By Simon ManchesterSunday 20 Nov 2022Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 1 minute
Simon Manchester presents from the book of Ezekiel focusing on the way God uses all moments and seasons of life preparing us for what is to come. How awesome is it that His comfort is consistently there for us through everything.
Subscribe to Christian Growth podcast
Our Lord and Heavenly Father in whom is the fullness of light and wisdom. We pray that you would enlighten our minds by your holy spirit and give us grace to receive our helplessness in certain areas. But there is a new challenge to being a Christian today, and that is the dislike of the community.
Stephen McAlpine, who’s a very clever author in Western Australia, has written a book called ‘Being the Bad Guys’, and he points out that we used to be as Christian people seen as good.
And then there came a time where we were seen as sort of neutral just, um, non-eventful. But now, he says, the Christian Church is seen by many as bad, and this has accelerated over the last 50 years. My father was a member of this church is Parish Council many years ago. He died 54 years ago, and I’ve often reflected on what it would be like for him to return into this particular time.
And of course, there would be a huge amount of technology for him to be faced with. And there would be, of course, the Covid 19 troubles. But I would also have to say to him something like this, Dad, I think you need to realise now. The truth is not agreed on anymore, and that marriage is all different and gender has become fluid and the climate is the new gospel.
And to be a believer, to be a Christian is not to be a popular person. Now, even if this is partly true, what I’m saying to you, how do we find a compass to help us to stay steady, to be wise, to be peaceful and to be useful. And I want to suggest to you that we should go back to a book, a document that is 2600 years old. And it’s the book of Ezekiel, and we’re going to just look at it. For four Sundays,
this book of Ezekiel introduces us to a man who had to speak to God’s people at a time of absolute chaos when they were rejected in every way. Ezekiel comes as you probably know, well down the biblical timeline we’ve gone past Abraham. We’ve gone past Moses. We’ve gone past David and Solomon. God’s people had been in the promised land now for 700 years, but God’s people had become very disobedient. They had become idolatrous and they were being removed. They were removed from the promised land and carried off to Babylon. If you think of that as being sort of hard to grasp or imagine, just imagine that people came into this building, arrested us, scooped us up, put us into trucks and then planes and took us off. Let’s say to Indonesia where we had none of our buildings, none of our resources. It was just us in a completely foreign place.
And this is what it was like for Israel to be carried off to Babylon. They had all their confidence is removed. They had none of their support system. They didn’t have their temple anymore. Their priests, their altar, their sacrifices, they didn’t have their land. They were ungodly.
They deserve to be removed. But they were unbelievably unsettled. And we read in the third verse of the Book of Ezekiel that although the people of God deserved nothing from God, that he put his messenger among them Ezekiel and we read there in Babylon, believe it or not, in exile, in the headquarters of a pagan country there, God’s hand was on Ezekiel.
Now Ezekiel was a very strange man. At least he conducted a very strange ministry. Some of it is mysterious, dramatic, eccentric. One writer has said that the Old Testament Church needed a high grade explosive. And Ezekiel was that high grade explosive. He was 30 when he began his ministry in Babylon. He should have been a priest back home in Israel. But now he was going to become a profit. And as we look at Chapter two, the 10 verses which we had read for us. I want us to think about two things this morning. Please see if you can stay with me. I want to look with you at how God equipped Ezekiel for difficult days. And then how God comforted Ezekiel for difficult days. First of all, how he equipped him. The first thing that God did was he gave Ezekiel a vision of himself.
There was a Tzekel in Babylon not expecting probably anything to take place, and he was suddenly faced with a vision of God. We read this in Chapter one. It is a regular theme in the Bible that when God calls somebody to a great task, he will often give them a sense of their weakness and a great sense of his greatness. And Ezekiel saw a vision of fire, Chapter one, verse four very bright flashes of lightning, and inside the fire there were four creatures, and they were moving on wheels and above the creatures was a throne. And on the throne was a person just an unbelievable vision. And it’s hard to know what to say about the vision unless we take what is obvious and we can see what God was communicating. And the first thing that God was obviously communicating was that he was not blocked by distance.
There he is, in the land of Babylon and Mobile, able to move very easily. Second, he is obviously spectacular in glory. He’s not been defeated. He’s not been thwarted. He’s not been blocked by the Babylonians. Thirdly, he’s a master of all the earth because the creatures in the vision our lion, ox, eagle and man, lion, ox, eagle and man, they’re the four great spheres of creation. The masters of those areas and God is over all of them. And fourthly, we see in this vision that he’s personal because the throne has a person sitting.
So there is God mobile, spectacular, sovereign and personal. And it’s been said by Jewish rabbis that this vision given to Ezekiel sustained the people of Israel for the 70 years that they were in exile. And therefore, if Zika was to ask the question, I think God has been defeated. The answer is obviously no. I think God has been disabled. No, I think God has been disinterested. No, this vision changed him completely. You might ask yourself, What is the relevance of this vision to us? Well, I will simply say to you that God revealed himself to Ezekiel for a particular crisis. And God has revealed himself in person in the person of Jesus for all time. So just what Ezekiel and the people needed was a vision of God.
