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Saturday, November 25, 2017

Kingship and a Righteous Branch




Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Sunday Next before Advent 2017


‘STIR up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”   

Every year we read this Collect, the Sunday next before Advent. We petition God to “stir up” the wills of His faithful people. Historically, this Sunday is known as “Stir up” Sunday.  Why? We are preparing for two momentous church seasons, Advent and then, of course, Christ-mass.  We Christians beseech the Lord to “stir up” our wills, that we may be filled with faith and plenteously bring forth good works. It is vital to our spiritual health that we appreciate these two upcoming seasons for what they are and not the mere counterfeit the World offers us.

Turning to our Epistle from Jeremiah, we read: ”Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will raise unto David a righteous Branch, and a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth.”[1]

How do these two thoughts come together on the Sunday Next before Advent?  What is the unifying theme here and what significance do they have for us?

First, it is that we see God being 100% consistent in His Holy Word.  What we mean here is that the lessons from this Sunday are purely and simply a fulfillment of prophecy. 

In this case, it is the prophecy of Jeremiah coming true in the days of Jesus.  The O.T. prophet Jeremiah clearly proclaims the kingship of the Messiah. He is to be the “righteous branch”, the “King” who “shall reign and prosper” over Israel and Judah. 
Then, in our gospel selection from St. John 6, Jesus performs a miracle that clearly gives evidence of His Kingship over all creation.  To the spiritually discerning, the prophecy is fulfilled.

But wait, one might say, how is it that Christ showed himself, really and symbolically, as King and Ruler over Creation?  If it weren’t for a grassy hillside near the Sea of Galilee, one could argue that He was not.  After all, what Jeremiah was prophesying was the standard Messianic vision several prophets had or would have in their ministries. This type of prophecy fed right into what Judah hoped for during the Roman occupation and the vision Judah had for herself: a strong, independent Jewish nation, led by their warrior-king-messiah, subduing all nations and bringing the light of God’s Law to the heathen.  In some ways, it is also the vision some 21st century Christians have of Christ as well.

Today, some members of Christ’s body on earth support Israel for this purpose. Not only to participate in the blessing on those who support her, but in some way to advance an agenda whereby Christ returns to earth in power and great glory.  It has been said, for example, that President Harry S. Truman believed this and thus helped advance the formation of the state of Israel.  He did this to prepare events for a certain end-time scenario. He thought that by causing Israel to be created, he was setting the stage for the Second Coming of Christ. In the mysterious sovereignty of God’s Will, he did help, just not with the short-term payoff he may have envisioned. It is true that all of us fulfill God’s Holy Will in some way, even when we are unaware of it.  For the spiritually introspective, most of us only see the glorious working out of God’s Will in our lives in hindsight.  Looking back, sometimes we are blessed with an “ah-ha” moment.  It is those times that we should bow our heads and worship most fervently as we see God’s Kingship in our lives.

It is precisely this Kingship that Christ revealed in Galilee when the hungry crowd followed him and listened eagerly to His teachings.  As Lord and Pastor of their souls, he fed them spiritually and then, fed them physically.  First, he tested his first disciple Philip by asking him where they might buy bread, in order that the crowd might eat.
Philip acknowledges the impossibility of earthly means to feed them.  Andrew then informs Christ of the lad with five barley loaves and two fish, while also acknowledging the paucity of means to feed so many.  Christ does not respond to this, but tells the disciples to have the people sit down. 

He then performed four important actions: he took, he blessed, he broke and he gave. The liturgical Christian will recognize these as the same actions a presbyter performs during the Eucharist. The symbolism is intentional. Christ feeds all of us in the Eucharist, just as he did the multitude.  All the faithful who come to communicate with Christ are the new multitude of the Church. After distribution, the men eat and are satisfied, just as we who come to the Holy Table are satisfied with Christ.

Note that the significance of this kingly sign was not lost on the people.  In fact, it was so evident that they wanted to make Christ an earthly king by force by necessary. Christ rejected this and withdrew from them into the mountains.

The message is both clear and mysterious.  Clearly, Christ was the expected One, the Messiah of God by the signs He exhibited.  Yet, it was unclear how He exercised his power once he began to appear among men.  Not as the powerful earthly ruler, with pomp and magnificence, did he manifest Himself to mankind. Yet, as possessing all power He showed Himself to man through His miracles.  Note that He did not create the bread out of nothing, using some manipulation of Nature or magic, but magnified that which already existed. Bread comes through the bounty of God and the labor of Man.  The message is clear to those who have a heart for God: Jesus is Lord and King, just not in the earthly sense of these terms. Rather than exercising lordship through coercive or terrible means, Christ exercises Lordship through loving authority.  He doesn’t need to extract fealty from us through fear or raw power, but through the attraction of love.

