By Simon ManchesterSunday 28 Jun 2015Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
The Serious God – The Glory of God
Ezekiel Chapter 40-48
I want to urge you all, first of all, to track down somehow, the Briefing Magazine, because it has, I think some superb articles on the subject of atheism. And the push of atheism at the moment,although it is not very persuasive if you read the stuff coming out,and one professor of Philosophy in the United States has said that the Dawkins book makes him embarrassed to be an atheist. It is so bad. But the push is noisy and the push is loud,and we need to have a wise word to say in the face of such a lot of noise. The atheist push is vocalising quite loudly for us,that God is unwanted. The person is saying,’I don’t want God. I don’t believe in God. I don’t need God’,so they say.
Now we don’t need of course an atheistic push to be reminded that the world does not want God. The cross is the greatest continual permanent reminder that this is a world and that we are people who by nature do not want God. Every time you see a cross this week hanging around someone’s neck or on top of a building or on top of a grave or in front of a book or wherever you see the cross this week,I hope that you will remind yourself that this is not just a piece of symmetrical jewellery,it’s not just a piece of sentimental jewellery. It’s not even a piece of spiritual jewellery. It’s actually a double proof. It’s a double symbol that the human race is a race that wants Jesus Christ out of the way. That’s why the cross happened. We want Jesus out of the way. That’s the sort of world that we are in. And it’s also the proof that Jesus Christ wants people,like you and me,on the way. Every time you see the cross,it’s a reminder that we want Him out of the way. And He wants us to be on the way.
If a person tries to have Jesus out of the way,who will take His place at the centre of their universe? And normally,of course,it is someone who doesn’t deserve to be there. I am reading a book at the moment. It’s a book of clever come-backs. You know these books beside the bed? And I just want to give you a few good examples of the clever come-back. This is the person who obviously is the centre of their universe. And somebody,with just one sentence,is seeking to unseat them from their position at the centre of the universe. These are not especially funny,but they are just clever I think. The musician,George Gershwin,was at a dinner once,and a much inferior musician was mocking him for his music. When there was a pause in the discussion,George Gershwin said to him,’Why don’t you get up,take a place at the piano and play us a medley of your hit?’ It’s a great line isn’t it. It’s just a little ‘I’m unseating you from your centre’. Katharine Hepburn apparently said to one of her leading men in rehearsals,’I am so glad I won’t have to act with you anymore’… to which the guy replied,’I didn’t know you ever had’. Humphrey Bogart,to an actress whose biography had just appeared,’I liked it. Who wrote it for you?’ She said,’I’m glad,I’m glad… who read it to you?’ And a young man called Tom Sheridan,whose father was a very famous politician,said to his father,to provoke him,’I am going to offer myself to any political party and I may even write on my forehead the words “To let”… to which his father replied,’Don’t forget to write underneath,”Unfurnished”‘.
Getting a person out of their,’I am the centre of the universe’… you know,it’s a key part of life really,isn’t it. It’s a key lesson in life. Who,however,is going to take the centre? And the country that we live in is full of options for putting in the centre of your universe something that is quite attractive and is quite reasonable and is even effective in the short-term,but,of course,there are many many people in this country who are now working out that they need,and long for,to get the centre right.
You can act as though nobody is in charge. You can do that when you go to school. You can do that when you are in your company. You can do that in the town that you live. You can do that in the whole of your life. ‘Nobody is in charge’,you think and say and live. But sooner or later,you discover that someone is in charge. You always discover that someone is in charge. And that’s where history is very helpful,because history is a great teacher. The nation of Israel,for example,are a lesson for us in history. That’s why we have the Old Testament. We discover in the Old Testament that God had His own people. And they refused to live God-centredly… and they paid the price. And we can watch them make the decision not to live God-centredly and then pay the price,which they did. And so for all the privileges of the nation of Israel… for all their leaders and for all their miracles and for all the laws that God gave them,He actually,for the sake of their godlessness,deported them from the great Promised Land in 587BC and He exiled them off to Babylon. And along with their people,as He sent them off to exile,He sent His messenger,His spokesman,called Ezekiel. And Ezekiel was there,plonk in the middle of the people,to explain to them the reason for their tragic exile. And He was also there to explain to them that God was patient and forgiving and had a great plan and was willing to help them eventually out of their mess and to bring them back into a God-centred life,with peace and with joy.
