“They have not set God before them” (Psalm 54:3).
This one sentence summarizes Judah’s and Israel’s disregard for God. “Thou hast forgotten me, and cast me behind thy back” (Ezekiel 23:35). Ezekiel 23-24 is probably the most graphic and difficult passage in the book. God tells Ezekiel his wife will be suddenly taken from him. Immediately, our sense of justice heightens. You probably think to yourself, “God can’t do that; it isn’t right.” It takes a cruel turn when God tells Ezekiel not to mourn for his wife in the cultural, traditional style of mourning. He is not to change his attire nor eat the bread of a mourner. He is to be pensive and internalize his remorse. The casual reader could be easily jaded. It seems God has gone too far this time!
However, when you read Ezekiel 23 and realize God has patiently waited for Israel and Judah for hundreds of years to repent, the illustration, though painful, makes more sense. Ezekiel’s loss parallels the people’s loss of the Temple. It’s hard for westerners to appreciate the Jewish attachment to the Temple, but it was similar to a man’s admiration for his wife. Herein lies the crucial lesson: We tend to appreciate something more when we have lost it than when we had it. How many times is a wife take for granted? How many times is she undervalued?
God had been taken for granted. The Temple was Judah’s “rabbit’s foot.” No harm could come to them because, look at the Temple. It’s beautiful and it’s God’s house. They admired the Temple, but they profaned it with their insincere worship. They proudly saw the Temple as their trinket of immortality. It was the “excellency of their strength”! They took it and God for granted. They had Him in their pocket. The original love David had for God when he set aside the treasures for the Temple no longer represented the people’s sentiment. They loved the ornaments of a godly heritage but loathed the practice of a godly life. They more resembled Solomon’s devotion. Early in his life, Solomon’s fervency for God was strong. The dedication service for the new Temple was magnificent, but when Solomon became vain and married many women who stole his heart, his devotion was extinguished.
Ezekiel was told to refrain from the cultural overtures of mourning. The outward theatrics did not mean anything. God was after the “broken and contrite heart” which he would not despise. Judah had gone through the motions of devotion all the while their paramours were waiting in secret. It was time for genuine repentance. It was time to return to their forgotten God.
Our nation is made up of individuals who say they love God. They can point to the ornaments of a godly heritage, yet the substance of sincere love is missing. Nationally, we are much like Jonah. While the storm is raging around the believers and the ship is about to break in pieces, we are asleep in the bottom of the ship. We are pursuing our own desires which are directly opposite of God’s desires. When in desperation we are shaken awake, we yawn and say, “I fear the Lord” (Jonah 1:9) oblivious to the danger. Sadly, it looks as though our nation, the “ship” will finally break apart and we will lose what we thought we could never lose. The only hope for our nation is for those who call themselves Christians to wake up spiritually, repent of their apathy, and completely pursue God. The only hope is sincerely reacquainting ourselves with the forgotten God.
You might say it is childish or a little old fashioned, but I would disagree. Nearly every story you read, hear, or watch, whether it is fact or fiction, has one in it. They always have the protagonist, better known as the hero. Many hero stories have a demigod complex, so those stories are not the right example. No, the stories you read about the person who happened to be in the right place at the right time and acted purely out of compassion for fellow human beings, those are the stories of true heroism. They saw someone in need (i.e. a burning building, a trafficked street, etc.) and they answered the call of desperation. Those are the stories which warm your heart. Maybe you even catch a whisper of hope for humankind?
What happens, though, when the hero is absent from society? What would the world look like if there was no one who stood in between desperation and deliverance? Imagine what it would have looked like if there were no heroes running into the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, or a myriad of other desperate moments large and small. Infinite tragedy ensues when people lack such a hero.
God was searching for some such hero in Jerusalem. Someone who would recognize the desperate times and respond with desperate urgency. Someone who loved God completely and extended mercy to those in need. Instead, He found only a cut-throat society of individuals seeking their own fortunate standard of living at the expense of others. He was searching for someone who feared Him and reverently followed His instructions for life. Instead, he found only an irreverent people who could not discern between what was holy and what was common or even unclean. He was searching for the humble person who would say, “Here am I; send me!” He sought for someone to stand in the gap, but he found none (Ezekiel 22:30).
