The glory returns

Today’s passage is Ezekiel 43-48

This morning we finish our daily reflections in the book of Ezekiel. I hope you have enjoyed your time with Ezekiel and been able to get a flavour for what this incredible book teaches us. Ezekiel has taken us on an incredible journey. The book began near the Kebar river where Ezekiel was sitting with other exiles from Jerusalem.

It was there that Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord, but it was also there he saw the glory of the Lord departing the temple; the destruction of Jeruslaem and all the sins of the people that led to God’s anger.

Ezekiel has shown us the depth of pain our betrayal and rejection of God has caused. If there is anything to learn from Ezekiel it is the incredible seriousness of our sin. The cost of it to ourselves and others. It is worth noting how God’s wrath was poured out on the community – my sin affects those around me, as does yours. Ezekiel teaches us that sin is no trifling matter.

But notice also how Ezekiel does not leave us languishing in our sin. He does not leave us in the horror of exile or the pain of separation to God. The book of Ezekiel brings us full circle. We are given an incredibly detailed description of a new city and temple replacing the city and temple destroyed in God’s wrath. The wonder of this new city is in the final words of Ezekiel.

The Lord is There

Ezekiel 48:35

Is this not the story of the gospel? Is the story of the gospel not the story of a group of exiles, you and me, separated from the holy city God created for us, Eden? In that exile we see the glory of the Lord departing from our lives. With each further descent into sin that glory of God appears more and more distant resulting in the inevitable death we all must face.

Yet we are not left in despair, death or separation from God. Jesus Christ has come into our world; he has atoned for our sin and through him we are returned to that place our sin sent us into exile from. We see again the glory of God as we are promised not just a new city, but a new heaven and a new earth.

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.

Revelation 21:1-3

How do we take hold of this promise? The answer lies in Ezekiel’s words to the people of Judah & Jerusalem.

Therefore say to the people of Israel, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: repent! Turn from your idols and renounce all your detestable practices!

Ezekiel 14:6

Prayer Father, I thank you for the new life I find in Jesus Christ. Forgive me for all I have done that caused my separation and alienation from you. Forgive me for everything I have done that placed Jesus on the cross. Yet I thank you it is because Jesus went to the cross that I can have this new life; the promise of being part of that new heaven and earth where you dwell with me. Lord, may I never lose sight of this incredible prize, privilege and promise. Amen

The new heaven and the new earth

Today’s passage is Ezekiel 38-42

Do you ever feel as though life is a long tunnel with no sign of light at the other end? Does God ever seem so distant that we wonder if he will ever make his face to shine upon us again? Does life ever feel as though it has become so difficult that we will never laugh or smile again? Do we ever wonder if someone will deliver good news instead of the constant crushing weight of bad news and disappointment?

Dawn brings with it the hope that the night has ended

Life exiled in Babylon must surely have felt like this. Certainly, those who were left in Jeruslaem after all the slaughter, siege, starvation and poverty must have wondered if life would ever return to normal. We hear the despair, panic even in Ezekiel’s cry of 9:8 ‘

Alas, Sovereign Lord! Are you going to destroy the entire remnant of Israel in this outpouring of your wrath on Jerusalem?

For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime; weeping may stay for the night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

Psalm 30:5

The purpose of God’s anger is not to simply that he would have satisfaction, it is not to inflict punishment. The purpose of God’s anger, his wrath is to turn us away from those things that cause us harm. To turn our hearts back to him. God’s anger, his wrath, his punishment; it is not vindictiveness; it is grace and love.

In chapter 39: 21-29 God makes clear his punishment was because of how Israel rebelled against him, it was to make clear his holiness, that everyone would know that he is God. Crucially though God also talks of how he will restore Israel, of how he will teach them a lesson and that they will learn that lesson.

In Romans 1:24 Paul echo’s this thought when he talks of God handing people over to their sinful desires. In 1 Corinthians 5:5 Paul instructs the immoral brother to be handed over to Satan, not for punishment  but ‘that his spirit might be saved on the day of the Lord.’ God punishes us in order that we would learn our lesson, but he also holds out the promise of redemption and renewal.

