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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:The LORD Removes His Glory from the Temple
Text:Ezekiel 10:18-19 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:The Glory of the Father
 
Preached:2017
Added:2017-05-22
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 27:1,2                                                                                           

Ps 101:1,2,3

Reading – Ezekiel 10; Ezekiel 43:1-9

Ps 84:1,5,6

Sermon – Ezekiel 10:18-19

Ps 68:7,12

Hy 52:1,4,5

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, have you had one of those moments when it feels like you’ve hit rock bottom? Everything has crumbled, and you’re despairing? If you’ve had such a moment, then you may understand a bit of how Ezekiel feels in our chapter. For in a vision he sees a terrible thing: he sees the glory of the LORD leave the temple. At that instant, everything Ezekiel believed in was being shaken to its foundations. Everything that he’d worked for was put in doubt. It was a most deflating moment: God’s glory departing the temple!

Ezekiel was a priest, born during a hopeful period for God’s people, around the time of King Josiah. Josiah repaired the temple and restored true worship. After years of neglect, things were looking up. So Ezekiel had something to look forward to. His days at that refurbished temple would be spent making sacrifices, offering prayers, and teaching the people. He spent his youth preparing to take up these priestly duties, which he did at around age thirty.

But then disaster strikes! Judah’s kings started to make some bad political moves. In the Middle East at the time, there was a power struggle between Egypt and Babylon. Both were fighting for supremacy, and looking for allies from the other nations. It was a gamble, then: Whose side will you take: Egypt or Babylon? Make the wrong decision, and you pay the price.

In the year 598 BC, Judah made the wrong decision. For instead of trusting in the LORD, they trusted in man. And that year Nebuchadnezzar came from Babylon and besieged Jerusalem for the first time, taking captive King Jehoiachin. The city and temple were not destroyed (for now), but many leading citizens were brought into exile—Ezekiel among them. They were put into prisoner settlements that were south of Babylon, near the Chebar River.

Ezekiel is suddenly far from the temple, and now he has a much different task: to be a spokesman for God. Because even in this foreign land, the LORD had words for his people. This wasn’t an easy calling. Our chapter stands out as a vision that Ezekiel would’ve preferred not to see, a message he would’ve preferred not to give. But he did see it, and he would give it. For it’s a message for God’s people of every age,

The LORD removes His glory from the temple in Jerusalem:

  1. it’s a tremendous departure
  2. it’s a terrible departure
  3. it’s a temporary departure

 

1) a tremendous departure: To understand how disastrous is the event in our text, we first need to think about that temple in Jerusalem, and what it meant. In the ancient world, every pagan city had temples: ornate and impressive homes for the gods. But though it seemed like this was a temple just like the Philistines or the Babylonians had, the Jerusalem temple was different. For within it there was no image, no idol or statue. Because the true God is spirit, He can’t be represented in a physical way. And the Almighty God can’t be contained in a man-made temple.

Yet that’s where the LORD was pleased to show his presence. Zion was the place where He set his Name, as He resided in Israel’s midst. The Israelites could see the temple, they could enter its courts, and they could know that God was among them.

Think of how God showed himself there. He’d done so already in the days of tabernacle, when Israel was in the wilderness. We can read that when the work of building it was completed, “The cloud covered the tabernacle of meeting, and the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle. And Moses was not able to enter the tabernacle of meeting, because the glory of the LORD filled the tabernacle” (Ex 40:34-35). That tremendous glory was proof: God was with them. For when that cloud moved, the people moved. And when it stayed, they stayed.

We see it again in 1 Kings 8, after King Solomon and the people have built that magnificent temple for the LORD on Mount Zion. We read, “When the priests came out of the holy place… the cloud filled the house of the LORD, so that the priests could not continue ministering because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD” (vv 10-11). This was how God showed his awesome presence. By the cloud He declared to them: “I am God, and I am mighty. I am holy. I am near.”

The LORD revealed his presence at the temple in other ways, too. He showed it by blessing the people when they gathered—He blessed them through the outstretched arms of the priest. God also showed his nearness by receiving the sacrifices they brought. He showed it by answering the prayers they lifted up. From all this, they knew that God wasn’t distant or out of touch, but that He could be approached.

In fact this is why all the people of Israel were called priests of the LORD. It wasn’t just Ezekiel and his fellow Levites. To all of them God said in Exodus 19, “You shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (v 6). A holy nation, who are set apart from the world. A priestly nation, devoted to God’s service.

