Wednesday, December 31, 2014

When God is not Enough

Read Ezekiel 23.

In Egypt, God developed the family of Abraham into a nation.  He proved Himself over and over by demonstrating His power to protect them and care for them.  For centuries, Israel experienced the benefits of being God's chosen people.  But, God was not enough for them.

They wanted to be like the ungodly surrounding nations.  While they continued the rituals of worshiping God, they embraced the practices of the cultural false gods.  They thought they could live like the wicked world and still enjoy a relationship with the LORD.  Indeed, they sacrificed their own children to a false god and "on the same day" they came to the Temple in Jerusalem (v.39).  God compared this pollution of worship to spiritual adultery.  He will not tolerate it.

God supplied their needs and would have done more.  However, like a couple of prostitutes, the two kingdoms of Israel and Judah lusted for what they could get from other nations.  In attracting political alliances, they are pictured as dolling themselves up and even sending for men to come to them (vv.40-41).  First, Israel entered into agreements with Egypt, Syria and, finally, Assyria.  But each pact took them deeper into enslavement.  Assyria turned out to be a brutal enemy that destroyed the northern kingdom.  Judah witnessed what happened to their sister in the north and learned nothing.  In fact, Judah proved to be morally, politically, and spiritually worse.

"Because you have forgotten me and cast me behind your back, you yourself must bear the consequences of your lewdness and whoring." (v.35)  But the  people surely would have responded, "Lord, we still go to the Temple and we still believe in you."  The truth is that God demands an exclusive relationship with His people.  He will not share us with other beliefs and practices.

The Apostle Paul asked, "What accord has Christ with Belial?  Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?  What agreement has the temple of God with idols?  For we are the temple of the living God: as God said, ....'Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you..." (2 Corinthians 6:15-18)

Monday, December 29, 2014

The nation that forgot God

Read Ezekiel 22.

God assayed the nation.  He compared His testing to that of a metallurgist smelting ore to rid it off impurities.  However, when Israel melted all that remained were impurities (vv.18-20).  The nation became worthless, without any sustaining value to Him or to the neighboring nations.

Exactly what did God see in His evaluation of the nation?

Look at the list. (vv.4-12)
The overarching sins were violence and false worship.  Under that heading, the LORD names specific sins that brought judgment on the nation.
-Disrespect for parents
-Oppression of non-citizens
-Maltreatment of the fatherless and widows
-Disregard for things that God deems as holy
-Pollution of the Sabbath law
-Displays of lewdness
-Violation of women
-Accepting acts of adultery and incest
But worst of all, and at the root of sin, is living life as if God did not matter; "me you have forgotten, declares the Lord God."

Look at the leaders. (vv.23-29)
Instead of the national leadership providing justice and righteousness, they had become the source of the problem.  They were guilty of all the above list of sins and, therefore, the people had cast off all restraint.
-The Prophets.  God's prophets preached His word and suffered for it in this culture.  The peddler prophets (see Ezekiel 21 blog comments) spoke a false message of peace and prosperity.  They enriched themselves at the expense of the people and had even become violent in keeping their status.
-The Priests.  Their violence was against God's word.  They did not instruct the people in how to live for the LORD according to His expectations.
-The Princes.  The king and other governmental leaders were corrupt.  Nothing prohibited their dishonesty and killing those who got in their way.
-The People. They followed their leaders.

Look at the LORD. (vv.30-31)
God looked for a leader who could turn things around; one who could build up the nation, instead of tearing it down.  There existed a gap between God and man and no one filled that void.  Therefore, the LORD would intervene and correct the problems with His punishment.

Jesus filled the gap and makes reconciliation with God possible.  "This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.  For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." (1 Timothy 2:5)

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The difference between a preacher and a Peddler

Read Ezekiel 21.

Last Sunday as my pastor spoke of those in our city without Jesus, he paused due to being overcome with emotion.  Tears were visible.  The message was not new but those who know the truth understand the reality of people facing a Christ-less eternity of torment.  Carrying the ministry of reconciliation with God to others is a joyous message of hope and forgiveness.  But when people reject that unique message in Jesus, there is a pain that only Christ-followers understand.

In this chapter, God instructed the prophet to deliver a message of final earthly judgment upon Jerusalem (v.29).  He called the punishment "my sword."  As one preparing for battle, the LORD spoke of drawing His sword, then honing it and polishing it.  However, God stated that His sword would be "given into the hand of the slayer" (v.11), namely the king of Babylon (v.19).  In making the decision about the attack on Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar would shake arrows (similar to drawing straws), consult his false gods, or check the marking of the liver of a sacrificed animal (vv.21-22).  The LORD made it clear that seeking guidance from other objects is a false divination.  He is in sovereign control.

Why was this judgment coming upon the people of Judah?  Because when God previously spoke to them through His prophets they did not listen.  And, when He used His "rod" of discipline, they did not learn their lesson.  So, now, He will act in a more painful way in order that they may know He is the LORD.

For Ezekiel, delivering the message would be painful.  "As for you, son of man, groan with a breaking heart and bitter grief" (v.6).  "Cry out and wail" (v.12).  The preacher knew what God said was true and that people were in peril.

The Apostle Paul described the believer's ministry this way: "But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.  Who is sufficient for these things?  For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God's word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God, we speak in Christ." (2 Corinthians 2:14-17)  

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Why God does what He Does

Read Ezekiel 20.

A third time the elders came to Ezekiel for a word from the LORD.  We are not told the question on their minds, but whatever it was God refused to be inquired by them.  He had something else to say.

