In later years, Jacob came to this place when he was running from home and he saw a ladder in a vision, come down from God. He called the place Bethel. But at the time Abram came, he came as a sojourner, a stranger in a strange land; and at this place he first viewed the Promised Land. Then a famine came, and the man who by faith had crossed deserts, rivers and mountains, under pressure of circumstance after his first moves of faith, lost his faith. Don’t give the devil too much power. He is not omniscient; he does not know what is going to happen before it happens. That is true of God’s nature, not the devil’s. Now, once the devil finds out what’s going on, he starts going to work on you. So when this man of faith obeyed, the devil started getting concerned; and under pressure, Abraham lost faith. There was a famine in the land, and the man who had trusted God now trusted his own sight. He went down to Egypt because the famine was so grievous in the Promised Land. And when he took his first bending of the path from the way of faith, and it is always this way, sin seems to produce sin.
God is doing things here, and unlike the nine men Jesus healed
who did not come back to thank Him, one came back to recognize His
power. I can put that into a broader analogy than just healing.
I hope as you watch God do things, you are not unaware He is steering and sorting
and shaking and separating and putting together that which He needs to
do for what He intends to do. The little things are sometimes unnoticed
by Christians. There are people who have their ego and their feelings and
their history and their identity with traditions and everything else so
clouded around their head they cannot see God when He is working.
Focus in on the message and you will see God’s hand.
Jesus said, “which of you, having a servant plowing or feeding
cattle, will say unto him by and by, when he is come from the field, Go
and sit down to meat? And will not rather say unto him, Make ready
wherewith I may sup, and gird thyself, and serve me, till I have eaten and
drunken; and afterward thou shalt eat and drink?”: added attention to the
master himself, even after having worked for the master all day. “Doth
he thank that servant because he did those things that were commanded
him? I trow not,” He said.
In modern language, “I should say not.” And then He applies it: “So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do.”
The second thing Ezekiel 44 shows is that, while God shouldn’t
have to make a choice, if He has to make a choice, He will put the
priority on ministry to Himself rather than the outer court. He shouldn’t
have to choose. But in this chapter where extremes are drawn, where
God places a priority, He says, “Let it suffice you of your abominations;
keep on in the outer court ministry, you who haven’t been faithful in my
charge; but the faithful ones, you come near to me.” He puts the priority
in this inner court.
The second item is no more glamorous than the first: “They shall
come near to me to minister unto me, and they shall stand before me,” in
that Old Testament sense of “stay there a while.”
“Well now, wait a minute, God! I’m in here now. You’ve created the world in days. I’m
here, I am ministering to You; bless me quickly because the crowd is out
While I’m in here, there are at least 15 ‘while you were out’ messages on my desk. The world that You sent Your Son to die for is begging for attention. Get it over with!”
Here is item two, just as simple as the first: you’ve tuned it out
and you’ve tuned Him in, so stay there a while. What does the Scripture
say? “They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall
mount up….” (Isaiah 40:31)
John Wright Follette used to say that God is very apt in His illustrations. You notice He didn’t say, “They shall mount up with wings as geese.” Have you ever seen a goose by itself? It honks its head off until it finds a crowd. Only the eagle can hang up
there by himself. Now down in the bottom of the Grand Canyon the
walls look towering, but up at 5,000 feet everything falls into place.
God’s Word says, “They that wait upon the LORD shall renew their
strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles.” Wait awhile.
Peter says, “No prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation.” (2 Peter 1:20) I don’t really know which particular act will put someone beyond the pale, but I know the psychological results: when you have committed it, you won’t worry about it anymore, because the Holy Spirit will turn you over to a strong delusion, you will believe a lie and be damned. You will no longer worry about God! You won’t be in a panic, you won’t want God; you will have settled it. The Spirit is gone; there is no longer any drawing.
So thank God if you still want to come: He hasn’t given up on you yet. Don’t let anybody beat you over the head. As long as you want to come to God, the source of that wanting is, in the scriptural pattern, the Father calling you. David said, “Where is he?” You are not the initiator. Thank God! There are times I don’t know why God wants me, but amazing grace and glory to God, as long as He does, I know the door is open. The initiative starts with God, and you are not brought to God by chance. When He starts scratching the surface or pounding on the door, thank God. This story puts it in dramatic perspective; David is asking, “Where is he?”
Loneliness, misunderstanding; is there anybody here today who feels totally misunderstood?
Don’t just hear words. Let it sink in a minute. You can let it beat you down as you look at your circumstance, or you can look up now and realize you are in the presence of a King.
What better company could you have? You may say, “Oh, I’ve heard that before.” Yes, that’s right, and if you have a pernicious heart of unbelief, it will go right past you; but if you hear the Word of the Lord today, Psalm 139 says, “O LORD, Thou…knowest my downsitting and mine uprising, thou understandest my thought afar off. Thou compassest my path.” God draws a circle around you.
I don’t want to preach just words to a crowd today; I want God’s Word to reach into the heart of someone who has heard that verse a hundred times who never really understood or really believed that God was speaking over the centuries to you. God draws a circle around you.
How many have heard the Word when it says, “We are a peculiar people”? (1 Peter 2:9) Do you know how you have to translate that Greek word? You put a dot on a piece of paper and draw a circle around it. That is about the only way you can really translate that word:
we are in focus. God, like a spotlight, “compassest my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways….” This is your promise, “If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; Even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me. If I say, Surely the darkness will cover me; even the night will be light about me; for the day and the night are alike to thee.” (Psalm 139:3-12) “Lift up now thine eyes…from the place where thou art.”
The scribes came down on Jesus; they “said within themselves, This man blasphemeth.”
