In the previous study we saw how the words of God and His promises can act to divide between those who truly want to be with the Lord, and those who follow only their own interests and needs. We also saw how the right attitude can change the heart of a person, so that instead of being hardened against the gospel, it becomes softened.
There are, of course, other things that can be said about the passage of scripture that was studied yesterday, and these studies are never exhaustive. Yet I try to share a combination of how the Lord reveals himself to me through the scriptures with some good aids in interpretation. I do not believe it is good only to show what the Lord reveals to me for my own life through the scriptures, because I think that would be the path towards error.
God can speak to you personally through the scriptures, but when he does that it is for you personally, and not as doctrine for the church in general. In fact, it is failure to hold to this principle of caution that has led to scriptures being taken out of context and being used as the pretext for false teaching that leads people astray. I do not want to do that through my writings. And so, for me, it is better to show how the scriptures are consistent about the central things of our faith.
Maybe this is why I find myself returning to the centrality of the gospel of salvation so often – because the love and goodness of the Lord our Father is revealed so often throughout both the old and the new testament parts of the bible. This and the basic things about living the life of faith, and doing so without placing yourself or others under bondage; neither the bondage of sin nor of legalism.
Today we begin to look at a new section of the book of the prophet Ezekiel:
The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, you are living among a rebellious people. They have eyes to see but do not see and ears to hear but do not hear, for they are a rebellious people.
‘Therefore, son of man, pack your belongings for exile and in the daytime, as they watch, set out and go from where you are to another place. Perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious people. During the daytime, while they watch, bring out your belongings packed for exile. Then in the evening, while they are watching, go out like those who go into exile. While they watch, dig through the wall and take your belongings out through it. Put them on your shoulder as they are watching and carry them out at dusk. Cover your face so that you cannot see the land, for I have made you a sign to the Israelites.’
So I did as I was commanded. During the day I brought out my things packed for exile. Then in the evening I dug through the wall with my hands. I took my belongings out at dusk, carrying them on my shoulders while they watched.
In the morning the word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, did not the Israelites, that rebellious people, ask you, “What are you doing?”’
The first thoughts about this that came to me were about the irony of the situation. Ezekiel was an exile living among exiles in the land of the Babylonians, and yet he was to enact an escape to exile.
Of course, the Israelites were in exile as part of the promise of judgement that was given through Moses hundreds of years previously. They were in this situation because of sin, idolatry, and rebellion.
As I have asked a few times when studying Ezekiel, I wonder how people reacted to all of this? I am sure that there would be some who did not want to remember how they were forced away from their homes and into a foreign land. So some may have found it upsetting to watch, and others may have been offended. And still others wondering what this crazy Ezekiel is doing this time…
But the point? That he was seen and watched. And from what people saw, they would either be reminded, or challenged, or hardened.
Of course, as it turned out, this was a prophetic action against those in Jerusalem, and the leaders in particular. But all the people who Ezekiel dwelt among were in exile also because of rebellion and idolatry. So if nothing else, they should see that the Lord is consistent and that he keeps his promises. There is still a challenge for those who surround Ezekiel, and this was not only for Jerusalem.
So some may be reminded of what they lost, and maybe even some relatives who died in the process of defeat and exile. So they may realise that it was rebellion that caused this and so repent. Others may feel challenged at the way they live, and determine from that point onwards to live for the Lord. And yet others will think it all nonsense, and that if the Lord brought all this on them, then they would look for a god who would always defend his people and not allow such calamity.
Yes – you read that correctly. The demonstration of the works of God is, for some, the reason that they reject God. And this is because they really do not understand the true nature of God and all that he has done, is doing, and will do in the future.
Then, as now, many people want instant gratification, or at least not to be waiting for years. So, to them, when it comes to spiritual things, they would want to be able to worship, to present a sacrifice, to do a ritual, and to have quick results. They want judgement to be quick and blessing to be quick. This would be a god who ‘pulls the strings’ much more and so makes puppets of us all.
Our God is not like that. Not only are we created in His image, but we are given free will – and our God respects his own image. He does not ‘pull the strings’ with us as though we are puppets. He respects our free will. And though it saddens his heart, he respects that free will even if it will keep us from entering the Kingdom.