In this chapter, God retraced a thousand years of Israel's history.  He took them back to the Exodus from Egypt, then the through the wilderness, into the promised land, and to Ezekiel's day.  The review from God's perspective was to demonstrate His mercy, His grace, and His patience with His people.  After each instance of His loving care for them, the LORD desired their faithful worship and obedience in return.  But each time, the nation failed to forsake the false worship of the cultures around them.  "Let us be like the nations, like the tribes of the countries, and worship wood and stone." (v.32b)

Such actions of sin are repeatedly referred to as rebellion against God.  Each instance could have resulted in death for the entire nation.  Indeed, God said that very thing to Moses in Exodus 32.  However, the LORD stayed His wrath.  Even when He finally judged the northern kingdom of Israel by scattering them and the southern kingdom went into exile, it was to demonstrate the same purpose.  From generation to generation, His motive did not change.

What was, and continues to be, the main motive of God in His actions?

Three times the LORD declared: "I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations..."  His chief concern was to protect His reputation and character in His world and especially among His chosen people.  In other words, the nation of Israel was meant to show the world what a difference worshiping and obeying God makes.  When they acted instead like everyone else, they violated their assigned mission.

The closing verses reminded them again of the future hope of the nation.  Like a shepherd, the LORD will count His own individually (v.37).  It will be a new day with a new covenant.  No more will they profane His name by giving themselves and their resources to inanimate objects.  His people will live and give to Him alone.  "And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for my name's sake..." (v.44a)

Jesus said, "I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep." (John 10:14-15)

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Where is the King of the Jews?

Read Ezekiel 19.

This is the first of five funeral songs regarding Jerusalem contained in the book of Ezekiel.  The poem specifically laments the down fall of the once great Davidic dynasty of Judah ("princes" v.2).

Israel transitioned over time from Moses, the prophet leader, to Joshua, the military leader, to the period of the Judges, and then to desiring a king.  After Saul's disastrous rule, God selected David, "a man after his own heart" (1 Samuel 13:14), and established his as an everlasting dynasty (2 Samuel 7:12-13).  But after Solomon's death, the kingdom of Israel divided.  Not one of the 19 kings in the north were godly rulers.  In the south, there were 20 kings of Judah in the lineage of David.  The spiritual leadership varied greatly.

Chapter 19 utilizes two main metaphors to lament what finally happened.
1. The lioness and her lions. (vv.1-9)
Two of the kings are immediately identifiable.
-In verse 4, the king taken captive by Pharaoh Neco II was Jehoahaz.  See 2 Kings 23.
-In verse 9, Jehoiachin was imprisoned by Nebuchadnezzar and taken to Babylon.  See 2 Kings 24.

2. The vine and the branches. (vv.10-14)
As today many use the metaphor of a family tree, Ezekiel wrote of a vine, branches and stems.  The first word, "your", makes this a personal reference to the king at the time, Zedekiah.  Israel once enjoyed strong world leadership and fruitful abundance.  The loss lamented here was due to "the east wind."  Instead of the west wind off the Mediterranean Sea, the east wind was hot, as it came from the desert.  It parched the land and destroyed all its life.  Such was the comparison to Babylon's destruction of Judah.

The saddest words are the last in verse 14, "so that there remains in it no strong stem, no scepter for ruling."  They no longer had a king who reigned and controlled the land God gave them.  Indeed, Israel has not seen such a ruler over a united Israel since the death of Solomon.  What happened to God's covenant with David that promised one of His descendants would forever reign?

What Ezekiel could not understand at the time is answered in the prophecies of Messiah.
"and the government shall be upon his shoulder" (Isaiah 9:6)
"Behold, the man whose name is the Branch: for he shall branch out from his place and he shall build the temple of the LORD" (Zechariah 6:12)
"The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." (Matthew 1:1)
"the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the root of David" (Revelation 5:5)
"He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.  And the Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end." (Luke 1:32-33)

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Choices bring Consequences

Read Ezekiel 18.

"We are suffering and it someone else's fault."  That was the essence of the well-known proverb being repeated in Ezekiel's day.  The people blamed the previous generations for the losses they endured.  Since it was not their fault, then God was acting unjustly toward them.  God told Ezekiel to put a stop to that false proverb.  If God loves us, why are we suffering?  How can a loving God do this?

Did their "fathers" sin?  Yes.  But the LORD made it clear that this current suffering was due to their own personal sin and not that of someone else.  The body of this chapter is built around two big "ifs."  If a person chooses to live a life of sin, they will suffer the consequences.  If a person chooses to live a life that is right before God, they will live.  It is an individual choice.

Not all human suffering is the result of personal sin.  So, be sure to deal with the right issue.
It continues to this day that there are those who want to live life on their own terms and when life does not go their way the first reaction to blame God.  They have no time for Him whatsoever.  They may not even be sure their is a God in heaven.  But let something bad happen and they begin questioning God's justice and integrity.  Many will all of a sudden claim to know what the Bible says, though they have not seen one for years.  Behind the thin veneer of their anger is a boat load of personal guilt.  They are aware of their sin but try to deflect the guilt by projecting the blame elsewhere.

Such people attack the wrong issue.  The first thing to do is shut the door and take a long look in the mirror.  Then ask, " "Do I acknowledge that God is the Owner of my life?"  "Am I living my life to please God or me?"  The answers mean the difference is life and death.

Here is what God wants everyone to know:
1. God is the Owner of our souls. (v.4)
"All souls are mine."  As the Creator and Owner, He has the right to do with His property as He wishes.  No one then may question Him regarding the just use of what belongs to Him.  He is sovereign.

2. God does not desire that anyone suffer for their sin. (v.23a)
2 Peter 3:9 repeats this thought: "...not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."

