Monday, July 09, 2007

Something Greater Than the Temple is Here

Son of man, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I shall show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show it to you. Declare all that you see to the house of Israel.
Ezekiel 40:4
These are the words that the prophet Ezekiel hears from the man who stands before him in a vision he receives from God. Pay attention not just with your eyes, not just with your ears, but with your whole heart because that which I am about to show you is wholly your purpose for being here. These are the instructions to Ezekiel before he sees or hears anything else.

So here I am reading my text with the sense that I need to prepare myself for what is about to come. This is important. As God is speaking to Ezekiel, so He is speaking to me because "the word of God is living and active" (Hebrews 4:12). I need to get this.

So I proceed to read what seems to me to be the longest chapter in Ezekiel up to this point. And what does it say? The entire chapter seems to be a tour of a temple directed by the man who is speaking to Ezekiel. Seemingly making his way through every searchable corner of this structure with "a measuring reed in his hand" (Ezekiel 40:3), the man proceeds to take a measurement of what must be every possible dimension seen by the human eye. Cubit by cubit, nothing is overlooked. The gates, the chambers, the altars, the windows, the courts, the entry ways. Nothing is left unattended. And this doesn't stop at the end of the chapter! It goes on for the rest of the book (eight more chapters)!

And as I read, the words from the beginning of the chapter spoken by the man in the vision to Ezekiel echo in my mind, "look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I show you, for you were brought in order that I might show it to you" (Ezekiel 40:4). Hear what? There doesn't seem to me to be anything to hear. Show it to me? A carefully measured building? Is that what "it" is? Why Lord? Why is this so important?

And then I came to these words as the chapter drew to a close: "This chamber that faces south is for the priests who have charge of the temple, and the chamber that faces north is for the priests who have charge of the altar. These are the sons of Zadok, who alone among the sons of Levi may come near to the LORD to minister to him" (Ezekiel 40:45,46). Some parts of the temple were only accessible to certain people. They were forbidden to everyone else. There were divisions in the temple that kept some in and others out. And this is the way it would be. Until...
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
Matthew 27:51
In the moment that Jesus finally "yielded up his spirit" (Matthew 27:50) to death on the cross, this is the first immediate effect that we learn of. The curtain that made for separation of the accessible from the inaccessible is destroyed so that there is now nothing in the temple that is inaccessible to anyone. There is nowhere that the priest can go that no one else cannot also.

And with the following words from the Lord Jesus as mediated through the Holy Spirit, God graciously opened my eyes to see what the "it" is.
I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.
Matthew 12:6
That it is a He. He is Jesus Christ Himself. The it is more than just a structure, but instead is the One whom the structure was always meant to point to. That's what the Jews didn't get when Jesus told them, "Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up" (John 2:18). He wasn't talking about a building. He was talking about His body. He, in His Person, rather than a location is the only place that we can meet the living God.

And the implications of this truth for me are this: Chris, look with your eyes, and hear with your ears, and set your heart upon all that I show you, for you were brought here in order that I might show Jesus Christ to you. Declare all that you see of Him to the house of Israel.

Look at what?
Jesus Christ in His Word. Hear what? The words that Jesus speaks. Set my heart on what? All the manifold perfections that radiate from His glorious countenance. Why? Because I exist in order that Jesus Christ might be displayed to me, I would see Him and savor Him and enjoy making much of Him forever. And the insuppressible outworking of this is that I will declare all that I see of His infinite beauty and worth to those around me.

This is what will happen if I believe that Jesus Christ is greater than the temple. And this is glorious. But I must ask myself, "Do I really believe that Jesus Christ is greater than the temple?"

That's an indicting question, to which we must not be quick to say "yes". But we must instead search our hearts and minds in order to arrive at the truth of what's really in us. So how do we know if we really do believe that Jesus Christ is greater than the temple or not? We look at how the temple is described with precision in detail and completeness in description and then we ask ourselves this question: If I were to write everything I know about the Person and work of Jesus Christ, would it surpass that which I read about the temple in its precision in detail and completeness in description? If not, then I don't have evidence to show that Christ is greater than the temple.

Make no mistake about it. The temple is great. Jesus assumed this when He said that something greater than the temple is here otherwise it wouldn't be saying anything to make the point. If the temple isn't great, who cares that something greater than the temple is here?

