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Wednesday, August 31, 2016

God's Standards for Ministers (Ezekiel 44:16)

 "They alone are to enter my sanctuary; they alone are to come near my table to minister before me and perform my service" (Ezekiel 44:16)

Back in the day, when Jeroboam led the ten tribes in their rebellion against King Solomon's successor, he established a new religion with new gods and new priests. The LORD had established the Levites as priests to serve in his temple; they had to wear special garments; they couldn't touch the dead or marry whomever they wished. Jeroboam, however, had no standards. He allowed anyone to serve as priests.

Even today the LORD requires certain things of pastors. He must "be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous, one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence, not a novice . . . he must have a good testimony among those who are outside" (1 Timothy 3:2-4, 6a, 7a).

In a most unusual passage the LORD lays out standards for the priests (the descendants of Zadok), who will serve Him during the millennium. They are to wear linen; they must not shave their heads or let their hair grow long; they shall not drink wine; they must not marry widows or divorced women.

What do God's standards for priests teach us about God and the ministry?
(1) God makes certain men responsible for teaching, in word and by example, the difference between the holy and the common.

(2) Standards always accompany calling. People are attracted to the ministry for various reasons. Attraction to the ministry, however, doesn't constitute calling. Since ministry is God's business He gets to set the rules.

(3) Just because men are "ministers" doesn't necessarily mean that they are God's ministers.

Ministers, therefore, must understand that their service is both an honor and a responsibility.

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading (Ezekiel 44-46):
  • Why is the east gate so significant?
  • What does Ezekiel see from the north gate and how does he respond?
  • What three things does the Lord tell Ezekiel to do? What does this tell you about God? His word?
  • Why is Ezekiel told to pay close attention to the entrance and exits of the temple?
  • Who are allowed to come near and minister to the Lord?
  • What requirements are the priests given in order to perform the Lord's service?
  • What are they to teach the people?
  • Which feasts are the people to observe?
  • What regulations does Ezekiel give for the Sabbath and New Moon sacrifices and for the conduct and offerings of the people in the temple?
These chapters speak of the Millennium period. Some theologians believe the prince is to be King David while others believe him to be Jesus. David never saw the first temple which was built by his son. It is important to review Isaiah 46:9-10. The Bible is the only religious book that prophecies of coming events. No other religious writings are prophetic in nature. Only God knows the future. He speaks of future things to give us hope and to teach us to trust Him.

Turning truth into prayer
Offer thanksgiving to the Lord for giving us a record of what He has done in the past and will do in the future. Thank Him for His faithfulness to Israel and for His promises regarding Jerusalem and the temple. Thank Him that one day His glory will once again fill the temple. Ask Him to take His rightful place in your physical body--His temple here on earth. Ask Him to allow you to experience His glory. And, finally, pray for your pastor.

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Glory Reversal (Ezekiel 43:1)

 "Then the man brought me to the gate facing east, and I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east...The glory of the LORD entered the temple through the gate facing the east."

A number of reversals are recorded in Isaiah 40:4 and Psalm 107:33-35:
  • The exaltation of the valley and the diminishing of the mountains and hills
  • The straightening of the crooked places and smoothing of the rough places
  • The turning of rivers into a wilderness; watersprings into dry ground; and a fruitful land into barrenness
  • The turning of wilderness into pools of water and the dry land into watersprings
No greater reversal occurs, however, than the one promised Ezekiel in today's reading regarding the return of the glory of God into His temple.

Earlier in Ezekiel we witnessed the exodus of the glory of God from Jerusalem's temple. Jerusalem's temple was the visible symbol of God's presence among His people. The manifest Glory of God departed from the the temple prior to God's judgment upon Israel for her idolatry and her destruction. God's vision given to Ezekiel promises a restored temple during the millennium and a restored manifest presence of the glory of God.

The glory of God entered Jerusalem's temple temporarily in the person of Jesus Christ, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt [tabernacled] among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). Again, the glory of God appears to an unwelcoming people and temple. John records, "He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him" (John 1:11). Jesus weeps over a sinful and unreceptive people, "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing" (Luke 13:34).

One day, however, the glory of God will return dramatically to a fully restored temple and people. Sealed gates, cemeteries and unreceptive residents will not prevent His return. This time the temple and the people will receive and worship Him. What a day that will be!

