Preaching Date: April 4, 2004
Key Sentence: Palm Sunday foreshadows the return of Christ our King and reminds us that God keeps His promises.
I. The Promise to David (Ezekiel 37:24)
II. The Promise to Abraham (Ezekiel 37:25)
III. The Promise to Jeremiah (Ezekiel 37:26)
IV. Gods Ultimate Purpose for Mankind (Ezekiel 37:27-28)
If I were to be an animal living in the Grand Canyon, I would rather be an eagle than an ant. I dont actually know this for a fact, because Ive never had the privilege of asking one, but I dont think that most of the ants that live in the Grand Canyon really have the opportunity to appreciate the beauty of their surroundings. Ants live very busy lives. They spend all of their time crawling around in the dirt, looking for crumbs. All they can see is whats right in front of them, and so they never really get to appreciate the full beauty of the area because they have such a narrow perspective. But an eagle on the other hand, an eagle can fly. Eagles can take to winds and soar over the canyon. They can look down and see the canyon spread out below them. They can see how all the individual parts come together to form a unified whole. They are able to appreciate the beauty of the canyon because they have a broader perspective. Unfortunately I think our Bible study is often a lot like the life of the ant. We focus narrowly on this chapter or that verse or this story or that Psalm. But we dont often see the continuity that exists within Scripture. We miss out on a lot of the beauty because our focus is too narrow.
So today our goal is to broaden that focus, and like the eagle to take to the skies and see how the parts of the Bible fit together and form a unified whole. Now the danger in this kind of study is that we run the risk of being totally overwhelmed by the sheer volume of information. There is so much to see that we would be bogged down if we tried to absorb everything at once. So in order to avoid that we will focus our attention specifically on three important topographical features on the landscape of the Scriptures. These topographical features are three covenants: the covenant that God made with Abraham, the covenant that God made with David, and the covenant that God promised to Jeremiah. Now as we look down at the canyon, and see these three major rock formations, we see that they are more than just three isolated boulders sitting around here and there. They are the bedrock that determines the direction of the canyon itself, they are the foundation of the canyon floor. And not only are there rocks down there, but theres also a river. This river runs from one end of the canyon to the other. Its the unifying theme that ties all of the scripture together from beginning to end. And because the covenants are the bedrock through which the river flows, we see that the rocks themselves establish the direction for the flow of the river. The river flows over the rocks, and it shapes them, but they also determine its course through the canyon. In the same way, these three covenants provide direction for us to understand the flow of Gods purpose throughout Scripture. These covenants are shaped by Gods purpose but they also determine how that purpose is expressed throughout the course of Biblical history. Were going to look at these covenants today, and were going to look at the river to see if we can find out where it leads.
Before we take to the skies and view the canyon from above, we need to look around just to get our bearings and see where we are. Today is Palm Sunday, which means that we find our launching point right in the middle of the canyon. We will see that the events of Palm Sunday look forward to the return of Christ our King, and remind us that God keeps His promises. Specifically, He will keep His promises to Abraham, David, and Jeremiah. But what about Palm Sunday? How does it fit in? John 12:12-15 says, On the next day the large crowd who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of the palm trees and went out to meet Him, and began to shout, Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel. Jesus, finding a young donkey, sat on it; as it is written, Fear not, daughter of Zion; behold, your King is coming, seated on a donkeys colt. This quote, about the King coming on a donkey, is from Zechariah 9:9. Zechariah 9:10 continues with that thought and says I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the horse from Jerusalem; and the bow of war will be cut off. And He will speak peace to the nations; and His dominion will be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth. These two verses promise that the King who comes on a donkey will bring peace to the earth, and establish His throne in Jerusalem.
At the time of His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, the people hailed Him as King. The leaders, however, did not recognize His Kingship. In fact, Luke records that the Pharisees asked Jesus to tell His followers to stop praising Him. They did not acknowledge His claim to the throne of Israel. This rejection had been building all throughout Jesus ministry, and they crucified Him just a few days after He rode into Jerusalem. It is because of this rejection that only half of Zechariahs prophecy was fulfilled at that time. The second half is to be fulfilled when He returns to claim His rightful place on the throne of Israel. In His first coming He was rejected, in His second coming He will be established as the King. So when we look at the events of Palm Sunday we see a partially fulfilled prophecy, and this is what motivates our search for the big picture. We want to find out more about the second half of this prophecy, and we can only find that by taking to the skies, and broadening our perspective so we can see the big picture.
