Friday, 20 September 2013

A vision of the glory of God

Ezekiel is granted a vision of the glory of God. Not surprisingly, it changes the direction of the rest of his life and it shapes his message. The constant theme throughout this book is the glory of God.

I’ve been living with this passage for the past few weeks. I used the passage for the Battle of Britain service, and I’ve been getting more and more out of it as I’ve read and reread it.

Ezekiel's vision progresses through various phases:

1. He sees the amazing creation of God
Ancient myths speak of throne bearers who are bull men.

But these 4 living creatures are very different: they have not just a bull face, but 4 faces: those of a human, lion, ox and eagle. They have the feet of cattle, wings of bird, human hands

These are the cherubim spoken of in ch 10, the embodiment of the whole of the living creation worshiping and speaking for God. We speak of little children being like Cherubs. We could not be further from the image of the Cherubim that the bible gives us. 

They have a unity: their wings are touching, and they move in formation. There is simplicity in their movement: they move together in one direction (v9). There is a glory in their being: as they move their sound is like that of rushing waters, of the tumult of a great army.

They don’t hold up the throne: they move (dance) beneath the throne.

They are living creatures, but they are also an embodiment of the higher created order in its rightful place.

2. He sees the 'chariot' of God
God appears by Kebar river, away from Jerusalem and temple.

God had said that he would put his name in the temple in Jerusalem. He said that if people prayed toward the temple, God would hear and answer their prayers. 
It is part of the human condition to try and control God, to try and tape him down, to turn Him into a tame God. So people began to restrict God to the temple. They said that because God said His name would dwell in the temple, God was limited to the temple. 
So when the people were taken away from Jerusalem to exile in Babylon, they thought that they had left God behind - a bit like a child might leave a beloved teddy bear behind. 

But God here is saying, you can’t restrict me. You can't leave me behind. I am free to be wherever I choose to be.

And so we have these wheels within wheels. There are four of them, and they appear to be the celestial chariot. They have
a. total manoeuvrability: they can go anywhere
b. rims are full of eyes: God can see. Later we discover that God is able to see the abominations that are going on in the deepest, most secret rooms of the temple back in Jerusalem
c. the spirit of God in them (v20). There is no distinction between the spirit, the spirit that is in the creatures and the spirit that is in the wheels.

3. He sees the naked power of God
There is the power of the windstorm coming out of the north: an immense cloud, flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light.
There is power in the 4 living creatures (the strongest of the cattle, birds and beasts), and the fire and lightning that surround them.

But now, above the creatures and the wheels there is what looks like a vast vault, and high over the vault is what looks like a throne – of lapis lazuli (sapphire in ESV)

For a people who are defeated, in exile, far from home, crushed; for a people whose God is mocked and ridiculed – it was a vital vision. Whatever it looks like, God has not lost his power. He is on the throne. Not any throne, but this throne. He is still in control. He is the ultimate absolute ruler. 

4. He sees the utter awesomeness of God
We are specifically told about the immense cloud (v4), the awesome size of the wheels (v18) [think London Eye size], the awesome vault [think standing by the Shard and looking up], sparkling like crystal (v22) [think of a vast sea of ice]

And there is the beauty and light. The colours are: burnished bronze (legs of creatures), burning coals of fire – from which lightning flashed out (the appearance of the living creatures), the wheels sparkle like topaz [ESV: Gleaming like beryl] (v16); the vault ‘sparkles like crystal’; the throne of lapis lazuli [ESV sapphire] (v26). All these colours come together in the appearance of what looked like a rainbow (v28)

Ezekiel is only too aware that his language is inadequate. How do we speak of the One who is beyond all imagination? He keeps on saying how what he saw was ‘like’ something else. And as he moves up from the creatures, the wheels, to the vault, the throne and God himself, so his language becomes more and more tentative.

It all leads to the vision of the One on what looked like a throne (vv25ff): whose figure was like that of a human being. From his waist up He looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down He looked like fire. He was surrounded by brilliant light, and the radiance around Him was like the appearance of a rainbow on a cloudy day.  

It is an amazing image. 

I was trying to evoke that sense of awesome wonder in younger children. The best illustration I could think of (and it is not very good) is that of visiting one of the great cathedrals and looking up in the tower; or of being outside in the middle of an amazing thunderstorm, or of riding on one of the great roller coasters. They’ve been drawn up to the first summit, and they are on top of the world. They can see all over the theme park. And then they see the drop. And their response: to scream: in total fear and utter excitement.

Ezekiel does not scream, but he does fall flat on his face

We must never forget that the God whom we worship is utterly awesome. As Mark Dever said, familiarity with God is not a measure of our intimacy with Him. Yes, we can approach the One on the throne with confidence, but we need to remember that it is this God on this throne who we approach. As we begin to glimpse our awesome God, so we realise what an astonishing work Jesus has done in enabling us to come into the presence of this God

It is all about the revelation of God
The Almighty God reveals himself to Ezekiel.

He comes to Ezekiel when he is in exile on the Kebar river. It was the last place anybody would have expected God to turn up. The heavens open (the same language is used of Jesus at his baptism when the dove comes and the voice from heaven speaks, of Stephen when he sees God as he is about to be stoned, and of John when he receives his revelation). And God comes to Ezekiel in the storm. He shows himself to Ezekiel, and then he speaks to Ezekiel.

And I note that it is as the living creatures stop moving and lower their wings, God speaks (v25). 
And it is as Ezekiel falls to the ground in awe, God speaks (v28).


And that I guess that is what this is all about. It is about the Almighty, utterly free, who sees all things, the all powerful, awesome God, who is beyond all language or imagination choosing to reveal himself.
And God shows this vision to Ezekiel in order that Ezekiel might know WHO is about to speak to him.He prepares Ezekiel for the message that he will speak.

It is similar to the appearance of the transfigured Lord Jesus who appeared to his disciples in glory. Peter, James and John saw him as he really was: this almighty God who in the past revealed himself to Ezekiel, now revealed himself to some of the apostles as the eternal Son of God. And like Ezekiel, when Peter, James and John see Him, they  fall down and hide their faces. And the voice from heaven says: This is my beloved son. LISTEN TO HIM.

We need to remember WHO it is who speaks to us: who speaks to us through the bible, the prophets and apostles, through the Church, and through the trials of life.

It is OK to speak of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, as our friend. Jesus says, 'I call you friends'.
But we must not forget that when we pick up the bible, we need to realise that this is the Word of God. 
We must not forget that when we come to receive communion, we are inviting the spirit of this God to come deep within our lives.
And when we come to worship, we need to come with the same attitude as the Cherubim,. They stop their movement, lower their wings (it is a bit as if they lower their defences) and are stilled, in order that they might hear the Word of God.

One day, we are promised, we will see Him face to face. I suspect that on that day we will fall flat on our face. But until that day comes our confidence is that this God chooses to make Himself known, and chooses to speak to us.

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