How is life showing you what it would be like to live without God? Has God been speaking to us about the extent of our sin, the consequences of our sin? Have we begun to understand the severity of God’s hand upon us because of who we are and what we have said and done?

The good news is that in Jesus Christ there is redemption. In Jesus we can be sure that God’s anger will last only a moment because Jesus has borne all of it for us. Jesus wept through the night in order that we would rejoice in the morning. In the darkness there is light at the end of the tunnel and that light is Jesus Christ. Will we walk towards the light or remain in the darkness? Will we walk towards God’s favour or remain in his anger? Walk towards the dawn of hope and rejoicing or remain in the night of weeping?

Jesus came to give us the hope of a new heaven and a new earth. Are we prepared to leave this earth behind?

Prayer Father, I thank you for your loving kindness. I thank you that your discipline on my life is simply to correct me, to draw me back, to protect me from your anger. Lord help me to respond by clinging to Jesus. Lord, I trust in Jesus, help my lack of trust. Amen

Hope among the bones

This morning’s passage is Ezekiel 36-37

One of the questions Christian’s face on a regular basis is ‘How can you prove there is God?’ It is also one of the most difficult questions to answer. The truth is that often people are looking for quantifiable answers. They are looking for something that can be measured, a result that can be expressed in mathematical fact.

God is not someone who can be measured; God is someone we know through experiencing Him.

The reason this is such a difficult question for Christians is that God cannot be quantified. God cannot be measured. This does not mean we cannot answer this question. We can point to the earth, the universe and how it all holds together and ask the question, ‘can we really say there is no intelligent design in what we see? Can we really argue the intricacy of the natural world, how the largest of mammals such as the humpback whale is dependant on the smallest of living organisms for food, is really just an accident of evolution.’

We can also point to what God has being doing in our lives and the change he has brought about in us. In Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones he is presented with a valley of skeletons. Ezekiel is told to prophecy to the bones and as he does so they begin to come to life. They take on sinew, muscle and flesh. Even as the bones are covered with skin, they still have no life. Ezekiel then prophecies to the breath. The breath of God is breathed into the bones and they come to life.

The whole point of this passage to is remind us that without Christ we are dead bones. We are dry and lifeless. It is only in Christ we come to life. Even in coming to Christ it is not us who brings about the change in our lives, we do not come to life because of what we have done.

I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

Ezekiel 37:6

As we come to Christ it is God who breathes new life in us. It is God who covers our dry bones with flesh. How can we prove there is a God? We can prove there is a God because of what he has done in our lives. We know that no-one else can breathe the new life into us as God has. We can show there is a God because of the hope he not only brings but fulfils amidst the dry bones.

Prayer Father, this morning I thank you for the new life you have given me in Jesus Christ. Thank you for the hope of something better amidst the dry bones. Lord I ask that you come afresh by your Spirit and breathe once more, that I would be refreshed; reminded of hope; look forward to something better. In Jesus name, amen.

The Good Shepherd

Today’s passage Ezekiel 34

Ezekiel has made clear God’s anger at Jerusalem and Judah. He explained how God had been hurt and offended through their sin. Ezekiel likened Jerusalem’s sin to adultery and he called it idolatry. All of this explains why God was so angry; why he sent his people into exile; why so much pain was inflicted on the people.

God’s anger was not only against all of those who rebelled against him, he was also angry with the leaders, priests, Levites and kings who should have been acting as shepherds to the people. The role of the shepherd is protect and stop the sheep from wandering of. God is holding the leaders in Jerusalem and Judah responsible for not keeping his people on the straight and narrow.

I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock.

Ezekiel 34:10

It was because Jerusalem’s leaders failed so dramatically that God had to intervene himself. God said, ‘I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.’ It was because God’s shepherd failed so dramatically that God himself then promised to step into history and do what the religious leaders had not done.

