The Forgiveness of Sins – Ezekiel 18

When we come face to face with the love of the holy God, our Creator, something inside of us instantly recognizes our own unworthiness and human limitations.  Like the apostle Peter the moment he realized who Jesus was, we too may say, “Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful person.”

Fortunately, it does not end there.  God’s abundant mercy and grace is available to each one of us if we seek Him. 

The foundation of our eternal life rests upon our need for God’s forgiveness.  Even the apostle Paul, a pillar of Christian faith and courage, was in desperate need of God’s mercy.  As he humbly wrote in a letter to his young assistant, Timothy:

15 This is a trustworthy saying, and everyone should accept it: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners”—and I am the worst of them all.  1 Timothy 1:15 (NLT)

It is vital to be vigilantly aware of our shortcomings and to confess them to the Lord.  The Bible tells us that whoever claims to be without sin is not being honest with themselves.

If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.  1 John 1:8-9 (NLT)

God is the only one who can completely forgive and absolve us of sin.  This was accomplished once and for all through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross.  All of the ritual sacrifices performed before that pointed forward to this moment.  Since the time of Abraham on Mount Moriah, recorded in Genesis 22, the Lord has promised that He would provide the only sacrifice worthy enough for the forgiveness and cleansing of the sins of the world.

Through the prophet Ezekiel, the Lord proclaimed two important principles of forgiveness to the exiles in Babylon, who now found themselves in a strange land because of their own sins and shortcomings.  First, no matter where we may find ourselves in life, be it kneeling in a church at the altar of God, shivering in the cold after losing everything to our addiction, or lying hopeless on a cot in the darkest back corner of a prison, there is hope if we surrender our will and our life over to care of the Lord.  Ezekiel writes:

21 “But if the wicked person turns from all his sins which he has committed and keeps all My statutes and practices justice and righteousness, he shall certainly live; he shall not die. 22 All his offenses which he has committed will not be remembered against him; because of his righteousness which he has practiced, he will live. 23 Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked,” declares the Lord God, “rather than that he would turn from his ways and live?  Ezekiel 18:21-23 (NASB)

While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  Each one of us.  And He promises, “I will remember your sins no more”.

But there is a second principle of forgiveness that Ezekiel speaks of.  It is a little harder to accept than the first, but it is the word of God:

24 “But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness, commits injustice and does according to all the abominations that the wicked person does, will he live? All his righteous deeds which he has done will not be remembered for his treachery which he has committed and his sin which he has committed; for them he will die.  Ezekiel 18:24 (NASB)

God does not appreciate it when we tire of seeking Him and decide to turn away from Him to live out the rest of our lives in wickedness, living only for ourselves at the expense of others.  This is not finishing strong, and it is a dangerous path to begin to tread.

In his Revelation to the apostle John, Jesus had this message for the once-faithful church at Ephesus:

But I have this against you, that you have left your first love. Therefore, remember from where you have fallen, and repent, and do the deeds you did at first; or else I am coming to you and I will remove your lampstand from its place—unless you repent.  Revelation 2:4-5 (NASB)

No matter who we are or where we find ourselves on our faith journey, we are all continually tarnished by sin – our flesh will see to that.  When we fall or fail, we need to recognize it, turn to God, and confess it to Him.  If we do, He has promised to be faithful to forgive us and to cleanse us from all our sin.  But there is also a warning if we decide we no longer need to follow or regard Him and can just go our own way – sin is a slippery slope, and none of us is immune to its temptations and deceptions.  We do not want to let evil become our master once again.

Reflection

Lord, I need You today, perhaps more than ever before.  Hold me close and do not let me turn away from Your love.  I confess my sins and shortcomings to You and seek to abide in the Living Water of Your forgiveness in Christ Jesus.  Guide me by the Holy Spirit to help me to finish strong for You.  Teach me to love and forgive others.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

A Samaritan Sister – Ezekiel 16

Almost six hundred years before the coming of Christ, the Kingdom of Judah was at an end.  Most of what was left of its kings and people were now in exile in Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon.  The good land they left behind, hereafter known to the world as Judea, was left to lie fallow to make up for the seventy years of Sabbath rest required by God’s law that had been ignored by its farmers.  This was just one example of the people’s total rejection of the covenant that the Lord had made with Israel.

Like Israel’s Northern Kingdom before it, the Southern Kingdom of Judah had chosen to throw off the protection of God and ended up paying the price for it.  Neighboring empires greedily absorbed the rich bounty that had been given divinely gifted to the Lord’s people.

Speaking through the prophet Ezekiel to the exiles, God confirmed that this judgment had come from Him, but more importantly that His heart was not closed to them for good.  When the time was right, He would send them back to the land to rebuild the Temple.  And later, He would install a new covenant with them under a Messiah who would rule and reign with goodness forever.  Ezekiel wrote:

60 Yet I will remember the covenant I made with you when you were young, and I will establish an everlasting covenant with you. 61 Then you will remember with shame all the evil you have done. I will make your sisters, Samaria and Sodom, to be your daughters, even though they are not part of our covenant. 62 And I will reaffirm my covenant with you, and you will know that I am the Lord. 63 You will remember your sins and cover your mouth in silent shame when I forgive you of all that you have done. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!”  Ezekiel 16:60-63 (NLT)

Ezekiel’s reference to Samaria as a fallen sister was actually a promise to restore the divided nation.  The land of Samaria was a remnant from the Northern Kingdom of Israel, south of the land of Galilee.  Though not a part of Judah in whose line the Messiah would come, Jesus made clear that Samaria was still an important part of Israel.  Beginning with a woman He met at a well under a mid-day sun, Jesus called all Samaritans to repent and to join His eternal kingdom.  His invitation of grace and mercy was to be extended to Judea, Samaria, and to all the world, and remains so for each one of us today.

