Here in America, we value transformation, remember that TV show called Extreme Makeover Home Edition? It came on ABC on Sunday nights. They take this deserving family, someone really making a difference in the community, or someone with special needs or a health condition, and they have this really run-down and unhealthy house. Then within one week they rally the whole community and totally transform the property into something very usable. It’s extraordinarily entertaining, and sometimes it’s pretty emotional. These people are so grateful and overwhelmed by the generosity of these sponsoring companies and the community’s volunteerism, encouragement and support. It really makes you feel good about people again.
Perhaps you remember the original Extreme Makeover show, the one where they took average looking girls who get the “ultimate package;” a transformation of clothing, hairstyle, veneer teeth, new makeup and perhaps even a nose job, face lift or “some other sort of lift” or augmentation. Then there are the “before and after” pictures of women who got the makeover. Not to be judgmental, but some of these girls were pretty “homely” until they got a new hair style, makeup and an outfit. Now they look like a supermodel.
These days, in order to keep up with the culture of America, there’s now a show called Extreme Makeover, Weight-Loss Edition. Well, season 2 is here. Recently we saw that Tony wants to lose weight before his wedding, and he’s nearly 400 pounds. We learned about his food addiction and unstable family life since he was a kid. At age 14 he worked at shoveling snow and at a fast food restaurant, where he would overeat because he did not know where his next meal was coming from. At 21, he and his first wife had a severely handicapped child where stress pushed him toward food for comfort. After a 30-year career in food service management, he decided to quit because his weight had gotten out of control. Now we all can pull for this jobless and divorced 49-year-old as he struggles and works to lose weight before his 50th birthday and his upcoming wedding.
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I think Americans like a good transformation story, but when you think about it, these examples of physical transformation are only temporary. These homes can burn down, get destroyed in a storm, or have termites cause tremendous damage. These new bodies that people get, through artificial means or through a year of extremely hard work… they can get ill from diseases or die from anything from cancer or homicide or an accident.
As believers in Christ, we are more interested in spiritual transformation, which is permanent. That’s what I want to talk about today.
Ezekiel the Prophet: Only two verses in the Old Testament identify Ezekiel by name (Ezekiel 1:3; 24:24). The prophet Ezekiel was raised in a priestly family in Jerusalem and educated to become a priest himself, but this was not to be. He was taken into exile with other high-ranking Jews at the first siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. While there, in his thirtieth year (593 BC), he received a powerful vision from the Lord and his call to be a prophet. Between this first exile and the final fall of Jerusalem (in 586/587 BC) many Israelites hoped to throw off the yoke of Babylon, often looking to Egypt for help (rather than God). Ezekiel’s prophecies against Jerusalem and some other nations take place in this context.
Ezekiel was given tremendous visions of God; and he also was called to act out God’s messages to the Jewish captives. He does some of the weirdest things you’ll read in the Bible!
Chariot-Throne of God: One of the most striking and memorable visions of the book is the throne of God, which is placed above a kind of moving revolving chariot (Ezekiel 1:4-28; 10:3-22). This is where we get that old folk song, Ezekiel Saw the Wheel. How to understand this vision has long been debated, some have even connected it with a UFO!
The Valley of Dry Bones: This odd scene has God asking Ezekiel what he sees, a valley full of very dry bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14). “Can these bones live?” God asks, and he eventually is told to prophesy to these bones. They begin to come together to form skeletons and soon flesh is again on them. We have sung about this too, Dem Bone, Dem Bone, Dem Dry Bones…
Extreme One-Man Dramas: As part of his prophetic vocation, Ezekiel engaged in a large number of extreme activities; he was to dramatize and symbolize his message of doom from the Lord. These activities strike us as odd, eccentric, or even weird. They include:
- Building a model of the city of Jerusalem and laying siege to it, part of which meant being tied up with ropes and lying on his left side for 390 days and on his right side for forty days (Ezekiel 4:1-15). He was to live on a daily ration of eight ounces of food and a pint of water. It represented the starvation diet they would experience in captivity.
- Shaving his head bald, dividing up his hair and striking part of it with a sword all around the city model (Ezekiel 5:1-4). Each third represented the fate of Jerusalem’s inhabitants when the city fell.
- Packing up his belongings every night in a mock exile, busting a hole in the wall rather than going through the door (Ezekiel 12:3-7).
- Trembling and shaking when he ate his food and drank water (Ezekiel 12:17-20).