Scripture is full of prophecies about the kingdom of Christ. They can be found sprinkled all throughout the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. But there is one particular prophecy that stands out among the rest, and it is found in the book of Ezekiel. At the time when Ezekiel prophesied, God was judging the people of Judah for their idolatry by sending them into captivity in Babylon. In the midst of this judgment, God wanted to remind His people that He still loved them and He still had a plan for the future of the nation. Ezekiel 37:24-28, summarizes the most important points about the restoration of Israel. This summary gives us an expanded view of the things that will happen when the second half of Zechariahs prophecy is fulfilled. Its talking about the same period of time, when the King will return to Jerusalem and establish peace on the earth. It says, My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep My statutes and observe them. They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons sons, forever; and David My servant will be their prince forever. I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever. As we will see, all three of the major rock formations that are mentioned in this passage, are actually extensions of the Abrahamic covenant.
Gods covenant with Abraham included three things: land, seed, and blessing. He promised to give Abraham the land of Israel, He promised to give Him a multiplication of physical descendants, and He promised to bless him. Not only did He promise to bless Abraham personally, but He promised that through Abraham, all the nations of the world would be blessed.
Before we can look at the fulfillment of these things, we need to be aware that there is a difference of opinion among theologians about how these covenants are to be fulfilled. Some people, myself included, believe that the covenants God gave to Israel will be fulfilled literally in the future. There are others, however, who believe that when the Jews crucified Christ, they forfeited all of their inheritance rights to these promises. They believe that the church has replaced Israel as the people of God, and therefore we do not need to look forward to the fulfillment of these covenants in the people of Israel because all these promises have already been spiritually fulfilled in some way be the church. There simply is not enough time to address all the issues right now. But before we go any further I would like to show you one verse in the New Testament that strongly supports the belief that Israel still has promises left to be fulfilled, and that they are still viewed by God as being a distinct entity from the church as we know it in this age. The apostle Paul says in Romans chapter 9 verses 3-5, For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom belongs the adoption as sons, and the glory and the covenants and the giving of the Law and the temple service and the promises, whose are the fathers, and from whom is the Christ according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen. Notice first of all that Paul can only be referring to ethnic Jews in this passage because he calls them his kinsmen according to the flesh. Then, he proceeds to tell us about a number of things belong to them, including the covenants and the promises.
So here we have a New Testament author, no less than the apostle Paul, clearly saying that the covenants and promises belong to ethnic Jewish people. It is impossible to spiritualize this reference to Israelites and say that it is a synonym for the church, as they do with Old Testament promises. Think about it, if he were saying that, it would make no sense at all. He would be saying that he wished he could be separated from Christ for the sake of believers. The only way this makes any sense is if Paul is referring to Jews who do not believe in Christ. And he clearly says here that the covenants and the promises still belong to them. So we have been grafted into them and so we receive the blessings of the New Covenant, as it says in Romans 11, but that does not mean that we have replaced them.
Now, lets look at the covenants. These covenants have some things in common with each other and they also have some major distinctions as well. In each of these covenants God promises to meet various needs of the people. Although the needs that are met by each covenant are different, there is one common thread which flows throughout all three. And as we shall see, this common thread is the river that flows through our canyon.
I. The Promise to David (Ezekiel 37:24)
In verse 24 Ezekiel says My servant David will be king over them, and they will all have one shepherd; and they will walk in My ordinances and keep my statutes and observe them. 2 Samuel chapter 7 tells us that King David wanted to build a temple for God in Jerusalem. God told him that he would not be the one to build the temple, however, God honored Davids request by promising him that his son would build the temple instead. But God didnt stop there. He went on to promise David several things. First of all, He reaffirmed the promises that He had given previously to Abraham. But then He added something to that, He said in verse 16, Your house and your kingdom shall endure before Me forever; your throne shall be established forever. This is an extension of the promise to multiply Abrahams descendants and give him a perpetual seed, including the fact that kings would come from him, and you can read about that in Genesis 17:6.