Jesus spoke with the Samaritan woman as He stopped to rest at a well dug by the patriarch Jacob, a grandson of Abraham.

Soon a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.” He was alone at the time because his disciples had gone into the village to buy some food.

The woman was surprised, for Jews refuse to have anything to do with Samaritans. She said to Jesus, “You are a Jew, and I am a Samaritan woman. Why are you asking me for a drink?”

10 Jesus replied, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water.”

11 “But sir, you don’t have a rope or a bucket,” she said, “and this well is very deep. Where would you get this living water? 12 And besides, do you think you’re greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us this well? How can you offer better water than he and his sons and his animals enjoyed?”

13 Jesus replied, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. 14 But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life.” 

25 The woman said, “I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

26 Then Jesus told her, “I am the Messiah!”  John 4:7-14,25-26 (NLT)

Man might have rejected and forgotten the Samaritans, but God had not.  Jesus reinforced His blessing of this people group in His parable of the Good Samaritan, found in Luke 10.  In it, a Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho when he was attacked by bandits who took everything he had, even his clothes, then beat him and left him for dead on the road.  Two religious leaders who walked by saw the wounded man but crossed over to the other side of the road to avoid him.  A third man came along, a Samaritan, who was not expected to stop to assist to this helpless Jewish victim.  But in fact, the Samaritan was the only person to stop and take pity on him.  He carefully dressed the man’s wounds, then used his own donkey to transport him to an inn.  Here, he put the man up at his own expense and promised to return to pay for any additional expenses that might be required for the man’s recovery.  Jesus praised the Samaritan for his compassion, and encouraged His audience, including the religious leaders, to go out and do likewise.

Like the Samaritans, many of us have experienced the bitterness of rejection by others.  Sometimes we have brought this on ourselves through our own poor choices or addictions, but often it is simply the result of sinful attitudes by those around us.  Until the return of Christ, we will live in an imperfect world, not yet conformed to the loving acceptance of God.  Yet He asks us to love and help others in need, as we are able.

Just as Jesus reached out to a rejected woman by the well in Samaria, He is reaching out to each one of us today.  And He asks us to do the same for others.

Reflection

Lord, thank You for reaching out to me though I have done nothing deserving of Your grace, mercy, and forgiveness.  I surrender to Your will for me -help to walk in Your goodness and light, and to reflect these to the others who are around me, imperfect as we all are.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Through the Grapevine – Ezekiel 15

The land of Israel has historically been blessed with an abundance of grape vines.  Like the olive trees with it, every person in the land was well acquainted with the vine’s required planting, tending, and fruit-bearing. 

In His word, the Lord frequently refers to Israel itself as such a vine, and to each individual as a branch connected to it for its source of nourishment and life.  Without such a connection to God and His Spirit, the branches will not of themselves bear fruit, meaning that individuals will not produce blessings of eternal value for God.

Jesus, too, used the vine-dressing analogy, referring to Himself as the True Vine.

1 “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 bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit. You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you. Remain in Me, and I in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit of itself but must remain in the vine, so neither can you unless you remain in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches; the one who remains in Me, and I in him bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in Me, he is thrown away like a branch and dries up; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.   John 15:1-6 (NASB)

If we are connected to Christ, He will prune us as we go through the trials of life to remove any dead wood.  These are the selfish character defects that bedevil us all, the dead flies in the pure ointment of life that can spoil the aroma of God’s holy perfume.  Most of us are not even aware that we have such shortcomings until the Spirit points them out to us.  It is then a lifelong process of seeking His help to identify, remove, or at least reduce our negative thoughts, actions, and habits that often bring pain and grief to others and to ourselves.

God tells us that He has a plan for our life and can make use of us if we will humbly turn to Him for connection, cleansing, and vine-dressing.

10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Ephesians 2:10 (NASB)

The reason God has put us here on earth and invested so much divine effort into us is 1) He loves us and likes to be with us, and 2) He has good works of eternal value for us to do, or in the context of the grapevine, eternal fruit to bear.  This includes drawing and attracting others into the blessings of His kingdom.

If we spend our entire life rejecting the outstretched hand of God, we have also rejected His life-giving Spirit which might otherwise flow through us to produce this eternal fruit.  When we welcome and abide in Him, we will routinely produce fruit for Him, even without realizing it.

Speaking through the Old Testament prophets, the Lord referred to the people of Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s day as a grapevine that was totally disconnected from God.  Without being connected to this divine source of life, they were not producing any good fruit, rather evil.  In fact, their vineyard no longer had any real divine value for the God who had planted them there, having rejected both His fellowship and His works.  Though He still loved them, for now, God would end the line of Judah’s kings and Temple worship in Jerusalem and begin again through their exile Babylon.  (He would later restore the kingly line with a New Covenant with the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ). 