I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak…’ Ezekiel 34:15-16

Ezekiel 34:15-16

We should never forget that God himself stepped down into history to seek us out and to heal us from the wounds our sin inflicted on our lives. We vividly see God making good on this promise through the life of Jesus. It was Jesus who said, ‘I am the good shepherd’. It was Jesus who told the parable of the lost sheep.

Jesus has come into the world to seek people like you and me. He has come to heal the deep wounds of lostness and bewilderment. The question we are faced with is will we turn to him and accept the outstretched hand waiting to bring us back into the fold.

Prayer Father, thank you for sending Jesus, the Good Shepherd, to find me. Father, thank you that Jesus brings me back into your fold, your family. Lord help me to reach out and allow Jesus to take hold of my life. Help me to surrender, to allow myself to rest in your security, to lie down in peace. Amen.

The God of the nations

Throughout the book of Ezekiel, we have been reading about Jerusalem’s sins and God’s anger against Jerusalem. In chapters 22 & 23 we read about the depth of those sins and the pain they heaped on God. In these chapters Jerusalem is presented as two adulterous sisters.

There can be no question Jerusalem deserved everything that happened to them.

Alongside the judgement of God Jerusalem and her people also had to face the derision, laughter and mocking of her close neighbours. The nations around Jerusalem rejoiced and celebrated in her fall.

What message do we send out about God’s mercy and offer of forgiveness and restoration?

Things haven’t really changed. Today the world around the church still rejoices in her downfall and disgrace. When the church makes the headlines for all the wrong reasons people laugh. When the church sins and rightly faces prosecution people rejoice, not in justice being served, but the downfall of the church. When individual Christians fall into sin and face disgrace – the world around does not rush to help but shuns and alienates.

To be clear there is no excuse for the church bringing the name of the Lord into disrepute and every crime committed by, or in the name of the church or associated with the church should be punished for to the full extent of the law. Being the church should not bring any immunity from justice.

But… the God of the church is also the God of the nations. If the nations celebrate the fall of the church God will bring judgement on those nations just as he did in the book of Ezekiel.

Over all the earth you reign on high

If you do not yet know the Lord as Saviour or if you currently refuse to acknowledge the Lord even if you deny the existence of the Lord. This does not mean you are beyond the jurisdiction of the Lord. God is the Lord of all, he is Lord of the church, the believer as well as the nations and the unbeliever.

Ezekiel’s warning is clear to those who delight in the downfall of the church. God will act.

This is also a clear warning to the church. Our attitude to others must be filled with compassion. We cannot celebrate the downfall of anyone. Why did Jesus say we should visit the prisoner, if not to care for them? Why are we to search for the lost sheep if not to restore them. In Galatians 6:1 Paul said this.

Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

God did not show us the judgement we deserved, he does not celebrate punishment, his desire is for mercy and grace, forgiveness and new life. Our view of the world should be the same. God expects non-believers to show his church that same grace.

Prayer Father, thank you for the mercy you have shown me in Jesus Christ. Forgive me when instead of showing mercy to others I celebrate their downfall. Give me a new outlook on life. A new compassion. A new ability to see the possible change that you can bring about in people’s lives. Amen

A cry to the Lord

Today’s passage is Ezekiel 20; 24:15-27

In yesterday’s blog we talked about the hope we have in Christ and how we are set free from not only our past sins but the expectations, good or bad, which others place upon us. As we come to chapter 20 it appears at first glance as though Ezekiel is saying something contradictory.

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Chapter 20 begins by telling us how the elders of Israel came to Ezekiel to enquire of the Lord. We might think this is a good thing. They have learnt their lesson; understood why they are in exile and so they have come before the Lord. The shock comes when we realise that God will not answer them.

This is what the Sovereign Lord says: have you come to enquire of me? As surely as I live, I will not let you enquire of me, declares the Sovereign Lord.

Ezekiel 20:3

Ezekiel reminds the elders of all Israel did in their past, how they rebelled against God time and time again. He describes in detail the terrible lengths Israel wen to in their rebellion. The depth and extent of their rebellion. The question we should be asking at this point is why? Why if our hope in Christ frees us from the sins of our fathers did God refuse to let Israel enquire of him?

