What a great morning! If you’re visiting with us I’m glad you’re here. Frankly, I’m glad I’m here. There were moments when I was wondering if we’d ever get here. At one point this started to sound like a joke, “You ever hear the one about the contractor, the county inspector, and the pastor?” Why do those jokes always include some pastor or priest? The other great thing is we’ve got to the end of this project and we all still love each other. That’s amazing isn’t it? We buried the people we didn’t love out back…
What is it about something new? We all like new things. New buildings. New cars. New clothes. New shoes. New Year. New is equated to perfect, as it was originally intended or created. Everything works. Everything fits. Everything is right. So if you think of New in such broad terms think about what isn’t new with that broad definition. Clothes get ugly and wear out. Cars rust out and break down…unless you spend all kinds of money and make it all new again. But eventually it won’t be new again. Buildings and houses get used and start to break down. It’s so funny that car dealers don’t like the word “used” because people don’t really want to buy used so they now call used cars “pre-owned.” Like the average consumer thinks, “Oh wow! It’s pre-owned! That must mean it’s not used but I wonder why there’s so many miles on it?” By the way, we have a pre-owned building for sale.
A couple of weeks ago I held a brand new baby boy. Isn’t that funny that we even say that about people. Babies are called brand new. On the opposite we use other words like “burned out” or “used goods” to describe people. We say our “job is getting old.” I’ve heard people say their “marriage had gotten old.” Sometimes we describe pain, adversity, sorrow, grief in terms of “old.” Isn’t that interesting. If new is what it was supposed to be like, then tragically there is a lot of stuff and experiences and even people in our lives that are old and it has nothing to do with age. New and old then take on much more meaning. It isn’t just about dates and times. It’s about tragedy, pain, sorrow, loss, breaking down and not just mechanically, but relationally, mentally, emotionally, and even spiritually.
Back about 600 years before Christ, Israel was in a mess. It was around 1,000 B.C., the glory years with King David and King Solomon and the greatest period in Israel. The wealth, health, and influence of Israel was at its highest. Following Solomon’s death there was a civil war and the nation was split in two – North and South. That civil war also started a spiritual decline. Ups and downs for both the North and South. Kings ruled both sides and one king would be godly and the next utterly evil. The Northern Kingdom eventually rejected God completely and around 700 B.C. they were conquered by Assyria. The Southern Kingdom kept pursuing God and yet they too ended up rejecting God and being conquered 100 years later in 605 B.C.
God had warned them over and over again if you keep turning from me and rejecting me at some point I am going to let you have exactly what you want…a life without me. A life without God was a removal of presence. His presence is Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Gentleness, Self-Control, Goodness. His presence was everything to Israel. In fact, when His presence was over Israel even the other nations recognized it. There was a blessing that came with His presence that extended over the entire nation. It was a blessing that touched even down to each family – to moms and dads. His protection was also over Israel. God watched out for Israel and protected them from their enemies. And there was something about the presence of God that was always renewing the very souls of people. Which is an interesting thought. His presence literally kept the soul and spirit of people from decay and death.
But they wanted their own way of life, their own rules, their freedom. Even the people of God. So God gave them what they wanted, a life without Him. He withdrew his renewing presence. He withdrew His protection and His renewing work. God gave a lot of warnings but finally pulled out of the nation and shortly after that the Southern Kingdom was conquered by Babylon. The devastation was awful. It was more 70 years later before Israel really began to rebuild. And the people who had gone through it all didn’t reject God out of anger instead they wanted God back in their lives. They had enough of life without God. Their lives and nation were broken down, used up, and worn down. They wanted God back.
I’ve been reading a book called Soul Keeping by John Ortberg. He cites a sobering study done by the Journal of American Medical Association that indicated that in the 1900’s, people who lived in each generation were three times more likely to experience depression than folks in the previous generation before them. Despite the rise of the mental health profession, people are becoming increasingly vulnerable to depression. Despite more technology, more machines to make our work easier, more wealth, more education, more of everything, it seems we’re more depressed than ever before. What’s going on is that there is something deeply broken in us that nothing in this world can fix or solve and ever make new again.
Our souls have a longing that cannot be satisfied. There was once a woman Jesus met who had been divorced five or six times and she had given up on marrying. Jesus and her were at a well and Jesus told her I have some water that will quench the deepest thirst of your soul. You’ll never thirst again if you drink this water. The problem is our souls reject the one being in this world that can quench that thirst, that longing, that can make things new again – God. We’re born with this nature that rejects and rebels against His control and His plan. We don’t all just have issues, it’s far deeper than that. We think we can run our lives and make ourselves the center of everything rather than deal with the real issue. It’s not just about bad we do or good we don’t do it’s about a fundamental rejection of Him as Lord. But it’s only Him that can satisfy what our soul is longing for.
