Category Archives: Ezekiel

Ezekiel 37:15-28: Exile

A car hooned down our street the other day. One of our neighbours was crossing the road and nearly got run over. He gestured for him to slow down. The driver’s reaction? He blasted his horn, and stuck up his finger.

Or the Park Ranger tells you that you can’t sit on the grass and you’ll have to move. Is your first reaction to apologise and get up? Or is it to stand your ground, defend your right to sit wherever you FEEL like?

How do YOU react to correction? Are you GOOD at taking criticism? Do you listen, examine yourself, and if necessary make a change? Or do you secretly BRISTLE inside? “How DARE they tell me what to do? What RIGHT do they have? How about they took a good look at THEMSELVES before they start pointing the finger at ME!”

You may not actually DO what that driver did. Or that person sitting on the grass. But I wonder whether you’ve FELT like doing it.

How do you react to correction?

And what about if the One providing the correction is GOD? That’s the situation for Israel as we pick up the story at week SIX of our cruise through the whole Bible.

We’re following the ONE STORY of the Bible. God builds a blessed kingdom of people from the descendants of Abraham. The nation of Israel.

Last week we saw how Solomon turned away from following God to follow idols. Horses and gold and women captured his heart instead.

The kingdom divided

And so God split his kingdom in two. The kingdom DIVIDED. A NORTHERN kingdom of Israel. 10 tribes. And a SOUTHERN kingdom of Judah. 2 tribes. The year was 930 BC.

And for the next 200 years, through the Biblical books of 1 and 2 Kings, kings come and go. But no one follows God like they should. North or South. Israel or Judah. It makes no difference. People would rather worship IDOLS than worship the One true God. They’d rather do things THEIR way than God’s way.

Kingdom EXILED

And so God finally brings about the correction he’d WARNED them about. All the way back when the people were about to enter the Promised Land. Moses had preached to them.

And in Deut 28 he warned them about the CURSES God would bring for DISOBEDIENCE. Curses of drought and barrenness. Of frustration and defeat and poverty. Of plagues and sickness. Warnings to turn back. And to do things God’s way.

And finally, if they CONTINUE in disobedience, Moses warns them (v63)

63 Just as it pleased the LORD to make you PROSPER AND INCREASE IN NUMBER, so it will please him to RUIN AND DESTROY YOU. You will be UPROOTED FROM THE LAND you are entering to possess. 64 Then the LORD will SCATTER YOU AMONG ALL NATIONS, from ONE end of the earth to the OTHER.

The ULTIMATE CORRECTION. Exile!

It’s a DISSOLVING of God’s kingdom. Removal from the LAND. And scattering among the nations. No longer God’s PEOPLE. No longer in God’s LAND. Because they refuse to live under God’s RULE.

And the kingdom of God, that looked like it was getting CLOSER, suddenly seems so much further away.

And, in the fullness of time, God’s warnings came true. 722 BC, the NORTHERN kingdom was defeated by Assyria, and the people scattered all over the place. Plenty killed. Some carried off to Assyria, others re-settled. And then OTHER nations brought in to settle the land.

And the SOUTHERN kingdom didn’t escape EITHER. 586 BC Babylon broke through the walls of Jerusalem, destroyed the temple, killed thousands, then carried off all the survivors to Babylon.

And God’s plans for his KINGDOM looked in tatters. So much for God’s people in God’s place under God’s rule. PEOPLE dead or scattered. No LAND. And not interested in being under God’s RULE.

Promises, promises

But if God had PREDICTED all these events. Then he must have PLANNED them. And if he’d PLANNED them, then he must have done it FOR A REASON.

And we begin to SEE those reasons as we read through the books of the major prophets in the Old Testament. Like Jeremiah, who prophesied in Judah before and after its exile. Or Ezekiel, who was carried off to Babylon with the rest of the exiles.

And what we find God giving them are PROMISES FOR HIS PEOPLE. Promises to sustain them through the refining fire. Promises to reassure them. Reassure them that God was behind it all, moving nations and kings for HIS PURPOSES.

But not only THAT. Promises that, ONE DAY, he’d bring GOOD out of it. And BRING THEM BACK. Restore them to the land. Get his great plan for his blessed kingdom back on track. RESTORE his kingdom.

Promises like in Ezekiel 37. The people are DISTRAUGHT. They’re like DEAD MEN WALKING. Without hope or energy. But look at the BROAD SCOPE of all God promised to do. V11. “The whole house of Israel say

Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ 12 Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will BRING YOU BACK TO THE LAND OF ISRAEL.

God’s going to RESTORE them. But that’s not all. V14.

14 I will put my SPIRIT in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land

Not just his Spirit for the select few. For the prophet or king. But for EVERYONE. Back in Ch 36 God explained what THAT would mean. V25

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 You will live in the land I gave your forefathers; you will be my people, and I will be your God.

God’s Spirit would CLEAN them. Wash their sins away. And then give them a new heart. A new desire and ability to keep his laws.

But wait, there’s more! Back over in Ch 37 v15 to 22. They won’t be TWO nations anymore. I’ll JOIN THEM BACK TOGETHER.

“I will take the Israelites out of the nations where they have gone. I will gather them from all around and bring them back into their own land. 22 I will make them ONE NATION IN THE LAND

But wait there’s MORE. Not only one NATION. There’d be ONE KING to RULE them. Not TWO kings – one for each kingdom. ONE king. And WHAT a king he’d be. V22.

There will be ONE KING over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms. 23 They will no longer defile themselves with their idols and vile images or with any of their offenses, for I will save them from all their sinful backsliding, and I will cleanse them. THEY WILL BE MY PEOPLE, AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD.

24 “‘My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd. They will FOLLOW MY LAWS and be careful to keep my decrees. 25 They will LIVE IN THE LAND I gave to my servant Jacob, the land where your fathers lived. They and their children and their children’s children will live there forever, and David my servant will be their prince forever. 26 I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant. I will ESTABLISH them and INCREASE THEIR NUMBERS, and I will put my SANCTUARY among them forever. 27 My DWELLING PLACE will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people. 28 Then the nations will know that I the LORD make Israel holy, when my sanctuary is among them forever.'”

NIV

Here’s God committing himself to the promises he’d made to ABRAM. Promises to be his God. Promises to bless him with a nation of children. And a land for them to live in.

And it’s God committing himself to the promises he’d made to DAVID. That one of his offspring would rule on the throne. And it would be an ETERNAL REIGN.

And with the help of his Spirit and his king, his people would follow his laws. And he’d be their God and they’d be his people.

It’s nothing more than promises that God would RE-ESTABLISH HIS KINGDOM. His PEOPLE in his PLACE under his RULE.

And notice that he’s promising to put his DWELLING PLACE among them? And to be with them FOREVER. It’s the word for the Tabernacle. The tent the people would pitch in the middle of the camp as they wandered around in the wilderness. But now God’s promising to dwell with his people FOREVER.

In v26 he calls it his SANCTUARY. Or his HOLY PLACE. A holy place with God living right among his sinful unholy people! Forever! Just IMAGINE it! What a promise!

Attitude to Correction

But for the people and for Ezekiel, those days are off into the future. AT THE MOMENT, they’re stuck in Babylon. Far from their land. Far from the temple. And they’re MISERABLE.

What they need is some instruction to help them get through the practical realities of THAT situation. And Jeremiah’s got some home truths for them. Jeremiah 31 v18. God’s HEARD them. He hasn’t FORGOTTEN them. In fact, he’s been DISCIPLINING them. Correcting them. And they may even be ready to LISTEN. V18 of Ch 31. God says

18 “I HAVE SURELY HEARD EPHRAIM’S MOANING: (they say) ‘You disciplined me like an unruly calf, and I have been DISCIPLINED. RESTORE me, and I will RETURN, because you are the LORD my God. 19 After I strayed, I REPENTED; after I came to understand, I beat my breast. I was ashamed and humiliated because I bore the disgrace of my youth.’

Israel’s being PUNISHED. Sent to her room. And she’s recognised her mistake. “Restore me, and I’ll return.” And God’s ready to LISTEN. V20.

20 Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him,” declares the LORD.

Just like a HUMAN parent who reassures his child of his love after disciplining. That’s what GOD does. He LOVES his people. And he wants the correction to actually MAKE A CHANGE for the BETTER in the lives of his people.

It’s exactly the POINT of disciplining.

But there’s got to be the RIGHT ATTITUDE to CORRECTION. And, just maybe, that’s what Israel’s GOT. Just MAYBE now she’ll learn to live God’s way.

That’s all very well. But the END of the correction’s still off in the distance.

So what about TODAY? TOMORROW? What does it mean PRACTICALLY for his people stuck in exile? Should they rebel and plot and scheme? Work to bring about God’s plans IN A HURRY? Should they COMPLAIN that God’s being too tough on them?

Jeremiah’s got some fascinating advice for them back in Ch 29. It was a letter he sent from Jerusalem to the leaders of the people in exile. V4, This is what the LORD Almighty says to those in exile.

5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”

React to God’s correction WELL, he says. Take it on board. Learn from it. Endure it patiently. And God will bring things to pass IN HIS TIME.

In the meantime, SHOW your trust in God by GETTING ON WITH LIFE. Settle down. Marry. Build houses, Plant gardens. Increase in number.

Don’t live out of a suitcase. Don’t live with one eye on the calendar. Don’t grumble. ENJOY life where God’s put you. THAT’S the attitude to correction you should have.

And then in v10 God gives MORE wonderful promises.

10 This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 THEN you will CALL upon me and come and pray to me, and I will LISTEN to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

God’s plans are set. And they’re plans for their GOOD, not EVIL. That’s the thing about discipline. It doesn’t SEEM like it’s good. The CHILD always feels like they’ve been picked on and victimised. But the wise parent knows that discipline might be PAIN in the SHORT term. But it’s GAIN in the LONG term.

And that’s the way God’s planning it HERE.

Return from exile – Ezra, Nehemiah

And that’s the way it WORKS OUT.

Daniel 9. Daniel’s in exile in Babylon. And he reads about Jeremiah and the 70 years. And he starts PRAYING. And REPENTING.

And the books of EZRA AND NEHEMIAH tell the story of how the return HAPPENS. King Cyrus of Persia conquers Babylon, 538 BC. And he lets the people go back to build the temple under the leadership of Ezra. And later Nehemiah returns to build the city walls.

And by the end of Nehemiah, things are looking PROMISING. The TEMPLE is up and running, and the city walls are complete. God’s PEOPLE are back in God’s LAND.

But the question, as always, is ARE THEY UNDER GOD’S RULE? People like Daniel have PRAYED and REPENTED. People like NEHEMIAH tried to reform society. But are the REST of the people ready to obey him with all their heart and soul?

And the short answer, if we look at the end of Nehemiah, is NO. They’re NOT. Nehemiah comes back to visit a few years later. And it’s like that movie Groundhog Day. People making the same mistakes over and over again. Following other idols, marrying foreign women, being led astray. Just like Solomon!

It’s frustrating for Nehemiah. Imagine how frustrating it must be FOR GOD!

It’s like they’ve LEARNED NOTHING. After everything they’ve been through, the problem is they HAVEN’T turned back to God with all their hearts AT ALL. Their attitude to correction has been TO FORGET IT. IGNORE it.

And that’s where the story of the Old Testament finishes. UNFULFILLED EXPECTATION. Waiting for God’s kingdom. Waiting for the sequel. Waiting for the REST of God’s promises to happen.

He’s brought them back to the LAND. But what about the OTHERS. The promise of the gift of his Spirit? To wash them clean? The promise of a new heart?

The promise of being joined as ONE NATION? The promise of ONE KING from David’s line to RULE them? To shepherd them and help them to keep God’s law.

Or what about the promise for God to make his DWELLING PLACE among his people

And after four hundred years of WAITING. God comes GOOD on his promises. A son of a son of a son of David IS born. Matthew announces him

1:1 A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ the son of David, the son of Abraham:

And after going through all the generations, he finishes with

16 and Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born JESUS, WHO IS CALLED CHRIST.

And so a Son of David comes to Israel, just like God promised.

And 30 years later, that baby grows up. And when John the Baptist announces his arrival, he describes him like THIS. Mt 3:11

11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will BAPTIZE YOU WITH THE HOLY SPIRIT and with fire.

The One who would bring the Holy Spirit to wash his people clean. So they COULD obey God with all their heart and soul. Just like God had PROMISED.

And when John the gospel writer describes Jesus’ coming, he puts it like THIS. John 1:14.

14 The Word became flesh and made his DWELLING among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

God put on FLESH, in the person of Jesus. And came and TABERNACLED among us. Pitched his tent in the MIDST of us. Just like he’d PROMISED through Ezekiel.

And that Son of David would go on to END the cycle of sin and punishment. Of disobedience and CORRECTION. He’d bring an END to the EXILE.

Because he’d die in the place of sinners. Taking God’s wrath. Satisfying his righteous judgment. So that sinful children didn’t HAVE to bear it. And could stand forgiven. No longer to be exiled. Sent to the naughty corner. No more living in fear of condemnation. Rom 8:1 says

8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,  2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

If you’re a Christian, then that’s where you stand NOW. No more in fear of judgment. No more to be punished or exiled. All because of Jesus.

Which gets us back to the question I began with this morning. How do you react to correction? Especially GOD’S correction.

Do you buck against it? Bristle with self-righteous indignation? Grumble and complain that you don’t deserve it? Or that God’s being unfair to pick on YOU? And that’s there’s plenty of OTHER people who have WORSE faults. And their life seems to going along FINE!

Or maybe do you get DEJECTED. Get angry, or wallow in self-pity. And complain that God’s PUNISHING you because you’ve sinned. And that OTHER people must be better, because they’re lives are less difficult.

But the reality is if you belong to Jesus then the exile is over. The punishment’s been PAID. There’s no condemnation for you. Jesus has already been punished for your sin. God won’t punish you again for them.

But he IS the loving Heavenly Father who DISCIPLINES you. Who uses the difficulties of life to MOULD and CHANGE you. To make you more like Jesus. To grow patience and love and humility and trust in you.

So rather than COMPLAIN and GRUMBLE. Take the advice Jeremiah gave the exiled Jews. Get on with it and ENJOY the life God’s placed you in. Settle down. Plant gardens. Be CONTENT.

Work for the GOOD of your job, or your landlord, or your suburb, or school. Work for the GOOD of your children or your spouse.

Have a good hard look at yourself. And ask yourself what areas of your life God might want to be CORRECTING you in. And take the correction WELL. With a GOOD attitude. That’s what will be for YOUR benefit and God’s APPROVAL.

Those are the ACTIONS that show the ATTITUDE of TRUSTING that God’s got it in control. And he’s USING it for his purposes. Jer 29:11.

11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

He is our loving HEAVENLY FATHER. And he SHOWS it by correcting us. Receive it WELL. And BENEFIT from it.

Let me finish with the exhortation from Heb 12:5

My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes you, 6 because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”  7 Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by his father? 8 If you are not disciplined (and everyone undergoes discipline), then you are illegitimate children and not true sons. 9 Moreover, we have all had human fathers who disciplined us and we respected them for it. How much more should we submit to the Father of our SPIRITS and live! 10 OUR fathers disciplined us for a little while as they thought best; but God disciplines us FOR OUR GOOD, THAT WE MAY SHARE IN HIS HOLINESS. 11 No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it PRODUCES A HARVEST OF RIGHTEOUSNESS AND PEACE for those who have been trained by it. 12 THEREFORE, strengthen your feeble arms and weak knees.

That’s the attitude to have to correction! May that be OURS!

Introduction to Ezekiel: God’s Megaphone

Ezekiel is all about God promising his people a new life. The book opens at a dark time of despair and hopelessness but it describes a future bright with joy and fulfilment. Through the words of his prophet, Yahweh commits himself to giving Israel a life that is as good as it can possibly be. A life of security, intimacy, enjoyment and harmony. It’s in this respect that Ezekiel so clearly points the way for the arrival of Jesus Christ.

