Posted by: lepages | February 7, 2012

Visions of God!

Notes from my preach on Sunday – the first of a series taken from the early chapters of the prophet Ezekiel, under the overall title Prophetic Vision

Prophetic Vision – Visions of God
Ezekiel 1

Introduction
Who’s seen God??!!

The story is told of a young child drawing a picture.
Their Dad comes over to them and says ‘What are you drawing?’
And the child say, ‘God.’
The Dad says, ‘You can’t draw God. No-one knows what he looks like!’
To which the child replied ‘They will do when I’ve finished my drawing!’

A story which you may have heard before and which bears repeating.
It’s a great little story, but it’s not entirely true on all sorts of levels!
For example, the father in the story saying ‘No-one knows what God looks like.’
Actually, that’s not entirely true.
People have had visions of God – the difficulty comes in trying to explain in human terms what the person has seen.

We start a new series of teaching today in the book of Ezekiel.

Ezekiel was a prophet – he spoke messages from God, which he received in all sorts of different ways – some of them pretty weird it has to be said! (But not all prophecy from God is weird – but sometimes it can be!!) Over the next few weeks we’re going to think about the different ways Ezekiel heard from God, some of the messages God brought through him… and maybe along the way, think about how we can hear from God too.

Our title for the series is Prophetic Vision

I thought it was great earlier to have members of Sunday Gang share a bit about what their vision of God is like.
I wonder what our vision of God is like?

Our title for this morning is:- Visions of God
We’re going to read from Ezekiel 1.

In our reading Ezekiel has a vision of God.
At the time this happens he’s not in the best of places.
He and the majority of God’s people have been removed from their own country and are now living as exiles in a foreign land.

His vision is a bit weird and freaky.
You sense a struggle to put into human words the things he sees as the heavens were opened before him.

To help you enter into what he saw, you have three options.
You might like to follow the text in the Bible as it’s read…. sometimes reading for yourself impresses better on the mind….
You might like to look at the projector screen where the text will appear along with a collection of images related to the reading…. (reproduced below!)
Or you might prefer to just close your eyes and imagine the scene as it’s read and described.

READ Ezekiel 1

This vision had a major impact on Ezekiel’s life.
Having seen this vision of God, he was laid out on the floor, face to the ground, in awe, respect, reverence, fear.

When we meet with God it has a major impact on our lives.
It changes us.

This meeting with God was so clear, so powerful, he knew exactly when it happened!
There was no, ‘around 5 years after’, no ‘about x number of years ago’.
He remembers the day, the month, the year and specifies it in a way the people of the time would have understood.

Sometimes when people come to faith in Jesus Christ, it’s a clear moment.
They can specify the day, the time, the place, the date when they gave their lives to Christ, because at that moment, the Holy Spirit came into their lives and made them a new creation in Christ.

Another passing thing to note in setting the scene before we look at the content of the vision was that Ezekiel was not alone. He hadn’t gone off up a mountain somewhere to try and seek after God. He was among his people, living out his faith in God.

What conditions they were living under is not clear.
Were they living in refugee camp status along the side of the river?
Or had they been transported to this area and been able to set up home in a good area with a ready water supply?
We don’t know.

But we know he was with his people when he had an encounter with God.
Was he alone in his own home? In a group of people by the riverside?
Were others aware of what was happening to him?

Possibly not, perhaps until he was on his face in the ground.

I remember a former member of the church here describing how he was in a worship time at a conference when he had a vision of God and found himself on his knees before God, overwhelmed by what he saw – but those around were oblivious to the encounter he was having with God.

You can have a major meeting with God, and others can be unaware of what God is doing with you at that time.

What Ezekiel saw was weird!!!!
It was the weirdest of the weird!

Lots of people have tried to come up with all sorts of intricate explanations about everything Ezekiel saw. Some making spiritual application to direct things for every part of the image. Some taking the imagery and saying it must be proof of life on other planets having come and visited earth… which fails to recognise that what Ezekiel saw was a vision… it was a glimpse of heaven, a glimpse of God in his glory, a glimpse of God’s power and how he works out his purposes in the supernatural world.

I want to suggest to you some things that we might take from this incredibly complex imagery which we see described here… you might see other things… and maybe as we gather in our cell groups during the week we can share some of the things we see from our perspectives…
I want to suggest that in the vision Ezekiel sees two key things.

Firstly he sees:-
God’s purposes portrayed
and secondly he sees:-
God’s glory revealed

v4 I looked and I saw a wind storm coming out of the north – an immense cloud with flashing lightning and surrounded by brilliant light.

The first thing Ezekiel saw was a reminder of God’s judgement.
The people of Israel had experienced a blinding judgement (literally in some cases…) as God had used surrounding nations to bring his judgement on his people for the way they had forsaken him and his values.

It’s good to remind ourselves that God is a God of judgement – that one day he will judge us all.
It’s good to remind ourselves that like God’s people at that time, in and of ourselves we don’t have a leg to stand on before God – we all fall far short of the standard God requires for us to enter his presence – our only hope is through faith in the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

V4b The centre of the fire looked like glowing metal

God is pure and holy.. and we’ll see more of that towards the end of the chapter… and anything that is not pure and holy ends up being burned up in his presence.