It appears that Israel had failed to repent. By repent we mean they had failed to turn away from what they were doing. There was no sign of remorse. When they came before God there was no sense of acknowledging the hurt they’d caused, or the damage they’d inflicted on the world around them.

Just as CS Lewis’s wardrobe held secrets do we try to keep secrets in our dealings with God?

It was because of this lack of contrition; integrity or honesty in coming before God that he turned his face away and would not let them enquire of him. How do we come before God? Are we two faced in our dealings with God? Do we say one thing, but our actions say another.

In Ezekiel 24:15 a strange real-life drama is played out to show the seriousness of Israel’s situation. Ezekiel’s wife dies and Ezekiel is not allowed to openly mourn her death. The reason for this drama was to show how God was going to take away everything that was precious to Israel, everything they loved. Their city; temple; land – everything God had blessed them with and set them apart as being special.

We cannot expect God to hear and respond to us when we are still engaging in sinful rebellion. Sin always has and always will separate us from God. There is good news in Ezekiel’s message from God. He whole reason God turns his face away from Israel is to draw them back.

But afterwards you will surely listen to me and no longer profane my holy name with your gifts and idols.

Ezekiel 20:39

We need to be clear; our sin may separate us from God, but God does everything to overcome that gap – even turning his face away from us. Has God gone silent? Does God seem distant? Could it be that God is saying quite clearly there is something he wants us to repent of, to turn away from and actually it is not that he is punishing us, or turning away from us but he wants us to turn back to him?

Prayer Father forgive my two-faced approach to you. Forgive my prayers of confession and cries for deliverance when I still look to those things that come between us. The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face towards you and give you peace. Amen

A brief history of Ezekiel

Set free in Christ

Today’s passage is Ezekiel 17, 18 & 19

I wonder do we ever stop to think why there’s so much division in the world over differences none of us have had any control over. Nations look down on nations when none of us had any say where we were born. Protestant is set against Catholic when we had no say into what family we were born. The poor are separated from the rich when we had no say into what economic circumstances we were born. In so many ways we are the product of our parents. So many things cannot be changed or are difficult to change, all because of the situation or location into which we were born. (It makes all the division more than a little pointless)

It is not our history or heritage that defines who we are in Christ. It is our own faith and acceptance of what Christ has done for us.

Yet Ezekiel is telling us when it comes to God our heritage; family lineage; parents’ choices do not define who we are. (Read Ezekiel 18: 19-25)

Our relationship with God is entirely personal. (Personal in the sense that it is our relationship; not personal in the sense that it should not be shared with others.) We should remember that Ezekiel was speaking to a people who had already been taken into captivity in Babylon because of their rebellion against God and the remainder of the people were about to be taken into captivity and their precious city and temple destroyed. He was speaking to a people whose relationship with God certainly looked as though it lay in tatters.

Ezekiel, therefore, was saying to a new generation you are not bound or defined by your father’s actions. God will not abandon you because of what your father did. This is good news for anyone who might be reading this who does not have a family history that has taught a love for God – or has a family history of crime; unfaithfulness; or wickedness. Equally for a godly parent who faces the heartache of a child who departs from the faith, this does not bring into question your relationship with God.

The child will not share the guilt of the parent nor will the parent share the guilt of the child.

Ezekiel 18:26

The gospel of Jesus Christ is about cleansing from individual sin. It is the message that Christ’s death is for me and that I receive his grace through my faith, not the faith of my parents or my children. This is good news because the gospel then becomes something that can set us free from our family history. Like the children of the exiles in Babylon we do not have to become like our parents.

The gospel goes further because not only does it free us from historical family sin, but our own historical sin. The cross of Jesus Christ sets me free from my past. Whatever shameful thing we hide from others, whatever shameful thing we believe has shattered our relationship with God. The cross atones for and restores that relationship.

Rather am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?

Ezekiel 18:23

Jesus sets us free from everything the world tells us we should be. It doesn’t matter if that is because of the place we were born; the family we were born into; or what we may have become through our life choices. In Christ we are set free.

