Five days ago we looked at one of the saddest scenes in Scripture: The removal of God’s presence, his glory from the temple. One of the things I forgot to emphasize with that passage was this withdrawal of the Spirit from the temple was the culmination of a spiritual rot that had been growing over centuries. I used to work in termite protection, so I know what termites can do. They’re insidious. Imagine a great oak tree that suddenly falls to the earth. At first you’re wondering what could’ve caused something like this to happen to this enormous tree. Then you see that termites had been eating away at the inside of the tree for some time. It'd been dead for many years, only looking alive and great while the invaders were eating away, out of sight and mind. That’s what happened to the temple. It wasn’t some sudden calamity that came out of nowhere. It was the physical result of centuries of hollow religion, syncretism, and generally not doing things God’s way. And I firmly believe that this is a great illustration of what’s happened and is happening to a lot of Christians and a lot of churches, and our beloved nation.
But at the end of the book of Ezekiel comes a really long description of the great reversal. Today’s passage gives a beautiful description of the Lord’s presence/glory coming back into the temple as dramatically as when he left.
Now, I guess I need to answer the question: What’s my interpretation of this? Do I believe that the Lord will literally come into a literal temple with the literal measurements that take up the final eight chapters of the book?
Yes, I do. If it is symbolic of something (like the church), then it seems odd to use eight chapters in the last part of the book to describe it in excruciatingly minute detail. But I also want to make two counterpoints to that:
1) I have a lot of Christian theologians whom I respect greatly who disagree with me on this, along with others who agree. But to those who think this is symbolic, I certainly don’t question their salvation or faithfulness. On the list of “hills I would die on,” this isn't one of them. The exact interpretation of this is by no means essential to the faith.
2) And part of the reason I don’t have a problem agreeing to disagree with them is that however your interpretation of it, it really doesn’t affect your daily walk with Christ. We can take some great application from this, and that wouldn’t be affected by whether you think there’s going to be a literal temple in the future.
That’s because, right here and right now, we're the temple of the Holy Spirit. His
presence lives within us. And when I say we are the temple, I mean each individual believer and the church as a whole.
As I said before, I don’t believe that a true Christian can lose his salvation once he’s received it. But I think in a real sense the believer can lose the sense of the Spirit in his life. A disobedient Christian can lose his peace, his sense of his Father’s smile, and (this is almost a given) his assurance. And a church can certainly lose the presence of the Lord, and I’m referring to both an individual church and a denomination.
But here’s the good news for believers and churches. It doesn’t have to be that way. Just like with nonbelievers, God’s offer of grace and mercy are open until this life is over. It doesn’t have to end in disgrace and dishonor.
If the presence of the Lord in your life isn't what it used to be, what happened? As someone once wisely put it, if God seems further away than he used to be, then who moved? Now, maybe he’s just bringing you thru a dry spell for some other reason. His presence might be withdrawn for some reason other than flagrant disobedience. That certainly was the case with Job.
But if he does seem distant right now, you need to ask him to examine you inside and out and reveal to you whatever’s displeasing him. And if it's sin and you confess, he’ll grant that sense of his presence once more. And how glorious that will be. Try it.
Father God, I’ve been thru dry spells without feeling your presence in my life, and it makes life sooooo much harder to bear. Please give me a sensitive spirit so that when you’re trying to tell me something, I listen.