One day, Jesus Christ will heroically rule this earth. “Until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him” (Ezekiel 21:27). However, in light of our calling to be Christ-like, God is looking for someone “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly” with God (Micah 6:8).
Will you be the one who stands in the gap for the needy? Instead of being a consumer, would you have compassion? There are many who need a better home, a better quality of life, a better example of kindness and goodness. You are not scaling buildings with a single bound, but you are communicating the love of Christ to others.
Will you be the one who stands in the gap for the lost? Instead of becoming like the world, the world needs to see someone who can discern between holy and unholy. In this day, where pastors get tattoos to be like the world and Christians listen to profane music and few who say they follow Christ can seem to make the right decision between worshipping God (holy) or honoring their hobby or family more than God (common), in this day, the world desperately needs someone who will deny “ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world” (Titus 2:12).
Will you be the one who humbly says, “Lord, Here am I”? What does the world need? The world needs someone who will stand in the gap. The world needs someone who will live and proclaim the gospel of deliverance to a desperately hopeless people.
Will you be what the world needs?
You get as comfortable as you can in the fake leather recliner. The hygienist taps the lever beneath the chair with her toe and you feel like you’re stretching out on the medieval rack. The bright light swivels directly above your face and she leans in from above, mask, goggles, pokes, prods, and mirrors ready to make you a human pin cushion. You wonder how she does not drop something down your throat! She begins her investigation, all the while asking you questions about your work and family with her fingers and instruments in your mouth. You rinse and spit. She steps back, snaps the latex gloves off, and announces you have some rotten teeth. The interrogation begins regarding your hygienic practices and the importance of flossing every day, but you hold up your hand to stop her. You tell her, “I know I have rotten teeth, but it’s not my fault. My parents had an addiction to Oreo cookies when I was young. It’s not my fault, so I’m not changing anything.”
What an absurd excuse? This is similar to the excuse the Israelites made during the days of Jeremiah and Ezekiel. “What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2)? God tells them through his messengers, “Ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb” (Ezekiel 18:3). What God taught them was a little more serious than flossing every day. He said, “Behold, all souls are mine…the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Throughout the next few chapters, God discusses with Ezekiel how his justice system works. If one person does right, then he will not experience God’s wrath; he will live. If another person does wrong, then he will experience God’s wrath. The soul that sinneth, it shall die!
It is true we are all born with a sin nature. The sin nature is passed from Adam down through the generations of people who have lived on God’s green earth. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). However, we are culpable because of our own behavior. We sin because we are sinners and we are doomed to face the wrath of God because of our sinfulness. The stakes are high. He that “hath walked in my statutes, and hath kept my judgments, to deal truly; he is just, he shall surely live, saith the Lord God” (Ezekiel 18:9). God’s justice is severe. Paul said, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them” (Galatians 3:10). If you divert from God’s prescribed righteousness, then you are guilty!
I am thankful, there was One who lived upon this earth and changed everything. He did not follow the pattern of Adam and his children. He lived purely. He fulfilled the Law completely.
For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. (Romans 5:6-9)
Those who ask Christ to save them from their sins have a new Father. They are given the Holy Spirit who is the love of God shed abroad in our hearts. If we walk in the Spirit, we will not fulfill the lust of the flesh. We will know the rich blessings of God, only because of the grace He has extended to us through Jesus Christ.
Jesus made the way. He is the only way.
Do you remember when rewind actually meant re-winding something? In the days of streaming and laser-etched discs, the word rewind is a convenience to replay a favorite scene, but it does not mean the same today as it did for the reel-to-reel or even the VHS generation. Some of the old, cheesy films like the Little Rascals would use rewound footage for some of their action scenes. You would watch Chubby jump in the mud puddle and by rewinding the tape he jumps out of the puddle in reverse.
Ezekiel 11 is a rewind scene. What went in is now on its way out, and the tragedy of this rewind scene is the subject—the glory of the Lord. The “celestial coach” with the cherubim and wheels appears again in Ezekiel’s vision. He sees the glory of the Lord hovering over the Temple.