The Bible section which we have today is a very long,complicated section – Chapters 40-48. We are attempting to cover nine complicated chapters,and it is basically a vision that God gave to His servant Ezekiel to show Ezekiel this wonderful plan that He had,up ahead – the ultimate plan for His people. You can see that in Chapter 40 Verse 2,God took His servant,His messenger,Ezekiel and He took him on a mental trip – not a physical trip – a mental trip to Israel. It says: in visions of God,He took me to the land of Israel. And in this mental vision,he saw three things. And they may seem to us today to be totally irrelevant to the life that we live,but I want to tell you that they are absolutely central to the life we live. They have to do with your soul,they have to do with your peace,they have to do with your direction,they have to do with your safety. They explain that the centre of the universe is the plan of God,and when you get the centre wrong,your orbit is wrong. And when you get the centre right,your orbit is right. And that’s why there are thousands of views on God today,aren’t there,because we are not as receptive to God’s truth as we are inventive of our own truth. It’s so much more convenient,isn’t it,to carve out a God to fit in,than it is to adjust ourselves to the God who stands at the meeting point of BC and AD – Jesus Christ. And even when we become Christians,our brain is so slippery. We slip off the Word so quickly,and we end up with ignorance and doubts which really do infect us and affect us.
So I want to ask this morning,what does Ezekiel see in his dream and his vision that God gives him? It’s a kind of a virtual reality tour of the homeland. He doesn’t get to go there physically. He gets to go there in a vision and he sees three things. And the first thing he sees is a perfect temple. This is in Chapter 40 Verse 1 through to Chapter 43 Verse 12. The temple of the Old Testament was not just the place where you worshipped God. It was the place where you found the presence of God. No-one ever believed,in the Old Testament,really,that a temple could fit God into it,but it was where God chose to meet His people and therefore it was an incredibly important place to go. Where do you find God? Well,you find God in the temple. The temple of Solomon had two serious problems. One… God had left it. You did not meet Him there any more. Chapter 10 of Ezekiel – God left the temple. He wouldn’t have anything more to do with the godless people,at least in the short-term. The second problem with Solomon’s temple is that it had been physically destroyed – Chapter 33. And that’s why Ezekiel’s vision is so important,because he saw God’s glory enter into this visionary temple. In other words,God is announcing: I will come back to you. The place of My throne and the place for the souls of My feet will be here and I will be with you. I will return to you.
It’s very hard to get excited,reading Chapters 40-43 of Ezekiel,because unless you are a surveyor or an architect,it is all about measurements. It’s all about distances. But the interesting thing is that this description of a temple is not exactly a blueprint for building a temple. You can’t take Ezekiel chapters and then call them out and build a building as a result. Nobody ever attempted to do that,but God said that it would be a symmetrical place,a perfect place. And He says in Chapter 43 Verse 7 that there would be no more sin there. So you see,it is a forward-looking perfect symmetrical picture of God’s ultimate plan. What is God’s ultimate plan? It is that He would be with His people. He is central to His people. He would be honoured by His people,that we would recognise His goodness and His greatness and that He would care for us,as we read in the last two chapters of the whole Bible,that God would be there,removing every tear and removing every evil and every danger and providing every blessing and every resource.
Where do we begin to experience this? Are we meant to sit in this world or walk in this world and just say,’Well,I really hope (like the Higher School’s Certificate) that I sort of do well and that one day,the result will be called out and I hope I will be there.’ Is that the way we are to behave? Are we meant to say to ourselves,’Gee,I hope my name is in the Lamb’s Book of Life. It is a complete mystery. I don’t know whether I will be there or not,but when I get there,gee I hope it is. I have a good reason to think it would be… you know,I’m at least as good as the people in church.’ Is that the way to think? No. We are to begin to experience the presence of God by finding today not some carved-out God who suits us,or not by waiting until we actually meet Him. But we are to bring ourselves to the One who described Himself as the temple. We are to bring ourselves to Jesus. He is the meeting place. And He says in the New Testament,basically: I am the temple. He said on one occasion: destroy this temple (meaning His body) and I will raise it in three days,which is exactly what He did. Jesus is the meeting place. Jesus is the way to find the presence of God. He said,’I am the way,the truth,the life. No-one comes to the Father but by Me.’ And friends,I say to you this morning,despite all your fears and all your doubts and all your sins,you have it on the authority of Jesus Christ,that when you go to Him in prayer and you say to Him,’I will have You as My King and Saviour’,you have come to God Himself,you have come to God. You belong to Him,from then on. And finally,of course,you will come to Him face-to-face. Relationship now,face-to-face soon.
