This is the sermon, in its entirety, that i preached yesterday. I ad-libbed the opening section, as the other elements of the service created an opportunity to create a more direct connection with the congregation, which led naturally to what i was speaking about. But the idea of this opening section was communicated either way.
Let’s Go Swimming!
Text: Ezekiel 47:1-6
If you paid attention to the sign outside, you will have seen the title of my message this morning to be: Let’s Go Swimming, with a reference to Ezekiel 47, and so I invite you to turn there in your bibles… Ezekiel 47. Originally, I had planned on working through the first twelve verses, but the depth of this passage would have meant that I would be speaking for an hour or so, and while I know most of us don’t have any plans for the rest of the day, I won’t do that. Instead, we will only be looking at the first six verses, and I invite you to study the rest during the week. Let us Pray:
Heavenly Father we thank you for this morning. We thank you for your bountiful presence in our midst this morning. We offer up our songs of praise to you, and we ask you Holy Spirit, for a greater impartation of your understanding this morning as we look at your word. Amen.
An article published in the Winnipeg Free Press on September 4, 2009 reads in part:
Police are searching for the body of a man believed drowned near the Norwood Bridge after he jumped into the Red River to try to save his girlfriend — who was eventually saved by this spring’s “homeless hero.”
The woman was pulled from the river alive by none other than Faron Hall, who rocketed to local fame in May after rescuing a teen from the river.
The woman accidentally slipped into the river, but didn’t know how to swim. Her boyfriend tried to help her, but didn’t know how to swim, either.
After Hall rescued the woman, he tried to save the man, but the missing man had already gone under.
This is just one story among many, of someone who was washed away by the current of the Red River. A survey of the local incidents of drowning in the Red River shows that many of the people simply could not swim in the current when they ended up in the water.
In the book of Ezekiel, the prophet has an amazing vision that starts in chapter 40, and goes through to the end of the book in chapter 47. In the greater narrative, Ezekiel sees “A New City”, or, the New Jerusalem that John sees in Revelation. Before we can look at chapter 47 though, we need to spend a few moments in chapter 40, so if you’ve found chapter 47, keep your finger there and flip back a few pages to chapter 40, and I’ll start at verse one:
In the twenty-fifth year of our captivity, at the beginning of the year, on the tenth day of the month, in the fourteenth year after the city was captured, on the very same day the hand of the Lord was upon me; and He took me there. In the visions of God He took me into the land of Israel and set me on a very high mountain; on it toward the south was something like the structure of a city. He took me there, and behold, there was a man whose appearance was like the appearance of bronze. He had a line of flax and a measuring rod in his hand, and he stood in the gateway.
For our sake this morning, I won’t spend any time developing the timeline Ezekiel gives, but there are a few key things in this portion that will help us in our understanding of chapter 47:
- We know that it is a vision from God, and that this vision is of the structure of a city.
- We know that this city is on earth, this isn’t in the heavens somewhere. It says he was taken to Israel and set on a mountain, and this is where he sees the city south of the mountain, and then he is brought to the city itself, to the New Jerusalem.
- We know that a man is seen who has the appearance of bronze. Ezekiel saw this same figure in a different vision in chapter 1:26-28 where he concludes at the end of verse 28, “This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.”
From chapter 40 through to 46, it describes all the measurements and the layout of the city and the temple with the throne and a bunch of other stuff, and then comes this section in chapter 47. It is part of the greater passage here from 40 to the end of 47, but is also very distinct within this greater passage. And so let’s read this portion, starting at 47:1,
Then he, that’s the man with the bronze appearance and the measuring rod, brought me back to the door of the temple; and there was water, flowing from under the threshold of the temple toward the east, for the front of the temple faced east; the water was flowing from under the right side of the temple, south of the altar. 2 He brought me out by way of the north gate, and led me around on the outside to the outer gateway that faces east; and there was water, running out on the right side. 3 And when the man went out to the east with the line in his hand, he measured one thousand cubits and he brought me through the waters; the water came up to my ankles. 4 Again he measured one thousand and brought me through the waters; the water came up to my knees. Again he measured one thousand and brought me through; the water came up to my waist. 5 Again he measured one thousand, and it was a river that I could not cross; for the water was too deep, water in which one must swim, a river that could not be crossed. 6 He said to me, “Son of man, have you seen this?” Then he brought me and returned me to the bank of the river.
