Requirements for Worship

Text Ezekiel 43 Time 25/01/09 Place Childs Hill Baptist Church

We've begun to look at the final chapters of Ezekiel – Chapters 40-48. These 9 chapters contain one continuous vision – a vision of the future given in the form of a Temple, a new Jerusalem and a new Promised Land. Last week we looked at Chapters 40-42. They are not easy chapters to read or follow but they describe a magnificent temple – a spiritual temple certainly, not a literal one – a Temple greater than any before or after it. In that part of the vision Ezekiel is led all over the Temple by a man whose appearance was like bronze – probably an angel, possibly the Lord Jesus himself - who carries a tape measure and a special ruler and measures everything they see. Ezekiel is told to pay careful attention and Tell the house of Israel everything you see. The Temple points us to Jesus Christ and the living Temple that is the church of this New Testament era in which we now live. The main lessons last time centred on the exclusivity and holiness in the gospel, the fact of God's detailed plans for his people, the centrality of true worship, the beauty of true holy worship and the importance of sacrifice and forgiveness in true worship.
As we come into Chapter 43 the man continues to guide Ezekiel and brings him to the gate facing east - the main gate of the temple, the one that led most directly to its heart and where Ezekiel had been brought in originally. Ezekiel describes what he sees next in verses 2-9 – the return of the glory of God. The man then stresses the importance of passing on the message to the people. After that Ezekiel goes on to describe the altar in the Temple and its consecration. There are 3 main things here then about true and holy worship, which begins back in the Old Testament but that reaches its climax in this New Testament era. Ezekiel uses Old Testament terms but speaks of the then future now present New Testament era. So we say
1. Realise that true and holy New Testament worship requires the glorious presence of God
1. Consider the glory of God and how to respond to it
In verse 2 Ezekiel says I saw the glory of the God of Israel coming from the east. His voice (better the noise he created) was like the roar of rushing waters, and the land was radiant with his glory. The vision I saw was like the vision I had seen when he came to destroy the city and like the visions I had seen by the Kebar River, and I fell facedown. Ezekiel has been shown the Temple – An empty temple is like an empty body. There's no life in it. But this is going to change. Ezekiel takes us back to the start of the book where over 20 years before he'd first seen a vision of God like this. See 1:4ff. The glory of God is his powerful and glorious presence. It is beyond description. He has a majesty that is matchless and beyond the power of any man to fully describe. Ezekiel's reaction each time is to fall face down (on his face not on his back) before such amazing greatness and power. There is no other appropriate response.
We must always remember this when we come to think about God and about his worship. God's glory, of course, in one sense, like his presence, is everywhere. It is especially known in heaven. That's where his glory is most obviously seen and known. However, it can also be known very powerfully on earth – especially where God's people gather to worship, as here. What do you need this morning to worship God? This building? Well, it helps to have somewhere to meet but there is nothing in this building that will bring in the glory of God and even if we filled it with wonderful architecture and paintings, etc, it still couldn't do it. What do you need this morning to worship God? These people? Obviously we need people to worship God but again there is nothing in us by nature that can guarantee anything and even if we were the greatest singers in the world and I could preach you the best sermon ever preached, etc, that wouldn't do it either. No, if we are to worship God this morning we desperately need his own holy and glorious presence. We need, as it were, the sound of his presence, the radiance of his glory. Without that it's just a lifeless body. Without that we are just going through the motions. And isn't that true too when we worship God alone or in our families? Do pray for the glorious presence of God. We won't see anything or hear anything but we need to have him near and know he is near.
2. Consider the possibility of the glory of God departing but also being restored
Verse 2 also takes us back to Chapter 10 where we read of the departure of God's glory from the Temple. It was as a result of the wickedness and corruption there that this departure took place. Now at the end of the book Ezekiel sees not just a new and holy Temple but the restoration of God's glory. And that's what we see in the new covenant – the restoration of God's amazing glory in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. How very sad in Chapter 10 to see the glory departing but how wonderful now in Chapter 43 to see the promise of restoration.