Ezekiel spoke of their coming judgment:

1 Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, “Son of man, how is the wood of the vine better than any wood of a branch which is among the trees of the forest? Can wood be taken from it to make anything, or can even a peg be taken from it on which to hang any utensil? If it has been put into the fire for fuel, and the fire has consumed both of its ends and its middle part has been charred, is it then good for anything? Behold, while it is intact, it is not made into anything. How much less, when the fire has consumed it and it is charred, can it still be made into anything! Therefore, this is what the Lord God says: ‘As the wood of the vine among the trees of the forest, which I have given to the fire for fuel, so have I given up the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and I set My face against them. Though they have come out of the fire, yet the fire will consume them. Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I set My face against them. So I will make the land desolate, because they have acted unfaithfully,’” declares the Lord God.  Ezekiel 15:1-8 (NASB)

It is vitally important to seek a connection with God and try to remain faithful to Him.  Whether we are currently close to Him or far away, He is always drawing us towards Himself and His Messiah, Jesus Christ, the true source for the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.  If we continually reject Him, He cannot use us.  But when we are connected or re-connected to His “vine”, though not yet perfect, He will cleanse us and use us for His purposes.  We will begin to do the works that He has prepared for us even before we came into the world. 

God is always reaching out to us, wherever we may find ourselves.  Won’t you plug (or re-plug) into the True Vine of His love and fellowship today? 

Reflection

Father, I acknowledge that many of my works have been focused on myself and not on what You are seeking for me to do.  Plug me into the True Vine of Christ so that Your life-giving Spirit may flow through me to produce good fruit.  Show me the areas in my life that need cleansing and help me to do so.  Bathe me in Your love and acceptance.  Take away my fears so that I may experience a life of joy, serenity, and peace in Your presence.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

A Fair Judgment – Ezekiel 14

18 And I will be a father to you,
And you shall be sons and daughters to Me,”
Says the Lord Almighty. 2 Corinthians 6:18 (NASB)

God is fair and loving. And because of His goodness, His mercy never fails in the end.

Some of us have lived our lives believing that the Lord is unfair and punishing, often carrying with us an example to readily demonstrate to ourselves and others why we should not have to pay any attention to God in our lives.  The reason may be a bicycle we never received after praying for it as a child, the early loss of a parent through death or divorce, the absence of money, or a painful situation we observe others going through or have experienced ourselves. (I have heard most of these reasons given for rejecting God).

Some of these difficult situations were brought about through the sinful acts of other people.  Yet, God usually gets the blame. And when He steps in to address it, some are then quick to criticize Him as being a punishing and unloving God.

God did deliver a harsh judgement on Jerusalem and Judah in Ezekiel’s time through King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  It was a terrible time of chastisement and pain for the suffering nation.  Many of its people had already been taken into exile in Babylon, having been sent there by God for their own protection.  Among these were the prophets Daniel and Ezekiel. 

But many of those who stayed in Jerusalem to fight Nebuchadnezzar were living a life of idolatry and did not believe God or heed His abundant warnings to surrender for their own preservation.  They relied on false gods and idols to save them, not realizing that by fighting they were actually opposing a divine judgment of God.

Ezekiel told his fellow exiles exactly what was happening back home in Jerusalem, and shared God’s message that many survivors from there would soon be joining them in Babylon.  God spoke this message through Ezekiel to defend His name and to point out the fairness of His judgment.  The Lord wanted to make it crystal clear to everyone that those who ignored His warnings and were going through this trial were doing it by choice and were only reaping what they had sown. Yet even many of these would be pulled from the fire and redeemed due to His grace and mercy.

21 For thus says the Lord God: “How much more it shall be when I send My four severe judgments on Jerusalem—the sword and famine and wild beasts and pestilence—to cut off man and beast from it? 22 Yet behold, there shall be left in it a remnant who will be brought out, both sons and daughters; surely they will come out to you, and you will see their ways and their doings. Then you will be comforted concerning the disaster that I have brought upon Jerusalem, all that I have brought upon it. 23 And they will comfort you, when you see their ways and their doings; and you shall know that I have done nothing without cause that I have done in it,” says the Lord God.  Ezekiel 14:21-23 (NKJV)

It is in our nature to make a judgment without having all the information available to us.  We actually need to do this just to live our lives, and our jobs often require us to make interpretations without having all of the necessary data in hand.  But with God, we will never have all the information that He has.  At some point, we will encounter something we do not understand, and will be tempted to think that God is unfair or unloving. Here, we can either trust His goodness in faith until we can see the big picture or decide to turn our backs on Him and reject Him, based upon the limited evidence that we can see.

God is in the saving business.  He has done everything He can to extend life, hope, joy, and peace to us.  Jesus Christ even went to the cross to suffer death in our place.  Yet, based upon limited information, we can still be quick to criticize, condemn, or ignore God’s loving nature, and choose to walk away from Him.

Even the hardest atheist must admit that judgment is sometimes necessary.  For example, when someone commits a horrible crime such as murder, if caught and convicted, they will spend most if not all of the rest of their life in prison.  If the evidence against them is clear and their trial was fair, most people will agree that this judgment is necessary.

Similarly, God’s judgment is always completely fair.  And just as with the remnant in Jerusalem that joined the exiles in Babylon, He will not give up on people even after judging them.

Many years ago, I was driving to church one morning and received a spiritual nudge from God.  This served as my call into the prison ministry.  Since that day, I have witnessed many incarcerated lives touched and changed by Him into lives having hope and joy.  But despite God’s abundant blessing and forgiveness and walking with them each remaining day of their incarceration, their prison sentences were still carried out in full. Their judgment was fair.