First Ezekiel notices that the water flows from the temple. Chapter 43 talks about the temple being the Lord’s dwelling place, and in Revelation 22:1 it reads, “He showed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” The river that Ezekiel sees here comes directly from the Lord. The man measures a thousand cubits, which for our benefit, is just under half-a-mile. So for almost half-a-mile, the water is only ankle deep, then the man measures again and, in turn, the water is knee deep, waist deep, and finally too deep to stand in, and one must swim in it.
Notice something interesting in these verses as well: Whenever the man measures out the distance, Ezekiel says that the man brings him to the deeper section. He guides, aids, helps, directs; use whatever word you want, he brings Ezekiel deeper. He doesn’t leave him alone to walk on his own.
The Lord is making sure that Ezekiel is able to stand in the current of the river before pushing forward. He didn’t measure out two miles, that would be roughly the equivalent of 4000 cubits, and say, “Ezekiel, come swim in the river.” He said, “Ezekiel, you need to get used to the current of the water when it is only ankle deep, before you can go further. You need to get used to the current pushing at your knees, so that your feet don’t wash out from underneath you. You need to get used to water pushing against your body up to your waist, and once you are able to stand there, you will be able to start swimming in the current of the river.”
The reason people have such a hard time staying above water in the Red River is because they are not used to the current. Even for strong swimmers, like the rescuer we read about, Faron Hall, the Red River is too strong a lot of the time, but a strong swimmer is at least able to keep their head above water.
Imagine what would have happened to Ezekiel if he would have been dropped into the water two miles out. He would have been crushed by the water and washed downstream. He would not have had the knowledge of the current and his body would not have been trained to stay in the current for any period of time. I think, at least in part, that that is the reason the man asks Ezekiel the question, “Son of man, have you seen this?” The man is trying to tell Ezekiel, “It took time to get out here. It took time to get to the deep part of the river.”
I want to tell you, I have been meditating on this passage for the better part of a year, or maybe even more. I believe Ezekiel’s vision of the river is so much more than just a river in a city at the end of the age. I believe this vision is an encouragement and a tool to spur us on in our Christian lives. This passage shows us that the building of faith is a process that doesn’t just happen overnight. Imagine what would happen to a person if God revealed all of his glory to someone the moment they became a Christian. They would be crushed by the weight of that glory. It would be like someone running into the street and getting hit by a Mack truck. They would be washed downstream so fast, they wouldn’t know what hit them, because they haven’t been trained to stand in the current, they haven’t been trained in the things of God.
This river is the river of God’s glory. It flows from the throne. It is the river of His goodness; of His grace and mercy; of His healing power. When we become a Christian, it is as if we are standing on the bank. We’ve just encountered Jesus, and have committed to following him. There is a problem though. I know a lot of people who call themselves Christians, and they stand on the bank of the river of God’s glory, and never enter the river, or they just test the water with a toe. It’s as if they walk up to what God has for them, and they dip a toe in and cry out, “OH! God that is so awesome,” and then they walk away from the river thinking they’ve had enough for a while. And they operate their lives in this way continually going back to dip their toe in. They never actually go into the river.
Or there are the Christians who only ever go ankle deep. They stand in the ankle deep waters of the glory of God, and decide, purposefully, never to move. God is measuring out the next thousand cubits for them, and they say, “No, I’m good here, thanks.” And they never move into the deeper things of God, they never mature. The apostle Paul chastised the Corinthian church in 3:2 when he wrote, I fed you with milk and not with solid food; for until now you were not able to receive it, and even now you are still not able.” They grew up but they never matured. Jesus is measuring out the next thing in these Christians life and he’s saying, “Come with me. Come deeper.” And they stand still. They see the lure of the things of the world, and realize the cost of going deeper in God, and so they stay still.
