When we talk about the nature of the church, one of the passages that jumps out at me is Ezekiel 34.
Now, I know what you're thinking - there was no church when Ezekiel was writing; the church is a distinctly New Testament body. And...didn't Ezekiel write about stuff like measurements in the Temple and the Most Holy Place?
You would be right on both counts, but such a reading is just too simple. Set aside the measurements for a bit because that's a topic that deserves its own conversation (perhaps at another time? Math is awesome; biblical math is even more fun). But what's too simple is to say that God's Old Testament people were a Temple people and God's New Testament people are a church people.
In fact, I think this is one of the reasons that it's so difficult for us to conceptualize much of what the church is supposed to be - because we have made this distinction and thus discounted so much of what God has to say to us about being a people.
See, the Old Testament is how we got here. We watch God as He establishes Himself as the God of Abraham, one faithful man. Then, the God of Isaac, the son - a second generation, passed down from the first. (And let's be real for a second - if you were the sacrificial son of a righteous father and saw the Lord provide a ram in the bushes at the last minute, wouldn't you be tempted to believe in God and His provision, too?) Then, the God of Jacob, who is the first man that we really see redeemed.
That redemption turns into an entire nation of people, and from that point on, God's verbage changes from "you" to "y'all." The nation of Jacob becomes Israel and everything God says and does is for His people.
His people come to the Temple, together. They offer sacrifices, together. The burn incense, together. They celebrate feasts and festivals, together. They pay the price for their sins, together. They offer up prayers, together. They are blessed by God as a people and they are cursed by God as a people. Their entire existence under God is communal. Or, at least in God's eyes, it's supposed to be.
When we read through the Law, we see that most of it has to do with how we are to live with one another. How to protect one another. How to love one another. How to encourage one another. How to respect one another.
So how is it, then, that we so often get to the New Testament, where Jesus establishes a church and tells us that the emphasis is on one anothering, and we gasp like God is suddenly doing some kind of radically new thing that He never thought of before, and we throw out the entire Old Testament as irrelevant to our New Testament faith? It doesn't make sense for us to keep doing this.
Anyway, I think Ezekiel 34 has a lot to say to us in the church today, and...it's rough. I'll be honest about that. It's not our best side, for sure. But it's important for those of us who want to be better, and especially for those who still have hope in their hearts but no "religion."
We'll start looking at the text tomorrow.