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From Chris's Heart

November 2009
The Return of the Glory of God
by Nick Harris

The book of Ezekiel records one of the most amazing Christmas stories found anywhere in the entire Bible, even though it does not appear to be a Christmas story. It is a vision, and in the vision the prophet saw the carnal priests of Israel filling the Temple of the Lord with all manner of abominations and idols.

This activity offended God, and He began to act decisively. "The glory of the Lord," Godís visible presence in the midst of His people had hovered above the Ark of the Covenant for almost 800 years. Then, the unthinkable began to happen. Ezekiel watched in stunned silence as the "glory of the Lord" lifted from above the Ark and began to move from the sacred room. Within a few moments it had entirely departed from the Holy of Holies.

As the prophet continued to watch, the glory moved to the door where the priests of Israel would move from the Holy Place of the Temple into the Court of Israel where the priests of Israel worked. These priests should have seen the glory of the Lord leaving the Sanctuary, but they did not. They were so involved in all manner of sin, abomination, and witchcraft that they did not observe the glory of God as it departed. They were all blind to what was occurring. So, when none of the priests noticed, the glory of the Lord left the doors of the Sanctuary. The glory went down into the court of the Gentiles, into the outer court of the Temple.

There, in the midst of the entire congregation of Israel, the glorious presence of God appeared for all the people to see, the lay people of Israel did not notice either. Here, in the outer court, the people were too busy doing religious things to observe Godís glory.

Since no one noticed the glory hovering in the outer court, it lifted once again and this time it settled atop the outer walls of the city of Jerusalem. It was moving further and further away from the Holy of Holies. As Godís glory hovered over the city walls, there was no reason at all for any Jew to fail to see the glory of the Lord as it departed. It should have been visible to everyone, both those standing inside the city and those standing outside the city, but once again, no one seems to have seen the glory.

"And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten son of God."

This grieved God. He was looking down at His people, and He was saying this to them: "My glory is leaving you; does no one notice?" And the answer was no! They did not notice! So, the glory lifted once again and this time it crossed the mountains of Israel and disappeared. The glory was now gone. God had left His people and only one person, Ezekiel had seen it go. Even sadder, no one seemed to care that it was gone.

Oh, yes! Nothing ceased to operate in the Temple Even though the glory had departed, the religious cultus in Jerusalem managed to maintain its religious forms as if nothing had happened. The sacrificial offering continued to burn on the Brazen Altar. The Menorah was still tended. Showbread was still placed on the proper table. Incense was still burned twice each day. The thick veil still hung in front of the Ark of the Covenant and separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place.

Everyone in Israel continued to pretend that the presence of God still resided behind that great veil, but God was no longer there.

Events would eventually occur that would prove that Ezekiel was right about the departure of the glory. The fact that the Holy of Holy was empty was proven at that moment Jesus died on the cross. As Jesus took His last breath, the great veil of the Temple was ripped from top to bottom. As the interior of the Holy of Holies came into full view, everyone could see that there was nothing in that sacred room; it was, indeed, devoid of the glory of God. The glory had left the entire land of Israel. It had disappeared over the mountains.

Therefore, from the time of the Babylonian exile until Jesus made his appearance in Bethlehem of Judea in 6 BC, a period of over five-hundred years, the people of Israel had continued to practice a religion that was dead at its very center. The glory of the Lord was no longer in the midst of the Jews or their Temple.

But something awesome occurred in the fields that surrounded the little town of Bethlehem of Judea one awesome night. The glory of God suddenly returned to His people. But the odd thing is this: it did not return to the Temple in Jerusalem from whence it had departed.

In fact, when the glory of the Lord returned, it did not appear to a group of priests or to a king, or to government officials. It appeared to a group of outcast, ritually impure shepherds, "who were abiding in the fields." Remember, the gospel of Luke reports this: "And the glory of the Lord shone round about them." The glory had returned. It had reappeared in Bethlehem of Judea and this time that glory would not go away.

The Bible makes it clear that this glory of God, the glory that the shepherds had seen in the fields outside Bethlehem would very quickly settle upon one person, and this glory would remain upon that person throughout his entire lifetime.

That person upon whom Godís glory rested was none other than Jesus of Nazareth. In fact, in his gospel, John would write this of Jesus: "And we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten son of God."

He is the glory of God and it is to this one that we will give glory during this Christmas. Merry Christmas to you all!

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