God really gets out the megaphone in Ezekiel. It’s full of vivid images, designed to shake Israel from its complacency. They’re sinning against God, and they don’t care!

Setting & Structure:

Ezekiel was one of the first prisoners taken by Babylon during the horror of the Exile. The book covers a time-frame from 593 – 571 BC. The setting is therefore a time of unprecedented despair in the life of Israel. It is this despair which tes the first half of the book. As Ezekiel sits in Babylon, hearing reports of the Babylonian juggernaut rolling across the countryside towards Jerusalem his prophecies are full of gloom and judgment as Yahweh explains the spiritual reasons behind the military tragedy.

What makes Ezekiel so interesting, however, is the way in which the historical events at the time of Ezekiel are so closely interwoven with the theme of his message and therefore the structure of the book. This is notably seen in the way that the tone of the book changes radically at several keys points, all of which correspond to significant events within the Exile.

For example after 23 chapters of judgment oracles against Israel Ezekiel hears word that Zion has been surrounded (Ezekiel 24:1-2). At this point there is a sudden change in subject matter. Judgment is still the nt theme but now Israel is dropped from being the centre of attention. Now God’s judgment is described upon all the nations.

God’s judgment on the nations continues until Ezekiel again hears news of Jerusalem. This time the news is even worse. The siege which started in Ezekiel 24 has finally broken the back of the city. Zion is now overrun with Babylonian troops (Ezekiel 33:21-22). At this point the book again sharply changes tone. The nations are forgotten and once more the focus swings back to Israel. Yet now the mood is different. Ironically, despite the gloom of Zion falling, God now delivers messages of hope. It is this theme which will now te the remainder of the book as Yahweh piles promise upon promise regarding future blessings for his people.

Themes:

Ezekiel shows us the justice and mercy of God. The first half of the book, which is ted by oracles of judgment, reveals that God’s sense of justice demands that sin be punished.

Alternatively the second half of the book, which is ted by oracles of hope, reveals that God is immensely gracious and generous.

However it is Ezekiel ‘s opening vision which prepares the way for God’s justice and mercy to be taken to a whole new level within the book. On the banks of the Kebar River Ezekiel sees a God who knows everything and who goes everywhere. It is these characteristics of God which transform his justice and mercy to both terrifying and thrilling proportions.

The fact that God knows everything and goes everywhere means that his judgment are inescapable. No sin is secret. Everything is uncovered. The plight of the sinner before God is therefore pitiful. Be it Israel or the nations, no one can stand before the thoroughness of God’s scrutiny.

Alternatively, the fact that God knows everything and goes everywhere, means that his mercy is wonderfully liberating. God’s grace is not jeopardised by him discovering something new about us. There is nothing new for him to discover. Furthermore, no one can give blessings to match those of God’s. There is nothing good that we need which God is ignorant of. Life under God’s love really is life as good as it possibly could be.

It’s not too hard to now see how Ezekiel points us so unambiguously to Jesus. Certainly Jesus comes as the specific fulfilment of certain promises made in the book. For example Jesus is the good shepherd promised in Ezekiel 34 (cf John 10). But even more than these specific examples of promise-fulfilment, Jesus is the one who comes to ultimately satisfy the all encompassing dimensions of God’s justice and love.

Ezekiel 1-3: Every move you make, every step you take

A strange sight in an unexpected place. A man sitting in a deckchair.

Not a particularly sensational picture. Unless there are 45 helium weather balloons attached to the chair. That’s a little more sensational.

And it’s even MORE sensational if the man happened to be floating past the window of your plane at an altitude of more than 5000 m.

A strange sight in an unexpected place. It was the sight which greeted the pilots of a Delta Airlines flight over Long Beach Municipal Airport in California. On 2 July, 1982.

The man was Larry Walters, a 33-year-old Vietnam veteran and North Hollywood truck driver with no pilot or balloon training.

He’d filled 45 weather balloons with helium and tied them in four groups to an aluminum deck chair he’d purchased for $110.

He’d loaded the chair with a large bottle of soft-drink, bottles of water for ballast, a pellet gun, a portable CB radio, an altimeter, and a camera.

He put on a parachute, and climbed into his chair from the roof of his friend’s home in San Pedro. As friends, neighbors, reporters and cameramen looked on, Larry Walters rocketed into the sky. A few minutes later he radioed that he was sailing across Los Angeles Harbor towards Long Beach.

Larry HAD planned to fly 300 miles into the Mojave Desert, but the balloons took him up faster than expected and the wind didn’t cooperate, and he quickly found himself drifting 16,000 feet above Long Beach.

That’s where he had his close encounter with the aircraft. Imagine the first pilot to see it. Shaking his head, blinking his eyes. Taking another look. Not quite game enough to point it out to his partner.

Imagine the conversation between the pilots and the control tower!

Shortly after, Larry, feeling cold and dizzy in the thin air, shot several of his balloons with the pellet gun to bring himself back down to earth.

He ended up entangled in a set of high-voltage power lines in Long Beach about ten miles from where he started. The plastic cords protected Walters from electrocution as he dangled above the ground until workmen could cut the power. Larry managed to maneuver his chair over a wall, step out, and cut the chair free.

An strange sight in an unexpected place.

And it’s the same for Ezekiel. One day not long after his thirtieth birthday. He sees a strange sight in an unexpected place.

It had been a BITTERSWEET birthday. Thirty was his coming of age. The time he could begin his official ministry. He was a priest. He’d done the training. Sat the exams. Bided his time.

The only problem was/ there was little chance of starting his new career. He was nowhere near the temple. And he had no way of getting back there in a hurry.

The year was 593 BC, and he’d been stuck in Babylon for close to 5 years. He was one of the first group of Jews to be exiled by King Nebuchadnezzar in 597.

And this particular day, he’s down by the river, with the rest of the exiles. Perhaps praying. Meeting with God’s people to worship God.

Perhaps even singing a song Psalm 137.

(Psa 137:1-4 NIV)  By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. {2} There on the poplars we hung our harps, {3} for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” {4} How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land?

That was Ezekiel. Longing to be home. Back in Jerusalem. In the temple. Where God’s presence was. With the Ark. And the altar. And the sacrifices. Doing what he’s been trained for.

That’s where he is. That’s what he’s doing. When, all of a sudden, he sees it. A strange sight in an unexpected place. V1 of Ch 1.

(Ezek 1:1 NIV)  In the thirtieth year, in the fourth month on the fifth day, while I was among the exiles by the Kebar River, the heavens were opened and I saw… VISIONS OF GOD.

And, just in case you thought you’d misheard, Ezekiel REPEATS it. V2. A supporting witness.

(Ezek 1:2-3 NIV)  On the fifth of the month–it was the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin– {3} the word of the LORD came to Ezekiel the priest, the son of Buzi, by the Kebar River in the land of THE BABYLONIANS. THERE the hand of the LORD was upon him.

Incredible! That God would be THERE in Babylon. Filthy, despairing, forgotten exile.

No temple. No sacrifices. No holy of holies. No purification. But God was there ANYWAY!

And he goes on to describe how he arrived at that amazing conclusion. That GOD was there.

The hand of the LORD was on him. Experiencing the intrusion of God into his world. And that meant, here, he was seeing some sort of VISION.

1. The Storm

And the vision begins with a storm. A storm coming out of the north. But as he watches, he quickly realises this is no ORDINARY storm. V4.

(Ezek 1:4 NIV)  I looked, and I saw a windstorm coming out of the north–an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light. The center of the fire looked like glowing metal,

The storm represents GOD. FIRE. CLOUD. LIGHTNING. All images for the power and majesty of God.

And as he looks more closely, he makes out MORE detail. But what he sees is like nothing he’s ever seen before.

As he sits down afterward to write it all down, he can’t even find the words to use. There’s nothing in his experience to describe what he sees. It’s like an African bushman trying to describe snow.

And so the description is littered with these sorts of phrases “its appearance was LIKE”. Or “they looked LIKE …”

2. The Creatures

And so, what DID he see? The first thing he notices in the storm are the creatures. V5.

(Ezek 1:5-10 NIV)  and in the fire was what LOOKED LIKE four living creatures. In appearance their form was that of a man, {6} but each of them had four faces and four wings.

Four creatures. Four faces. Four wings.

FOUR is the number of completion. Fulness. Totality. Four corners of the globe. Four winds. Four points of the compass. They represent the WHOLE creation.

And look at their faces. V10

{10} Their faces looked like this: Each of the four had the face of a MAN, and on the right side each had the face of a LION, and on the left the face of an OX; each also had the face of an EAGLE.

Man: The most TING creature.

The Lion: the most FEARED creature. The king of the jungle.

The OX. The STRONGEST creature

The EAGLE. The king of the AIR.

Each, the RULERS of their respective realms. They REPRESENT the whole creation.

But it was hard for Ezekiel to catch everything. Because it was CONSTANTLY MOVING. V12.

(Ezek 1:12-14 NIV)  Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went. {13} The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it. {14} The creatures sped back and forth like flashes of lightning.

And as Ezekiel tries to work out how the creatures manage to move in all directions without TURNING. He notices another detail. The wheels. V15. And each of the four creatures moves by them.

3. The wheels

But they’re no ordinary wheels, they’re wheels WITHIN wheels. A wheel INTERSECTING a wheel. And so instead of only being able to go forward and back, these wheels could go LEFT AND RIGHT, forward and back. All without the creatures having to turn.

And after he considers these for a while, Ezekiel’s attention is drawn up. Above the wings of the creatures. V22. It’s an expanse. Or a dome. Sparkling like ice. It’s the same word as the dome that separates the waters below from the waters above in Gen 1.

4. The Throne

But that’s not all. A voice from above the expanse draws his attention still FURTHER up. And it’s there that he notices the throne. V26.

(Ezek 1:26 NIV)  Above the expanse over their heads was what LOOKED LIKE a throne of sapphire, and (finally) high above on the throne was a figure LIKE that of a man.

The CULMINATION of the vision. Everything’s been moving up and in. From the storm to the creatures to the throne to the one on the throne.

God. He’s the centre. The focus. The reason everything else is there.

And listen to how Ezekiel tries to describe him. V27.

(Ezek 1:27-28 NIV)  I saw that from what APPEARED to be his waist up he looked LIKE glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he LOOKED LIKE fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. {28} LIKE the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the APPEARANCE of the LIKENESS of the GLORY of the LORD….

The whole picture communicates God’s awesome POWER. His sovereignty over the whole creation. God can travel anywhere instantly. That’s the creatures with wings and wheels who constantly and effortlessly move around.

And He SEES everything. That’s the eyes in the wheels. Nothing is beyond his vision. Or outside his control.

And he’s on the throne over it all. Ruling. Exercising his authority.

That’s the God who presents himself to Ezekiel. … Is it any wonder he falls facedown before the throne?

But God doesn’t LEAVE him there. Once he introduces himself to Ezekiel, he’s got a JOB for him. Ch 2 v1.

(Ezek 2:1 NIV)  He said to me, “Son of man, stand up on your feet and I will speak to you.”

This God who’s on the throne of the whole universe. Is speaking to Ezekiel. HERE in Babylon! He’s the God who COMMUNICATES.

He’s not too busy running the galaxy to be involved in insignificant events of a small group of people. It’s THEIR LIVES which interest him above anything else.

And as comforting as that reality is/ the truth is that God’s interest in them at the moment is experienced in his white-hot WRATH. His anger at their wickedness and rebellion.

They’d experienced it IN PART. The first exile from Jerusalem was only the BEGINNING. God had MORE in STORE. Total destruction lay ahead.

And that’s the message Ezekiel is called to deliver. God’s WARNING against their sin. Continue the way they’ve been going. And even WORSE will come. Continue to ignore God, and exile will be JUST THE START!

And yet the very fact that God bothers TO WARN/ is a sign of GOOD NEWS. IT shows his care and concern. If their response didn’t MATTER to God, why would he go to the trouble of calling Ezekiel to the job?

It should ASTOUND US/ that the God described in this vision. Would bother to communicate a warning to this small group of people. Isolated and cut-off. Forgotten by their countrymen. But not forgotten by God.

And for those of us on THIS SIDE of the CROSS. It should astound us EVEN MORE. That God didn’t stop at sending MESSAGES. When none of that worked. He sent his only Son.

To communicate the warning to REPENT. But Jesus also came to DIE. To provide the ULTIMATE picture of God. The cross paints the picture of God more vividly than the one here in Ezekiel 1.

It shows us God’s holy justice. Sin is SUCH a big deal to God that the ULTIMATE PRICE must be paid.

And it shows us his great LOVE. Because God himself is willing to PAY that ultimate price… For YOU. For ME.

Back to Ezekiel. His task is to deliver God’s warning. God doesn’t promise him it will be easy. In fact, there is probably NO prophet who suffers MORE for his message than Ezekiel.

God’s advertising spiel wouldn’t win any awards. It’s not “Join the Navy and see the world”. It’s “Join the prophets, and sit with briers and thorns, and live among scorpions!” (See there in v6)

(Ezek 2:6 NIV)  And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions.

But even though it’s TOUGH, he DOES promise to EQUIP him for the task. Over in Ch 3 v7.

(Ezek 3:7-9 NIV)  But the house of Israel is not willing to listen to you because they are not willing to listen to me, for the whole house of Israel is hardened and obstinate. {8} BUT I WILL MAKE YOU AS UNYIELDING AND HARDENED AS THEY ARE. {9} I will make your forehead like the hardest stone, harder than flint. Do not be afraid of them or terrified by them, though they are a rebellious house.”

Nothing will come his way that Ezekiel can’t deal with.

God never expects something from us/ without giving us the tools to cope. In this case, Israel’s stubbornness will be matched by Ezekiel’s own stubbornness.

Stubbornness – a spiritual gift! There are times when it’s GOOD to be stubborn.

And God gives him the message. And just like rest of this section, it’s SYMBOLIC. He doesn’t TELL him the message. He gives it to him TO EAT. Look at Ch 2 v7.

(Ezek 2:7-10 NIV)  You must speak my words to them, whether they listen or fail to listen, for they are rebellious. {8} But you, son of man, listen to what I say to you. Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” {9} Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, {10} which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.

(Ezek 3:1-3 NIV)  And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” {2} So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat. {3} Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.

What’s the point of the EATING? What’s the symbolism?

Notice whose words Ezekiel is to speak? “Speak MY words” They’re GOD’S words. It’s not Ezekiel saying whatever he FEELS like saying.

When God is silent, Ezekiel is silent. When God speaks, Ezekiel speaks. The man IS the message.

And he’s not just to TASTE it. He’s to eat it all. THE WHOLE message – written front and back. He’s to FILL his STOMACH with it.

The message was to become PART of him. Nourishing. Energising. Empowering.

A combination of man and God. Yes, it was God’s message. But it would also be distinctively and authentically Ezekiel’s own.

And what of the message itself. It’s a message of judgment/ from a holy and righteous God/ to a rebellious, disloyal, and deaf people.

So it’s no surprise that the message is one of LAMENT AND MOURNING AND WOE. The only result for people who continue in their rebellion is their mourning when God’s judgment falls.

And yet, like all of God’s decisions. It is JUST. And TRUE. And RIGHT.

And when the justice is complete, God will offer RESTORATION and PEACE. And RELATIONSHIP. And so, as hard as it is for sinners to hear. The message is also SWEET to the TASTE.

Eventually, Ezekiel will have the privilege of communicating some of the SWEETEST promises of God in the whole Bible. Of forgiveness. And the gift of the Spirit to all people. And washing clean. And a new temple. And a new Jerusalem. And healing. And resurrection.

And with the task set before him. And the Spirit supporting him. Ezekiel has no option but to accept the task.

6. The Response

But the way I read it, it’s perhaps not the way he would have LIKED things to turn out. Look at HIS RESPONSE. V14 of Ch 3.