Imagine a river so wide you are at least two miles out from shore, swimming in the current and not being swept downstream. All of your focus, all of your attention is on staying in the current and swimming, that you can’t even see the shoreline. Friends, let me tell you, when you are swimming in the current of the river of God’s glory, there is nothing in the world that can distract you from where you are. When you are that far out, you will find, Ezekiel says it’s a river that can’t be crossed, you will find that you will never exhaust who God is, and his glory.
But it starts with shallow water. It starts with taking intentional steps into God’s glory. Slowly and steadily, with the direction of Jesus, who measures out each step and guides you through those steps. That is our faith journey during this portion of our lives. Steadily going deeper and never looking back.
I said I would only go to verse six, but just briefly look at verse 8:
8 Then he said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region, goes down into the valley, and enters the sea (that’s the Dead Sea). When it reaches the sea, its waters are healed.
A quick observation about this verse:
- This is the Dead Sea that gets healed by the waters. It is the lowest, deadest place on earth, where nothing can live. And it will be healed by the rivers waters, so that it will be filled with fish.
- a. When we consider our journey through life, and the river of God’s glory, it does not matter how low a life is, it does not matter how awful and seemingly dead, notice that, seemingly dead, a life is, God’s glory can bring it life. It doesn’t matter what your past is like, God restores. God heals.
Let me conclude with a challenge:
Most of you have dedicated your life to God, and call Jesus as your Lord and Savior, but perhaps you’ve never walked into the River of God’s Glory before. Maybe you’ve dipped your toe in once or twice, and have been given a glimpse of how awesome God can be; Or maybe you’re the type of person who rides the fence, playing both sides, like, “Because I give a certain amount of time for different stuff, or serve in some capacity somewhere, or that I give a certain amount of money, that I’m entitled, that I’m allowed, that I’ve earned the right, to ignore the Holy Spirit’s direction in my life some of the time.” Or maybe you just live your Christian walk in crisis management, so that when things start to get rough, then you plug into God, and find all kinds of Bible verses to back up how you’re feeling.
Friends, I declare, carefully but boldly, I believe we are at a pivotal point in history in the Christian faith, both in our individual lives in the greater body of Christ, and in our walk with God here at FABC. God has brought us through a refining stage, or I guess you could say, maybe he’s brought us into deeper waters. But he’s going to keep measuring, and he wants us to follow him deeper. I am so encouraged. We’ve revealed that we can stand strong because of him in the water, by dealing with hurts and issues from the past, and by going through the refocusing process. But he wants us to go deeper. He’s still measuring.
A few weeks ago pastor Abe alluded to this idea of going deeper. He mentioned very briefly, operating in prophesies and healings; operating in the Holy Spirit with greater intentionality.
Friends here is my challenge: COMMIT! Commit to going deeper. Don’t look back at the things of this world.
And how do we do that, you ask? It’s quite simple. Ask God. This is the question: God, I want you to be brutally honest with me right now, where am I standing in the river, or am I even in the river?
Friends let God be brutally honest with you. And be honest with yourselves as well. Don’t deceive yourselves into thinking you are deeper than you really are, or that you are shallower than you really are. God will show you where you are standing if you ask him, and this is awesome because instead of being discouraged, you can look forward and see that Jesus is measuring out the next steps for you and bringing you through those steps into a deeper relationship with him.
I can’t help it. Let me tell you a quick personal story of just one of the things that happened to me in the past little while. Some of you have already heard some of the great things God has done in me and through me, and I’ll share more of that in due course, but this story happened just about a year ago. I was praying and asking God, I said, “God, you know how much I love you, and that I want to serve you and honor you. I want to give you more from my resources. I want to glorify you more with what you have given me. But you know my financial situation. You know what I’m giving, and you know I can’t give any more. But I want to give you more from the blessings you have given me.”