We would do well to remember this when we bring our prayers before the Lord. Some requests require such a degree of manipulation and ‘pulling the strings’ that to give such prayers a positive answer would be tantamount to witchcraft.
Yes, we can ask the Lord to intervene for the things that we need, and to bring all our worries and cares to Him. And of course, the Lord does work miraculously to bring healings, deliverances, and other benefits. But He does not turn anyone into a puppet to do this.
But let’s bring this message into the New Testament age. To me, a lot of this matches up with the things Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount.
Matthew 5:13-16 –
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on a stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
These words are not about ‘showing off’ that you are a Christian, about shoving it down people’s throats whether they want it or not – that kind of behaviour is very annoying, to other Christians as well as to most people in the world. Beware this kind of thing! This will almost always harden hearts of people against almost anything that you have to say and to share, and so you actually prevent the spread of the gospel, at least through your own life. But worse, you may actually cause a hardening of the heart against the gospel, and I think the Lord will want answers to some questions about that. I do not want the blood of another soul held against me over my head…
These words mean simply: don’t hide it! A city set on a hill can’t be hidden. You may feel shy, embarrassed, but people will notice anyway. You will not be able to hide what has happened to you when you have given your life to the Lord.
And so, if the subject comes up in conversation, don’t be shy. Just say what you believe without arrogance and without judging. If you can’t accept an invitation or an appointment because you are going to church or a bible study and so on, don’t hide it – just be honest and let it come out. You don’t have to preach when you say, “Sorry, I can’t come on that evening because there is a church meeting.” You don’t need to say more. This says that your spiritual commitments (which will be thought of as ‘religious commitments’) are more important to you and that you wish to be respected for that. Of course some will not respect this! But that is their problem – not yours.
But anyway, this is not enough. It is not about being a member of a church, being committed to it, and going to meetings. It is about a relationship with the Saviour who is closer than the best friend. It is about letting his love pour into your life and out through your life. Yes, through and to others. If you only take and leave it in you, it will stagnate and become something horrible (and this is part of the problem with the church today. This flow of living water has poured out into lives, and then gone no further – and so stagnates and becomes as obnoxious as a cesspool).
How do you let it flow through? The answer is love. And Jesus was not talking about emotional love when he spoke of the commands to love. He was always very practical. Love the Lord with all your heart, mind, soul and strength. Love your neighbour as yourself. Love each other as He loved us.
And with that middle one – love your neighbour – Jesus showed that this includes those who others may consider ‘the enemy’, or who would have great prejudice against them, including from those who would call themselves Christians. And love meant doing something practical, as Jesus explained in both the Sermon on the Mount and in the parable of the Good Samaritan.
Remember it was Jesus who said: “…love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven…. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?”
This last part is a big study of its own, and I have covered this during the studies on the Sermon on the Mount that I did earlier this year. But the point in the context of today’s reading is this: people are watching you and noticing what you do and how you live your life. This happens whether you want them to or not. So what will they be saying about you when they gossip among each other (which they do whether you want it to happen or not)? Will they talk about how lovely you are? How loving and caring? About how you helped a certain neighbour who was in difficulty. Would you challenge their prejudices by being seen to be loving and caring to those who Christians generally feel very uneasy about? I mean, would you dare to be loving and caring to that LBGT person, the Islamic family down the road where all the women wear burkas? That other neighbour that no-one wants to talk to because of past involvement in crime or some other problem?
Christ love challenges the social norms, because it is universal. Salvation, is not universal and I am not a universalist – there is too much weight of scripture and history to go down that road. But Christ made salvation available to all, and loved all, when he died on the cross. Availability is not the same as receiving and having. Yogurt is available for everyone to buy, but not everyone purchases it and takes it for themselves.
But the point of that is to say that, because Christ died for all, it is not for you to limit the love only to those who you ‘like’ or even only those you feel ‘safe’ with – because Jesus challenged us to love our enemies and those who treat us badly.
So remember that, whether you like it or not, your life is a visible life. So what do people see? And will it lead them closer to Jesus?