Ezekiel got stuck with a lousy job. Sure, he was God’s spokesperson to Israel. But the timing was not the best. He was a prophet at the time of the first deportation of Israelites to Babylon. In fact, he was one of those deported. Actually, he’d be a good candidate for an episode on that TV program about the dirtiest jobs. But God drafted him into service, and serve he did.
Chapter One of Ezekiel starts out with a bang. Ezekiel is already in exile, when he sees visions of God. The rest of the chapter is his description of what he saw. Our reading begins with God speaking to Ezekiel.
- God calls Ezekiel “mortal”. He tells him to stand up, because He’s got something to tell him. Ezekiel must have been a little shaky (what do you think?!?), because a spirit helps him to his feet. (vv. 1-2)
- God gives Ezekiel an assignment. He’s sending him to the people of Israel. God’s description of these people is not kind. He uses words like “impudent” and “stubborn” to describe them. (vv. 3-4a)
- When a prophet speaks for God, he (or she) always started with the phrase “Thus says the Lord God…” This is a verbal signal to the listener that the prophet is no longer speaking for himself, but is relaying a message directly from God. God tells Ezekiel that when he prophesies to Israel for God, they may or may not listen. But at least they will have been told, and they will know that a prophet has been among them. (vv. 4b-5)
Ezekiel had a difficult task. Often, his prophesies fell on deaf ears. But that did not deter him. He had a job to do.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
How often are we rebellious, stubborn and impudent; not willing to obey the Lord’s command. For example, how well are we doing to love everyone, including our enemies? How good are we doing at sharing our abundance? Remember, Jesus said that if you have two coats, give one away. (I have more than two coats in the closet, by the way.) We regularly push back from God’s commands. This is not good, is it? We need to continually re-examine our lives and actions, to see how we measure up to God’s expectations. By His grace we know that we are forgiven these sins. But we also need to work to do better.
2 CORINTHIANS 12:2-10
As we have seen, these past few weeks, Paul was being sharply criticized by many in the church in Corinth. Other preachers came in, were more eloquent in preaching, and even boasted about their superiority over Paul. We know that this bothered him greatly, because he keeps coming back to it in this letter. Here, he zeroes in on the boasting of his adversaries.
- The opening verse reminds me of my childhood. My mother would say “SOMEBODY” forgot to… (make their bed, pick up after themselves, etc.) I always knew who that somebody was. Here, Paul talks about “somebody”. He’s obviously speaking about himself. It only takes a few verses to discover this. In any case, this “somebody” was taken up into the third heaven*, and stood before God. Things were said, but were not repeatable.(vv. 1-4)
- Paul says that he could brag about that, but that would be foolish. It was a gift from God, and not to be shared with others. He subtly calls those other braggarts fools, when he says this. (vv. 5-7a)
- Plus, to keep from “getting the big head”, as Minnesotans might say, he was given some sort of affliction. We’re not sure what this “thorn in the flesh” was. Many have made guesses, but Paul never tells us. But the point is that while he’d like to be elated about the privilege of seeing the throne of God, he was also humbled. (v. 7b)
- In verses 8-9a, he begged for the thorn to be removed. God’s answer is key. He said:
- “My grace is sufficient for you…”
- …power is made perfect in weakness.”
- So, Paul decides to take the low road, and brag about his weakness. Take that, you braggarts! (vv. 9b-10)
It is easy for us to be swept away by a grand worship production and a powerful preacher dressed in an expensive suit. But what is it that we truly need, but good preaching, plain and simple. The grace of God is all we need to hear about. About how he loved us so much that He sent His son to die for us. There is power in this simple message. It is our task to examine ourselves (2 Cor 13:5) and what we are being taught. Sure, it is what we would like to hear; but does it ring true to Jesus’ teachings?
* THIRD HEAVEN
In Hebrew, the word “heaven” was always plural (“heavens”). There are various numbers given throughout scripture. But here, Paul is using the 3-heaven descriptor. What might these three heavens be? One explanation is:
First Heaven From earth to the upper limits of the atmosphere.
Second Heaven From the atmosphere to the outer limits of all the stars.
Third Heaven Beyond the stars. God’s home. Paradise.
This passage follows last week’s reading. Jesus was on the west side of the Sea of Galillee. He has now gone to his home town of Nazareth, some 30 miles to the west. (on foot)
- Jesus did what he often did, and preached in the synagogue in his home town. He must have done well, because they were astounded. But it backfired. They played the “hometown boy card” on him. He was just a carpenter—where’d he get all this fancy preaching from? They point out that his family was present. (But there is no mention of Joseph.) This could only increase the level of tension in the room. (vv. 1-3)
- Jesus reminds them that prophets always have it tough in their home towns and with their family. (v. 4)
- Interestingly, Jesus finds it difficult to perform miracles there. This makes sense, because his healing requires that the person have faith. There was little of that to be found in Nazareth. (vv. 5-6)
- In the second paragraph, we learn that Jesus is on the road again. You can’t blame him, given the poor reception at home. (v. 6b)
- He sends out the apostles in groups of two, to spread the Word. The instruction he gives them tells me that he wants them to be poor but honest. They must rely on the hospitality of others. They are not to shop around for finer accommodations, but stay put in the first place that offers them a room. (vv. 7-10)
- The apostles’ task was to preach and heal. They were not to concern themselves with the results. That would be the Holy Spirit’s work. (v. 11)
- Their simple methods bore fruit, and many were healed. Many repented. (vv. 12-13)
Jesus led a dual life. He was both the son of Mary & Joseph and the son of God. He was both a carpenter and a divine messenger. In today’s reading, we see these two worlds collide. It is time for Jesus to either toe the line as a Nazarene carpenter, or get on with his divine mission. His choice is made clear in the second half of today’s reading.
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
We have all had moments in our lives where our faith has been tested. A decision must be made to bow to outside pressures, or remain true to our convictions. Let us put our faith and trust in God to help us make good choices, to the glory of His name.