(Ezek 3:14 NIV)  The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went IN BITTERNESS AND IN THE ANGER OF MY SPIRIT, with the strong hand of the LORD upon me.

His job is to deliver a message of lament. To a people ALREADY about as low as they could go. Almost ASSURED that he’d fail. A lifetime of speaking impossibly harsh words to a people. And receiving only their REJECTION and HATRED and in return.

Why had God chosen HIM? Wasn’t it bad enough that he was exiled? That he would never serve in the temple? Now, he must put up with the hatred of the people.

Bitterness and Anger are almost UNDERSTANDABLE.

And when he arrives back among his people. He doesn’t know where to begin. V15.

(Ezek 3:15 NIV)  I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Abib near the Kebar River. And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days–OVERWHELMED.

And that’s where we leave Ezekiel until next week.

So what’s it all mean for US? What’s sort of reaction to WE have? Let me suggest three things.

1. Be AWESTRUCK. This is the God who’s EVERYWHERE. Sees EVERYTHING. Who knows everything.

There’s no hiding from him. No secrets. And he comes in judgment against those who reject him. And rebel against him.

2. But, secondly, be GRATEFUL. Because he’s also the God who COMMUNICATES.

Who SHOWS us what he’s like. Through his Son, and through his word. Who shows us what he expects of us.

He’s the God who WARNS us. Who cares enough about our response, and who loves us enough, to provide us with a MEANS of restoring the relationship. When he turn from our sin, he counts the of his Son as punishment on our behalf, and makes us his friends.    So be grateful.

3. Be ENCOURAGED AND STRENGTHENED. Like Ezekiel, God provides us with EVERYTHING WE NEED for the task of living for him.

Like Ezekiel, he gives us his Spirit. To guide and strengthen and protect and change. and give joy and hope.

Like Ezekiel, he gives us his WORD.

Like Ezekiel, he provides us with the ability to achieve the task. It might not be a forehead as hard as flint. But he DOES promise us the strength to resist temptation.

In 1 Corinthians 10:13 God promises

(1 Cor 10:13 NIV)  …I am faithful; I will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, I will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.

And he does promise us the words to say whenever we’re called to witness for him. Jesus says in Mt 10:18

(Mat 10:18-19 NIV)  On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. {19} But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say,

So, as we read of the VISION of God, and the TASK of God. Let’s be awestruck. Let’s be grateful. And let’s be encouraged and strengthened.

Ezekiel 3-23: I can’t bear to watch!

There’s some TV I can’t BEAR TO WATCH.  Documentaries like R.P.A., or Extreme Makeover. Where they show the close-ups of surgical procedures. Liposuction. Or the little circular saw being taken to someone’s head. Even stitches make me turn away.  I can’t bear to watch.

Then there’s TV about kids being abused or hurt. It might only be a movie. But I can’t sit and watch them. I have to get up and leave the room.  There’s some things which are SO GRAPHIC. So HORRIBLE, that I can’t bear to watch.

And that’s God’s message to Israel. The things they’re doing/ are so wicked, so detestable, that he can’t bear to watch anymore. He can’t stay. He has to leave.

And that’s the image we get in Chapters 8 to 11. God’s glory. His presence. Leaving the temple. Leaving Jerusalem. Leaving the land.

1. Judgment – A picture warning

But before we get there, God’s got a message for Ezekiel. A message of JUDGMENT. Exactly what’s coming for the people because of their sin. The same sin which drives God out of the temple/ also has extreme consequences for the people.

But it’s a SPECIAL message. Because God’s already warned Ezekiel how STUBBORN the people are. How DEAF, and DISOBEDIENT.

So it’s got to be something pretty ATTENTION-GRABBING. It’s a PICTURE warning. An acted drama. A skit.

Words don’t seem to get through. So Ezekiel’s going to ACT IT OUT.

Like when you’re training your dog. Words do no good. Perhaps even REWARDS do no good. So you might rub his nose in his mess. Or smack him across the nose with the rolled-up newspaper. Symbols. Pictures. Actions. They all speak louder than words.

And Israel’s a lot like that dumb dog.

So look what Ezekiel does. Ch 4. V1. He draws a picture of Jerusalem on a clay tablet. And builds some model siege-works in front of it. Climbing towers and ramps. He sets up a little campsite, and little battering rams.

The message is/ Jerusalem is going to come under attack.

And then, in v4. He has to lie on his left side. He bears the sin of the nation. And he’s to do that each day for 390 days.

And (v5), that represents the 390 years of the people’s sin – from the time Solomon’s temple’s COMPLETED until it’s DESTROYED (4:5). More or less for the whole of that time/ God dwells among them, but they behave as if he’s not even there. They sin all around the temple. Ignoring the God who lives there. That’s Ezekiel’s message.

For a whole year the people keep dropping into Ezekiel’s house. But he just keeps doing the same old thing. Day after day.

If it seemed a long time for the PEOPLE, imagine how it felt for GOD. 390 YEARS of sin. Insult to God.

And when THAT’S over, Ezekiel’s to lie on his RIGHT side for another 40 days. And that’s in v6. And that represents the 40 years or so of exile. The punishment that RESULTS from the sin. And from the siege of Jerusalem.

And while Ezekiel doing all this. There’s some more details of the drama. He’s to eat only GRAINS during the whole time he’s lying on his side. And not much of that EITHER. And only a ration of WATER. That’s v9 and following.

The siege of Jerusalem will cause FAMINE within the city.

So for more than a year Ezekiel plays out Act 1 of the drama. Day after day.

And when that’s over, he moves onto Act 2. In Ch 5 he shaves his head. And he gets all his hair. And divides it into three piles.

And then he burns a third of it. He strikes a third of it with the sword. And scatters a third into the wind. A few hairs he keeps back, and tucks into his belt.

It would have been a vivid and startling picture… And God’s point? Down in v12. By the time Jerusalem falls, the people will suffer one of those three fates. Burned or starved. by the sword Or scattered.

2. The reason? Rebellious Jerusalem

It’s terrible news. A graphic picture.

But as well as a picture. God gives Ezekiel WORDS. It might have come at the END of that year. Or perhaps Ezekiel was continually speaking the meaning of the drama. As he went along.

Look at Ch 5 v5.

(Ezek 5:5-6 NIV)  “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: This is Jerusalem, which I have set in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. {6} Yet in her wickedness she has rebelled against my laws and decrees more than the nations and countries around her. She has rejected my laws and has not followed my decrees.

Rebellion. Rejection. And disobedience.

And that’s seen PARTICULARLY in her IDOLATRY. Making and worshipping other gods. That’s what ch 6 and 7 describe. Look for example over at Ch 7 v20.

(Ezek 7:20-22 NIV)  They were proud of their beautiful jewelry and used it to make their detestable idols and vile images. Therefore I will turn these into an unclean thing for them. {21} I will hand it all over as plunder to foreigners and as loot to the wicked of the earth, and they will defile it. {22} I will turn my face away from them, and they will desecrate my treasured place; robbers will enter it and desecrate it.

The language is STRONG. (Detestable. Vile. Defiled. Desecrate.) Because the OFFENCE is GREAT.

And while the people committed idolatry ALL OVER the land, it was their idolatry in THE TEMPLE that REALLY cut God to the heart.

3. (A visionary interlude) God can’t bear to watch so he leaves the temple (10:4, 19-20, 11:23)

And that truth is seen in ANOTHER vision Ezekiel has. It’s really a visionary interlude. An interruption.

I don’t know about you, but it annoys me when someone phones ME up, then puts me on hold. I got a call the other day. I answered it, and there was no reply. After about 3 seconds a computerised voice said, “Please hold, this number has a call”

I waited for a bit longer. Still nothing. So I hung up! I think perhaps an operator was supposed to take over.

You don’t just get real people trying to sell you stuff you don’t need. Now computers are even doing it!

It’s a bit like what’s happening here. It’s 14 months after his first vision. And the elders are round at Ezekiel’s house. Probably watching the same show they’ve seen for the last year.

He’s right in the middle of giving them the bad news, when God comes to visit. Look at it there at the start of Ch 8.

(Ezek 8:1-3 NIV)  In the sixth year, in the sixth month on the fifth day, while I was sitting in my house and the elders of Judah were sitting before me, the hand of the Sovereign LORD came upon me there. {2} I looked, and I saw a figure like that of a man. From what appeared to be his waist down he was like fire, and from there up his appearance was as bright as glowing metal. {3} He stretched out what looked like a hand and took me by the hair of my head. The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem…

Ezekiel goes off in some vision all the way to Jerusalem. While he’s still sitting in his lounge room.

And the vision lasts for four chapters. Until the end of Ch 11. When he comes back to Babylon.

We don’t know how long Ezekiel was seeing the vision, but I can’t help feeling for the elders. Sitting there. Twiddling their . Not knowing what was going on. While Ezekiel is off on a guided tour of Jerusalem.

And in particular, it’s a vision about the TEMPLE. There are DESPICABLE things happening there. And God can’t BEAR it. Look at Ch 8, the end of 3.

(Ezek 8:3 NIV)  The Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem, TO THE ENTRANCE TO THE NORTH GATE OF THE INNER COURT, WHERE THE IDOL THAT PROVOKES TO JEALOUSY STOOD.

False idols. Set up RIGHT IN THE THRONE ROOM OF THE KING. What TREASON!

And down in v6.

(Ezek 8:6-12 NIV)  And he said to me, “Son of man, do you see what they are doing–the utterly detestable things the house of Israel is doing here, THINGS THAT WILL DRIVE ME FAR FROM MY SANCTUARY? But you will see things that are even more detestable.” {7} Then he brought me to the entrance to the court. I looked, and I saw a hole in the wall. {8} He said to me, “Son of man, now dig into the wall.” So I dug into the wall and saw a doorway there. {9} And he said to me, “Go in and see the wicked and detestable things they are doing here.” {10} So I went in and looked, and I saw portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and detestable animals and all the idols of the house of Israel. {11} In front of them stood seventy elders of the house of Israel, and Jaazaniah son of Shaphan was standing among them. Each had a censer in his hand, and a fragrant cloud of incense was rising. {12} He said to me, “SON OF MAN, HAVE YOU SEEN WHAT THE ELDERS OF THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL ARE DOING IN THE DARKNESS, EACH AT THE SHRINE OF HIS OWN IDOL? THEY SAY, ‘THE LORD DOES NOT SEE US; THE LORD HAS FORSAKEN THE LAND.'”

They think God can’t SEE them. They think God is FAR AWAY. But from his vision (remember Ch 1?), Ezekiel knows better. God goes EVERYWHERE. He SEES EVERYTHING.

Even what they do in secret. And he CAN’T BEAR IT.

So he has TO LEAVE. He can’t stay on his throne in the temple a moment longer. Look at the progression through the vision. Over in Ch 10, Ezekiel sees another vision OF GOD HIMSELF.

(Ezek 10:1 NIV)  I looked, and I saw the likeness of a throne of sapphire above the expanse that was over the heads of the cherubim.

And then down in v4.

(Ezek 10:4 NIV)  Then the glory of the LORD rose from above the cherubim and moved TO THE THRESHOLD OF THE TEMPLE. The cloud filled the temple, and the court was full of the radiance of the glory of the LORD.

The GLORY of the LORD. His presence. A representation of God himself. Dwelling in his temple. Among his people. But not for long. The glory moves to the doorway.

Ezekiel watches for a bit longer. Then down in v19, the glory moves from the doorway. To the gates of the temple itself. The outside wall.

(Ezek 10:19 NIV)  While I watched, the cherubim their wings and rose from the ground, and as they went, the wheels went with them. They stopped at the entrance to the east gate of the Lord’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them.

And then, finally, over in Ch 11 v22, we read.

(Ezek 11:22-23 NIV)  Then the cherubim, with the wheels beside them, their wings, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them. {23} The glory of the LORD went up from within the city and stopped above the mountain east of it.

He can’t bear to watch, so THE KING LEAVES THE BUILDING. He’s away in the distance. Not gone completely. But removed from the temple. From the centre of the people’s rebellion.

And the vision finishes. And Ezekiel is back in his lounge room. With all the elders still there. And he tells them what God had shown him.

4. For example…

The next few chapters give us some EXAMPLES of the sorts of things Israel was doing. The specifics of what sickened God so much.

Ch 13 is about FALSE PROPHETS. They say whatever comes into their heads. V3.

(Ezek 13:3 NIV)  This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Woe to the foolish prophets who FOLLOW THEIR OWN SPIRIT AND HAVE SEEN NOTHING!

And that means they give people FALSE HOPE. Saying that things will be alright when there is real danger. V10.

(Ezek 13:10 NIV)  “‘Because they lead my people astray, saying, “Peace,” when there is no peace, and because, when a flimsy wall is built, they cover it with whitewash,

How ridiculous to build a brick wall. Forget to use a level. Or any mortar. It’s about to fall over. But you slap some paint on it. And say “She’ll be right! It LOOKS fine!”

It’s ludicrous worrying about the externals – appearances, the symptoms. And ignoring the CAUSE. The things on the INSIDE. The ROOT of the problem.

It’s what the false prophets were doing. Saying PEACE when there was no peace.

And we’re tempted to do that sometimes, aren’t we? People need to hear the TRUTH of their situation. That without Jesus they’re headed for HELL. An eternity without God.

But we’re more concerned with keeping the peace. Not offending them. More worried about losing their friendship.

And God is AGAINST that sort of attitude.

And in Ch 14. He aims up on HYPOCRITES. People who give THE APPEARANCE that they follow God, but on the INSIDE they worship idols. Look at v7.

(Ezek 14:7-8 NIV)  “‘When any Israelite or any alien living in Israel separates himself from me and SETS UP IDOLS IN HIS HEART and puts a wicked stumbling block before his face and THEN GOES TO A PROPHET TO INQUIRE OF ME, I the LORD will answer him myself. {8} I will set my face against that man and make him an example and a byword. I will cut him off from my people. Then you will know that I am the LORD.

God S it when people give the appearance of loving him. When in reality there are plenty of OTHER things they love more. …Is that you?

Are you foolish enough to think that God doesn’t SEE? That he doesn’t KNOW where your heart is? You might be able to fool PEOPLE. But you’ll never fool God.

God s it when we’re hypocritical like that!

And Ezekiel goes on to list MORE sins. More things that God despises. And we could go on. But we’re running out of time.

5. It’s like….

And just in case we’re tempted to think that these things don’t matter to God. In Ch 16 he paints us ANOTHER picture. It’s as if he’s saying to Israel, “You reckon that me leaving the temple is pretty drastic. That destroying Jerusalem is a bit over the top?”

“Well, let me just explain to you what it’s like when you sin.”

It’s like you were a baby. But your parents abandoned you at birth. Threw you into the field.

They cared so little for you/ they didn’t even bother to wipe the off you, or cut you off from the placenta.

No-one gave you a second glance. Worthless. To everyone except God. But look at what God says he did. Ch 16 v6.

(Ezek 16:6-7 NIV)  “‘Then I passed by and saw you kicking about in your , and as you lay there in your I said to you, “Live!” {7} I made you grow like a plant of the field. You grew up and developed and became the most beautiful of jewels. Your were formed and your hair grew, you who were and bare.

Like an adoptive parent God took Israel in. And raised her. Protected her. Cared for her. And she grew beautiful and strong.

And then God fell in love with her. And He MARRIED her. Declared his love for her. Committed himself to her for life. Vowed to care and protect her. Like a husband and a wife.

He provided for her. Bought her expensive clothes and jewellery. Provided the finest food.

And in v13.

(Ezek 16:13-14 NIV)  …You became very beautiful and rose to be a queen. {14} And your fame among the nations on account of your beauty, because the splendor I had given you made your beauty perfect, declares the Sovereign LORD.

It’s a wonderful picture. The perfect fairy tale. Beautiful woman. Adored by her rich husband. Everything perfect.

