Years ago, I learned a song when I was a teenager in youth group, and I found it very catchy and fun, but I had no idea what it meant. “I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me, makes the lame to walk and the blind to see, opens prison doors, sets the captives free. I’ve got a river of life flowing out of me. Spring up, O well, within my soul, Spring up, O well, and make me whole. Spring up, O well, and give to me, that life, abundantly.” Now I know what the song means, because of Ezekiel.
We have been studying Ezekiel 45-48, which is the continuation of the vision God gave Ezekiel starting in chapter 40. In the previous posts this week, we learned about God’s heart for worship in chapters 45 and 46. Now in chapter 47 the vision changes dramatically. In Ezekiel 47:1-12 we read a fascinating description of a river that flows from the temple, and the river makes everything flourishing, even the Dead Sea. Notice verse 12 and the unfailing, life-giving, healing nature of the trees that grow on the banks of the river. It’s a new Garden of Eden. This is a powerful depiction of what God’s heart desires for his people. God wants humanity to flourish. This is not just a vision of heaven. Of course people will flourish in heaven. But notice how physical and earthy this vision is. God desires flourishing now.
That is what Jesus was getting at when he taught us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” On earth…as it is in heaven. That means we follow God’s heart when we look for ways humans are not flourishing, and we seek to bring them into the flourishing life that God desires. That means both inviting them to enter into a relationship with God, as well as helping them become free from injustice, and helping to eradicate injustice in our community and world.
Where are the physical, emotional, spiritual needs in your church family and community? God’s desire is that all of the people with these needs will flourish. That is why we preach the Gospel in word and deed, justice as Jesus himself did. That is what the river of life symbolizes.
Remember the song I learned in youth group? That song is talking about the flourishing life that God desires for his people, like a river that brings life-giving water to the land so farmer can produce delicious food.
Notice that Ezekiel isn’t simply looking at the river, the life source. Ezekiel was in the river. And it is rising! First the water level is at his ankles. Then it rises to his knees, and then to his waist. He is in the river, not watching from the sidelines. Finally, it got so deep he started to swim.
Ezekiel was participating in the river of life. Notice all the trees are fed by the river. They grow, they are drinking from the river. It was a river flowing from the sanctuary of God. This is a reminder of us to jump in the river, and not watch from the sidelines. In God’s river of life is where God’s goodness and power is for flourishing.
Next, there is the long section from Ezekiel 47:13-48:29, and in that section, we see again God’s heart for human flourishing. This section is a detailed description of the borders of the land. God is essentially drawing a map of the entire land. What can we learn about God’s heart in this? God desires equality of inheritance. See verse 47:14, we he mentions equality specifically, but the entire description is one of fair portions. Everyone gets part of the inheritance. All are cared for. Even those who are not part of the family are cared for! God desires aliens to be considered as native-born Israelites! (47:22-23) Clearly God’s heart is open and reaching out to those on the margins. God’s heart is for all to have a home, for all to be included. This is not a political statement about immigration policy. This is God’s heart.
Finally, we arrive at the end. In Ezekiel 48:30-35, the vision describes the gates of the city, concluding with the all-important name of the city: “The Lord is there.” As we have seen from chapter 1, time and time and time again, God’s heart has been for his people to know that he is God. Remember that phrase, the most repeated and most important phrase of the book of Ezekiel? “Then they will know that I am the Lord.” God wants to be known, to be in close relationship with you. God wants to make his home with you. Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. The name of God’s new city is “God is there.” God is present with his people.
Think about that. God wants to be so close to you. If you learn anything about the book of Ezekiel, learn this one thing: God’s heart aches to be in a loving relationship with you. Step into the water with God. Maybe it is first your toes, maybe just a new start. Maybe you wade in further to your ankles, then to your knees. Continue to go deeper with him, to experience flourishing so that you can produce fruit. Which is why our next sermon series is going to be a study of the Fruit of the Spirit.
What step do you need to take?