What is the second thing that Ezekiel saw in this vision? He saw a perfect altar. You may think,of course,if you know church buildings,that behind me and in front of you is an altar. But of course behind me and in front of you is not an altar. There are no more altars in the New Testament sense. There are no more altars in the prayer-book of the Anglican church. The table behind me – not a very easy or functional table – is meant to be a place on which you sit bread and wine to remember the altar of Jesus.
But why is an altar so great? Because an altar is the place of God’s acceptance. Why is it so great to have God’s acceptance? Because if you don’t have God’s acceptance,you are dislocated in His universe. And if you are dislocated in His universe,then you go through the world,through your life,looking everywhere for some kind of location. And you find yourself on a kind of a random treadmill,looking for approval and safety and comfort and freedom and success… but it never actually arrives. The treadmill never stops. And so in the temple of God was an altar,and that was the place where payment could be made for sin,deliberate or accidental. But the altar that was made of cedar that was in Solomon’s temple was gone,and that’s why this vision of Ezekiel was so important,because God was showing to Ezekiel a new,perfect altar. And interestingly,if you look at the dimensions of this new altar,it was to be three metres high. Now I am two metres high,nearly,but I could not get a sacrifice onto a three metre high altar. And I think that part of the reason for this is that it is such a perfect altar being described,it is basically beyond human reach. And you can see God’s goodness in providing this altar for guilty people,because there is a new,perfect altar. And that is why God says: present your burnt offerings and your fellowship offerings (and these wonderful words) – and I will accept you.
They never built the new altar to the specifications in Ezekiel’s vision. It was a picture of a perfect altar,a perfect acceptance. Where do you find that? Where do you find that perfect acceptance? And the answer is that you find it by going backwards to the cross,where Jesus died and made a payment of Himself and made a cover for believers and offers to you acceptance.
So the New Testament says that we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus. Christ died for sins – One for all – to bring you to God. And that’s what Ezekiel’s vision was pointing to. It was pointing to this perfect acceptance,which is made possible by Jesus’ death. And isn’t it a remarkable thing,that when Jesus was around,He said to people around,’I forgive you.’ What a thing for a Jew to say – I forgive you! You would expect Him to say – look,there is a way of getting forgiveness: find the temple,find an animal,find a priest… queue up,put your animal in,get your payment. But Jesus said,’I forgive you’ because He knew that the Old Testament system is over… and the way of forgiveness and the way of acceptance is through the cross.
This provision is still mocked. The cross is mocked. The cross,even more,is missed by people. It is absolutely astonishing. Do a survey this week: ask ten people,’What is the road to Heaven?’ and nine or ten of them have no clue that it’s the cross. The little kids,who sang to us this morning,could probably say,’Jesus died for me. That’s why I am forgiven. That’s why I am going to Heaven.’ But for some reason,the adult world has avoided or missed or mocked this incredible provision.
Dawkins says,in the book,’I have described atonement,the central doctrine of Christianity,as vicious,sadomasochistic and repellent. We should also dismiss it as barking mad. In order to impress Himself,Jesus had Himself tortured and executed,in vicarious punishment for a symbolic sin committed by a non-existent individual.’ And the article goes on to say,and I think most helpfully,’This is so far from what Christianity actually teaches,as to be laughable. The cross was vicious,but it was not sadomasochistic and repellent. It was the greatest act of love this world has ever seen. Jesus came to earth willingly,to die in the place of each one of us. John writes in his first letter,’In this,is love: not that we have loved God,but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation,the perfect offering for our sins. Jesus died for our sins,not just for Adam and Eve’s sins in the Garden of Eden,and it was not barking mad. His death was full of purpose. There is no greater purpose than atonement. There is nothing more breath-taking than enabling sinful humans to be at one with God,forgiven for all our sin,because Jesus took upon Himself the punishment for sin we all deserve.
And Ezekiel,you see,in His vision,looking way ahead of us,to this perfect acceptance,would have discovered if he had lived long enough that it was to come,because of the cross of Christ.
What is the last thing Ezekiel saw? The answer is a perfect home. He saw a perfect temple,a perfect altar and a perfect home – Chapter 47 Verse 1 through to the end of the Book.
