NIGHTMARES AND DREAMS - Ezekiel 28:12-17 December 11, 2022
Updated: Dec 17, 2022
MESSAGE BY PASTOR ROB INRIG FROM BETHANY CHURCH IN RICHMOND, BC.
Among the Christmas movies watched this time of year – a few consistently take center stage: for the nostalgic there’s: It’s a Wonderful Life or Miracle on 34th Street, for the whimsical, it’s Will Ferrell’s, Elf or How the Grinch Stole Christmas and for those needing comedic escape, Home Alone or Christmas Vacation. Of course you will have others added to the list - among them, some you’ll admit to and others you won’t – like the wildly popular offerings from Hallmark. But for those wanting the classic Christmas movie that has to viewed at least once in life, Charles Dicken’s, A Christmas Carol. It’s a story of nightmares and dreams of a man who's lived a life of selfishness that's leading him farther and farther into a nightmare from which he will never escape unless he wakes up and sees himself for who he is. His life - closed up and devoid of joy. He has lived this way for so long, he is completely oblivious of a far better life that could be his. He’s oblivious because darkness is all he has known – all he’s come to believe, there is to be known. Dark and closed in.
Christmas far more darkness than celebration. After all, from his vantage point, what is there to celebrate? Those living in a world revisited 2000 years ago understood this perspective very well. Their setting, in Israel, had been dominated by one oppressor after another …..a far cry from when King David and King Solomon reigned when their kingdom was praised and envied. But after Babylon’s captivity, no praises sung, no hope to see ahead. City in ruins, their Temple destroyed. Even as tose things were being rebuilt, it wasn’t a nation anyone praised – just remnants of scattered people – some returning to Israel, others remaining in Babylon, hearts belonging to other gods and ‘live for the moment’ lifestyles.
In the years closer to Christ’s birth, life in Israel not much better. When He came, Roman occupation, prior to that the tyranny of the Greeks, particularly after Alexander the Great’s death when Antiochus Epiphanes came to power. His name said it all – God manifest.
The nightmares under him horrendous as the decadence and immorality of the Greeks were shoved into place trying to turn Jerusalem into a Greek city. Godly priests were set aside and in their place, priests who aligned with the Greeks, among them Jason, who offered a huge sum of money to be appointed high priest. But Jason was out-priced by a rival, resulting in civil war. That was the dry tinder that would be set ablaze when Antiochus, humiliated by Rome’s order to turn back from attacking Egypt, turned his fury on Israel, interpreting Jerusalem’s strife as a revolt against everything Greek. Massacre followed. Women and children who weren’t killed were sold into slavery. Jewish religion outlawed. Mothers who circumcised their children killed but not before their slain children were hung around their necks. And then the act above all acts, Antiochus entering the Holy of Holies and erecting an image of Zeus then defiling the Temple by sacrificing pig’s blood on the altar. The event, the abomination of desolation 1 Macc 1:54, 59; Dan 11:31; 12:11 the forerunner of a far more horrific abomination of desolation yet to come.
And on the heels of the Greeks, Roman cruelty and power. Behind this darkness, the author of the nightmare, described to us in, Ez. 28:12-17, You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God … You were an anointed guardian cherub…. blameless in your ways from the day you were created, till unrighteousness was found in you. In the abundance of your trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned... Your heart proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendour. I cast you to the ground…
Ezekiel and the prophet Isaiah Is 14 describe to us a world of nightmares introduced by this one who wanted to be god. And yet in this place and at this time, these prophets and others spoke of a dream that would soon appear. These would speak of the appearance of One who would enter the dark and end the nightmares.
A dream fulfilling what the prophets spoke of: I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. Num 24:17
That prophetic message - that the one who was seen and not now; beheld but not near – was coming. God’s promise of a coming star, the appearance of light. Light shining brightest when times are darkest. This star who holds a scepter coming from the line of Jacob, God’s appointed King. But for us to believe this Light is the answer to what we need, God gives us even more definition than this. Consider what Isaiah said 700 years before Jesus, A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit. The spirit of the Lord will rest on him. Is 11:1
A shoot from the stump of Jesse. By definition stumps have a thin outer layer of living cells surrounding a hollow central cavity. In other words, beneath thin, short lived veneers, no life exists. And the stump Isaiah prophesies about has had no sign of life for 1000 years. Israel might have been a great tree during David’s time, but ever since Babylonian captivity, Greek conquest and Roman power, all that remained was a stump. Dead at the core. No life comes from a stump 1000 years dead. But as Isaiah states, the miraculous will appear - a shoot, out of dead, it can’t happen places. Jeremiah carries the image further – this shoot will become a branch in the line of David, The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land… This is the name by which he will be called: the Lord our righteous savior Jer 23:5.
