Calling – Ezekiel 2-3. RBT Notes, 2nd January

“The appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (v.28). How else could Ezekiel describe the majesty of the God he has seen? And what else could he – or you – do, apart from fall down in awe?

God tells him to stand, and Ezekiel is strengthened by God’s Spirit (2.1). The commission he receives is thrilling, terrifying, and also deeply discouraging. He is go to to his countrymen with the Word of God. The highest honour any of us can be given is to speak God’s Words to others. To a man who must have thought that his work was over before it started, God comes in power to declare that this is His work for His servant. But look at the people he is to minister to: obstinate, stubborn, like scorpions and rebellious (vv.3-7). This is no Sunday school picnic, but a commission to speak to a people who haven’t learned, and who refuse to learn, the lessons of their exile. This is a hard call, and one with no promise of a lasting and happy outcome – “whether they listen or fail to listen” (v.5) is deeply ominous. Who says that the work of God, even if given from heaven, will have a happy ending?

scrolly21There is sweetness in the work, though. Ezekiel is given a scroll, and on it are God’s promised curses for covenant disobedience (3.1). And yet, as Ezekiel eats it, it tastes sweet (v.3). This is a vivid picture of how God’s Word shows God’s justice and holiness, which will be Ezekiel’s comfort in the days ahead. And he will need that comfort: God warns him that people will simply prove to be too hard-hearted to listen to God’s servant (v.7). But Ezekiel will be no pushover, but a man made tough by God for this tough calling (vv.8-9).

Ezekiel is told to go to the people, and then is literally taken to them (vv.10-14). The anger of God at His sinful people is the anger that this servant now feels (v.14). Isn’t that the mark of a true servant of God? We begin to think as God does, feel as He does, and want and work for what He wants. That is what it means to have the mind of Christ. Ezekiel is learning that God’s call is never just to “do the work”, but to be remade in God’s image, loving His holiness, longing for the lost, ready to be broken-hearted, as well as broken-up, in the service of God. This short and terrifying encounter left Ezekiel drained, and for a week he sat among his people, trying to take in what he had seen and heard.

Think about Jesus. He came from the glory of God (and is the glory of God). He came with words of cursing from God on human sin, as well as words of grace. He lived among people exiled by their sin from God’s presence, and came to call them to face God, and to receive His Word. He delighted in the Law of His God, and He wept over lost, hard-hearted people. Ezekiel is yet another servant who was to be remade in the image of Jesus, and a servant who would bring the astounding promises of God to a lost world, at an appalling personal cost.

The end of this call narrative sees Ezekiel learning how serious and how costly his call will be. Serious, in that he is to warn sinners of God’s wrath, and will be accountable for how he speaks, or fails to (vv.18-21). If he fails to do that, their blood will be literally on his hands. Perhaps it’s because this calling is so serious, and hard, that God confirms it a second time (vv.22-30): there is the Glory (v.23, note, the Glory is “standing”, as we know that the glory is the Son of God), and there is the warning: this call will cost Ezekiel. His house will be a prison, his freedom will be taken from him, and not even the words he’s been given to speak will come from his mouth until God sovereignly wills them (vv.24-27).

And we think that discipleship is an easy matter, or just one of many things we “do” in life. These chapters challenge us to think more deeply. Discipleship is a high, holy and hard calling. In all of it there is the gift of the Spirit, as Ezekiel discovered. The Spirit, though takes us to the cross, and conforms us to the life of the cross.

“If we died with Him, we will also live with Him; if we endure, we will also reign with Him. If we disown Him He will disown us; if we are faithless He will remain faithful, for He cannot disown Himself” (2 Timothy 2.11-13). This is Ezekiel’s calling, and his God, and they are ours, too.

The Living God – Ezekiel 1. RBT Notes, 1st January 2016

A young man is sitting by a river, probably reflecting on how terrible his life is. Thirty is a time when many are looking forward to what their life will hopefully become; but this man, Ezekiel, has very few reasons for being hopeful. At the age of thirty he should be embarking on his work as a priest, after his years of training. Now he knows that this is no more than a dream, and will most likely never take place. He lives, like his people, as a broken exile. There is no city of Jerusalem, no Temple, priesthood, nor future. There’s possibly no God.

 Ezekiel is a book about a devastated people, and a resolute God. God has been true to His Word to His people. He repeatedly warned His people that He would judge them for their sins, and His warning came true. Many thousands deported by the Babylonians from Jerusalem and taken to Babylon in 597 BC. Ezekiel was caught up in that migration. He longed for his old city, feared for his people in Babylon, and dreaded what going to happen to them as well as to those still in Jerusalem. Perhaps above all, he feared that God has given them all up to their sins, and that they were on their own.

