The Lord is There – Ezekiel 46-48. RBT Notes, 30th January. Notes by Graham Thomson

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Throughout Ezekiel we’ve seen God at work for one purpose.  It’s the same as His purpose throughout the whole of the Bible, and all of history, in fact.  He will redeem a holy people for Himself, and He will dwell with them forever.  They will be His people and He will be their God.

Ezekiel continues his tour of the temple (ch.46), and is told that the Lord doesn’t change.  He will meet with His people, prince or pauper, in His holy Temple.  And every day, the blood of a perfect Lamb, slain in their place, will remind them of their standing before their God (v.13).

And from the Temple will flow the water of life (47.1-12), a river deep and wide enough for all who will come.  This river that will transform our bitter world, as God makes it new in Jesus.  The river that will bring food and healing for all the nations (v.12, cf. Rev 22.1-2)

Now Ezekiel hears the news he’s perhaps been longing to hear (47.13-48.29).  There will be room for all God’s people (47.13-23).  None will be left out.  All those who are the Lord’s will be given the space marked out for them.

And there’s more.  For they won’t be alone.  The defining characteristic of this place is not its impressive size, or the number of people there.  It will be the presence of the Lord with His people (v.35).  Forever.

Ezekiel probably started his book in sadness and self-pity. He must have felt that his life was a waste, his hopes of serving as priest in the Jerusalem Temple dashed, and the hopes of his people for knowing the mercy of God hanging by a thread. He finishes this chapter, though, literally in Heaven.  Where the Lord is is with His people.  He will never leave them, nor foresake them. As we face the struggles, trials and joys of life, our hope must always be the same as Ezekiel’s.  God is at work in Jesus, so that we might be His people, and He might be our God.  The Lord is there (48.35). Forever.

Treasure this book. Don’t be frightened by its strange visions, nor put off by the details of life lived so long ago. Don’t miss out on the thrilling picture of God’s new Gospel world in the details of the temple’s walls or doors. Ezekiel brings us, above all, a vision of God, majestic, holy, merciful and totally faithful. Ezekiel name, by the way, “may the Lord strengthen”. May the Lord strengthen us as we feed upon this, His Word.

The Glory of the Church – Ezekiel 42-45. RBT Notes, 29th January

You can have all the religion you like, but without God it is only an empty shell. You can have a fine building, all ready for use (40-41), and you can make ample provision for its workers (the priests, 42). If that’s it, though, well, that’s it.

Buildings can’t ultimately achieve anything. It all depends on who is in them. If God is there in His glorious grace, and if people are there, seeking and trusting in that grace, then suddenly the charade of religion is shown for what it is, as people instead come to taste the reality of a God who saves and dwells with His people.

So this is what Ezekiel starts to see: the glory returns. God, who left His temple to its Babylonian judgment, is coming back to this new temple-community (43). With roaring voice, and a glory which shines out across the land, He comes, and all Ezekiel can do is worship (vv.1-3). The voice speaks, and it is the voice of Ezekiel’s companion, the shining one who has been showing him the temple, surely the Second Person of the Trinity Himself. Here, He declares, He will live forever (v.7). But who can endure the Day of His Coming? Only those made pure. The prophet is promised that He will dwell among a purified people, and so Ezekiel is told to take the message to his countrymen, that they are to be pure for their Lord (vv.9-12).

Purity comes from where, though? It comes from sacrifice, sacrifice to cover the guilt of all our sins and to bring cleansing. For that you need an altar (vv.13-18), an offering (v.19-25), and someone to offer sacrifice on our behalf (v.27, 44.1-31). In fact much of ch.44 reads like a repeat of the instructions to the priests in Leviticus. Afterall, God’s purposes have never changed, because God never changes.

How God achieves His plans can change, though. We look back on these chapters, and we know now that the altar is the Cross, the sacrifice is a man, and the offerer, the One who offered Himself. Jesus came to purify a people for His very own, eager to do what is good (Titus 2.14). That is where glory shines. And glory still shines, and indeed, shines ever more brightly, amongst a people who have been gathered around that cross, to bask in its forgiveness and to live its life together. Afterall, that message of grace will one day conquer the world. And heaven? Heaven is a celebration of grace, forever, and in Christ for all (ch.45). This is our glory.

 

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God’s New Community – Ezekiel 40-41. RBT Notes, 28th January

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Now for the part that you probably won’t read. People don’t. What should have been an exciting, gripping climax turns into a protracted, uninteresting whimper. We want hope and life, but we get architectural plans. Ezekiel, this might be what you’re interested in, and what you understand. We’re just not your sort of people, though. Maybe we should leave at this point.