In reaffirming this promise through Ezekiel, God was reassuring the entire nation of Israel of His care for them in providing a godly man to shepherd the nation. He was promising them a king who would not only be a strong political leader, but would also care for the spiritual welfare of the people. Someone who would not only rule them, but who would also shepherd them. Remember, this prophecy occurred at a time when the nation was being judged by God. This prophecy was given in the land of Babylon. If there was ever a time when the people of Israel should have felt like God had turned His back on them it was then. They had just gone through a period of history when almost all of their kings had led them into idolatry and as a result of that, they were going through terrible suffering at the hands of the Babylonians. They must have wondered where was this great God who had brought their forefathers up out of the land of Egypt? Here He gives them an answer. Though He must discipline them for their idolatry, He will not reject them forever.
At the time when the promise was given to David, he demonstrated that he was this kind of shepherd through the way that he actively sought out the presence of God in his life, and by the fact that he brought the ark of God into the city of Jerusalem and tried to build a temple for it. These words from the Psalm 27:4 give us a window into the heart of David and his desire to be in Gods presence. He says, One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek; that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple. David was this kind of leader throughout most of his life, although he did fail at the end. But here God reassures the nation that one day they will have a shepherd who will lead them in the ways of God and care for them as a shepherd cares for his sheep.
Some commentators say that this reference to David is a reference to Christ, and it just calls Him David because He is the Son of David. Others actually say that this refers to David himself, who will be resurrected and will reign as a king under the leadership of Christ during the Millenial kingdom. This is not as far-fetched as it might sound at first, because we know from other Scriptures that David, as well as all believers will be in the Millenium. We will be there in our glorified bodies, and those who have proved themselves faithful in this life will reign in various capacities with Christ. Jesus promised His twelve disciples that they would one day sit on twelve thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel. So David is going to be there, and he will almost certainly function in some official capacity as a servant of the ultimate King, Jesus Christ. When prophetic Scriptures speak of Christ as the King they usually call Him the Root of Jesse, the Branch of David, the Son of David or the Seed of David. None of these titles are used here, and so it is quite possible that this refers actually to David, who will reign under Christ. If you want to study this further, here are some Scriptures to jot down, Jeremiah 30:9, Ezekiel 34:23-24, and Hosea 3:5.
II. The Promise to Abraham (Ezekiel 37:25)
This shepherd, David will lead the people in keeping the laws of God, for which they were at that time being punished for having broken. This is the first covenant that is fulfilled in our text today. As we move on into verse 25 it says, They will live on the land that I gave to Jacob My servant, in which your fathers lived; and they will live on it, they, and their sons and their sons sons forever; and David my servant will be their king forever. This is obviously a fulfillment of Gods promise to Abraham that He would give him the land of Israel. God didnt just promise this to Abraham once. The land promise is repeated many times in Genesis, not only to Abraham, but also to his son Isaac and his grandson Jacob.
In Genesis 15:18 God tells Abraham specifically what the boundaries of his territory would be, he says To your descendants I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the river Euphrates. The area that is described here extends far beyond anything that Israel has ever actually possessed. Even during the reign of Solomon, when Israel was at the climax of her greatness, they did not possess all of the land that is promised to Abraham here. And so we see that this is another promise that awaits a future fulfillment. The land promises are really the hardest ones to spiritualize and explain away, or say that they are fulfilled somehow in the church. I take this promise literally. When it says they will possess the land. It means that they will possess the land, and they will thrive on it.
There are many Scriptures that describe the physical conditions of the Millenial Kingdom. During this time, the curse will be removed from nature, as it is spoken in Romans chapter 8. In Isaiah 11:6 we read about the removal of hostilities between animals, it says, And the wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat, and the calf and the young lion together; and a little boy will lead them. This will also be a time of unprecedented agricultural prosperity, as it says in these portions of Amos 9:13-15 Behold, days are coming, declares the Lord, when the plowman will overtake the reaper and the treader of grapes him who sows seed; when the mountains will drip sweet wine and all the hills will be dissolved . . . I will also plant them on their land and they will not again be uprooted from their land which I have given them. . . In fulfilling the land promise of the Abrahamic covenant, God will be providing for the physical needs of His people. Throughout Israels history, their prosperity in the land that God gave them was determined by their obedience to God. If they obeyed God, they would possess their land and prosper on it. If they disobeyed, they would not prosper. Most of their history is marked by their failure to perfectly fulfill Gods commands, and thus, a failure to fully experience the physical blessings of the promised land. But when Christ returns, not only will He give them godly leadership, He will also allow them to experience the physical prosperity that He desires for them to have.