Ezekiel’s wife died suddenly (Ezekiel 24:15-27): The prophet was called to do more than act out the fate of others. He was also called to experience the pain of judgment. Ezekiel was warned that his wife, “the desire of your eyes,” & “your dearest treasure” would die. God told His prophet, “You shall NOT show any sorrow at her death, don’t weep or even shed a tear. Sigh in silence, NO wailing at the grave; don’t uncover your head, or remove sandals from your feet; do NOT perform any mourning rituals, and do NOT accept food from your mourning friends” (Ezekiel 24:16-17).
While seemingly very strange, they may have been very effective, memorable ways, like using an object lesson for children. All this introduction, let’s take a look at Ezekiel 47.
After seeing the kitchens in the temple (Ezekiel 46:19-24) the prophet noticed a trickle of water running out of the holy of holies, past the altar on the south side. Ezekiel’s guide leads him out of the north gate (since the eastern gate was closed) and around the temple to the eastern gate where he saw the water running from under the south side of the gate. The guide measures the depth of the water four times and the river becomes so deep that he couldn’t swim across it.
Ezekiel learns that the river flows to the Dead Sea where it brought life to that forsaken area. The water from the temple would heal the Dead Sea as well as all the rivers. The water creatures would multiply wherever the waters went. Trees on the riverbank would bear fruit every month, and their leaves would be used for healing. What we see here is that life comes from the Temple of God, not from a king’s palace or from the government.
Jerusalem does not have a river in it, like we have the James River. These verses speak of this river as a literal body of water that accomplishes the life-giving work of God. Ezekiel is describing a literal river, yet it also has spiritual significance for us today. Think about the headwaters of the James River, which are not all that impressive, but the river gets much bigger by the time it gets to Hampton Roads. Ezekiel’s river gets water out of the temple into the Kidron Valley and to the Mount of Olives, and represents the transforming power of the gospel; life is growing wherever it goes.
Jesus saw the river as a symbol of the Holy Spirit (John 7:37-39)
On the last day, the climax of the festival, Jesus stood and shouted to the crowds, “Anyone who is thirsty may come to me! Anyone who believes in me may come and drink! For the Scriptures declare, ‘Rivers of living water will flow from his heart.’” (When he said “living water,” he was speaking of the Spirit, who would be given to everyone believing in him. But the Spirit had not yet been given, because Jesus had not yet entered into his glory).
The apostle John saw a similar scene in the heavenly city (Revelation 22:1-2)
Then the angel showed me a river with the water of life, clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. It flowed down the center of the main street. On each side of the river grew a tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, with a fresh crop each month. The leaves were used for medicine to heal the nations.
This river is an important part of the story of God, which begins in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:10-14)
A river flowed from the land of Eden, watering the garden and then dividing into four branches. The first branch, called the Pishon, flowed around the entire land of Havilah, where gold is found. The gold of that land is exceptionally pure; aromatic resin and onyx stone are also found there. The second branch, called the Gihon, flowed around the entire land of Cush. The third branch, called the Tigris, flowed east of the land of Asshur. The fourth branch is called the Euphrates.
It appears that this river starts in the Garden of Eden and flows into the heavenly city of God. Let’s get back to Ezekiel 47. I see a couple of significant truths in this passage:
1. Radical Transformation Advances and Does Not Remain Stationary: The water is measured in four different places, getting deeper in each spot. At the beginning, he is in ankle deep water. I believe this represents a time when someone first comes to Christ. It’s sort of like young children swimming in the kiddie pool. Just as the river moves along and gets deeper as it goes, it makes no sense for an adult believer to swim in the kiddie pool. After several months of being a follower of Jesus, we need to be growing and learning. Hebrews 6:1, tells us to press on toward maturity. This is done in two ways:
- Obedience: This is simply doing what Jesus says we are to do. If you love me, you’ll keep my commands (John 14:15). “One step forward in obedience is better than a year of study about it.” -Oswald Chambers
- Discipleship: after walking in obedience, we must be intentional in our growth. We need a plan, perhaps even mentoring, in order to become all that God desires for us to become.
I love Ezekiel 47:6, this guide says, “Do you see this?” Can you imagine the scene? THIS water? The Bible says Ezekiel was led through the water, so “Yeah, I’m standing in it; I’m really wet here, Michael Phelps couldn’t swim across this river, so yep, I’ve seen it.” Are you sure? So Ezekiel is led back to the riverbank for a closer look.
Notice the waters run toward the Dead Sea. Did you know that the water in the Dead Sea is 30% salty? The ocean is 3.5% salty. The Great Salt Lake is about 18%. Nothing lives in the Dead Sea. Once any water gets to the Dead Sea, there is nowhere for the dead water to go. But notice the dead waters are made fresh, which really means HEALED. This river brings healing to the people and the nations.
