William was born in Zundert, Holland in March 1853. The eldest of six children, his father was a Lutheran pastor. In 1869, aged 16 he left school and went to work for an art dealer in the Hague. Four years later he moved to London to work at the art dealer’s Southampton Street branch. As a bright young man, he wore a formal suit and top hat, and walked from his lodgings in Kensington to the Strand. He fell in love with Ursula, his landlady’s daughter. But she was already engaged and laughed at his affection for her. He turned to Jesus for consolation and found in him such comfort and strength that he was soon helping the local Methodist minister take meetings in Turnham Green and Petersham. He spent more and more time preaching among the poor. He wrote many letters to his brother Theo. On 13th October, 1876 he wrote,
“Last Monday I was again at Richmond and my subject was, ‘He has sent me to preach the Gospel to the poor’ but whoever wants to preach the Gospel must first carry it in his own heart.”
His avourite hymn was “Tell me the old, old story of Jesus and his love”. His favourite reading, apart from the Bible, were the sermons of Charles H Spurgeon. The conviction grew that he should become a full-time evangelist. So in 1877 he returned to Holland to begin training for the ministry. But he found the academic demands of the theological college in Amsterdam too demanding and moved to a newly opened school for evangelists in Brussels. William lived among the coal miners and their families. He dressed like a peasant and shared their poverty, often going without food himself. William was concerned for their needs. He washed their clothes. He cared for their sick and consoled their dying. And he led them to Jesus. His methods were Christ-like – incarnational. But the church leaders were threatened by his success and would have nothing to do with him. Indeed they eventually hounded him out of the ministry… One of the most fruitful Christian evangelists in the world, rejected by the Church. Like many others, before and since, William took comfort from his Lord,
“Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
Ezekiel was one of the prophets Jesus had in mind when he promised his followers they too would be persecuted.
Today we are returning to our teaching series, ‘Christ in all the Scriptures’ a series inspired by a book by A. M. Hodgkin. We have been discovering how Jesus is revealed in a different way in every single book of the Bible. You can read the other sermons in the series. To prepare Ezekiel for his mission, the Lord granted him a vision of heavenly beings represented by a lion, an ox, an eagle and a man, and then a vision of God himself. There are many allusions to Jesus in Ezekiel but I want to concentrate on just three vivid portraits.
1. Jesus is revealed in Ezekiel as the God-Man
2. Jesus is revered in Ezekiel as the Good Shepherd
3. Jesus is represented in Ezekiel by the Glorious Temple
1. Jesus is Revealed in Ezekiel as the God-Man
In his vision, Ezekiel encounters the Lord Jesus, in the very first chapter. He sees
”high above on a throne was a figure like that of a man… glowing… as if full of fire… and brilliant light surrounded him.” (Ezekiel 1:26-27).
This we believe is the Lord Jesus Christ, the only-begotten Son of God, in his pre-incarnation glory. Ezekiel’s vision is remarkably similar to another vision in the Bible, the vision that God gave the Apostle John, while a prisoner on Patmos. There are in fact over eighty parallels between the prophecy of Ezekiel and the prophecy of John in Revelation. For example, in his vision, John identifies the Lord Jesus as the Alpha and Omega, now reigning in heaven (Revelation 1:5,8)
“…I turned and saw… someone like a son of man… his eyes were like blazing fire… his face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance.” (Revelation 1:13-17)
“…there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it… from the throne came flashes of lightening, rumblings and peals of thunder…”(Revelation 4:2, 5)
Here are some of the other parallels:
- Both Ezekiel and John saw the rainbow, a sign of the covenant.
- Both saw the blazing purity of God’s presence. To Ezekiel, a dazzling brightness above; to John, like a sea of glass.
- Both had a vision of lamps representing God’s Spirit.
- Both saw four living creatures, whose sound was like rushing water (Ezekiel 1:24; Revelation 19:4-6)
- Both were given a scroll to eat, and then told to go and prophesy (Ezekiel 1:28; 2:1, 8-10; 3:1-4; Revelation 10:1-2, 8-11)
Like John, Ezekiel finds it difficult to describe what he has seen. He speaks of “the figure like that of a man” who had ”the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:28). The ”glory of the Lord”, here clearly refers to the presence of God revealed in a person.