Then the glory of the Lord went up from the cherub, and stood over the threshold of the house; and the house was filled with the cloud, and the court was full of the brightness of the Lord’s glory. (Ezekiel 10:4)
As he relays these details, the Israelites would have remembered the account from the Temple dedication service during Solomon’s reign. “And it came to pass, when the priests were come out of the holy place, that the cloud filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:10). However, this will not be a grand and glorious entrance. In Ezekiel’s vision, God’s presence vacates the Temple. “And the glory of the Lord went up from the midst of the city, and stood upon the mountain which is on the east side of the city” (Ezekiel 11:23). How devastating? I can hear the words of Moses from long ago, “If thy presence go not with me, carry us not up hence” (Exodus 33:15).
I am afraid the churches of America and the members of those churches must take heed. We must covet the glory of the Lord to abide within our ministries. The church’s version of this Old Testament scene comes from John’s pen when he wrote, “Remember therefore from whence thou art fallen, and repent, and do the first works; or else I will come unto thee quickly, and will remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Revelation 2:5). If God is truly working through the church in America, then the Spirit, God’s gift to believers, would “reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8). However, the world continues to sink deeper into the mire of sin and apathy. If the church is supposed to restrain the works of darkness because of the Spirit’s work, then why has it been getting worse, faster? If all the mega churches and contemporary service churches and the gay affirming churches and the humanitarian churches, if all of these churches were sanctioned by God and empowered by His Spirit, then corruption would only trickle in our present age. Yet, evil is at high tide. The church of America has failed to notice the glory of the Lord departing.
Where are the glory-focused, godly-craving, gospel-preaching churches? Where are the churches which say, “We are no longer of the world”? Where are the churches which exist “looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ”? Where are the churches who live redeemed “from all iniquity” and “zealous of good works” (Titus 2:13-14)?
May we not mournfully declare, “Ichabod, the glory of the Lord has departed!” Lift up your eyes, Church, for your redemption draws nigh. We must be ever aware of God’s glory. We must crave His presence. Consecration, not compromise, earns the privilege of His glorious presence.
You can see the lump covered up by the bedsheets. The kids said they cleaned their room, but there is a pile of clothes wadded up under the made bed. You wonder to yourself, “How dumb do they think I am!”
In Ezekiel 8, God takes Ezekiel by a vision to the Temple in Jerusalem. By way of a divinely-led tour, Ezekiel witnessed the wickedness of the people. Throughout the Temple there are idols. The women are crying after Tammuz, the men are worshiping the sun, and there are other assorted idols for anyone and everyone’s pleasure. They do not try to hide it. Brazenly, they worship the gods that make them happiest and fulfill them most.
The tour takes a spooky turn when Ezekiel sees a hole in the wall. God tells him to dig into the wall, and Ezekiel finds a secret door beneath the plaster. When he enters the secret places of the Temple court he is horrified. The room is full of every kind of idol and the leaders of Israel are worshiping them devotedly and whispering to one another, “The Lord seeth us not” (Ezekiel 8:12).
Let’s take a tour of another temple—your life. “Your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you” (1 Corinthians 6:19). Sometimes we brazenly place our idols on display. We tell ourselves, “God wants me to be happy, right?” So we taunt God’s jealousy by celebrating an individual, indulging in ungodly entertainment, or toying with addictions. Other times, we have secret doors into the unseen corners of our hearts. We think no one else knows. Shh, “the Lord seeth us not.”
Who are we kidding?
O Lord, thou hast searched me, and known me. Thou knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, Thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path and my lying down, And art acquainted with all my ways. For there is not a word in my tongue, But, lo, O Lord, thou knowest it altogether. (Psalm 139:1-4)
It’s offensive to God, but it begs the same question: How dumb do we think He is? Every time I sin, it is because I believe God doesn’t see. Every time I do things my way, I believe God won’t notice, yet it’s as obvious as the pile of clothes wadded up under the nicely made bed. Did you indulge secretly in sin recently, thinking no one knows? “I the Lord search the heart…to give every man according to his ways, and according to the fruit of his doings” (Jeremiah 17:10). God will reveal all the hidden things. “The Lord…will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and will make manifest the counsels of the hearts” (1 Corinthians 4:5).
Did you sacrifice church for your family? You honored your family more than God. It’s an idol.
Are you more willing to give your resources of your time, talent, and treasure to something that makes you happy or more fulfilled? You’ve honored something more than God. It’s an idol.
Every one of us needs to pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart: Try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, And lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
Remember, God sees.