But then the picture is ruined. The story turns. V15.

(Ezek 16:15 NIV)  “‘But you trusted in your beauty and used your fame to become A . You lavished your favors on anyone who passed by and your beauty became his.

The terrible betrayal! The joy and hope of the husband replaced by bitterness and jealousy and hostility.

Listen to how the husband will seek his revenge. Down to v37.

(Ezek 16:37-42 NIV)  therefore I am going to gather all your lovers, with whom you found pleasure, those you loved as well as those you d. I will gather them against you from all around and will strip you in front of them, and they will see all your ness. {38} I will sentence you to the punishment of women who commit ery and who shed ; I will bring upon you the vengeance of my wrath and jealous anger. {39} Then I will hand you over to your lovers, and they will tear down your mounds and destroy your lofty shrines. They will strip you of your clothes and take your fine jewelry and leave you and bare. {40} They will bring a mob against you, who will stone you and hack you to pieces with their swords. {41} They will burn down your houses and inflict punishment on you in the sight of many women. I will put a stop to your prostitution, and you will no longer pay your lovers. {42} Then my wrath against you will subside and my jealous anger will turn away from you; I will be calm and no longer angry.

The very nations Israel longed to be like. The very gods they worshipped. Will be the weapons God used to punish her.

It’s the terrible picture of the seriousness of sin. And the seriousness of God’s judgment.

6. Repent and live

How do you react to all that? We’re pretty far removed from it all, aren’t we? Perhaps it doesn’t really hit you between the eyes.

And I reckon that’s what EZEKIEL’S HEARERS are thinking as well. Remember they’re in BABYLON. Hundreds of miles from Jerusalem.

And they’re feeling pretty comfortable. But God, through Ezekiel is sending THEM a message. “This isn’t just news to keep you AMUSED. Dramas and stories. It’s WARNING for YOU to change.”

Look back to Ch 14 v21. Everything going on in JERUSALEM is an OBJECT LESSON to those in BABYLON.

(Ezek 14:21-23 NIV)  “For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: How much worse will it be when I send against Jerusalem my four dreadful judgments–sword and famine and wild beasts and plague–to kill its men and their animals! {22} Yet there will be some survivors–sons and daughters who will be brought out of it. They will come TO YOU, and when YOU see THEIR conduct and their actions, you will be consoled regarding the disaster I have brought upon Jerusalem–every disaster I have brought upon it. {23} You will be consoled when you see their conduct and their actions, for YOU WILL KNOW THAT I HAVE DONE NOTHING IN IT WITHOUT CAUSE, declares the Sovereign LORD.”

God’s dealings with the NATIONAL Israel are to serve as lessons to INDIVIDUAL Israelites. Those God is keeping protected. Safe.

And what LESSON are they to learn? REPENT AND LIVE. Flip over to Ch 18 v30

(Ezek 18:30-32 NIV)  “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. {31} Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? {32} For I take no pleasure in the of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. REPENT AND LIVE!

And these events are designed to teach US the same lesson. Repent and live. Learn the lessons of history. God s sin. Sin must be punished. But God LONGS for you to live.

When it came to the sin of Israel, God couldn’t bear to watch.

But it’s different for US. Rather than God turning his face from US, he place all OUR guilt on HIS SON. On Jesus. On the cross.

And turned his face from HIM. And so Jesus cried “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

A cry of DESPAIR from Jesus. But a cry of JOY AND FORGIVENESS for us. A cry of RESTORED RELATIONSHIP.

God s our sin. Can’t bear to look. But in Jesus, he promises us forgiveness. A new heart. A new Spirit. A new relationship.

So repent and live!

Ezekiel 24-32: Justice for all

One of the little-known things that’s come out of the latest budget is EXTRA FUNDS FOR THE TAX OFFICE. They’re going to train and employ 500 new auditors.

And they’re after the tax cheats. The property investors, and the scammers. Those with dodgy family trusts. Or off-shore companies. Those who deal in cash. Who don’t issue receipts. Who take 10% off for cash.

And so we all cheer. Because we people getting away with it. Why should WE be paying more than our share of tax because some are paying NONE?

“Justice for all,” we cheer.

It seems like a GREAT idea. Right up until the time you get the letter in the mail. The ATO is going to audit YOU. And there are stiff penalties for “mistakes”, or guesstimates, or lack of documentation.

We like the idea of justice. As long as the long arm of the law is wrapped around someone ELSE’s collar.

And it’s a similar situation at this point of Ezekiel. The nations around have been CHEERING that Israel’s finally getting what it deserves. But now God’s attention turns to THEM.

And look at how it unfolds. For 23 chapters, Ezekiel’s been WARNING Israel. Judgment’s nearly here. Repent. It’s coming. Turn around. Get ready.

And then, in Ch 24 v1, it arrives. God’s hand of judgment finally falls.

(Ezek 24:1-2 NIV)  In the ninth year, in the tenth month on the tenth day, the word of the LORD came to me: {2} “Son of man, record this date, this very date, because the king of Babylon has laid siege to Jerusalem this very day.

Jerusalem is under attack. And it’s not until three years later, that Ezekiel finally receives news that at last Jerusalem’s been conquered. Ch 33 v21.

(Ezek 33:21 NIV)  In the TWELFTH year of our exile, in the tenth month on the fifth day, a man who had escaped from Jerusalem came to me and said, “The city has fallen!”

The destruction was complete. The city was in ruins. The rest of the exiles start to arrive. And God’s people are no longer in God’s land.

But in between those two dates God’s gaze turns away from Israel. Once his punishment begins, there’s no NEED to keep warning them. And his attention shifts to THE SURROUNDING NATIONS instead.

And that’s what we see in the chapters IN BETWEEN. God’s warnings of judgment ON THE NATIONS. Israel’s neighbours. All the way from Ch 26 to the end of Ch 32.

They’d been standing on the sidelines. CHEERING as Israel suffered one embarrassment and insult after another. Like we might do as the tax office catches another crook.

But then God turns to THEM. And starts to call THEM to account. And things aren’t too comfortable under the spotlight of God’s glare.

And God chooses SEVEN of Israel’s neighbours. Some are big. Some are small. Some are influential. Some aren’t. Some are considered in detail. And others only get a brief mention.

Seven. It’s the number of COMPLETION. These nations are meant to REPRESENT/ ALL nations. In any AGE. All countries. All principalities or kingdoms. All human ORGANISATIONS. And corporations. Businesses. Teams. Towns. Families. Even individuals.

NO-ONE gets away with it when it comes to God. His justice ALWAYS catches up with you. No matter how BIG you are. Or POWERFUL. Or how LONG you’ve been around. God will catch up with you/ and call you to account. It’s JUSTICE FOR ALL.

And as we look through these chapters we see three sorts of sins. Three mistakes the nations have made when it comes to dealing with Israel. Three types of sins that God will judge them for.

Firstly, there’s GLOATING AND REVENGE. That’s in Ch 25. Then from Ch 26-28 we see the sin of ECONOMIC ARROGANCE. And finally in Ch 29-32, we see Egypt. Guilty of DIVINE DELUSIONS.

1. Gloating and Revenge (25)

Let’s skim through these chapters. First, GLOATING AND REVENGE.

Ch 25 begins with Ammon. They couldn’t wipe the smile off their faces now that Israel was getting destroyed. They were GLOATING. Look at v6.

(Ezek 25:6-7 NIV)  For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: Because you have clapped your hands and stamped your feet, rejoicing with all the malice of your heart against the land of Israel, {7} therefore I will stretch out my hand against you and give you as plunder to the nations.

And Moab’s crime was similar. V8.

(Ezek 25:8 NIV)  “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: ‘Because Moab and Seir said, “Look, the house of Judah has become like all the other nations,”

They loved to see the tall poppy get what it deserved. “Who’s so special NOW?” they were saying. A very AUSTRALIAN attitude really. Cutting down the tall poppy.

It’s like the BMW that ZOOMS past you at 150 km/h on the motorway. And then a few km’s up the road, it’s been pulled over. Caught by the police for speeding.

And don’t tell me that a little smirk doesn’t cross your face as you drive sedately past at 100! Gloating.

That’s what Ammon and Moab were doing now that Israel was suffering. “Where’s your special God NOW? WHERE did you say the land was God had given to you?”

And then there’s Edom. V12. They’re guilty of REVENGE. They see that Israel’s in trouble. And they do nothing to help. They rub it in. They glory in her shame.

Same sin with Philistia. Revenge. V15. They saw that Israel was down for the count. So they thought they’d step in and take a good hard KICK. Take advantage of her weakness.

And God’s not impressed.

2. Economic Arrogance (26-28)

The next sin is that of Tyre. Into Ch 26. In fact Tyre takes up THREE chapters from 26 to 28.

And their sin was one of ECONOMIC ARROGANCE. They saw that Israel was DOWN, but rather than seek revenge. They saw a chance for economic advantage. An opportunity to make a buck. To prosper at Israel’s expense.

Israel’s lying in the dirt. They didn’t slip the boot in, they just stole her wallet. Look at Ch 26 v 2

(Ezek 26:2-3 NIV)  “Son of man, because Tyre has said of Jerusalem, ‘Aha! The gate to the nations is broken, and its doors have swung open to me; now that she lies in ruins I WILL PROSPER,’ {3} therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against you, O Tyre, and I will bring many nations against you, like the sea casting up its waves.

And rather than feeling guilty about their exploitation. They were PROUD of it. Proud of their hard-nosed business sense. Their hunger for a bargain. Look over at 27:3.

(Ezek 27:3 NIV)  Say to Tyre, situated at the gateway to the sea, merchant of peoples on many coasts, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “‘You say, O Tyre, “I am perfect in beauty.”

They LOVED what they’d become.

And even worse. They reckoned that THEY were the cause of all their prosperity. It was THEIR intelligence. Their planning. In other words. They were masters of their universe. They thought they were GOD. 28.2

(Ezek 28:2 NIV)  “Son of man, say to the ruler of Tyre, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “‘In the pride of your heart you say, “I am a god; I sit on the throne of a god in the heart of the seas.” But you are a man and not a god, though you think you are as wise as a god.

And over near the end of Ch 28, Sidon gets a similar serve from God. They were partners with Tyre in all her sins.

That’s 6 nations.

3. Divine delusions (29-32)

The seventh nation is Egypt. And Egypt gets blasted for FOUR WHOLE CHAPTERS. From 29 to 32. It’s like God’s been saving up his best ammunition for last.

And Egypt’s guilty of DIVINE DELUSIONS. Thinking they were god. Look at what God says against their Pharaoh. 29.3

(Ezek 29:3 NIV)  Speak to him and say: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: “‘I am against you, Pharaoh king of Egypt, you great monster lying among your streams. You say, “THE NILE IS MINE; I MADE IT FOR MYSELF.”

The great river Nile flowed through Egypt. And brought Egypt fertility and prosperity, and food and life. It DEFINED who Egypt WAS. It was its LIFEBLOOD.

And yet, Pharaoh was guilty of taking CREDIT for something God had provided. Thinking that HE was the reason the country had everything. It’s PRIDE. Blatant and blasphemous ARROGANCE. And God won’t STAND for it.

Notice how he calls Pharaoh a great monster lying among the streams. The picture is of a crocodile swimming in the river.

But look what God’s got planned for Pharaoh the crocodile. In the very next verse. It’s worse than any crocodile hunter.

(Ezek 29:4-5 NIV)  But I will put hooks in your jaws and make the fish of your streams stick to your scales. I will pull you out from among your streams, with all the fish sticking to your scales. {5} I will leave you in the desert, you and all the fish of your streams. You will fall on the open field and not be gathered or picked up. I will give you as food to the beasts of the earth and the birds of the air.

A decaying crocodile carcass, picked over by the scavengers. That’s the awful picture.

And the message keeps getting hammered-in. Ch 30. Ch 31. Ch 32. And that’s how these chapters FINISH. With the bodies of Pharaoh and his armies laid out on the ground for everyone to see.

Judgment. Destruction. Against all seven of Israel’s neighbours.

2. So What?

Well, perhaps you’re asking, “So what? What’s it all got to do with me?”   Fair question. It’s certainly a long way from the 21st century. In Western Sydney.

Or is it?

I think there are three lessons we can learn from these chapters. Lessons that never change. Whatever age we live in. Or country we inhabit.

  1. God will judge EVERYONE. No-one escapes.
  2. God’s GOAL is that EVERYONE will KNOW HIM.
  3. God’s goal is to restore HIS PEOPLE.

1. God will judge EVERYONE. No-one escapes.

First lesson, God will judge everyone.

Seven nations. Some were big. Some were small. Some had been around for AGES. Others were relative newcomers. Some were guilty of MORE WICKEDNESS than others.

But the end was the same. God’s judgment caught up with them all eventually.

NO ONE IS POWERFUL ENOUGH TO OUT-MUSCLE GOD. FAST ENOUGH TO OUTRUN HIM. RICH ENOUGH TO BUY HIM OFF.

And that’s true TODAY. Whether we’re talking about Kerry Packer or Bill Gates. Whether we’re talking about IBM or BHP. Whether we’re talking about The Rolling Stones or The Brisbane Broncos.

Every COUNTRY, and CORPORATION, and TEAM, and PEOPLE GROUP. Every SPORTING TEAM, and SCHOOL.

Every FAMILY. Every INDIVIDUAL.

NO-ONE MISSES OUT ON GOD’S JUDGMENT.

And that means EVERYONE NEEDS JESUS. HE’S THE ONLY HOPE.

God’s goal is that EVERYONE will know him.

And that leads onto the second lesson for us. God’s goal is that EVERYONE will KNOW him. Over and over again in these chapters, we read. “Then they will KNOW that I am the LORD”. “Then they will KNOW that I am the LORD”. Then they will know my VENGEANCE. Then they will KNOW…. Then they will KNOW. …

15 times from Ch 25 to 32!

When God executes his judgment on nations. On individuals. His goal is that they might KNOW him. Recognise his hand. Discern the RIGHTNESS and JUSTICE of his actions. Acknowledge his power and glory and honour. Even as they’re being punished.

And, in these chapters of Ezekiel at least, There’s no real hint that it’s SAVING knowledge. That it’s knowledge that leads to TRUST in God. And LOVE for him. It’s simply recognising his JUSTICE.

And one day. That will be true for EVERYONE who refuses to turn to God in repentance. And follow his Son Jesus. They will KNOW/ the ETERNAL justice of God. ETERNAL anger and punishment. Separation from God, and anything good, FOREVER. And that’s FAR worse than any picture we get of punishment in the Old Testament.

And so, the conclusion is the same as for the first lesson. Everyone needs Jesus.

c. God’s goal is to restore HIS PEOPLE.

The third lesson/ is that God’s goal is to restore HIS PEOPLE.

For all the times that phrase is repeated, (Then they will know that I am the LORD). There’s one EXCEPTION.

It’s in Ch 28. And some bright spark’s worked out that it’s EXACTLY in the MIDDLE of these chapters. 97 verses from the start of Ch 25. And 97 verses from the end of Ch 32. We get a little paragraph that doesn’t seem to fit in.

Ch 28:24-26. Turn there with me. In the midst of all the punishment against the nations, there’s this little paragraph that promises HOPE to ISRAEL.

And what’s so profound about it/ is that the LITERARY structure. Reflects the HISTORICAL situation. Just like the structure of these verses, Israel is SURROUNDED by bigger nations. Nations who think THEY’RE in control. But it’s really ISRAEL’s God who controls these nations. HE will judge them. And wipe them out. All for the sake of little Israel. Right there IN THE MIDDLE.

The centre-piece of God’s judgment on the nations. The hinge on which all that judgment swings. His purpose behind it all. It’s to do with ISRAEL. And as we read this little paragraph, we make sense of how it fits in. Picking it up from v23, God’s just finishing with Tyre.