Prayer Father I thank you for the cross of Jesus Christ. I thank you that he sets me free from the labels people use about me because of where I come from, how my family has lived and the choices I have made in life. Father forgive me for who I am. This morning Lord I echo the words of Ezekiel 18:31, ‘Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit…’ Father create in me that new heart and renew that right spirit in me (Psalm 51:10). Amen.

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Life without God

This morning’s passage is Ezekiel 15 & 16

Ezekiel 15 and 16 paints a picture of what life without God would be like. In Chapter 15 Ezekiel describes Jerusalem and Judah as the vines that grow in the forest. The vine is already a useless piece of wood. It is not used for making utensils or pegs for hanging clothes. When it is gathered for burning it is of even less value. Ezekiel was saying that Israel, Judah, Jerusalem was only special because of what God had done for her.

The beauty of the Dark Hedges is not because of how they have been cultivated but because of how nature has shaped them. We should never forget our beauty is not because of anything we have done, but because of what God has done for us.

In chapter 16 we are given a description of how God had taken Israel, given birth to her, cleaned her, clothed and nurtured her. God loved her and gave her a solemn covenant with her – a marriage if you like where he promised to be her God and she promised to be his bride. His people.

As the chapter progresses, we are presented with Judah’s unfaithfulness. It started when she began to trust in her own beauty; in that thing that made her special and different to everyone else. She forgot that her beauty was only because God bestowed that beauty on her. The more she trusted in her beauty, so she started to use that beauty to chase after other lovers. Her dependence on God was replaced with a dependence on other nations.

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She used all the good things God had given her to buy protection from other places. The more she turned to these other places the more it cost her – the price increased. Suddenly her protection cost more than her beauty and so she started to sell her wealth, the treasures that had at one time been devoted to God, were given to others.

Ezekiel describes this betrayal as adultery and as the betrayal increases so he describes it as prostitution. As the betrayal deepens even further so he describes Judah and Jerusalem not as a prostitute but as one who must pay to be with her lovers. Such is her desperation, so far is she from God that she pays for the affection, the attention or just to be noticed by others.

Have we stopped to consider what life without God would be like or is like? Have we stopped to consider the lengths we go to find satisfaction, to be noticed, to be loved? In our search to find love and meaning have we stopped to look back on what we have lost; given up; turned away from.

God gave us everything and what have we done with it? How are we enjoying life without God?

Ezekiel story is not a horror story because it does not end by simply shining a light on what we once had or what we might have become. Chapter 16 ends with some incredible words.

Then, when I make atonement for you for all you have done…

Ezekiel 16:63

Notice God does not say when you make atonement, but when I make atonement. Even though God has already given us everything, still he gave us more. His only son, Jesus Christ. His life, death and resurrection the atonement for my sin and yours. The hope that all the chasing after other gods; people; love’ attention; acceptance would come to an end, because once again we would find our peace in the presence of God.

There does not have to be life without God. God has given his life that we would know life with God.

Prayer Father, as I read your description of Jerusalem and her sins so I am made all too aware of the pain I have inflicted on you through my sin, my running after other things, other gods. Forgive me Lord, cleanse me and atone for me through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ – but more than that turn my heart only to you. Guard my heart that it would only seek after you, that it would only find love and peace in you. Amen

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Don’t doubt God’s word

Today’s passage is Ezekiel 12, 13 & 14

A couple of weeks ago at our midweek we talked about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead and how unexpected it was, even though Jesus himself had openly talked about it. When the women who followed Jesus and the disciples went to his tomb, they were not expecting to find it empty.

We compared this lack of expectation with our readiness and expectation of Jesus return. While we believe Jesus will return; are we really expecting it?

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In chapters 12, 13 & 14 of Ezekiel there seems to be a mindset where people don’t believe that God will destroy Jerusalem. There have been so many warnings throughout history and yet nothing has happened. This lack of belief that God will act against his people seems to be summed up by the saying quoted in 12:22.