3. God always provides a plan for deliverance from the punishment of sin. (vv.30-31)
-"Repent and turn from all your transgressions."  This requires humility before God.  Our pride wants to argue and not admit that we are the problem.  We must turn our back on sin.
-"Cast away from you all the transgressions you have committed."  This requires action to rid our lives of those things that lure us away from a life that pleases God.  We must stop choosing to sin.
-"Make yourselves a new heart and a new spirit."  This requires a life-change commitment to discipline ourselves to do what pleases God in thought, speech, and behavior.

The LORD's closing question to the undecided is sobering.  "Why will you die?"  That is a foolish choice.  Choose life!

Friday, December 19, 2014

The story of two eagles and God

Read Ezekiel 17.

God's word came to Ezekiel to communicate a parable.  A parable is a comparative story that most often needs an explanation.  The Bible is the best commentary on itself and gratefully this story is explained within the chapter.

The first great eagle was Nebuchadnezzar and the place, though called Lebanon in the story, refers to Jerusalem (v.12).  Lebanon was used to depict the stately cedars of that area.  As the eagle lopped off the top of the tree, so Nebuchadnezzar took King Jehoiachin and other key leaders to replant them in Babylon.  Then, he appointed Zedekiah to oversee Jerusalem (v.13).  Zedekiah took an oath of loyalty to Nebuchadnezzar.  It was a step in bringing this area under Babylonian rule without destroying the city.

The second great eagle was Egypt.  It was a temptation to believe that, perhaps, with Egypt as an ally, the combined forces could relieve Judah of Babylon's control.  There were at least two problems with that thinking.  First, Egypt was no longer the powerful nation it once had been.  Second, the exile and control from Babylon had been ordered by God Himself (v.16-18).  Therefore, the rebellion was not only against the Babylonians but against God.  This disloyalty resulted in the LORD causing Nebuchadnezzar to return to destroy Jerusalem (v.20-21)

But God is not through with Israel.  In the closing verses of this parable, the LORD will pick His own top person and establish them to rule over all.  Finally, Israel's earthly peace, prosperity and world influence will be restored.  This, of course, did not happen in the return from Babylon and has yet to take place.  Such is the description of the earthly rule of Christ from David's throne in Jerusalem.  "Blessed and holy is the one who shares in the first resurrection!  Over such the second death has no power but they will be priests of God and of Christ, and they shall reign with him for a thousand years." (Revelation 20:6)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Stewardship brings Accountability

Read Ezekiel 16.

God's word came to the prophet Ezekiel comparing the city of Jerusalem to an adulterous wife.  The LORD saw this piece of real estate in its infancy when no one else wanted it.  The analogy is that of a baby who had been tossed aside at birth to die on its own.

The heritage (father and mother v.3) of that area was a mix of pagan cultures, including the sisters of Samaria and Sodom (v.46).  But God took pity on it.  He cleaned and nourished the city in its infancy.  This loving care and protection caused Jerusalem to flourish.  When it matured (v.8), God entered into a special relationship with the city.  Jerusalem became the capital with Israel's kings reigning from that place (v.13).  Blessed with unbelievable abundance, King Solomon built the beautiful Temple there and the LORD adorned it with His visible presence.  God compared the relationship to that of a covenant between a husband and wife.

However, in time the people forgot the source of their blessings and what made the city the envy of all the other nations (v.22).  They trusted in their glorious beauty and wealth (v.15).  Turning from God, they entered into spiritual relationships with anyone and anything else (v.25).  They embraced the paganism of the nations around them.  The LORD repeatedly made it clear that no one encouraged them to do this.  A prostitute would physically behave in such a way and be paid for services.  Jerusalem did the opposite.  She paid and sacrificed in order to worship false gods (v.34).

Where did Jerusalem acquire the life (v.6), the money, the materials, the "flour, oil and honey" (v.19), and even the children that were sacrificed?  It all came from the LORD.  He owned it all (Psalm 24:1).  It was His provision that He had given to them as a stewardship.  But instead of honoring Him with those things, they used His possessions for evil.

God's judgment, then, would be like that of a jealous husband.  According to the law, she, along with her so-called lovers, would be publicly humiliated and put to death (Leviticus 20:10).

Stewardship is faithfully managing God's resources for God approved purposes.  Everyone of us will one day give an account of how we used all the blessings God loaned us during these years of life.  May we pray moment by moment for wisdom to please the LORD in the use of all our time, energies, and resources.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Where is the Evidence?

Read Ezekiel 15.

Several passages of Scripture likens Israel to God's vine.  For example, in Psalm 80:8-9 Asaph wrote, "You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it.  You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land."

The purpose of planting a vine is that it will bear fruit for the owner.  The reason God planted the descendants of Abraham on the land of Canaan was for them to bear the fruit of righteousness for Him.  They were to be a blessed testimony for the LORD to the other nations.  But Israel, and specifically Jerusalem, had separated themselves from God.  Their lives produced nothing that was godly.  Therefore, they had become spiritually unusable.

God is looking for the evidence of faith in His people.  Having "acted faithlessly" (v.8), the response from God was that such a vine was only good for a fire.  And, so the fire of God's judgment would be on its way.

For those who claim to be followers of Christ, there are some parallels here with the statements of Jesus in John 15.  "I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser.  Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit."  He went on to say, "I am the vine; you are the branches.  Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.  If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers, and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned."  "By this is my Father glorified that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples." (John 15:1-2, 5, 8)

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The results of half-hearted Devotion

Read Ezekiel 14.

The elders of Israel paid Ezekiel a visit again at his house near Babylon.  It is not stated what their question was but presumably it must have been related to the cause and length of the exile.  These leaders wanted to hear a word from God.  Their concerns were surface issues.  Instead, the LORD went instead straight to the heart of the problem.