2. Radical Transformation Takes You to Unattractive Places: If we are to grow spiritually, we must go to some pretty unattractive places.
Perhaps it will be on a mission trip to Haiti, working with orphans in a hot, dirty, diseased place, working among people who smell bad, flies are everywhere and you don’t understand the language.
Perhaps you are called to feed homeless people at the Union Mission, or Judeo-Christian Outreach Center, or some other place that is uncomfortable, hot, at times full of rough or intimidating people.
American cities have a low percentage of Christians. Look at NYC. NYC is only 4% Christian. People visit there every day to see Wall Street, Broadway, Museums, Statute of Liberty, Freedom Tower, but how many people head for the Bowery area of NYC. There are believers who go there in spite of the smells, burdens, drug addicts, thieves, the homeless, and the hungry, to pray for and ease suffering of forgotten people. Downtown missions attempt to transform lives.
God values the afflicted. My very first sermon was when I was 19 years old. Since I sensed God calling me into the ministry, my church asked me to go to the Jimmy Hale Mission, in downtown Birmingham. They fed homeless people all week and since they were a captive audience, they had to stay for the preaching if they wanted to eat!
I love the words of Psalm 9:18, But the needy will not be ignored forever; the hopes of the poor will not always be crushed.
Here in Norfolk, how many of us would rather drive through rather than stop at a traffic light? We LOVE worship here, and our gathering HERE, but radical transformation often takes you to unattractive places, dirty places, even dangerous places.
Ezekiel 47:10 tells us about fisherman standing at the Dead Sea. No one would do this; to catch what? But there will be such a variety and amount of fish, from the western side (Engedi) all around to the east. Why? Because this river makes all the salty water fresh. Wherever the river flows, there will be swarms of living creatures in it. Where the river flows, everything will live (Ezekiel 47:9)
Notice the marshes will remain salty, so practically, as a domestic product, people still need salt. But spiritually speaking, some people will refuse to be transformed by this life-giving river. Some people desire to remain stuck in the mire of their own sinfulness and choose NOT to be healed.
The life is transferred from the water to the riverbank; fruit bearing trees will produce every month, on both sides of the river. This life comes from the sanctuary (from Almighty God himself). This is just like John 15:5, to abide in Jesus and allowing his words to abide in you, for apart from ME you can do nothing.
3. Radical Transformation is a Catalyst for Real Change: Everywhere the river went, it made a difference. How about YOU? Like in your neighborhood, is it different in the neighborhood because you live there? What about adopting a missionary and his UPG? A catalyst for change means praying and going. UPGs are in the Dead Sea, spiritually. They need an advocate praying for them, and people going as they are able. Missions is about church planting, starting with Bible storying groups in their homes. Many people around the world are coming to Christ, and they are the FIRST EVER believers in their tribe or region. God is saving people all around the world. He is bring life and light to dark places. How can we be a part of that?
4. Radical Transformation Comes When We Allow God to Transform Us: Place your faith in Christ, NOW. No more waiting. Paul said it like this,
But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. (2 Corinthians 3:14-16)
Removing the veil and understanding happens only when you come to Christ. At the bottom of your outline, look at that statement. What are we to do? Step out of the kiddie pool, be a disciple and disciple others. It is always inappropriate for adults to pretend to be spiritually mature while hanging out in the kiddie pool. The Bible says to “grow up” (Ephesians 4:14-15).
Let me tell you about Rosie Ruez: She appeared to be the female winner of the 84th Boston Marathon on April 21 1980. Her time of 2:31:56 would have been the fastest female time in Boston Marathon history as well as the third-fastest female time ever recorded in any marathon. Only eight days later, the title is taken away. She actually jumped into the race in the last mile to cross the finish line. They went back to look at tapes and found what had happened. This was not even the first time. During a NYC marathon, she took a subway and jumped out toward the end of the race.
On the other hand, Bill Rodgers won his 3rd straight Boston Marathon that day. He paid the price and trained long and hard to achieve his record-setting victories. But all his work and effort was overshadowed by the pretender.
What can this church be like when we impact our community and the world for Christ? Do the hard work, no more posers, pretending to be in the game.
We must be a people who desire Radical Transformation. No business as usual, because we want to make an impact on the world around us.
- We will NOT remain stationary, but advance the cause of the kingdom.
- We will go to the unattractive places in this city and world for the cause of the kingdom.
- We will be the catalyst for real change in our society and circle of influence.
God help us to make a difference.