The number of redeemed lives in incarceration is known only to God. It may be a small remnant of the entire prison population, but each person is still vitally important in God’s eyes.  These are the Lost Sheep that Jesus was seeking. For many, if they had not been judged and incarcerated, they would likely have been killed on the streets given their dangerous previous lifestyles.

We may not have done anything to deserve a long prison sentence, but because of our own sins, we are all deserving of God’s judgment. 

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Romans 6:23 (NASB)

Because of His great love for us, Jesus Himself bore the punishment we deserve on the cross at Calvary, including a sentence of death.  After three days, the Father raised Him to life, to live and reign in glory with us at His side, forever and ever.  Our judgment was fair, but the sentence was paid by Him.

Reflection

We are able to see a more complete picture of God’s heart and love for the lost in Jesus’ parable of the Lost Sheep.  Who among us has not been in such a position, or might find ourselves right there now? The Lord is searching for you.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep, from Luke 15:

Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near Jesus to listen to Him. And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to complain, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”

And so He told them this parable, saying, “What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the other ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he puts it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, because I have found my sheep that was lost!’ I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who have no need of repentance.  Luke 15:1-7 (NASB)

Father, thank You for searching me out to rescue and redeem me.  I am not deserving of Your great love, rather, deserving of judgment. But I am so thankful that instead of punishment, You now grant me forgiveness, grace, mercy, patience, and an eternal life in Christ.  Help me to walk with You today and to do the next right things.  Teach me to love and forgive others. May You be glorified and worshiped forever.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

The Mount of Olives – Ezekiel 11

There is something eternally special about the Mount of Olives.  It seems to be a sanctified port of entry and exit for God’s divine transition between earth and heaven.

Mount Olivet is really a hill that sits directly east of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and looks down upon it in peaceful tranquility.  For millennia its hillside has been covered with olive trees, many of which are still found there today.  At its base lies the Garden of Gethsemane, the site where Jesus prayed in anguish while His apostles slept.  He knew the hour of His crucifixion and suffering was at hand, an hour that would fulfill the righteous requirement of atonement for the curse of sin in humankind.

Centuries before Christ, Ezekiel saw a divine vision of the glorious presence of God as it was departing the Temple.  Leaving earth due to the unbending idolatry of Judah and its leaders, the glory moved up and away from its residence in the Holy of Holies, paused at the east gate of the Temple, then moved out, stopping over the Mount of Olives to the east.

18 Then the glory of the Lord moved out from the entrance of the Temple and hovered above the cherubim. 19 And as I watched, the cherubim flew with their wheels to the east gate of the Lord’s Temple. And the glory of the God of Israel hovered above them.  Ezekiel 10:18-19 (NLT)

22 Then the cherubim lifted their wings and rose into the air with their wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered above them. 23 Then the glory of the Lord went up from the city and stopped above the mountain to the east.  Ezekiel 11:22-23 (NLT)

As the glory of the Lord departed the temple, the painful reality of the spiritual chasm between a holy God and sinful people was all too apparent.  God’s great move of redemption that began with Abraham and continued through Moses, David and the prophets appeared to have failed.  But it did not fail, and in fact, did not even surprise God.  As foreshadowed when Abraham was instructed by the Lord to bring Isaac to Mount Moriah as a sin sacrifice (which did not go through), this was the very place where centuries later, the Father would instead permit the sacrifice of His only beloved Son on a cross at Calvary.  God always had this loving plan of redemption for women and men, asking only that they have faith and repentance.

In Ezekiel’s vision, why might the Spirit of God have rested over the Mount of Olives before ascending into heaven?  Perhaps the Lord paused to reflect upon Gethsemane, where such a painful yet vital transaction of love and reconciliation would one day begin here.

Jesus not only prayed at the Mount of Olives, it was also His place of departure from earth after successfully living a life without sin, carrying out a three year ministry of healing and teaching the kingdom of heaven, laying down His life as a sacrifice on the cross, and being raised from the dead by the power of the Father.

Forty days after Jesus’ resurrection from the dead, and after appearing to over five hundred of His disciples, He met with some of His closest followers on the Mount to give them final instructions.  Then, before their eyes, He ascended from there into heaven.

After saying this, he was taken up into a cloud while they were watching, and they could no longer see him. 10 As they strained to see him rising into heaven, two white-robed men suddenly stood among them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why are you standing here staring into heaven? Jesus has been taken from you into heaven, but someday he will return from heaven in the same way you saw him go!”

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives, a distance of half a mile. Acts 1:9-12 (NLT)

The Mount of Olives is where the Lord’s presence twice left the earth to return to heaven.  Both Ezekiel and Jesus tell us that it will also be the place where He will return to rule and reign, this time for good. 

May the Lord help us all to be ready!

Reflection

Father, I turn to You in faith because of Your great love for me.  Thank You for the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross to atone for all of my sins and shortcomings.  Help me to be ready for His return, and to work alongside the Holy Spirit to touch the lives of people.  Teach me to live with patience, forgiveness, and love for all the imperfect people around me.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

For peaceful meditation, here is a selection from Psalm 86, which tells of the goodness of the Lord.


Be gracious to me, Lord,
For I call upon You all day long.
Make the soul of Your servant joyful,
For to You, Lord, I lift up my soul.
For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive,
And abundant in mercy to all who call upon You.
Listen, Lord, to my prayer;
And give Your attention to the sound of my pleading!
On the day of my trouble I will call upon You,
For You will answer me.
There is no one like You among the gods, Lord,
Nor are there any works like Yours.
All nations whom You have made will come and worship before You, Lord,
And they will glorify Your name.
10 For You are great, and you do wondrous deeds;
You alone are God.

