4. Aspiring to Goodness

Aspiring Meditations: 4.  Aspiring to Goodness

Ex 33:19    And the LORD said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you

2 Pet 1:5   make every effort to add to your faith goodness 

Gal 5:23    the fruit of the Spirit is … goodness

So a reminder: this series is about things we are to aspire to found in the Scriptures. We will now follow the list that the apostle Peter gives us and after faith which we considered yesterday, it goes on to speak of ‘goodness’, and so we have to ask, what is it, how do we aspire to it and how may we increase it in our lives?

There is a call in the Old Testament that comes up more than once: “Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.” (e.g. 1 Chron 16:34) and then we have the intriguing statement of the Lord to Moses, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you.”  (Ex 33;19) Not just some goodness but “all my” and why goodness?

We need to anchor that word ‘good’. A dictionary defines ‘good’ as “having suitable or desirable qualities; promoting health, welfare or happiness; benevolent, not troublesome” and goes on to give reams more uses of ‘good.’ ‘Good’ signifies in our thinking something that is pleasant, something positive that we are happy with.  Now the Psalms declare again and again that God is good (see Psa 25:7, 34:8, 86:5, 119; 135:3).  Very often in these verses, love and goodness are linked, in other words goodness is an expression of love; it’s how it works.

So goodness is an expression of God’s character and it is what He wants for our lives, but still, what is it? There is another intriguing voice in Nehemiah speaking of Israel’s life since they entered the Promised Land: They captured fortified cities and fertile land; they took possession of houses filled with all kinds of good things, wells already dug, vineyards, olive groves and fruit trees in abundance. They ate to the full and were well-nourished; they reveled in your great goodness.” (Neh 9:25) This ‘goodness’ brought forth good for Israel which was experienced in so many ways in the Land, good things they found there, good things that happened to them. Goodness is about bringing forth good in this world.

If I am to say that goodness is something I aspire to, it means that my life will bring forth things that are good.  Now when we say that, we naturally ask so what is ‘good’? Well we saw the definition above and so good in this context will be things that generally people will see and agree are helpful, pleasant, worthwhile, even excellent, very positive things. A modern book on such definitions says goodness “stresses moral excellence and an underlying compassion.” That was interesting! So goodness, love and compassion are linked together. An antonym (opposite) of goodness is “wrong doing”. Even more interesting!

If I am to aspire to goodness, I am to aspire to good-doing, moral excellence, expressed through love and compassion. If I do this I will be a person with whom you can feel comfortable, secure, even more, someone who will be a blessing to you. Yes, that is the truth behind this word.

So, how does it come? Where does it come from? Well we saw above that God is good, it is a characteristic of Him. In the previous study we also noted that some of these things – and goodness is included – are fruit of the Spirit, and there we noted that walking in the Spirit, living in the Spirit, keeping in step with the Spirit, will naturally bring forth this characteristic. In other words if I let the Spirit fill my life more and more, then goodness will be a fruit that will appear more and more.

The other day, I heard someone speak about another person and they said, using an expression that may be unknown to some, “she hasn’t a bad bone in her body.” It means there isn’t an ounce of anything bad in her. Perhaps, in trying to anchor this word, apply this characteristic, it is helpful to observe the opposites, the things we are not to tolerate in our lives. Already we noted the antonym ‘wrong doing.” If goodness is to be a feature of my life, then there must not be an ounce of wrong-doing in me. There is to be no room for anything questionable.

Now I have to admit that at this point I feel uncomfortable because I see behaviour in some of God’s children that worries me – those who smoke, those who drink too much, those who sometimes swear or blaspheme, those who tell crude stories or laugh at crude jokes. I have to say there are comedians around who I will no longer listen to, whose humour is without doubt ‘blue’. This has no part in one who aspires to goodness.

