Lent Midweek 5 – Ezekiel 11:14-25
The people of Jerusalem probably thought that it would never actually happen. After all, they were God’s chosen people, and while God had gotten angry before, He always remained with His people, He was always there in the end to bail out His people.
And with the temple, there a literal reminder of the presence of God in the midst of His people. While they certainly confessed that God was indeed everywhere, there was the literal presence of God in the midst of His people in the visible structure of His holy temple.
Years earlier at the dedication of the temple, the glory of the Lord filled the temple, and the cloud of smoke was so thick that the priests who brought in the Ark of the Covenant could not remain in the temple. The Lord was most pleased with the house Solomon and the people had constructed for Him, and there was the promise that the Lord would remain with His people forever, and dwell in the midst of them.
But now Ezekiel sees the glory of the Lord leave the temple. A great cloud again forms and rises up out of the temple, out of Jerusalem, and into the heavens.
The Lord warned that this day would come; He told the people to repent; to stop worshipping false idols; to turn their backs on those who bow the knee to their gods of metal and of stone. The people had their chances, including the warning of the Northern Kingdom being led away into exile, never to return.
But the people never thought it would happen to them.
Just like a lot of people today. Just like you.
We look around and say that God would never abandon His people in His churches; that even the faithful can still find God in churches, even if they embrace a multitude of false teachings.
Which brings to mind a diagram we use in confirmation class when discussing the phrase the holy Christian Church in the third article of the Apostle’s Creed. We draw a circle on the board and inside the circle we put all of the churches that confess the name of Jesus; all the churches that affirm the Trinity. Outside of the circle, we put all those groups that deny Jesus.
Now some of those churches inside the circle we put closer to the middle, and others we put closer to the edge. Those close to the edge are those that are in danger of falling outside and joining those who deny the basic elements of the Christian faith; those closer to the middle are those that we believe confess the true faith.
But when you think of those who are off center, those that are close to the edge, we still confess that there are true believers in them, who will most certainly be saved; but you do have to wonder. You wonder what more false doctrine does their church need to embrace, before they will leave? What more horrible practice needs to take place, before they will walk away? How long can they endure, before they too are in danger of being condemned?
And perhaps most of all, how long before they too experience the glory of the Lord departing from their midst, and for the sake of our diagram, are outside the circle, where there is no salvation?
That was the big question in Jerusalem: not how much can we get away with and still have the Lord on our side; but rather, is there anything we can do that would make the Lord angry enough to abandon us? And the assumed answer was no.
Surely God would never abandon His people; surely God would never turn His back on those who marginally confess His name when it is convenient for them; surely God can tolerate all the idols we have set up around us and not turn His back on us.
That is what the people asked back then; that is what is asked today, not just in organized churches where the Scriptures are distorted and ignored, but in your own lives. You can be saved if you attend a church that does not have every i dotted and t crossed: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego managed to remain faithful in Babylon; but you cannot be saved if your own heart has turned its back on the Lord God.
The glory of the Lord leaving the temple, had nothing to do with the actual temple; rather, it was the people who had already left God behind. For all its furnishings and altars and sacrifices, the temple was still just a building of wood and stone; the true confession of faith was found just where it is today: in the hearts and minds of the people.
And so while God may abandon churches that do not confess His name, He never abandons His people. The glory of the Lord leaves the temple, but the presence of the Lord remains with His people who are about to go into exile. And the presence of the Lord remains with His people today who wander from the faith. And the presence of the Lord remains with you, as you continue on through the struggles of this life, surrounded by false teachers on every side.
For God sent His one and only Son into the world to redeem the world. To desecrate the Lord’s house, to curse His name, to teach falsely, are significant sins that cannot be taken lightly; they need a right and worthy means of redemption. And the Lord Himself provides the sacrifice in the person of His one and only Son.
Christ Jesus comes into the world to redeem those who reject the Lord and His house and His teachings; whether that be all the way back in 587BC, or whether that be today in 2017. For those who forsake the Lord and repent, He offers forgiveness and life.
And just as He provided salvation for His people who fled Jerusalem with the promise of bringing them back; so too does He provide salvation for you, who flee the ways of this world and seek the promise of eternal life forever.