The days go by and every vision comes to nothing…

Ezekiel 12:22
We may not believe something to be possible, such as Scampi and Marbles lying down beside one another, but it doesn’t mean it can’t or won’t happen. We should not treat God’s word as impossible. God will do what he has said he will do.

This lack of belief seems to be incredible considering Ezekiel is among the first exiles taken into captivity in Babylon. The prevailing view seems to have been ‘Ok, God has shown he is angry by sending us into captivity, but he will never destroy the city; the temple; he will never wipe his people out.

God answers this prevailing thought in 12:28:

This is what the Sovereign Lord says: none of my words will be delayed any longer; whatever I say will be fulfilled, declares the Sovereign Lord…

Ezekiel 12:28

The book of Ezekiel is warning us that God’s word is true; he will do what he says he will do. The clear warning is that we should not for one-minute think that God will somehow shy away from punishing sin. We see this in the very life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Jesus, God’s own son, asked in Gethsemane for the cup he was about to drink from to be taken from him. That cup was not removed. If God was willing to let judgement fall on his own son who did not deserve that punishment.

God however is a just God and he will not punish the same sin twice. That would be unfair and unjust. This means for all who place their trust in Jesus God has promised that their punishment has already been administered. Heaven, glory and God’s presence await those people for all eternity.

For those of us who refuse to place our trust in Jesus, we cannot expect God to simply change his mind about his just punishment. Scripture talks of hell being that place apart from God presence. To use the language of Ezekiel it is exile and separation from everything we hold dear, from the security of God’s presence.

Prayer Father forgive me for how I do not always take your seriously. Forgive me for convincing myself that you will employ a different standard towards me. Lord, open my eyes and heart that I would trust in Christ. Amen

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Promised hope

This morning’s passage Ezekiel 11 (click to read)

So far, the book of Ezekiel has focused on how far the people of Jerusalem have fallen away from God, the extent of their sin and God’s judgment on Israel. We have been reminded that God is not blind. We cannot hide our sin from him.

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Verses 1-12 in chapter 11 paint a vivid picture of the seriousness of our sin and the severity of God’s judgement. God is not to be trifled with. Notice though Ezekiel’s response when he realises just what he has been prophesying.

Then I fell face down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Alas, Sovereign Lord! Will you completely destroy the remnant of Israel?’

Ezekiel 11:13
We often look at world in despair. How often do we look at our world through the hope of the gospel of Jesus Christ and so cry out to God for it?

What is our response to the knowledge that God’s judgement on sin is sure to come? We do well to remember the man in the linen clothes had marked those who lamented over the sin of the city instead of adding to it. (Ezekiel 9) For those of us who have turned to and trusted in Christ we can be sure we have been saved from God’s judgement – but what is our response for those who have not yet turned to Christ?

Ezekiel cried out to God; do we cry out to God? Do we have that same level of concern for others that Ezekiel had?

Notice God’s response to Ezekiel’s cry. Although the city of Jerusalem will fall, the temple will be destroyed and the whole city will join Ezekiel in exile, or worse they will fall by the sword. God will not abandon them. He will bring them back. Listen to God speaking in verses 18-19.

They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.

Ezekiel 18-19

God will use his anger and judgement not simply as a punishment. He will use it as a means of purifying his people; turning them back to him; changing their priorities in life; he will use it to create in them a new heart .

Have we looked on Jesus; his sacrifice; his atonement for our sin as being something that was done for us? Have we forgotten that Christ died for all, have we forgotten it is our role to stand in the gap and to cry out for those who have not yet understood Christ’s sacrifice? When was the last time like Ezekiel we cried out to God for loved ones, neighbours or family because we have understood the terrible judgment that lies ahead? When was the last time we wept for people who have not been marked by Christ?

The promised hope of Christ is not just for us, it’s not limited, there’s no-one beyond this hope which is why we should be crying out to God as Ezekiel did.

Prayer: Father God, forgive me for being blinded to the reality of your judgement, not just in my life but in the lives of those around us. This morning Lord I cry out not just for my sin but for the sin of friends, family and neighbours. Lord bring us back to Christ, save us from your judgement through Christ. Amen.