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Judgement is Coming. Ezekiel 9

Ezekiel is given a terrifying vision of the fury of the LORD in chapter 9. He stands in Jerusalem next to an angel who only seems to be able to yell at the top of his lungs the commands of the Lord for each step of judgement against the people of God. Judgement always seems to come loud. There is something about fury that is loud and causes us to want to cover our eyes and ears in the face of the anger and wrath that is coming. Perhaps one of the greatest distinctions between God’s righteous anger and the unrighteous judgement of men is the volume. When men pass unrighteous judgement we try to conceal it and keep it quiet. But, when God breaks forth, there is deafening ferocity. He need not hold back his judgement nor does He require approval.

In verse 4 God commands that those who “sigh and groan over all the abominations that are committed in [the city]” be marked with a saving brand on their foreheads. In other words God goes out of the way to protect those who are troubled by the sin they see around them. (So, ask yourself, do you grieve over sin?) He lays out a mark on those who are actually recognizing the sin that surrounds them. These people are then spared death that follows. So the angels of God travel through the city of God and slaughter the people of God but spare those who are marked by the heart of God. Those who are marked are the ones who share the heart of God. They are the ones who grieve over sin and pray for The Lord to rescue. They are spared death, but they are not spared judgement. Everyone around them dies and in the next chapter the Lord departs from the temple. Just because we may share the heart of God and grieve over sin, there comes a point at which we will suffer the judgement of God on our corporate bodies simply because we are a part of a people who have turned a deaf ear and a blind eye to sin for far too long.

In verse 6 we are told that the judgement begins in the sanctuary. The terrifying nature of God is that He purifies from the inside out. God always begins His judgement with His people. Peter warns us of this principle in 1 Peter 4:17 when He admonishes us not to be surprised in the Church of God should suffer punishment from God. The only comfort we are offered is that when this life is over, we have been marked and did not have to face the second death.

Ezekiel falls down before the Lord and cries aloud, begging the Lord to spare the remnant. Now at this point, we assume that God will say, “of course I am going to save a remnant Zeke… don’t worry about it.” But that is not the way this story goes. God tells Ezekiel in verses 9-10 that everyone must suffer because the guilt of the house of Israel is too great and the Lord is bringing justice. What a terrifying justice! God determines that His own people must be destroyed! The people of God are so wicked in Ezekiel 9 that they cannot be rescued until judgement has already landed. The must walk through the judgement of God.

The judgement of God is terrifying. It is loud and clear. It slaughters everyone and even those who are marked for protection from death suffer the pain of that judgement. It begins with His people and there is no escape from it. The only hope we have is that God would intervene and give us new hearts, bring dead bones to life, and fill His temple again… but that won’t happen for almost 30 chapters. (ch. 36-43)

Beloved, the church in America is not far from Ezekiel 9. Some of us may be spared death, but our idolatry and self-centered worship has risen before the Lord and He will respond. What you are seeing happen in the world around us is merely a symptom of our own long standing wickedness. Hear the call of the Lord to repent from sin and love like Jesus. The longer we tarry to obey His word, the more imminent judgement becomes. God will decimate our churches so that He can have a valley of dry bones to resurrect. Dry bones that cannot save themselves. Dry bones recognize their state as completely dependent on His word for life. They do not try to save themselves and they are not able to ignore the voice of God when He calls. Let us do as Ezekiel and prophecy to the dry bones! Let us herald the coming of justice to the house of God! Let us speak the Word of the Lord and watch it change the world beginning with the church! Let us fall face down and beg the Lord to forgive the iniquity of His people. Only then will dry bones live! Perhaps then the Lord will have mercy on us.

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Overcoming Temptation (Matthew 4)

In the temptation of Christ, Satan attempts to draw Jesus to deny God by three simple challenges.  The first is turning stones into bread. The second is miraculous acts. And the third is idolatry. Jesus maintains perfect focus on the mission of God and comes out the victor. (Read it here)

Stones to bread:

Jesus kneels, hungry and exhausted, and the accuser dares to pose the challenge. “Make these stones bread.” The enemy challenges God’s provision and Jesus has the opportunity to utilize His own strength or to focus on the mission at hand. The interesting truth about this first test is that Jesus is “The Bread.” He is bread. He is what sustains life. He is the sustaining breath in our lungs and the life giving power that maintains all life on earth. Satan tempts Jesus to deny that mission. Take these stones and make something else bread… go on, you’re hungry… deny the mission of God.