11 Teach me Your way, Lord;
I will walk in Your truth;
Unite my heart to fear Your name.
12 I will give thanks to You, Lord my God, with all my heart,
And I will glorify Your name forever.
13 For Your graciousness toward me is great,
And You have saved my soul from the depths of Sheol.


15 But You, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
Slow to anger and abundant in mercy and truth.
16 Turn to me, and be gracious to me;
Grant Your strength to Your servant,
And save the son of Your maidservant.
17 Show me a sign of good,
That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed,
Because You, Lord, have helped me and comforted me.  Psalm 86:3-13,15-17 (NASB)

A Tenderized Heart – Ezekiel 11

Light cannot co-exist with darkness – there must be a separation.  But if we find ourselves in darkness, God has left the door open if we wish a reconciliation and a return to His light.

Despite many decades of warnings from the Lord’s prophets up to the time of Ezekiel, the Temple leaders and most of their followers in Jerusalem firmly rejected God and devoted themselves to the worship of idols.  The time had come for God to do something about it, and it came in the form of a terrible judgement.  God’s protection over the city and its Temple were about to be removed, and His wrath was permitted to come in the form of an invasion by Nebuchadnezzar’s army.  But God still loved His people and wanted an eternal relationship with them.  He would protect those who remained faithful to Him in the midst of the approaching catastrophe and would try to turn back the hearts of those who opposed Him through the coming hardship. 

Ezekiel’s vision described what was happening behind the scenes, in the spiritual realm.

Then the glory of the God of Israel rose up from between the cherubim, where it had rested, and moved to the entrance of the Temple. And the Lord called to the man dressed in linen who was carrying the writer’s case. He said to him, “Walk through the streets of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of all who weep and sigh because of the detestable sins being committed in their city.” Ezekiel 9:3-4 (NLT)

Since the time of Moses, the ark of the covenant had been the footstool and mercy seat of God’s presence on earth.  Residing behind a curtain in the Temple’s Holy of Holy’s, it was symbolically presided over by two golden statues of angelic cherubim.  The ark was only approached by a human being once each year.  This was only done by the High Priest and only after a spiritual “covering” of his sins through an animal sacrifice. 

The pattern for the ark and its surroundings were earthly representations of heavenly realities, given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai.  These were implemented first in a mobile tabernacle, and later, in a Temple built by King David’s son, Solomon, on the spot God had chosen in Jerusalem.  The Temple dedication was a solemn event filled with worship, prayer and many atoning sacrifices, and God blessed Solomon’s work with His visible glory on dedication day.

But now, many years later, the Lord was about to remove His glory from the Temple.  Ezekiel saw this in his vision, including the real cherubim that the golden statues above the ark were modeled after.

18 Then the glory of the Lord moved out from the entrance of the Temple and hovered above the cherubim. 19 And as I watched, the cherubim flew with their wheels to the east gate of the Lord’s Temple. And the glory of the God of Israel hovered above them.  Ezekiel 10:18-19 (NLT)

22 Then the cherubim lifted their wings and rose into the air with their wheels beside them, and the glory of the God of Israel hovered above them. 23 Then the glory of the Lord went up from the city and stopped above the mountain to the east.  Ezekiel 11:22-23 (NLT)

What a tragic day.  The Creator of the universe had honored Jerusalem with His presence, intending them to be a light to the world that attracted people to the Lord from every nation.  Instead, they were pointing them to demonic idols.  For this, God was pulling up stakes and leaving the Temple, His holy light unable to coexist with the dark worship and elevation of idols. 

But God did not give up His good intentions towards His people.  Prophecy tells us that one day, Jerusalem will fulfill its role as the footstool of God and the attractive beacon of His goodness to all the world.  The throne of David will be restored for eternal global rule by the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

In the meantime, God extended grace and protection to all of His faithful who were suffering as a result of His cleansing judgment.  And many of those who had rejected Him were given a chance to repent of their ways and humbly return to His open arms.  Ezekiel continues with his instructions from God:

16 “Therefore, tell the exiles, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Although I have scattered you in the countries of the world, I will be a sanctuary to you during your time in exile. 17 I, the Sovereign Lord, will gather you back from the nations where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel once again.’

18 “When the people return to their homeland, they will remove every trace of their vile images and detestable idols. 19 And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, 20 so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God. 21 But as for those who long for vile images and detestable idols, I will repay them fully for their sins. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!”  Ezekiel 11:16-21 (NLT)

Thus ended Ezekiel’s vision and message to the exiles. 

24 Afterward the Spirit of God carried me back again to Babylonia, to the people in exile there. And so ended the vision of my visit to Jerusalem. 25 And I told the exiles everything the Lord had shown me.  Ezekiel 11:24-25 (NLT)

Jesus told a parable in Luke 15, the Parable of the Lost (or Prodigal) Son, which also outlined a theme of rejection, hardship, change of heart, and welcome return.

A young man turned his back on his father, demanding and spending his share of the family inheritance on wild living in a foreign land.  When the money was gone, he found himself suffering in his self-imposed exile.  Starving with hunger while the pigs he slopped were well fed, he finally came to his senses.  His heart was “tenderized” through suffering, and he became softened in his heart towards his father.  Realizing that he would be much better off under the care and protection of a father who loved him, the young man repented of his ways and decided to humbly return home. Seeing him while still a long way off, his father ran to hug him and celebrated the joyful occasion with a feast.  