And what we need is a vision of God. And the vision of God that we’re given is the coming into the world of Jesus Christ, God in the Flesh and the four portraits of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John to help us know exactly what he’s like. That’s the first way God equipped. Ezekiel was with a vision. Secondly, he equipped him with a call so that Ezekiel would know he had a job to do and a task to do and a reason to do it. He had fallen down on his face at the vision. But we read in chapter two that God raised him and called him and said to him, I’m sending you to the Israelites in Babylon and Verse seven. You must speak my words to them now. This was a very difficult job because Ezekiel had to go to the Israelites and say to them, You’re in Babylon because your ungodly and the answer is not to go back to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is going to be decimated and destroyed, and for five years he had to communicate to them. Jerusalem will be destroyed. That was a very hard pill for the Israelites to swallow because they had grown up thinking that Jerusalem was permanent.
And Ezekiel was saying to them, as you must understand, Jerusalem will be destroyed. So from the time of his call to the time of Jerusalem’s fall, he was giving them bad news. When Jerusalem fell, he began to give them good news that they would eventually return and build up the walls again. And many of you will know that in the book of Ezekiel is that famous chapter of the Valley of dry bones where we’re reading that God is able to cause a valley of dry bones to actually come to life and turn into an army. In other words, God can do the impossible. So for five years, from the call to the fall and then 15 years from the fall to what we might call the wall, the task that Ezekiel was called to was very difficult. But it wasn’t a fatal task for him, and it wasn’t global, Nor was it changing people’s hearts. A much greater profit would come down the track, a much greater servant, and he would come with a call to die in order that the world might live and hearts would be changed all around the world for eternity.
The third way that God equipped Ezekiel was with his own spirit. We read in Chapter two verse to that. As he spoke, the spirit came into me from the very first minute that God asked Ezekiel to do a job, God gave him his spirit to do it. It’s one of the truths of the Bible that God never asks us to live the Christian life without offering to give us the Christian life.
Some of you may be trying to live the Christian life without the life, but it is in the receiving of the life that were then able to live the life.
And God never asks a person to serve him without giving the resources to do so.
Well. Here in Ezekiel, we see God call and provide. Just as Jesus, of course, would say to his disciples, Make disciples and I am with you always. I’ve asked you to do something, says Jesus. I will help you to do it. I never without a smile. When I think of a friend of mine who was invited to speak at an assembly high school assembly and had the idea that she would take lunch for every pupil in the Assembly
and to organise the lunch, she went to the CEO of one of the supermarkets in Sydney, and she said, I’m putting together this plan, and I’m wondering if you would be willing to give each pupil an apple and the C. I paused for a very long time, and then he said, All right, we’ll do it.
And then he said to the lady, I presume you’ll want them to come with cases And she suddenly realised that she had been talking to him about a green apple or a red apple. And he was talking to her about giving every pupil an apple computer, a slight sort of mix of expectations. But she, you see, had gone with such a simple request, and here was he offering something so incredibly good.
And so it is with God. He calls us to serve him. He has abundant generosity and resources. God equipped Ezekiel for difficult days. Second, he comforted Ezekiel for difficult days. This is where the task that Ezekiel was facing was seen to be very difficult, because the people that Ezekiel was ministering to were very difficult.
The exile had not made them humble or faithful or teachable. You’d think the exile would have had a slightly humbling effect on them that they might have turned around and said to Ezekiel were dreadful. We need mercy. But they were difficult. And God comforted Ezekiel like this. First of all, he said to him, You must be prepared for the worst. Chapter two, Verse three. I’m sending you to the Israelites. Chapter three, Verse six. I’m not sending you to a foreign people.
I wonder if you can pick up the clue as to what the Israelites were like. Chapter two, Verse three. Their rebellious Chapter two, Verse four. Their obstinate Chapter two, Verse five. Their rebellious Chapter two, Verse six. Their rebellious Chapter two, Verse seven. Their rebellious Chapter two, Verse eight Their rebellious. Did you pick up the clue? You can almost imagine Ezekiel turning around and saying, I think I understand. But are they rebellious?
These people that Ezekiel was ministering to were very locked into their errors and their evils. They had no fear of God. They had no interest in his word. I have been to churches in my nearly 50 years or 50 years of being a Christian, where in the church there was no interest at all in the King of Kings. There was no interest at all in the Scriptures, just an interest in something small and irrelevant.
But how helpful that God prepared Ezekiel. In fact, he said to him in Chapter three, Verse seven, they will not listen to you said God because they will not listen to me. So he was Ezekiel, wonderfully set free from this crushing task of having to be successful. God says him, they’re not going to listen. But you’re still to speak my words.
