Summary: This is about Ezekiel’s God encounter. It explores the difference between religious experience and religious action. Religious EXPERIENCE means nothing without ACTION.
Read Ezekiel 1:4-3:15.
This is a bizarre vision. Not all God encounters are alike. We see here two things: Religious Experience (ch. 1) and Religious Action (chs. 2 & 3). What is the difference between the two?
* Religious Experience is…
In chapter 1, we see Ezekiel’s strange religious experience.
While it is strange, even for Ezekiel, there is a measure of comfort, even though he was awed. Ezekiel was a priest, so he was used to the things of God. Church is comfortable for us. It is familiar: songs, scripture, etc.
-PASSIVE in that it requires LITTLE of us.
Ezekiel stood and watched the vision. He was a passive observer, similar to someone watching a movie. In Luke 9, the disciples were passive observers at the Transfiguration.
-With the SAINTS.
This relates to comfort. We are with “our own kind.” We are with like-minded people who see the world basically the same way we do. Have you ever heard someone say, “We don’t want people like that around here”? We are so comfortable with people who look, think, act, believe and are just like us. Cloning already exists in the church.
Ezekiel just sat and watched. It’s easy to watch. Sports radio is full of people who take sports way too seriously. They think they know it all. It’s easy to be an armchair QB.
Ezekiel was sitting by the river (1:1), with other like-minded people. There was nothing to worry about. Church is a safe place, because it’s likely our beliefs won’t be challenged in any real way. Most of us aren’t risk takers.
Ezekiel witnessed an awesome visual display. It blew his mind, but it was superficial. Much like watching the Fourth of July fireworks displays. It is superficial. The bright colors and loud booms awe us. We go, “Ooh! Ah! Oh!”
* Religious Action is…
There is a contrast to mere religious experience in a God encounter. It’s one thing to have an experience, it’s quite another to put it into action. This is the difference between an ascetic and a prophet, between pew warmer and a agent of God.
Ezekiel was uncomfortable with his assignment. We have to create waves and that is uncomfortable. On April 5, I said, “I see this church with a degree of discomfort.” If we are physically exercising and pushing our bodies, we’ll always have a degree of physical discomfort. Our muscles are stretched. Our spiritual muscle needs to be stretched as well.
-ACTIVE in that it requires MUCH of us.
Nine times from 2:1-3:15 Ezekiel is told to “go” or “speak” or some variation. While he could stand or sit and observe his religious experience, he had to be active to do the will of God. The Transfiguration was a passive event, but Pentecost was one that required action. Jesus had said, “Go and make….” The command of our Master is to “go.” It requires more than a part-time commitment. Paul wrote (Rom. 12:1), “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” The requirement is our whole life, being, and person.
-With the SINNERS.
Six times God refers to the people as “rebels” or “rebellious” in 2:3-8. He also refers to them as “impudent and stubborn,” hardheaded and stubborn-hearted. He says they have “transgressed.” They were the counter-culture. They were people with a different thought process. They didn’t share Ezekiel’s values. They didn’t look, think, act, or believe like Ezekiel. Our culture doesn’t look, think, act, or believe like us. We are in a post-modern age. That is a catchword. It’s a fundamental shift in the way people think. It some ways it’s good: more open spiritually.
Twice God tells Ezekiel, “Whether they hear or refuse to hear.” Later he is told that they “will not be willing to listen.” He was fighting an up hill battle, and knew he wouldn’t succeed totally. Not everyone will listen to us. That’s no excuse for not trying. We can’t be idle and use the excuse, “They won’t listen anyway.”
British explorer Ernest Shackleton advertised for crewmen for his exploration of Antarctica, “Men wanted for hazardous journey. Small wages. Bitter cold. Long months of complete darkness. Constant danger. Safe return doubtful. Honor and recognition in case of success.” 27 men joined him. Ezekiel was told he would face “briers and thorns” along with scorpions (2:6). We will face opposition. We may be ostracized or made fun of. No one ever said it would be easy or safe.
Ezekiel is told to internalize his experience and the Word of God (2:8; 3:1-3). He consumed it. The true test of a follower of God is whether or not we put into practice what we have learned in our religious experience. It must be continual.