God used the difficult experiences of the young man’s life to bring him safely back into the fold. He longs to be reconciled with all who are alienated from Him.

Reflection

Lord, continue to draw me closer to You and Your love.  Hold me up through times of trial and trouble, keeping me in Your grip until the storm passes.  Let Your light so shine through me that I may become a beacon attracting others to your glorious Light.  In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

Freeing Legion – Ezekiel 8

In the prophet Ezekiel’s divine vision that came to him while in exile in Babylon, he was carried back to Jerusalem in the spirit to see the many forms of idol worship being carried out in the Lord’s temple.  The worship of these false gods and idols by those who were supposed to be leading God’s people filled the Lord with great jealousy and anger.  He chose to share what was going on and His feelings about it with the prophet and with us.  Ezekiel writes of his vision:

I saw a figure that appeared to be a man. From what appeared to be his waist down, he looked like a burning flame. From the waist up he looked like gleaming amber. He reached out what seemed to be a hand and took me by the hair. Then the Spirit lifted me up into the sky and transported me to Jerusalem in a vision from God. I was taken to the north gate of the inner courtyard of the Temple, where there is a large idol that has made the Lord very jealous. 

“Son of man,” he said, “do you see what they are doing? Do you see the detestable sins the people of Israel are committing to drive me from my Temple? But come, and you will see even more detestable sins than these!” Ezekiel 8:2-3,6 (NLT)

What is the great attraction of false gods and idols that they are able to seduce people away from worshiping and serving a truly good God who loves them?  The question is valid even today.

Many centuries before Ezekiel, Moses warned the people that when they entered the Promised Land, they would be tempted by the gods and idols of those who lived around them.  Part of the attraction is that behind these idols lie dark demonic forces offering all sorts of sinful temptations to lure people away from the light and into the darkness.  Moses prophesied of these people:


16 They stirred up his jealousy by worshiping foreign gods;
    they provoked his fury with detestable deeds.
17 They offered sacrifices to demons, which are not God,
    to gods they had not known before,
    to new gods only recently arrived,
    to gods their ancestors had never feared.
18 You neglected the Rock who had fathered you;
    you forgot the God who had given you birth. Deuteronomy 32:16-18 (NLT)

Both in Judah and in the Northern Kingdom of Israel, idolatry permeated and corrupted the land, turning the kings and their people against God and towards the worship of other gods involving shameful practices.  Demonic influence was so great in the land that, after countless warnings, the Lord finally allowed the empires of Assyria and Babylon to destroy each Kingdom.  This essentially tore down everything that the Lord had built under the Old Covenant, but He had a plan to rebuild it all using a new one, one that would never fail.

The New Covenant arrived in the land seven centuries later in the person of Jesus Christ.  This Messiah, born in the kingly line of Judah and David, would bring the antidote to sin and to the power of darkness.

Jesus illustrated this antidote one day after crossing the Sea of Galilee with His disciples.  Here in the land of the Gadarenes He encountered a man who was full of demons, or unclean spirits.  These spirits are believed to be angels who in a rebellion had chosen to follow the devil rather than to stay with God – even angelic beings are subject to the devil’s deception.  The apostle Mark writes of Jesus’ encountered with this demonized man, known as Legion.

Seeing Jesus from a distance, he ran up and bowed down before Him; and shouting with a loud voice, he said, “What business do You have with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God, do not torment me!” For He had already been saying to him, “Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!” And He was asking him, “What is your name?” And he *said to Him, “My name is Legion, for we are many.” 10 And he begged Him earnestly not to send them out of the region. 11 Now there was a large herd of pigs feeding nearby on the mountain. 12 And the demons begged Him, saying, “Send us into the pigs so that we may enter them.” 13 Jesus gave them permission. And coming out, the unclean spirits entered the pigs; and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea, about two thousand of them; and they were drowned in the sea.  Mark 5:6-13 (NASB)

The demons within Legion recognized Jesus for who He was – God Himself.  Unlike so many humans, even ones who follow Him, they had a full grasp on Jesus’ divinity, absolute power, and authority, far above any other human or even angelic being.  Yet Jesus rarely exercised the power available to Him, using it to only heal sickness, forgive sins, drive out tormenting demons, or on occasion, to raise the dead.  Otherwise, He was on a humble mission of teaching the multitudes about the coming Kingdom of Heaven and journeying on His way to the cross, where He would lay down His life in exchange for ours, allowing us to be raised to life just as He was raised from the dead.

A legion of dark angels was driven out of Legion that day, leaving in such a panic that they drowned a huge number of pigs as they drove them down a hillside into the sea.  This episode clearly demonstrated that the antidote for the grip of demonic idolatry is Christ, Himself.  He is the true Light that drives even demonic darkness away.

Reflection

What darkness tempts me to turn away from the love of God?

Lord, be our Light and our freedom.  Break any chains of darkness that claim a hold on us.  Like the demoniac Legion who has been set free, we sit at the feet of Christ, cleansed by Him, in our right mind and spirit.  We ask for Your blessing and protection against all forms of darkness.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Walking in the Light – Ezekiel 8

While in Babylon, the prophet Ezekiel was shown a vision of the temple back in Jerusalem.  In it, the religious leaders of the day had abandoned worship of the Lord who had brought them out of Egypt and had planted them in their land.  Instead, they were worshiping a host of idols and praying to them, mere created things, rather than to the Creator who made them all.  Throughout the Bible, of all the infractions people commit against God, worship of other gods seems to anger Him the most.