This is the standard that God expects of us.  We are to love God with our whole being, with our heart, our soul and our mind.  We are to love Him with every fiber of our being, the One who loved us so much that, in the words of John 3:16:  "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (NKJV)

Then, we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. We are, in the words of the Golden Rule, to treat others as we would have them treat us. We are to love them as we love ourselves. These two commandments, to love God and to love our neighbor, are at once very simple and very profound.  We can only do this through Christ and the help of the Holy Spirit.

That leads us to contemplate the great Season upon us, the Season of Advent
One cannot underestimate the value and importance of this brief and wonderful season.  
Are we ready, as faithful Christians, to re-commit to Him, as we prepare for another year in the life of the Church?  Will we permit ourselves to experience the full joy and peace of Christ is our life? These are all serious, but wonderful questions that Advent helps us to answer.

To us today, the same message applies: there is hope, for our “King and Redeemer draweth nigh.”  The Season of Advent is meant to help prepare our hearts and minds to receive the One to whom all Biblical prophecy points.  Advent helps us prepare for the One who brings light and life to a dark and despairing world.  Advent helps us to maximize the spiritual and temporal joys of Christmas, as we embrace the eternally momentous Nativity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

We pray you, let this Advent season be the richest you’ve ever had, full of the joy of Christ.

Glory be to God the Father, and to God the Son and God the Holy Ghost, now and forever.   AMEN


[1] Jer. 23:5

Thursday, September 28, 2017

Our Heavenly Family

16th Sunday in Trinity 2017
Grace and Glory: the whole family in heaven and earth

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Oct. 1, 2017
Examining St. Paul’s Epistle selection from Ephesians, one comes to a very interesting and wonderful conclusion: Christianity offers us something we can’t get from anybody else. God offers us something that is truly unique. What might that be, one might ask? After all, those of us Christians who are truly committed to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ already trust in Him for our salvation. Those of us who partake of the holy mystery of the Eucharist already have a deep abiding faith in our eternal life with Him. If we have this saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, what else need God give us? After all, this wonderful sense of our salvation through Christ is really the “big idea” of Christianity. Right? What else could God give us?

First of all, Paul tells the congregation at Ephesus to “faint not at my tribulations for you.” This may refer to the trouble that he suffered at Ephesus spreading the Gospel. Recall that Ephesus contained one of the great worship centers to Diana, the Greco-Roman huntress-goddess. She was worshipped everywhere. In fact, there was a lucrative trade in silver Diana statuettes, shrines and necklaces flourishing in that city. In Acts 19 we learn of the craftsmen’s concern that, with the appearance of Paul and this “new” religion, their “craft is in danger to be set at nought.”1 Thus, the great uproar that caused Paul and his companions to be dragged into the city’s amphitheater, where, the crowd cheered Diana for about three hours before the town magistrate finally broke it up.

St. Paul mentions that his tribulations are “your glory.” He actually rejoices in suffering for the Lord Jesus! Paul then follows this up with the wonderful statement, (Ephesians 3:15) “Of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named,”

This is a key point. We mentioned that only God could give us something that nobody else could. Could this be it? Could this be the one thing that only God can give us? Yes! Only God in Christ can give us the one thing that will never pass away: a true, permanent and eternal family. Through Christ, we become members in the one family relationship that is not tainted by death, decay or sin. Only God in Christ can give us the true family in which there never will be any rancor or disagreement. Imagine that. Imagine a loving family that never passes away and is never “dysfunctional”, to use a modern term.

Is such a thing even possible? Those of us who have had some family friction simply shake our heads. How God could frame His heavenly organization in such a fashion, knowing the failings to which all families are prone?

The difference is this: we talking about the fallen families of man, with all the nastiness, anger, greed and self-service that they imply. On the other hand, how about the perfected, glorified company of the saints? In Heaven, we have the perfect, joyous group of the Church Triumphant, contrasted with the faint earthly reflection of it here. After all, the best things on Earth are but a faint reflection of things in heaven. Thus, imagine the very best family gathering you ever experienced, magnified to an infinite degree. Imagine being with a group of people withwhom you will never disagree, have any conflict, or a troublesome situation.