(Ezek 28:23-26 NIV)  I will send a plague upon her and make flow in her streets. The slain will fall within her, with the sword against her on every side. THEN THEY WILL KNOW THAT I AM THE LORD.

And then we get to Israel’s paragraph. The absolute CENTRE of these verses.

{24} “‘No longer will the people of Israel have malicious neighbors who are painful briers and sharp thorns. Then they (I think that’s the neighbours) will know that I am the Sovereign LORD. {25} “‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: When I gather the people of Israel from the nations where they have been scattered, I WILL SHOW MYSELF HOLY AMONG THEM IN THE SIGHT OF THE NATIONS. Then they will live in their own land, which I gave to my servant Jacob. {26} They will live there in safety and will build houses and plant vineyards; they will live in safety when I inflict punishment on all their neighbors who maligned them. THEN THEY WILL KNOW THAT I AM THE LORD THEIR GOD.'”

God’s whole purpose in destroying the enemies of Israel/ is so that ISRAEL might be protected. And allowed to return to the land. With the briers and thorns and bumps removed.

“I will show myself holy among THEM (that’s Israel) IN THE SIGHT OF THE NATIONS”

The nations will know that God is God when they see the way he RESTORES HIS PEOPLE. And when he brings them back. When he blesses them with Paradise again. And what’s the final result of that whole process? “Then THEY (Israel) will know that I am the Lord THEIR God.”

What a difference ONE WORD makes. THEIR God. Not just God. But THEIR God. Whose plans are for THEIR benefit. Whose power is displayed for THEIR protection.

And WHEN did all these promises come to God’s people? In the midst of the siege on Jerusalem. In the midst of God PUNISHING HIS PEOPLE. His hand of discipline is HEAVY on those he loves.

But the word of comfort is ALSO there. His promise is given that there is PURPOSE in it all. A PLAN. That it WON’T last forever. He’ll soon destroy THE ENEMIES. And restore his people to the land.

And it’s true for us, too. Our non-Christian friends or family or neighbours or workmates. May look at us and scoff. “What’s being a Christian ever done for you? You’re life’s just as messed-up as MINE. What’s so good about God? Where was he when your child got sick. When you lost your job? When your house was burgled?”

But God’s purposes are that GOOD will come about FOR HIS PEOPLE. In the midst of all the ridicule and pain and tough times. Even when it doesn’t look like things are any different from the people around us. In the end, God brings GOOD for his people.

God’s message is that, one day, justice is coming on EVERYONE. No-one will escape. Everyone needs Jesus.

One day soon the scoffers will know better. They’ll see God for who he really is. And so they need to know Jesus.

And one day God will bring PARADISE for his people. And he’ll be right there with us. It’s a future that’s only for those who know Jesus.

Paradise. I can’t WAIT. How about you?

Ezekiel 18, 33: God in the Dock

People everywhere/ and across all ages/ have looked at the way the world is/ and blamed God. They’ve considered the hand they’ve been dealt, and held God’s responsible. “The world’s in a mess, and it’s all the fault of God.”

They don’t really know much about him. And sometimes they DON’T EVEN BELIEVE IN him. But they still blame him.

It might be because there’s been a WAR, or A DISASTER, or a baby born terribly HANDICAPPED, or a relative dying. It might even be something as minor as a car , or a lost football game.

But people do it all the time, don’t they? “What’s God think he’s DOING?” “If God’s a god of love, why are there so many WARS?” “If God’s so GOOD, why did he let this happen?”

All making assumptions about the character and actions of God from an observation about the world. God’s in the dock. Accused of all sorts of horrible crimes. Fingers pointed menacingly at him.

And the same thing was EVEN happening IN EZEKIEL’S DAY.

And the way God deals with the questions THERE/ speak to us TODAY. His answers are PROFOUNDLY relevant in Australia in the 21st century. Let’s look at TWO of the accusations, and then at God’s DEFENCE.

Accusation One: “God isn’t just! We suffer for our father’s sins” (18:2)

Accusation One: “God isn’t just! We suffer for our father’s sins”. Look at Ch 18 v2.

(Ezek 18:2 NIV)  “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel: “‘The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

In other words the people were saying “Our ancestors sinned, and we’re suffering THEIR PUNISHMENT”.

They were walking around Babylon BELLY-ACHING. “How come WE’RE copping it for something our FATHER’S did wrong? Everyone’s been worshipping idols for 400 years. How come WE’RE the ones who end up in exile. It’s NOT FAIR!”

It’s really saying “God doesn’t know what he’s doing. Life is pointless. Why bother trying to change anything?”

And you hear the same sort of negativity TODAY.

It might be a bitterness directed specifically against GOD.

Or perhaps it’s seen in a world-weary ISM – Whatever happens, happens. Or maybe a belief in KARMA, where you pay NOW for what you did in a past life.

Or it might just be a feeling of POWERLESSNESS in the face of the global forces of business and government and greed and capitalism and environmental destruction.

“What’s the POINT of it all?”

Frustration and pointlessness. There’s a tombstone in the Locke Hill Cemetery in San Antonio, Texas. It marks the grave of Grace Llewellen Smith. There’s no date of birth or date of . Just her name, and this epitaph –

Sleeps, but rests not.

Loved, but was loved not.

Tried to please, but pleased not.

Died as she lived – alone.

How sad is that? The sum of a life. “What’s the POINT of it all?”

God deals justly with mankind since he owns mankind (18:4)

And whether God’s acknowledged or not, all these complaints are accusations against HIM. It’s HIS WORLD that’s being mocked.

God’s accused. And so God DEFENDS himself. It’s a defence that starts with the VERY NATURE OF GOD HIMSELF. His point is that God deals justly with mankind since he OWNS mankind. Look at v3.

(Ezek 18:3-4 NIV)  “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. {4} FOR EVERY LIVING SOUL BELONGS TO ME, the father as well as the son–both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.

Right at the start of his defence, God declares that there IS a goal and a purpose to life.

The world ISN’T random. And the reason is because EVERY LIVING SOUL belongs to HIM. He MADE us. HE OWNS us.

It’s HIS world/ that operates according to HIS PRINCIPLES and LAWS. That exists by HIS WORD. That moves towards HIS GOALS.

It’s not just about tiny Israel. But ALL HUMANITY. Every nation is designed to be in relation with their Creator and Maker. There are bigger things going on than just what’s happening to Israel. OR Australia. Or the US.

And God’s ownership even extends right down to every individual. “The father as well as the son – both alike belong to me”. INDIVIDUALS matter to God.

There’s an incredible UNIVERSALITY and PARTICULARITY about God’s ownership. The telescope and the microscope. God sees with both.

What a wonderful PURPOSE that gives life.

And what a wonderful MOTIVATION that is to EVANGELISM. Why should an Iraqi, or a Nepali, or a Mongolian, or an Aussie become a Christian? We sometimes find ourselves wondering that, don’t we?

And God says, “Because that’s what they were DESIGNED for. I OWN them. And you’re simply helping them to RETURN to their RIGHTFUL OWNER.”

God owns everyone. And God’s point in it all/ is to remove the ISM, the INERTIA which stopped people making a decision. People who weren’t willing to take responsibility for their choices in the world.

He was about ENABLING and ENERGISING people to make the choices which would affect their own destiny. “You are mine, you have purpose and importance. MAKE YOUR CHOICE.”

And then God moves on to show the consequences of choice. How his principles of justice work. On an individual level. A case study. With PARTICULAR/ FATHERS and SONS.

First up, he declares that he deals justly with an OBEDIENT man. That’s in v5-9. If a man does RIGHT, he will surely LIVE. That’s JUSTICE! You can’t get fairer than that! No-one suffers for anyone else’s sin.

But it’s not just good-living IN GENERAL. That’s the mistake that most people make today. “I’m a good person. God’s bound to accept me!”

Notice what SORT of right living it is. V9. “He follows MY decrees and faithfully keeps MY laws. He will surely live”.

It’s right living IN RELATIONSHIP to YOUR CREATOR and OWNER that matters! Not just ANY OLD right-living. Any PARTICULAR set of rules.

Secondly, God deals justly with a DISOBEDIENT man. That’s v10-13. Suppose the righteous man has a violent SON. Also owned by God. But he sheds , and generally does wicked things. The question is asked in v13. Will such a man live? What does JUSTICE say?

“He will not! Because he has done all these detestable things, he will surely be put to and his will be on his own head’

That’s justice. Innocence isn’t inherited.

But the reverse is ALSO true. Since God owns individual fathers and sons, each is individually VALUABLE. So GUILT isn’t inherited EITHER. That’s v14-20.

Suppose the EVIL son has a son. And he DOESN’T do evil. He does the good his GRANDFATHER did. V17, justice says that he will not die for his father’s sin; he will surely LIVE. That’s justice!

Neither guilt nor innocence is inherited. V20 God sums it up. “The soul who sins is the one who will die.”

In other words, there is no ISM in the world. It’s not a set course that can’t be changed. You have the power to determine your future. That’s God’s message. So don’t make excuses and be istic. Be active.

And look at his conclusion to it all. Down in v30. What sort of ACTIVITY is PARTICULARLY important? What IS the right response to make?

(Ezek 18:30-32 NIV)  “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign LORD. REPENT! TURN AWAY FROM ALL YOUR OFFENSES; then sin will not be your downfall. {31} Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? {32} For I take no pleasure in the of anyone, declares the Sovereign LORD. REPENT AND LIVE!

Turn away from your sin. Turn to God. Live for him. That’s what you were DESIGNED for. It’s where you’re headed. Why will you die? REPENT and LIVE.

And we have the same message to give to a cynical world out there. A world which sees no purpose. No hope. No reason to try to change anything. Just a great big machine. Winding down towards .

But God says that He owns EVERYONE. Every individual from one end of the globe to the other. And his plan is for them to Turn to him and LIVE.

Is that the message we’re giving them? Is that the message we’re LIVING?

Accusation Two: “If God is just, and declares us guilty, what hope have we got?”

There’s a similar section over in Ch 33. God’s responding to a DIFFERENT accusation from the people. And God’s REPLY BUILDS on some of the things from Ch 18. So flip over there with me.

The people have been hearing about how wicked they are from Ezekiel for MONTHS. Probably even YEARS. And it seems like the message has finally struck home. And the enormity of the problem drives them to despair. Ch 33 v10.

(Ezek 33:10 NIV)  “Son of man, say to the house of Israel, ‘This is what you are saying: “Our offenses and sins weigh us down, and we are wasting away because of them. How then can we live?”‘

Another accusation. “If God is just, and declares us guilty, what hope have we got?” How can we possibly live, if we’re as bad as God says. And God is just?

What’s the POINT? Where’s the HOPE?

It’s like the Peanuts cartoon. Lucy is talking to Linus at the base of a hill. She says, “Someday I’m going over that hill and find the answer to my dreams…. Someday I’m going over that hill and find hope and fulfillment.

I think, for me, all the answers to life lie beyond these clouds and over the grassy slopes of that hill!”

Linus removes his thumb from his mouth, points toward the hill, and responds: “Perhaps there’s another little kid on the OTHER SIDE of that hill who is looking this way and thinking that all the answers to life lie on THIS side of the hill.”

Lucy thinks about it for a moment, looks at Linus, then turns toward the hill and yells, “Forget it, kid!”

Hopelessness. Resignation. Despair. Is that all we can look forward to?

Again, it’s nothing more than another attack on God and his world. And once again, God comes to his own defence. And once again, he begins with a declaration about HIS OWN CHARACTER. It’s WHO HE IS which drives the way the world operates. Look at his response. 33.11

(Ezek 33:11 NIV)  Say to them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I TAKE NO PLEASURE IN THE OF THE WICKED, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’

Yes, it’s TRUE that you’re wicked. Yes, your ancestors sins ARE heaped up. Yes, it’s true that I’m righteous and just.

But the response is not to sit in a heap on the floor and SULK. Because I LOVE LIFE. I take no pleasure in . I’m a God who CREATES life. Who REJOICES in it.

I’m not capricious or vindictive or ic. That’s the forces of THIS world. Of Satan. Forces that delight in putting others down. Destroying others. Forces of chaos and disorder and devastation and hatred. But that’s not me.

The response is to TURN from EVIL and LIVE. “I DELIGHT in life, so REPENT and LIVE!

Perhaps there’s something of their PREVIOUS complaint in there as well. Remember they said “Our fathers sinned, and now we’re copping it”. Perhaps this meant they felt RESIGNATION.

400 years of their ancestor’s sin, layer upon layer. A huge debt that couldn’t be paid off. Time and again God warning destruction, and with the axe hovering over our heads, and finally about to fall.

And so they wonder, “What hope is there NOW? What can WE do against the weight of history?”

And God answers in v12. The PAST doesn’t matter. TODAY’S decision does. V12.

(Ezek 33:12 NIV)  “Therefore, son of man, say to your countrymen, ‘The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him WHEN HE DISOBEYS, and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall WHEN HE TURNS FROM IT.

It’s what you do TODAY that determines your future. Yesterday is irrelevant. Obedience or disobedience THEN doesn’t come into it. It’s your choice TODAY that counts.

Just because you were righteous YESTERDAY, it won’t save you if you disobey TODAY.

And the flipside is ALSO true. Just because you were WICKED yesterday, it won’t disqualify you if you TURN FROM IT TODAY.

There’s both WARNING and PROMISE there. First, the WARNING. If a righteous man sins, he will die (33:13). So don’t be complacent and presumptuous, since God deals justly with the BACKSLIDER.

That’s in v13.

(Ezek 33:13 NIV)  If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done.

You see, trusting yesterday’s deeds is worthless. God promised this guy LIFE, but it was always a CONDITIONAL promise. “You will surely LIVE…. (As long as you keep trusting ME and not your works. As long as you keep OBEYING.”)

If you’re pretty happy with how you’re doing, just cruising along nicely, don’t be COMPLACENT AND PRESUMPTUOUS. You might FALL, and you will receive what you JUSTLY deserve.

But there’s also PROMISE.

In the very next verse. If a wicked man REPENTS, he will LIVE. So don’t despair! Repent, since God deals justly with a REPENTANT SINNER . Look at v14

(Ezek 33:14-15 NIV)  And if I say to the wicked man, ‘You will surely die,’ but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right– {15} if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he will surely LIVE; he will not die.

No-one is too far gone. No sinner is too bad. No list is too long. It’s your decision TODAY that matters.

Warning AND Promise.

And it’s these same warnings and promises that God gives his people in the New Testament. In the book of Hebrews. Turn there with me – p847.

My guess is there are two sorts of people here this morning. Some of you need WARNING. And some of you need PROMISE. (Perhaps there are some who need a little of both).

If you’re someone who’s feeling PRETTY CONFIDENT ABOUT YOURSELF. You’ve barely missed church in a year. You’ve read your Bible and prayed every day for the last month. Not missed a day. You’ve door-knocked for the Red Shield Appeal.

Then perhaps you need WARNING. Don’t be COMPLACENT, or PRESUMPTUOUS. Listen to Hebrews 3:12 (p847)

(Heb 3:12-14 NIV)  See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. {13} But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.

He’s talking to BROTHERS. Those sitting in church, listening to the letter being read. Be warned. TODAY’S decision counts. Don’t turn away from the living God. Keep your eyes on him. Encourage each other, so no one ELSE becomes hardened. Do it EACH DAY.

Because it’s easy to FOOL people. It’s even easy to fool YOURSELF. To think you’re a Christian, just because you HANG AROUND with Christians.

But the proof of someone’s regeneration – being a Christian – proof that someone really is a child of God – is only seen if they STICK IT OUT TO THE END. The very next verse. Verse 14.

{14} We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.

Over in Ch 6, the writer WARNS people who are enjoying all the BENEFITS of being a Christian, but never really turn to God. Look at Ch 6 v4.

