Sunday, November 22, 2009

November 22nd - A Failed Priesthood

Prayer Requests
Pastor Aaron Preaching
Pastor Aaron Surgery Wednesday
Susan Egelhoff Gall Bladder Issue
Zitara's conversion and following
The Family of Pervaiz Masih
Origin of Species Outreach
Ruben's Wedding
Josh's Wedding
Traveling Mercies:
-Geils to Florida
-Costellos to Chicago
-McGullions to Alabama

Text – Ezekiel 8-9

We’ve been talking about the priesthood of believers and the importance of evangelism in that role. Peter has quoted Hosea once already, and it got me thinking that we need a good example of why the priesthood needs to be impeccable, because as we’re going to look at, where the priesthood goes, there the people follow.

So today we’re going to step out of First Peter to look at a story in Ezekiel, with support from Hosea. This is not the only story that backs up the importance of an upright priesthood, but it is perhaps the best one. The year is 592BC, the day is September 17th, and a good part of Judah has been taken captive to Babylon about a year earlier in 593BC. The reason nations would take others captive was to utterly destroy their sense of culture and nationality so the people would assimilate into the culture they had been taken captive to. This has never worked for Israel, the Babylonians took them captive twice, the Assyrians once, and after the first century they were scattered to all of the nations of the world, yet still maintain their nationality.

The reason that God allowed this to happen was because the people were very sinful, worshipping money, all manners of false gods, murdering each other, so in chapter 7 God says he will send the most wicked of nations, Babylon, to inherit Jerusalem as punishment for their sins.

Ezekiel was not a prophet when all of this stuff began, he was just a normal guy, probably sinning just as badly as anyone else. And he gets taken to Babylon, specifically Chaldea, which is where Abraham was from over a millennia earlier. While in captivity, God calls Ezekiel to be a prophet.

Here is our first lesson, we have inherited a broken and wrecked world. It is not our fault it is broken, because it got broke long before we showed up, although we are not blameless. God has called us out, and given us a duty to proclaim his word, just like Ezekiel.

So as Ezekiel became a prophet, he was given a house in his captivity, and when we pick up in Ezekiel 8, we see that he is teaching the elders of Judah who are in captivity with him.

Ezekiel 8:1-4 In the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house, with the elders of Judah sitting before me, the hand of the Lord GOD fell upon me there. Then I looked, and behold, a form that had the appearance of a man. Below what appeared to be his waist was fire, and above his waist was something like the appearance of brightness, like gleaming metal. He put out the form of a hand and took me by a lock of my head, and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the entrance of the gateway of the inner court that faces north, where was the seat of the image of jealousy, which provokes to jealousy. And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the valley.

Ezekiel here becomes the first astronaut, lifted up over the earth and seeing it laid out before him. Pretty neat. Enoch and Elijah went up, but they didn’t come back down.

The reason we’re given the exact date is because Ezekiel wants us to know that this was an actual vision that he had, he didn’t just make it up. Also, it shows that this is his present day, not before the captivity, but what he is going to be shown is happening in Jerusalem at that moment.

The view of Christ we see here is pretty near to how he is described in Revelation 1, he is so bright that he appears to be on fire, his glory is breathtakingly bright.

God picks Ezekiel up by the hair. This shows how furious God is, you’ve gotta be pretty angry to grab someone by the hair to show them something. Ezekiel doesn’t mention pain, because this is a vision, but in God’s action we see that he is outraged. The events that are going to be discussed, because this is a vision, didn’t actually happen, we’re going to see a total wiping out of Jerusalem in this passage, but history doesn’t record that. It is more spiritual than physical what we’re going to see in this passage.

At this point, God’s glory is still in Jerusalem, which means he is still working and hasn’t totally abandoned Israel yet.

Ezekiel 8:5-6 Then he said to me, "Son of man, lift up your eyes now toward the north." So I lifted up my eyes toward the north, and behold, north of the altar gate, in the entrance, was this image of jealousy. And he said to me, "Son of man, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary? But you will see still greater abominations."

God is showing Ezekiel how bad things have gotten not just morally in Israel, Ezekiel would have known that, having lived there until only a few months prior, but God is going to show how bad things are spiritually. The first thing he shows Ezekiel is that at the gate of the temple, the priests have setup an “image of jealously.” What this was would most likely have been an Asherah Pole, which is like a totem pole, to one of the false gods of Babylon, but God chooses to call it an “Image of Jealously.” This is powerful language because it doesn’t restrict the sin to only one false god, but we can see any false religion setup here that makes God jealous. The priests set this up to try to keep God out of the temple.

Second lesson, people are still doing this today. This is the false god “Separation of Church and State”, or “evolution”, or keeping prayer out of school, anything that a people group does to try to keep God out of their business. Do you think that will work, is God restricted from going places because we do something to stand in his way? Of course not.