Another corollary to this is the situation of the orphan. Consider those who have never had a family. Those poor, isolated souls who have never had the embrace of a family’s love, flawed though it is, will have the fullest expression of familial love in its perfection.

Aside from the familiar aspect of Heaven, consider the fact that our growth in Heaven will never end. We will know and enjoy God for all Eternity. Our growth in holiness, however, begins here. John Calvin once said, “The highest perfection of the godly in this life is an earnest desire to make progress. This strengthening, he tells us, is the work of the Spirit; so that it does not proceed from man’s own ability. The increase, as well as the commencement, of everything good in us, comes from the Holy Spirit.”2

Calvin’s point, and that of the Epistle selection, is really one of grace. Citing an O.T. reading from Deuteronomy, the major realization we must make as Christians is that God set his grace upon us, not because of our deserving, but because of His ebullient Love for us.

This brings us back to relationship and from there, back to family. God our Father, Christ our Brother, and the Holy Spirit our Sanctifier, all desire to have you in their company for all eternity. This is simply amazing. As the inspired Word of God tells us, God desires a close, personal relationship with us.

How does this happen? How can we enter into such a relationship with our Lord and Master? Once again, we ask, perhaps in stupefied amazement, how is such a thing possible? Turning back to Calvin, he says: “This deserves our careful attention. Most people consider fellowship with Christ, and believing in Christ, to be the same thing; but the fellowship which we have with Christ is the consequence of faith.” Completely agreeing with this, St. Paul says that he wishes that we all, ”according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man;”3
This “might” of which St. Paul speaks is the power that comes from faith. This is the faith that we have a Heavenly Father who, through the Holy Spirit and the intercession of Christ, always hears our prayers, supplications, thanksgivings and praises. This is the faith that allows us to call upon God for all our needs, big and small. Finally, it is the faith that allows us to cherish a relationship with the Almighty that is both strengthening and nourishing to our souls and spirits. What is the result of this faith? Is it a warm, fuzzy feeling that all will be OK? Is it a merely a vague, feel-good sensation?

By no means! This is the faith that makes alive. This is the faith that procures strength when we think that we cannot go on. It is the faith that allows us to experience real, life-changing fellowship with God. Returning once more to John Calvin, hear these words of wisdom and perception: “No man can approach to God without being raised above himself and above the world. On this ground the sophists refuse to admit that we can know with certainty that we enjoy the grace of God; for they measure faith by the perception of the bodily senses. But Paul justly contends that this wisdom exceeds all knowledge; for, if the faculties of man could reach it, the prayer of Paul that God would bestow it must have been unnecessary.”

The result of this faith is that Christ may dwell in our hearts by faith, and that we are “rooted and grounded” in love. When we reach a realization of Christ’s love for us, we too may “may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; 19 And to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fulness of God.” In other words, our faith will allow us to recognize the immensity of God’s love for us, as much as humanly possible. It is our humble opinion that we flawed humans, so hopelessly marred by sin and rebellion, cannot possibly understood the infinite degree of God’s love for us.

Yet, we must try. We must seize God’s love for us and cling to it, knowing that because God so loves us, we can love others and ourselves. We are actually unable to love others until, through the Grace of God, we are able to love ourselves completely in Christ. This overwhelming love of God for us is then projected to others…

It is at this point that we begin to grow into the person God wants. Not weak, but strong in faith. Not hateful, but strong in love. Not faithless, but faithful in God through Christ. Not sorrowful, but moving through the sorrow of this fallen world in joy and hope.

Listen to this wonderful closing benediction from the end of the 3rd chapter of Ephesians: “Now unto him that is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that worketh in us, 21 Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen.”4

Amen, and amen ...
1 Acts 19:24-26
2 Calvin, John, “Commentary on Ephesians 3”
3 Ibid

4 Eph. 3:21-21

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Rejection and Grace


14th Sunday after Trinity 

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
September 17, 2017

Micah 6:1 Hear ye now what the LORD saith; Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice.


Our Old Testament lesson from the prophet Micah is amazing. Why? It is amazing because when one hears the lesson with the new ears of Christ, one hears wonderful, yet poignant things. One alsoe sees an amazing picture of God and Man. In these eight verses we learn of the perversity of mankind counterbalanced by the overflowing love of God. We also learn what God truly wants from us.