(Heb 6:4-8 NIV)  It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, {5} who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age, {6} if they fall away, to be brought back to repentance, because to their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. {7} Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. {8} But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

You can’t drink in all the good things of God, then turn your back on it. Reject God’s gift of his son. That’s the ultimate insult to God.

I look out at you all this morning, and I don’t know which of you that might be. There are probably people here who need to HEAR this warning.

People who enjoy the fringe benefits of being God’s people, without really BEING a child of God. They mistake the symbols for the real thing. Like someone who wants a Mercedes car, and so buys the key ring, the cap, the matchbox car, the catalogue, but never owns the car.

Don’t settle for the warm friendship and fellowship and singing and preaching and Bible studies. Make sure you’ve got the REAL DEAL. A daily, obedient, living relationship with Jesus.

If you don’t have that. Then be warned. REPENT and LIVE. I’d love to help you to do that.

The warning is there because we don’t know what’s really going on in people’s hearts. I’m confident that MOST of you DO have that friendship with Jesus. And the writer to the Hebrews has that same confidence. In the very next verse. V9.

(Heb 6:9-12 NIV)  Even though we speak like this, dear friends, WE ARE CONFIDENT OF BETTER THINGS IN YOUR CASE–things that accompany salvation. {10} God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. {11} We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, in order to make your hope sure. {12} We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

Show that your salvation is real. Be diligent to the end. Real faith keeps on keeping on. Be WARNED.

But there’s also words of PROMISE here. In the very next section. For people who know the blackness of their own hearts only TOO well. Who know their sheer unworthiness to expect anything from God’s hand.

If that’s the way YOU sometimes feel, then God’s got words for you too. Words of PROMISE.

The next section talks about God’s PROMISE to Abraham. And how he CONFIRMED the truth of the promise by an OATH. And then it says in v18.

(Heb 6:18-20 NIV)  God did this (confirmed his promise) so that, by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, WE WHO HAVE FLED TO TAKE HOLD OF THE HOPE OFFERED TO US MAY BE GREATLY ENCOURAGED. {19} We have this HOPE AS AN ANCHOR FOR THE SOUL, FIRM AND SECURE. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, {20} where Jesus, who went before us, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.

God wants us to TRUST HIS PROMISES. So that we can be SURE of our future. Assurance comes from what God has done. Not what WE must keep doing. Jesus has done all the righteousness we need ever do. And our hope is sure/ as long as it is hope in HIM. That’s a PROMISE.

Warning and promise. Take whatever word you need to hear. If you’re tempted to take God for granted. To be complacent or presumptuous. If you’re trusting your own deeds, instead of the work of Jesus. Then be WARNED. Decide TODAY. Repent and LIVE.

And if you’re tempted to doubt that God would really WANT you. Then take hold of his SURE PROMISE. Christ has offered himself as the perfect sacrifice. For ANYONE who accepts his gift. It’s a hope which is firm and secure. Trust God’s promise.

God’s ways are JUST and RIGHT. He OWNS us. He DELIGHTS to give LIFE. So repent and live.

Ezekiel 34-36: Shepherds Behaving Badly

So far in Ezekiel, it’s been a bit of a dreary ride. Chapter after chapter of judgment and condemnation. Bad news week after week.

Well, today we get to the good news. It’s like God’s said, “What do you want first – the good news or the bad news?”

And for 33 chapters he’s been giving us the BAD NEWS. Israel’s sinful, punishment’s certain. And the nations are just as bad. And they’ll be judged as well.

But now, from Ch 34, things start looking UP.

And this theme of NEGATIVE AND POSITIVE fits in with the HISTORICAL FLOW of the book. If you look at the diagram in the news-sheet, you can see what I mean.

From Ch 1, when we find out that Ezekiel is with the exiles in Babylon, it’s one long slippery slide into judgment.

But then, at the start of Ch 24, we find out that Jerusalem’s been surrounded. The axe has fallen. The people have refused to repent. And so judgment has begun. There’s no turning back.

And then, since any more warnings are pointless, God’s attention turns to THE NATIONS. And for 8 chapters he warns THEM that judgment is coming.

And then, at 33:21, we read that Jerusalem falls. The city is invaded. The walls broken down. The rest of the people exiled.

And now, it’s time for ANOTHER direction change. With the people heart-broken and hopeless, God’s attention turns back to Israel. But this time – with GOOD news.

Promises of hope and restoration and blessing. Like the roller coaster being pulled up the long, slow slope to the top, God’s promises go on for chapter after chapter. From 33 all the way to the end of the book in 48.

And today, we start the roller coaster back UP.

And God begins with THE LEADERS. The shepherds of God’s people.

Everyone DESPISES shepherds who fleece the flock. Who manipulate and defraud and swindle people. Rather than protect and serve.

Like Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. They ruled the Philippines from 1965 until 1986. Their rule was marked by corruption, fraud, deceit, financial trickery, and political repression.

While their subjects lived in poverty. The Marcos’ hoarded an estimate $5 billion into overseas bank accounts. When they fled their palace, Imelda left behind over 1000 pairs of shoes. And as she did, she ran past people in the street who owned no shoes at all.

And the shoes became a symbol of the incredible GAP between the situations of most Philippinos/ and the Marcos’.

And then there’s Saddam Hussein. No-one really knows how much money HE managed to steal. For years he lived the high life at the expense of his people. Outrageous amounts of alcohol, guns, and gaudy art. His numerous palaces decorated in ridiculously opulent furnishings.

After his overthrow, looters found huge empty safes which must have held huge amounts of cash.

Saddam cried that UN sanctions were robbing his people of food and medicines. While at the same time he was lining his own pockets while his people starved.

They were dreadful pictures, weren’t they? As the cameras toured the various palaces. Seeing how UNNECESSARY most of the stuff was. The sheer ENORMITY of the greed. More stuff than one family could EVER use.

General Tommy Franks, on seeing Saddam’s gold-plated toilet brush and toilet paper dispenser joked of his “oil-for-palace program”. A reference to the UN oil-for-food scheme.

Richard Fairbanks, a Middle East expert in Washington said “If you have all the resources of a wealthy country at your disposal, BASIC INSTINCTS COME FORTH.”

Why do these leaders milk their people dry? Because they CAN!

But leadership like this is nothing new. Right through history/ leaders have got away with abuse like this. Even in Ezekiel’s day.

And in today’s verses God paints a terrible picture just like these ones. A picture of leaders plundering their people. Like shepherds who take advantage of their sheep. It’s a picture of Shepherds behaving badly. Look at Ch 34 v2.

(Ezek 34:2-4 NIV)  …Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only take care of themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? {3} You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. {4} You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.

All sorts of things they HAVE done which they SHOULDN’T. And a whole pile of things they HAVEN’T done which they SHOULD.

They SHOULD be taking care of the flock. They SHOULD be strengthening the weak, healing the sick, binding up the injured, bringing back the strays, searching for the lost.

If you think about it/ a shepherd’s work is NEVER DONE. There’s always something else you could be doing. And it’s all FOR THE SAKE OF THE FLOCK.

But instead of all this/ here’s what they did INSTEAD. They fed themselves. They clothed themselves. Took the choice milk. Cooked up a lovely lamb for lunch. It was all about THEM. The flock was there simply to meet THEIR needs.

And it’s a temptation that’s there even among God’s people TODAY. Among leaders of THE CHURCH.

You can see it in ministers. Who see the job as a career. Who are pre-occupied with building their profile. Working on their C.V. Speaking at the right conferences. Moving to the right churches.

And they do it EMOTIONALLY as well. Manipulating people to do or be what THEY want. Not allowing God’s Spirit to guide God’s people as HE wants. But insisting “It’s MY way or the HIGHWAY!”

That’s fleecing the flock. Exploiting the sheep. Feeding OFF the flock. Rather than FEEDING the flock.

It’s pastors who are more concerned about controlling their own workloads. Protecting their comfortable lifestyles. Building their assets, and credibility. Than they are being SERVANTS. Carrying their cross. Dying to self.

But it’s not just ministers. You can see it in elders and other leaders of the church. Who are more concerned with building their own little empire/ than they are about building God’s kingdom.

It might be choir, or music, or Sunday School, or Management Committee. Or even guarding the keys to the cupboard with the good china.

That’s fleecing the flock. Exploiting the sheep. Feeding OFF the flock. Rather than FEEDING the flock.

And even your average MEMBER can do the same thing. Doing things at church for WRONG MOTIVES. For pride, or self-esteem, or make yourself feel better. That’s looking to the needs of YOURSELF, rather than to the needs of others.

And that’s fleecing the flock. Exploiting the sheep. Feeding OFF the flock. Rather than FEEDING the flock.

But it’s the LEADERS God’s got in his sights. Because they have the most INFLUENCE. Look at the RESULT of their misbehaviour. V5.

(Ezek 34:5-6 NIV)  So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals. {6} My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them.

When shepherds are more interested in staying comfortable/ than looking after their flock/ then the flock just goes to ruin.

There’s no-one to GUIDE them. So they get lost.

There’s no-one to PROTECT them. So they are attacked by wild animals.

And when they DO get lost, there’s no-one to LOOK for them. So they’re SCATTERED.

And in Ezekiel’s time/ the meaning of SCATTERING was obvious. EXILE. Kings and rulers who lined their own pockets. Who deprived people of justice. Who squandered the wealth of the nation on IDOLS, and buying foreign allegiances. Led the people into wickedness and ruin.

And God punished them with EXILE.

And he blames the LEADERS. Look at what he has to say to them. V10. God is AGAINST them.

(Ezek 34:10 NIV)  This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.

The shepherds will be REMOVED from tending the flock. And notice what God says about the flock? Whose flock ARE they? They’re GOD’S flock.

And when you think of the flock like THAT/ it makes a HUGE difference to the way you treat them.

When I think of them as MY flock, I’m tempted to think that they’re there for MY BENEFIT. To serve MY NEEDS. To fulfil MY AGENDA. And so I work at getting people to do things MY WAY. To MY ENDS.

But if it’s GOD’S flock. Then it’s not about me AT ALL!

God’s flock is there for GOD. He OWNS it. It’s there to serve HIM. To fulfil HIS AGENDA. To build HIS KINGDOM.

We’re God’s flock. And that means he’ll PROTECT us. We’re VALUABLE. Special. Holy.

We’re MUCH MORE IMPORTANT than a soccer club, or a service organisation, or a knitting club. Because we’re OWNED by God. Our constitution wasn’t written by any HUMAN. But by God HIMSELF. He admits to membership. He disciplines and rewards. He sets policy and direction. He C.E.O., General Manager, and President all rolled into one.

We’re GOD’S flock.

2. God the Shepherd.

And God’s flock are so valuable to him, he won’t let JUST ANYONE look after them. He’s going to do it HIMSELF. God the shepherd. V11.

(Ezek 34:11-12 NIV)  “‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. {12} As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.

And down in v16, we see him doing all the things the SHEPHERDS DIDN’T do. Search for the lost. Bring back the strays. Bind up the injured. Strengthen the weak.

Like the farmer who comes back from holidays and finds the hired hands have RUINED the flock. There’s fences down, the sheep are in the corn. Some have been taken by dingos. Some are lame from injuries. Some are sick. Baby lambs have been left to die.

So he sacks the lot of them. And does the job himself. “If you want a job done properly, do it yourself.”

Because the hired hands care NOTHING for the flock. They’re just a PAYCHECK. But to the FARMER, they’re HIS. He KNOWS them.

So he fixes the fences. Searches for the strays – brings them back. Heals the injured. Looks after the weak.

And you can see what that means for Israel – RETURN FROM EXILE. V13.

(Ezek 34:13-14 NIV)  I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. {14} I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.

Punishment is over. Jerusalem has fallen. But now God’s promising RESTORATION. One day, he’ll bring them back to the land. And it will be Paradise again. Just like it was when they first arrived.

And because God is God, it means he will shepherd WITH JUSTICE.

And that means he has a word for THE SHEEP. Because the sheep haven’t been BLAMELESS in everything that’s happened. In the events of sin and punishment and exile. Look at how v17 starts.

(Ezek 34:17-19 NIV)  “‘As for YOU, my flock, this is what the Sovereign LORD says:

Those who’d been living at the expense of the rest were about to get what they’d deserved. Justice was coming.

“I will judge between one sheep and another, and between rams and goats. {18} Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of your pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet? {19} Must my flock feed on what you have trampled and drink what you have muddied with your feet?

The picture’s a VIVID one. If you’ve ever seen a herd of sheep. They really are DUMB CREATURES. And selfish. When they know that food or water’s around. Nothing else matters. And they’ll trample another sheep. Push, shove. Stampede. To get there FIRST. … A bit like people at a David Jones Half-Yearly Clearance.

And God’s saying that his people are like THAT. The strong oppress and exploit the weak. The fat get fatter. And the lean get leaner. And God will judge BETWEEN them.

What does God think of the inequality between his people? We might immediately think of the difference between someone here who earns over $100,000 a year, and someone who earns $30,000.

But what about the difference between ANYONE here, and our Christian brothers and sisters in the Sudan, or Myanmar, or Nepal, or Vanuatu, or China.

It might be MONEY. That’s OBVIOUS. Or health care, or education, or running water, or shelter, or clothes.

But what about BIBLES? How many Bibles have you got in your home. We’ve probably got 20.

But millions of our Chinese brothers and sisters must SHARE. Or read someone’s HAND-WRITTEN COPY. Or perhaps they’ve never even SEEN one.

What does God think of the way us fat sheep are treating the lean sheep? He wants it to STOP. He wants us to treat each other with EQUITY.

And when it came to Israel, God tells us HOW that justice and rule will work out. God the Shepherd will use his instrument – his servant – David. Another shepherd. That’s in v23.

(Ezek 34:23-24 NIV)  I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. {24} I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them.

A servant of God. Who will tend the people like a PROPER shepherd. And while God is the king, this guy will be the PRINCE. The 2-I-C. Second in command. God’s INSTRUMENT for bringing about the justice he’s promising.

Now, he’s obviously not talking about the ORIGINAL King David. But a DESCENDANT from David’s line.

And in the time of the return from exile, they were still around. People would have known who the next in line for the throne was.

And God’s promising that if the people would return to obeying God, and restore this guy to the throne, then God would restore Israel to her glory days.

And God goes on to describe what those glory days LOOK LIKE. It will be a time of PEACE. V25.

Now when we think of peace we think of the ABSENCE of WAR. But for the Jew, peace was a much richer term. Peace was “SHALOM”. A total state of well-being. All relationships working in harmony. Physical, emotional and spiritual security and comfort.

Shalom is the absence of FEAR. Fear from wild beasts. God will get rid of them from the land. And so his people will feel safe wherever they go. That’s v25.

And he’ll bless the land. Fruitful crops. Plentiful harvest. Physical and emotional security. That’s SHALOM. (v26)

And in 28, God will rescue them from THE NATIONS AROUND. Shalom – peace with enemies. “They will live in safety and no one will make them afraid.”

But the greatest of these blessings of SHALOM. Is in v30 and 31.

(Ezek 34:30-31 NIV)  Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, AM WITH THEM and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD. {31} You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I AM YOUR GOD, declares the Sovereign LORD.'”

God is WITH his people. With HIS people. They are his. He is theirs. And he will shepherd them.

3. The Good Shepherd (Jn 10:1-18)

That was the promise. And to begin with, God was promising to do it at the local historical level. In the time of Ezekiel.

But disobedience meant it never happened. When they finally got their chance. In 538 BC, King Cyrus of Persia let the people come back to Jerusalem. And for a while, they worked at rebuilding. They followed for a while. Ezra and Nehemiah lead the people well.

But once more, they fell. And inter-married. And committed idolatry. And so God’s promises didn’t happen.

But that wasn’t the end. Because God’s promises aren’t stopped by man’s disobedience. God’s promises stand forever.

And so God had ANOTHER King David planned. One who would be the ULTIMATE shepherd. Providing an ULTIMATE kingdom. An eternal one.

