Ever felt the dread of disappointing someone, like a good friend or your kids? The gift you’d planned to give, the one you thought you had in the bag, turned out to be a dud, and you didn’t have a back up plan.
That’s where I am this morning. I’ve got to admit–I’m stumped by these chapters. Up until now, Ezekiel has been a reliable goody bag to grab a gift from and share. I’ve often felt doubtful at the outset but by the end, have found that once again, God’s the gift that just keeps on giving.
But today feels different. I’ve had two days to mull over these two chapters, and I’m not feeling the love. I’m afraid what I’ve got to give you is a message about trusting God’s goodness to be a reality, even when the pickin’s feel slim-to-none in his words. And that’s a valid message, to be sure. There are bound to be off days for finding him and his love in his word.
So I’ve asked God to put meat on these dry bones and surprise me. While I wait, I might as well show you how slim these pickin’s really are:
Remember that we’re looking at the vision Ezekiel has of the new temple, which we’ve learned is a metaphor for Jesus himself and his church on earth. The gist of chapters 45-46 today is that sacrifices for sin will be made in this new temple. There’s also mention made of the prince who will provide the animals for sacrificing. There’s discussion of an established traffic flow for people as they come in and out of the temple. And there’s a description of “corner kitchens” where the sacrificed animals are cooked for the people to eat. (For the stories of Ezkiel’s vision as a metaphor for Jesus and the church see https://iwantmore.blog/2020/11/20/november-20/ ; and https://iwantmore.blog/2020/11/21/november-21/)
Does this bother anybody besides me? If the temple described by Ezekiel is an allegory for Jesus and his future church, his body, manifested on earth, then these details should fit into that context. But they don’t. Jesus has come as the once-and-for-all sacrifice for sin. What would be the point of sacrificing again for sins when the perfect sacrifice has already been perfectly made?
The reason for animal sacrifices in the Old Testament was to point to the need of the Savior who would one day provide the ultimate sacrifice. The whole book of Hebrews is about that very subject and says plainly that there’s no need to offer any more sacrifices, He 7:27.
So why would Ezekiel’s picture of this new temple include any mention of animals at all, let alone the kitchens where these animals are cooked? And why are there descriptions of the people’s traffic patterns, of all things? There’s the rub. There just seems to be a lot of space devoted to details that don’t add up to the plainly obvious meaning of Jesus and his church as the new temple.
Unless of course it’s also describing the temple once it’s rebuilt. Since God sees all of time at once, maybe he bobs in and out of time as we know it to tell us what’s ahead. Maybe the key to understanding Ezekiel’s temple is going with what makes sense in the time we’re living and reading it in?
Maybe zooming out will help. I remember who Ezekiel is speaking to–the exiles in Babylon from Jerusalem, the ones who were captured and forced to leave and have now been there for 25 years. When he has the vision of the temple, it’s the first day of what would have been their preparation days for celebrating Passover, had they still been in Jerusalem. God’s timing of this vision wasn’t a coincidence. It’s a pep talk for their future, a future Ezekiel’s already said quite a lot to them about. A new temple is wonderful news given their present circumstances, and it’s news that includes returning to their land and being given new hearts for God, 36:26, 37:21-28.
We’ve already said that this vision wasn’t simply a blueprint for building a new temple. It’s also an allegory with a different meaning altogether than a literal interpretation of wood and stone. How do we know? Well, there’s quite a bit missing from this new temple that used to be in the old one. There are no lampstands, no altar of incense, no table of consecrated bread, no bronze basin for washing, no curtain between the Most Holy Place and the rest of the temple, no ark of the covenant or cherubim above it, no anointing oil, and no high priest. These were important things in the old temple, (http://thirdmill.org/articles/jon_menn/jon_menn.BEA3.html).
But all of this makes sense if Jesus-as-temple is our lens. They wouldn’t need all the things that pointed to him in the old, sacrificial system. What’s given to us so far in Ezekiel’s vision is the temple itself of gargantuan proportions, the altar, and God’s glory that fills it.