We can think, perhaps, of meetings that have been boring or unhelpful, of times when we ourselves have tried to pray or read the Bible and got nowhere. There can be times in the life of a believer or a church when it is as if the word Ichabod is written over it. You remember the name Ichabod? It comes in 1 Samuel. It's the name that Eli's daughter-in-law, who died in childbirth, gave to her son on hearing that her husband was dead and the ark of the covenant had been captured. The name Ichabod means “the glory has departed”. The glory can depart – never forget that. There is no guarantee of God's presence. But it can also return, as it clearly does here. If the glory is lost at all – let's pray that it will return, that it will be restored again. It can be so.
3. Consider where the glory of God is to be found
In verses 5-7a we read how the LORD's glory then entered the temple through the east gate. The Spirit then lifted Ezekiel up and brought him into the inner court, and the glory of the LORD filled the temple. Next Ezekiel hears a voice from inside the temple say Son of man, this is the place of my throne and the place for the soles of my feet. This is where I will live among the Israelites forever. God doesn't set up his throne just anywhere. He doesn't come to stand in just any place. He lives among his people, in their midst - in the Holy Temple. So it is today. It is God's people who form his holy temple and it is among them that he manifests himself. Each individual Christian is a temple in that the Holy Spirit lives within them but especially together believers (in Peter's words) like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
4. Consider the condition for enjoying the glory of God
The voice Ezekiel heard goes on (7b-9) to say that Israel would never again defile God's holy name - neither they nor their kings - by their prostitution and the lifeless idols of their kings at their high places. When they placed their threshold next to my threshold and their doorposts beside my doorposts, with only a wall between me and them, they defiled my holy name by their detestable practices. They actually brought idolatry right up to the Temple gates and sometimes into it. God says So I destroyed them in my anger. Then comes a command with a promise Now let them put away from me their prostitution and the lifeless idols of their kings, and I will live among them forever. Why had the glory departed? Because of the people's sins. The people had fallen into idolatry and greed and had turned to many sins and so had been judged. Back in 1899 droves of students were leaving Princeton College in America. They all had their excuses but the real problem was that there had been a case of smallpox and all the students wanted to be away from it. We speak of avoiding something "like the plague". Well, God avoids sin in the same way – not because it can do him harm as such but because it is irreconcilable with his glory. But look now the promise is here that if his people will turn from their sins God will live among them forever. We can know the joy of God's presence everyday if we will simply turn from sin. Holiness will guarantee his glorious presence in our meetings. Sin will certainly drive him away but holiness will lead to glory. We should be doing all we can to seek his glorious presence.
2. Realise that true and holy New Testament worship requires careful conformity to the Word
Next, in verses 9-11, God continues to speak. It is most interesting to see his concern. Some people listen to a message like the one I have just given about God's glorious presence and they think it is all about that and nothing else matters. In fact there is something else just as important. Jesus says in the New Testament that those who truly worship God worship in spirit (with the glorious presence of God) and in truth – according to God's Word. So we say
1. Remember the importance of the Word in showing us our sins
God says (10) Son of man, describe the temple to the people of Israel, that they may be ashamed of their sins. Let them consider the plan. Ezekiel has already been told this but God wants to stress to him the importance of describing the Temple to the people and of letting them consider the plan. The purpose of this is that they may be ashamed of their sins. When we come to the Word the first thing it usually does and should do is to make us ashamed of ourselves and of our sins. This is one reason why we are sometimes reluctant to turn to it. God's purpose was that as the people read of this glorious future Temple they would think of the Temple they had lost and be ashamed of their sins and would want to repent. Are you paying heed to God's Word? Do read the Bible. When we read it we should react in the same way as outlined here. Aren't you ashamed of yourself? Some of the things you have done? Some of the ways you have behaved? God has been so good and we have been so bad.