Miraculous dive

In the second test the accuser leads Jesus to the peak of the temple. Imagine for a moment, Jesus stands at the epicenter of religious piety. Imagine what must go through His mind. All the people enslaved to a religious system that has really become a corruption of what true worship is. All those religious people are clamoring to earn some sort of righteousness that will never come in this way. His heart must have grown faint at the sight of some of the worshipers. The Pharisees who would never believe (John 10) are just below. He could do this amazing feat and have them eating out of His hands. Then what of the people outside the court? What about the people who cannot enter? He would be King then, for sure, but they would not know Him. They would see God from the same distance that the people Israel always  had to endure. They would stand gazing upward at the fire on top of the mountain while trembling in fear and sin in the face of a Holy Terror. No, The New Moses must come down the mountain to connect the people with their God. He cannot stay atop or the people will be caught in eternal distance from God. The mission of restoration must supersede mystical terror.

Idolatry

The final temptation is played out on a global scale. Jesus is shown the entire world and told that He can have the whole thing, so long as He agrees to make the devil God. I believe this was a tactical error on the devil’s part. You see Jesus made the world (John 1) and when He made it, it was perfect. The devil offers Jesus a marred and broken world. Imagine the sorrow that flooded Jesus as He saw His creation desperate for His restoration. Imagine His anger at sin. What fury must have raged as He looked through time and space and saw you struggling in your sin. What agony must have built as He watched every injustice played out on His beloved earth. What terrific indignation He must have garnered in that instant before He responded to Satan. What must it have been like? His face turns red, jaw clinched, tears begin to stream, hands tighten, eyes narrow to eagle like focus on the mission of restoration, and the proclamation is made!

Overcoming temptation is difficult to do, but it can be done and you in fact have been empowered to overcome by the work of Christ on the cross. (1Pt. 4:1-6, Rom.6:1-5, 15-23) When Christ overcomes temptation He does it by His connection to the Word of God and His focus on the mission of God. Likewise, we must overcome temptation by the same means. We must remain connected to the Word of God at all times. Simply put, this means that you should be reading and memorizing your Bible. To fail to do so is to weaken your own resistance to temptation. This application is simple and you should not be surprised at your failure if you never listen to the word of God! Second, we must maintain a focus on the mission of God. To see the world from an eternal perspective will alter the way you can be affected by temptation. Your resolve will be steel! The accuser will not be able to quench the light that comes from your soul. Learn to see the mission of God above all else and that cowardly accuser will flee.

The “I Am” Statements in John

I’ve been gone from this blog for a few months now for various reasons.  The main reason I’ve been absent in writing for you is because I have been writing a book… maybe someone, someday will read it.  No, I’m not done, yes you may read it and give your opinion, no I am not going to post it online, and yes eventually my wife will edit it which will make it a much better book.  So if you want to wait, I don’t blame you…  but it might be 20 years or so. (I have no desire to be a prolific writer, I just want to write one book that matters before I die.)

Having said that, I wanted to share something.

There are 7 “I am ______” statements in the book of John.  The Bread, The Light, The Door, The Good Shepherd, The Resurrection, The Way Truth and Life, and finally The True Vine!

The first three we will deal with today, the last three on another day, and we will deal with the middle statement last. These first three are always repeated, and are delivered in the face of religious leaders who hate Him!  They are repeated as a form of call to repent, which is important to note!  Understanding the character of Jesus IS the call to repentance.  When we learn the character of Jesus we are exposed before Him and must either repent or reject Him.

The Bread is mentioned in John 6:35, 48, and 51.  This claim is placed within a story in which Jesus feeds 5,000 people (at least), miraculously walks over a body of water with His disciples, and ends up with people complaining about Him.  In this way John connects Jesus with Moses freeing the slaves from Egypt and thereby designates Jesus as the savior that Moses promises would come in Dt. 18:15-22.  Jesus stands on the other side of a miracle and makes a clear statement, “I am the bread of life come down from heaven!”  In making this claim Jesus is explaining that the true miracle of sustaining provision and nourishment is Him!  So Jesus is here claiming He is the sustainer of life.  Agreeing with Isaiah 55 Jesus explains that true sustaining power in life is The Lord Himself.

