Note: I have been going through a Lenten reading plan provided by my congregation at FPC Lakeland, which was adapted from a plan given by Presbyterians Today Magazine. This is where the Scripture selections are taken, but the reflections are my own.
Ezekiel 42:15-20 (ESV) – 15 Now when he had finished measuring the interior of the temple area, he led me out by the gate that faced east, and measured the temple area all around. 16 He measured the east side with the measuring reed, 500 cubits by the measuring reed all around. 17 He measured the north side, 500 cubits by the measuring reed all around. 18 He measured the south side, 500 cubits by the measuring reed. 19 Then he turned to the west side and measured, 500 cubits by the measuring reed. 20 He measured it on the four sides. It had a wall around it, 500 cubits long and 500 cubits broad, to make a separation between the holy and the common.
It’s about 8 feet tall, white, and designed for one purpose: to make a distinction between what’s mine, and what’s not. For the first several years we lived in our home we did not have a backyard fence. Neither did our neighbors. Our yard was open, and the only way we knew which portion of the yard to cut was by eyeballing it. There were no physical ways to delineate it.
Then we had our first child, Caleb, and suddenly what was once a beautiful open space posed dangers to our new little boy. Jules priced it out, and within a month we had a brand new vinyl fence separating our little world from everything else. It gave us security, not just that other people couldn’t get in, but that as our children got older, they could run and play knowing where they could and could not go.
Boundaries do that for us. They not only tell us what is unacceptable, but they tell us what is safe, right, and good.
Ezekiel 42 seems like a very odd place to go when preparing for the commemoration of Jesus’ death and resurrection during Holy Week and Easter. I mean, in the book of Ezekiel, the prophet spends a lot of time pointing out the guilt of the Israelites explaining that the reason they are in Exile in Babylon is because they repeatedly ran away from God and pursued the false gods around them. They had become corrupt and did not love neighbor as self.
Then, in Ezekiel 40-48, the prophet is taken on a mystical, divine journey to see a rebuilt Jerusalem and a rebuilt Temple. He goes into extreme detail describing the measurements and the materials of the Temple, and outlines the priestly roles. There are a lot of walls and a lot of barriers in this Temple. Walls to define holiness and righteousness. Walls to define the sacred from the common.
Now, historically, Ezekiel descriptions do not fit with any of the past Temples in Jerusalem… not Solomon’s, not Zerubbabel’s, not Herod’s. Rather, we can interpret these chapters as pointing further forward than the generations following Ezekiel, whether metaphorically or literally, to one profound truth: God wants to be with his people.
In spite of the sin of the Israelites, God is saying to them that he is still their God, and they are still his people. The Temple was the physical manifestation of God’s presence with his people, and for the Israelites in Exile, this would have been tremendously hopeful, and it should be for us today.
Holiness and the sacred still exist. Righteousness and purity are still necessary to be in the presence of the Holy God. There is still the boundary of sin that we cannot overcome. Yet, God still wants to be with his people, but instead of a Temple, he sent his Son Jesus Christ in the flesh to dwell with us. God with us. In the middle of the ugliness of sin and shame he came to demonstrate his love.
The boundary of holiness is still there but with a key difference… in the Old Testament, when something unholy (or unclean) touched something holy it became unholy. In Jesus, the holy one makes unholy things holy. The boundary is still there; right and wrong, morality and sinfulness, goodness and badness still matter, but the boundary has been crossed by the only one who could cross that boundary. He became sin in order to overwhelm sin with righteousness.
Jesus came not only to demonstrate the love of God but the power of God. God’s powerful love is enough to satisfy and his own holiness and make a path to that holiness by the gate of Jesus Christ. Once we walk that path, we are called to a new way of life, one that is not defined by the sinful, unholy path of our past, but one that is defined by God’s holiness.
This is not meant to be a restriction of freedom, but a definition of what real freedom means. In the same way my children understand the freedom of our backyard because of the security of our fence, we understand REAL and TRUE life and freedom in the life-giving holiness defined by God and granted to us in Jesus Christ.
That’s why the Lenten practices are important because of the reminder they provide for us, that we are called to be different – not to make a gate of righteousness by ourselves but because that gate has already been made for us in Jesus Christ.
Take a moment and reflect on the sinfulness that could define you, then remember that you are clean, holy, forgiven, and loved in Jesus Christ. In what way will you seek to live out that holiness this week? How does that change your view of others? Let’s pray for God to empower us to be right reflections of what he has generously given to us.