We’re going to see the sins that they are trying to keep God from seeing are pretty much them pursuing a different religion. Dr. Al Mohler recently wrote an excellent article called, “Are we a nation of Hindus?” In it he realizes that a lot of people in the United States, while they wouldn’t call themselves Hindus, believe in reincarnation, karma, universal salvation, and that all paths lead to God. The United States can be read quite easily as having committed many of these same sins as Israel.

God tells Ezekiel that he will be shown greater abominations still, he says this three times. Anytime something is repeated within a chapter of the Bible, you should figure out why. In his repetition, God is showing Ezekiel that the sins are graduated, they get worse and worse, and the nation of Israel has utterly abandoned him.

Ezekiel 8:7-13 And he brought me to the entrance of the court, and when I looked, behold, there was a hole in the wall. Then he said to me, "Son of man, dig in the wall." So I dug in the wall, and behold, there was an entrance. And he said to me, "Go in, and see the vile abominations that they are committing here." So I went in and saw. And there, engraved on the wall all around, was every form of creeping things and loathsome beasts, and all the idols of the house of Israel. And before them stood seventy men of the elders of the house of Israel, with Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan standing among them. Each had his censer in his hand, and the smoke of the cloud of incense went up. Then he said to me, "Son of man, have you seen what the elders of the house of Israel are doing in the dark, each in his room of pictures? For they say, 'The LORD does not see us, the LORD has forsaken the land.'" He said also to me, "You will see still greater abominations that they commit."

The priests, the Sanhedrin, have setup this Asherah Pole to keep God out, but we see God has no problem getting in, and getting Ezekiel in. They go through the wall, and once inside Ezekiel sees their idolatry, these are the priests of Israel, and they have begun to worship the creature instead of the Creator, offering up prayers and sacrifices to false gods.

They justify themselves by saying, “The Lord does not see.” They can mean two things here, maybe both, first they are denying God’s sovereignty and that he is omnipresent and omniscient, knowing everything, and second that maybe the God of Israel doesn’t even exist.

Psalm 14:1 The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.

We usually ascribe that to atheists, but really it is to anybody who acts like there is not a God who judges the thoughts, words, and deeds. This is certainly these corrupt priests. And we see that God has no problem seeing right to the heart of things.

Hebrews 4:13 no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

This is the upper echelon of Israel, Ezekiel is careful to call out Jaazaniah the son of Shaphan, because Shaphan was a very godly man who governed Judah, so the priests in this room are sinning in more ways than just meet the eye, they have dishonored their parents, they have abandoned their God, and in chapter 11 it is told to us that they are the cause of Israel’s sin and destruction. Hosea puts it better than anybody though,

Hosea 4:1-6 Hear the word of the LORD, O children of Israel, for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away. Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest. You shall stumble by day; the prophet also shall stumble with you by night; and I will destroy your mother. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.

God’s contention is the with the priests, because where the head goes, there goes the body as well. One of the craziest transitions in the Bible is between James 3:1 and the rest of that chapter, James starts out by saying that

James 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.

Then he jumps into talking about the tongue, and how it controls the whole body, and just like a little rudder can steer a whole ship, so can a tongue steer you into situations you never intended to get into. But the transition is clear, the teacher is like the tongue, the priest who speaks for God acts as the tongue of the body of believers, and the priest and teacher can get the whole congregation into sin they never intended to get into. A bad priest can cause a whole people to be rejected by God.

Third lesson, future ministers and teachers, your sin will wreck a church, and a wrecked church will wreck a nation. Because we have been made priests of the Most High God, we don’t have any option if we want to speak for God, we are going to whether we want to or not, so we need to do it right. So the priesthood is broken, now we’re going to step outside of the temple and see that the rest of the country isn’t much better.

Ezekiel 8:14-15 Then he brought me to the entrance of the north gate of the house of the LORD, and behold, there sat women weeping for Tammuz. Then he said to me, "Have you seen this, O son of man? You will see still greater abominations than these."

Tammuz was the false god of fertility and agriculture. He died every Fall and was resurrected every Spring. In order to get him to resurrect, you had to mourn for him when he died, and since this was September, he had just died, and this woman is crying for him. It rejects God as the provider and sustainer of Israel, and also places human exertion on the provision of nature.

Ezekiel 8:16-18 And he brought me into the inner court of the house of the LORD. And behold, at the entrance of the temple of the LORD, between the porch and the altar, were about twenty-five men, with their backs to the temple of the LORD, and their faces toward the east, worshiping the sun toward the east. Then he said to me, "Have you seen this, O son of man? Is it too light a thing for the house of Judah to commit the abominations that they commit here, that they should fill the land with violence and provoke me still further to anger? Behold, they put the branch to their nose. Therefore I will act in wrath. My eye will not spare, nor will I have pity. And though they cry in my ears with a loud voice, I will not hear them."