2. Remember the importance of every part of the Word in leading to holiness
It goes on (11) and if they are ashamed of all they have done, make known to them the design of the temple - its arrangement, its exits and entrances - its whole design and all its regulations and laws. Write these down before them so that they may be faithful to its design and follow all its regulations. When the people hear of the Temple they'll not only be ashamed of their sins, they'll also see that there's hope for them. There's a way to be saved! It's like a drowning man reaching out and finding someone's thrown him a life saver. Again that's what the Word does – it shows us the way out of sin and to holiness. See how God wants Ezekiel to pass on all the details and for the people to receive it all. Every detail of Scripture will help us more and more to understand God's will. Are you paying heed to God's Word? Do read the Bible. Here is the way to be holy. Here is the pattern for forgiveness, the way out of sin and on to the highway to holiness. Only the Word can give us this.
3. Realise that true and holy New Testament worship requires holiness and a consecrated altar
So with the thought of holiness in mind we turn first to verse 12 and then to the remaining verses of the chapter.
1 Remember that true and holy New Testament worship requires holiness
Clearly then to worship God aright we need his glorious presence, we need to conform to his Word and we need holiness in our lives. In verse 12 Ezekiel is told This is the law of the temple: All the surrounding area on top of the mountain will be most holy. Such is the law of the temple. Previously it was only the very heart of the Temple that was most holy but now it is not just every part of it but All the surrounding area on top of the mountain too. Holiness is increasing then. In this New Testament era all believers are priests and every area of life is to be dedicated to the Lord. More and more holiness prevails – that is how it must be in our lives. Pray “More holiness give me, more strivings within.” We must be seeking to be increasingly holy – not just in Sundays, not just in church or at prayer – but in every single part of our lives.
2 Remember that true and holy New Testament worship requires an altar
Having said that the altar at the heart of the Temple is still very important. In verses 13-17 Ezekiel's attention is drawn to it and he is told These are the measurements of the altar in long cubits, that cubit being a cubit and a handbreadth: Its gutter is a cubit deep and a cubit wide, with a rim of one span around the edge. And this is the height of the altar: From the gutter on the ground up to the lower ledge it is 2 cubits high and a cubit wide, and from the smaller ledge up to the larger ledge it is 4 cubits high and a cubit wide. The altar hearth is 4 cubits high, and 4 horns project upward from the hearth. The altar hearth is square, 12 cubits long and 12 cubits wide. The upper ledge also is square, 14 cubits long and 14 cubits wide, with a rim of half a cubit and a gutter of a cubit all around. The steps of the altar face east.
The whole of the Temple area is holy but the altar at its heart continues to be important. This reminds us of the centrality of the cross. It is Christ's sacrifice there that makes holiness possible. This is the great theme of Scripture. This what makes it possible for the glory of God to come near. If we are to be holy we must keep coming back to this. We will do that best by regularly setting aside time to read the Bible and to pray as individuals and as families.
3 Remember that true and holy New Testament worship requires a consecrated altar
In 18-26 we read about the consecration of the altar. The LORD says These will be the regulations for sacrificing burnt offerings and sprinkling blood upon the altar when it is built. First, a young bull is to be given as a sin offering to the priests, who are Levites, of the family of Zadok, who come near to minister before me ... some of its blood is to be put ... on the four horns of the altar and on the four corners of the upper ledge and all around the rim, to purify the altar and make atonement for it. The bull itself is to be burnt in the designated part of the temple area outside the sanctuary. On the next day a male goat without defect is also to be offered to further purify the altar. When that is done another young bull and a ram from the flock, both without defect, are to be offered not as a sin offering but as a burnt offering to the LORD this time. Every day for seven days a male goat is to be offered as a sin offering plus a young bull and a ram from the flock, both without defect. So (26) For seven days they are to make atonement for the altar and cleanse it; thus they will dedicate it. Dedication to God and consecration are not subjects we often talk about today. Perhaps there has been a reaction against the abuses of such talk. However, let us not be mistaken we need all of us to be consecrated to God, dedicated to him. We need to keep coming back to the cross – to the fact of Christ's death for sinners, in their place. We must never forget this. It is the heart of true religion and it is the heart of true worship.
4 Remember that true and holy New Testament worship requires a regularly used altar
Verse 27 At the end of these days, from the eighth day on, the priests are to present your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings on the altar. Then I will accept you, declares the Sovereign LORD. If we want to be acceptable to God then we must be regularly coming to him through Jesus Christ. That is how to worship. That is how to live.