And Jesus knowing their thoughts said, Wherefore think ye evil in your hearts? For whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say, Arise and walk? But that ye may know that the Son of man hath power on earth to forgive sins, (then saith he to the sick of the palsy,) Arise, take up thy bed , and go unto thine house.” (Matthew 9:3-6)
As an aside, it always amuses me that in the New Testament, they weren’t shocked with miracles at all. They found it easy to believe in miracles of healing. They were shocked when Jesus forgave sins. We have turned that around in much of today’s church world. Now we expect Jesus to forgive sins, but we are overly impressed if He performs miracles. Jesus puts it in proper perspective here: the miracles play second fiddle to the forgiveness of sins.
But I don’t think this man sick of palsy is alone. I would guess, in spite of the false front, there are some tormented with the same problem tormenting that man sick of palsy. No matter how much we preach against it and no matter how much we say that we have access by faith into a sphere of grace, way down deep in the secret heart of many of those who are sick is that nagging, hindering, pressuring fear: “I have done something wrong.”
If this message fits you, you are the one I am talking to. Your courage is gone; you can’t overcome your surface problem because of a nagging pressure that there is some sin you know about in your life that stands between you and that which you can receive from God. The message is the same today as it was then. I would hang a thread out and let these verses be the beads that I string on the thread; and the thread is “Jesus Christ the same, yesterday, and to day, and for ever.”
Now, I hope you’ll hear me very closely here. Notice who made the issue: it wasn’t Elisha, it was the crowd. They put the pressure on him. You don’t find Elisha saying, “Hey, you bunch of non-spiritual hypocritical sons of the prophets, if you had what you ought to have from God, you’d be chasing me to Jordan.”
Some people who get involved in seeking spiritual things are forever creating issues with their own search. Now hear me closely. They are not satisfied to be hungry and seek after God’s best, but they pause at every stop on the journey to lecture the sons of the prophets because they are not making the same journey. I’m fishing for the uncommon man today. But Elisha was not concerned with the nonspirituality, if it existed, of the sons of the prophets. He was concerned about one thing: he felt that after 11 years of dedicated ministry there was something from God he still wanted and needed, and he would not let go until he got it; and he did not create the issue.
This inner court ministry is hidden, and because it is hidden there is only one motivation, and that is the second reason I think God puts it in priority: only your love for God will bring you in here. In the outer court, acclaim for accomplishments can keep you going. Somebody sitting there says, “I want you to watch that man. I never have seen a guy that can get as many animals slain in one 24-hour period in my life. He can lead more people into repentance and into dedication than any 10 other guys in the court.” And subtly, before you know it, you might slip into outer court performance because it is seen. You might do that because it is seen; you do this because He wants it.
Last, because it is hidden, there is only one way to evaluate ministry to the Lord. In the outer court, skills differentiate. You know, some people just have a way with the knife. They not only get the job done, but when they lead somebody to repentance and offer that sacrifice, they just have such a flourish in the way they do it that you forget for a moment what is being done in the joy of watching the performance.
They just grab the sacrifice and the knife, and they do it with a sweep and grace. You like to watch them perform in the outer court while other people are all thumbs. “I’ll get the sacrifice offered, and you may cringe thinking I’ll cut a thumb off in the process, but I’ll get it done.”
How many people feel they have no place in the Kingdom because they lack skills?
I was preaching at a meeting in a little church in the corner of Houston, a suburb, and went to see a large church service that night. I watched the center seating area fill with response to the altar call. When I went back to preach that night. I felt about a foot tall by comparison. I don’t think I’m alone.
Many of us want to work for God, but we don’t feel we have the gifts. I’m not putting gifts down: wonderful are the gifts that are dedicated to God. Some people have a way with the knife; the way they perform makes them a stellar standout in the outer court; others, the majority of us would stumble out there while we’re getting the job done.
In the inner court, you can’t do it any better than I can do it. I can minister to the Lord just as well as you can; skills don’t count in here. You’ll never get so tired that you can’t minister to the Lord with as much grace, and you’ll never get so old that you can’t minister to the Lord with as much grace as anybody else in here. Oh, if God would just drive it home, the wondrous grace of God, and will you hear it: God put the priority on that which each of us can do equally. Doesn’t that make you want to say “Hallelujah” to Him? If He had separated us out here, in the outer court, only those with skills would stand high with Him. But God drives home the truth: that which is most important to Him, each of us can do equally.
In John 17, Jesus prays a high priestly prayer, the true “Lord’s Prayer.” The traditional Lord’s Prayer is really the Disciples’ Prayer: Jesus never prayed that one, He told us to pray it. The Lord’s Prayer is in John 17. Jesus prays, “Father, the hour is come; glorify thy Son, that He may also glorify thee: restore me to the place that I had with you.” He says, “Father, I pray not for the world, but for them which you have given me out of the world,” and later on includes you and me because He includes all who hear the Word that they preach. His prayer in essence is “Father, while I was with them I kept them,” it is that with-ness relationship, “but I am no longer in the world, I come to thee.”
He had come from the Father: Emmanuel, God with us. “While I was with them,” He says, “I kept them; but I am no longer in the world, I come to thee.” Now, what will the disciples do? “Father, you keep them.” How? “Make them one as you and I are one; I in them, they in me,” and He prays for that Presence of life to come.
After the Resurrection, on the day of Pentecost, Peter could testify that because Jesus had sent that promised Comforter, that is proof He sat down as the living Savior at the side of the Father. So as we speak of Resurrection on Easter Sunday, we speak of a living
Savior. We speak of life. We speak of God breaking through eternity’s barriers and coming onto the stage of history to bring God’s life where we are.