Don’t. Ezekiel knows what he’s doing. More than that, God knows what He’s doing. He gave the vision, afterall. If we have the humility, and the patience, we’ll discover here not a dusty set of building plans, but a blueprint for a new community. In all of these details of walls, cubits, alcoves and jambs in ch.’s 40-41, God is actually starting to lay out the shape of His building-project. And that is one in which Jesus is at the centre and we, His people, sr being put into place, right according to God’s plans.

Twenty five years into his ministry, where he has seen hope die, dreams crushed, and his precious city of Jerusalem and its temple torn apart by the Babylonians, Ezekiel has a vision. In it he is taken to Jerusalem (though Ezekiel isn’t explicit, He wants us to join the dots, so to speak, vv.1-2). There he sees the shining man he saw a quarter of a century before (cf ch.’s 8-11). There is no time for Ezekiel to fix his attention on him, though: he must record all he sees and hears. And what he is seeing is the future.

So read the chapters, and no, you’re not in sin if your skimread them, or hardly begin to make sense of them. Some of the details of  of this Temple don’t strictly make sense, with walls and gates at places out of proportion with each other. The following two points, though, are for us to linger on:

 

God has no Plan B, because His plans are on track.

Ezekiel’s vision is of a temple which in almost all of its details is the same as the one Solomon built. Walls, courts and altars all underline that God is still calling people to approach Him, trusting in a sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins, and looking to God to show mercy. God has not changed how He deals with sinners. Ezekiel’s vision tells us that mercy is still available for all who come. This is a mercy which we now look to Christ, our Great High Priest, to bring to us. God’s plans are fulfilled in Him, and this vision is part of that plan coming to its climax.

 

The Temple is empty, but one day it will be crowded.

 Where are the priests, sacrifices, and worshippers? They’re all strikingly absent. Ezekiel just has the blueprint to work with. Now, though, the house is full. The Great High Priest has offered Himself, and His sacrifice, given at the Cross, opens God’s House to all who come. And God comes to us, to work in us by His Spirit, cleansing and renewing, as Ezekiel already prophesied.

Don’t look for a physical building today when you are seeking God. He is seeking worshippers who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth (John 4.24). “As you come to Him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2.4). This is the community Ezekiel is getting God’s people ready for: this is the church, and it will be crowded with worshipers throughout the world.

 

The Lord of Hosts – Ezekiel 38-39. RBT Notes, 27th January

The Lord raises up and brings low. Whether you are in His covenant people, or are a stranger with no interest whatsoever in His grace, the Lord can do whatever He pleases with you. Israel, God’s people, had been brought low in their arrogance and sin, but God would one day raise them up again, just as Ezekiel had prophesied. And the pagan nations, raised up as God’s instrument of judgment against his own people, would one day sink.
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Who and what are Gog and Magog? We would love to know. Unlike the other prophecies against the foreign nations in ch.s 25-32, which speak to specific lands about God’s dealings with them, mostly during or shortly after the siege of Jerusalem, here we are given no time frame, and no identities. Like so many other invaders,  Gog will storm into the land with its allies, bent on destruction (38.9). Like so many others, she finds herself an instrument of God’s purposes (v.16). The land will be in upheaval, due to God’s hand, and Gog will discover that that hand is in fact against her (vv.17-22). As ever, God purposes to show the world His greatness (v.23).
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The same themes are repeated in ch.39. Destruction is coming, but the Lord is in charge of it all, and it is all for His glory (vv.6, 7, 13, 21, 25, 27). God knows exactly what He is doing, even when He uses the appalling scenes of the unburied dead, and the terrors of war to make His point, that noone will evade His holiness and justice.
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And we still don’t know what these scenes correspond to in history. Attempts to map these details on world events have all failed so far. Maybe they were never intended to find an exact historical reference-point. Their lessons, though, are clear, in that the church will always have its enemies, and at time will be persecuted and refined through them, but always under the hand of God. Even in the darkest times, we must remember that God is God, and that His purposes are never thrown off-track. Afterall, “the Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress” (Ps. 46.7). We trust Him, and in Christ we will see His glory.

