Week 47, November 14-18
Catastrophe strikes—God’s presence leaves the temple. In a terrifying vision, Ezekiel sees angels, wheels, fire, and eyes leaving the holy of holies. God is withdrawing from his temple. God’s presence is typically a sign of his blessing. So when God withdraws his presence, he is withdrawing his blessing from Israel. Yet, in his mercy, God will both be the sanctuary for his people in the absence of a temple and will eventually bring them back to the the land of Israel from exile.
In another prophetic performance, Ezekiel is to pack his bags. Not only that, but he will dig a hole through the wall and crawl through it with his luggage. He will become filthy as he crawls on his belly, just like how Israel has become filthy in their rebellion. Ezekiel is to be anxious as he prepares the people for exile. Exile is a certainty, and the people must simply wait for it with a fearful expectation.
A host of false prophets (and later, some elders, as well) are going around declaring that everything is fine. “Peace, peace” when there is no peace. God has declared judgment, and others are trying to temper that expectation. But God will not be mocked. Ezekiel condemns those false prophets. God will send his wrath on them. The Israel within Israel, the true remnant, will be always be spared from God’s wrath, even if they are in the midst of it.
Jerusalem, the center of God’s presence because of the temple, is called a “useless vine”. What good is a broken twig except to be as fuel for a fire? Jerusalem will indeed burn. Jerusalem is also as a faithless bride. She is a harlot, breaking her covenant with her husband, the Lord. Marriage is likely the most common illustration of the relationship between God and his people, and Jesus makes the same illustration between himself and his church.
Ezekiel is then given a parable to tell. The cedars of Lebanon were famous for their size and strength. In the parable, a beautiful eagle perches on a beautiful tree. The eagle plants a seed form the twig of that great tree. Another great eagle sees the freshly grown vine. The parable is the story of Jerusalem (the twig) being sacked by Babylon (the first eagle) and seeking safety from Egypt (the second eagle). God told Israel to seek help from him, not other nations. And because they sought help from Egypt, they will suffer the consequences.
What God requires, and has always required, is purity. Therefore, the one who sins shall die. A man is not judged by the sins of another; a man dies for his own. This is to show the complete unfairness of un-earned righteousness, which will take place in the work of Christ. Ezekiel recounts several of the Old Testament laws to which the people were accountable. However, they had been unfaithful in every area.
In the first of many laments against princes and powers, Ezekiel laments against the kings of Israel. The monarchy has become as weak and rebellious as the rest of the people. The king has led the people astray as the primary covenant-keeper. God again promises to pour out his wrath on his own people. There is a popular theology that says God never pours out his wrath on his own people, which has led many to believe in a position that at the end of the age, the church will not be on the earth for the final acts of judgment. However, based on the fact of God’s wrath being poured out throughout the ages on his own people while preserving the remnant, we cannot say that this is necessarily true. After judgment comes restoration. In this passage, God again promises to restore Israel after his wrath is poured out.
God gives Ezekiel the image of God drawing his sword against Israel. Not only does God draw his sword, but it is polished and clean. This is an image of judgment. He will cut off both righteous and wicked. All of Israel is the covenant community, and all of Israel will face the consequences of rebellion. HIs sword is bright like lightening, flashing as he brings down the reprobate. But this is true not only for Israel but for the Ammonites, as well. God will judge those who have performed atrocities upon Israel. But Israel will receive the brunt of the judgment. God calls Jerusalem “the bloody city” (22:2). Israel has become a violent place and full of idolatry. As God lists their sins, it becomes impossible to deny that God is just in sending judgment upon them.
The final section of Hebrews deal with how God’s people persevere in faith. We are given plenty of examples of what faith looks like so that we are able to emulate the great cloud of witnesses. In faith, Cain gave a better offering, Enoch never died, Noah built an ark before it rained, and Abraham left everything behind, which resulted in nearly offering up his own son as a sacrifice.
Isaac and Jacob both blessed the irregular son. Joseph believed God would deliver his people to the promised land even before slavery. Moses stayed with the Hebrews rather than live in the luxury of the Egyptians. Israel crossed the Red Sea on dry and and destroyed Jericho. Rehab kept a promise to spies she just met. All of this is to serve as an example of an active faith accompanied by works.