Now there is a danger I recognize here and that is to become a culture hermit. This requires discernment for Jesus met with those whose characters were decidedly off-beat, but that didn’t mean that he had to be the same. His goodness remained static and his love and compassion for the tax-collectors and sinners of his day meant he was able to win them. Zacchaeus (Lk 19) was a classic example. Matthew (or Levi) had been a tax collector but became an apostle. Jesus held on to his goodness but in a way that was not arrogant or condescending or judgmental and so won over those who were not good.

But back to modern culture. We have to learn to be discerning. For me films that are filled with constant ‘f’ words I find seriously annoying because the word then stays in my mind and the producer of the film could get away without it. Films or books constantly portraying the sex act similarly are on my ‘Not to Watch’ and ‘Not to Read’ list. Films or videos, TV series or books that are ‘dark’ or portray the occult are likewise not for me. Don’t let’s go into the world of computer gaming, it is the biggest nightmare going and many parents are criminally (literally) and spiritually negligent in the things they let their under-age (and over-age!!) children play. I saw a headline the other day that said that the younger a child is exposed to pornography, the more likely they will grow up to be abusive of their partners or their subsequent children. Pornography in any form is a no-go area for the Christian. The word about false prophets has a much wider meaning: “By their fruits you will know them.”

I used the word ‘dark’ just now to describe some TV, some movies and some books, and so we should add, fully in line with the New Testament, that we are called to be children of light and darkness has no place in the life of one aspiring to goodness (check out 1 Jn 2:9-11, 1 Pet 2:9, Col 1:13, Eph 5:11). A simple check: are there anything you saw, watch or read, about which you would be embarrassed if it was known in your church circle? Time for action if the answer is yes.

So, to summarise, goodness is a characteristic of God, a characteristic that will be formed in me as fruit as I walk in the Spirit. It is the expression of wholesomeness, the expression of right-doing and as I aspire to it I will reject all doubtful or dubious things, things that are ‘dark’, for we are children of light. As a child of light, where I am goodness should be spreading. Let’s be known for our goodness, let’s be attractive and let’s draw people to Jesus by his grace in us in this form. Let’s not be ashamed at being different but let our goodness be seen in the grace that is obvious in our lives. Can we be Jesus to our generation?

(I will be away from Internet access for the next two weeks on and off)

3. Aspiring to More Faith

Aspiring Meditations: 3.  Aspiring to more faith

Rom 10:17 “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”

Heb 11:6  without faith it is impossible to please God,

Mt 14:31  Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Hebrews 11:6 suggests the significance of faith – it is a vital requirement to have any sort of relationship with God – and so after grace, I believe it is possibly the most important idea or concept in the New Testament as far as our relationship with the Lord goes, outside the work of Christ himself on the Cross. It is how our lives with God are worked out.

We would be remiss is we missed out the words of the writer to the Hebrews defining the nature of faith: faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1) Now as good as that verse is, it doesn’t give the whole picture for it simply describes what I would call ‘passive faith’. Passive faith is all about knowing the basics of The Faith, all about God, Jesus, ourselves and what God has done for us through Jesus. That is all invisible, unseen, but as the Holy Spirit has come and convicted us to bring about our conversion, we become sure of these facts, sure about the existence of God, sure about the salvation His Son has earned for us.

But of course it doesn’t end there; that is but the beginning. If we really believe these things then they will have an impact on our lives and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, our lives will change. We will become people who are concerned about moral and spiritual standards and so, to cite the apostle Paul, we will, for example, “put off falsehood and speak truthfully.” (Eph 4:25) in other words our whole outlook on life changes and produces a completely new way of living, and our examination of these things to which the Lord wants us to aspire, are part of that. This positive change to our outlook, our attitudes and our words and our behaviour, in response to that basic body of truth we have come to believe in, are what I would call Active-Character faith, and in that sense every Christian is a person of faith.

How does this faith – both passive and active – come about?  “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” (Rom 10:17) In our previous lives we were ignorant of these things and then somehow, we were told the Gospel – we heard it. Someone shared it with us, and the Holy Spirit convicted us with it and when we responded the rest followed. From then on we ‘hear’ the word when we read the Bible, when we use Bible Notes, when we listen to sermons, when we receive a word of prophecy, when we receive that quiet inner nudge by the Spirit, and indeed sometimes as we pray we may sense Him speaking to us by what we find the Spirit leading us to pray. All of these are ways we ‘hear’ the word from the Lord and as the Holy Spirit gives us the sense that that is what we are experiencing, He may also convict us, challenge us to action.