One might, however, be tempted to question such a profound statement. After all, how can one see an Old Testament lesson through New Testament eyes? In other words, how can one see the Chosen People of God, governed by the Law, through the New Testament lens of grace? This is the crux of the matter, yet when we consider Scripture as a single piece, like the woven cloak of Christ – without seam - the issue becomes more transparent.

Let us consider how this passage reveals our paucity of spirit, contrasted with God’s infinite well of grace. Hear this amazing statement, “Arise, contend thou before the mountains, and let the hills hear thy voice.”1 The prophet commands the mountains to hear the Lord’s “controversy” with His People. He beckons verbally to the strong foundations of the earth to heed the controversy.

What is the nature of this conflict? What could be so extreme that God is willing to “plead” with Israel? Why would Almighty God have His prophet use such language? The cause is one of extreme injustice and lack of love towards God. Israel has, by this time in history, so corrupted herself with paganism and hypocrisy that God is willing to “plead” with her.
The Jews have so alienated themselves from the Covenant that they have smitten God to the heart; so that Micah asks, “O my people, what have I done unto thee? and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me.”2 Do our ears deceive us? Through His prophet, is this God Himself asking his wayward people how He has wearied them?

Recall that this is a people who have become infatuated with every corrupt Canaanite religion, all of them involving ritual drunkenness and ritual fornication, let alone the gross idolatry associated with them. Jewish homes had various pagan images in them, and the great Temple itself was a hotbed of idolatry. Some Jews were even indulging in the vile practice of ritual infanticide to satisfy the Canaanite gods. Meanwhile, our God asks how He has wearied them? It would be laughableIf it were not so very serious.

Yet we know how serious it is. So much so, that Micah has stopped preaching to the people and instead, addresses the hills, mountains, and earth! The People have become so stiff-necked and so hard-hearted that evidently there is no longer any point in addressing them.3 As further evidence of this, John Calvin mentions that the mighty prophet Isaiah was Micah’s contemporary, actually preaching and ministering at the same time.4 Israel’s situation was so bad that God sent two prophets simultaneously to bring the message of repentance and salvation, if only the people would reject their obsession with idolatry. We know from history how bad Israel’s state was, as God finally executed judgment upon them by the hand of the cruel Assyrians.

Having the luxury of looking back at history, we see how strictly the Jews were punished and conversely, how fierce was God’s love for them. It was so strong and so passionate that God Hmself would actually “plead” with His People. God Himself knew how dreadful and how merciless the Jews’ treatment would be in the days to come. He knew how greatly they would suffer for their idolatry.

We see this clearly in God’s patience with them and the untiring efforts of many prophets sent to turn them from their paganism. Yet, as we know from history, the Israelites would continue in their sin cycle until God’s patience was finally exhausted.

Now, we know that God is incapable of being hurt, or suffering rejection, or even having anger and rage. He simply is, in complete serenity. Yet, in order to understand Him even a little, perhaps it is necessary to anthropomorphize, that is, give him human attributes so that we can relate. We know in our innermost being that God sees all of eternity as a single glance, in which His glory is preordained for all time. Yet, in our finite, fractured way we need to think that God feels what we feel. Of course, in the case of God Incarnate, Jesus Christ, we know exactly how He felt, because He was one of us. He experienced everything we experience, every joy, sorrow, and temptation, yet without sin.

we know one thing more. We know that God is capable of love that transcends our understanding. He is capable of showing such patience with us that he will hold his mighty Wrath for literally hundreds of years. How do we know this?

This is illustrated very clearly in the passage is God’s treatment of His People. Not only did He deliver them from bondage in Egypt, but he set before them great leaders such as Moses, Aaron and Miriam. Moses was once a great prince in Egypt, and became a prophet and a lawgiver. Aaron was the first of a priestly line that guided Israel. In addition, for all those who think that God is a misogynist, consider the mention of Miriam here, a prophetess and great leader in her own right. In short, God’s People didn’t lack for leadership.

At this point, one may ask, if God so loves his People, how could he allow them to pass through such massive suffering, which was to transpire in the relatively near future? How can a loving God allow this? Two answers suffice for this. First, we know that God’s ultimate Holiness cannot be mocked indefinitely. God’s People could not claim the benefits of the Covenant, that is protection and grace, and still engage in flagrant violation of His laws. At some point, God’s integrity must be reaffirmed in the hearts of his People. Without being tedious, we know that God had to punish His People in order to show that.
His judgment was not done not out of cruelty, vengeance, or even retribution, but out of infinite love. Rather than lose the souls of his People to eternal perdition, he chose to chasten and correct them, so that they might turn to Him.