In the two chapters before these for today (43-44), there’s mention of the Levites who do the work of the temple, who slaughter animals and cook meat. And in today’s two chapters, there’s mention of the kitchens where the meat is cooked, plus a lot of people coming in and out, plus the prince who provides all the animals. Call me crazy, but this is beginning to sound like a barbecue.
And I smile. I’ve been sweating commenting on these chapters, but when I smelled the meat on the barbie in those kitchens, I thought, wait. There’s another reason to slaughter an animal besides as a sacrifice for sin: it’s to eat it and celebrate.
What are they celebrating? For starters, the once-and-for-all sacrifice of the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. They celebrate their sins being paid for and the glory of God, right there in their midst. He’s not removed and at a distance, off in a secret place behind a curtain with cherubim guards. Ezekiel has already made mention twice of the glory of God in the new temple, a glory so great that he falls down. In fact he sees it from the inner gate, the area outside the actual temple building. It’s pouring out from the building through the doors, knocking ‘Zeke right off his feet and onto his face, Eze 44:4.
The prince hosting this party and providing the meat would add another layer of rejoicing to this celebration. This is not your typical church pot luck where you buy your own food and cook it before you come. The meat for this party is already paid for and will be cooked on site by grill masters there. What else needs to be planned ahead for a party of this size? Traffic control? Welp, Ezekiel’s vision says, he’s already got it figured out. I’m guessing there will be cold drinks set up in tubs all over the court, but Ezekiel doesn’t mention that part.
What he does say about this celebration reminds me of the wedding supper of the Lamb in Revelation when God’s people are gathered in heaven. So I turn there to see if there’s a connection. John’s vision in Revelation is of The New Jerusalem, which is heaven, and of the events that lead up to the end of time as we know it.
John writes that those who are invited to the Lamb’s wedding supper are blessed. They should rejoice and be glad because the time has come, and the bride–the church–is ready. Here is a meal and celebration among God’s people. There’s prepared food, there are guests, there’s a place (before the throne), and there’s a reason to celebrate: the Lamb who was slain is alive again and gettin’ hitched, Re 19:5-9.
I’m struck by other details of this vision and how similar some of the parts of it are to the ones of Ezekiel that we’ve already seen. For one thing, the elders fall down a lot, Re 4:10; 5:8, 14; 19:4. Ezekiel did a fair amount of falling down before God’s glory, too, 43:3; 44:4. Ezekiel was carried to a high mountain and saw what “looked like a city,” Ez 40:2. For his vision, John was taken to a high mountain by an angel where he saw the city “coming down out of heaven from God,” Re 21:10.
Both the temple of Ezekiel and the New Jerusalem of heaven are measured with rods and are found to be perfectly square, enormous in size, and encircled by a thick wall, Eze 42:15-20, Re 21:16-17 [Fun fact: the wall of the city of heaven will be 200 feet/65 meters thick.] Both Ezekiel and Revelation say God’s throne is there, Eze 43:7; Re 22:1, 3. Ezekiel says God’s glory is pouring out of the doors and gates of the new temple, Eze 44:4. Revelation says that God dwells with his people so that they don’t even need the sun or moon for light. God’s glorious presence is their light, Re 21:3, 22-23. No wonder there weren’t any lampstands in Ezekiel’s vision—they’re not needed.
What does all this mean?
Ezekiel seems to include information for multi time periods. There’s instruction for temple worship once they’re allowed to leave Babylon and rebuild, and there’s description of what Jesus and his church’s work on earth will be like in our present day. But there’s also more of a future perfection hinted at than what we experience now when heaven comes to earth. At the end of time, the church will be a place of fellowship and celebration beyond what it is now. According to both Ezekiel’s and John’s visions, we will celebrate God’s presence, and the Lamb’s sacrifice, and the joy of never having another tear wiped, Re 21:4, (http://thirdmill.org/articles/jon_menn/jon_menn.BEA3.html).
There’s been a little mention of God as a sanctuary for his people outside of the temple before Ezekiel’s temple vision. Way back in Ez 11:6, God said that he will be a “sanctuary” for the exiles in Babylon. It’s such a little mention that it’s easy to miss, but it’s meaning is clear: a relationship with God can be had outside of a temple building. This would have been a mind blowing idea for the exiles had they understood what it meant. And maybe some did.
