When God’s had enough
Revelation 18: The Strong God who judges her has had enough.
The actual God has had enough. It takes a lot to arrive at this place. A lot of God’s grace has to be rejected. A lot of his patience has to be wasted. As we’re reminded by the writer of Hebrews, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” All heaven cheers this act of Judgment, not because of vengeance, but because of righteousness. For a righteous, pure, holy God to be who he is, ultimately, the end of all that is unrighteous, impure, and unholy must come. It’s not as though there haven’t been opportunities to turn around. I can say with confidence that there’s been at least 2000 years. At some point the patience of God will be exhausted. I want to be standing on the right side of things when God has “had enough.”
Take Away: For the Lord to be righteous, pure, and holy, sooner or later all that is unrighteous, impure, and unholy must be defeated.
The “rest” for the people of God
Hebrews 4: The promise of “arrival” and “rest” are still there for God’s people.
In the Old Testament story of the people of God we read of their deliverance from Egyptian slavery. By God’s hand they triumph at the Red Sea and not long after that come to the Jordan River with the promise that this is to be their land of rest. Once they possess Canaan they’ll be home at last. However it doesn’t work out. The people refuse to trust God and, because of that, are sentenced to a lifetime of wilderness wandering. The writer of Hebrews uses that sad story to tell his readers that the Lord calls his people to a “rest experience” in their relationship with him. After deliverance from sin, there’s a “Jordan River” crisis in which believers are to trust God to give them rest from the inner struggle and freedom to love him with all their heart and soul and mind. The failure of the people of Israel is a real possibility for the believer: to doubt the extent to which the Lord can deliver his people from the bondage of sin. To fail here is to turn back to the wilderness and to experience the spiritual journey as a constant struggle with failure and sin. To believe God and trust him with all of one’s life is to cross the Jordan and enter into a deeper spiritual life of freedom and liberty. “The promise of ‘arrival’ and ‘rest’ are still there for God’s people.”
Take Away: The Lord not only forgives our sins – he also delivers us from that sin.
Dressing like a Christian
Colossians 3: Dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you.
For many people the phrase “dressing like a Christian” dredges up a lot of old guilt and maybe resentment. We were raised in church traditions that stressed externals and the weight of that emphasis fell especially on the girls and young women. Looking back, I feel somewhat charitable toward those who stressed such things. I think, by and large, their hearts were in the right place. After all, they wanted to live holy, clean lives and our personal holiness ought to be evident even in the clothing we choose to wear. However, the years have pretty much proven that traveling that road leads to the city of legalism which is quite distant from the city of love and grace. In this passage we’re told that there’s a wardrobe that’s appropriate for God’s people but it has nothing to do with how much or little skin is shown. God’s people are to be characterized — “clothed in” — “compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline.” We’re to be known as “even-tempered, content…quick to forgive.” The absolute necessity for all followers of Jesus, Paul says, is the “basic, all-purpose garment” of love. He emphasizes love by saying, “don’t leave home without it.” So, there I have it. My Christianity isn’t seen in what I wear, but it is seen as these positive characteristics are on display in my life. It was easier to focus on “covering up” but such an emphasis totally misses what it really means to dress like a Christian.
Take Away: Christ should be seen in our lives, not so much by what we wear, but by the display of Christ-like characteristics.
The greatest need of the believer
Romans 7: But I need something more.
In this passage the Apostle describes the frustration of many of God’s people. He’s been set free from sin’s prison and now wants to live God’s way. He understands that God’s ways are right but under the influence of sin even the purity of the Law becomes a tool of temptation and failure. He’s been freed from prison but some of that prison remains in him. He declares “I need something more.” A believer doesn’t have to attend a particular brand of church to identify with this statement. Having been forgiven of sins I set out to live a new life of righteousness in fellowship with the Lord. However, I come to the conclusion that this isn’t as easy as it appears. In fact, the harder I try to live that life of righteousness the clearer it becomes that, in Paul’s words: “I obviously need help!” Is this passage a pitiful surrender to sin? When all is said and done, is the Christian life all about grimly holding on through repeated spiritual failure? The Apostle will more fully answer these questions as he continues writing in what we call chapter eight, but he tips his hand when he says, “The answer, thank God, is…Jesus Christ.”
Take Away: Without the deeper work of God the Christian life is one of constant struggle.
A courtroom scene
Zechariah 3: Get him out of those filthy clothes.