Jesus next calls Himself, “The Light.” (8:12, 9:5) This claim is found in two settings, which is rare in John.  In a simple reading of John you will find clearly delineated points told through stories and subsequent discourses that are interconnected by the setting.  However, in this particular one the setting changes.  First Jesus stands in the temple treasury following a great feast in which there was a large candelabra to commemorate God’s guidance through the wilderness.  It is in this context of a pillar of fire that Jesus makes the claim, “I am the Light of the world!”  Then Jesus argues with the religious leaders until they try to stone Him!  Don’t worry, they don’t get away with it… because Jesus “hid Himself”… in an open courtyard… while surrounded.   The second time Jesus makes the claim is in the midst of healing a blind guy in chapter 9.  After healing the blind guy Jesus makes the point that the religious leaders are blind but claim they are not, and therefore “their guilt remains.” (9:41) By claiming to be the Light, Jesus connects Himself to Isaiah 42:6-7.  In Isaiah God states that He will guide His people and He will give them sight and free them from blindness.  Thus, Jesus is explaining, The LORD will be your light and will give you sight.

Next Jesus makes the claim that He is The Door! (10:7,9) This statement is made in the context of explaining the role of a sheep gate.  In order to understand this, you’re going to have to bear with me.   In ancient Israel, shepherds would need to bring their sheep inside a gated area with a gate keeper and other sheep herds.  Multiple herds would be kept in the same gated area.  When a shepherd came to the gate, the doorkeeper would open the gate, the shepherd would call out his sheep and they would come out to follow him.  Jesus calls Himself The Door effectively claiming that He is the way in which we find protection from death and calls us out of our religious protective systems into safe pasture under His guidance.

All three of these will make amazing since in light of the last three which we’ll talk about next week.

The Disciple John

fire_from_heaven

James and John often make me laugh.  Did you know that John has only a handful of lines in the Bible? Surprising, I know, but there is reason that what he says was not often written down.  There is very little personal testimony of John’s character from his own mouth and the little we do have reveals his own goofy character.  One of my favorite scenes is when James and John see Jesus rejected in Samaria in Luke 9:51-56.  The sons of thunder see Jesus rejected and they ask Jesus, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them!?”  I imagine the Biblical account leaves out the extended lecture that they received from Jesus.  It simply records, “Jesus rebuked them.”  What is even funnier is the story immediately before.  Jesus has just told them that the

greatest among them is the one who would be the least (verses 46-48).  Then John answers Jesus, “Master we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and he was not with us, so we tried to make him stop.”  Jesus corrects the misconception and moves on.  Now, here in these two snip-it’s a little of the Character of John is revealed.

In the first story, James and John are clearly zealous for the name of the LORD.  Much like the Jews that Paul references in Romans 10:2, “they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge.”  You see these two young men had not yet learned the way of Jesus.  Indeed they don’t learn it until the book of Acts.  They think that Jesus came to destroy his enemies and lay fire to those who

would reject him.  They fail to see the love that Jesus has.  Luke records in verse 51 and in verse 53 that Jesus’ face was “set towards Jerusalem.”  So he is focused on getting to Jerusalem.  James and John are probably under the assumption that this is a victory march and they are about to see Jesus lay the smack down on the Religious Elite, the half-bread Samaritan Jews, and the Roman oppressors!  But the way of Jesus is different from the way of the world.  Glory for Jesus is found in death and humiliation.  Glory is found in making the enemy your family.  Glory is found in bending over backward to establish the necessary forgiveness for the salvation of the lost sheep.  James and John think that one must triumph by violence and strength.  But Jesus is going to show them that triumph is found in peace and meekness.  Jesus is going to die, not kill.  James and John do not see

that Jesus is going to die, they think Jesus is going to win.  But the agenda of victory for Jesus is to die so that He God can win, so that the enemy might be saved.  The character of James and John is one of zeal without knowledge.  They persist in proclaiming what they think of Jesus, without actually searching out Jesus’ will.  Did you notice, they don’t say a word to Jesus before proclaiming with pride their intent to burn up those He came to save?