Much of the time there will be a character-response, it will be something that affects how I think, feel and need to live. So a change comes about in me and in my lifestyle as I respond to Him – that is Active-Character faith. But there is also another branch of Active Faith that I would call for convenience, Active-Service faith. It is simply responding to His prompting and almost always comes from an inner conviction, an inner nudging of the Holy Spirit and it seeks to prompt me to act in a particular way. So I may sense a nudging that says, “Go over there and encourage that person,” or as I listen to someone sharing their anxieties, or their worries about their health, say, the prompting may come, “Ask them if you may pray for them now, pray over them.”  Or it may be more generally, “Share my love with them, tell them how much I love them,” or is maybe, “This is the time for you to share your testimony.” Each of these promptings are a prompting into action, or to serve the Lord in a specific way, to bring about something He wants to happen through you, His will in this specific situation. Faith occurs when you, having made yourself available to Him, respond positively and you find something rising in you that says, ‘Yes!’ and so you act and do what the Spirit said. That was Active-Service faith.

Now I am good at doing that with Christians and my wife is good at it with non-Christians, which suggests something I have noted in life: faith expressions are different for each of us. Some of us will have great faith for giving, some will have great faith for hospitality, some will have it for showing acts of charity or mercy, some of us will have it for sharing the Gospel with others, and so on.  Now when we see these things in one another we speak of them having the gift of this or that, and the apostle Paul wrote, “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us.” (Rom 12:6)

Now in the previous study, remember we spoke of grace as being God’s resources for us through His indwelling Holy Spirit. This particular resource is called faith and it is always a gift. God gave it to us through His Spirit, so some find it easy to evangelize, some easy to teach, some easy to be caring and compassionate and so as we step out in that gifting, we are expressing faith, what I am calling Active-Service faith.

Now we should also note that there is a gift of the Spirit called faith (see 1 Cor 12:9a). This simply means that a particular person – and I suggest this will not be happening every day – suddenly has total confidence that they can do a particular thing before them that the rest of us consider impossible. “But, no, we can do this thing!” Peter received it when Jesus urged him to step out of the boat (Mt 14:29). At that moment, he knew he could do it – and did!  For the more everyday faith when it comes to our particular gifting(s) we know we can do this thing and it will be good, because God is inspiring it, and so as we step out and do it, that is faith in action.

So can we develop faith? Can we increase it? The answer has surely got to be yes, otherwise Jesus would not have chided his disciples sometimes for their ‘little faith’, implying they could do better, and that he surely hoped for the future.  Well if faith comes from hearing, may I suggest we first need to learn to be more alert to what is going on inside our heads – because that is where we are going to ‘hear’. And having discerned that we are hearing God, determine to respond positively to Him every time we catch something. The more we do it, the more it will happen.  It is, I believe, that simple! Go for it! Let’s aspire to be people of faith – not merely having passive faith (although that is an essential start), but moving in Active-Character faith where we let His word shape our lifestyles, and then on into Active-Service faith where we do the works of God, just as Jesus said (Jn 14:12). Amen? Amen!

9. Confidence

Short Meditations in Philippians: 9. Confidence

Phil 1:19b   what has happened to me will turn out for my deliverance and make me dwell in safety.

So here is Paul in prison writing to the saints in Philippi and, speaking about his own circumstances, declares he is able to rejoice, both in the circumstances because of the things that are happening while he is still in them, but also because he is sure he is going to be delivered out of them.

Let’s try and apply this to our own circumstances which are not always, it seems, truly glorious! Hold these two things from above. Are we able to rejoice both IN them and also because we have an assurance that we will be delivered OUT of them?