In his vision Zechariah sees the high priest, whose name is Joshua, in a courtroom scene. Joshua represents not only himself, or the priesthood of Israel, but the entire nation. Their situation is a dire one. Even though they’ve been snatched from the consequences of their sin and returned to their homeland, they remain unclean before God. And that’s what the Accuser comes to declare. However, there’s a remedy. In the vision, the Lord removes the high priest’s uncleanness and outfits him in clean clothes. Then, the prophet asks that Joshua be given a clean turban as well. Now, remember that Joshua’s the high priest. The clothes he’s given aren’t just average clothes and the turban isn’t an average turban. They’re the robes and turban of the high priest: rich garments reflecting his high position. That hat, in particular, has meaning. The turban worn by the high priest has a gold plate on it that’s inscribed with the words “Holiness unto the Lord.” This is powerful symbolism. Although the people are redeemed they remain unclean in the sight of the Lord. Through the mercy and grace of God there’s a remedy. The Lord purifies their lives and then outfits them in his holiness. Believers of today can identify with this. After I put my faith in Jesus as my Savior I come to realize that there remains a basic uncleanness in my heart. It’s when I throw himself to the mercy of God that he takes action to graciously purify my heart and fill me with his Holy Spirit that I might be holy in his sight.
Take Away: Through the mercy and grace of the Lord there’s a remedy for the stain of sin.
Sorting out a passage and finding at its core: grace
Haggai 2: From now on you can count on a blessing.
“Temple fever” is sweeping the nation as governor Zerubbabel and his people give themselves to the rebuilding project. One group that’s especially energized is the priests who’ve served without a Temple. They’re sure things are going to be much better once the Temple is restored. Haggai comes teach them a core spiritual truth and he does so by asking two questions. Question number one has to do with imparted holiness. If meat from a sacrifice is put into some priest’s pocket, it will make his robe holy, but what about other foods then touched by the robe? The priests respond that there’s no ripple effect concerning what other foods the robe might touch. Therefore, those foods remain unholy. The second question concerns the flip side of things. If a person touches a corpse, becoming ceremonially unclean and then touches various foods, do they also become unclean? The answer is “yes” – the “uncleanness” is imparted to whatever that person touches. Haggai then tells them that the sacrifices they’ve been making haven’t been proper because of their spiritual failure. The sin of not rebuilding the Temple has impacted all they’ve done, making them all worthless. Even as a person who touches a corpse makes all they touch unclean, so has their disobedience concerning the rebuilding of the Temple had a negative impact on all their religious practices. The flip side, which I wish Haggai had more clearly stated, is just as disturbing. Just offering proper sacrifices in the rebuilt Temple isn’t going to have the hoped for ripple effect of making the entire nation holy. It’s like the robe touched by the sanctified meat. It’s made holy but that’s as far as it goes. Touching other things with that robe won’t make them also holy. In other words, rebuilding the Temple isn’t a cure-all. Still, the prophet has some wonderful, and educational, news. From the moment they returned to God he began to bless them. His blessings weren’t a result of their making the right kind of sacrifices; in fact, they weren’t the right kind. Rather the blessings were the result of his grace. As I read this especially confusing little passage I come away with a better grasp of this truth: sin has contaminated our entire lives, making us exempt from any hope of self-manufactured holiness. Even when I return to God, my renewed commitment to him will still come up short because of the contamination of sin that has ruled my life. However, I’m not without hope because of God’s grace. He blesses me, not because I’ve managed to restore all that was broken but because he chooses to respond to my surrender to him with wonderful grace.
Take Away: The blessings of the Lord are the result of his grace.
Ezekiel 43: Draw a picture…
As a casual reader, one of the bewildering portions of Ezekiel has been, to me, all the measuring that takes place in the final chapters of the book. In his vision Ezekiel crawls all over the Temple measuring every nook and cranny, carefully taking note of every inch. If I thought about it at all I thought maybe these were the plans for the promised rebuilding of the Temple. However, I don’t think that’s the actual intent. The Lord tells Ezekiel, “Draw a picture so they can see the design and meaning and live by its design and intent.” Concerning the Temple the prophet is told, “Everything around it becomes holy ground.” God had called the people of Israel to be his own, holy nation. All the laws, rituals, and even the construction of the Temple had the purpose of helping to bring that to pass. In this case Ezekiel is to rediscover the power of the architecture of that place of worship. Ezekiel’s vision of the Temple is to remind his people of how far they’ve fallen from the holiness to which they were called. It’s also intended to give them hope and call them back to God. Ezekiel’s going to go right on with his vision, talking about the rituals and the work of the priests and the feasts, all with that same intent. However, I’m still thinking about the purpose of sacred space. The Temple wasn’t just built to be a functional place of worship. It was to call people to holiness — a place set apart for the worship of a God set apart by a people set apart. The layout and the furnishings weren’t just for practical use. Just looking at the building was to create longing for holiness. I don’t know that I’m deep enough to fully grasp this, but I’m reminded today that as I read of Ezekiel with his tape measure that there’s more going on than just the drawing of blueprints.