This promise must have been even more amazing to the Jews at the time when it was given through Ezekiel. Remember, it was the promised land that they had just lost. The Babylonians had overtaken them, destroyed the city of Jerusalem and removed most of them from the land. But in the midst of judgment, God gives hope and reassurance that eventually they would return to the land and experience its blessings.
There is another aspect of the Abrahamic covenant that is worth mentioning here. It is a brief statement in Genesis 17:7 where God says to Abraham I will establish my covenant between me and you and your descendants after you throughout their generations for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your descendants after you. This is another trace of that common thread that runs through all the promises to Israel. Ive alluded to it briefly a number of times, and Ive compared it to the river flowing through the canyon. But I havent actually told you what it is. Ezekiel is building to a climax here, as he reminds the people of Israel how God is going to bless them through the fulfillment of each covenant. The common element that we find in each promise is that God would be with them. This is what David desired when he tried to build a temple for God, and this is what God promised to Abraham here in Genesis. So we see that the promise to give them godly leadership, and the promise to give them the land of Israel are both connected to a greater promise - the promise of the presence of God in the midst of the nation.
III. The Promise to Jeremiah (Ezekiel 37:26)
But were getting ahead of ourselves. Lets look at the first half of verse 26 in our Ezekiel passage. It says, I will make a covenant of peace with them; it will be an everlasting covenant with them. What is this covenant of peace that he refers to here? Jeremiah prophesied about this covenant as well. We read his prophecy earlier in the service, it is in Jeremiah 31:31-34. Without re-quoting the entire passage I would just like to refer to the important parts of this new covenant. It says that this covenant will be with the house of Israel and Judah. At the time when Jeremiah and Ezekiel prophesied, the nation was divided in two halves, and those two halves were scattered all throughout the nations of the world, but here it says that they will be rejoined in the new covenant. It says this covenant will not be like the Mosaic covenant which they broke. With Moses, God wrote the law on tablets of stone, but in the new covenant, God will write His laws on the hearts of the people.
The biggest problem Israel ever had was that they simply could not make themselves be good enough to keep Gods laws perfectly. They had knowledge of what was right, but no power to do it. And it was because of their inability to keep Gods laws that they were continually being judged by God for their sins. It was this judgment that put them under the rule of evil kings, and it was this judgment that removed the blessings of the land from them when they were living in it, and eventually removed them from their land completely. In that sense, their problems with bad leadership and all their problems with the land were really just the symptoms of a greater problem. And it is the solution to this problem that Jeremiah and Ezekiel are addressing here. Their hearts were corrupt. But here, in Jeremiah 31 God says that their sins will be forgiven, and most of all, in verse 33 he drops the bomb. I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying know the Lord, for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, declares the Lord, for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more. That statement I will be their God, and they will be my people is one of Gods favorite statements about His chosen nation. This is the very essence of what He desires for them - a relationship. The river that flows through the canyon leads to this place.
Gods desire for a relationship with them, and with us, is directed and expressed throughout the course of history by these major covenants, the rocks that form the floor of the canyon itself. And just as the massive rock formations of the Grand Canyon are solid and immovable, even so, the promises of God to His people are absolute and unchanging. If He says He will do something, you can count on Him to be faithful to His promises.
IV. Gods Ultimate Purpose for Mankind (Ezekiel 37:27-28)
But it gets even better as Ezekiel continues, And I will place them and multiply them, and will set My sanctuary in their midst forever. My dwelling place also will be with them; and I will be their God, and they will be My people. And the nations will know that I am the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when My sanctuary is in their midst forever. David desired to build a temple for God in Jerusalem. His son Solomon ended up building that temple. And when he dedicated it to the Lord, God said that His name would be there forever, and that His eyes and His heart would be there perpetually (1 Kings 9:3). From that point on, in the history of Israel if you wanted to judge their relationship with God, you would look at the temple. The temple was a visible symbol of God residing among them, just as He had in the tabernacle in the wilderness. And the way that they treated the temple was a sign of their attitude toward God.