What is the key to these two things? I believe it is a sure confidence in who God is.  In my studies over the last few years, I am absolutely sure that the Bible declares three things about God. First, He is love. Second, He is good. Third, He is perfect (meaning He cannot be improved upon). Now these three characteristics apply to everything God thinks, says or does. Now having said those three things I have to admit there are times in my life when I may struggle to reconcile what is happening to me with these three things, but I have concluded that they ARE true; it is just that for the moment I cannot see how my present circumstances are going to work for good – mine or others, and it may be that these circumstances are going to work for the good of others as well as for me (somehow they WILL always work for MY good). It may take a time to see this – and that may be months or years  even – but it will eventually come through.

Now the more we experience this sort of thing and see that this is God’s intent, the more, when the next set of trying circumstances come along, we can declare by faith what we have learned previously: God will bring good IN this and He will deliver me OUT of it.

Now these sorts of things are real trials of faith. When you cannot see the way ahead, when it seems impossible for any change to come or any good to occur, it is a real declaration of faith to be able to say, “I don’t understand how this can bring good or can change, but knowing the Lord, I KNOW He will bring good in it and He will deliver me out of it.  Now don’t try and out-guess God. Don’t try and work out how God will do it, because in an impossible situation only HE can do it. When wine runs out at a wedding, only He can turn water into wine. When too many ‘guests’ turn up, only He can extend the limited resources to feed them all. When a blind person asks for sight, only He can bring it. When death confronts you, only He can bring resurrection. Jesus proved it. He is the grounds of our assurance.

3. Heart Desire

Short Meditations in Philippians: 3. Heart Desire

Phil 1:9b  that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight

Put very simply this is what Paul wants for the Christians to whom he is writing, that he wants their love to get bigger and bigger and overflow – and he gives the way it is to overflow (abound); it is by having more and more knowledge and insight. Of what?  Surely, of the love and the goodness and the grace and the wonder of God as revealed to us through His word, through His Son and through His Holy Spirit.

This is what their apostle wants for this people, this group of Christians to which he is a father-figure, and as such he is an example to us, first to leaders but then to each of us. He focuses us on this particular desire for these people.

If you are a church leader of any kind, what is it that you want most for your people? Is it that they will be good, loyal members of your church or group? Is it that they will be good volunteers, to be those who serve the church? Do we have any describable desire for people or are we so taken up with ourselves that we really don’t think very much about others, and certainly don’t work on their behalf to bring about such desires as Paul now expresses?

Please really think about this seriously. So often I think preachers want to either just fill in the Sunday morning preaching slot with nice encouraging words, or maybe they might have the desire of imparting knowledge of God’s word, but unless these things are always undergirded by this one over-arching desire, we fall short of God’s desire for His people and what He wants to achieve through us.

Above all else, I am certain as I read the whole Bible that the Lord’s greatest desire is that we know Him and in knowing Him we know the One who IS love (1 Jn 4:8,16), and when we experience love we will express love. I express love the more I receive it. It’s how it works. We are transformed by experiencing His love and part of that transformation is that we express love more and more, because we will be expressing Him more and more as His indwelling Spirit lives and works within us.

Do I want other people to be transformed? Yes! Why? Three reasons. First, because God wants them to be transformed. Why? Because, second, He has something better for each of us than what we are now, and third, that ‘better’ is a life more enjoyable, more fulfilled, more resourced than it is now. This is what His love wants to achieve in us – MORE than we have now. This is what I want for each person I have in mind when I write, or each person I meet in church; it is a realistic desire because it is what God wants and is working for.

4. Exodus (2)

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 4.  Exodus (2)

Ex 33:13,18  If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people…. Then Moses said, “Now show me your glory.”

In these two verses there are two requests, one fairly obvious and the other quite mysterious, but both of them stand out as revealing the depth of the relationship that had formed between the Lord and Moses. Perhaps we need to observe what had been going on to catch the reasoning behind these two requests.