But God chose to speak to them mostly in terms they were already familiar with. A temple building analogy focused them on what would be done inside this sacred space rather than on the fact that the building that holds the space isn’t actually a building at all.. While there’s been a lot to suggest that Ezekiel’s temple is not in fact a building, its being linked to John’s vision in Revelation is the most compelling reason of all. John wrote, “I did not see a temple in the city, because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple,” Re 21:22
There are other corollaries between The New Jerusalem that comes down from heaven and the temple of Ezekiel’s vision in tomorrow’s reading. Suffice it to say that I’m feeling stuffed with just this much.
Ezekiel shows us what the church does: it celebrates the lamb and basks in God’s presence (worship), and it eats a lot of meals together (fellowship). But it also shares the good news with others, right? Isn’t evangelism part of the church’s work?
So far, Ezekiel’s words to the exiles have always included God’s desire that the nations know who he is. In fact, the last time he spoke to them before this vision, he’d said that their future restoration to their land would not be done for the benefit of Israel but would be done for the glory of his name, so that the nations would know he’s God. God’s offer has remained steadfastly open to all nations, Ez 36:22-23. He seeks and saves the lost, and he uses his people to do it.
But in yesterday’s reading, God’s tone changes. He said not to let unbelievers into the new temple. He even commands that they be kept out, “No foreigner uncircumcised in heart and flesh is to enter my sanctuary, not even the foreigners who live among the Israelites,” Ez 44:5-9. What’s with that? There comes a day when the open door to the nations will close, when God pulls in the welcome mat, even for Israel. So Ezekiel’s description of the church in these two chapters isn’t just a description of what the church is like now: it’s also a description of the church to come.
And what will it be like?
God knows how to throw a party. He’s been giving himself away all along. It will be eternal banquets with our besties, hanging out in God’s presence, falling on our faces. [I’m thinking for sure there are cold drinks in those tubs. 🥳]
Remember the prodigal son? When he got home, his father fired up the grill and threw a party. Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine for a wedding. [And it was a lot of wine, by the way; that party went on for a long time]. The night before Jesus died, he celebrated the Passover with his guys, and it became a meal to remember him by. Eating and drinking in God’s presence has always been a thing.
God invented partying. It’s what he most wants to do with us. This is what all the fuss of praise and worship is about. It’s to be a jubilant celebration of God-with-us. He gives us the best reason we’ll ever have to do it, too–a happily ever after that starts now. Whether your idea of bliss is a hammock at the lake or fireworks at Disney World, God’s got you covered. If even earth includes both of these and everything in between, surely heaven does, too. It will be a praise party the likes of which we cannot imagine–a celebration that never ends.
And God’s not saving all the goodies for then. He gives us tastes of it everyday along the way. Those kisses from your grandbabies? The coziness of a fire while it rains? The connection we find when we forgive? The taste of chocolate, the boost of wine, the richness of cheese? All of these and more tell us that more is coming. This is just the first bite, the first sip. All of the goodness we can imagine is just beyond us, out of sight, stored up for those the Father adores.
“No eye has seen, no ear has heard,
no human mind has conceived the things
that God has prepared for those who love him.
These are the things God has revealed to us by his Spirit.”
1 Corinthians 2:9 (Also see Ps 31:19, Co 1:5, Ec 2:26)
All of this–and more.
I didn’t deliberately set up these comments today about feeling dread as a pretense for the message I already had in mind. I was genuinely sick at the thought of not having anything to share about these chapters.
But there was one hopeful thought in the bubble beside my mind: I’ve been here before. I’ve read something in the Bible and thought, “What the heck is that? Nonsense!”
But somehow in the chewing of what I thought was nothing, I found a little meat on those bones and somehow swallowed a nourishing bite—without doubt, the Spirit’s doing.
It’s happened often enough that I thought I could start a blog, because I’ve learned that what bubbles up depends on the soap and the water and the breath that breathes in them, not on the one with the wand trying to catch them.
1 Peter 1:13-2:20
“Therefore (because the prophets and angels longed to know when the Messiah would come, and we now know he has), prepare your minds for action; be self controlled; set your hope fully on the grace to be given you when Jesus Christ is revealed…Just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do,” 1:13, 15.
