“A New City”

Ezekiel 48:30-35


            Mushers, mushers are people who drive sled dogs. Mushers train their dogs to endure races in the cold, arctic wilderness. But no matter the amount of training, during some long races, like the Alaskan Itarod, some dogs get hurt. Others become exhausted. Still other dogs lose interest in running for 18 hours every day on the ice and snow. Honestly, I can’t say I blame them. Injured, tired, and bored dogs are called dropped dogs.

            Dropped dogs are placed in bags to keep them warm, and then they are loaded onto an airplane and sent home. Dropped dogs will likely never pull a sled again.

            They worked hard toward a goal, only to fall short.

            Ezekiel also worked hard toward a goal. Ezekiel worked hard to serve as a priest and to someday carry the Ark of the Covenant into battle. This is why Ezekiel slogged through, why he trudged his way through the book of Leviticus. To become an Israelite priest, that is what you did. Where today men go to seminary to become a pastor, Israelites of Ezekiel’s day trudged through the book of Leviticus.

            The book of Leviticus is a hard book to swallow. Leviticus can be compared to the liver and onions book of the Bible. It’s hard to swallow. It’s hard because there are a number of passages that describe how animals are to sliced, diced, severed, and sacrificed. There are parts of Leviticus that seem really random. You have a Urim and Thummin, unauthorized fire, bright skin, and different kinds of mold and mildew.

            After years of studying, Ezekiel passed! Ezekiel passed the test on Leviticus and was certified to be a priest. Now Ezekiel could offer sacrifices. He could pray for people. He could teach them God’s Word and detect different kinds of mold and mildew. He also would have the great honor of carrying the Ark of the Covenant. Then what?

            Exile. Ezekiel was exiled, he was forcefully removed from Jerusalem and the temple to live in Babylon. Describing what this felt like for Ezekiel and others, Psalm 137 says, “By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion. There on the poplars we hung our harps” (137:1-2). Ezekiel would never serve as a priest. Ezekiel would never carry the Ark of the Covenant. Ezekiel would never teach Leviticus. He worked hard toward a goal, only to fall short.

            Falling short, there was one question which broke his heart. When we feel like dropped dogs, there is one question that breaks our hearts. That question … “Where are you God?” “Why is this happening God?

            In the depth of that question, the last verse of our reading, the last verse of the book of Ezekiel provides us the answer. Ezekiel 48:35 says, “The name of the city from that time on will be: THE LORD IS THERE.” In Hebrew it’s Yahweh Shammah. The new city’s name isn’t “The LORD was There.” Or, “The LORD used to be There.” Or, “The LORD might be There.” No, the name of the city is “The LORD is There.” For believers, the LORD has never been distant, never been far off from us, nor will He ever be. Yahweh Shammah. The LORD is There!

            And these are the measurements of the new city. “The north side 4,500 cubits, the south side 4,500 cubits, the east side 4,500 cubits, and the west side 4,500 cubits” (Ezekiel 48:16). Notice something about these measurements? The measurements of the new city is a perfect cube.

            The Holy of Holies, the place where the Ark of the Covenant is, the place where God’s glory dwells within the temple … it’s also a perfect cube. Ezekiel should know. Ezekiel knows Leviticus. This is why he writes that a day is coming when the holy, powerful, merciful, gracious, presence of God will no longer be confined to a small space. God’s presence will fill a city, a new city! Yahweh Shammah. What Ezekiel envisions, Jesus fulfilled. But how?

            When I’m lonely, “The LORD is There.” In their 1966 song called Eleanor Rigby, the Beatle’s famously sing, “All the lonely people, where do they come from?” They come from all over. Depending on the survey, anywhere from a quarter to a third of adults feel lonelier today than ever before. Some of this is because people are living alone, some have a lack of social support, others have changes in life circumstances, social media, and technology.

            Jesus says, “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you” (John 14:18). When Christ ascended into heaven, He didn’t leave us alone. Jesus left one place so that He could be present in many places through the power of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit delivers the real presence of Jesus through the Word and Sacraments. Yahweh Shammah. The LORD is There.

            Abraham was all alone on Mt. Moriah, about to sacrifice his only son Isaac on an altar. Then as Abraham was lowering the knife to slay his son, God showed up. “The LORD is There.”  Jacob was all alone at the Jabbok River, wrestling all night before he had to meet Esau the next day. Then God showed up. “The LORD is There.” Gideon was all alone against the mighty, menacing Midianites. Then God showed up. Yahweh Shammah. “The LORD is There.”

            When I’m worried, “The LORD is There.” 1 Peter 5 says, “Cast all your cares on him because he cares for you” (5:7). Worry makes people sick.

            Worry works a lot like this. I have to pass a test tomorrow. If I don’t pass, I’ll go on academic probation. If I go on academic probation, I’ll get thrown out of school. If I get thrown out of school, I’ll never find a job. If I never find a job, I’ll never be able to buy a house. If I never buy a house, I’ll never get married. If I never get married, my life will be one, huge, empty nothing. Therefore, if I don’t pass the test tomorrow, it will be the end of the world!

            I remember a childhood movie series called Back to the Future. Marty McFly and Doc Emmett Brown had a Delorian that could take them into the past and into the future.

            Well, as nice as that could be, it’s just isn’t real.  I bring up this up because we can’t live in the past. We can’t live in the future. And even though we can’t, we still try. We’re convinced worry will change the past. We’re convinced worry will change the future. Nope. Sorry. Worry only destroys today. When you’re worried sick, cast your cares on Jesus for He cares for you.

            When I’m broken, “The LORD is There.” Quoting Isaiah, Jesus says, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matthew 12:20). Broken, crushed, anxious … please know, not just up here in your head but down here in your heart, know that Jesus isn’t some impersonal force. Jesus isn’t far off, He isn’t a distant power. Jesus is a person. Jesus is there with you when you feel like a bruised reed and/or a smoldering wick.

            When we cry out, “Where are you God?”, Jesus says, “I’m here, I’m on the cross. I’m bleeding for you, suffering and dying for you. I feel your loneliness. I feel your worries, I feel your brokenness. But the day is coming when I will literally wipe away every tear from your eyes. There will be no more death, no more crying and no more pain. For the old order of things will pass away.

            How can we be so sure? We can be sure because on the other side of the cross is an empty tomb. Jesus says in John 14, “Because I live, you will live also” (14:19). Christ conquered death so that by faith alone, we will live in Ezekiel’s new city, we will live in the perfect Holy of Holies where we will see the splendor of the eternal God!

            And what a name! Yahweh Shammah. “The LORD is There.” We can believe this now, even in our hardest places. We can believe this now in our most confusing places. We can believe this now in this in places when it doesn’t look like God will ever show up.

            Places like. “I’ve worked hard toward a goal, only to fall short.” Now I feel like a dropped dog. “Where are you God?” Have faith that God is there … in that place … to heal, to hold, and to bring you to the joy and happiness of heaven where He will be with all His power and mercy.

            What will we call that place? Yahweh Shammah. What do we call every place? Yahweh Shammah. “The LORD is There.” Amen.

            The peace of God, that surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.


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