The Rise of the Church
In the Old Testament, the Bible tells about how Israel was chosen by God to be the people through whom He could do His work in the earth. He was planning to bring a redeemer into the world, to have Jesus come and die for us. Through Israel, Jesus was born.
When God looked at Abraham, He saw His chosen people. They took a ride… they rose and fell in their loyalty to God. Often, they turned rebellious, but God never stopped loving Israel. In the Old Testament, the period of time is known as “the Law,” which said if you sin, you die. Law requires judgment now.
In the New Testament, we live in the period of “grace.” God does not bring instant judgment on us, He provides us time to make amends for our mistakes.
Paul used the Israelites as an example and how they had been rebellious, having to receive punishment from God. Paul reminds his audience that the recording of the events of the Israelites is meant to be a message to us about how to live.
“In the seventh year, in the fifth month, on the tenth day of the month, certain of the elders of Israel came to inquire of the Lord, and sat before me. And the word of the Lord came to me: "Son of man, speak to the elders of Israel, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God, Is it to inquire of me that you come? As I live, declares the Lord God, I will not be inquired of by you. Will you judge them, son of man, will you judge them? Let them know the abominations of their fathers, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: On the day when I chose Israel, I swore to the offspring of the house of Jacob, making myself known to them in the land of Egypt; I swore to them, saying, I am the Lord your God. On that day I swore to them that I would bring them out of the land of Egypt into a land that I had searched out for them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands.”
Ezekiel 20:1-6 ESV
At the beginning of this scripture, we are reminded that these people have a tendency to come to God when they need something and they generally desire to have God’s blessings, but also the comfort of their sinful desires.
God is reminding the people that He had brought them into a land flowing with milk and honey, a land better than any other land on all of earth.
“And I said to them, 'Cast away the detestable things your eyes feast on, every one of you, and do not defile yourselves with the idols of Egypt; I am the Lord your God.' But they rebelled against me and were not willing to listen to me. None of them cast away the detestable things their eyes feasted on, nor did they forsake the idols of Egypt. "Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them and spend my anger against them in the midst of the land of Egypt.”
Ezekiel 20:7-8 ESV
These “detestable things” that God is talking about are the things of this world that draw us away from God. In the day of these Israelites, it was the gods of Egypt - when they began to doubt God, they often turned to the idol gods of the Egyptian people. We really haven’t changed - we have our own idols that we are drawn to through our sin nature. God says, if we don’t give into the detestable things, He will show us blessings like we’ve never seen before. God could never take Israel all the way where He wanted them to go because they just couldn’t give themselves fully to Him.
We are God’s people now, we all are who are in the church. All of God’s blessings today flow through His church! God wants the world to know what He can do, but He’s relying on us to do it. These “detestable things” stand in the way… they may not be sinful - your job or your family can be a detestable thing if it stands in the path of you fulfilling your potential in God’s kingdom.
“But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations among whom they lived, in whose sight I made myself known to them in bringing them out of the land of Egypt. So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live.”
Ezekiel 20:9-11 ESV
God had these people who He had called because He needed His name to be made great in the world… after all, He created it! He deserves to be praised in the earth! God gave these people rules, not to bind them down, but to give them a good life! Have you ever done something you shouldn’t have or failed to do something you should have, knowing all the while you were messing up and would have to pay? Probably so! We know what’s right and we do something else, to our pain and sorrow! Not all of these things are sins… God wants to protect us in every way. If we all lived by God’s statues, this would be a great place to live! We’d have no need of prisons or courthouses… but we choose death over life again and again.
“Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned. "Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make a full end of them. But I acted for the sake of my name, that it should not be profaned in the sight of the nations, in whose sight I had brought them out. Moreover, I swore to them in the wilderness that I would not bring them into the land that I had given them, a land flowing with milk and honey, the most glorious of all lands,”
Ezekiel 20:12-15 ESV
God put all of His blessings on the table. The land, the blessings, everything. But Israel left them on the table because of their stubbornness and rebellion and doubt. God has to raise up another generation… the generation who bore the scars on their back from the Egyptian whips, the generation who walked through the Red Sea on dry land and survived 10 plagues doubted God and left His blessings on the table! When they arrived at the promised land, they doubted that God could make it possible for them to inherit the land from those who possessed it. With nothing but desert and slavery behind them, they refuse to step forward across the Jordan and possess it.
As the church of Jesus Christ, the people who represent God today… with all that God wants us to do and to have today, aren’t we standing in that same place? This isn’t a prosperity message, though that may come, it’s a spiritual prosperity we’re after. Looking into the book of Acts, God filled His people and commanded them (not to build churches or programs or denominations.) to go and preach the gospel and baptize people in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. He called them to heal and cast out demons, to do great things and fulfill their ministry! What are we leaving on the table!?
In Paul’s last-minute letter to Timothy before his own death, he told Timothy that he had fulfilled his ministry, he left nothing on the table! What a great testimony! Don’t you want to fulfill God’s ministry? Don’t you want to see what your life will look like if you don’t leave anything on the table?
If God showed you today everything He has planned for you and everything you’ll go through and accomplish, you’d be terrified! But He’ll be there to take you through it day to day. He just wants to fulfill a purpose in your life.
Israel chose not to accept that call and they just wandered around in the wilderness, in the desert, accomplishing nothing to no purpose. If you want to wander around in a meaningless life, you can… lots of people do. In Christ we live, we move, and we have our being… everything is about Christ! The only way we can be fulfilled is to have Him at the center of our lives and let it be about Him!
As a generation of Israelites died off one after another, the next generation was growing up. God is going to have a people! He’ll find someone who wants to be HIs people and He’s much more patient than we are to wait for that! In this next generation, God found a group willing to take on the enemies on the other side of the Jordan.
For that dying generation, it’s true that God pulled the blessings off the table, but He never stopped providing for them. Manna fell from heaven every day. They never wanted for water, their shoes never even wore out. He took good care of them… why? They were rebellious… but He never stopped loving them!
The message is not: “You better do what you’re called to do or God is gonna get you!!” No, but there’s a better life out there if you want to reach out and grab it! Going to church can get boring… life can get boring… but that’s not God’s intention! We’ve not yet scratched the surface of what God wants to do in our community, in our world! We should want to be the church that God imagines where He imagines His perfect church! We can’t be it exactly, but we can to more!