In his vision, the Lord instructed Ezekiel to peer into the hidden rooms built into the wall of the temple.

“Go in,” he said, “and see the wicked and detestable sins they are committing in there!” 10 So I went in and saw the walls covered with engravings of all kinds of crawling animals and detestable creatures. I also saw the various idols worshiped by the people of Israel. 11 Seventy leaders of Israel were standing there with Jaazaniah son of Shaphan in the center. Each of them held an incense burner, from which a cloud of incense rose above their heads.

12 Then the Lord said to me, “Son of man, have you seen what the leaders of Israel are doing with their idols in dark rooms? They are saying, ‘The Lord doesn’t see us; he has deserted our land!’”  Ezekiel 8:9-12 (NLT)

The vision went on to uncover other instances of idolatry, such as group worship of a harvest god or of the rising sun.  Much of this worship of false gods was taking place behind closed doors in darkened rooms.  As with many who participate in false idol worship today, there was a belief that God either does not see or does not care about it – both assertions are highly incorrect.  The Lord has included many such examples throughout scripture to make crystal clear His vehement objection to all idolatry.

Many, if not all, of us still have dark corners in our own lives where we, too, try to hide things from God.  We know these dark thoughts, actions, or habits are not consistent with God’s pure nature – the nature of the Holy Spirit who lives within believers – but we still fall short.

This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.  1 John 1:5 (NASB)

There is a purity and innocence to the holy light of God.  We may sometimes fail to reflect this in our own nature, but the good news is that God is a fountain of selfless love, grace, and forgiveness for all who would seek Him.  Jesus, the Word of God, brings this light to us:

  
The Word gave life to everything that was created,
    and his life brought light to everyone.
The light shines in the darkness,
    and the darkness can never extinguish it.  John 1:4-5 (NLT)

The light of God helps us to recognize our own sins and shortcomings, and this is for our own good.  When we recognize and humbly confess our faults to Him, the Lord will bring us peace through His amazing gift of mercy and forgiveness.  All blots on our record and on our character are expunged through Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross and resurrection from the dead.  He bore it all for us.

One big step we can take in our transition from living in darkness to walking in the light is a prayerful and honest self-appraisal.  What are the areas of darkness in my life?  Some of these we already know quite well, such as long-term bad habits, addictions, and selfish or angry actions, but others are more subtle and easy to miss or to skip over.  In fact, many shortcomings I have are easier to recognize in others than in myself.

God wants us to be totally honest with ourselves and with Him.  That is necessary if we are to experience His complete healing and reconciliation. 

When we recognize a character flaw or failure, we take it to the cross of Christ.  He is right here with us and will lift the burden from us as we offer it to Him.  If we take this simple step, God will carry us along on our journey to the other side of darkness, to walk with Him in His wonderful light.

If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous, so that He will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  1 John 1:6-9 (NASB)

If we seek to walk in the Light, He will never let us down.  He will cleanse us from ALL unrighteousness. He is always perfect, even as we are not. 

May you enjoy the blessing of His peace and forgiveness today.

Reflection

What is on my conscience that I need to take before the Lord?

Lord, we bring our brokenness, failures, and shortcomings to the cross of Christ.  Help us to turn away from darkness and walk towards the Light of Christ.  Thank You for forgiving us and help us to make amends for the wrongs that we have done to others.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Identified Flying Objects – Ezekiel 1

At the time of Ezekiel’s call to be a prophet to the exiled people of Judah, he was located with them along the banks of the Kebar River, or canal, located about 160 kilometers (100 miles) north of the city of Babylon.  At around the same time, the prophet Jeremiah was still ministering to those who had not yet left Jerusalem, and the prophet Daniel was beginning his ministry in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar within the city of Babylon.

All three prophets had been privileged to receive impactful visions of God’s throne and His glory.

After seeing his remarkable vision of the four esteemed cherubim who serve the Lord around His throne, Ezekiel was then shown four giant wheels, each covered with many eyes.  These wheels were able to move about in any direction because of their construction as perpendicular wheels within wheels.  They were also able to leave or return to the ground as the Spirit willed, each accompanied by one of the cherubim.  It is beyond the scope of my imagination to picture how God might be able construct functional perpendicular “wheels within wheels”, but He did it. 

Some have interpreted these wheels to be the foundation of God’s divine chariot, a mobile throne, as the Lord is later described in the vision as riding on a crystal platform above the wheels.

Ezekiel continues to describe his vision:

15 As I looked at these beings, I saw four wheels touching the ground beside them, one wheel belonging to each. 16 The wheels sparkled as if made of beryl. All four wheels looked alike and were made the same; each wheel had a second wheel turning crosswise within it. 17 The beings could move in any of the four directions they faced, without turning as they moved. 18 The rims of the four wheels were tall and frightening, and they were covered with eyes all around.