Isn’t that still true today? As church, this is where God shows his presence—the church is the outpost of heaven, here on earth! Paul writes in 1 Corinthians, “Don’t you know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God lives in you?” (3:16). It was already a marvel in the Old Testament, that Almighty God was pleased to live among his people. He was so much greater than a dwelling of wood and stone and gold, yet that’s where He showed himself!

And now the miracle is more amazing: the holy God lives in us people of flesh and blood, resides within our hearts. This is possible only through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus, who by his blood has covered our sins in the sight of God. Christ purifies us, and makes us the temple of the Spirit, the house of God.

Getting back to Ezekiel’s time, anyone was free to approach God at his temple. But not just anyone could enter the temple—only the appointed priests. And only the high priest, once a year, carrying the blood of atonement, could go into the Most Holy Place where the ark was, where the LORD God was. For this was his “throne room,” filled with overwhelming glory.

It’s this same glory of God that Ezekiel saw when the LORD called him to be a prophet. In Ezekiel 1 there’s a whirlwind, and a great cloud with fire. And then he has a vision of four living creatures, and radiant wheels, ever-moving and totally covered with eyes. And when you looked above it all, there was a great throne with someone seated on it, surrounded in fire and dazzling like a rainbow. Of this final sight, the prophet says simply in 1:28, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.”

At the beginning of his ministry, the LORD gave Ezekiel that glimpse of his glory. For it’s this tremendous revelation of God that must be burned into his mind and remembered. The prophet might’ve been in refugee camp, and stuck in a pagan country—he might’ve been “unemployed priest”—but the LORD assures him that the LORD is bigger than any of this, that God is mightier than any earthly situation.

For no matter what happens, God the LORD is King and Judge, all-powerful and all-knowing. He is surrounded in splendour, and He rules over every nation. God sees his people along the Chebar River. He sees his people left behind in Jerusalem. He sees his people in Mount Nasura! And He cares for us deeply, with a Father’s love, faithful and good.

Yet this is what Ezekiel sees in our chapter, “Then the glory of the LORD departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim” (v 18). Something’s happening here, in the same category as those overwhelming events in centuries past, when God came down to his tabernacle and temple. But now it’s so very different, for now it’s in reverse. The cloud isn’t coming, the cloud is leaving…

In this vision from the LORD, Ezekiel has been taken to Jerusalem. Somehow the Spirit brought him all the way from Babylon so he could see incredible events at the temple—which at this time was still standing. And just as he saw in chapter 1, Ezekiel now sees a picture of the glory of God. His glory stands over the cherubim, and verse 19 continues, “The cherubim lifted their wings and mounted up from the earth in my sight. When they went out, the wheels were beside them; and they stood at the door of the east gate of the LORD’s house, and the glory of the God of Israel was above them.”

It’s not easy to picture this. It’s a strange and fantastic vision of God, yet its meaning is clear. There are four wheels, just like there were in chapter 1. These are the wheels of a kind of supernatural chariot, a vehicle that’s able to travel anywhere. For a king needs to have his chariot, right? God is a mighty king, and He has a chariot that’s unlike any other. For Ezekiel sees that intermingled with these wheels are four cherubim, or angels. These are the holy attendants of the LORD, his servants. And the wheels on God’s chariot have perfect “traction control,” for they’re totally coordinated with those four cherubim: turning, stopping, lifting up—as God commands them. They’re all so in sync that it appears like there’s just one wheel.

So what does it mean, this spectacular picture of God’s chariot? More to the point, why are the cherubim “lifting their wings?” Why are the wheels of God’s chariot mounting up from the earth? This chariot is moving! Compare it to a helicopter—its rotors spinning—hovering just above the ground, and then slowly beginning to ascend. In this vision, the LORD is on the go. He will ride his chariot from Jerusalem to another place. God, who has been pleased to dwell in the midst of his people—this God won’t stay forever, but He will leave.                   

 

2) a terrible departure: It’s so easy for us to be complacent. Very quickly we can grow self-satisfied and think that everything is just fine, and will always be fine. That’s our struggle, and that was the struggle of God’s people in the days of Ezekiel. For the root of complacency is when you take things for granted; it’s when you think that God owes you his blessing. This was exactly how Judah looked at the temple: they thought this blessing would never be removed.

