Texts: John 6 and Ezekiel 33:30-32
I want to thank John Curtis and Kendall Harrison for sharing the word with us and giving us a great start for this year’s Fall Group Ministry. We are continuing our Bible survey of God’s Plan for His People, looking at the gospels from “the limited commission to the great commission,” and drawing closer to God and closer to one another as we go.
Let’s take a moment now to greet one another and then return for our lesson.
What do Ezekiel 9-33 and John 6 have in common? John Curtis has challenged me to make our morning messages tie in with our group lessons, and I accepted that challenge before actually looking carefully to see how to fit these together. John has even helped me by suggesting verses from our Old Testament readings that blend with the group lesson texts.
Today’s text: Ezekiel 33:30-32 is one of these.
Tonight’s discussion from the gospel of John chapter 6, focuses on Jesus’s claim: I am the Bread of Life. As you read that chapter and watch how Jesus feeds the 5000 with five loaves and two fish, notice that the people don’t get it. They see what they want to see and disregard the rest. The crowds begin to follow Jesus for the wrong reasons, so, Jesus get’s tough with His words. His desire is not to entertain them. What does Jesus want? What’s he trying to get them to hear and understand and know and commit to? He says it. They see the wrong bread. They want the wrong bread. Jesus tells them, “Eat that bread and you still die.” Even the manna of Moses day didn’t give lasting life. JESUS IS the right bread. HE, IS the bread of life. Jesus says, holding out his hands to them, “I am the bread of life, eat this bread and live!” Jesus says, “My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink.”
Yes, Jesus actually said that.
What would you say about anyone talking like that today? Yes, that’s what they said about Jesus too.
If you’ve been reading along with us, and I hope you have, you know that Ezekiel is just like Jeremiah, in that they are God’s prophets. They are both prophesying judgment and doom, not just on Israel and Judah, but on everybody else too! Jeremiah is in Jerusalem and Judea, but the audience of Ezekiel is are the exiles in Babyon. They are coming to hear him without coming to hear him. Ezekiel 20:49 Ezekiel complains: “Ah, Sovereign Lord! They are saying of me, ‘Isn’t he just telling parables?’.” In other words, they don’t get it! They don’t hear what I’m saying! Jesus has the same issue when He speaks to His followers in John 6.
I believe Ezekiel is the most colorful of all the prophets in our Bibles. He often acts out the message, and then tells it’s meaning. This happens several times in the book. He also uses illustrations that draw mental pictures for the listeners. Some are hard to listen to, like chapter 23 where he compares Israel and Judah to two adulterous sisters. Ezekiel was not a “G” rated prophet. I’m sure that many came to hear him speak just because he was so visual and interesting to hear and see.
Years ago, before screens, before TV, and before movies, there were plays. (I realize there still are, but with today’s video effects and graphics and electronic technology and screens, things are more complex and the visualizations are more and more artificial). Before all this technology plays had different high-tech features. In the Roman circuses people actually died before your eyes. Blood was spilled as entertainment. There were reenactments of wars and gladiator battles. There were also more humane plays. The actors of the plays were called hypocrites in Greek. They were acting like people that were not truly themselves. Plays were also popular then as a form of entertainment. Also, on a smaller scale, among smaller crowds, great story tellers and orators were able to make a living on their skills of oration and imagination. Prophets were also considered orators.
Ezekiel prophesied to the exiles from Judah who were in Babylon. This great capital city of the Babylonian empire was sure to have plenty of theatre and entertainment, but for a while there was a language barrier and a racial barrier between the Jews and the others living in Babylon. The Jews among the Exiles would create their own world of commerce and have their own worship services and also their own entertainments. Jeremiah had told them to settle down and build houses and have families and to pray for the prosperity of the city, because they were going to be there a long time and if the city prospered they would prosper. Jeremiah 29:4-10.
As you can imagine, they wanted to go home to Palestine. God wanted them to come home to Him. He was putting them right where they needed to be to get their attention and cause them to seek Him as their King and His righteousness as their character. God wants His people to be, well, HIS people who give themselves to Him.
In Exile, the people of Israel longed for word from home, hoping to hear some good news that God had rescued their nation. While many false prophets told lies and false hope, Jeremiah and Ezekiel gave them only bad news. The nation was still in rebellion to God, still in love with idols, still resistant to repentance. God was still pouring out His judgments against their stubborn rejection of His will and way. God’s wrath against their sin would not let up until the people back home were either seeking His kingdom and righteousness, or were consumed in the judgments. There was no third option. Also, to demonstrate His justice, God punished all the ungodly nations around them and ultimately prophesied the doom of Babylon as well.
Ezekiel’s most repeated phrase is this: “Then they will know that I am the Lord.” God will not let up till they know Him as their Lord. This is central to the message of Ezekiel. (It’s the message of the whole Bible, for that matter). But the people in Exile don’t want to hear that. They want to hear that God will deliver their nation, God will bless them with victory and prosperity and peace. God will do this, even if we persist in going our own way and seeking not His kingdom and righteousness first, but our own desires and our own pleasures.
Half hearted love is not the love God wants from His people. In fact, that insults God. It breaks His covenant, and it breaks His heart. God’s wrath against His people is poured out not to completely destroy them, but to purify them and make them know Him as Lord and actually love Him as Lord and cling to Him as the true and only God that He is. To seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and to feast on His word and live in His glorious presence enjoying that which we were created for, forever. God has good plans for His people. He knows us. He knows exactly how to transform us and create in us clean hearts that seek Him. God is our King. He is our God, and He knows our hearts. God knows us. He desires us to know Him.
Judah wants a king who will give her what she wants to live the way she pleases. They always did. God removed their king. Then God sent His Son to be King. Jesus is a king who gives righteousness and eternal life for all who seek Him and find real joy and fulfillment in pleasing God as Lord and Father.