Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Falling and Standing

“Son of Adam, stand on your feet, and I will speak with you.”

Ezekiel the priest had fallen on his face at the sight of the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. As a son of fallen Adam, that was where he belonged. That is where we all belong, naturally speaking. Down through history, whenever men glimpsed the glory of the Lord even in smaller ways than the spectacular view afforded Ezekiel, they have tended to keel over.

A Bit of a Joke

Ezekiel being a priest was a bit of a joke, really. He was “among the exiles by the Chebar canal” when he had his vision. He was not home in Judah; he was a captive in Chaldea. He was a priest without a temple to serve in, and one of the messages he would receive from the Lord was that he would never again serve in it. God was going to destroy Jerusalem, beginning at the sanctuary where under normal circumstances Ezekiel would have been hard at work.

Back in Leviticus, when the priesthood to which Ezekiel belonged was inaugurated and first began to serve in its new role by making atonement for the sins of the people of Israel for the very first time, God reveals the tiniest vestige of his glory — for that is precisely what the passage tells us was his intent; that God would make an appearance — by sending the fire of his presence to consume the burnt offering. The result is predictable: face down, the lot of them, the entire nation. That’s the God with whom we have to do: he puts millions of people on their faces just by being who he is.

A few years later in Israel’s history, when the angel of the Lord ascends in flame, Manoah and his wife fall on their faces. King David, seeing the angel of the Lord suspended between earth and heaven, falls on his face. In the time of Elijah, when the fire of the Lord descends from heaven and licks up offering, wood, stones, dust and water, the people fall on their faces. Despite their close relationship with his Son, when God speaks on the mountain of transfiguration, Peter, James and John fall on their faces too. John, who had perhaps the most intimate personal relationship with Jesus of the three, sees him again in glory and falls at his feet “as though dead”.

The Overwhelming Glory of God

That is the nature of the glory of God. It is overwhelming. The sons of Adam are not currently constituted so as to endure it. It brings fear and trembling, a sense of immeasurable distance, and a consuming awareness of hopeless inadequacy and sinfulness. “Woe is me, for my eyes have seen the King,” cries Isaiah. “Depart from me, O Lord,” says Peter. “I am a sinful man.” In Adam all die, and never is that so poignantly evident as when a fallen son of Adam glimpses his Creator and feels the righteous judgment of God hanging over him.

Have you ever begun to talk about the Lord to someone and had them tell you you’re inadequate? I have. “You Christians think you’re so much better than everybody else.” “Why do you imagine you’re good enough to go to heaven when I’m not?” “If you really believed that, you’d be living it.”

Ouch. The inadequate servant, inadequately passing on the message. But a very important implication of the gospel is this — not that the inadequate servant can ever stand in his own strength, but that “the Lord is able to make him stand”. We’re not “better” than sinners. We’re not “good enough” for anything. The sole difference between us and them is that we have seen the glory of God in Christ, have fallen on our faces, and by his grace he has raised us up.

So God says to the fallen Ezekiel, “Stand on your feet.” How? How exactly is that supposed to be accomplished when the colossal weight of God’s glory, greater than the force of gravity, is holding him down? Well, the passage tells us. “The Spirit entered into me and set me on my feet.” God did what Ezekiel couldn’t. God alone made his servant able to stand, able to hear, able to serve.

Making Him Stand

As sons of Adam we are unfit for the presence and glory of God, but in Christ we have been made to stand. Like Ezekiel, the Spirit of God has set us on our feet. For the twenty-four elders in Revelation, falling down before him who is seated on the throne and worshiping him is a volitional act rather than an expression of their sinfulness and inadequacy to serve. They do it over and over again, whenever the living creatures give glory and honor and thanks to God.

We have been made to stand so we can choose to fall. Let’s take every opportunity to do so.

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