The temple is great. That's why its description is so massive and detailed (though at times it can seem like we don't need to be told all that we are told about it). But Christ is infinitely greater such that the detail upon detail described at such great length with which we read about the temple in the Scriptures is dwarfed so that it is as nothing when set against all that there is to know about the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Could it be that we have such lengthy descriptions about the temple in the Old Testament so that we would feel the force of the statement Jesus makes about Himself when He says: "I tell you, something greater than the temple is here" (Matthew 12:6)?

How do you describe Him who is greater than the temple? How do you measure Him? Are you aware of the cubit by cubit details of His Person and work? Do you see His multifaceted dimensions:
  • as the One who never had a beginning but has always existed, through which all things were made (John 1:1-3)?
  • as the One who upholds the universe by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3)?
  • as the means of grace through which the Father makes his sun rise on both the evil and the good and sends rain on both the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45) instead of releasing the fullness of His wrath on all since we are all God-belittling, hell-deserving sinners?
  • as the One who, being in very nature God, made Himself nothing to be born as a man (Philippians 2:6,7) so that He could live in a fallen world and experience all the effects of sin without ever yielding to it for the sake of identifying with us and providing us with help in our time of need (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15,16)?
  • as the One who, being above the law because He created it, came under the law to fulfill that which was never required of Him but required of us who hopelessly could never fulfill it (Galatians 4:4-5, Romans 8:4)?
  • as the One who had our infinite record of debt nailed through His hands to the cross by His own Father so that its legal demands may no longer apply to us and we might have forgiveness with the Father (Colossians 2:13,14)?
  • as the One who is all of our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption (1 Corinthians 1:30), providing every good thing inside of us?
  • as the One who always lives to make intercession for us (Hebrews 7:25), so that we may not make shipwreck of our faith (because we would if He weren't praying at every moment) but instead persevere to glory?
  • as the One who will one day do away with our sin-ransacked bodies of death to give us new glorious bodies just like His (Philippians 3:21) which will not be able to sin?
Oh, how overwhelming is just this list of the infinite excellencies in Christ Jesus! Yet I know I don't see anywhere near enough. There is no doubt in my mind that a description of all that Jesus is, written by John Owen or any of the Puritans, would make the description of the temple in Ezekiel look like a post-it note. And yet they still would never have been able to come close to all that there is to be known about Christ! I want to see what they saw of Christ because, if God were to grant me such grace, I know that I wouldn't stop in my pursuit to see more but would make this my life.

This temple is accessible by all so none has excuse for a deficient knowledge and description of the One who is greater than the temple. This temple isn't only accessible by Puritans, or biblical scholars, or pastors, or priests who have charge of the temple or altar (Ezekiel 40:45,46) which was only a shadow of the things to come, of which the substance would be Christ (Colossians 2:17). But all who call themselves followers of Christ must be able to give evidence to the fact that something greater than the temple is here in Christ otherwise we have been granted access in vain! And God grants access to no one in vain. So either we have access and can give continually growing evidence to it or we don't have access.

This is our infinitely valuable Savior. So let us look with our eyes, hear with our ears, and set our hearts upon all that is shown to us of Jesus Christ, for we were brought into this world in order that Jesus might be displayed to us and treasured by us.
I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.
Matthew 12:6
And nothing else in the world matters. May He be our lives.

Father in heaven, thank You that You created us for one reason and one reason only: to show Your glorious Son to us so that we might see Him and treasure Him above all things. Yet how easily distracted we are. Forgive us for the ways that our description of Your Son would bring great dishonor to His name because of its deficiency. Forgive us for the ways that our list of great and glorious things to declare about Your Son is infinitely insufficient. We know that it always will be but I ask that You would give us eyes that are intently looking, ears that are resolutely listening, and hearts that are unflinchingly set upon all that You reveal to us about Your Son. May our eyes be looking nowhere else. May our ears be listening to nothing else. May our hearts be set on nothing else, except for that which gives us more of Him so that we will love Him more. We don't want to lie to the world by living to show that something greater than Christ is here. Overwhelm us with His greatness so that we would overflow to those around us with declarations of how magnificent He is. We long for that day when we will see His greatness in ways we can't even come close to in this life, when we will love Him with the perfect love with which You love Him. In Jesus' great name, Amen.

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