Sunday, 13 September 2020

God is God, We are Not - Ezekiel 1

After the introduction about Ezekiel in chapter 1 it gets straight into his first vision in verse 4. Immediately it is over-whelming: a violent storm, immense cloud, flashes of lightning, brilliant light. We know that there is nothing like the ferocity of nature to stop us in our tracks and remind us of the awesomeness of God - be it a hurricane from the Atlantic, huge waves, the shock of hail stones bouncing up from the pavement or the crash of thunder. They all remind us that there are forces bigger than us.

In the centre of this stormy vision is a bright fire glowing white hot. And in the centre of that are these 4 strange creatures. Here it starts to get whacky: beyond any simple imagination. The 4 creatures have multiple faces, wings, and we discover have wheels with them as well. And those wheels have eyes! We don't really know why there are 4 creatures: perhaps they form a square - a neat symmetry? We see the creatures can lift off the ground, they are not grounded like we are. They can range back, forth, and sideways with the spirit.

In amongst this there is a curious detail. In v5 it says 'appearance in form was human'. That is a mystery: strange creatures in the centre of all this glowing awesome power ... and  kind of like human. Sometimes, when God appears or reveals, human appearance is involved. Abram had 3 visitors (Genesis 18) - were they people or angels? Yet in that story it then says 'the Lord said ...', so also is it really the Lord or what?

Moses, in his first revelation, only gets to see a burning bush, but with that God speaks the words: "I Am who I Am". In other words "God is God ... we are not!". There is a clear distinction  between God and us as humans. We are finite, limited, in one place in one time, and God is not limited, beyond us. And yet there is something in our humanity that images God. Remember He created male and female in His image.

Moses realised he was on holy ground (remember the take off your shoes thing). Abram realised there was something super-human about his visitors. And Jewish rabbis years later studying Ezekiel, came up with the advice that men should not read this until they are 30, i.e. mature enough because there is something about the book that makes it kind of 'holy ground'.

Ezekiel certainly realises this is the appearance of the 'glory of God' and he falls face down. That is not surprising: when confronted with the glory of God, the splendour, the awesomeness ... there is only one response - to fall in worship. What else can a human do? Peter, while fishing with Jesus on board, has this experience of the large catch after hours of catching nothing. Peter is in his natural environment (the fishing boat), but with the presence of Jesus has changed things dramatically. His response is recorded in Luke 5:8 'Go away from me Lord, I am a sinful man'! That is the same response: "God is God, I am not ... in fact I am worse than not, I am sinful not, all messed up'. In recognising Jesus Peter could see something of God and the glory of God, which produces this reaction.

Yet hear the words of Jesus to Peter: 'Do not be afraid, I have a calling on your life, a job for you'. Jesus raises Peter up. In Ezekiel 1:28 he records 'I heard a voice', and the voice says 'stand up, be on your feet, I will speak ...'. So Ezekiel has this whacky mind-blowing vision. It is awesome, it is way out there, it is way beyond him and above him in all he could think, imagine or comprehend. Naturally he falls down: he is before God as a simple speck of humanity. But God speaks and raises him up. God has a job for him, just like Peter ... and just like us.

Let us have a healthy respect for the 'otherness of God', that He is God, vast, beyond our calculations, and we are not. He is all seeking and knowing, and He is beyond humanity, able to move and range where he likes, not tied in physical time and space. He is glorious and awesome in wonder and splendour ... and yet He can speak into our lives, He can call us, He can raise us up - He has stuff for us to do.

That attitude is summarised by the phrase 'Fear of the Lord' which occurs many times in the Bible. It is not the same as "scared fear". It is a "holy fear", a sober recognition of the realities of the difference between God and us. Yet it also comes to realise that despite those differences He calls us to approach Him, and that we can. At the Countess Free Church we want to see Kingdom Life across the city, and that also means that as a church we also want to have glimpses of the glory of God. Strategically the leadership team has the objective that any gathering, be it big or small, might know 'The Lord powerfully present among us'. We want each gathering to learn a desire and an expectancy - so that they come to expect of God when they gather. In that way our 'Fear of the Lord' in fact becomes a 'Desire of God' - in all His awesome splendour and glory.

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