Yet Man, being Man, always wants to be in control in some way. In fact, Man wants to justify himself in the eyes of God. The Jews, given their ritual system of sacrifice and purification, became the ultimate participants in this game of seeking favor from God. In fact, the Jews not only sought favor from God, they actually demanded it from Him. Their supposed righteousness in following the sacrificial system actually made God a debtor in their eyes. They thought that God owed them forgiveness and expiation of sin because of their righteousness.

Yet, the prophet asks, “Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, or with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?”5 What does the Lord really care for our religious acts, especially when they are based in arrogance, self-righteousness, or pride? Does anyone really think that God took pleasure in some poor beast’s death in order to wipe away a man’s sin? We think not. Sacrifices merely served to remind man that consequences always exist for sin, not to please God with the shedding of blood.
We come at last to God’s expectation of us. Is this more sacrifices and gallons of holy oil? No, rather He wants a transformation of the heart and spirit. He wants us to walk uprightly, yet humbly before Him. He wants us, in short: “to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?”6

What an amazing requirement! He wants us to echo His own qualities of love, of mercy and of good will without pride or self-righteousness. He wants us to be reflectors of Him and to let His Light shine through us to the World.

If we do this, it is better than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.
AMEN
1 Mic. 6:1
2 Mic. 6:3
3 Calvin, Commentary on Micah , http://www.iclnet.org/pub/resources/text/m.sion/cvmic-01.htm
4 Ibid
5 Micah 6:6-7

6 Ibid 6:8

Friday, August 4, 2017

Glory and Appearance

The Rev’d Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul’s Anglican Church
Transfiguration, 2017


Last week we read about Abraham being called upon to sacrifice his son, Isaac. Although in God’s ultimate mercy, he was not required to complete the act, only to show a willingness to do so. Abraham was foreshadowing the complete sacrifice God the Father would perform for us in Jesus. From this, we see that sacrifice is a key theme in Christianity to repair relationships.
In this week’s Gospel, we hear of an event that changed three of the Apostles, James, John and Peter's relationship to Christ. In this passage, we see Christ and the apostles going up into a high mountain, where he is transfigured before them. He is changed from being the great Teacher into something else: deity. From this time on, none of these three men could see Christ in the same way as before.
Imagine the scene: up on the mountain, Christ begins to pray, and as he does, His clothing begins to glisten and whiten, and his face was changed. He is glorified. Next, two men appear with him, Moses and Elijah, who also are in a glorified state. The engage Christ in conversation, talking with Him about his upcoming death in Jerusalem.
The situation is very rich in symbolism and meaning, It affected how the Disciples saw Christ, and how we should see him today.
First, Christ's appearance is not something of this world. His face and clothing take on a otherworldly shine; in fact they “glisten.” What does this mean? Simply, that for a while, Jesus took on a glorified nature, or as one commentator says, a foretaste of the glory to come. He is no longer just Jesus the Man, but now shows his divine nature as Christ the Lord. He appears in a non-earthly form that only those of another realm can take. The disciples cannot make any other claim.
Next, Jesus is joined by two men, Moses and Elijah. This is important to us for at least two reasons. First, it shows Jesus as the living bridge between the Old Testament and the New. Moses represents the Law, while Elijah represents the Prophets.
Here are two pillars of the Old Testament meeting with Him who will establish the New Testament in His Blood.. The validity of the Old and New together is affirmed.
Second, it shows us that the saints of the Old Testament Church will be saved. Moses and Elijah's presence with Jesus affirms this. This is important, for it shows that someday, in God's own time, the vail will be taken away from the Jews' recognition of Jesus. They will see Jesus as the Messiah, and in so doing, will embrace salvation. What we do not know is when.
The question we must ask ourselves is this: how do we see Jesus? Do we see Him merely as the great Teacher? Do we see Him as the great social revolutionary? Do we see him as the compassionate healer?
Yes, we should see him as all of these ways. Yet, there is one more way we must see Jesus in light of this Biblical passage. Recall the last two great happenings in this passage. First, a cloud overshadowed them, causing them great concern, even fear. Many scholars agree that this was the great Glory Cloud that covered the Tabernacle in the wilderness and actually prevented Moses from entering.1 It also filled the Temple and was so dense that even the priests could not minister in it. Called the Shikinah Glory Cloud, it is believed to contain thousands and thousands of saints and heavenly beings. Out of the cloud came a great voice. This voice said, “This is my beloved Son: hear him.”
Considering these events from Scripture, I ask you again: how are we to see Jesus? The answer should be plain. Not just the great Teacher, not just the great Healer, but who He really is, the Son of God. Keep in mind that this event happened a little over a week after Peter's confession that Jesus was the Son of God. Peter was given the faith to say that. Now, in God's glorious Will, Peter actually sees Jesus in His glorified state, as God. What a glorious gift that was!
We should do the same. Yes, we should admire Jesus the sinless man, while we worship Jesus as the true and only Son of God. There is only one Christ, perfect man and perfect God. We Christians are blessed to know both, through the wonderful words of Scripture, and the glorious Sacrament of the Altar. The words of the Bible tells us who He is, and the Sacrament lets us unite with Him in a real and very personal way. Amen.