These Bones can Live – Ezekiel 37. RBT Notes, 26th January

If you know, or have heard of, one Ezekiel chapter, then it’s bound to be this one. Just as in those early, vision-filled years of his ministry, Ezekiel is again apprehended by God’s Spirit, and set in what appears to be a battlefield. The fighting has long-since finished, but the dismembered bodies are there, flesh rotted away so that only bones remain (vv.1-2). All life has gone, but when God questions Ezekiel about whether a miracle can happen to them, Ezekiel now knows God too well not to question (or at least, to question out loud) God’s power (v.3).

The Lord gives the word to Ezekiel, that he must command life to these bones (vv.4-6). He obeys, and what happens next is one of the strangest moments recorded in Scripture, as the bones rattle together, tendons and flesh grow, and bodies come together front of the prophet (7-8). At Ezekiel’s word, breath enters them, and in front of his surely terrified eyes, an army appears (vv.9-10). The Lord explains: this was an army of unbelievers, an apostate Israel, but they are now a vivid picture of the power of God, giving life where there was death, raising men in His grace where judgement had fallen (vv.11-12).

How can this be so? Because of another battlefield. That is Calvary. At Calvary one man, who kept God’s Law, went to the cross. He was already whipped and beaten so that His flesh was torn from His bones. He went naked, and was set up on the cross, only later to be laid in the dust of death. He was the perfect sacrifice, which alone brings forgiveness of sins and new life to spiritually dead people. Faith in Him through hearing His voice produces nothing less than new life (John 5.24-30). “The One God has sent speaks the words of God, for He gives the Spirit without limit” (John 3.34). He is the One who fulfils Ezekiel’s prophecy (compare 37.11-14).

And these bones will live as one nation. Judah and Israel have been smashed apart nearly two centuries before. They will be one people again, though (vv.15-17). This one nation will enjoy one land, as one people enjoying their God (vv.22-23).

All this will be theirs because of the promised Shepherd-King, the descendant of David (vv.24-28). This is an incredible announcement that God’s plans will climax in the coming of one who will save, rule, protect and live with His people. Obviously and gloriously, this is Jesus! His people live, not in one land, but far better, they inhabit every nation on the earth. And His dwelling-place is with them.

So Ezekiel’s strange day and bizarre vision turn into the most intoxicatingly beautiful vision of the Person and power of Jesus. He has come, He is with His people, and shall be for evermore. This is life, and this is heaven. He offers us nothing less.

 

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Trust, or Despair – Ezekiel 35-36. RBT Notes, 25th January

God remembers. We forget, or we try to hide, the things we’re ashamed of. God doesn’t forget, though, and so we can never hide our sins.

Edom, the mountain kingdom bordering Israel, was a thorn in her side for centuries, never more so than when standing gleefully by as the Assyrians destroyed God’s Land. Very well, says God: she will be herself ruined (35.1-10). She saw the Assyrian attack as the perfect opportunity to take over the two kingdoms: now she will be desolate (vv.10-15). God remembers, He speaks, and He will act.

despair4_FotorWhat about Israel, though? She has been judged, humiliated, stripped bare by the Assyrians. Well over a century has passed since that devastation, and the land still shows no signs of recovery. How could she, as the few who live there of Israelite descent are sure that God’s anger is still against them. Ezekiel speaks here to assure them that, though God’s zeal worked for their judgement, it is His time to work for the land, and to repay its enemies (36.1-7). So a picture of restoration follows, of a fruitful land, enjoyed by a returning people (v.8), knowing the favour of God (v.10), increasing in population and being rebuilt (vv.10-12). The exile t which the people were banished will come to an end (vv.13-21).

Better than a society renewed, Ezekiel promises that the people’s hearts will be renewed (vv.24-25). They will be washed, cleansed from their idols, and given a new heart and a new spirit (v.26). With their hearts of flesh, they will be given a spirit which longs to obey God. Nothing, but nothing in ourselves can make this change. No resolve, effort, prayer or desperate self-sacrifice can bring about this miracle. Only the Lord of grace Himself can transform people with the gift of new birth through the Holy Spirit, and that is a gift which Jesus alone died and rose again to bring us. Just imagine Ezekiel’s shock in heaven when he finally got to see and understand that!

And why all this grace promised to a sinful people? It is not because God is sentimental, though, nor because He has decided that His people are not worthy of His judgment. God is working, as always, for the sake of His Name, and to show the nations that He is the Lord (vv.23-24, 37). He is the Lord, afterall, and He has no lesser wish that all the nations should see and receive His glory in Christ. Trust Him. The alternative doesn’t even bear thinking about.