In Jerusalem, they had openly worshiped false gods and idols.  That brought about the judgment of God and the loss of everything.  But after all they experienced, they still had not let go of their false beliefs.  The idol worship continued privately in their hearts.  They mistakenly thought they could have it both ways-maintain false beliefs and still expect a relationship with God.  The LORD would have none of it.

God accused them in verse 7 of separating themselves from Him and that their sin had put a "stumbling block" between them and Him.  What did God want from them?  First, "Repent and turn away from your idols."  Second, He wanted their wholehearted devotion.  "That they may be my people and I may be their God." (v.11)

The fifth and final sermon in this series dealt with the absolute certainty of God's judgment.  Could not the intercessory prayers of righteous people stay God's punishment?  Four times the LORD stated that "even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job were in it, they would deliver but their own lives." (vv.14, 16, 18, 20)  Each of those were known to have faced extreme circumstances and remained faithful.  Each of them experienced God's miraculous deliverance.  Yet, the sin cried out for justice.

How could a loving God do this?  The answer is in the closing verses of this chapter.  Observing the sinful ways and deeds even of the remnant that survived revealed that the punishment was deserved.

"Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart." (Psalm 119:2)

Monday, December 15, 2014

God's evaluation of pretending Preachers

Read Ezekiel 13.

After countering a false message in chapter 12, God then dealt strongly with the false prophets.

 1. The source of their messages. (vv.1-3)
They said they spoke the words of God, but, in fact, they preached "from their own hearts."  They followed "their own spirit, and have seen nothing."  In other words, they made it up.  Their messages came from their own imaginations instead of what God said.

2. The content of their messages. (vv.4-7, 17-23)
They spoke of peace at the very time the Babylonian army marched straight at Jerusalem.  They preached prosperity, encouraging the people to build houses (chapter 11).  But, the LORD compared such talk to whitewashing a wall that was in great need of repair.  The storm of His wrath was on its way and would quickly wash away the cheap paint and reveal the problem for all to see.

Then, there were women who posed as prophetesses, but they were nothing more than mediums, pretending to practice magic.  The proof of these false messages was their encouragement that the people did not need to stop sinning and turn to God.  They approved evil.

3. The consequences of their messages. (vv.8-16)
As a result, the people were deceived and led astray.  Unlike Ezekiel who stood as a watchman for the city, sounding the alarm, these false messages left the people unprepared for what was about to take place.

In verse 9, God pronounced three specific judgments for their "lying divinations".
-They shall lose their place of influence, or council, among the people.
-They shall lose their citizenship.  History will not even record their names.
-They shall never see the land of Israel again.

Pretending to be religious and speaking on behalf of God is a serious error that has eternal consequences.  Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, "Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name , and cast out demons in your name and do many mighty works in your name?'  And then will I declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness." (Matthew 7:21-23)

Sunday, December 14, 2014

2 signs and a Sermon

Read Ezekiel 12.

Several times in the Old and New Testaments those with rebellious hearts toward God are referred to as being spiritually blind and deaf.  In other words, they are incapable of seeing and hearing what the LORD is saying to them.  The words are there but the comprehension is not.  Yet, God in His faithfulness sent His spokespersons, the prophets, to communicate His word.  First, the prophet must gain their attention.

1.  Sign One. (vv.1-16)
God instructed Ezekiel to pack a bag with his belongings and carry it over his shoulder.  Next, he was to dig a hole in the wall in an act of escape.  Then, God told him to cover his face so he could not see.  All of this was performed in plain sight of the people so they would ask, "What are you doing?" (v.9).

God used the skit to depict what He was going to do so they would listen to the message.  As the Babylonians threatened, some hurriedly took just what they could carry and tried to escape Jerusalem, but they were captured.  The royal family member, or prince (v.12), proved to be Zedekiah.  The enemy slaughtered his sons and put his eyes out as he was escorted in exile.

2. Sign Two. (vv.17-20)
Ezekiel acted out the second sign of this chapter by eating and drinking while shaking violently.  This demonstrated to the people how they would feel emotionally during the invasion.  They would come to realize that Jeremiah's messages of surrender had been the best course of action for them.  Instead, they persecuted Jeremiah and chose to believe the false prophets who preached peace and prosperity.

3. The Sermon. (vv.21-28)
Actually, this is the first of five sermons that will continue through chapter 14.  Not all well known sayings and adages are in alignment with God's word.  The prophets of God had preached judgment upon Jerusalem.  But, time had passed and nothing happened.  A folk proverb emerged: "The days are long and every vision comes to nothing" (v.22).  In other words, God is not going to do anything.  So, the LORD sent Ezekiel to counter that false proverb with "The days are near, and the fulfillment of every vision" (v.23).  "It will be performed.  It will no longer be delayed" (v.25).  And the rest is history.

A similar sense is found in 2 Peter 3:4 concerning the return of Christ and His coning judgment of the nations.  "They will say, "Where is the promise of his coming?  For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation."  The answer to that question in 2 Peter 3:9 is the same as in Ezekiel's day.  "The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance."

Friday, December 12, 2014

The 2 key elements of true Worship

Read Ezekiel 11.

Having left the holy place in the Temple, the glory of God hovered over the eastern gate of Jerusalem.  This is the last of four parts to the vision the LORD gave Ezekiel concerning why the Babylonian exile took place.

Commercial and legal transactions happened at the city gate.  The twenty-five men depicted here were civic leaders and not the same group mentioned in chapter 8.  The "rules" by which they administrated were not what God instructed.  Instead of operating by the word of God, they "acted according to the rules of the nations that are around you." (v.12)

When the prophets, like Jeremiah, warned of the coming invasion, the false prophets and these leaders encouraged the people to build houses (v.3).  They were to have helped the people do what was right and please the LORD.  But, they actually turned the people from Him.  In the absence of justice, innocent citizens were killed (v.7).  The message to them was that they would die at the border where the Babylonians processed the exiles at Riblah (v.11).