Being urged to set my “hope fully” on God’s grace makes me wonder about the grace I’ll receive then versus what I already have now. I guess it’s connected to the judging God will do, which is mentioned in the next paragraph. It’s easy to let my concern for future judgment creep into my heart today and make me afraid of what’s ahead. I’m certainly not holy.
But Peter says to set my hope fully on grace, not my efforts or good deeds. Yes, God will judge me, but my sure hope and confidence is in the grace I’ll receive because of Jesus. He mentions fear, but not as in anxiety and dread, but as a “reverent fear” of the Father as I live my life as a stranger here, 1:17.
A stranger? Yes. This is not my home. I belong to God, and I’m just passing through.
I’m also noting that Jesus was “chosen before the creation of the world,” 1:20. Chosen? For what? The context says he was chosen to be the sacrificial lamb; his blood was the redemption price. So God, before creation, already had this plan to send Jesus to die and to rise for us.
This means that Adam and Eve were provided for, even before they took their first bites, much less their first breaths. Their sinfulness didn’t surprise God; he’d already made provision for it. God knew ahead of time that people weren’t going to obey him, and he went ahead and created them anyway, knowing all the agony it would cost himself and Jesus. This is what God’s love is like.
And it puts any suffering I do in a whole ‘nother light. Because if I could have a do-over, I’d choose not to suffer as I have. But then I’d be undoing some of the biggest blessings of my life, if I dialed all the way back to my pre-suffering days. [Actually, when I think about it, there aren’t any of those 🙄.] So is dialing back what I’d really choose? No. I’d choose exactly what I’ve had, suffering and all.
I guess I understand why you did, too. Mercy sakes, God. That much love? That much love at stake?
Psalm 119 is broken into stanzas that correspond to the letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The first one today is about how the psalmist depends on God to open his mind and turn his eyes and heart to his words. In every sentence, there’s a request for God to help him. He says his obedience to God depends on what God does in him, not on his doing. His doing is simply a response to God’s.
He asks God to…
–Teach me to follow
–Give me understanidng
–Direct me in the path
–Turn my heart
–Turn my eyes
–Preserve my life by your word
–Fulfill your promise
–Take way the disgrace
–Preserve my life in your righteousness
This reminds me that all of my seeking after you is a result of your turning me to you–directing me and teaching me and giving me your words. None of it is my doing apart from your doing first. You initiate; I respond. Keep me mindful of this God–pride can really yank my chain.
His response to God is…
–I will keep [your decrees] until the end
–I will keep your law and obey it with “all my heart”
–I find delight
–I fear God
–I long for God’s words
Do I keep your words with all my heart? Do I find them to be a delight? Do I long for them? The passion of the psalmist for God’s word throbs in these verses. It is a live thing, a thing he feels.
God’s words on the page aren’t like other words in other books. They’re alive and active. They dive deep. They pull up things to look at. They cut to the quick. But they also delight us and leave us longing for more.
Are we connecting with God in his word in that place?
If we’re not, the next stanza tells us how: “May your unfailing love come to me, O Lord,” 119:41. It’s not by trying-harder-to-do-better that we gain ground in the journey of faith. It’s by deliberately looking for God’s love.
Only God’s love can set hearts on fire with delight and longing so deep that we’re moved in passion to obey him, 119:34.
When we find it, we oughta lie down and just wallow.
My take away today, God, is your passionate love. I feel it in the celebrating we’ll do at the wedding supper of the Lamb, with the meat on the spit and the party that doesn’t quit.
I feel it when you pulled back my brain fog and let me see words on the page.
I feel it when you say to depend “fully” on grace, not taking a chance trying to be “good enough” in your place.
I feel it in your making plans with Jesus to save, before Adam and Eve took bites with the snake. Your faithfulness in the face of faithlessness makes my heart break.
And I feel it in Psalm 119, too, the joo-joo that unglues my goody-goodness, and leaves me breathless in you.
There’s so much love here in what I thought was just a pile of bones. Are you showing off? “She doesn’t feel me? I’ll fire her up. She’ll fall flat on her face!”
Oh, Lord God, surely:
There is no one like you.
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