SERMON TITLE: Jehovah Shammah
TEXT: Ezekiel 48:35 (ESV)
SPEAKER: Robert Tansill
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Good morning, Gateway Church! I'm Robert Tansill, the Pastor of Care and Counseling. And, as always, it is a pleasure and joy to worship with you. This morning, as we begin a new series on the “Names of God,” we are looking at different names found in the Bible to describe various aspects of God. And as we do, we want to think about the question, “What does this particular name reveal about God and his character?” As we look at the book of Ezekiel this morning, does the name used there to describe God have any bearing or application for our lives today or in the future? The answer may surprise you.
In our passage, Ezekiel refers to God in a particular way to communicate to his original audience, as well as all those who would come after them, who God is as the Creator, Sustainer, and Protector of his people. And it is a message filled with hope. Why hope?
When Ezekiel wrote this, he lived in Babylon, which is modern-day Iraq, during the final days of the Southern Kingdom of Judah. The Babylonians had attacked Jerusalem and taken prisoner many of the Israelites in the city. And Ezekiel was one of those. As Ezekiel is sitting by one of the canals in Babylon, he has a vision of God in all his glory pictured as a figure sitting on a throne carried by four angelic beings (Ezekiel 1:4-28). In an incredible display of dazzling light, sound, movement, and color Ezekiel is so overwhelmed by this sight that he says, “When I saw all this, I fell to my knees, my face to the ground." (Ezekiel 1:28 Message) And why is God giving this vision to Ezekiel? Because he wants Ezekiel to prophesy judgment against his people.
One of the primary reasons for God’s judgment of Judah was because they were worshiping idols. No longer worshiping the LORD exclusively, which they were commanded to do, they began worshiping the man-made gods of the surrounding nations and, in the process, abusing and taking advantage of their own people. And in Ezekiel 8:1–11:25, as he is given four visions concerning this idolatry, the final vision God gives is that of his glory departing from the Temple in Jerusalem.
Listen to Ezekiel's words in Ezekiel 10:18, “Then the glory of the LORD moved out from the entrance of the Temple and hovered above the cherubim. And as I watched, the cherubim flew with their wheels to the east gate of the LORD’s Temple. And the glory of the God of Israel hovered above them.” In this vision, God made it clear that he was “moving out” of the Temple, which rendered it no longer sacred. As a result, God would not only allow the Babylonians to invade and plunder this once holy structure, but he also warned his people not to put their trust in the Temple building as some sort of good luck charm. God is not a building. He is a Person in the form of a Spirit who alone is meant to be worshiped and honored in all his glory. And because his people did not do that, the final overthrow and destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem would occur in 586 B.C. So, that leaves us with the question, “If God has left the Temple, where did he go?”
In Ezekiel 48:35, God, speaking the last words of this book through the prophet Ezekiel, says this...
ANNOUNCE THE TEXT
“And the name of the city from that time on shall be, “‘The LORD Is There.’” (Ezekiel 48:35 ESV)
To understand the significance of these words, we must see that there is much more going on in our passage than we might want to admit. Why? Because Ezekiel isn’t just telling the story of how the Babylonians conquered the people of Israel. He explains how this historical event leads to a day when all sin and evil will be conquered, and God’s people will love and serve him perfectly as they live in his presence for eternity. And as we try to answer the question, “Where is God?” the first thing Ezekiel wants us to see is that …
Point 1: The LORD is There…in Babylon (Ezekiel 11)
In Ezekiel 11:14-20, after God’s Spirit has left the temple in Jerusalem, he goes with his faithful remnant exiled in Babylon. And before the destruction of Jerusalem, he gives Ezekiel a vision of the rebelliousness of Israel’s leaders and people in their covenant-breaking disobedience of God. Seeing this, Ezekiel feels hopeless because he thinks God is going to wipe out his people completely.