But what about the faithful?  There were those who never stopped loving God and obeying Him.  With the loss of the Temple, they had no identifiable place of worship.  So, God provided both current and future reassurance to them concerning true worship.

1. Worship of God is a Person, not a place. (v.16)
The beautiful Temple Solomon built provided a designated location for worship.  But what made it of any value spiritually was their sincere and obedient response to the presence of God.  To the exiled believers, He declared, "I have been a sanctuary to them."  Such was one of the religious hang-ups of the woman at the well in her conversation with Jesus.  Some say that true worship should take place in Jerusalem, while others argue for Samaria.  Jesus responded, "God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth." (John 4:24)  It is not a religion but a relationship with a Person.

2. Worship of God comes from a changed heart. (vv.19-20)
The context has to do with the future restoration of Israel.  He will bring the Jews back to the land.  In that day, they will no longer tolerate false worship.  God will give them a new heart and a new spirit.  Then, as a unified nation, Israel will love and serve the LORD.  The Apostle Paul wrote of such a change for those who place their faith in Jesus.  "Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come." (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What caused God to remove His Glory?

Read Ezekiel 10.

Ezekiel had been taken exile from Judah to Babylon.  While there, God gave the prophet a vision to show him vividly what caused the downfall of Judah.  Chapter 10 is the third part of that vision.  He was transported back to Jerusalem and stood by the altar in the Temple.

The prophet saw specially created angelic beings and the mobile throne of God.  He recognized the cherubim and the throne as the same that appeared in his first vision (see chapter 1). Here the glory and visible presence of God had moved from behind the veil to the threshold.  The sights and sounds of this vision truly fit the dictionary definition of the word awesome.

Other angelic beings were also present (see chapter 9).    The LORD ordered the one with the writing case to take some of the burning coals from the altar and "scatter them over the city."  The scattered fire alludes to God's purifying judgment of Jerusalem.  And, indeed, the Babylonian army literally burned the city to the ground.

From the threshold of the Temple, the brightness of the glory of God filled the inner court.  Finally, the cherubim and the mobile throne of God mounted "up from the earth" (v.16).  God remained Omnipresent in the world, of course, but He refused to share His glory with the sin and false worship that had desecrated His place of worship.

This is the not the only occurrence of the LORD removing His glory from a holy place.  In 1 Samuel 4, we have the account of God allowing the Philistines to capture the Ark of the Covenant due to the sin in Israel.  When the devastating news was reported, Eli's daughter-in-law gave birth to a son.  She named him Ichabod which means "the glory has departed from Israel."   God told Jeremiah to remind Judah of that historical fact in Jeremiah 7:12.  Just like He removed His glory from Shiloh, He would remove it from Jerusalem.

As believers in Jesus, we are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus has promised to never leave us or forsake us.  However, He demands purity of His people.  "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?  You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body." (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)  May others see the glory of God's presence in our lives today.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

With the LORD there is Safety

Read Ezekiel 9.

In the previous chapter, the exiled elders in Babylon sat down with Ezekiel in his house.  Presumably, the question on their minds was a further explanation of why Judah had lost everything.  This, then, is part two of the vision God gave the prophet in chapter 8.

What prompted God's judgment against them was their multiple and detestable sins.  In His anger, the LORD unleashed the punishment.  He used the Babylonian army to invade and destroy Jerusalem.  In verse one they are called "the executioners" because that is the role they performed.

The vision showed six men (angelic beings), standing by the bronze altar, ready to strike.  A seventh man, a scribe, carried "a writing case".  In 8:16, there were twenty-five leaders of Judah between the altar and the porch of the Temple praying to a sun god.  Those twenty-five were probably the first victims in the vision, slain for their planetary worship.  With that the glory of God moved from the holy place behind the veil in the Temple to the threshold.  The LORD prepared to vacate the Temple.

Not everyone was doomed for disaster.  There were those, like Jeremiah, in the city who trusted and obeyed the LORD.  They grieved over the sin of their city (v.4).  For these, God ordered the scribe to put a mark each one to set them apart for protection during the killings.

When the LORD looked upon the land He had given to Abraham and his descendants, all He could see was violence and injustice (v.9).  The character of God in such judgments is consistent throughout Scripture.  For example:
1. Before the worldwide flood, God's heart was grieved because "every intention (of the people) was only evil continually." (Genesis 6:5-6)  But He protected Noah and his family who had faith in the LORD.
2. Before God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah, He led Lot out of the area. (Genesis 19).
3. Before the Great Tribulation strikes the earth, believers will be caught up and taken out of the way. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; Revelation 4:1)
4. Even during the Great Tribulation, God will have 144,000 chosen Jews to serve Him.  They will be protected by the "Father's name written on their foreheads." (Revelation 14:1)

Hebrews 11 makes it clear that there have been and will be martyrs among believers.  Death is merely the gateway to eternal protection.  Still, the safest place in the world, in any era or time, is in the hands of Jesus.  His grace and care are present to sustain us.  That is why we may trust Him when He repeatedly says, "Fear not."  "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace.  In the world you will have tribulation.  But take heart; I have overcome the world." (John 16:33)

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Why is this happening to Us?

Read Ezekiel 8.

Still confined to his house (3:24) near Babylon, the elders of Judah in exile visited the prophet, presumably for a word from God.  Reading this section of Scripture, the elders may be still endeavoring to understand, what caused such severity as they had endured.  In other words, "Why is this happening to us?"