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Ezekiel 40-43:27
  • Read Romans 11:25-27 and describe God's future plans for Israel.
  • Which gate does Ezekiel describe the most? What does this tell you about that particular gate? (See Matthew 24:27)
  • Where are tables set up and what are their purpose?
  • As Ezekiel faces the temple structure what does he describe first?
  • See Lev. 16; Hebrews 9:6-7. Why was Ezekiel only allowed to enter the outer sanctuary and not the most holy place?
  • Which gate does the man take Ezekiel to and what does he see from there? What significance does that gate have?
  • How is the glory of God described and how does his glory affect the land?
  • What was Ezekiel's response to the vision?
  • What does the voice coming from inside the temple tell Ezekiel?
  • Why does the Lord grant Ezekiel this experience?
  • How long is the consecration process to last? (This process will mark the full resumption of God's fellowship with Israel. These sacrifices will point Israelites to Christ who will have given them access to the Father.
Turning truth into prayer
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). When we are born again the glory of God is restored to man. He must be manifest in our lives and in our churches. Ask the Lord to show you/us His glory.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Taking Ownership of the Lost (Ezekiel 33:6)

" But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood."

God holds those accountable who know the truth yet keep the truth to themselves. I remember thinking years ago how selfish a person who had the cure for cancer would be if they withheld the cure from those dying of cancer. Yet, everyday born-again believers (myself included) work alongside of, make purchases from, and interact with people who've never heard the gospel of Jesus Christ and who will die in their sins and be lost for all of eternity.

God holds each of us who know the truth responsible for telling those without the truth. We are not responsible for their response but we are responsible for their knowledge. We don't know who will respond so we must tell everyone we encounter. Everyone deserves to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and to be given an opportunity to respond at least once during their lifetime.

May the LORD grant us an awareness of the lostness around us and a burden to warn those around us of impending judgment. Some will laugh. Some will ignore us. But some may respond to the gospel and turn from their sin and trust Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.

Questions for today's Chronological reading:
Ezekiel 32, 33, 40
  • What picture does the LORD give us to describe Ezekiel's role in Israel?
  • What will happen to those who don't heed his warning?
  • What does this tell you about God?
  • What consequence does disobedience have?
  • What do the people accuse God of?
  • Where does God take Ezekiel in his vision and what does he see?
  • What is the man measuring? (We will look into this more tomorrow)
  • What role does a prophet serve today?
  • Who do prophets warn?
  • What is the goal of blowing a trumpet and giving a warning?
Turning truth into prayer
Ask the Lord to open your eyes to see the coming judgment and to see your responsibility to warn others of the coming judgment. Ask the Lord to run someone across your path today who needs to hear the warning of coming judgment and the provision that God has made to forgive sinners.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Dry Bones of Impossibility (Ezekiel 37:3-4)

 "He said to me, "Son of man, can these bones live?" I said "O Sovereign LORD, you alone know." Then he said to me, "Prophesy to these bones and say to them, 'Dry bones, hear the word of the LORD!"

Have you ever felt completely hopeless? From all accounts Israel ceases to exist as a nation. Ten tribes were carried into captivity by the Assyrians and now Judah has been taken captive to Babylon. A tiny remnant remain in the land. All hope of restoration is gone. Things, however, are never as they first appear, especially for those to whom God has made promises. Restoration would come but it would totally depend upon God's power and not upon man's ability.

God gives His prophet a vision of dry bones. Into this valley of dry bones God breaths His very life. The impossible occurs. Flesh appears and life is restored. And it is all God's doing.
God loves the impossible. Just as skeletons do not return to life so Israel will not be restored as a nation unless God does something. Restoration of life doesn't depend upon what man can do but what God can do. Just as God can bring skeletons to life so He promises to restore Israel.

Do you have a pile of dead bones in your life? Broken relationships or health, wayward children, financial ruin. Each seems irreparable because unless God does something they are irreparable! God, however, is able to take the piles of dead bones and give them life.

Questions for today's Chronological Bible reading:
Ezekiel 37-39
  • Where does the Spirit of God take Ezekiel and what does He ask Him?
  • What does God tell Ezekiel to do and what does this require of Ezekiel?
  • What happens when Ezekiel speaks to the dry bones?
  • Who do the dry bones represent?
  • What purpose does the vision of dry bones serve?
  • What does the lack of hope do to a person?
  • Who do the sticks represent in Ezekiel's visual?
  • What kind of covenant does God promise to make with the people?
(It is important to know that after the exiles return to Israel they no longer worship idols. Captivity cured them of their reliance upon and worship of idols.)
  • Why does God have Ezekiel prophesy against Gog?
  • What is the origin of Gog's evil scheme?
  • How does God deal with Gog when they attack Israel?
  • What does Israel learn about God through this event?
  • How long will it take Israel to clean up the mess?
Turning truth into prayer
Joni Eareckson Tada defines suffering as "God using what He hates in order to accomplish what He loves." Evil does not originate with God. God does, however, use the evil that evil men do to discipline His people but that does not mean that God condones evil. In fact, He punishes evil-doers for the evil that they do. Our God is Big! Bigger than those who do evil. So big that He takes the dry bones of my life and reconstructs them by His Spirit. Thank the Lord for the dry bones in your life. Thank Him for resurrection life.