Here we see the people of Israel worshipping the sun instead of God, indeed they’ve turned their backs on God completely. God is furious. He says they have put the branch to their nose; there is dissention on exactly what this means, but I believe it means in reference to burning someone at the stake, you pile wood up around them, but instead of God, in his wrath, piling the wood, they have piled it themselves, so all God has to do is light the pile and Israel will face the wrath. Check out chapter 9, it is going to introduce us to this wrath, but God is merciful and gives opportunity to be saved.

Ezekiel 9:1-2 Then he cried in my ears with a loud voice, saying, "Bring near the executioners of the city, each with his destroying weapon in his hand." And behold, six men came from the direction of the upper gate, which faces north, each with his weapon for slaughter in his hand, and with them was a man clothed in linen, with a writing case at his waist. And they went in and stood beside the bronze altar.

Six angels, and a man clothed in Linen. Likely this is Jesus Christ, not literally because this is a vision, but he represents Jesus Christ, and we’ll see that we can also see ourselves in his role as evangelists. The six angels have weapons for destroying, the man in linen has a writing utensil.

Ezekiel 9:3-4 Now the glory of the God of Israel had gone up from the cherub on which it rested to the threshold of the house. And he called to the man clothed in linen, who had the writing case at his waist. And the LORD said to him, "Pass through the city, through Jerusalem, and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in it."

God sends the evangelist through the city to mark everyone who will repent and mourn over their sins. He isn’t looking for innocent people, because none are innocent, he is looking for those who will turn back to the Holy One of Israel.

The word “mark” is one letter, the Hebrew letter Tav, which today looks sort of like a backwards Pi, but in Ezekiel’s Hebrew this would have been an X-shaped letter. It is certainly reminiscent of our being marked in the blood of Christ which was poured out on a cross.

Can you imagine being this evangelist? If people will mourn over their sin, then he can mark them and they will live, but without the mark, they will surely die. I imagine it must have been like Noah standing at the door of the Ark, crying out to his friends and relatives, “Get on the boat, if you don’t you will face the wrath of God and perish in your sins!”

Judgment follows close behind our evangelist,

Ezekiel 9:5-7 And to the others he said in my hearing, "Pass through the city after him, and strike. Your eye shall not spare, and you shall show no pity. Kill old men outright, young men and maidens, little children and women, but touch no one on whom is the mark. And begin at my sanctuary." So they began with the elders who were before the house. Then he said to them, "Defile the house, and fill the courts with the slain. Go out." So they went out and struck in the city.

These angels of death meant business, they killed everyone that didn’t have the mark. Check out where they start, in the house of God, going after the corrupt priests. Peter alludes to this which we’ll get to in a few months,

1 Peter 4:17 For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

I imagine the evangelist was just in front of the angels, marking some people just in the nick of time, the sword raised over their head when they repent and receive the mark of salvation.

Fourth lesson, we don’t have physical angels chasing people, but we are racing against time, seeking to see people saved before they step into eternity. Lest they have the mark of Christ, the seal of the Holy Spirit, imprinted on their souls, they will surely perish.

Ezekiel 9:8-10 And while they were striking, and I was left alone, I fell upon my face, and cried, "Ah, Lord GOD! Will you destroy all the remnant of Israel in the outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?" Then he said to me, "The guilt of the house of Israel and Judah is exceedingly great. The land is full of blood, and the city full of injustice. For they say, 'The LORD has forsaken the land, and the LORD does not see.' As for me, my eye will not spare, nor will I have pity; I will bring their deeds upon their heads."

God’s wrath is just, everyone deserves to be under it. But God is merciful, and that leads us to the end of chapter 9.

Ezekiel 9:11 And behold, the man clothed in linen, with the writing case at his waist, brought back word, saying, "I have done as you commanded me."

This is our goal, to be able to say to God, “I have done as you commanded me.”

So fifth lesson, God’s wrath was abiding on us, we are a people unclean lips amidst a nation of unclean lips, God sees to the heart of things, we had stacked the branches to our noses, God’s wrath was ready to be poured out upon us, when an evangelist stepped out of Heaven, perfect, sinless, undefiled, and he went out among the people, that if they would repent, he would put a mark on them, a mark of his blood that he shed on the cross for those sins which are forgiven, so that the person marked will be justified and spared from the wrath to come.

After Christ died, he rose from the dead, and while he came the first time to save, he will come again to judge, chapter 10, which we aren’t going to read, shows us this evangelist, after marking those to be saved, destroys the city of Jerusalem, and the glory of God leaves the temple.

In chapter 11, the priests are indicted for their failure to lead people to God and for their rampant sin. They are promised death, and told that they have turned Jerusalem into a cooking pot in which the people are the meat and their blood is the broth.

Finally, the sixth lesson, you have been made a priest of God, you must be holy, you must rightly represent him to the people, because if you fail, many will perish, and we as teachers of righteousness and representatives of Christ will be judged much more strictly. Our Great High Priest, Jesus Christ, became an evangelist, and so us as his priests must follow in his footsteps and declare salvation available in none other than the Living Christ.