Moses, we saw in the last meditation, had encountered the Lord at the burning bush on what was in fact Mount Sinai, while looking after his sheep (which he had been doing for forty years there in the wilderness of Midian and into the Sinai Peninsular). There he had received his calling to lead Israel out of Egypt. This had all happened and as they left Egypt, the Lord had provided a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to guide them. He had guided them across the south of the Sinai Peninsular to Mount Sinai where He had revealed His presence in the cloud on the mountain and entered into covenant with Israel, giving them the Ten Commandments and other laws by which to guide their community life. The promise was still there that He would yet lead them into the Promised Land, Canaan.

While at the mountain Moses, Aaron, Aaron’s sons, and seventy elders had been called up the mountain to meet with the Lord and we read, amazingly, Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel went up and saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself. But God did not raise his hand against these leaders of the Israelites; they saw God, and they ate and drank.” (Ex 24:9-11) You may think that that was so amazing, it should be the focus of our meditation, but I simply mention it because it is just another of the many encounters with the Lord that Israel had. Moses gets called up on the mountain alone again and while he is there Israel become restive and the awful events involving a golden calf occur (Ex 32) which results in Moses having to intercede for the people. Nevertheless, those involved are put to death and the Lord sends plague on the people, perhaps killing off the guilty ones who had been missed in the executions.

Now following all this, and it is all very significant in respect of our two verses, the Lord tells Moses to lead the people to Canaan (Ex 33:1) but He would not come with them lest He destroyed them – implied, for their sinfulness – and it is in the light of this that Moses makes the first of his two requests, “teach me your ways so I may know you and continue to find favor with you.” (33:13) i.e. if I am to lead this people by myself, I want to know that I am doing it in the way you will approve. I need to know ‘your ways’, the ways you think and work. If I am to be your servant and get this right, I need to know what you would do in each circumstance.

Now this puts me in mind of the bracelets that were fashionable a while back with WWJD on them – “What would Jesus DO?”  They would be a reminder of the way Jesus worked, and I believe there was even a book that followed this idea through. It is an idea which appears to have merit. We know something of Jesus’ character in the Gospels and so we can imagine how Jesus might act – full of love and goodness – in the circumstances we find ourselves in. The only problem with that, is that it virtually recreates the Law and is godless! I mean we can live without reference to the Lord.

Look at the answer the Lord gave Moses to his first request: “The LORD replied, “My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” (v.14) Note the Lord doesn’t give Moses instruction as to His ways; He simply says My presence will be with you.  Now this is monumental! Moses catches something of this: “If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?” (v.15,16) i.e. I recognize that your presence with us is what will make us different from any other people, because you will be God and do what you do, and I can rely on that. It is as if Moses’ pleading has brought a change of mind between verses 3 and 14. The Lord will go with them; how else will they be a holy people?

Now what is the parallel today? It surely must be the fact of the indwelling Holy Spirit in each of us. His presence goes with us. Do we have a set of rules to guide us? Well yes, we have the teaching of the whole of the New Testament, but when it comes to specific, individual situations where the way is not clear, we need Him to inspire us, guide us and teach us, and He is there within us to do that. That is how significant His present-day presence is.

But Moses isn’t content with a sense of a far-off presence of the Lord, he needed something more. Yes, he’s been through the exodus, he’s led the people to Sinai, he’s had amazing encounter after amazing encounter with the Lord there, and even apparently ‘seen’ the Lord (Ex 24:10) but presumably that was a vision, for they had all lived and as wonderful as that had been, Moses needs reassuring. I want to see you! Really see you!

Essentially in what follows the Lord says, “I’ll let you see a tiny part of me, but not full on.” The impression of Scripture is that if you see the ‘face’ of God it is so full of light, splendour and power (all of that is His glory) that you could not cope with it but would die on the spot. What is amazing is that Moses had the temerity to ask this. What is more incredible is the Lord’s gentle dealing with him. He does not scold him or tell him off. It is almost as if He is pleased with Moses asking this, even though He knows he cannot grant it if Moses is to live.