A person, who, in the fullness of time,
“became flesh, and dwelt amongst us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only-begotten of the Father” (John 1:14).
The apostle Paul also describes this person in Philippians 2.
“Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself even to death on the cross” (Philippians 2:6-8)
Jesus in Ezekiel is revealed as the God who became a man.
2. Jesus is Revered in Ezekiel as the Good Shepherd
In Ezekiel 34 the prophet speaks against the false shepherds, ungodly leaders who cared for themselves and not God’s people.
2.1 The Lord Rebukes the Leaders (34:1-6)
“‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.” (Ezekiel 34:1-4)
They cared for themselves not the people
The primary responsibility of the shepherd was to care for the flock. The main aim of Judah’s leaders however, was to keep themselves in office. Instead of feeding the flock, they fed off the flock, taking food and clothing for themselves instead of providing for the people.
They abused their power exploiting the weak
They had failed to provide for the needy–those weak and sick. The sick had to provide for themselves. Worse, the leaders intimidated and oppressed those who caused dissent or questioned their authority. Their government was harsh and brutal.
They encouraged the disintegration of society
With a corrupt leadership, the people were at the mercy of the mafia and the surrounding nations. They had no one to stand up for them, pushed around by the strong or the powerful. Through Ezekiel, the Lord rebukes the leaders.
2.2 The Lord Removes the Leaders (34:7-10)
“This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am against the shepherds and will hold them accountable for my flock. I will remove them from tending the flock so that the shepherds can no longer feed themselves. I will rescue my flock from their mouths, and it will no longer be food for them.” (Ezekiel 34:9-10)
The Lord promises to remove them and save the flock.
He holds them accountable for their shepherding.
2.3 The Lord Replaces Ungodly Leaders (34:11-31)
“‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. … I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered… I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak… I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.” (Ezekiel 34:11-13, 15-16, 23-24)
The Lord personally assumes responsibility for “shepherding” his flock. The Lord promises he will search, rescue, and re-gather his flock from the nations. He will care for them as a loving shepherd. The Lord will do so by appointing one true Shepherd for his people: the Messiah, like his servant David (Ezekiel 34:23-24). When Jesus declares,
“I am the good shepherd. I know my sheep and my sheep know me… I lay down my life for the sheep” (John 10:14-15)
he clearly has Ezekiel 34 in mind. Jesus is declaring that he is the true and legitimate Shepherd whom God promised through Ezekiel. He would prove it by willingly laying down his life for the sheep. When Ezekiel refers to Israel, he does not mean a national or racial group but rather all those who worship and obey him from all nations. (see Ezekiel 47:21-23). In John 10, Jesus explicitly speaks of His ”other sheep,” which are not of the Jewish fold, who will also hear His voice, and respond to his call and be gathered in one fold with one Shepherd [John 10:16]. In Ezekiel, we have seen first of all how Jesus is revealed as the God-Man. Second, Jesus is revered as the Good Shepherd.
3. Jesus is Represented in Ezekiel by a Glorious Temple
The last nine chapters contain Ezekiel’s vision of a glorious new Temple. The problem is this vision has never been fulfilled literally. The Temple built by Zerubbabel, and then by Herod, fell far short of the dimensions of the New Temple which Ezekiel describes. Some believe this Temple will one day be built in Jerusalem. And here is the dilemma. If we take these chapters literally, we must also take literally the purpose of the Temple. Ezekiel is very clear. The Temple would be for bloody animal sacrifices and lots of them, not be a tourist attraction or museum or place for worship alone (Ezekiel 43). Better to allow the New Testament to explain this representation of the Temple in Ezekiel.