This branch will establish what God tells us in 2 Samuel, When your days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” 7:12-13
I’m not certain what David thought when he heard these words but I would guess he imagined this offspring would be a son or a grandson – perhaps a great grandson but 1000 years removed? No way he imagined that. Nor could those who waited for this forever kingdom as darkness and nightmares set in. And yet - the promise of a dream – a Light, a King, a Saviour, an everlasting Kingdom.
Let’s stop for a moment and put aside the things we know about the events we’re looking at as we come into this time of year. Because you and I could say similar things. Like Isaiah we could make declarations of things to come especially if we’re not around to answer for the things said. And if we frame what’s said broadly enough, possibilities are left open for any number of things to fit.
But the promise of the appearance of this dream isn’t left in broad declarations of things that might fit. Instead, detail is filled in, not by one but by many - some detail that can only fit with the miraculous like what Isaiah gives us, Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and you will call him Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14. I mean, really, a virgin and son – whose name is Immanuel, God with us - that’s ridiculous unless …….
Leave the story for a moment and come into our world. What would you think if such a thing were spoken about your daughter, your friend, your neighbour? Let’s be honest, the possibility is outrageous. If your daughter came to you and spoke these words, how quick would you be to believe? But other prophesies narrow to where more evidence is given, telling us where we should look and what we should see. That this appearance will come in a non-descript place from where no king should be expected to come. There’s no prominence, no wealth, no attraction – just backwater dirty and poor. But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times. Micah 5:2. God coming to a place like this?
And that the delay of this long dead stump from which life would spring. Out of the impossible – of oppression; of poverty; of hopelessness. Places where you live right now. Yet to this place - the royal and yes, the unimportant will come, kings from far off and shepherds from neighbouring hills, May the desert tribes bow before him….May the kings of Tarshish and of distant shores bring tribute to him. May the kings of Sheba and Seba present him gifts. May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him. Psalm 72:9,10
Again pull away – if you heard these words of kings bringing gifts, your image rightly goes to palaces and thrones. Places far grander than the one we see. It would go to power and wealth but to a rock hewn stable? To appearance among cow dung? To the unrefined and unnoticed? And yet? You will find Him in swaddling clothes lying in a manger Lk 2:12. Even this may tell us something that shouldn’t be passed over too quickly.
Why the reference to ‘swaddling clothes’? It’s a little like saying you’ll find a baby in a diaper. How else would you expect to find a baby? Yet for the shepherds, swaddling signified something special, something loved. They knew that first born lambs were destined for Temple sacrifice - that meant lambs needing to be without blemish, accomplished by swaddling. In this, a picture of Jesus, the Lamb of God entering the grime and dirt of our world, our lives, as God’s perfect sacrificial lamb for our sin. Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! Jn 1:29 John later telling us, This is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 1 John 5:11
So what do we learn about all this and specifically this one prophesied in the Scriptures we’ve looked at this morning? He will be:
A STARA SCEPTER from JACOBNum 24:17
A SHOOT from JESSE A BRANCH Is 11:1
A RIGHTEOUS BRANCH A KING THE LORD our SAVIOUR Jer 23:5
Receive a THRONE Establish a FOREVER KINGDOM 2 Sam 7:12,13
From a VIRGIN - with CHILD’ A SON GOD WITH US -EMMANUEL Is 7:14
Born in a SMAL TOWN -BETHLEHEM EPHRATHAH 2 From clan of JUDAH ORIGINS from OLD . Mic 5:2
DESERT TRIBES will BOW KINGS wil bring TRIBUTE ALL KINGS will BOW Ps 72:9,10
Wrapped in SWADDLING CLOTHES Found LYING in a MANGER Lk 2:12
Just 8 of many verses calling us to decision.