Listen to what Ezekiel says, “Then I fell face down on the ground and cried out, ‘O Sovereign LORD, are you going to kill everyone in Israel?’ 14 Then this message came to me from the LORD: 15 ‘Son of man, the people still left in Jerusalem are talking about you and your relatives and all the people of Israel who are in exile. They are saying, “Those people are far away from the LORD, so now he has given their land to us!” 16 ‘Therefore, tell the exiles, “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: Although I have scattered you in the countries of the world, I will be a sanctuary to you during your time in exile. 17 I, the Sovereign LORD, will gather you back from the nations where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel once again. 18 When the people return to their homeland, they will remove every trace of their vile images and detestable idols. 19 And I will give them singleness of heart and put a new spirit within them. I will take away their stony, stubborn heart and give them a tender, responsive heart, 20 so they will obey my decrees and regulations. Then they will truly be my people, and I will be their God.” (Ezekiel 11:14-20 ESV)
Now, let’s step back from this for a moment. I want you to notice something. Instead of staring closely at the brushstrokes of Ezekiel's words as he paints this picture, I want you to see the bigger picture that God is painting. There are so many things in Ezekiel’s letter that apply to us. And the first is that God has a remnant of faithful followers who are his and who desire to do his will throughout the generations (cf., Ephesians 1:4). Ezekiel was part of that remnant. And so are many of us. Like the remnant in Ezekiel who were forced to live in Babylon, according to the book of Revelation that parallels much of Ezekiel's words, we are also.
In the Bible, “Babylon” represents the world powers and worldview of the day, all who are opposed to God’s rule. In Ezekiel’s day, the Babylonian empire opposed God’s rule even though he used them to judge the surrounding nations. For the original audience in the book of Revelation, “Babylon” was represented by Rome, the world power of that day. And for the generations of believers that would follow before the final return of Jesus (which includes us!), Babylon represents all the world powers and their philosophies that pit themselves against God by asserting their authority above his.
This is why we need to hear what the Apostle John says about Babylon in the book of Revelation, “So the angel took me in the Spirit into the wilderness. There I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast that had seven heads and ten horns, and blasphemies against God were written all over it. 4 The woman wore purple and scarlet clothing and beautiful jewelry made of gold and precious gems and pearls. In her hand she held a gold goblet full of obscenities and the impurities of her immorality. 5 A mysterious name was written on her forehead: “Babylon the Great, Mother of All Prostitutes and Obscenities in the World.” (Revelation 17:3-5 NLT)
Listen to how one commentator describes Babylon’s influence, “Babylon’s promise of prosperous earthly welfare for its willing subjects is an intoxication that the majority of the world’s inhabitants also want to imbibe. Once one imbibes, the intoxicating influence removes all desire to resist Babylon’s destructive influence, blinds one to Babylon’s own ultimate insecurity and to God as the source of real security, and numbs one against any fear of a coming judgment”. (G.K. Beale. The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text, pp. 741, 755-756)
For God’s people, the influence of Babylon is constantly at odds with God and always competing for his allegiance. The Lord calls his people to holiness, but Babylon calls us to sin. The Lord calls us to exalt his holy name, and Babylon calls us to curse it. And where the Lord calls us to love him first and then our neighbor, Babylon calls us to love ourselves above everything. This is the way Babylon was in Ezekiel’s time. This is the way Babylon was in Rome when John wrote Revelation. And this is the way Babylon is for us who call ourselves followers of Jesus.
And so, once again, we ask, “Where is God?” For Ezekiel, God is there with his people in their suffering and exile in Babylon. He cares for, protects, and gives them hope of restoration in their suffering and the loss of all they held dear. Hundreds of years later, in Rome, God is there with those believers as they face certain death at the hands of Roman rule. Christians were fed to the lions during gladiator matches. The ruler Domitian boiled Christians alive in hot oil. And his predecessor used the carcasses of Christians he had persecuted to light his palace gardens during parties.
And in the midst of the suffering many of us are facing right now, God is there as well as we struggle with a cancer diagnosis, a marriage that is on the verge of divorce, children who are rebelling against their parents, the loss of a job or loved one, and so much more. Folks, even though we serve the God of all creation, that does not mean we are exempt from suffering in its different forms. The Bible is clear that we will experience suffering (James 1:2-4; 1 Peter 5:10). It is part of life in a fallen, broken, and sinful world. Yet, in all of our suffering, remember, the LORD is there.
I know what some of you are probably thinking, “That’s great, Robert. You say the LORD is there, but it doesn’t feel like it. I still feel lost, alone, and even hopeless. How is a story about a bunch of Jewish exiles to Babylon written thousands of years ago supposed to make me believe that God cares about what I’m going through? How is this stuff supposed to help me in the here and now?” Great question! That leads me to the second thing I believe Ezekiel wants us to see, which is this.
