Take a moment to pray. Ask God to speak to you through his word—for his Spirit to convict you of sin, teach you the truth, and lead you in walking by faith.
Setting the Scene
Returning home from vacation is never fun. Sure, it’s nice to be home and sleep in your own bed, but being home means getting back into the daily grind. All those work projects and home chores waited patiently for you, and they are sure glad to have you back.
Ezekiel’s first vision concludes with his return to the real world. As he does, he must acclimate to life in exile in Babylon once again. He came down off of the high of seeing the glory of God enthroned and walked into a particularly difficult assignment.
Perhaps you’ve experienced this as well. You go away on a retreat and the Lord works mightily in your life. You are on that proverbial spiritual mountaintop. But Monday’s coming… and spiritual jet lag is a beast. Let’s see how Ezekiel responded to coming home, and what we can learn from his experience.
Ezek. 3:12 The Spirit then lifted me up, and I heard a loud rumbling sound behind me—bless the glory of the LORD in his place!— 13 with the sound of the living creatures’ wings brushing against each other and the sound of the wheels beside them, a loud rumbling sound.
Ezekiel describes being transported out of the throne room of God by the Spirit. He heard the sound of the cherubim’s wings (he previously described them as thunder). As this was happening, he interrupts himself with an exclamation of worship. When he says “bless the glory of the LORD in his place!” he is praising God for the visible manifestation of his greatness. What a moment! He was overcome by God’s greatness and could not contain it.
It is worth mentioning that when we see God rightly, praise erupts from our inner being. We definitely don’t feel the same intensity of passion for God all the time, but it’s worth asking if we have any emotional passion in response to God’s greatness. When we see his glory, we should be overcome with joy, love, and awe. It is only appropriate that we express those feelings and verbalize praise to him. When was the last time you couldn’t hold your praise for God back? What can you do to cultivate a heart that stands in awe of the Lord?
Ezek. 3:14 The Spirit lifted me up and took me away. I left in bitterness and in an angry spirit, and the LORD’s hand was on me powerfully. 15 I came to the exiles at Tel-abib, who were living by the Chebar Canal, and I sat there among them stunned for seven days.
While seeing God’s glory was an incomparable high point, leaving the throne room was less than thrilling for Ezekiel. He says that he left “in bitterness and in an angry spirit” and that “the LORD’s hand was on me powerfully.” What’s going on here? He had turned his attention from God’s glory to the sinful rebellion of Israel. He now had to focus on his mission- to confront the hardheartedness of his fellow exiles. In short, the sin of his people impacted him negatively.
Just as witnessing the glory of God elicits a worship response, witnessing the realities of sin elicits righteous anger and sadness. Ezekiel was impacted to the point that he sat stunned on the bank of canal for a solid week. In those sober moments he was more aware than at any time in his life that heaven and earth are not on the same page. Worshipping God and mourning sin go hand in hand.
It’s natural for us to pursue that which brings us joy, and it’s just as natural to avoid what brings sadness or pain. As we read the Bible, however, we learn that sadness and mourning are temporarily unavoidable. Because sin exists, the believer must mourn. Because sin hurts us and those we love, we must hurt.
The high of worship and low of confession are not in conflict with each other, they are complementary responses to the glory of God and the sin we find in the real world.
The Big Picture
When we think about the juxtaposition of the glory of God and realities of sin on earth, we must think of Jesus. Jesus condescended—he stepped out of the perfect glory of heaven and took the form of servant by becoming human (Philippians 2:6-8). He stands for us as a high priest, but not a high priest secluded in some temple. No, the author of Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 4:15, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has been tempted in every way as we are, yet without sin.”
Jesus mourned the realities of sin on earth. He mourned and wept when Lazarus died and he saw the emotional pain of Mary and Martha, “When Jesus saw her crying, and the Jews who had come with her crying, he was deeply moved in his spirit and troubled” (John 11:33). He mourned the sinful unbelief of Jerusalem in Matthew 23:37. He felt, and feels, the pain of sin more acutely than anyone else.
Jesus did more than just mourn over sin. He died for it. Consider this truth- Jesus died for our sin so that we could see and rejoice in his glory. The Apostle Peter says that one of the reasons God rescued us from sin was so that we could worship, “But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9). Paul says that when God saves us, he grants us the ability to see his glory, “For God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of God’s glory in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
In the end, our eternal state will include only the worship side of this worship/mourning sin equation. In Revelation, the Apostle John describes what an angel proclaimed about the new Jerusalem:
“Look, God’s dwelling is with humanity, and he will live with them. They will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; grief, crying, and pain will be no more, because the previous things have passed away” (Rev. 21:3-4).
For the moment, then, we must hold the line that Ezekiel held. Short of Jesus’ return, we live with the tension of simultaneously witnessing some of God’s greatness and witnessing the effects of sin. As we grow in our knowledge of God, we worship. As we see more of the brutalities of sin, we mourn.
Taking It Home
As we consider applying Ezekiel 3:12-15, we need to focus on how we express these two components of the life of the believer: worship of God and mourning over sin. How we respond to opportunities for each reveals areas where we need to grow in spiritual maturity. As we take them in turn, remember that brutal honesty regarding your heart condition is crucial to lasting change.
In what ways do you express worship of God? Prayer? Singing? Recounting God’s greatness in conversations? As Ezekiel was impacted by what saw of God, he articulated his praise. How can you grow in expressing praise of God? How much do you engage in singing with other believers in corporate worship services? How specific are you in your prayers exclaiming God’s greatness? Many of us have stifled worship instead of glorifying God by expressing it. God is pleased and others are encouraged when we rejoice in his glory!
How are you tempted to avoid talking about sin? Many of us would rather talk about politics all day rather than have a frank discussion about where we struggle. How do you respond to sin around you? Both our culture in general and our immediately surrounding communities are stained by sin. In what ways do we mourn sinful decisions by our government? Sin in our family and church? What if we responded redemptively? What would it look like for you to lovingly confront sin in other believers as you have opportunity?
One day we will be free of the presence and destructiveness of sin. Until then, may we mirror God’s hatred of sin and mourn as we see rebellion against God in our world. May we never lose sight of the glory of God, and may God grant us greater knowledge of his greatness.
Ezekiel didn’t stay sitting down. He got up, and got to work doing what God had called him to do. His second vision directly addressed the main form of rebellion in his fellow exiles. Be warned, these visions are about to get very personal.
- Praise God for his glory. Think of specific attributes of God (his power, grace, righteousness, beauty) and worship him for those attributes.
- Ask God to help you share his hatred of sin. Ask him to give you a sensitive heart so that you would mourn as sin hurts people around us.
- Praise God for sending Jesus to solve the problem of sin. Praise him that in the New Jerusalem there will be no pain, no suffering, and no death. Praise Jesus for not just mourning sin, but for dying on the cross to defeat it.