Week 35 – Four Pictures of God’s Love
Prayer– Our Father, we love You. May we experience the weight of Your great love for us today through Your Word. May You also grant us the understanding of how we grieve You. Lord, use this message to stimulate our thirst to know You more and to give us greater insight to what it means to have an intimate relationship with You. Open our ears to hear. In Jesus Name. Amen.
There is a great hymn called, They Will Know We are Christians by Our Love. Is that not the prayer of any Christian? God, let Your love shine in and through me. People need to hear and personally experience God’s love continually. I need that. But what does God’s love look like? And this is where people have different ideas, even among Christians. However, the Bible is great news. It gives great insight and this past week we read a chapter, a very long chapter in which God Himself gives anyone who wants to know four pictures of what His love looks like. I would suggest it is one of the key chapters that should be at the forefront of conversations about God’s love. But since this chapter is located in an obscure book that many have never read we are unaware of these four pictures. So people of Sandy Ridge, let us hold on tight to these pictures as they come from God Himself. This is why I wanted to bring this chapter to your attention. So if you are a seeker, a skeptic, someone running from God, to God, or with God you need to know about this chapter.
Now I imagine most of you have heard the saying, ‘a picture is worth a thousand words.’ Well, that statement sort of describes today’s passage, Ezekiel 16
. This chapter is not quite a thousand words, more like 830 so let’s go ahead and turn to Ezekiel 16
. It is pg. 732 in these Bibles. I encourage you to follow along. Now what may not know about Ezekiel 16
it is the longest prophecy recorded in the O.T. This chapter alone is longer that some of the shortest books of the Bible. This chapter graphically described God’s love in ways that may turn some of your faces red or at the very least make you think to yourself, “I didn’t know God was so open at sharing His emotions.” And because Ezekiel 16
is so graphic it may be one of the Bible’s best portrayals of God’s love. So as you are turning there let me give you some historical background on the prophet Ezekiel.
Two weeks ago I mentioned that in 597 B.C. the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem for the 2nd time and carried off around 10,000 people who belonged to the middle and upper class of Jerusalem. Well, Ezekiel was a part of that group and then 5 years later as Ezekiel turned 30 God called him to be a prophet to His people in Babylon. Now the question that most people wanted answered was: why did all this happen to us? What did we do to deserve being carried to a godless culture? And the early chapters of Ezekiel God answers that question through various stories and visions. Ezekiel 16
happens to be the longest and perhaps the most shocking of them all. It answers their question but in doing so reveals four pictures of His love, in case they or anyone wanted to know. So let’s read God’s Word in Ezekiel 16
beginning in v. 1. Read vv. 1-6. The chapter begins with a birth. God’s people are depicted as an abandoned baby girl left to die in a field. This was a common practice back then and unfortunately still is in some parts of the world. Some cultures believe girls are not as valuable as boys are. So baby girls are left to die or it is possible a wandering slave trader would discover the girl and either sell her for money or raise her to be a prostitute. Here we see the first picture of God’s love: (show slide 2) God’s love gives life and hope that flows from His grace-filled heart. God saw the unwanted baby and says live. And that is what the girl does - she flourishes as v. 7 wonderful describes. What an incredible act of grace. This is God. This is the God of the O.T. But there is more. Let’s continue to read vv. 8-14.
God not only said live but He made a vow to marry this now teenage girl. No expense was spared for the wedding. So this girl who was left to die is now through marriage going to have all of the richness and splendor of the groom. Here we see the second picture of God’s love: (show slide 3) God’s love gives intimacy that flows from His committed heart. This goes beyond being a servant, a child, a friend of God but a spouse. I realize some of you, especially the men, may think this metaphor of marrying God weird and wonder what exactly is God trying to say here? Well, let me suggest 3 things. (show slide 4) One, God wants an exclusive relationship with you. A Master can have several servants. Parents can have multiple children. We can have many friends but to fully experience the life God created and blessed you then God must be superior to all others. If any spouse puts their work, children, a hobby, a friend before their marriage then that marriage will move in the direction of erosion. So it is with a relationship with God. (show slide 5) Two, God wants an all encompassing relationship with you. For example, you can have a close friend but that friendship may not impact every area of your life like how you treat others, manage money, parent, or the kind of employee you are. So when God calls you into a spousal relationship that means there is no part of your life that God will not be involved in. And (show slide 6) Three, God wants a mutually delightful relationship with you. When two people genuinely love each other it brings both people joy. If not, then something is wrong, something is missing. I realize this may be different from what some of you have experienced in marriage. You may already know this but earthly marriages exist to point us to the eternal life-giving, joyfully, and all satisfying relationship with God. People of Sandy Ridge, may you have a vision of how God wants to have intimacy with you now for the sake of your joy there in heaven.