When the Temple was complete [in his vision], Ezekiel saw the glory of the Lord returning by the way of the east gate– the direction in which it had left the city– and filling the house of the Lord (Ezekiel 43:2-4). This was fulfilled not by the reintroduction of animal sacrifices that would have to be repeated, but by the coming of the Lord Jesus to fulfil, replace and annul the Temple by offering himself as a perfect sacrifice offered once for all time, once for all people. (Hebrews 10:11-14). In John 2
“Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” But the temple he had spoken of was his body.” (John 2:19-21)
Consequently, says the Apostle Paul,
“… you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.” (Ephesians 2:19-21)
The true Temple, therefore, is already under construction. Quoting Old Testament Temple imagery, the Apostle Peter similarly writes,
“you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5-7)
This is how we should understand the prophecy of Ezekiel.
In Ezekiel’s vision he sees first of all, the Lord Jesus revealed as the heavenly God-Man, the divine one who would become a human being. In this incarnation, secondly, Ezekiel prophesies that Jesus will be revered as the Good Shepherd who will give his life for God’s people. And in his vision, thirdly Ezekiel sees the work of Jesus represented by a Glorious Temple, enhancing the revelation of the other Hebrew patriarchs and prophets who present Jesus as the corner stone, our ransom sacrifice, the scape goat, our Passover lamb, our great High Priest. Christ is indeed in all the Scriptures for all those who but recognise him, for all those who worship him, for all those who obey him. For others, who are still blind, the Lord Jesus remains a mystery, a stumbling block, a thorn in the side. Which is why so many of his apostles and prophets, like Ezekiel, were treated with such disdain. Ezekiel was rejected by God’s people, even as he preached Jesus Christ. So too, William, a gifted, Christ-like evangelist, was rejected by the church a hundred years ago.
What I didn’t tell you was the impact that rejection had on him. He began to question his faith and sadly, he began to mutilate himself, and eventually he committed suicide. From theological college he had gone back into the world of art dealing. He tried his hand at a little painting. His paintings were very unusual, bold, bright, the work of a deeply troubled mind. His name? You know him by his other Christian name, Vincent. Vincent William Van Gogh. If William could paint as he did, with such bold brush strokes, with such dramatic images and bright colours, it is easy perhaps to imagine how he might have preached as well! If he could depict a sunflower with such passion on a canvas, imagine how passionate he would have proclaimed Jesus! Perhaps his greatest, most poignant sermon was actually a painting, a self portrait. But not a portrait of his face but of his faith. A portrait that revealed his heart.
It is simply called ‘The Bible’. It shows a Bible lying open at Isaiah 53 – the prophetic passage about the Suffering Servant. Nearby is a candle that has gone out. In front of the unused bible, is a novel by Emile Zola called La Joie De Vivre, ‘the joy of life’, which is clearly well read. What was Vincent William Van Gogh trying to say? Perhaps even as his mind was ravaged by doubts and depression he was still preaching. His message?
How sad when the light goes out and the message of God’s Suffering Servant is not understood, remains unread. How much more tragic still when that happens because ungodly shepherds care only for themselves and not Christ’s flock. How comforting to know the caring hand of the one True Shepherd, the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for us, who rose again to set us free, and is coming back that we might reign with him in glory. Christ is indeed in all the Scriptures – but is he in your heart as well? Lets pray.
Christ in all the Scriptures
Hosea: Jesus the Bridegroom (Hosea 1)
Daniel: Jesus the Son of Man (Daniel 7)
Ezekiel: Jesus the Good Shepherd (Ezekiel 34)
Jeremiah: Jesus and the New Covenant (Jeremiah 31)
Isaiah: Jesus is the Suffering Servant (Isaiah 53)
Psalms: The Cross of Christ (Psalm 22)
Esther: The Providence of God (Esther 4)
Kings: Solomon, Elijah and Elisha (2 Kings 4)
Samuel: The Son and Lord of David (2 Samuel 9)
Judges and the Angel of the Lord (Judges 6)
Joshua: Joshua and the Commander of the Lord’s Army (Joshua 5)
Deuteronomy: Moses and the Prophet (Deuteronomy 18)
Numbers: The Bronze Serpent (Numbers 21)
Leviticus: The Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16)
Exodus: The Passover Lamb (Exodus 12)
Genesis: The Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22)