What am I left with here? My call is to ‘follow’ Jesus, that means go as his Spirit calls me and guides me and directs me, and if along the way I ask presumptuous things, he will put up with me and just take me on. He delights in me stretching out in faith, even if sometimes it verges on presumption. When you have little children, you don’t expect them to always get it right, do you? You understand their enthusiasm, even when it is misjudged. You know they will grow up and mature, and that is how it is with us and the Lord. Hallelujah!

1. The Church, his body

Short Meditations on the Body of Christ:  1. The Church, his body

Eph 1:22,23   the church, which is his body

Some today may take this concept for granted, but for others it is either new or foreign. I can remember the first person I heard teaching on ‘the body’, an itinerant preacher called Campbell McAlpine, and it was back in the closing decades of the twentieth century. Since then, through the charismatic movement in those same decades, its teaching filled out some more, and yet it is, I believe, as relevant today, if not more so in a day when frequently it appears ‘church’ or ‘religion’, that fills so many TV channels, is presented so often by suited men in expensive settings, conveying a religion that is ‘success’ and ‘try harder’ orientated, a poor reflection of the wonder of what is conveyed in the New Testament.

Perhaps we try too hard and on the world’s terms, and then wonder why in the West at least so many denominations continue to diminish with their obituaries being prophesied by the pollsters. The church is not big buildings or big organisations, it is not TV stations or radio studios, it is not individual ‘big people’ with big incomes and ‘big ministries’, it is all the believers who, corporately, and to use the concept we are going to follow and meditate upon from the New Testament, are referred to as ‘the body of Christ’. In fact, as we go on in the days ahead, we will see that every single, humble believer is a member or part of this ‘body’.

Now right from the outset, let’s state what will become obvious as we look in detail at what the New Testament has to say, that the picture of ‘a body’ is used to convey thoughts about the life, action and ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ. There are two other concepts that are used to refer to the church in the New Testament. The first is ‘a temple’: Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit lives in you?” (1 Cor 3:16 etc.) and that is all about revealing the glory of God. The other picture is of a bride (Rev 19:7,8, 21:2) which is all about being united with Christ at the end.

But the concept of the ‘body’ is all about doing: “when Christ came into the world, he said: “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me… Then I said, `Here I am… I have come to do your will, O God.” (Heb 10:5-7) The ‘doing’ is the will of God. We see it in the Gospels as, through one single human body, Jesus served the will of God as he brought in the kingdom of God on earth, and then the teaching of US being his ongoing body being worked out is seen in the rest of the New Testament. Put aside all thoughts of buildings, organizations etc. YOU, the believer, are part of this body.

8. Feeling with God

Meditations from Ezekiel: 8.  Feeling with God

Ezek 2:8-10   Do not rebel like that rebellious house; open your mouth and eat what I give you.” Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.

The down side of Ezekiel’s ministry: There is a danger as we read these chapters to get caught up with the awfulness of Ezekiel’s mission. In chapters 2 and 3 he is told eight times that Israel are a rebellious people and twice the Lord speaks of them as obstinate and the reason for that is that they have become hardened. And he is told to go to speak to this people. It is a pretty bleak future! Four times he is told not to be afraid of the people and three times he is told to speak to them regardless of whether they listen or fail to listen.

Take in the Word: But at the end of 2:8 the command comes, open your mouth and eat what I give you.” We then see what God is referring to: “Then I looked, and I saw a hand stretched out to me. In it was a scroll, which he unrolled before me. On both sides of it were written words of lament and mourning and woe.” (2:9,10) The command to eat is reiterated: “And he said to me, “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the house of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and he gave me the scroll to eat.” (3:1,2) Then a third time, “Then he said to me, “Son of man, eat this scroll I am giving you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it tasted as sweet as honey in my mouth.” (3:3)

Remember, this is still all within the vision but what have we seen? A scroll written on both sides (a substantial message) with “words of lament and mourning and woe.” If this is the message Ezekiel is going to have to bring – and we must assume it is – then he is to be the bringer of bad news. Now in the bigger view of the book there are ‘good news’ sections about Israel’s future but the main emphasis – in calling for repentance – is going to be on bad news, the awful things that will happen to Israel and to Jerusalem IF they do not repent. Why will there be this emphasis? Because the Lord know Israel will NOT repent and so His disciplinary and terminal judgment will fall on Israel and upon Jerusalem, and for the inhabitants, that will be very bad news!