Not only is the Lord there in Babylon, but…
Point 2: The LORD is There…in Jesus, the Good Shepherd (Ezekiel 34-37)
As I said, we must step back and see the big picture to appreciate and apply what Ezekiel says. As God pronounces judgment on not just the leaders of Israel who have rejected him but all the surrounding nations, he not only wants his people to know that he is there but that he will lead and protect them himself. Because the leaders of Israel throughout the centuries constantly failed to lead and shepherd God’s people effectively, the LORD would provide the perfect leader and shepherd who would not only guide them to a place of safety and peace but also protect and shepherd them along the way. Look at what he says in Ezekiel 34.
Ezekiel writes in verses 11-12, “For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search and find my sheep. 12 I will be like a shepherd looking for his scattered flock. I will find my sheep and rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on that dark and cloudy day.” And in verses 22-24, he continues this thought, “22 So I will rescue my flock, and they will no longer be abused. I will judge between one animal of the flock and another. 23 And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. 24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. I, the LORD, have spoken!” (Ezekiel 34:11-12; 22-24, NLT)
So, who is this perfect Shepherd that God tells Ezekiel about who would come and lead his people? He calls him “David.” But King David died a long time ago. So, who is he talking about? He’s talking about Jesus! In Jesus, no longer would God’s people be left to wander on their own because imperfect men given the responsibility to shepherd God’s people chose to selfishly pursue their desires by serving themselves rather than God. Jesus, the perfect Shepherd, who is both the Son of God and God incarnate, would perfectly carry out the will of God by leading his people into the very presence of God himself. And he would do it in a way that no other shepherd or leader had been able to do before. How would Jesus accomplish this? By changing the very hearts and desires of his people. Where do we see that?
Look at what God says in Ezekiel 36:25-27, “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.” And then, right after he says this, Ezekiel prophesies about a valley of dry bones that are given flesh, brought back to life, and made completely new by God (Ezekiel 37). And all of this points to Jesus.
Jesus is the one who makes all of this possible. Through his death on the cross, he became the perfect sacrifice so that his people’s sins would be forgiven once and for all. We no longer need to sacrifice to God for our sins because Jesus is the ultimate perfect sacrifice. Throughout his life, he perfectly fulfilled the demands of God’s law on our account so that by trusting in him, we are no longer condemned by that law due to our inability to keep it perfectly (James 2:10). Rather, God declares us as perfectly righteous with the righteousness of Jesus when we place our trust in him (Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6; James 2:23).
And most important of all, we have the Spirit of the living God inside of us. He is the one who caused us to be born again (lit., “born from above”) that Jesus talked about when he said, “So don’t be surprised when I say, ‘You must be born again.’ 8 The wind blows wherever it wants. Just as you can hear the wind but can’t tell where it comes from or where it is going, so you can’t explain how people are born of the Spirit.” (NLT) And again, in Colossians 1:26-27, the Apostle Paul writes, “This message was kept secret for centuries and generations past, but now it has been revealed to God’s people. For God wanted them to know that the riches and glory of Christ are for you Gentiles, too. And this is the secret: Christ lives in you. This gives you assurance of sharing his glory.” (NLT)
So, once again, we ask the question, “Where is God?” And for those who have placed their trust in Jesus, the answer is that the LORD is there, living inside of you by his Spirit. As a result of the Spirit’s work in your life, he has changed your heart. He is convicting you of your sins and forgiving you for them. And he is strengthening, protecting, encouraging, and guiding you in the way of righteousness despite the trials and tribulations you face. And he’s not doing any of this because you have earned or can earn it. As God says in Ezekiel, “But remember, says the Sovereign LORD, I am not doing this because you deserve it. (Ezekiel 36:32 NLT; cf., Ephesians 2:8-9)”
Did Ezekiel fully understand all he communicated through the signs and symbols God gave him? The Apostle Peter seems to say that even though the prophets knew most of the details, there were some things they didn’t fully understand. Writing to believers who were suffering persecution because of their faith, Peter says, “The prophets who told us this was coming asked a lot of questions about this gift of life God was preparing. 11 The Messiah’s Spirit let them in on some of it—that the Messiah would experience suffering, followed by glory. They clamored to know who and when. 12 All they were told was that they were serving you, you who by orders from heaven have now heard for yourselves—through the Holy Spirit—the Message of those prophecies fulfilled. Do you realize how fortunate you are? Angels would have given anything to be in on this!” (1 Peter 1:10-12, The Message)
That’s a great question! Do you realize how fortunate you are to know Jesus? Do you realize how fortunate you are to have the Spirit of the living God dwelling inside you, shaping and molding you into the perfect image of his Son, despite your continual struggle with sin? Do you realize that as overwhelmingly difficult and discouraging as life in Babylon can be at times, the Lord is there with you, and in you, in the Spirit of Jesus? Unlike the remnant of Israel that Ezekiel wrote to in Babylon, who didn’t have the Spirit living inside them and guiding them, we do have the Spirit of Christ.