Take Away: Thank the Lord for those gifted in the design of buildings set apart for the purpose of worship.
God’s agenda isn’t a secret
Ezekiel 20: I, God, am in the business of making them holy.
Through Ezekiel, the Lord recounts the history of his dealings with the people of Israel. We’re reminded of the Exodus from Egypt and Moses going up on the mountain for an encounter with the Almighty. A result of that meeting is the Law. They now have Ten Commandments to live by and soon there’s an entire body of Law to go with them. In the passage before me today the Lord tells their descendants his purpose in all of that. He did it as a part of his project to make them holy. From the beginning and down through the centuries the Lord has continued to work to that end. As he speaks through Ezekiel we find that God’s purpose has not been watered down or diverted. In this passage, the Lord tells them that the whole “Sabbath day” approach was for this purpose, part of his grand plan. This message is addressed to another generation that insists on resisting the Lord and the result is his rejecting them, erasing many lines that have been drawn, and nearly erasing them from the face of the earth. What’s next? The answer is obvious: it’s God’s purpose. Their failure doesn’t change his purpose for them. In new ways and with a new generation the Lord will return to the “business of making them holy.” As he said to their ancestors, “Be holy because I am holy.” I’m reminded today of just how committed God is to this business of holiness. As one of his people, I want to cooperate with his purposes for me and for the entire human race.
Take Away: The Lord is in the business of making people holy.
The cry of God’s people
Ezekiel 11: I’ll give you a new heart. I’ll put a new spirit in you.
Judah’s problem isn’t poor leadership or powerful enemies. They aren’t ignorant of God’s desires for them and they aren’t the unwitting victims of circumstance. They are where they are because they’ve rebelled against God. Through their history, time and time again, they’ve followed a cycle of failure, judgment, repentance, and restoration — only to have it all start again. Now many of them have been exiled from the land God gave them. Back in Jerusalem sin reigns and soon the result of that sin will be the total destruction of their beloved city. The Lord says he’s going to break the cycle by changing their hearts. The result will be a people who love God and love his ways. Many Christians can identify with the cycle of failure we see when we journey with these ancient Israelites. We too have been trapped in a cycle of failure, judgment, repentance, and restoration. As we read the promise of a “new heart” our spirits respond with longing for that kind of relationship with God. These words stir us and challenge us to let God have his way in our lives even if that means we need a spiritual “heart transplant.” The result is a healthy spiritual life: “You’ll be my people! I’ll be your God!”
Take Away: Only the Lord can do what must be done in us and he’ll only do it as we allow him to and cooperate with him in that work.
The mark of God’s people
Ezekiel 8: Don’t lay a hand on anyone with the mark.
In one of his visions Ezekiel finds himself back in Jerusalem. The Lord takes him on a tour of the Temple, giving him a spiritual view of what’s actually going on there. The sin is outrageous and disgusting. Anyone who loves the Lord and worships him would be broken hearted to see their precious Temple desecrated in this way. Then, Ezekiel sees a man on a mission. He’s to walk the streets of Jerusalem, putting a mark on the foreheads of those who are distressed at the sin of their nation. All others will be wiped out. I find it interesting that in Revelation we find the “mark of the beast.” In that case, it’s those who refuse the mark who are saved. Here in Ezekiel, we see the reverse. It is those with the mark who are spared from the judgment that comes. Comparing the two “marks” ought to cause some who subscribe to a “Left Behind” brand theology to pause and consider! I think of the mark of Ezekiel as the “mark of caring.” You see, God cares about people and righteousness and holiness. He’s always on the lookout for people who’ll join him in that concern. If that fellow with the writing kit passed by my life today I wonder if I would receive that mark.
Take Away: The sin of our society should break our hearts.