In Jn 10, Jesus takes on the title of SHEPHERD. In particular, since he’s been arguing with the Pharisees, and calling them children of the devil, he calls himself the GOOD shepherd. In contrast to BAD shepherds. Shepherds behaving BADLY. Something Israel was used to. Jn 10.11

(John 10:11-14 NIV)  “I am the GOOD shepherd. The good shepherd LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE FOR THE SHEEP. {12} The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. {13} The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. {14} “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me–

What’s a good shepherd like? He LAYS DOWN HIS LIFE for his sheep. That’s the sort of servant who pleases God.

And it’s through laying down his life for his sheep/ that THIS SHEPHERD Jesus leads his people into all the promises God made to Ezekiel.

Promises of blessing. And justice. And SHALOM. Fullness of life. Jesus himself promises SHALOM. “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the FULL.” And it’s that sort of life that Jesus offers us NOW.

But even at it’s best, the Christian life is only a TASTE of fullness of Paradise. When Jesus returns, he’ll bring in the new heavens and the new earth. And it will be JUST LIKE God promised Ezekiel in Ch 34. Blessing and justice and peace and rest and fertility and richness.

But it only comes through Jesus. He is the GATE for the sheep. Whoever enters through him will be saved.

Is that YOU? Are you following Jesus? Have you turned from your sin, and turned to following Jesus? If you have, then all God’s promises here in Ezekiel are FOR YOU!!!

4. Shepherds behaving properly

And while that’s true for ALL God’s sheep. There’s something SPECIAL for those who shepherd the church.

After all the hard words to shepherds, you’d probably be wondering why on earth anyone would want to shepherd God’s people. Be a minister, or an elder.

Let me close with some words from the Apostle Peter. To the shepherds in the church. 1 Peter 5.

(1 Pet 5:1-4 NIV)  To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ’s sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: {2} Be SHEPHERDS OF GOD’S FLOCK that is under your care, serving as overseers–not because you must, but because you are WILLING, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but EAGER TO SERVE; {3} not LORDING IT OVER those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.

That’s exactly the warning God gave Israel’s shepherds through Ezekiel. Don’t fleece the sheep! SERVE, not BE served.

And then listen to his promise in the next verse. V4.

{4} And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.

That’s what we leaders are to be. Examples. Servants. UNDER-shepherds for the CHIEF shepherd. And when we do that faithfully, Jesus will have a crown of GLORY waiting for us.

And that’s something that’s worth working for. SERVING for. SHEPHERDING for. The GLORY OF THE APPROVAL OF THE LORD JESUS. A crown of “Well done, good and faithful servant! Enter into your rest. The peace and shalom of eternal blessing.

And so, whether we’re elders or not, let’s all serve the flock. With an eye on that crown.

Ezekiel 37-39: From Hopeless to Hope

Dachau was one of ’s dreadful camps for Jews in WW2. Today, there’s a museum there.

And on the wall of the museum is a large and moving photo of a mother and her little . They’re walking towards a gas chamber. You can see the rail lines which carried Jews to the chambers, or carried the bodies away.

The child is walking in front of her mother, but doesn’t know where she’s going. The mother DOES know, but is helpless to stop the tragedy.  In her helplessness, and hopelessness, she performs the only act of love left to her.  She places her hands over the child’s eyes so at least she won’t SEE the horror to come.

Apparently when people come into the museum they don’t walk past this photo in a hurry. They pause and reflect. They can feel the pain, and the hopelessness, and the despair.

I hope none of US are ever in a situation as HOPELESS as that.

Unfortunately, persecution like that is still around today. Against Christians. Even against fellow-Presbyterians.

Sakina and Shazia Alam are Pakistani Presbyterians. Pakistan is 97% Muslim, with many EXTREME groups among them. Christians represent only 1.7% of the population, and they’re frequently persecuted.

Sakina and Shazia are the widow and daughter of Rev. Noor Alam, who, in 1997, built a tiny Presbyterian church in Pakistan.

Three months later, one night a mob burned the church to the ground, “If any Christian comes out to protect the church, we will kill them,” Sakina heard them yell.

Alam immediately began to rebuild from the rubble. But weeks later, on Jan. 28, 1998, three men broke into his house and stabbed him to . Pakistani officials did nothing about the incident.

How would you feel as his widow and daughter? Would you have the strength to still stand up for Jesus? Would you be ANGRY with God?

Listen to the despair of Akhter Bhatti, Alam’s brother-in-law. He said. “Whatever happens in Pakistan, neither the courts, nor the executive nor the legislature care for our Christian community. In present circumstances, we are ABSOLUTELY HOPELESS.”       ABSOLUTELY HOPELESS!

It’s a sad cry, isn’t it? But as much as I FEEL for my Christian brother, and as tragic as the situation is, I have to disagree with him. Because God is still God, and he’s still in control, and his purposes are still being worked out. And ONE DAY, he’ll bring about JUSTICE and RESTORATION and LIFE.

That’s a promise. That’s our HOPE.

And it’s hope that strengthened by passages like today’s. Because when it comes to God’s WORD, NO SITUATION is HOPELESS.

God’s going to do something INCREDIBLE. Something BEYOND hope. He’s going to turn around the situation of his people in such a profound way, they hadn’t even DARED to DREAM it.

It’s a COMPLETE REVERSAL of FORTUNE. FROM HOPELESS TO HOPE.

It’s from to LIFE. From DIVISION to UNITY. From LEADERLESS to LED. And from being DISTANT from God to being INTIMATE.

1. Living instead of

Firstly, living instead of . At the start of Ch 37, Ezekiel tells us that the hand of the Lord is upon him. In other words, he’s about to experience something of God’s world – the way God sees things. He’s picked up and taken in a vision.

And he lands in a valley. And what he sees is beyond his worst nightmare. It’s a valley full of bones. And he’s plonked right down in the middle of it. And as he looks around, it’s all he can see – 360 degree BONES.

And the Spirit of the Lord leads him through it – again and again – just to make sure he experiences every detail. V2

(Ezek 37:2 NIV)  He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry.

Not just bodies, but bones. No flesh left. And not even skeletons – with recognisable human shapes. They’re just piles of random, chaotic bones.

And not just bones, but DRY bones. White, sun-bleached. er than . So , there’s no resemblance to anything living at all.

And when Ezekiel’s had time to take it all in. To realise HOW everything is, the Spirit asks him a question. “Son of man, can these bones LIVE?”

Here’s a test. The est situation you can think of. Do you reckon God can make it live?

This is the God who SPOKE and the UNIVERSE was formed. From NOTHING. This is the God who breathed life into the dust of the ground and MANKIND lived.

And Ezekiel comes back with a very SENSIBLE answer. “O Sovereign Lord, you alone know”

And rather than give the ANSWER, God gives a COMMAND. A command which IS the answer. V4

(Ezek 37:4-6 NIV)  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to these bones and say to them, ‘Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD! {5} This is what the Sovereign LORD says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. {6} I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the LORD.'”

A promise from God that he’ll make the bones live again. A promise to be spoken TO the bones. And it’s a promise that comes through the instrument of Ezekiel. He’s the mouthpiece.

But WHY USE EZEKIEL? Why doesn’t God just do it himself?

Because it’s a vision for the benefit of EZEKIEL as much as it’s one for THE PEOPLE. It’s for HIS encouragement. Right from the start of the book, God’s emphasised how Ezekiel is God’s mouthpiece. His watchman.

Ezekiel is the MEDIUM by which God’s life-giving words are communicated. And after so long of seeing his words IGNORED, in this vision/ he finally gets to see them ACHIEVE SOMETHING.

And in exactly the same way/ WE’RE the medium by which God’s life-giving words are communicated TODAY.

In God’s wisdom, he uses fallible, weak, disobedient, stumbling servants to communicate the wonder of his life-giving gospel.

And it’s a gospel that changes lives. It’s a miracle that’s no less extraordinary than the dry bones. That our explanations can transform someone from to life. From God’s enemy to his friend. Because it’s God’s Spirit who’s behind the words.

So keep SPEAKING them.

One of the things that Presbyterians affirm is that it’s GOD who converts people. It’s not us. It’s one of the ideas that makes us CALVINISTS. After John Calvin, who emphasised God’s control over EVERYTHING – his sovereignty – INCLUDING salvation.

But one of the MISUNDERSTANDINGS of Calvinism is that we don’t need to evangelise. If God does the converting, then we can just sit back, and wait for people to come to US. And God will have done all the work.

But these verses in Ezekiel tell us something different. YES, God certainly converts. But he uses the INSTRUMENT of PEOPLE who WITNESS to him. Proclaim his message FOR him.

And because God’s the one who ultimately does the job. It actually ENCOURAGES us to witness. Rather than DIScourage us. So keep speaking God’s words.

God commands Ezekiel to speak. And he does as he’s told. He prophesies to the bones. Presumably he says what’s there in v5 and 6. And look at what happens when he does. V7

(Ezek 37:7-8 NIV)  So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I was prophesying, there was a noise, a rattling sound, and the bones came together, bone to bone. {8} I looked, and tendons and flesh appeared on them and skin covered them, but there was no breath in them.

It’s the full sensory show. Not just SIGHTS. But SOUNDS as well. Rattling bones. The clink of bone on bone. As the pile of bones started moving. Chaos and disorder becomes order.

Individual bones become skeletons. Skeletons grow tendons. Tendons grow muscles. And the whole lot grows skin.

Until what Ezekiel sees before him is a huge gathering  – an ARMY..…. Of BODIES. They had all the BITS, but they were CORPSES. They had no LIFE, no BREATH, or ENERGY. Or Activity. No HUMANITY. No IMAGE OF GOD

God’s PROMISED it. Twice actually. V5 “I will make BREATH enter you”. And again in v6 “I will put breath in you”. And yet, when Ezekiel prophesies, it doesn’t happen. EVERYTHING ELSE BUT breath.

And so a STAGE 2 is needed. Body AND breath. And we find out why soon.

STAGE 2. God speaks again. He’ll complete the job. And once again it comes by HIS WORD. v9.

(Ezek 37:9-10 NIV)  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the BREATH; prophesy, son of man, and say to it, ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe into these slain, that they may live.'” {10} So I prophesied as he commanded me, and breath entered them; they came to life and stood up on their feet–a vast army.

Not just bodies. But LIVING bodies. Life that comes from God’s WORD, and God’s SPIRIT.

What a sight that must have been!

And it’s only now that Ezekiel finds out what they whole thing MEANS. It might have seemed like a horror movie. “The Living .” But it’s actually the COMPLETE OPPOSITE. It’s a vivid picture of REVERSAL OF FORTUNE. Of LIFE rather than . And in particular, reversal of fortune FOR ISRAEL. V11

(Ezek 37:11-12 NIV)  Then he said to me: “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. They say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.’ {12} Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says: O my people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel.

The bones are Israel. In exile they felt AS GOOD AS . BEYOND HOPE. NO CHANCE of a real life anymore.

But anything’s possible with God. He will give them LIFE. FULL life back in the Promised Land.

But there’s more to LIFE than just a physical place. It’s got to be part of a WHOLE NEW RELATIONSHIP.

And it’s here we find the answer to why it was a TWO-STEP process. Why TWO levels of prophecy. First, to the bones. And then to the BREATH. Look at v14. Not only will God bring them back to the land, but he’ll ALSO give them his Holy Spirit.

(Ezek 37:14 NIV)  I will put my Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. ”

God will restore them to the land. AND give them his Spirit. And that’s MORE than RESTORATION. Restoration’s only getting back what you ALREADY HAD.

But here, God’s promising A NEW RELATIONSHIP. A new covenant. A new intimacy. Unlike anything they’ve experienced before.

In Ch 36, we see that it’s his Spirit who washes them clean. Who enables them to OBEY him. To be his people. It all comes through God’s Spirit which he BREATHES into his people.

And while we can see that God did the FIRST part of the prophecy. He didn’t do the SECOND. He brought them back from exile. Back to the land.

But he didn’t pour out his Spirit. Until 500 years later. When his only Son. The GREATEST king in the line of King David. Stood before his disciples on the night before he was killed.

And Jesus (in John 20:22) BREATHED on them, and said “Receive the Holy Spirit. {23} If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”

And as we stand in the line of those disciples, someone preached the word TO US. And many of US have been made alive. Brought from to life. And when that happened, Jesus breathed his Holy Spirit into us. And made us a child of God.

We USED to be like that army. Physical bodies. But no spiritual life. Until God made us alive. Gave us ETERNAL life. Made us humanity the way we were DESIGNED to be. A living, breathing ARMY FOR GOD.

And as we stand in the line of those disciples, we’re actually ONE BETTER than Ezekiel. We may not have seen the visions he did. But when we PROCLAIM GOD’S MESSAGE TO SOMEONE. And they RESPOND. We get to see God do BOTH steps. Life AND Spirit. Something Ezekiel never got to see. Except in his vision. But we get to see it FOR REAL.

2. Unified instead of divided

And that’s not all that comes through Jesus. Let’s quickly look at another three.

Firstly, God promises UNITY. From v15, it seems to be some later time. He’s back in Babylon, and he’s speaking to the people.

And God’s promising that he’s going to make the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel ONE AGAIN. They’d been split since the time of Solomon. Separate kings. Constant fighting.

And since Israel was defeated by Assyria, they weren’t even a recognisable nation anymore.

But in v15-23, God describes how he’ll make them ONE. Like two sticks lashed together. They’ll be joined by one land. Under one king. Unified instead of divided.

And it’s the same unity we find today in the Christian church. It’s one of the great blessings of being a Christian. The bond between two people at the foot of the cross. It goes beyond language or culture or income or background or education or colour or race.

Ephesians 2 talks about there being no Jew and Greek. Jesus himself is our peace, making the TWO into ONE, destroying the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility.

And we could ADD to that. In the gospel, there’s no Aboriginal and White Australian. There’s no wealthy and poor. No Arabic and English. No University-educated or tradesman. No BELLEVUE Hill or ROOTY Hill.

The TWO have been made ONE.

And it’s unity like this that needs to be seen in the church today. Is that something you can see? That you experience?

Unified instead of Divided.

3. Led instead of leaderless

And thirdly, notice that it’s only unity because they’re UNDER ONE KING. Look at v22

(Ezek 37:22 NIV)  I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. There will be one king over all of them and they will never again be two nations or be divided into two kingdoms.

And down in v24, we see what that king is LIKE. He’s a servant of God. He’s from the line of David. He’s a shepherd. And he guides the people so they will follow God’s laws.

And through him God will bring in the blessings he promised to ABRAHAM. Look at v25. God promises LAND. And CHILDREN. And in v28, we even see that the NATIONS will be blessed.

All under God’s servant, the Son of David.

But there never WAS a king like that for Israel again.

But that didn’t mean God’s promise FAILED. Because Jesus was that king. And rather than being shepherd for the nation Israel, he became shepherd for God’s people throughout the WHOLE WORLD.

And it’s THROUGH HIM that we’re united to his world-wide Church. Having a common SAVIOUR and KING is much more fundamental than any of the OTHER stuff which DIVIDES us.

Through Jesus, we’re LIVING instead of , we’re UNIFIED instead of divided. We’re LED instead of LEADERLESS.

Intimate instead of distant

And there’s one final blessing that comes to God’s people. We’re intimate instead of distant.

God promises that his people will no longer be isolated. In exile they were cut-off, and excluded.

But God promises that once more, he’ll DWELL among his people. Just like in the wilderness, when the tabernacle was pitched right in the middle of the camp. That’s how close he’ll be. The end of v26.

(Ezek 37:26-27 NIV)  …I will put my SANCTUARY AMONG THEM forever. {27} My DWELLING PLACE will be with them; I will be their God, and they will be my people.

Remember back in Ch 10? Ezekiel’s vision of God’s glory leaving the temple. God was so sick of the sin of his people/ that he couldn’t bear to watch.