Because of Ezekiel’s words, which might have seemed somewhat confusing and difficult to understand to his original audience, we have a better idea of what God is doing in history (i.e., his story). We know that, through Jesus, God is making all things new. We are given new hearts (Ezekiel 36:26). We are a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17). What the old Adam failed to do by being disobedient to God in the garden at creation, Jesus, the new Adam, would do by being perfectly obedient, even as he faced certain death (Romans 5:17-19; Luke 22:42). Through Jesus, God is creating a new Israel, called the Church, a remnant made up of people from every tribe, tongue, and nation whose desire is to please the LORD and give glory to his name in all things (Ezekiel 36; Romans 9:6-8; Revelation 7:9-12, 19:1-6). And we are being led by Jesus, the new David (Ezekiel 34:23–24; 37:24–25), the Shepherd-King of the new Israel who faithfully carries out all of God’s desires for his people without fail. And all of this is meant to remind us daily that the Lord is there.
But we must ask the key question on all our minds at one time or another, “Where is all of this leading to?” You might be thinking, “Sure, it’s great that the Lord is there with me in the middle of all the trials and struggles in my life. And it’s encouraging to know that I have his Spirit to encourage me in difficult times. But in the end, does it make any difference?” And the answer is, “Yes, it does!” Why? I’m glad you asked. This leads us to the last thing that Ezekiel wants us to see, which can be summed up this way…
Point 3: The LORD is There…for all eternity. (Ezekiel 40-48)
In the final section of Ezekiel, the Lord’s glory, which had departed the temple at the beginning of Ezekiel, returns toward the end of his prophecy. Listen to how he describes it in Ezekiel 43:2-3 (NLT), “Suddenly, the glory of the God of Israel appeared from the east. The sound of his coming was like the roar of rushing waters, and the whole landscape shone with his glory. 3 This vision was just like the others I had seen, first by the Kebar River and then when he came to destroy Jerusalem. I fell face down on the ground." (cf., Revelation 1:15; 14:2; 19:6) Having just been given a vision symbolizing a new temple and new land that would be given to the new Israel, the Church, we are left scratching our heads as to what it all means. And an even bigger question for me personally is, “Where is Jesus in all of this?” We saw him earlier in Ezekiel as the new David who would shepherd his people. But where is he now?
Keeping in mind the destruction of the temple by Babylon earlier in Ezekiel, and the fact that God is going to make everything new, what we see when we look at Ezekiel through the lens of the New Testament is that Jesus is also the new Temple. Where do we see this? Well, one of the first places we see it is in John 1:14, where it says this, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (ESV).” By using the phrase “dwelt among us,” John literally says that Jesus, who is God in the flesh, “tabernacled among us.” That’s what the word in the original language means, “to set us a tent.” What was the tent called where God dwelled in the Old Testament? You guessed it! A Tabernacle.
Listen to this description of a tabernacle, “From the very beginning of creation, God's plan was to share his life with humanity and allow people to enjoy fellowship with him. However, the entry of sin into the world (Genesis 3) created a serious obstacle, for if sinful people were to come into the presence of God, his holiness would destroy them. The Tabernacle provided a temporary means by which the Israelites could enjoy God's presence without being destroyed by it.” (NLT Illustrated Study Bible) So, in Exodus 25:8, God instructs Moses to build a tabernacle for him so he could be among his people. Keep that in mind.
Much later in the Old Testament, it isn’t until David’s rule as King of Israel that a temple is first mentioned. As he is sitting in his palace, David says to Nathan the prophet, “I am living in a beautiful cedar palace, but the Ark of God is out there in a tent (or tabernacle)!” (2 Samuel 7:2, NLT) David desired to build a permanent place for God to dwell among his people in Jerusalem, but God wouldn’t let him. Instead, many years later, God instructs David’s son, Solomon, to build the temple for him (1 Kings 6). And it was this very temple that Ezekiel mentions being destroyed by the Babylonians.