Fourteen months had gone by since Ezekiel's first recorded vision from the LORD in chapter 1.   As Ezekiel inquired of the LORD on their behalf, "the hand of the LORD fell upon me there" (v.1).  He first saw an appearance like that of a man.  The description with its gleaming brightness is similar to John's vision of Jesus in Revelation 1.  In the vision, not physically, God snatched Ezekiel up from his house near Babylon and took him back to Jerusalem.  God wanted him to see precisely the sins that brought about such harsh punishment upon Israel.  The sinfulness became so bad that God said it would "drive me from my sanctuary" (v.6).  It required four chapters (8-11) to explain all that he was shown.

1. An idol at the north gate. (vv.3-6)
In the Temple's inner court stood an idol.  This place is where God was to be worshiped.  Ezekiel called it "the image of jealousy" that provoked God to anger.  Isaiah 42:8, "I am the LORD; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols."  If that was what captured the hearts of the people, God would leave His Temple.

2. Images behind the wall. (vv.7-13)
In private, where people could not see, were idols and pictures of creepy, loathsome, detestable things.  Before them stood seventy elders of Judah involved in acts of worship, looking to and even praying to these.  They did it in the dark thinking that no one would see us.  "For they say, 'The LORD does not see us." (v.12)

3. Weeping for Tammuz. (vv.14-15)
This is a reference to the Sumerian god of vegetation.  In mythology, in seasons when there were no crops, it was due to the so-called death of this deity.  The women mourned his death, praying he would return in the spring so they would have plenty of food.  They looked to creation instead of the Creator.  In short, they forgot it is the Sovereign God who controls the seasons and the rain.

4. False worship in the Temple. (v.16)
Twenty-five men were seen gathered in the Temple where priests normally would have been pleading for the LORD's mercy.  But, physically their backs were turned to God and they were looking to the sun for help and guidance.  God called such planetary worship, or commonly known as astrology, an evil abomination.

How much more simple and easier it would have been to place child-like faith in the LORD who loved them?  In His faithfulness, He supplied all their needs.  He gave them His word.  If only they had trusted and obeyed Him in loving response...    

Monday, December 8, 2014

The losses of not listening to God

Read Ezekiel 7.

This is the second sermon God gave to Ezekiel.  He performed his assignment from chapter 3 of being a watchman for the nation.  Disaster was about to strike and the faithful watchman sounded the alarm.  Israel's sin reached the tipping point of the LORD's patience and plan.  Over and over, the message states that this is "the end" or "the time has come."

In His wrath, God will remove from Israel both the cause of the punishment and the benefits of His blessings.

1. No more pride. (v.24)
"I will put an end to the pride of the strong..."  Their hubris caused them to think they were safe from harm and that they did not need the God of heaven.  All the stuff that made them feel secure and esteemed would be taken from them.  Nothing of any value would be left.  In the famine and battle to come, buying and selling, gold and silver, land and buildings--all would be worthless to them.  God even allowed His Temple to be desecrated and destroyed.

"God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." (1 Peter 5:5b)

2. No more peace. (v.25)
"When anguish comes, they will seek peace, but there will be none."  As the LORD gave warning of His judgment and called for them to repent.  It was the false prophets who tried to counter God by preaching peace.  The end had come.  They did not listen to God and paid a severe price.

"You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you." (Isaiah 26:3)

3. No more prophetic vision. (v.26b)
"They seek a vision from the prophet, while the law perishes from the priest and counsel from the elders."  Having rejected God's messages from His prophets, the people kept trying to find a message that pleased them and made them feel good.

"Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors."  (Psalm 119:24)

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The danger of mixed Beliefs

Read Ezekiel 6.

When the LORD gave the land to Abraham and his descendants, it was for the purpose of raising up a people for His name and glory.  In Exodus, He powerfully brought the Jews out of Egypt and back to the land with the same intent.  But instead of honoring God and influencing others to know and serve Him, Israel became ensnared by the evil practices of the surrounding nations.

The Canaanites participated in a complex system of multiple false gods.  For example, they worshiped a made-up fertility god, Baal, with sacrifices on altars in high places.  They built temples for others, like Dagon.  The burning of incense symbolized their prayers to these idols. As He stated in 5:13, the LORD is a jealous God and will not share His rightful worship.

In a straightforward sermon, God announced that He would destroy these places of man-made religion, whether on the mountains or in the valleys.    All will be wiped out, including the worshipers.  The cause of the judgment remained the same: sin.  The purpose of the corrective punishment remained the same: "And you shall know that I am the LORD." (vv.7, 10, and 14).

God's own words inscribed in the Ten Commandments should have been enough for Israel.
"You shall have no other gods before me.  You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.  You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments." (Exodus 20:3-6)

This should serve as a severe warning to anyone who claims to know the LORD, yet mixes their beliefs with other forms of life-guidance, philosophies, and religious systems.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Purpose behind the Pain

Read Ezekiel 5.

The visualization, or acting out, of the message continued with further orders directly from God.  This entire series of strange doings was meant to illustrate the humiliation and punishment of Jerusalem for its rebellion against God.

1. Shaving his hair.
In those days, a shaved head and beard embarrassed a man.  It indicated either shame or deep  mourning.

2. Dividing his hair. 
Knowing the rest of the story, we could interpret these actions by comparing Scripture with the actual events.  Gratefully, the explanations are provided in this same chapter.
-Ezekiel took one-third of the hair to the middle of the city and burned it.  Like the fire consumed the hair, God explained, "A third part of you shall die of pestilence and be consumed with famine in your midst" (v.12).  Indeed, the Babylonian siege brought about an unthinkable famine with all its horrors.

-Ezekiel took the next third of his hair and chopped it up with a sword.  The explanation in the middle of verse 12 is that many of those who survived the famine would be killed as the invaders breached the wall.

-Ezekiel took most of the remaining third and threw it up for the wind to scatter.  Those who escaped the famine and the killing would be taken away to Babylon.