You see all the people who had a rough go of it but still made it to the end. Let those examples push you through the rest of the day and into tomorrow. Then, let them encourage you tomorrow. Perseverance comes from the joy ahead of us, our hope of redemption, the promises of God, a new city, eternal life, friendship with God. These are the same things that made Jesus persevere. Endurance or perseverance is looking to Jesus yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Because he is unchanging, I will continue to trust him. It’s not as if you’re holding a priceless glass ornament, and if you drop it, you face the death penalty. It’s that Jesus is holding you, and if you persevere in your faith in him throughout your life, it’s the evidence that he is holding you.
Things are not as bad as they could be. Even if they get there, you won’t have been the first and probably won’t be the last to endure horrible, wicked people because they hate God and you love him. Suffering is not evidence of a lack of faith. In the fiery furnace, “Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.’”.
Image of a body being healed and restored to health and strength. People go to the gym to strengthen the weak parts of your body. A life of consistent faith grows stronger through the bad days and shines in the good days.
Be a part of a church. See perseverance in Scripture; see perseverance in action. It’s not saying that your pastors have everything down to a science; it’s saying that we need to see perseverance at work in the life of believers today. Paul said in his letters, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Only imitate me in so far as I imitate Christ, not the ways that I don’t. We endure because we know that what is to come is far superior than any experience we have today.
If you struggle with understanding and living out the relationship of faith and works, or if you struggle to see how you could still be saved even when your best is still imperfect, the book of James is for you. James begins by shining a light on the sovereignty of God in suffering. Suffering and trials is a cause for joy, because God is at work. That takes wisdom, and we should seek wisdom only from God. Wisdom will lead to humility, which will lend itself to being unmovable in suffering. Suffering can lead to contempt an danger, but the anger of man is not the anger of God. It does not bear righteous fruit.
We keep anger in its rightful place by putting into action the words of Scripture. To not practice these things at all is like looking in a mirror and forgetting what you look like. We cannot read the words on the page and retain nothing. We will not be perfect this side of eternity, but we will put the law of Christ, the law of liberty, into practice.
Partiality is the sin of elevating some to a higher status because of superficial trappings and lowering others to a lower status for the same reason. This is especially horrific in worship, which is apparently what was going on in the church who first received James’ letter. The connection to the previous section is this: it is impossible to obey the law of liberty while simultaneously judging people by the world’s standards. The world is partial; the church is not.
The most contentious section of the book of James comes at the end of chapter 2 where he deals with the relationship between faith and works. Even going back to the time of Martin Luther in the early 1500s, this was considered a difficult passage. Luther even wanted to remove the book of James from the Bible; he considered it to be a gospel of straw. But by the end of his life, he was more than willing to see that both Paul and James shared the same theology of faith and works.
The issue was that at first glance, without any discernment, it can seem that James is saying that works are a necessary component of salvation. If that is true, it stands in direction contradiction to Paul who teaches that salvation is by faith alone; the righteous shall live by faith, not by faith and works.. However, once we see that James uses the word “justified” to reflect a demonstration of faith rather a declaration of faith, then it all comes together.
Paul was writing to a group who said you had to add works to faith to be justified. Jame was writing to a group who said they had faith but whose works implied otherwise. Paul used “justified” to refer to the declaration of God’s imputing Christ’s righteousness to you. James use “justified” to refer to the demonstration of good works as a result of God’s grace to us.
Both authors use Genesis 15:6 (Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.) to make their case. If God’s word does not contradict itself, then they’re simply using the same passage to draw out two different “significances” that are really there. There are two ways of applying the same passage.
In Romans 4:3, Paul is looking at how a person begins their right-standing with God. In James 2:21-23, Jame is looking at how a person fulfills their right-standing with God. The events of Genesis 15:6 took place between 30 and 40 years before Abraham placed Isaac on the altar. Clearly James is not using “justified” in the exact same sense that Paul is. It is similar to vindication or proof of a previous declaration. “I’ve been saying this all along!”
James is simply saying that Abraham’s and Rahab’s faith was genuine. Sacrificing Isaac and protecting the spies came after they had come to saving faith. The book of Hebrews says that it was in faith that Abraham left his homeland and offered up his son (Hebrews 11:8,17). That is what people of faith did, not what they did to receive faith. James’ point is that real, abiding faith causes both interior and exterior changes.
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