God has not given them up, nor has He deserted Ezekiel. The opening chapter of this extraordinary book marks the start of God’s astonishing dealings with Ezekiel five years on from his exile: “the heavens were opened and I saw visions of God” (v.1). With this vision were also the Word of God and the hand of God (v.3). God is claiming His man for His true service, to be not a minister at the Temple in Jerusalem, but the minister of God’s Word, to these exiles, to those still in Jerusalem, and even to the nations of Ezekiel’s day. And the Word God spoke to Him He speaks to us today, as His Word endures forever.

The vision is terrifying. Ezekiel wouldn’t have been enjoying this experience, he would have been shaking, terrified, and wanting to run away. The first thing he sees resembles a blazing fireball (v.4), and then he sees that it is occupied by four “living creatures” (v.5). Strange as they appear to us in the description, Ezekiel would have been familiar with these sorts of figures, as the impressive buildings of the mega-city of Babylon would have been guarded by huge statues resembling them. That said, nothing could have lessened Ezekiel’s terror, as he was confronted by those living creatures, with their bizarre faces, gleaming bodies, and whirring wings (vv.5-14).

As Ezekiel’s horrified gaze moves from their faces to their feet, he notices that there are wheels beneath them, and these wheels aren’t easy to describe or visualise: “each appeared to be like a wheel intersecting a wheel” (v.16). The point is that these creatures could go anywhere on these wheels, which are even full of eyes (v.17-22). The real point of the vision, though, is found in what Ezekiel sees next.

Above the creatures is an awe-inspiring sight, a gleaming pavement (v.22), and on that, a throne (v.26). The living creatures are servants of the real vision. The vision is God Himself. Surrounded by fire, “on the throne was a figure like that of a man” (v.26). He is dazzling, radiant, and exalted. What is striking is how little Ezekiel actually says about the man he sees. The reason why isn’t hard to work out: he is convinced that he has seen God, but all his convictions tells Him that God can cannot by seen by mortal eyes. And yet, at God’s Throne stands a man. One day, hundreds of years later, three servants of God will stand astonished before a transfigured man, the Lord Jesus Christ. A few years after that, another exile, John, will fall at the feet of one whose glory blazes just as it did that day Ezekiel saw it (Rev. 1.9-20): both John and Ezekiel are seeing the Son of God.

God’s people often feel abandoned by God, especially when life is hard. Perhaps we feel that God should abandon us, when we sin. Life can be hard, unfair, unrewarding, and stressful. The promises of grace which we’ve come to treasure, don’t always seem to be treasured by God. Our prayers fall from our lips, and our efforts to keep faith with God don’t amount to anything. We wonder where God is, and Who God is.

Ezekiel is a struggling disciple like us. God comes to him to teach Him, that He is the Living God, the all-seeing God, the God who is not confined to Jerusalem, or even to a righteous people, but He is the God who is committed to His people, even when they are sinful and broken, and he will come to them wherever their sins have taken them. He is their God, and in Jesus He is our God. He is mighty, merciful, holy, compassionate.

These are great truths to feed upon as we begin a new year. God is with us, wherever we go. And so we go with Him, to His Glory.

Ezekiel RBT Notes, January 2016

In the month of January in our Hope Church Reading the Bible Together Course we’ll be in the Book of Ezekiel.

We’ve tweaked the course slightly: we’ll be working through notes for six days of the week, leaving the Sundays – marked here as (S) – free for catchup. I’ll post Monday through Friday, and my colleague Graham Thomson will post on Saturdays. The course structure is below.

Do join us, and do please put the word around. We’re all really looking forward to getting into this book which unsettled us, only then to give us deep Gospel comfort and hope. If you would like to join the list of recipients who get the devotional emailed daily, please drop me a line.

 

January Ezekiel Title
1 1 The Living God
2 2-3 Calling
3 (S)
4 4-5 The Man is the Message
5 6-7 No Hiding-Place
6 8-9 Judgement
7 10 When Hope Dies
8 11-12 A Future Word
9 13-14 Playing Games with God?
10 (S)
11 15-16 Reality Check
12 17 He speaks, He acts
13 18 Responsibility
14 19-20 A People Purified
15 21-22 Relentless
16 23 Lust
17 (S)
18 24 Broken by the Word
19 25-26 God of the World
20 27-28 The Effortless Ruler
21 29-30 Where does my Help come from?
22 31-32 False Hopes
23 33-34 A Watchman, and a Shepherd
24 (S)
25 35-36 Trust, or Despair
26 37 These Bones can Live
27 38-39 The Lord of Hosts
28 40-41 God’s New Community
29 42-45 The Glory of the Church
30 46-48 The Lord is There
31 (S)

 

6a00e55043abd088340134868537a0970c-800wi