-From the last third, Ezekiel was to keep a few hairs inside a special place in his robe.  Yet, even these few protected ones would experience the fire of God's punishment.

With His message of judgment also came His statement of purpose.  "And they shall know that I am the LORD--that I have spoken in my jealousy."  That phrase, "they shall know that I am the LORD" appears over 60 times in this book.

The people thought they could live life on their own terms and still claim to be His people.  What they forgot is that the LORD demands exclusive worship.  He will not share His rightful glory with anything or anyone else.  Soli Deo gloria!  Glory to God alone.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Getting the audience's Attention

Read Ezekiel 4.

 The message of God's judgment on sin is hard and it was being delivered to a hard-hearted people.  First, those about to experience the captivity and exile in Babylon needed to be prepared.  They had heard and spurned such preaching before.  So now, in order to gain a hearing, God ordered Ezekiel to perform a series of signs.  He acted out what would happen to the people of Jerusalem; skits, if you will.

Chapter 3 verse 24 indicates that God confined the prophet to his house.  So, presumably these sermonic displays took place in front of his home where a crowd could witness them and hear the explanations.

1. Playing in the dirt.
He made a  brick, probably like a clay tablet, and outlined the city of Jerusalem on it.  Next, on the ground he built a miniature version of the impending Babylonian siege.  It is not clear what the iron griddle illustrates.  The best explanation is that during this time the people would be praying to God for deliverance, but their prayers would be blocked.  Moses had warned the nation of this very thing in Deuteronomy 28:23 if they rebelled against Him: "And the heavens over your head shall be as bronze."
2. Laying on his sides.
First, he laid on his left side, tied up, for over a year; 390 days, one day for each year of punishment.  Because of the instructions in the rest of this chapter, it seems obvious he only performed this for a part of each day.  This illustrated God's judgment of the northern kingdom of Israel for their sin.  Second, he repeated the process on his right side for 40 days.  This illustrated God's judgment of the southern kingdom of Judah.  It is unclear as to how the LORD calculated the number of years stated here.

3. Cooking in a distasteful manner.
God wanted to give the people a vivid picture of what life would be like during the siege.  With a shortage of food, grains would have to be combined to make a simple piece of bread.  Ezekiel was limited to 8 ounces of bread and 2/3 quart of water each day.  Perhaps worse than the rationing of food was the manner in which it was to be baked.  If there was a scarcity of wood available, people commonly used cakes of animal dung as fuel for their fires.  But it was considered a defilement to use human dung for cooking.  When Ezekiel voiced this to God, the LORD allowed him to use cow dung, instead.  Again, this pointed to the severity of the famine in Jerusalem.

God seeks to gain our attention throughout each day.  Sometimes it is the rainbow to remind of His promises.  Sometimes it is a word of wisdom from another person.  Sometimes it is that "still small voice" when He speaks to our conscience.  Everyday He desires to communicate to us in the reading of His word.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The role and responsibility of God's Representative

Read Ezekiel 3.

You cannot give what you do not possess.  Before Ezekiel could serve as God's spokesperson he had to consume God's written word.  In the symbolic eating of it, the Scriptures tasted sweet.  Other writers made the same observation.  David wrote, "More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb." (Psalm 19:10)

His calling was to a specific target audience.  The LORD sent him to minister to those taken captive, exiled in Babylon.  It was a hard message he was to deliver to some hard hearts.  God encouraged him a third time by saying, "Fear them not, nor be dismayed" (v.9).  But even with a tough crowd, God made Ezekiel just as tough as they were.  Indeed, Ezekiel's name in Hebrew means "God will strengthen" or "God will harden."  The hardness here refers to the determination that will be required for this assignment.  A thin skinned person would not be fit for the job.

Next, if Ezekiel was to represent God, he had to see and feel what God saw and felt.  The sound and sight of the mobile throne appeared again.  This time the Holy Spirit said, "Get in."  The experience overwhelmed him.

His role.
As God's prophet, he served like a "watchman."  When God gave warning, Ezekiel was to sound the alarm and warn the people.  He would be held accountable for listening to God and speaking God's message to them.

His responsibility.
He was not held accountable for the way the people responded to God's message.  The people were individually and personally accountable for their response to what the LORD said.

Believers in Jesus have been commissioned as ambassadors for Christ and given the message of reconciling people back to God..  As the Apostle Paul wrote, "We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." (2 Corinthians 5:20)

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

6 essentials for communicating God's Word

Read Ezekiel 2.

God revealed Himself to Ezekiel visually and vocally.  By age, Ezekiel had just begun his official service as a priest.  Here, the LORD called him to be His spokesperson to the nation; a prophet.  In these ten verses are found the essential and transferable elements that apply to all those who preach or teach.

1. Relationship with God.
The LORD referred to Ezekiel as "son of man."  At least, 93 times in this book God called him by that term.  It indicates he was part of God's family and had a personal relationship with the LORD.  Today, a personal and growing relationship with Jesus is the first step for any who would represent God.

2. Empowerment by God.
"The Holy Spirit entered into me."  New Testament believers receive the Holy Spirit at salvation (Romans 8:9).  Under the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit would come upon God's people at strategic times to empower them to serve Him.  A life that is not dependent upon the power of the Holy Spirit will only be representing themselves.

3. Call of God.
Twice the LORD said, "I send you."  The position of being God's spokesperson was not a job to seek; it was God's job to send.  Notice the compelling sense felt by the Apostle Paul to do what God called him to be doing.  "For the love of Christ controls us..." (2 Corinthians 5:14)  "For necessity is laid upon me.  Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!" (1 Corinthians 9:16b)

4. Message from God.
The content of his preaching was to be "Thus says the LORD God", "And you shall speak my words to them."  At the core was to be what God said in His written word (vv.9-10).    He was not allowed to communicate his own content and speak of other things.  Every word  spoken needed to be in alignment with the word of God.