And Ezekiel knew exactly what he was going into. There was no false advertising. God was not painting a rosy picture. The second way God comforted as Eagle was a manageable task. He gave him his word. A hand was held out holding a scroll in Chapter three, Verse three. He was told to eat the scroll and then in Chapter three, Verse four. Now go and speak.
We don’t know whether this was a vision of eating the scroll. We don’t know whether the scroll was made of edible stuff. We don’t know whether it was disgusting to it, but he was being told to take it in and then speak it out. The words of course, would not be popular, but they would be true and they would be accurate. you see that people may not like the message, but the problem may be the listener and not the speaker. And as I said before, Ezekiel had to tell them that the reason they are in exile was because of their sinfulness and that there was no quick future going back to Jerusalem.
They were going to be in Babylon for 70 years. It was not a popular message, but it was true. When it came true, they began to listen to him most respectfully. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a man called Charles Simeon. But Charles Simeon went to Cambridge in 17 83 at the age of 23 to be the rector of Holy Trinity in Cambridge, and the congregation didn’t want him, didn’t like him. The warden’s locked the pews, and the students who didn’t come to the church but saw him in the street, threw eggs and flour at him on a regular basis. The people who came to the church were not allowed by the wardens to sit in the pews. They could only stand in the middle aisle and the side aisles, and Simeon preached to them for 14 years as they stood in the aisles, patiently waiting for the corner to turn. After 14 years, the corner turned. The pews were open. The students came in droves. The whole town of Cambridge was affected. He led the students to Christ. He taught them the Bible. He trained them. He sent them around the country. He planted them in churches all over the country. He raised up wealthy people to provide the stipend. So there will be a gospel ministry in the churches all over the country. And it was said that Simeon had a greater impact on the country of England than any archbishop or bishop. And as his funeral, all the shops of Cambridge closed and the whole town came out to pay their respects. As his coffin went past, the corner turned and the corner turned for Ezekiel as well. His ministry was the ministry of the word, exactly the same as it is today. Jesus said, make disciples teach them and I am with you always The final comfort from God for Ezekiel are the very beautiful words. Do not be afraid.
Chapter two, Verse six. Don’t be afraid again. Chapter two, Verse six. Don’t be afraid. Chapter three, Verse nine. Don’t be afraid. It’s been said that fear is the most basic emotion of all. Because since the Garden, when the man and the woman became afraid and ran and hit, that fear is now the fundamental fear that we have the real fear that we have. And of course, the Bible has a little phrase. Do not fear, which is the most frequent command in the Bible. Well, it’s easy to say, isn’t it? Don’t be afraid. But why would Ezekiel want to? Or why would he be able to not be afraid? Well, the answer is, of course, because he had seen God in a vision and God had called him and given him his spirit and told him what to expect and what to do and that he would be with him. And that’s what God is like. So don’t be afraid. Says God to Ezekiel. Don’t be afraid as if you’re alone, you’re not alone. And don’t be afraid as if you’re doomed. You’re not doomed. I’m going to help you now, friends. I want to close by saying something to you today about rejection. Would you just stay with me for the last couple of minutes. I want to say something to you about rejection.
I began by saying that Christians are facing increased rejection. The most serious rejection of all is to reject God. The Babylonians, of course, had rejected God. The world that we’re in has rejected God. But Israel had become also a god rejecting church. That’s a very dangerous thing. And therefore God rejected the right of his people to be in the land of the promised land. But he didn’t reject them altogether. He had plans that he would humble them and bring them back to the land. Yes, he did. And he sent his servant Ezekiel, to warn into comfort. And Ezekiel was to tell them to repent, to turn back to God, which is, of course, always what we need to tell people to do. Drop your sins and turn back to God. That’s how you begin the Christian life and put your trust. We would say in Christ and you will have eternal life. But how is God going to forgive and restore his people? Who’s going to pay the price that his people have caused? And the answer is it’s going to come through His Son.
His son would come into the world unworthy of rejection and be rejected by the world and rejected even by his followers and finally be rejected by the father at the cross. And Christ would pay the price of rejection in order that all who put their trust in him would never be rejected by God. We may be rejected by the world. We may be rejected by people in churches, but the person who has put their trust in Christ will never be rejected by Christ. Never, ever, ever. And that’s why we have a message for our world, isn’t it? We have a message for our world. We have a scroll, so to speak, to take to the world. And that is there is one who was rejected, and he is able to forgive your rejection, and he is able to make sure that you, having put your trust in him, will never, ever be rejected by God.
Whatever people may say or do so, there’s our beginning with the Zika. Let’s pray that God would help us in our role. Let’s bow our heads.
We thank you, Heavenly Father, for this reminder in your word that you are a god of truth and grace. We thank you for the way that you equipped Ezekiel for his work and comforted him. And we thank you for the way you have done that supremely to us through the Lord Jesus. We pray that you would equip and comfort us as we seek to you to be your people. In a world that may reject knowing that you will never reject your people, we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.