During the times of the kings of Israel, when there was a godly king in power, every time he would make efforts to repair the temple that had fallen into disrepair. When the people got into idolatry, the temple was profaned by invading armies, and eventually it was destroyed completely by the Babylonians. To the Jews in the captivity, this promise that Gods dwelling place would be among them was absolutely the most precious and amazing promise of all. For it was this one thing that set Israel apart from all the other nations - that Yahweh, the God Almighty, the Lord of Hosts, the Great I Am, was in their midst. God will meet their needs through fulfilling the covenants when Christ returns. But the greatest thing of all, the most basic and fundamental need of humanity is not to have physical peace and prosperity, to live on a good land. The greatest need of the human heart is to be in presence of our God, and to worship Him. This is the ultimate fulfillment of everything in the Bible. Immanuel, God with us.
In the book of Exodus, we read the instructions that God gave to Moses for building the tabernacle, which was a portable temple. The first thing that He told Moses to build was the ark of the covenant, and its lid called the mercy seat. The presence of God literally dwelt above this box in the most holy place on the inside of the tabernacle. As God gave further instructions to Moses He went from the Most holy place in the very center of the tabernacle, to the Holy place a little farther out, and then to the outer courts, and then to the wall that surrounded the whole thing. In other words, His instructions went from the inside, to the outside. In the book of Ezekiel, God gave the prophet many visions of the abominations that were being practiced by the leaders of Israel in the temple before God destroyed them. With each vision, the glory of God moved out of the Most Holy place, and then to the outer courts, and then farther, and a little farther, until He left the temple completely. Then we have this prophecy that the dwelling place of God will one day be in the midst of Israel again. And if you continue to read Ezekiel you will find that in chapters 40-43 he gives detailed description of the temple that is to come. The temple that will one day be rebuilt in Jerusalem, and where the people of Israel will worship the Lord as their God. Only this time, instead of going from the inside out, like He did with the tabernacle, He goes from the outside in. And this time, when he gets to the innermost part of the temple, there is no ark, but instead He says to Ezekiel in 43:7 Son of man, this is the place of My throne and the place of the soles of my feet, where I will dwell among the sons of Israel forever. And then He gives Ezekiel another vision of the glory of God coming back into the temple again, in the same way that it departed before.
This not only shows that He will dwell among them, but it shows that He will dwell physically among them. Theres no more ark this time, instead, its the soles of His feet. And the fact that He goes from the outside, to the inside, is a way of showing the people that even though they had been judged by God, and cast away from Him, He will bring them back into His presence once more.
Well weve covered a lot of ground this morning. We have seen these three major rock formations, the covenants that God has given to Israel, and weve seen how those covenants direct the purpose of God like a river through the canyon, to its ultimate fulfillment as God comes down to abide with His people. So what are we supposed to do now? As we soar on eagles wings, looking down at the canyon below. We worship God! Thats what we do. We worship Him for His faithfulness to keep His promises and we worship Him for His goodness to us in making us partakers of the new covenant with Israel. But thats not all. You will notice that God told Ezekiel that all nations would know, that He is the Lord who sanctifies Israel, when His sanctuary is in their midst forever. All nations. Thats the ants. Remember the ants? Those little guys crawling around down there in the canyon. Too small to see whats really going on all around them. They have no idea that they can become eagles just like we did. They have no idea that they too can be grafted in, and receive the blessings of the promises of God. So lets go tell them! Before its too late, lets go tell them that the King is coming! The King, who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey that first Palm Sunday, will one day return in power and great glory, to judge the nations. He came once and He was rejected but Hes not going to be rejected the second time. No, when He comes back this time Hes coming in power, and He will destroy all His enemies. We are living in a parentheses, between the two comings of Christ. We have been given a stewardship, as ambassadors for the King. And only those who are faithful to fulfill this stewardship, will be given the privilege of serving Christ in His Kingdom. As we are faithful to fulfill this stewardship, we take part in the fulfillment of the promise to Abraham, that one day all nations would be blessed through him. Amen.