“And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was coming from the east. And the sound of his coming was like the sound of many waters, and the earth shone with his glory. And the vision I saw was just like the vision that I had seen when he came to destroy the city, and just like the vision that I had seen by the Chebar canal.” – Ezekiel 43:2-3
In today’s reading we reach what is in many ways the climax of the book of Ezekiel. About twenty years previously, Ezekiel received a vision from the Lord in which the glory of the Lord left, went up from the temple in the city of Jerusalem, and “stood on the mountain that is on the east side of the city” (Ezek. 11:23). Although the temple in Jerusalem had been intended as a place for the Lord to “dwell forever,” God appears to have left and disappeared over the other side of the mountain (2 Chron. 6:2).
God, however, never left his people. For no matter how far they may have strayed (or also in this case, how far away they may have been exiled), “says the Lord God: Though I removed them far off among the nations, and though I scattered them among the countries, yet I have been a sanctuary to them for a while in the countries where they have gone” (Ezek. 11:16).
So if God will follow the wayward and disreputable of his people, to meet them in their exile, will he then follow you? Will God follow you into the alleyways, back rooms, and boardrooms, and when you are “walking on sunshine”? Perhaps you blame your current misfortune on your looking away from God, or perhaps you feel as if a part of you still desires to sneak out and hide part of your life away from him. However, God’s response to his children, here and always, is to seek his people out and follow them wherever they go.
God’s saving work is not over. Here in the climax of his prophecy, not only does God promise to search and find, but – in just the same way that he came from over the East-side of the mountain – the Lord also will return and bring his precious people back to their home with him. This return is the climax of hope for the 6th Century Jews captive in Babylon!
It is astounding, God’s promise to return and rebuild the temple with his people; but still we know of a greater climax: an even greater temple has come, whose complete fulfillment we await (John 2:19, Revelation 21:22).
For Christians, what joy is ours that for today this temple, our new temple, is not found just in Jerusalem, but in Jesus Christ. Just as the Israelites looked with shame upon God’s demonstration of mercy and perfection in the temple, we look upon Jesus and his perfect mercy and can feel the burning weight of our shame. However, we see that just as the Lord God followed his people into the exile of Babylon, so too has God, specifically in the Holy Spirit, followed us to the ends of the earth.
Vividly we see today’s prophecy in Ezekiel repeated for the first Christians in Acts:
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. And while they were gazing into heaven as he went, behold, two men stood by them in white robes, and said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” – Acts 1:8-11
For now, those in Christ can begin to be satiated as we look not up, but around, as God does his work and fills all the corners of the Earth with his holy Word. Yet still, for God’s children who feel the pain of exile today, we see that God is not only with us now, but is preparing a place for our even greater future. No matter where we may be today, Jesus has promised for those who believe in him that “if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also” (John 14:3). Just as God returned for the woeful, rebellious Israelites, so shall he finally delight to return and bring us home.