19 When the living beings moved, the wheels moved with them. When they flew upward, the wheels went up, too. 20 The spirit of the living beings was in the wheels. So wherever the spirit went, the wheels and the living beings also went. 21 When the beings moved, the wheels moved. When the beings stopped, the wheels stopped. When the beings flew upward, the wheels rose up, for the spirit of the living beings was in the wheels.  Ezekiel 1:15-21 (NLT)

Although the wheels sparkled with the appearance of a beautiful but inanimate mineral, the spirits of the four living Cherubim actually resided within them.  The wheels were infused with life and covered with a multitude of eyes, implying a great capability for observation, knowledge, and wisdom.  Perhaps an analogy can be made that we, too, who were dead due to sin, are now made alive when God put His own Spirit within us, cleansed by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. 

13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins.  Colossians 2:13 (NLT)

In our redeemed state, we are now able to receive spiritual gifts from Christ, including divine gifts of His knowledge and wisdom.

If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking.  James 1:5 (NLT)

Some have interpreted the wheels in Ezekiel’s vision as a reference to UFOs in the Bible.  But these need to be examined in the context of the entire vision, which in totality describes the glory and majesty of God.  The Lord chose to reveal this to Ezekiel for our benefit as well as a means to strengthen him, for like the prophet Jeremiah, Ezekiel was being sent to speak the words of God to a people who were in no way prepared to listen.  It was a thankless and sometimes dangerous assignment from an earthly perspective, but at all times he was being held and protected by the loving hands of God.

Reflection

Ezekiel’s exotic vision reminds us that there is so much more around us than we could ever see or detect with our physical senses.  The bedrock of all creation is the love of God, who will gladly reveal Himself to us in any of a number of ways if we seek Him, and He will gladly grant us the gift of wisdom if we ask.

Lord, reveal Yourself to me and show me how high, deep, and wide Your love for me truly is.  Thank you for going to the cross as my substitute, an eternal atonement for all of my sin.  Raise me up and fill me with life, just as Jesus was raised to life from the dead.  Grant me a holy wisdom and knowledge to guide my steps today.  Help me to return your wonderful love back to You and to share it with those around me.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

God is Always Working – Ezekiel 1

The Old Testament book of Ezekiel tells us that God’s heavenly throne does not sit in a fixed location.  It actually moves around over the earth and through the heavens, resting upon a mobile platform.  This platform, transparent in nature with the appearance of gleaming crystal, is supported by four perpendicularly rotating wheels, each wheel being accompanied by a majestic angelic creature, or cherub.

The apostle John was also given a vision of these four heavenly creatures, leading worship, and serving God the Father around His throne.  Seven centuries before John recorded his vision in the book of Revelation, the prophet Ezekiel was treated to his vision of these exotic living beings. 

As I looked, I saw a great storm coming from the north, driving before it a huge cloud that flashed with lightning and shone with brilliant light. There was fire inside the cloud, and in the middle of the fire glowed something like gleaming amber. From the center of the cloud came four living beings that looked human, except that each had four faces and four wings. Their legs were straight, and their feet had hooves like those of a calf and shone like burnished bronze. Under each of their four wings I could see human hands. So each of the four beings had four faces and four wings. The wings of each living being touched the wings of the beings beside it. Each one moved straight forward in any direction without turning around.

10 Each had a human face in the front, the face of a lion on the right side, the face of an ox on the left side, and the face of an eagle at the back. 11 Each had two pairs of outstretched wings—one pair stretched out to touch the wings of the living beings on either side of it, and the other pair covered its body. 12 They went in whatever direction the spirit chose, and they moved straight forward in any direction without turning around.

13 The living beings looked like bright coals of fire or brilliant torches, and lightning seemed to flash back and forth among them. 14 And the living beings darted to and fro like flashes of lightning.  Ezekiel 1:4-13 (NLT)

God revealed these mystical creatures to Ezekiel as part of his calling to serve as prophet to the people of Judah, now living in exile along the Kebar River in Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon.  These four intelligent and powerful beings were shown to be serving and worshiping God the Father.  Unlike their roles in the book of Revelation, where they are seen bowing before God and leading multitudes in His worship, here they take up positions to allow the movement and transport of God’s throne, working in concert with each other as the Spirit leads them.

Ezekiel’s vision shows these living beings placed at the corner or face of a square, each facing outward away from the center, with God’s throne carried above them.  Observed from any direction, one would see a different face on each cherub – from one direction, a human’s face, from another, a lion, an ox, or an eagle’s.

The picture of motion presented to Ezekiel confirms that the Father is active and intimately involved in the affairs of people.  The different faces of the living beings give honor to all of God’s creation, but it is humans who are the main focus of His loving attention.  God is not some distant Creator that sits back and lets people twist in the wind when trials come.  He cares, and deeply desires that we seek Him to play a central role in our salvation, delivery, healing, recovery, or any reconstruction from our troubles.

Our Father is always busy and at work for us.  As His Son told the disciples:

17 But Jesus replied, “My Father is always working, and so am I.”  John 5:17 (NLT)

We experience the greatest fulfillment in life when we, like the heavenly creatures Ezekiel saw in his vision, live our lives with a willingness to serve alongside God.  The Father is the King of heaven and earth, along with His Christ, to whom He has given all glory, honor, and authority.  We are blessed with so many wonderful things, not least of which is complete forgiveness and the offer to spend an eternal life with God.  With overflowing gratitude, we ask Him to show us the things that He would have us to do for Him, and to grant us His power to help carry them out.

May the Lord help us all to seek and to serve Him today.

Reflection

What thing or things have you sensed that the Lord wants you to do in service to Him?

Father, thank You for working ceaselessly for our well-being.  Help us to see the things that You would have us to do for You and grant us the power, the favor, and the courage to carry them out.  In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.