Where do you find a perfect home? I had lunch on Friday with a friend who works in real estate. He has only just begun to work in real estate and he said one of the biggest shocks for him is to realise the people who get the luxurious home,but have an absolutely dysfunctional cold-war family. And that is an absolutely tragedy,isn’t it,to have the property and to be so unhappy. I do think,however,there is something more dangerous even than a big house and an unhappy home. And I think that is a happy home where God is absent. Because an unhappy home is often a humble place and often a place where people will call out for third-party help. But a happy home,where God is absent,is really a deluded home. It’s a deceived and a blinded and a misled home.
Best of all,of course,is the home,however big,where we can say,’The Lord is there.’ They are the last words of Ezekiel – the Lord is there. And Ezekiel sees a place where the Lord is there. He sees the Promised Land in his vision. But it’s not the world that we live in,because you see this Promised Land that Ezekiel sees in his vision,has an overflowing river. It’s the perfect river. It has fruit trees that actually heal people. It has a land in perfect allotments. Everybody has a perfect allotment. It sounds a little bit like when Jesus said,’In My Father’s house,there are many rooms…’ And the perfect allotment,we are told in the last Book of the Bible is even for the nations,not just for the Jews. It’s for the gentiles. It’s for people like you and me. And the city is called,’The Lord is there’. Where is this home? It’s not found in real estate,real estate,which is of course really un-real estate,because real estate is unkeepable. It’s very slippery,isn’t it,real estate… it is just a borrowed thing. You move in,you move around,and then you move out and somebody else moves in. It’s a perishing box,isn’t it.
The home of God is the Heavenly city,says the Bible. It’s ahead of us and Jesus invites us to join Him now,in order that we might join Him face-to-face one day. We want to ask the question,do we then just live in our house and wait for the heavenly home? There is an even more interesting thing in the New Testament where we are told that it is possible that ‘the Lord is there’ can be described of you,because Jesus said that it is absolutely true and real that God is able and willing to take up residence in you,to make His home in you. And when He takes up residence in you,you are a new person,with a new heart and a new life. And as Jesus said,rivers of living water begin to flow. And then,one day,of course,you will come to the heavenly home and you will discover that the rivers of real living water run from the throne of God.
So can I say to you this morning – because some of you,I know,are wanting to be quite committed – but the first step in being a Christian is not to be committed. The first step in being a Christian is not to be devoted to religion,or to apply yourself to a system. The first step in Christianity is that you open the front-door of yourself. You open the front door of yourself and you say to Jesus Christ,the King and the Saviour,’Please take up residence by Your Holy Spirit in me.’ There is nothing until that happens. And then you look forward,of course,to the day where He,the King and the Saviour,will fling open the door of Heaven and say to you,’Welcome’. Today,we give a humble welcome to Christ. One day,a joyful welcome by Christ.
This is the lesson of the God-centred universe,central in you… one day central with you and all His people around Him. The centre of the solar system,is the sun. But the centre if the universe is the Son of God.
I want to ask you,as we finish this morning,what is the centre of your life? What is the thing which you keep coming back to … ‘Gee,I must have that. If everything else goes,I don’t mind,but I must have that,and when I have that,I’m okay.’ If it’s not Jesus Christ,it’s a mistake. It may be good,but it’s not the centre of the universe,and so you will find yourself eccentric. You will find that your orbit suffers in the short-term and certainly in the long-term. And even the believer must say to himself or to herself,on a regular basis,’Jesus Christ has been placed at the centre of the universe. He is the One that I must revolve around. Everything revolves around Jesus Christ. My life must revolve around Jesus Christ. I must keep bringing myself back to the One whom God has placed at the centre of the universe because Jesus said,from this even old vision of Ezekiel,that He is the way to find God.’ He is the way to the presence of God and He is the way to acceptance with God,the only way to acceptance of God,and He is the way to God at home with you,and one day,you at home with God.
Let’s bow our heads. Let’s pray. Our gracious God,we thank You this morning for giving a vision to Ezekiel of a great plan and purpose,which You have begun,continue,and will fulfil. We especially thank You for the sending of the Lord Jesus,who makes everything happen,and we ask that You would give to each one here today,ears to hear,a heart to receive,a life to enjoy and then,in Your service,the great privilege of demonstrating that Jesus is the way,the truth and the life – the way to Your presence,the way to Your acceptance,the way to Your home. We pray that You would give us grace also to centre our lives on You,to be wise,responsive,and to indicate by the way we think,speak and live,that Jesus Christ,King of Kings,Lord of Lords,is central to our lives. And we ask it in His name. Amen.