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BaptistWay: Living in God’s presence again

• The BaptistWay lesson for May 25 focuses on Ezekiel 10:18-19; 11:22-23; 40:1-2; 43:1-9.

I grew up attending a Lutheran church with my grandmother. I remember seeing the pastor stand in front of the congregation wearing his majestic robe, an altar lined with candles behind him, while greeting everyone with the phrase, “Welcome to God’s house!” In my immature mind, I took his greeting literally.

I assumed God actually lived in the sanctuary of the church in a way he did not anywhere else. I’ve since come to realize this is not the case in New Testament theology, but a part of me still appreciates the symbolism communicated through high-church architecture.

The Christ Candle

One particular candle hung from the ceiling on the far left of the Lutheran sanctuary that was called “The Christ Candle.” It never was extinguished, but instead served as a reminder of God’s continuing presence in our midst, made possible through Christ’s death and resurrection.

As we rest confidently in God’s abiding presence, we can look at this week’s passages in Ezekiel and rejoice that what was promised is in the process of becoming fulfilled. I will specifically focus on Ezekiel 43:1-9 as we unpack this hope and the implications it has for us today.

God’s glory (Ezekiel 43:1-5)

In these verses, Ezekiel is brought to the eastern gate of the outer court of the temple where he sees the most important vision mentioned in the entire book: God’s glory returning to the temple. It is reminiscent of God’s glory referenced in Ezekiel’s call in chapters 1 and 3 and when he saw God’s glory depart from the temple in chapters 8, 10 and 11.

Ezekiel sees the glory of God coming from the east (v. 2), entering the eastern gate (v. 4) and filling the temple (v. 5). This causes the entire land to become radiant with God’s glory. The sound of its coming and its presence are just like the sound of rushing water Ezekiel heard from the cherubim wings in the vision at the beginning of the book. There is no questioning his response to fall face down in the midst of this overwhelming episode (v. 3).

Glory of God

The glory of God is a powerful thing to experience, but it is much more than an experience. God will be glorified regardless of what we do. John Piper likes to say, “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.”

One thing the book of Ezekiel demonstrates is God will be glorified as a result of his character and plan. That does not mean everything you and I are given the freedom to do brings God glory; rather, it means in spite of our sin and failure, God still is being God. Most of us never will see a vision like Ezekiel did or experience God’s glory in this incredible fashion as we live our everyday lives. Simply knowing about this attribute of God, however, can serve to draw us closer to him and motivate us to be concerned about living faithfully for him.

God’s place (Ezekiel 43:6-9)

The significance of this vision of God’s glory is so important the Lord interprets it for Ezekiel (v. 6). The temple is to be God’s throne and residence within Israel forever. When God’s glory returns, Israel never again will defile the Lord’s holy name through idolatry in the temple or their burial of the corpses of kings in holy places (v. 7). As a result, God will live among them forever (v. 9).

What an amazing realization this must have been. It’s something New Testament Christians take for granted, because we believe Jesus “lives in our hearts.” Even for us, however, it can be possible to drift back subconsciously into the misconception of my childhood where we only expect to experience God’s glory at church.

While the Christ candle in my grandmother’s Lutheran sanctuary correctly teaches Jesus permanently abides within that space, it also teaches he permanently abides within our world. This is the inauguration of Ezekiel’s vision in the process of coming to fulfillment. When Christ returns, the process of that fulfillment finally will be complete.

Christ in our midst

The first time I recall a Christ candle being used in Baptist life was by a professor at East Texas Baptist University who taught church administration. He began each day by lighting a simple white candle as a reminder that no matter how trivial the topic of church administration might seem, Christ still was in our midst.

If that’s what it takes to draw you to God’s glory, do it. Light a Christ candle in the sanctuary, put one in the fellowship hall, bring one to your Sunday school class and without a doubt give one to the church moderator to use during the business meeting.

Not because God depends on our recognition of his presence in order for him to be glorified, but because when we are drawn to his glory, we are transformed and motivated to be a part of his vision for our world.

       
 
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