Some years ago we sang a song which was quite popular at the time which had the lines:-
‘Purify my heart, let me be as gold, pure gold.’

We need God to purify us, to make us fit for his presence, to make us pure and holy – he does this as we confess our sin, our failings to him, and receive his cleansing and forgiveness, through faith in the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus on the cross.

In scripture, 4 is a significant number – it signifies God’s working across the whole of creation – the expression is sometimes used of the 4 corners of the earth (interesting given the spherical shape!! 😉 ), but signifying, north, south, east and west.

And everything that follows in the next section of the vision is portrayed in 4’s:-
4 living creatures, each with 4 faces and 4 wings, and then 4 wheels (which are very difficult to describe or illustrate…. how do you envision a wheel that looks like ‘a wheel intersecting a wheel’??!!) and each of the 4 wheels can go in 4 directions – the four directions faced by the 4 living creatures and their 4 faces.

So what’s it all about?
I believe it’s about the totality of God’s reign, from north to south, and from east to west.
It’s about the multifaceted nature of that reign, of how it’s worked out through us human beings – made in the image of God – portrayed by the face of a man on the living creatures.
It’s about his sovereign reign as King, portrayed by the lion – seen by human beings for millennia as the King of feline species.
It’s about his strength and power, portrayed by the face of an ox.
And it’s about his supreme view over everything, portrayed by the face of an eagle, which soars, looking down on the whole of creation – leading to phrases we use such as ‘a bird’s eye view’ and to series such as the recent BBC one Earthflight.

Our God is all seeing, all knowing and all powerful.

When he determines something, it happens.
V9 ‘Each one went straight ahead; they did not turn as they moved.’
God said, ‘Let there be light’ and there was light. Genesis 1:3
v12 ‘Each one went straight ahead. Wherever the spirit would go, they would go, without turning as they went.’
In the second verse in the Bible we find ‘the Spirit of God hovering over the waters’.
The Spirit of God brings about God’s purposes on earth, whether through heavenly beings like these creatures, or through human beings like you and me.
V13 ‘The appearance of the living creatures was like burning coals of fire or like torches. Fire moved back and forth among the creatures; it was bright, and lightning flashed out of it.’
Remind anyone of the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit was poured out and it was like tongues of fire coming to rest on each of Jesus’ disciples.

What are the wheels about?
Difficult one!
But surely they speak of God’s activity in his world?
We don’t serve a static God!
We serve a living and active God, a God who is on the move, fulfilling his purposes.

READ v19-21

We need to get in tune with our living, active, moving God, to ‘keep in step with the Spirit’ as the Apostle Paul put it in his letter to the Galatian Christians (Galatians 5:25)

Ezekiel then has this view of the awesomeness of heaven – a huge expanse, sparkling like ice – struggling to find the words to portray to the human mind the awesomeness of what he sees.

And then a voice – thundering above the sound of the living creatures wings – which themselves were likened to the roar of rushing waters, the tumult of an army.

Yesterday morning Gwen reminded us in our prayer time of how God speaks, sometimes with a still, small voice, but sometimes with a thunderous voice that has the power to shake the whole of creation. She turned us to Psalm 29 – an inspiring psalm – you might like to turn to it and read it later.

Hearing the voice, it’s as though Ezekiel’s gaze is lifted higher and he sees something of God’s glory revealed.

A throne of sapphire…. not just decorated with sapphires… no manky, ostentatious stuff for our God… try and imagine the beauty and iridescence of a throne carved from a solid gem of sapphire – sparkling, translucent, iridescent colour – awesome.

And then he gets a glimpse of God in all his glory – a figure like that of a man…. is this a seeing of Jesus in all his glory?

READ v27
‘I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him.’

Taking us back to the purity and holiness of God that we thought about earlier.
So pure that anything impure would be burned up in his presence.

Surrounded by light so bright that it could blind you, as the Apostle Paul experienced as he met Jesus on the road to Damascus.
So bright that in the new heaven and the new earth spoken of in Revelation, we no longer need the sun or moon to light the way, because God’s presence lights everything!

How mind blowingly awesome is that??!!!

So awesome that it might well cause us to live in fear…. and justifiably so….

But then Ezekiel adds in this rider v28
‘Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him.’

The rainbow is a sign of hope – a promise of God to restore, to renew, to protect, to preserve.

God wants to shine through the darkness that surrounds us, to break through the darkness of our sin, which he did through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, and he wants to give to us hope and joy and peace and a glorious future in which we can enjoy him forever.

V28
‘This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD.
When I saw it, I fell face down, and I heard the voice of one speaking.’

I hope that you feel as inspired by the glory of our God and his working out of his purposes as I do from this passage.
Our fitting response is to fall down and worship him and to listen to what he wants to say to us.

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Responses

  1. […] Last week, we read of the prophet Ezekiel encountering God in an, at times, somewhat bizarre vision of an open heaven. He saw the ‘appearance of the likeness of the glory of the LORD’ seated on a majestic throne of sapphire, and when he saw this vision of God, he fell face down and he heard the voice of one speaking to him. […]


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