There’s a spot on the Conestoga River near my home where a tree leans way out over the river. Someone attached wooden steps on the tree, so you can climb out on the trunk, over the river. They also attached a rope to the tree. One end of the rope is tied to the tree, and the other end is a plank you can sit on. It’s a rope swing. What you do is climb way out onto the tree, holding the rope. You then sit on the plank, putting tension on the rope, and jump!
Last summer, my daughter and I rode our bikes to the rope swing. She went first, and after stalling and stalling, she said, “Dad, you go first!” So I, being the big adult dad said, “Sure.” I took off my socks and shoes, slowly climbed up the tree trunk, as my daughter was filming on her phone. It looked a lot higher when I was up on the tree that it did from the bank of the river. I took a deep breath, wondering if the rope would hold me.
Maybe you know the feeling. Is this going to work? Or is this going to be a disaster? Can I trust the rope? Or will I get hurt? In our next and final section of Ezekiel, I wonder if Ezekiel felt something like that. I suppose there are times when most, if not all, of us feel that when it comes to our relationship with God. Can we trust him? Is his way really the best way? Let’s find out.
Last week in Ezekiel chapters 40-44, God transported Ezekiel in a vision to a high mountain in Israel, and just below him was a city. There he met a man whose appearance was that of bronze. The man held ancient tools for measurement. The man brought Ezekiel into the city, to a new temple complex, where the man started measuring the temple, giving Ezekiel blueprints. Then suddenly the glory of God showed up and filled the temple, and God talked with Ezekiel. Through this vision, God communicated his desire for holiness in his people, and his desire to be present with his people. We talked about how in the New Testament, Jesus and Paul taught that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit, and God lives in us, so we pursue holiness as well.
Now in Ezekiel chapters 45-48, Ezekiel’s amazing vision continues, as does the work of the bronze man who measures things. Instead of making blueprints for the temple, now God zooms out and gives Ezekiel a map for the restoration of the boundaries of the nation of Israel, preparing for the day when the people will return from exile and resettle the land. In addition to describing the borders of the land, Ezekiel chapters 45-48 are also a kind of adaptation of the Old Testament book of Leviticus, the book of the Law in which God originally gave instructions for how to worship him.
Sprinkled throughout the many measurements and descriptions of the law, we find God sharing his heart. First of all, Ezekiel chapter 45, verses 1-7 are measurements for allotment of lands to be dedicated to the Lord, land for the Levites and priests, land for all the people and finally land for the prince. Do we see any evidence of God’s heart in this division of the land? I believe so.
Notice that God’s portion of the land is to be sacred and holy, and in that we see that God is holy. We’ve talked about that in the past few weeks, the idea that holiness is “to be set apart.” God is utterly different or other than anything he created. Likewise, he calls us to be holy, to be set apart from the world around us. But what does that mean? Sometimes we can understand what something means first by removing the possibilities of what it doesn’t mean. Let me explain.
Being holy, being “set apart” does not mean that we should become the Ephrata Cloisters. If you’ve never heard of the Cloisters, let me explain because that place gives me the creeps. The Cloisters were a Lancaster County sect in the 1800s who believed that they needed to be set apart from the world. They looked at the concept of holiness and verses like 1 John 2:15-17 and thought, we need to be physically, totally separate from the world. What does 1 John 2:15-17 say?
“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For everything in the world—the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and boasting of what he has and does—comes not from the Father but from the world.”
Throughout Christian history there have been Christians who have attempted to live these words in a very literal way. The Cloisters took it to an extreme. Even more so than our Amish neighbors. When I toured the Cloister a couple years ago, I had an eerie feeling come over me, as I learned how this group of people lived. It was like walking through the compound of a cult that wanted to be as separate as possible from everyone else.
That is not what God means when he says that he wants his people to be holy. We know that because we sure don’t want God to be holy like that, do we? Imagine if God’s holiness meant that he was so different, so “other” that we could have absolutely no connection, no relationship with him. You can see how God might want to separate himself from us because of how awful we can be. But that is not what God’s holiness means. God is intimately connected with us, deeply involved in our lives, and as we have seen in the last few chapters of Ezekiel, he wants to make his home with us.
Further Jesus taught in John 17:15, in his final prayer with the disciples before he was arrested, “My prayer is not that you would take them out of the world, Father, but that you protect them from the evil one.” Holiness is not that we are to remove ourselves from the world, but that we are to be different in the middle of the world. We are to love God, not the world, John wrote.
So our pursuit of holiness does not mean that we should separate ourselves from the world. The human pursuit of holiness also does not mean that we will become gods. It is not possible for humans to become gods. But our human pursuit of holiness means that we will become more like Jesus, especially as we walk in step with the Holy Spirit, and he changes us so that his fruit of the Spirit is produced and flowing from our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, faithfulness, goodness and self-control. If we want to be more like Jesus, we should be people who pursue holiness, so that our heart attitude and actions pursue the things that Jesus did.