Even with some of their population already in exile, Judah thought this was just a passing glitch. Jerusalem was untouchable because there was God’s house, right in the midst of her. How could He ever let them fall? And they had the history to prove it! A hundred years before, the Assyrians had besieged the city, and it looked like hope was lost. But what happened? The LORD struck down 180,000 of the enemy, and the rest fled. Yes, Jerusalem was too important, the temple too holy! God would always step in to save her.

But this attitude was completely wrong. Because we should never forget this one thing about living in covenant with God: the LORD has conditions. If God will dwell with his people, if God will come near, and answer your prayers, He expects you to revere his Name. You can’t live however you please, and think He’ll show his favour! God expects you to honour Him.

Ezekiel knew this, how great was the blessing represented in the temple. But he also knew how Judah had failed to keep the covenant. Her unfaithfulness is seen so plainly when the LORD lets Ezekiel witness what’s going on in Jerusalem. There in chapter 8 Ezekiel has another vision, in which he sees a terrible scene of idolatry. He sees a graven image set up in the temple, near the altar. Then he sees seventy elders burning incense to their gods. In another area of the temple, he sees women worshiping Tammuz, the god of fertility. Next Ezekiel sees twenty-five men in the inner court—probably replacement priests—men who are bowing before the sun. And the LORD says to Ezekiel, “Have you see this, O son of man? Is it a trivial thing to Judah to commit the abominations which they commit here?” (8:17).

Somehow Judah thought it was acceptable. For they wanted the best of both worlds: all the safety of being in the LORD’s house, with the added security of their false gods, gods they could see and control. So they brought their idols right into the temple. But can God really reside with such a people? Can God let us happily serve two masters? He is perfectly holy, so this sin is an offense to him, and it must be judged.

For Judah, this meant losing the temple. They had forfeited this most precious blessing of God dwelling in their midst. That’s why Ezekiel sees what he does: “Then the glory of the LORD departed from the threshold of the temple and stood over the cherubim” (10:18). The LORD will remove his glory.

It might’ve been expected, and could be considered totally fair. But think of how deflating this would’ve been for Ezekiel, how excruciating. He was a priest, one whose entire life was oriented around the temple. And not just painful for him, but for anyone who cared. This is what God had made them for: for worship, for temple service, for holy living! And they were throwing it all away. The LORD is leaving, so that sin will be punished, their false ideas  corrected, and their complacency burned away.

Beloved, isn’t this a powerful warning for the people of God today? We have the blessing of the LORD living among us by his Spirit, and being in covenant with Him. This means that at all times we have to recognise his holiness, and give praise to his majesty. Whatever you’re doing in any hour of the day and in any place, you can’t close the doors on God, ignore Him, or pretend He’s not there. The holy God dwells among us. And his holiness calls us to be holy!

This is why the Spirit commands in 1 Corinthians 6, “Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you…? You were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit” (vv 19-20). Whatever we do in this body has to be done for Christ: even the friends we choose, the things we watch on our phone, the words we say, the desires we cherish. Being temples of his Spirit means that at every moment, God expects from us a different kind of life. He expects purity, because He himself is pure.

Yet the people of Judah set up idols in God’s courts, and we try to do the same. That is to say, we still believe in the LORD, but we also want the kind of security that we can see and control. And so God’s holy temple in us gets overrun by foreign gods. One person makes a god out of her pleasure, always needing physical comfort and indulgence and excitement. Others set up a god around their health, where everything is about fitness and food. Or we value above all our nice things and fine home. Or everything in life is about our family, or our good reputation with others, or the fulfilling job that we have. These things place us before a choice that we don’t always pay attention to, yet it’s there: Will God sit on the throne, or something else? In the temple that is my heart and life, will God alone be worshiped? Or do I find my meaning and purpose and security somewhere else?

And God says that if we continue to live in this sin, there’s a great danger. If we don’t get rid of our idols but keep holding onto them, we offend the Spirit. He’s the Holy Spirit, so all things that are unholy cause him pain. And whenever we surrender to sin, we frustrate the Spirit’s work. The more room that we give to our idols, the less room there is for the Spirit. He begins to pull away, and it becomes difficult for Him to renew and change you.