5. Assignment from God.
The LORD gave Ezekiel a tough audience.  They had heard God's word before and chose to ignore it.  More than complacent toward what they heard, they stubbornly lived in outright rebellion.  God warned him in advance that the people would reject the message.  They would speak against Ezekiel with threats.  While he preached they crowd would even make faces at him.  Fortunately, this is not the experience of all who communicate God's word.  But it does point out the fact that Ezekiel was not responsible for the behavior and response of the people.  The assignment of ministry and the measurement of ministry are two distinct issues.

6. Evaluation of God.
In this instance, the LORD encouraged Ezekiel twice to not be afraid of the responses of the people or the lack thereof.  What mattered to God was He had sent His spokesperson to communicate His expectations of the people.  "A prophet has been among them."  He would be held accountable for faithfully delivering the message.

Representing God before others, communicating His word, is not an easy ministry.  Because of the very nature of its influence upon others, there is a higher level of accountability.  "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness." (James 3:1)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

What happens when we encounter God?

Read Ezekiel 1.

Ezekiel was a priest and a prophet.  While Jeremiah remained in Jerusalem, Ezekiel, along with many others, had been taken captive from Judah and lived in exile just outside of Babylon.  Verse 1 provides the date of July 31, 593 B. C.  Having reached the age of 30, according to the Law of Moses (Numbers 4:3) he was now qualified to serve as a priest.

We are told two essentials regarding his ministry in verse 3.  First, the message was not his.  He was simply the messenger.  "The word of the LORD came to Ezekiel."  Second, the authority and empowerment was not from him.  "The hand of the LORD was upon him there."  God gave Ezekiel a vivid and graphic vision of Himself, complete with sound.

What Ezekiel saw.    
1. Four living creatures.
This exactly corresponds to other like visions in Scripture.  Ezekiel 10:2 identifies them as cherubim, a type of angels.  In Exodus, they were depicted in the Tabernacle, with wings extended, hovering over the Ark of the Covenant.  Revelation 4 states that these four fly around the throne of God in heaven, continually crying out, "Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!"

2. The throne of God.
This pictures a mobile throne.  His presence and power were not limited to the Temple in Jerusalem.  He is omnipresent.  So, when they went into exile, it was reassuring for them to know that God's presence was with them.  The double set of these massive wheels (a wheel within a wheel) allowed the chariot-type throne to move in any direction without turning, as the cherubim.  The mention of multiple eyes refers to the omniscience of God.  He sees and knows everything, including their current suffering.  The brilliance of the sight with its rainbow of colors is what the Apostle John saw in his vision of God's throne in Revelation 4.

3. Ezekiel saw God.
He compared the appearance to that of a man (vv.26-28).  It reminds one immediately of John's description of Jesus in Revelation 1.  In both instances (and the same experience of Isaiah in Isaiah 6), a glimpse of the glory of God caused them to fall at His feet in submission.  

What Ezekiel heard.
In verse 25, the prophet heard the voice of God.  What Ezekiel records then is direct revelation of God's word.  The Apostle Peter wrote, "Knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone's own interpretation.  For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy spirit." (2 Peter 1:20-21)

As we gain a fresh glimpse of God through the reading and study of His word, it should cause us to join the others in falling down in worship before Him.

Monday, December 1, 2014

The road to Recovery

Lamentations 5.

When Judah thought they were self-sufficient and felt no need for dependence on the LORD, they played.  But when they lost everything, they prayed.

This is the fifth acrostic, funeral poem for the city of Jerusalem.  Judah had fallen.  The devastation was beyond belief.  Jeremiah has cried ceaselessly (4:49).  Now, the attention turns from the earthly circumstances to the heavenly solutions.

God remained in sovereign control.  He reigns from His throne on high forever (v.19).  Therefore, this appeal is to the One who can do what no one else do.

1. Remember us. (vv.1-18)
They were overwhelmed by their disgrace and suffering.  Everyone, young and old, male and female, leaders and poor, were physically and brutally mistreated.  The first thing they wanted in this prayer was for God to look and see what was happening to them.  The truth is the LORD sees everything, all the time (Proverbs 15:3).  Not only did He see and know, but He was the source of the punishment.  "Our fathers sinned, and are no more; and we bear their iniquities." (v.7)

No one in their right mind enjoys pain and suffering.  But God can use such things to cause the rebellious to stop and consider their waywardness.  Godly sorrow should lead one to repentance (2 Corinthians 7:10).

2. Restore us. (v.21a)
All the celebrations and singing had stopped in Judah (vv.14-15).  How they longed for the joy to come back.  Notice that this is not a call for restoration of their circumstances, but a return to the person of Jehovah Himself.

When King David suffered the conviction and consequences of his sin, he prayed in Psalm 51:12, "Restore to me the joy of your salvation."  After repenting of sin and coming clean with God, the direction of the heart will go back to the basics.  The foundation of our relationship with the LORD is when and how He intervened in the first place to bring us to Himself.  Nothing restores our faith like going back to the cross and realizing the price Jesus paid on our behalf.  Being saved by His grace should prompt an immediate burst of thanksgiving and joy.

3. Renew us. (v.21b)
There was no reason for God to restore and renew their material things until they dealt with their spiritual condition.  Otherwise, they would have simply returned to their rebellious self-sufficiency.  In Psalm 51:10, David prayed, "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me."  When God forgives and cleanses our hearts, we are then in a position live for Him.  The word "right" is literally "upright" or faithful.  This was what God wanted all along for Judah and wants for each of us.