1Matthew Henry, Luke 9

Right Thinking and Repentance

9th Sunday in Trinity 2017

Rev. Stephen E. Stults
St. Paul's Anglican Church
August 13, 2017

We read a very serious O.T, today from Ezekiel. It speaks of the gross ingratitude of man in response to the graciousness of God.

Let's discuss some information about Ezekiel himself. According to noted O.T. scholars Keil and Delitszch, Ezekiel,” יחזקאל Vulgate Ezechiel, while Luther, after the example of the lxx, writes the name Hesekiel, was the son of Busi, of priestly descent, and was carried away captive into exile to Babylon in the year 599 b.c. - i.e., in the eleventh year before the destruction of Jerusalem - along with King Jehoiachin, the nobles of the kingdom, many priests, and the better class of the population of Jerusalem and of Judah (Eze 1:2; Eze 40:1; cf. 2Ki 24:14.; Jer 29:1). He lived there in the northern part of Mesopotamia, on the banks of the Chaboras, married, and in his own house, amidst a colony of banished Jews, in a place called Tel-abib (Eze 1:1; Eze 3:15, Eze 3:24; Eze 8:1; Eze 24:18). In the fifth year of his banishment, i.e., 595 b.c., he was called to be a prophet of the Lord, and laboured in this official position, as may be shown, twenty-two years; for the latest of his prophecies is dated in the twenty-seventh year of his exile, i.e., 572 b.c. (Eze 29:17).”i

Ezekiel was a witness to the fulfillment of God’s prophecy concerning Israel and Judah. Beginning in Deuteronomy and continuing through all of the books prior to Ezekiel, the Jews had heard the same message again and again; stay in covenant with Almighty God, or suffer the consequences. This message they ignored and continued to run after false gods and various pagan religious practices, including ritual drunkenness and ritual fornication. They worshipped the Baals and Ashtoreth, as well as Chemosh and Milcom, who were the abominable idols of the Canaanites. We learn in Ezekiel that the elders of the Jews had even carved out secret rooms in the Temple of Solomon where they offered incense to various idols.

We know the history that followed Israel’s and Judah spiritual whoredom. First, the Ten Tribes of the Northern Kingdom were carried away and dispersed into the vast Assyrian Empire as a result of their gross idolatry. Next, the Babylonian suzerain Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and carried away the “cream of the crop”, so to speak, of Judah. The Prophet Daniel was among those carried away. King Jehoiakim became a tributary. Failing to see God’s Hand in their tribulations, this king rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, whereupon he marched again to Jerusalem, besieged it, and eventually took it again. This time, the Babylonian king carried away the king, his court, and many of the skilled artisans, warriors, priests and carpenters. He left a remnant of the people, over which he appointed Jehoiakin’s uncle, Mattaniah, whom he renamed Zedekiah. This occurred during the prophecy of Jeremiah, who warned the people repeatedly of their fate if they did not repent. Meanwhile, the various false prophets concurrent with him were prophesying prosperity and peace. As we know, Jeremiah was eventually proved right, although he was accused of speaking treason against the king and was imprisoned.