Taken to his people: The Lord reassures him that he is only going to his own people, the people of his language who will understand his words (v.4-6) but they will not listen because they are hardened by sin (v.7) but He will make Ezekiel as hard as they are in the bringing of his ministry to them (v.8,9).  He reiterates His call for Ezekiel to go and speak to them (v.10,11) and he then hears sounds of the movement of the creatures (v.12,13) – they are obviously moving on in the will of God – and he found, “The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD upon me. I came to the exiles who lived at Tel Abib near the Kebar River.” (v.14,15) It is now time for Ezekiel to settle with his people and the Holy Spirit empowers him and directs him (no doubt to walk) from his present location near this irrigation canal to a more populated site where his people were.

Feeling with God: Notice he goes “in bitterness and in the anger” of his spirit. When he had eaten the scroll of mourning it had tasted sweet – God’s word always does initially – but as he absorbs it and takes in all the Lord has been saying, it leaves him feeling bitter and angry. Bitter simply means distressed by all he has heard. He is angry because of the folly of his people and in this he identifies with the feelings of the Lord. The word of God that he has eaten, taken in and digested, devastates him: “And there, where they were living, I sat among them for seven days–overwhelmed.” (3:15b) The whole experience and particularly what he has seen and heard, overwhelms him and he sits in silence for a week.

Personal Testimony: Now as I have prayed over this passage this morning, I have been reminded of something that happened many years ago. I was feeling anxious about someone my wife and I knew and I commented to my wife, “I think I am feeling as the Lord feels for her.” My wife initially suggested we couldn’t feel as God feels and over the next three days we discussed this until the evening of the church’s prayer meeting. There, half way through, one of the ladies in the group brought what I believe to have been the most amazing revelation that was, I suppose, a combination of word of knowledge and prophecy. In it the Lord used the literal words my wife and I had been using in our conversations over the previous three days, and concluded, “And you can feel my heart.” A number of months later, a national prophet visited our church and prophesied over me, “And you shall know my heart and convey it to my people.” Do I believe we can feel as God feel? Yes, I do!

Bringing Personal Prophecy: Now Ezekiel’s word was a word of doom. Our word, unless we are moving at a very significant ministry level is, in this period of grace, a word of love and acceptance that is available to people. I have summed it up for the last twenty-five years as “God loves you exactly as you are, but He loves you so much that He has something better for you than you have at present.” There have been times when I have encountered people whose lives I felt left much to be desired and although I wanted to bring words that demanded repentance, the Lord would only allow me to bring words of acceptance and, to my surprise, they brought tears and repentance!  God is much better at convicting people than we are and our role is to hold open the door of the kingdom of heaven and if people reject it, that is down to them and they will be answerable to God. But they may just go through the door.

Ezekiel & Jeremiah’s ‘Partnership’: Ezekiel has a unique ministry. In Jerusalem Jeremiah is prophesying and demanding repentance. He has been doing it for a number of years and will continue up to the destruction of Jerusalem. Ezekiel is his support ministry from Babylon. Jeremiah is more concerned with getting the people to repent before Jerusalem is destroyed, but the people reject his words and it is destroyed. Ezekiel is one of the exiles in Babylon and for the time being he will join in the calls to repent and bring warnings of destruction, but after the destruction has taken place, we will see, he becomes a messenger of hope for Israel in exile.

Prophesying for the long-term: The destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of 99% of Israel is not the end of the people, but there will still be a work to do in getting their hearts changed to be prepared to be able to go back decades later to rebuild the city, rebuild the temple and rebuild the people. Hard they may be now, but how much will Ezekiel’s words be used to change their hearts in the long-term, so that in decades to come they will be in a fit state to return to the Land?  This is a long-term calling.