Now I do not know where you are at with God today whether you have a relationship with God or not, but if you do then your prayer life is a window into that relationship. For example, if you hardly pray or only in a crisis it may mean that despite your meaningful experiences with God, despite the prayer you prayed long ago inviting Jesus into your life – there is no relationship. Now if your relationship is primarily at the parent-child level then your prayer life will be dominated with requests. But if your relationship is at the spousal level then your prayer life will be full of praise, thanksgiving, and expression of trust more than requests no matter what life brings your way. To be clear this does not mean we don’t ask God for things because His Word in James 4:2
tells us to do just that but the things we do ask God our motive behind the request is whatever is going to give God the most honor and glory. This is what I desire the most. This kind of a relationship comes only when you seek His presence more than anyone or anything. It only comes when you see yourself as God sees you. Many of you know this is an intense battle. This is why my prayer for you has been this week you would long and be satisfied with God as your spouse.
It would have been nice if the chapter ended with v. 14. But the bride, which represents God’s people, takes the life the Groom gave her and uses it in all the wrong ways. Vv. 15-59 vividly describes all this and here we see the third picture of God’s love: (show slide 7) God’s love gives discipline that flows from His wounded but redemptive heart. It is like what we saw last week: God disciples the disobedient not to pay them back but to win them back. Now for the sake of the youth here I am not going to read the majority of those verses because the metaphors are nothing short of semi-pornographic. This is why most Bible translators have soften the imagery that the inspired Hebrew text communicates. Once you read it you will understand why this chapter has never appeared in any children’s Bible or family devotional book. Some of you may be wondering: why would God speak in this way? The answer is two-fold. First, sin cannot be swept under the carpet. It offends but also wounds a holy God. Ezekiel 16
, albeit, in most English translations is watered down but it still shows God’s honest emotions as a crushed and wounded lover.
Secondly, God needed to get Israel’s attention. People who are in close relationships that enter into unhealthy, destructive patterns usually will not hear how bad it really is from the person whom they are hurting. Often times they need to be shocked and this is what God is doing along with answering the question of why did all this happen to us as God’s people. God’s hope is that His people would see God in this surprising way, as the wounded lover, and just might cause them to repent and seek healing from their sins. This is one key reason why we need to know about Ezekiel 16
today because self-centered and half-hearted worship still wounds Him now as it did over 2500 years ago. Now when I mention healing from our sins it absolutely includes forgiveness but goes deeper to such things as why do I say, behave, or think the way I do. To go there is painful and why many who desire to experience healing shortchange the process because there is a natural tendency to believe healing has taken place before it actually has. People confuse growth in knowledge and insight for sustained life change. People of Sandy Ridge, may you not shortchange the healing that God is actively seeking in all of our lives. May this third picture of God’s love motivate us to do whatever it takes to follow Him more closely so we will not experience His consequences. As we all know consequences are painful. Let’s continue to read vv. 49-52.
You may have heard before Sodom was destroyed because of their sin of homosexuality and there is truth to that according to the Scriptures but that is not the full story. Sodom was also destroyed because of their sins of arrogance and greed. These were and still are the symptoms of self-centered worship, believing you have the freedom to define God and the good life. This not only breaks God’s heart but erupts His judgment. You cannot help but wonder if this passage is something God is saying to His Church today in America with words like overfed, unconcerned for the poor and needy. So God comparing Judah to Sodom and Samaria without question shocked and greatly offended the Jews. They knew they had been disobedient but they did not think they were as bad as Sodom and Samaria. Well, God sets them straight.
Now before we keep reading you may be thinking is God going to lose it here? Is God going to say something like, “This marriage is over and now you know all the reasons why.” But that is not what God says. The climax of this whole prophecy begins in v. 60 to the end of the chapter. Readvv. 60-63. The fourth picture we see of God’s love is: (show slide 8) God’s love gives salvation that flows from His faithful heart. God’s love cannot help but blaze for His greatest creation – humanity. This is how Ezekiel 16
ends. Those who genuinely have a relationship with God are not exempt from His judgment and discipline but that is not His last word to His people. Be encouraged in that Sandy Ridge. His last word to His people is salvation! And that will never changed. Also, let me point out something that is enormously significant in v. 63. God says He will make the necessary atonement. This is a huge hint that something different and new is coming because according to the book of Leviticus people are the ones who are commanded to make the sacrifices to be "at-one" with God. In fact, next week we are going to spend one more week in Ezekiel talking about this new covenant because instead of animals shedding their blood for the forgiveness of sins God Himself will shed His own blood. This is why we remember and celebrate communion. Also, this new covenant will teach us some foundational principles to what a God-centered conversion really is. This will be very helpful because we all live in a culture where many profess to have a relationship with God but do they? Ezekiel 36
gives incredible insight to this question.
So who could have guessed this chapter would have ended this way especially after verses like vv. 15-59? Although the sins of God’s people testify against them, God for His own sake is going to renew His marital commitment to His people. So Ezekiel 16
is a much needed reminder that His love calls the hopeless to live, calls the hurting to His intimacy, calls the selfish to repent, and calls the desperate to salvation. These are some of the pictures of God’s love for which His people are to be known. This will not happen automatically but only as we allow God to empower us by His love. So people of Sandy Ridge, let us remember the God-given pictures of Ezekiel 16
as we live, tell, and follow His love for our sake, our loved ones sake, and for the sake of our local and global neighbors. May people know us by this kind of love. At this time I invite ? to come up to pray for us.