Which takes us to a passage today that I want to look at. It’s written by a guy named Ezekiel who lived through being conquered by Babylonia and the destruction of his nation and land. He was one of the prophets God used to warn Israel but he never lived to see Israel return to God. But he did receive from God a vision of what would happen if the people returned to God. We’ll read Ezekiel 47.
These short 12 verses are a vision of what it looks like when God makes things new and people new. Actually more specifically when God’s renewing presence and power is released. There is a physical plane to this but also a spiritual plane to it. For Israel the health of the land was always a barometer of the health of their spiritual lives. They were interconnected. From chapters 36 up to this passage, God had been calling them back to Himself. To obedience. To centering their entire lives around Him. To taking care of worshipping Him. Effectively saying, “Worship and Honor me as God and if you do this is what I will do.” Ezekiel 47 is that vision of just what God is capable of doing.
The temple was where the presence of God dwelled historically. The water in this vision is God’s presence. If Israel returned to God, His presence, this fresh water would start to once again flow. First in the temple – where they met with God. But the temple couldn’t hold the water and soon it would flow out of the temple and start going East. As the river got further and further away from the temple it grew in size. It’s a supernatural thing that this trickle of water grows in volume without any other stream running into it. It gets larger and larger, faster and faster. It’s cutting through the desert for miles until it reaches the one place where nothing is new. Absolutely nothing. It’s the Dead Sea. Everything that goes into this sea dies. It’s dead. But not with this river, with this fresh water from the temple. It touches the Dead Sea and everything lives. It becomes fresh. Clean. Clear. Like new. It turns the Dead Sea into a living sea where everyone can come and live and eat their fill. It’s this river where trees have grown along its banks and every month they will have fresh fruit for food and the leaves of these trees will be for healing. All because of what? The water from the Sanctuary. Every where the fresh water flowed it brought renewal, new life, restoration, healing.
Remember the fresh water is the presence of God. So wherever the presence of God dwelled or the fresh water flowed He brought life, renewal, restoration, healing and food. Can you see it? Can you envision it? This is what happens to people who encounter the fresh water of God or the presence of God.
Fast forward 600 years to Jesus and what we celebrated this morning. When Jesus died on the cross for us, He got rid of the barriers to Himself. He got rid of ceremonial laws. He got rid of the separation where His presence would only come in the temple. His plan all along was for us to dwell with Him with no separation. The Bible records that when He died the curtain that kept everyone out of his presence was torn in two. No separation. And He promised before He died and then again after He rose from the dead that God the Spirit would dwell in us. We would become the new sanctuary and the new temple.
Here in Northeast, Ohio we live in a highly churched area. It’s not hard to find someone who has been to church or grown up in church. It’s also not hard to find someone who has left the church. There can be all kinds of reasons for it but ultimately the church for many became the last place you’d ever encounter the presence of God. How many people desperate for this vision came to the church only to find not renewal but more death and brokenness.
Who here is coming this morning looking not just at the new building but you’re looking for something more? Something that can stop the decay and the brokenness? Is anyone here just holding on to the hope that you can still encounter God? God is inviting you today to take a step into the River. He’s inviting you to join Him. To center your life on Him and his story of His presence that makes all things new.
His fresh water still flows today. His supernatural presence can flow in our lives. It starts first within us. In the temple. But just like this vision, His presence cannot be contained in us. It will. It must flow out of us and into the lives of this broken and devastated world.
This right here, us being the temple – a living temple – God’s Freshwater – His presence in us. The presence of God is the best thing we have to offer. Not this building and what’s new here. Although it’s great and new it will get old but the Presence of God that renews and restores that which is broken and falling apart – that’s the best kind of new out there. Jesus even says, “Look, if you embrace me and all that I am and all that I call you to be I will make you a new creation.”
This isn’t a small decision. This is a life-changing decision. Some of you aren’t ready today and we get that. Kick the tires on it. It’s too big a decision for anyone to make lightly. It’s interesting how many times Jesus told people, “Count the cost.”
Some of you though know it’s time. This is the day. You’ve put it off. Your heart and soul are pounding out of your chest because this is what you need. This is what you’ve been looking for. What if you could see your life from God’s eyes. See it for what God knows it could become?
Some of you are Christians and like Israel you’ve wandered away from God and what’s amazing is that you hear Him calling you back. Not out of anger or revenge – but you hear that voice of grace and mercy. Come back. Jump in the river again. Live in the presence again.