Sunday, November 16, 2014
In Ezekiel 39, which we read last week, God says, “Now I will restore the fortunes of Jacob, and have mercy on the whole house of Israel … 28 Then they shall know that I am the Lord their God because I sent them into exile among the nations, and then gathered them into their own land” (from verses 25, 28). They shall know that I am the Lord their God. The prophet Ezekiel’s entire program of speaking prophecy to Jews in exile came down to this. Israel and the world would know who the only God is and would know that God is in control.
Holiness stands out as a major theme in this profit’s work. The sovereignty, that is the unquestioned authority and power of God, stands out; Ezekiel’s message is clear. Nothing that happened to Israel diminished God’s identity. Everything that happened to the chosen people took place because God is God.
So where does it lead?
Ezekiel ends his prophecy in chapters 40-48, showing the eternal vision God has given for Israel. Ezekiel is shown pictures that make sense in the 6th century BC. Even though the Babylonians had destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, the Jews still thought about it. They dreamed of the day they might again live as God’s people in Jerusalem, the city of David and worship in a newly built temple.
The city was the center of religious life. Everything flowed from there and returned there. So, Ezekiel’s picture of the future of God’s blessings for God’s people and for the world is Jerusalem-centered and focused on a new temple, an eternal dwelling of God. I think the picture in Ezekiel 40-48 is an extended metaphor representing eternal life in God’s presence. The blemishes of sin and past mistakes are removed. Ezekiel tells us God has promised to give His people a new heart. By way of God’s grace given to Israel, the world can have a right relationship with God.
Ezekiel tells us the hand of the Lord was on him.
“He brought me, in visions of God, to the land of Israel, and set me down upon a very high mountain, on which was a structure like a city to the south. 3 When he brought me there, a man was there, whose appearance shone like bronze, with a linen cord and a measuring reed in his hand; and he was standing in the gateway” (40:2-3). From there, at the prompting of this man of Heaven, Ezekiel walks through a vision of the end times.
Within this vision, one picture stands out to me - chapter 47, the river. Ezekiel’s river shows life – life in the kingdom of God both in the end times when Heaven and Earth have come together and the dead in Christ have been raised, and also life we as live it right now.
The river flows out from Jerusalem and everywhere it goes, life springs up. Recall Genesis chapter 9. After Noah and his family came off the ark and the flood waters receded, it was time to get back to the purposes of God. Genesis 9 says, “God blessed Noah and his sons, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill this earth’” (v.1). God gave the same command to Adam and Eve (Genesis 1:28). “Go out.” Jesus gave the same idea to the disciples. “Go … and make disciples of all nations.”
To live in the world is to expand under God’s watchful eye with God walking alongside every step of the way. God wills us to go and as we do, we bring life. Ezekiel’s river flowed from Jerusalem to the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea is so salty, nothing can live in it. But in God’s Kingdom, the water of life flowing from God’s throne empties into the sea bringing new life. Ezekiel’s river makes the water pure, fresh, clean and renewing. It becomes the Living Sea. The river’s flow is the flow of God working through God’s people to share the good news of hope, peace, life and love that we receive from God. In his the death and resurrection, and in the announcement of his gospel by you and me – his church, Jesus fulfills Ezekiel’s vision of living water bring new life to where there was no life.
Where people are defeated in addictions, we flow with grace and love and the hope that life can begin again. Where people are broken by loss, divorce, grief, and dreams that have been crushed, we embrace them, introduce them to God’s love, and help them dream again. Where people are paralyzed in poverty, we lend a hand as we are blessed by the richness of their spirit. Whether our going out is throughout our region, the Triangle, or parts of the world far from here, we are that river flowing from Jerusalem, carrying Jesus’ gospel, carrying the hope of resurrection to dead places.
As the prophet describes this river, something beautiful happens. “People stand fishing beside the sea; … it will be a place for spreading nets” (47:10). The now fresh Living Sea will draw people to it. And the church – the body of Christ – will draw the lost and hurting world to him. We have drunk the living water. We go out. Those who do not know God are gathered to the living.
Jesus said as much in John chapter 7. “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and the let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow streams of living water’” (v.37-38). Ezekiel’s river, the life of the eternal Kingdom of God, spreads out and scatters. It also gathers the world together into the salvation of God. Jeremiah, Isaiah, and Ezekiel each imagined the world coming to God by way of God’s holy city.
From Isaiah 60: “Nations shall come to your light and kings to the brightness of your dawn. … Foreigners shall build up your walls, and their kings shall minister to you” (v.3, 10). Ezekiel says even strangers and aliens who live among the Jews will be as citizens of Israel, recipients of all the promises of God. In Romans chapter 9, 10, & 11, we see that in Christ gentiles are as citizens of Israel. Ezekiel’s river spreads and gathers. Life in God, is both going out, and coming together, spreading and gathering.
Ezekiel saw trees along the river. Chapter 47, Verse 12 - “On the banks, on both sides of the river, there will grow all kinds of trees for food. Their leaves will not wither nor their fruit fail, but they will bear fresh fruit every month, because the water for them flows from the sanctuary. Their fruit will be for food, and their leaves for healing”.
People imagine life in Heaven. From time to time, I hear it. Sometime I entertain myself with such fantasies. In Heaven, I am going to have a 10-scoop chocolate and caramel Sunday for every meal and I’ll never gain a pound! I wonder if ice cream with chocolate and caramel sauce would get old after 10,000 years. I wonder if the fruit off those trees along Ezekiel’s river would make me forget any ice cream I ever had. In Christ, we don’t need to dream about our meals in Heaven. We know the promises of God either have come true through all Jesus has done, or are coming true.
We eagerly anticipate resurrection, Heaven and Earth coming together, renewed. We know our eternity has begun – life with each other and with God. The blessings we experience in the life of the church, in worship, in sharing the gospel of God’s love – these are hints of what is to come.
When John was shown a vision of eternity, Heaven and Earth joined, he, like Ezekiel saw the holy city, Jerusalem. He describes it in Revelation 21-22. In his image, there is one key difference from Ezekiel’s picture. In Ezekiel, the living water flows from the temple. In Revelation, we read John’s words. “I saw no temple in the city for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb” (21:22). Of course the Lamb is God as we meet God in Jesus.
Then John writes the following.
22 Then the angel[a] showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life[b] with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants[c] will worship him; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
6 And he said to me, “These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants[d] what must soon take place.”
7 “See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.”
Ezekiel shared all that he saw, but he did not have the benefit of knowing that after God had ended the exile, God would take the more radical step of becoming human and ending death’s power by the sacrificial death of the Messiah. Ezekiel’s vision leads to Jesus and Jesus’ resurrection and invitation to all people leads to the picture in Revelation. I believe in the eternal kingdom, in the resurrection, we will continue to spread life as the river flows. We will continue to gather to God. Yes, the trees of unending fruit like we cannot imagine and the river itself are metaphors. But they are metaphors for something that will be far greater than we have the ability to describe. We can count on that as our eternity.
Until we enter resurrection, we live in hope and when we meet defeated, hopeless people, we love them and invite them to share in the hope that we have. That is Gospel work and when we do it, the river flows on.