But in the vision, God never COMPLETELY left. He was hovering over the mountains to the East of Jerusalem. Just waiting to come back.

And while the temple was eventually rebuilt. TWICE. We never read of God’s glory returning to it. Either to Zerubbabel’s temple, or Herod’s temple. Not like happened to the FIRST temple. To Solomon’s temple.

And while Jesus was a special dwelling of God with men. He was only temporary, and in one place.

And today, God dwells with us by his Holy Spirit. Living in us. The foretaste, the down-payment of heaven. It’s good. But it’s not the WHOLE STORY.

It won’t be until that FINAL DAY. When Jesus returns. And brings THIS world to a close. That God will FULLY dwell with his people. Revelation 21 speaks about it. It’s a book which borrows a lot of its imagery to Ezekiel. And this idea of God DWELLING with his people is one of them. Revelation 21 v1

(Rev 21:1-4 NIV)  Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. {2} I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. {3} And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. {4} He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

Living instead of . Unity instead of division. Led instead of leaderless. And intimate instead of distant.

God promised it to his people through Ezekiel. They experienced PART of it. We’ve experienced SO MUCH MORE. But there’s EVEN MORE that we’ve got in store.

That’s our HOPE. And I can’t WAIT.

Ezekiel 40-48: Up Close and Personal

Distant and Close. Can you be both at the same time?  Is it possible to be intimate and near to someone, at the same time as being isolated from them?

Modern communication makes it much easier to kept close contact with people even though you’re thousands of km’s away. I spent 15 minutes talking to Dad during the week. All the way in Vanuatu. It felt like he was just in the next room.

Even better is VIDEO-CONFERENCING. I can speak to AND see someone in Antarctica. LIVE.

Lots of business meetings use it. Even SCHOOLS are talking about joining together, sharing teachers, and joining classes to video-conference lessons.

Close yet distant.

Or think about the reverse. Geographically close, but still distant.

Imagine you’re married to someone. Let’s say you’ve been together for 15 years. And you THINK you know them COMPLETELY. Sleep in the same bed. Hang each other’s undies on the line. Finish each other’s sentences.

Until you find out one day that they’ve been having a long-term affair. You thought you knew them, but you didn’t. You were close GEOGRAPHICALLY, but distant EMOTIONALLY.

Or suppose someone’s in prison. His wife is allowed a weekly visit. And as she sits down behind the glass wall, she stretches out her hand and touches the glass that separates her from her husband. He does the same. Two hands, within 5 mm of each other. But separated by a huge gap. A gap of experience, and potential, of freedoms and opportunities. Close SPATIALLY, but distant in REALITY.

Or what about God? Can HE be both distant and close? Separate AND intimate? The message of the Bible, as hard as it is to comprehend. Is Yes, he can.

In the language of theology, there’s two big words we use to describe these two characteristics of God. IMMANENCE and TRANSCENDENCE.

God’s IMMANENCE means that he’s CLOSE. He hears our prayers, he’s interested in how we live. He communicates with us in human language. He’s IMMANENT.

But he’s also very DISTANT. He’s FAR ABOVE us, and BEYOND us, and DIFFERENT to us.

He’s not bound by a physical body, we are. He’s eternal, and all-powerful, and all-knowing, and present everywhere. And we’re NOT.

He’s completely holy, morally pure, righteous in all his thoughts, and actions and words. And we’re not.

Despite all of this DISTANCE between us and God, he chose to cross the gap. To become IMMANENT. To communicate through creation, through his word, through prophets, and promises, and the law. Through his Holy Spirit. And ultimately through his Son.

The Book of Hebrews begins like this.

(Heb 1:1-3 NIV)  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, {2} but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. {3} The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being,”

It’s a profound mystery that God is, at the same time, both transcendent AND immanent. It’s the message of the Bible.

In fact the Bible ITSELF is EVIDENCE of this. It’s evidence of God’s IMMANENCE. Because it’s the record of God’s communication to us…. But it also describes a God who’s incredibly TRANSCENDENT and DIFFERENT from us.

And it’s this very CONTRADICTION which is the essence of THE GOSPEL. The good news is that a holy and just God who can’t stand sin. Would bridge the gap to allow sinful people like us to be forgiven. To become CLOSE to him.

Closeness and distance . It’s been a theme right through Ezekiel. At the start, the people are exiled in Babylon. DISTANT from the land, from the temple. And perhaps even from God. Yet God VISITS them. He is CLOSE, though DISTANT.

And then in Ch 8, Ezekiel sees a vision. The people are IN THE TEMPLE. They’re PHYSICALLY close, but DISTANT. Because their hearts are far from God. They’re wicked. And so God has to LEAVE. To DISTANCE himself.

And for punishment, the people are EXILED. REMOVED from the land.

And then, we get to the end of the book. Today’s chapters . And they highlight these two characteristics of God. His immanence and his transcendence.

And they package it in WONDERFUL GOOD NEWS. Fantastic promises by God that one day, he will no longer be DISTANT, but will dwell among his people COMPLETELY. No ifs, no buts. No intermediaries. No barriers. The distance between the transcendent and the earthly will be gone.

And the wonderful picture is painted/ of GOD’S PRESENCE in GOD’S LAND.

Let’s look at it together. The context is another vision for Ezekiel. At the start of Ch 40, the hand of the LORD is on Ezekiel. And in v2, he’s taken to the land of Israel, and set on a very high mountain. And from the mountain he sees some buildings that looked like a city.

Well, like any good city tour. It’s good to have a guide. And that’s what Ezekiel’s got. A fully-equipped heavenly guide. Look at v3.

(Ezek 40:3-4 NIV)  He took me there, and I saw a man whose appearance was like bronze; he was standing in the gateway with a linen cord and a measuring rod in his hand. {4} The man said to me, “Son of man, look with your eyes and hear with your ears and pay attention to everything I am going to show you, for that is why you have been brought here. Tell the house of Israel everything you see.”

But, just like a school excursion, Ezekiel has to TAKE NOTES. Because the whole point of the vision is TO COMMUNICATE SOMETHING to the PEOPLE.

And so Ezekiel, pencil sharpened, begins the tour.

It’s a tour of a temple (v5). And it begins at the outside wall. It’s 3½ m thick, and 3½ m high. An imposing wall. And in v6, he climbs some steps, goes through the gate, past the guards chambers. And into the outer court (v17)

Up and in.

And once inside, he sees an INNER court. With MORE steps and MORE gates. And, in v28, he goes through one of THESE gates. Into the inner court.

Up and in.

And in here, he sees an altar, and rooms for preparing sacrifices. Tables, and utensils, and hooks.

But above everything else, Ezekiel sees the temple (v48). Right in the middle of the inner court. And, once more, it’s reached by climbing STEPS, and through a DOOR.

Up and in.

But once Ezekiel gets through this door, he realises he’s only in the foyer. The entrance room.

But at the end of the foyer/ is another set of doors. HE goes through (41 v1) And once he goes through this/ he’s in the outer sanctuary of the temple.

He’s gone through four different gates or doors. But he’s still not at the centre. And in front of him, Ezekiel can see one more set of doors. He knows what’s through there. After all, he IS a priest. He never actually got to BE there in the ACTUAL temple in Jerusalem, but he knows what lies through THOSE doors.

It’s the Most Holy Place. Where GOD HIMSELF is.

And whether it’s because he hangs back, or not, we don’t know. But in 41 v3, we see that only HIS GUIDE goes in. Ezekiel stays outside.

Perhaps Ezekiel felt let-down. He expects to see God. But all he sees is the guide MEASURING again. And at the end of v4, he says, “This is the Most Holy Place.”

And for the rest of Ch 41 and 42, Ezekiel furiously writes notes of all that he sees. More details of the temple, and the various side rooms.

And he sums it all up at the end of Ch 42. v20. He’s gone all the way to the centre. And back out again. He finishes measuring the OUTSIDE WALLS.

(Ezek 42:20 NIV)  So he measured the area on all four sides. It had a wall around it, five hundred cubits long and five hundred cubits wide, TO SEPARATE THE HOLY FROM THE COMMON.

A perfect square. Layers within layers. Rising upward as you go inward. All designed for one purpose. To separate the holy from the common.

God in the middle, and high up. People on the outside and below. Separated by a vast number of barriers and gates and guards and doors and steps. And altars and sacrifices.

The perfect square representing the perfect system. All designed to SEPARATE God from Man. To illustrate God’s TRANSCENDENCE. His OTHER-ness.

He CAN be approached. There is SOME immanence. But it’s not EASY. And it’s COSTLY. And it takes TIME. And it happens according to God’s plan. After all, it’s HIS temple.

But it must have all seemed rather EMPTY. Rather POINTLESS. Because THE ONE THE WHOLE THING was DESIGNED FOR/ wasn’t even there. It’s God’s temple. And he’s not even THERE. He’s meant to be at the centre. Approachable. But he’s gone.

In fact, you might remember he’d been gone since Ch 11. he’d been so repulsed by the sin of the people in the Jerusalem temple that Ezekiel sees a vision of God’s glory – his presence – leaving the temple, and moving to the mountains to the EAST of Jerusalem.

And that’s where he’s stayed. Until now. Look at the start of Ch 43. Because God’s about to return.

(Ezek 43:1-4 NIV)  Then the man brought me to the gate facing east, {2} and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory. {3} The vision I saw was like the vision I had seen when he came to destroy the city and like the visions I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown. {4} The glory of the LORD entered the temple through the gate facing east.

And so he can get a better view of what’s going on, the Spirit lifts him up and takes him to the inner court where he hears God speaking. V7.

(Ezek 43:7 NIV)  He said: “Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet. This is where I will live among the Israelites forever.

God’s home. In the midst of his people. Immanent.

But that doesn’t mean he’s no longer TRANSCENDENT. He’s still holy. And to be approached with caution. That was the mistake the people made the FIRST TIME. Too hastily approaching God. Too lightly taking his commands. And so God destroyed them.

And then God tells us the MORAL to the whole vision. His REASON behind it all. The message of the temple.

Some people think God gave the vision so the temple could be BUILT. But that’s not what he says at all. Look at 43 v10.

(Ezek 43:10-11 NIV)  “Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel, THAT THEY MAY BE ASHAMED OF THEIR SINS. Let them consider the plan, {11} and if they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the design of the temple–its arrangement, its exits and entrances–its whole design and all its regulations and laws. Write these down before them so that they may be faithful to its design and follow all its regulations.

The design of the temple communicated a message. A message to a people who had taken God’s holiness LIGHTLY. Who had disobeyed his demands. And done their own thing.

They were to be ASHAMED of their sins. Because God wasn’t to be approached LIGHTLY. There was a great distance between mankind and God. It wasn’t impossible to bridge, But it could only be done according to God’s PERFECT PLAN.

And when that happened, God promised to DWELL with his people forever. IMMANENT. V9

(Ezek 43:9 NIV)  Now let them put away from me their prostitution and the lifeless idols of their kings, and I will live among them forever.

That was the message of the temple. And the rest of 43 and 44 talk about how the people could DO that. The sort of behaviour FIT for a king. Especially a king who DWELT AMONG YOU.

2. God’s LAND

But the vision was MORE than a temple. God’s PRESENCE. It was about God’s LAND as well.

Because the TEMPLE was where God lived. But the land was where the PEOPLE lived. And God’s got a message concerning THAT AS WELL.

God’s land is the subject of Chapters 45 to 48. God divides it up among the 12 tribes. Just like he did when Israel FIRST came into the Promised Land. But this time, there’s no FIGHTING. It’s just given.

And it’s SECURE. No-one will their inheritance away. No greedy princes will dispossess the people.

And there’s no INJUSTICE. Everyone gets an equal share. Even the SMALLEST tribes.

Even the GENTILES get in on the act. That was something that never happened the FIRST time. Look at the end of Ch 47. v22.

(Ezek 47:22-23 NIV)  You are to allot it as an inheritance for yourselves AND for the ALIENS who have settled among you and who have children. You are to consider them as NATIVE-BORN ISRAELITES; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel. {23} In whatever tribe the alien settles, there you are to give him his inheritance,” declares the Sovereign LORD.

What a wonderful picture of PARADISE! But that’s not the best part! Not only does God PROVIDE it all. But he MAINTAINS it all too.

Go to the start of Ch 47. Ezekiel’s taken back to the entrance to the temple. And he notices some water seeping out from the under the door. It flows down the steps and out the east gate.

And as Ezekiel follows his guide, they walk along the stream. Away from the temple. And after half a km the water’s up to his ankles. Another half-km, and it’s up to his knees. Another half-km, it’s up to his waist.

But by v5, the water is SO deep, they couldn’t cross it. One river, flowing from the temple, getting larger and larger the further downstream you went. With no tributaries! It’s miraculous.

It’s flowing from God’s temple. Representing God’s provision of his land. For his people.

And look at what the river DOES. Its effect on the land. V7.

(Ezek 47:8-12 NIV)  He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah, where it enters the Sea. When it empties into the Sea, the water there becomes fresh. {9} Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live. {10} Fishermen will stand along the shore; from En Gedi to En Eglaim there will be places for ing nets. The fish will be of many kinds–like the fish of the Great Sea. {11} But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt. {12} Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river. Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit fail. Every month they will bear, because the water from the sanctuary flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.”

It’s a miracle. Fresh water that makes salt water FRESH. Impossible. Except in God’s Land.

And PLENTY OF FOOD. Large numbers of fish. Fruit trees 12 months a year. And the trees aren’t just good for FOOD, but for HEALING TOO.

It’s a wonderful picture of PARADISE. The Garden of Eden all over again. The Kingdom of God. God’s people in God’s land with God living among them. The transcendent God dwelling with his people.

There’s plenty of parallels with Revelation 21 and 22. A river which flows. But from the THRONE rather than the temple. Because once Jesus came, the Lamb who was slain, there was no need for a temple. In Revelation’s new heaven and new earth, there will be no temple. All those barriers and walls and guards and gates and doors and steps have been removed.

And the trees by the river bring healing TO THE NATIONS. That’s US. Because God’s plan was that the gospel would go to ALL NATIONS. So that EVERY tongue could confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. WE can have intimate access to God.

3. God’s Son

You see, it’s not until we get to the New Testament that the puzzle’s solved. That the missing pieces fall into place. Only in Jesus do the PROMISES become REALITY.

God’s PRESENCE and God’s LAND/ only come through GOD’S SON.

The problem of God’s holiness and separation from us are solved/ through his on our behalf. Heb 10: 19 puts it like this.

(Heb 10:19-22 NIV)  Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the of Jesus, {20} by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, {21} and since we have a great priest over the house of God, {22} let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith,

Everything Ezekiel’s temple was pointing to/ is found in Christ.

All Ezekiel did was highlight the PROBLEM. But Christ was the SOLUTION.

Ezekiel’s vision is God’s promise TO US. It points us to the new heaven and new earth that will one day be a REALITY for God’s people.

When Christ returns, the heavenly Jerusalem will descend. God will dwell with his people. And ETERNAL PARADISE will begin.

And I see no reason to doubt that it’ll be just like the visions of Revelation and Ezekiel describe it. With fishing and fruit trees. And work. And a city of gold.

But our job NOW/ is not to just sit back, put our feet up/ and think of PARADISE.

Many of our friends, at the moment, are headed for somewhere ELSE. For eternal separation from God.

We have such a wonderful future in store. We are the watchman whose seen the enemy coming. But we haven’t sounded the warning.

We must PERSEVERE. Continue to live faithfully and obediently NOW. Keeping our priorities clear. Because NOTHING is more important than eternity.

Hebrews 10 continues. V23.

(Heb 10:23-25 NIV)  Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. {24} And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. {25} Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The Day’s approaching. Great news for us. But bad news for OTHERS.

So let’s SPUR each other on.

Let’s not give up meeting together.

Let’s continue sounding the warning, like Ezekiel.