After the second fall of Jerusalem, Jeremiah, speaking for God, told the people to bear the Babylonian yoke with patience and all would be well with them. Even at this point, the leaders of Judah refused to hear the Word of God, but instead rebelled against Nebuchadnezzar, broke their treaty with him and turned to Egypt for help, the very nation which held them in slavery for 400 years.
This was absurd and futile. The Egyptians were smashed by the Babylonians, and now perfidious Jerusalem was to feel the full fury of Nebuchadnezzar, who had been remarkably restrained up to this point. His forces marched back to Jerusalem and besieged it again. Eventually, the city was starved out. The walls of Jerusalem were breached, and in the eleventh year of Zedekiah’s reign, the city was completely destroyed. The fabulous Temple of Solomon was thoroughly looted and destroyed as well. Nebuchadnezzar left Jerusalem a smoking heap of stones.

As we know from the book of Jeremiah, Zedekiah, his court, and his top military men tried to escape through a hole in the wall. They were captured and brought to Riblah. Here, Zedekiah’s sons were killed before his eyes, and Zedekiah himself was blinded.
He was led in chains back to Babylon, where he spent his days as a captive, subject king to Nebuchadnezzar. Judah as a nation had been effectively destroyed.ii

In the section of Ezekiel we read today the destruction of Jerusalem, had not happened yet. The final blow had not yet been struck against the heart of Judah. Yet, we see in the reading that the mindset that would lead to it was very much present among the exiles to which Ezekiel was attached. In this passage, God speaks of those who take success as their own, without any recognition of the goodness of God. The elders of Israel came to Ezekiel seeking the counsel of God, yet their innermost hearts and spirits were not of God. In fact, they had put the stumbling block of their idolatry in front of the faces and had idolatry in their heart, even while they were seeking the counsel of God. Obviously, they were “hedging their bets”, so to speak. They obviously wanted to enjoy the notorious sensuality and wanton-ness of their pagan practices, while pretending to be holy towards the God of Israel. This cannot be.

Our God is a holy God, who will not tolerate our allegiance to any sort of idolatry. He will not allow His Glory to be diffused with another. He cannot allow His Holiness to be diluted in a believer’s heart, or to be mixed with an idol of any sort, if one is to enjoy true fellowship with Him. If we have deep hatred, animosity, or unrepented sin abiding in us when we enter the House of God, we cannot offer a worthy sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving, because our spiritual selves are in turmoil due to sin. One may, like these elders of Israel, go through the motions of religiosity, yet never really get close to God.

The purpose of religion is not merely to do ritualistic things for God, but to develop a deep and abiding relationship with the Holy Trinity. Thus, when Christ speaks in Luke 17:21 regarding the Kingdom of God, “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: 21 Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.” This is very akin to the statement Jesus made in John 14:23 where he says, “If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him.” This certainly sounds like a relationship situation to me.

This sense of relationship is exactly what is missing from the Jewish elders with whom Ezekiel dealt. God is not minded to listen to them because they are not really interested in a relationship with Him. They only want to use God to get what they want, or to hear what they want. They want to hear are the words of the false prophets saying, “Peace, Peace”, when there is no peace. Eventually, through Ezekiel, God told them that He will turn His face from those who deceive themselves with idols and will remove them from their land. This will be done not out of cruelty, but rather out of chastisement, so that Judah would eventually repent herself of her idolatry.

As later history would prove, God did remove Judah from the Promised Land. Judah did repent and was restored, but to a lesser degree until the time of the Ptolemeys. By this time, the Jews were so against idolatry that it led to the rise of the Pharisees, who became jealous guardians of the Law.

The point for today is that we too must remove any idols in our hearts, or any stumbling blocks of iniquity that impede our relationship with Almighty God. All of us have them, and for us to enjoy the fullest fellowship with God, they must be removed. The Holy Spirit will keep pointing to them until one of two things happens. Either we, with the help of the Holy Ghost, remove them in order to enjoy a fuller experience with God, or we will grow hardened in our sinfulness until a fuller relationship loses its value to us.

Pray God that this does not happen to any of us, because it had serious consequences. Rather than experiencing the wonderful fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, contentment, godliness and self control, we will bear the evil fruit of our natural natures: hate, discontent, malice, unease, fear, and infidelity.

In the words of St. Paul himself, he me! May it never be! We pray that all of us may continue to take daily inventory of ourselves and of our relationship with Almighty God in Christ. Unlike those idolatrous men in Ezekiel whom God would not hear, we will enjoy the warm spiritual embrace of our Heavenly Father. He will hear us. He will come to us and tabernacle with us. He will make His Face to shine upon us. Through His blessed Holy Spirit, He will give us peace, now and forever.

AMEN.
i Kiel and Delitzsch, “Ezekiel”, BW 7.0

ii ibid