 Booker T. & the M.G.’s released a 45. The A track was “Behave Yourself.” The B track was an instrumental called “Green Onions.” (I never heard “Behave Yourself” but I don’t know anyone who hasn’t heard “Green Onions.”)
- In 1970 Rod Stewart released a 45. The A track was “Reason to Believe.” The B track was “Maggie May.”
I couldn’t help but think of the 45 record and its A track vs. B track history after rereading Ezekiel 37 recently. The chapter is neatly divided into 2 sections (think tracks). The first track (A side) is by far and away the most well-known and popular of the 2 sections. It’s the vision of the valley of dry bones (1-14). The second section (B track) is not nearly as interesting (15-28). It’s about writing names on sticks and putting them together.
Let’s be honest. Dry bones that reassemble themselves and rapidly (and methodically) become living men grabs the attention (and imagination) far more than writing names on sticks and tying them together. Predictably, Ezekiel 37’s B track rarely gets played.
And the consequences quickly become self-evident.
Ezekiel 37’s A track is about restoration. The B track is about the reign of God in the restored.
Do you recognize the problem yet?
The infusion of new life won’t go very far without the reign of God in that new life. In the parable of the sower and the seed (Matthew 13:1-9; 18-23), Jesus spoke of the seed that was sown on rocky soil. New life sprang up quickly but because the rocks blocked the progress of the roots the new life quickly “withered away.” Without the reign of God new life quickly reverts to dry dusty bones.
The vision of the valley of dry bones concludes with the promise that after Israel is scattered among the nations for their disobedience, they would be regathered and restored to life:
And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD (Ezekiel 37:14).
The B track begins with the uniting of two sticks that represent Israel and Judah. They were to be saved and cleansed (Ezekiel 37:23). But note what follows:
My servant David shall be king over then…They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes…and David my servant shall be their prince forever (Ezekiel 37:24-25).
After the restoration comes the reign. “[K]ing…prince…walk in my rules…obey my statutes.”
Salvation and sanctification. Neither works very well without the other.
Israel was indeed eventually restored to its homeland after the Babylonian Captivity. Jerusalem became a thriving city complete with a wall, a king’s palace, and another temple. Only to be decimated by the Roman Empire a few centuries later. They rejected the seed of David while substituting their own traditions for God’s statutes. They could have fulfilled the promise God made had they allowed Him to reign:
My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. Then the nations will know that I am the LORD who sanctifies Israel, when my sanctuary is in their midst forevermore (Ezekiel 37:27-28).
Instead, that unfulfilled promise is repeated in Revelation 21:3 for those who not only long to be made new but also to live under the reign of God.
Modern-day Christianity seems bent on repeating the mistake(s) of its progenitor, biblical Israel. We’re playing Ezekiel 37’s A track over and over. It’s catchier. It’s more interesting. We’ve had a decent measure of success in getting people saved. But we’ve done a miserable job in getting them sanctified. That is, helping them receive and embrace the reign of God in their lives after they are saved.
And so when the culture war heats up, since they have little root in them, they dry up just like they were before they were restored. They have replaced obeying God with emotional love and have therefore substituted their own traditions for the Word of God. These are the very ones who will argue with Jesus on judgment day (Matthew 7:21-23).
The bones of Ezekiel 37 weren’t just common people. Rather, they became “an exceedingly great army” (v.10). Soldiers obey commands. That is the whole point of the B track.
Nowhere is this principle better illustrated than in Luke 19:1-10. The story of Jesus and Zacchaeus. When Zacchaeus found out that Jesus was coming his way he shimmied up a tree so he could get a good look at Him. When Jesus walked under the tree He looked up and said, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.” The next thing we read is that Zacchaeus “came down and received him joyfully” (v. 6).
But receiving Jesus isn’t enough for Zacchaeus. Standing in front of everyone (most of whom did not like the tax collector) he went on to declare:
“Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold” (v. 8).
That is the duty of the thief according to Exodus 22:1. He received Jesus into his home and let everyone know that he was submitting to God’s reign immediately (“I give…” not “I will give…”).
Christ’s response to Zacchaeus is stunning.
And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (vs. 9-10).
Jesus did not seem to make a habit of declaring individuals to be saved. But He did here. Because a man received Him and pledged to immediately obey God.
A lot of people who attend church are fine with calling Jesus “Savior.” But they never really allow Him to be “Sovereign.” They accept His renewal but not His reign. Fittingly, Jesus has a question for all those who desire to be saved but not governed by God:
“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you?” (Luke 6:46).
You know Ezekiel 37’s A track by heart. It’s time to flip it over to the B track. It’s time to let God reign.