So what about this story of nightmare to dream? Is it to bring some warm Christmas comfort? To gather us around some heartwarming songs? Or take joy in exuberant ripping of wrappings getting to presents within? Or could it be that this Dream entered our world, gift wrapped to fulfil what the prophets said and in that, to transform our lives? The wrapped waiting to be revealed as the answer to our poverty, our hopelessness, our nightmare?
Well, that depends on who you see Him to be. If He’s just the central character in some fantastic, and heartwarming play, then we’re left with a story that entertains. It’s got all the feel goods –a baby, some presents, visiting royalty, heavenly music, an amazing light-show and a touch of angelic supernatural. Those things do a great job of taking us out of the daily but after the story, it gets placed on bookshelves along Aesop’s fables, Dr Seuss and C.S. Lewis imaginations. On more prominent display this time of year but when all is said and done, no more than a place to visit until next year rolls around.
There are other ways to think of Him. For some, elements of the historic, a birth, yet wrapped with a whole lot of the imaginary and manufactured. Making what ‘was’ into something far greater than ever could be. The human made out to be the supernatural. And the possibility of things prophesied – no consideration given that. In an age of technology, robotics and artificial intelligence, it seems archaic to look back to things written long ago. Besides, who’s to say the supposedly ‘prophesied’ long ago, wasn’t cobbled together much later to make things appear different than they were? Entertaining? Sure but anything more? Not willing to go there.
Another possibility is to buy into the things written and the things said. Not only the things just looked at but the things that look far past some shepherds and a manger or the many other events surrounding his birth. Prophesied that further validate who this small child Saviour, really is. That He:
would enter Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt Zech 9:9; He would be betrayed by a friend Ps 41:9, Zech 11:12; would be mocked, beaten as people gambled for His clothes Ps 22:1, 8, 18, Is 53:5. He would die with criminals but be buried with the rich Is 53:9. And the most amazing of all, that He would rise from the dead Ps 16:8-11.
Convinced by these and more, we believe - that He is the One of whom the prophets wrote; the One dreamed of. The One who died to forgive our sin.
But there is a difference between belief that allows us to know that our sins are forgiven and belief where we live to please Him. Living as His disciple – our priority pursuing Him, our lifestyle and values determined by Him, our love of Jesus first in everything.
Yet too often as followers of Jesus, we allow Him far less. Like an athlete who makes a team, signs a contract, then shows up for a few practices and games when it suits his purposes. Hardly game ready when it’s time for him to play. Owning the uniform but little understanding or commitment to what wearing the uniform really is to mean.
But here’s thing, Jesus doesn’t reveal Himself to convince us of a contract to sign, or a belief to accept. God could have accomplished that by demand but He doesn’t want our compliance, He wants our heart. All of it. Because it’s our heart that loves. It’s our heart that experiences joy. It’s our heart that follows.The heart is where dreams are satisfied. God’s given Dream who brings light into our nightmares, who heals our wounds, who brings hope into our brokenness, who speaks life where we once knew death. So what is that to mean for us? – that we stop treating His arrival as some magnificent story. Because Jesus calls us to follow Him; to worship Him - God become flesh – our only Light in a world of dark; our only Hope in the nightmare that surrounds.
Which brings me full circle, back into the contrast of light with dark; nightmares to dreams. We were given a picture of it in the nightmare of the despicable – the brutality of Antiochus Epiphanes – his name God Manifest – a man wanting to claim a title that wasn’t his. That title would belong to the One soon to come. But the actions and story of Antiochus are just a shadow of things that are still yet to come. And the darkness of that story ushers in the nightmare of all nightmares. For those who reject Jesus, for those who just see Him as a baby to be looked at, a story to enjoy, will experience a nightmare from which there won’t be an awakening to a better day. A time described as the abomination of desolation when Christ’s enemy will set himself up as the only object of worship demanded from the whole world. And like Christmas, this isn’t just a story, rather it’s the certainty of what God prophesied for those who don’t know Jesus as Saviour. God’s warning for those who reject the gift of God’s forever dream of sins forgiven and new life in Christ. A nightmare or a dream? The ending of that story all determined by the decision we make about the One we’re presented this Christmas, For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given. Unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. Lk 2:11
A Saviour - ours when His story becomes my story – my Saviour – Christ the Lord. And that story introducing us into a dream beyond anything I have ever imagined. A dream that will never end.