How does one know the will of God?  In John 7:17 Jesus says, “ If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority.”  In this simple statement Jesus calls everyone to

conform their life to the will of God.  Make your will to DO His will and you will know.  James and John needed to conform themselves to God’s will before they could understand God’s mission.  Only in laying aside their own desires and striving to desire God’s will are they able to understand God’s heart.   Indeed they would soon understand fully as their master is about to show them.

In the preceding story, John proclaims proudly, “WE STOPPED HIM!”  Again, John is not concerned for the good of the people here.  People were being rescued from demonic oppression in the name of Jesus.  But instead of recognizing the Love of God poured out through a willing vessel, John is concerned for his own agenda.  John was on the team, this other guy was not!  This other guy did not

follow Jesus in the same manner that John and the 11 did, therefore he must be stopped!  John imposed on this other brother the necessity of worshiping the exact same way he did.  Surely you can’t know Jesus unless you do the same thing John was doing!  Again, Jesus corrects John.

You know…  the disciples are often wrong and I like to laugh at them.  But I am

no different.  I sometimes insist that people must worship the same way I do.  They must have the same kind of music, the same preaching style, the same kind of building or they cannot possibly be worshiping correctly.  They must observe the same worship times and teach their children the same way I do.  They must read their Bible the same amount of time I do and they must listen to Piper, Chandler, MacArthur and balance that out reading Bonhoeffer, Hirsch, Mclaren, and Tozer.   (Now just s disclaimer: The Bible is the authority over how Christians should worship, and we need to be careful to obey Jesus through His Word!  But let’s be honest, there is a lot of stuff we do that has nothing to do with the Bible and is therefore not worth squabbling over.)  Like John, I am often zealous for what I deem is right… and yet I find myself having to seek the Lord all the more to understand His love and attitude toward those I deem worthy of death.  Then I find myself asking forgiveness for wrong motives and a self-aggrandizing vision.  So, I keep walking with Jesus and striving to understand His way, I will eventually grasp this love and will be conformed to the image of Him who created me. (Col 3:10, Phil. 3:10

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The Day Jesus Got Mad Pt.1

I have had the privilege of counseling a great deal of angry people. Well, counseling angry people got me to thinking about the day Jesus got mad.  I’d like to look at this from three different perspectives.  Today will be the disciples perspective.

In John 2:13, we see Jesus and His disciples coming from Jesus’ first miracle into the temple for Passover.  Now, to set the stage:  This rag tag group of guys has been looking for a messiah and they believe they have found Him.  They were recently at a wedding party where Jesus turned nasty water into wine and then they spent a few days just chilling with Jesus’ family. (v.12)  I remember when I was young and my Father would have foreign dignitaries into our home for a few days at a time.  One time, the president of the World Health Organization spent a few days in our home.  I remember just sitting in the room and listening to this brilliant man discuss everything from classical music, to economics, to poverty, even basketball!  He sat at the piano and played Autumn Leaves, then he played it the way Bach would have, then he played it the way Chopin would have, then the way the Beatles would have, then the way a jazz pianist would have.  It was incredible.  So I wonder…  how stinking amazing would it be to spend a few days in casual conversation with Jesus, God in the flesh!

After this retreat, the disciples must have felt like they could fly!  The things they would have learned, the joys they would have seen, the simple time spent in communion with Jesus after a miraculous experience would have made them want to dance into the temple musical style.  Imagine the confidence.  We’ve found the Messiah and we’re on His crew!  Yeah!  So, they head to Jerusalem… (notice in verse 13, John doesn’t include the disciples in this story.  I think it’s because he’s a little scared of this side of Jesus and he wants to emphasize that the disciples didn’t really get it yet.) Jesus walks into the temple and sees the money changers and makes a whip.  Now it takes a few minutes to make a whip.  Not a half an hour or anything like that, but a few minutes.  Can you imagine walking into worship with the most holy person you know?  Imagine the discomfort when you are planning on worship, hoping to introduce this Messiah to your friends (some of whom volunteer at the money changing table occasionally), and you see the change in His eyes and you realize that you’ve missed something.  This holy man you were walking with has suddenly become upset about something you didn’t even notice.  Have you been there?  You feel utterly sunk.