Even though another temple was built after the destruction of the first one by the Babylonians and before the birth of Jesus, things would never be the same. That is, until Jesus shows up. Throughout the New Testament, Jesus and the Apostles tell us that he is the new Temple of God. As he confronts the Pharisees in Matthew 12:6, he says, “I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” (ESV) What could be greater than the place where God is supposed to dwell? God himself in the flesh. In John 2:19, as the Jews ask Jesus to prove his divinity, Jesus answers, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” Jesus is figuratively speaking of his body as the temple where God was present. In Ephesians, Jesus is seen as the cornerstone of the whole temple structure on which everything else is built (Ephesians 2:20-21). In Hebrews 9:9-10:18, the whole function of the Temple and its sacrificial system are fulfilled in Jesus. And finally, in Revelation 21:22, John is clear on this point when he says, “I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple.”
So, what difference does all of this make for us? Because Jesus is the new Temple, and he dwells in you as you place your trust in him, you are also a temple of the Holy Spirit. That’s why the Apostle Paul says, “Don’t you realize that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, who lives in you and was given to you by God? You do not belong to yourself, for God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NLT) Folks, because of this truth, not only does that mean we need to be intentional about guarding ourselves against sin, but the Lord is always there with us.
And as we go through life with this truth in mind, we must also remember that Jesus is leading us somewhere. Though faintly seen in Ezekiel’s prophecy at the end of his book as he talks about the city that God’s people will one day inherit, with God himself dwelling there, we see it more clearly in John’s prophecy in the book of Revelation. And this is the hope that we lean into when the influence of Babylon presses in on us and either seeks to overwhelm or seduce us. It’s a confident hope, a sure hope, and a hope we will all see fulfilled firsthand one day.
Here’s how the Apostle John describes it, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. 2 And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven like a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. (Ezekiel 11:20; 37:23, 27) 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’ 5 And the one sitting on the throne said, ‘Look, I am making everything new!’ And then he said to me, ‘Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.’ 6 And he also said, ‘It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. 7 All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children.’” (Revelation 21:1-7 NLT, cf., Ezekiel 34:30; 37:23, 27)
So, as we continue our journey to our final destination, the city where God dwells, we are to live wholly focused on the new covenant temple, Jesus himself. (Hebrews 12:22–28) He is the one who will guide us through the rough terrain of Babylon, and he will ensure that we arrive safely at our final, eternal destination as his Spirit leads us. And, as pastor and author Ian Duguid says, “As we go, our lives will revolve around the powerful worship of the awe-inspiring God, the living presence in our hearts of Jesus Christ our King, and the life-giving activity of his Spirit in our lives. So nourished, we are empowered to take the gospel out to all the nations of the earth. The inheritance that is ours in Christ is offered not simply to the twelve historic tribes of Israel, nor even to those who are resident aliens in their midst, but to all to whom the Word of God comes. As Peter put it on the day of Pentecost: ‘The promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call’ (Acts 2:39). Thus, the nations will be brought in from the north and south and east and west and will sit down to feast with one another in the heavenly city, and the Lord of hosts and the Lamb will be there in their midst. Then indeed the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, will fittingly bear the name that Ezekiel ascribed to it, “THE LORD IS THERE.” (I. M. Duguid, Dictionary of the Old Testament: Prophets, s.v. “Ezekiel: History of Interpretation,” 230.)
Let's pray together.
Father, as we ponder the amazing work of Jesus on our behalf, we are astounded by His sacrifice and, more importantly, by your love for us. Though we are unworthy of such love, you, in your mercy, chose to extend it to us. And in doing so, you also changed our hearts, declared us holy, cleansed us from our sins, and gave us your Spirit to guide us.
Forgive us for the times that we take these things for granted. And remind us by your Spirit that though we are only passing through Babylon, our final destination is the new heaven and new earth where we will dwell with you and your Son, Jesus, for eternity. Until that day, may we never forget that wherever we are, and whatever trials and suffering we may face, you are there, protecting us, providing for us, and encouraging us on our journey to the New Jerusalem.
And as we travel along, fill our hearts and minds with what the Apostle John tells us in Revelation 7:9-12 awaits when he says , “After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. 10 And they were shouting with a great roar, ‘Salvation comes from our God who sits on the throne and from the Lamb!’ 11 And all the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living beings. And they fell before the throne with their faces to the ground and worshiped God. 12 They sang, ‘Amen! Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and strength belong to our God forever and ever! Amen.”
“Now all glory to God, who is able to keep you from falling away and will bring you with great joy into his glorious presence without a single fault. 25 All glory to him who alone is God, our Savior through Jesus Christ our Lord. All glory, majesty, power, and authority are his before all time, and in the present, and beyond all time! Amen.” (Jude 24-25)
Brothers and sisters, you are sent!