Reading Time: 9 Minutes
When people reject God to such a degree that he must withdraw his presence, it causes him great grief. During the time of the prophet Ezekiel, he was given a vision of God’s glory leaving the city. Before we read Jesus’ words, let’s hear from Ezekiel.
He reported the vision like this: “Then the glory of the Lord went out from the threshold of the house and stopped above the cherubim. The cherubim lifted up their wings and rose up from the earth in my sight as they went out with the wheels beside them. They stopped at the entrance of the east gate of the house of the Lord; and the glory of the God of Israel was above them” (Ezekiel 10.18-19).
The vision of God leaving the city ended with these words, “And the glory of the Lord ascended from the middle of the city, and stopped on the mountain east of the city” (Ezekiel 11.23). The careful reader will note that the departure of the glory or the presence of God began at the Temple, traveled through the city gate, and ended up outside of the city.
In a like manner, Jesus spoke of God’s departure and the coming judgment on Jerusalem. He said, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord.'” (Matthew 23.37-39).
The tragic situation was that Jesus desired a relationship with the people, so he could bless and care for them. However, the inner life of the people was empty, and rooted in self-indulgence and self-will. They had no room for God, and Jesus had the sad job of telling them that they had forced God’s presence from their midst.
This was Jesus’ last trip to the Temple complex. Matthew recorded what happened as Jesus left the area around the Temple. He wrote, “As Jesus came out of the temple and was going away, his disciples came to point out to him the buildings of the temple. Then he asked them, “You see all these, do you not? Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (Matthew 24.1-2).
Both Ezekiel and Jesus had the very difficult assignment of pronouncing God’s judgment on the people. The greatest judgment a person or nation can experience is for God to leave us completely alone to survive by our own abilities.
A quick survey of the Book of Ezekiel may help us apply this warning to our own lives. The kind of behavior that will cause God to withdraw his presence from our lives, our city and our country is pictured by Ezekiel.
(1) Rebellion – “He said to me, Mortal, I am sending you to the people of Israel, to a nation of rebels who have rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have transgressed against me to this very day. The descendants are impudent and stubborn” (Ezekiel 2.3-4).
The word “rebel” is found 22 times in Ezekiel. Rebels seek to overthrow government and assume leadership for themselves. When we throw off God’s leadership and direction and assume control over our own lives, we are guilty of rebellion.
A rebellious attitude is often linked to the injury of other people. Not only do we rebel against God’s direction, we also seek our will to the detriment of people around us. For example, how many rebellious teens have broken the hearts of their parents and brought harm to their circle of friends?
(2) Unwilling to Listen – “But the house of Israel will not listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me; because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart” (Ezekiel 3.7).
What a tragic thought! People who have been created by God are so arrogant and stubborn that they won’t listen to their very own Creator.
All of us will do well to ask ourselves, “Am I really interested in listening to God? What am I doing so that I can better hear him in my life?
(3) Abominations – “This is Jerusalem; I have set her in the center of the nations, with countries all around her. But she has rebelled against my ordinances and my statutes, becoming more wicked than the nations and the countries all around her, rejecting my ordinances and not following my statutes” (Ezekiel 5.5-6).
I am convinced that God can bear any offense that is directed toward him. However, rebellion always brings harm to people. God knows the horror stories that are endured by millions around the world. He also knows that human selfishness is responsible for the majority of them.
The abomination that is part of society is that people refuse to follow God’s direction and people suffer because of it.
(4) Idol Worship – “Wherever you live, your towns shall be waste and your high places ruined, so that your altars will be waste and ruined, your idols broken and destroyed, your incense stands cut down, and your works wiped out” (Ezekiel 6.6).
An idol is anything that is a substitute for a relationship with God. It can be a sports team, an addiction, a person, money, and the biggest idol of all – self. When people choose their idol over God, they are telling him that they prefer the idol to his presence. Idols lead to false worship.
(5) False Worship – “He said to me, ‘Mortal, do you see what they are doing, the great abominations that the house of Israel are committing here, to drive me far from my sanctuary?'” (Ezekiel 8.6).
The entire eighth chapter of Ezekiel describes one false kind of worship after another. The people who were given the joy of being God’s servants had literally turned their backs on him and pursued false and empty gods. The result was that God was driven from his sanctuary on earth.
Prosperity is an American dream, but it should never be worshiped as a substitute for God. Our nation should be defended, but nationalism should never become the god of our nation. Entertainment is a fun American recreation, but entertainment should never become our ultimate religious experience. We all gravitate toward favorite personalities, but the adoration of personalities at the expense of a relationship with God is always wrong.
The sins and rebellion of the people in Ezekiel’s day were once again present in Jesus’ day.
Would God ever leave America? Would God ever leave you or me? I hesitate to answer that question. However, I do know this. The words of Ezekiel and Jesus stir me to want to turn away from anything in my life that might resemble what is written above.
A Warning Inside the Gospel
Matthew 23 and 24 are two chapters within a book that is called a Gospel. Gospel means “good news.” The good news is that when we recognize our sin, turn from it and turn to God, there is forgiveness.
Ezekiel gave this counsel, “Cast away from you all the transgressions that you have committed against me, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 18.31).
Each person who reads this article can choose today to look at the list of possible offenses against God that I have listed in the blog. You have the opportunity to cast them out of your life. The promise is that God will give us a new heart and a new spirit – a new way of living.
Jesus simply said, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news” (Mark 1.15).
For us, today is the day. The effective reach of God’s power is available to us. We need to change our rebellious and idolatrous behavior and trust that life lived like Jesus demonstrated is the best way to live.
Both Ezekiel and Jesus teach us that we don’t have to live with God absent from our lives. However, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t live in rebellion and enjoy God’s presence at the same time. Please join me in responding to Jesus’ appeal to repent and to trust Jesus for the best life possible.
Dear Jesus, I repent. I turn away from all rebellion and idol worship. I place my trust in you. I bring all of my opinions and issues to you. Please show me how to live with you in every aspect of my life.