I can even imagine the conversation:

Peter: Dude, John…  what’d you do?  Why’s He all ticked off? (Peter would totally say “Dude”)

John: I didn’t say a word, I don’t know what He’s mad about. He just walked over there muttering something about prayer and oxen.

Peter: Did we forget the bread again?

John: Don’t bring that up, you’ll just get Him going on the Pharisees again.

Peter: Ask Him what’s wrong!

John: I’m not crazy bro.  You ask him! (John would totally call Peter “bro” but in a cynical mocking way)

Andrew: Hey guys, why is Jesus making a whip?

Peter: A what?

John: Yeah man, He’s making a whip.

Thomas: I refuse to believe that it’s a whip until He hits someone with it.

Andrew: I think we should move over there where He won’t hit us with what Thomas refuses to believe is a whip.

James: (Laughing) Why is Jesus mad?  Was Peter asking about bread again?

Peter: I still don’t get it, why’s He so…  oh dang, He just flipped over that table…  ouch, that must of hurt… I’m with Andrew… run away!

I’m being a little silly, but just think about it.  That uncomfortable feeling that you get when you’ve missed something critical and you’re afraid you may be absolutely in the wrong.  If you’re like me, you begin to catalog every bad thing you have ever done and trying to find a connection.  That sick feeling you get in your stomach seems to affect everything.  Your arms go weak, your mouth goes dry, your head begins to spin, and you feel the weight of failure beyond what you can stand because of something you can’t even see.  You stand by and watch as the King walks over to the side of the room, muttering under his breath and begins to fashion a whip.  It doesn’t take long, but you wait awkwardly not sure what to do.  Those brief moments feel like an eternity and you are acutely aware that you smell a little odd, desperately need a drink, and are beginning to sweat.  And then He explodes, beating people and flipping tables, yelling about righteousness.  Some of your friends get beat out of the temple, maybe even one of your childhood buddies that you were hoping to introduce Jesus to.

All of a sudden, John tells us in verse 17, you remember the Bible and suddenly realize what you missed.  The root of this anger is the House of God.  Shame fills you for a moment as you realize that you were blind to something that has been dreadfully wrong all your life.  Peter hangs his head and kicks a pebble on the ground and says something like, “I shoulda made a whip.”  Then some of the men you used to admire come stomping up in anger demanding Jesus answer for His actions.  It’s that moment when I imagine the urge to disown Jesus.  You’re standing right next to Him, obviously His friend, near tears already, and your favorite pastors come walking up, stammering to try and contain their anger, and they demand an answer.  I want you to imagine Sealy Smith, or Herman Coe, or Greg, or Mike, or Chuck, or Me walking up with a list of reasons that Jesus was in the wrong.  (Though I am certain we would agree with Jesus, for the purpose of illustration, that is who the disciples saw stomping up to their Messiah.)  Jesus, your King, answers these pastors, these second most holy people you’ve ever known, with a bizarre statement about razing the temple and rebuilding it.  His answer doesn’t even make since!  (We know this didn’t make since because John tells us they don’t get it until Jesus rises again. v.22)

Now let’s be honest, Peter’s taking some steps off to the side and looking at the wall as if he doesn’t know Jesus and so are we.  Sometimes God’s anger doesn’t seem to make since to us.  Sometimes Jesus says stuff that we really just don’t want to deal with.  Sometimes what is true is far too inconvenient for us to even want to recognize.  Maybe Jesus has said some things to you lately?  Maybe you’ve seen some things in yourself that you would rather He not beat out of you?  How are you going to respond?  Are you going to admit that you were in the wrong, and maybe you need to start a repentance tour to all the people you have wronged?  Are you going to insist that Jesus answer for His cleansing anger?  Are you going to stare at the wall and hope Jesus doesn’t turn to talk to you?

You see, we like anger.  But only when we’re the angry one and when we’re in the right.  But what about when Jesus is angry and we’ve missed it?  What do we do then?  We can pretend that we are righteous.  We can dismiss Jesus’ word as if He never made comments about our own wickedness and sin.  We can pretend that Jesus never got angry and was all smiles, hugs, and candy.   Or… we can be honest with ourselves and God, repent from our sins, repent from our failure to notice something so important about the God we say we love, and commit to obey and be more attentive to God’s word.