So if there’s a sin we’re not putting off and fleeing from, our faith can begin to feel weak. We can’t be bothered to read Scripture, we neglect prayer, and attending church is a chore, not a joy. For who is able to pray sincerely when all along you know that something stands between you and God? Who can sing God’s praise, when the rest of the week you’re living to his shame? And instead of hearing the Word, you only hear your accusing conscience. Sin disrupts our relationship with God!

Compare it to human relationships, like a marriage or friendship. If you did or said something that hurt the other person, the connection becomes cold. Conversation is difficult, physical touch loses its warmth, you’re ill at ease in each other’s company. And it’ll stay that way, until things are put right, until there is confession and forgiveness and change.

That’s how it is in our relationship with the LORD God. When there’s a sin we haven’t confessed and repented from, love for God grows cold, and the Spirit can take away the assurance of faith. When we’re not seeking God each day, but we’ve become lazy about it, and we’ve let other things take God’s place, He can be distant from us. You could say that like in Ezekiel 10, God slowly withdraws himself. For a time He suspends the work of his Spirit within us. That’s deflating. That’s frightening, because where are we without God? We are lost.

Maybe you’ve known a time like this. Maybe you’re in a time like this right now. It doesn’t have to stay that way, for God delights to have us near. When we seek the LORD through Christ Jesus, we will receive his grace. When we tear down our idols, and dedicate ourselves to his worship alone, God gives the reassurance of his nearness. As the LORD says in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek me and find me, when you search for me with all your heart.” So seek Him! This can make a terrible departure only a temporary one.

 

3) a temporary departure: After an evening of enjoying someone’s hospitality, do you ever leave in stages? First you announce that you’re leaving; then you stand up; then you walk to the front door; then you start putting on your jacket. But at each stage, you stop and chat some more. It’s like you don’t want to leave.

This is how the LORD leaves the temple and Jerusalem. He departs by degrees. Beginning in chapter 9, through chapter 10, and into chapter 11, God’s chariot has many stops and starts. The wheels and the cherubim ascend, then hover, then move on a little—and stop again. It’s as if the LORD doesn’t want to go. He’ll gladly return, if only his people repent.

But in the end, God will leave. Jerusalem will be destroyed, and Ezekiel must eventually bring the report that the temple has been ruined. And yet it’s from that point that Ezekiel’s preaching takes on a new tone. For there comes a refrain of restoration. The people will return, their hearts will be renewed, and the temple rebuilt.

In the latter chapters of Ezekiel there’s even a detailed description of that new temple of the LORD. What Ezekiel witnesses is so grand that he gives its extraordinary measurements to give a sense of its splendour. And then the central point, in chapter 43: God’s glory returns to the temple and fills it once more! The prophet hears the LORD speaking, “This is the place of my throne… where I will dwell in the midst of the children of Israel forever” (v 7). Never again will the people defile God’s Name, but He’ll live among them for all time.

In his vision, Ezekiel witnesses a new and marvelous temple. Yet it was never rebuilt quite like he saw. After the exile, the temple was reconstructed, but his vision is really about another day and another place.

First, it’s about the day when the LORD comes down in Christ and dwells with his people, and He walks among them in the flesh. One of our Saviour’s glorious names signifies this very thing, Immanuel: “God with us.” In Christ, God shows to us how very close He is: He is willing to identify with us, and take on our sin and weakness.

After the coming of Christ, God keeps building a place for himself on earth. The project continues when He sends his Holy Spirit. This Spirit, we said, dwells within us as church: God in his temple! For we’re allowed to be filled with the power and nearness and grace of the Almighty God. Today the Spirit works inside us a love for Christ, and a desire to do his will.

And when is the restoring of God’s house finally completed? On the great day of Christ. Then heaven comes down to earth, and all creation becomes a most holy place for God. Then, says the apostle John in Revelation, “The tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people” (21:3). That’s the day we look forward to, when we will see God’s full glory, and it will never leave.

Later on this week is Ascension Day. This was the day when Christ our Saviour made his own departure. He didn’t have a chariot of fire, and He wasn’t surrounded by cherubim, but He was slowly lifted up from earth into heaven, and He was hidden by a cloud. He left, but not in anger. For Jesus left once He had made peace between God and us, by dying for our sin. And this is what Jesus said when He left, “Behold, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Christ is with us, forever. So may we live like He is with us: comforted, encouraged, and holy in all that we do!  Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
The source for this sermon was: http://frcmn.org/sermons/

(c) Copyright 2017, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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