And do you know the answer I got back from God? He said to me, “Jason, grow your hair out so that you can donate it to charity, for a covering for one of my children who is suffering through cancer, and going through chemotherapy.”
And I responded by saying, “Okay, seriously though. You know my position. You know that when people see me leading a service, or even drumming, and for sure if I end up preaching, that long hair in the pulpit might be an issue.”
“But you want to go deeper Jason. You asked me, and this is what I’m telling you. I have blessed you with a full head of hair. Use it.”
I wrestled with this for two or three months last summer, and into the fall. And you see the outcome of the wrestling match. People tell me it looks awful. They say it doesn’t suit me. I had one gentleman when I was walking down the street offer to cut it with his hedge trimmers, and he was serious. But I know the end result, and it has a greater purpose than what the world sees. I tell you right now, that I love each and every one of you. The last thing I want to do is do something that would offend you, but I love God more. And because this is one of the steps he wants me to take, I am going full-steam ahead.
So ask God the question, even now.
I want everyone to close their eyes and ask, “God, am I in the river? And if so, how deep am I?” And I invite you to ask the same question with me for us as a body of believers here at FABC: “God, where, as a church, are we standing in the river?”
Now, there are three ways that you can respond this morning: 1. You can decide, “This guy is crazy, I’m not doing it,” and just go on living life as usual. That, “Business as usual,” mentality. 2. You can pray silently in your seats and make this commitment for the deeper things of God, and it will be between you and God alone. And finally number 3. Stand and publicly proclaim, praying out loud with your brothers and sisters, that you commit to going deeper in God; to stepping deeper into that river and not standing for the casualness of Christianity; to not stand for a life of Christian apathy.
I must add a word of caution though if this is your choice. If you decide that you want to stand and publicly proclaim this, know that people are watching. If you stand, look around at those others who are standing. In standing, you are asking each other for greater accountability. If you see someone stumbling, raise them up. If you see one of these walking out of step with the Holy Spirit and God’s will, gently rebuke and correct, and remind each other of the commitment made today.
I’m not talking about living a perfect life, Paul says in Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.” Living a perfect life is impossible in this world with these mortal bodies, but strive for holiness. I’m talking about relationships that go far beyond what they are, even right now. That fruit would be evident. I’m talking about going so deep that the things of this world no longer hold any sway over your life.
I’ll lead you in a prayer in just a moment. If you decide to pray this prayer, I want you to think about your personal walk with God. But I also encourage you to think about this commitment as an individual congregation within the greater body of Christ. Let’s commit to moving forward individually and as a corporate body. Let’s Go Swimming.
Let God search your heart. How are you going to respond today? Don’t look at how your neighbour is responding. Eyes closed, let God speak to you right now. Will you commit to the deeper things of God? If God is burdening your heart right now, don’t delay. Respond. I’m going to lead you in a prayer in just a moment, but I want to give the Holy Spirit a few moments to speak to you.
For those of you who want to stand and make this commitment, I invite you to do so at this time. Pray with me…
Heavenly Father… I thank you. I thank you for the work… that you have done in my life. Father I pray right now… that you would reveal to me… how deep in this river I am. Father… forgive me… if I have not followed you deeper… when you have measured out the next steps. Father… I pray for grace and wisdom… that when I see another stumble… I would be gracious… in rebuke and correction. Father… I pray for grace and understanding… that if I stumble… and am corrected… I would not become angry… or resentful. But I pray rather… that I would be receptive to that correction… so I can move forward… in my relationship with you… for the glory of your kingdom.
And together we pray… as a congregation… in the larger body of Christ… that you would reveal to us… how deep in the river we are… that as a body… we might move deeper together. We want to swim Lord… and we want to operate more fully… in the greater things of you. In your wisdom… and in your timing… reveal those things to us… In the name of your Son… Jesus Christ… we pray these things…
Continue on in prayer at this point… Amen.