Elie Wiesel was born into a Jewish family in Romania. He was only a teenager when he and his family were rounded up by the Nazis and taken first to Auschwitz, and then to Buchenwald. In his book, Night, he gives a terrifying and intimate account of the increasing horrors he endured – the death of his parents and eight-year-old sister, and the loss of his innocence by barbaric hands.
In the foreword to the book, François Mauriac writes of his encounter with Elie Wiesel: ‘On that most horrible day, even among all those other bad days, when the child witnessed the hanging (yes!) of another child who, he tells us, had the face of a sad angel, he heard someone behind him groan: “For God’s sake, where is God?” And from within me, I heard a voice answer: “Where He is? This is where – hanging here from this gallows.”’
François Mauriac goes on, ‘And I, who believe that God is love, what answer was there to give my young interlocutor... What did I say to him? Did I speak to him of that other Jew, this crucified brother who perhaps resembled him and whose cross conquered the world?
‘Did I explain to him that what had been a stumbling block for his faith had become a cornerstone for mine? And that the connection between the cross and human suffering remains, in my view, the key to the unfathomable mystery in which the faith of his childhood was lost... That is what I should have said to the Jewish child. But all I could do was embrace him and weep.’
His words point to the most profound answer to the question, ‘Where is God?’ God is in Christ. He was on the cross bearing our sins in his body. Now the crucified is among his people. Not only has he suffered for you, but he now suffers with you.
In the Old Testament, the tabernacle (and later the temple) was the place where people went to meet with God. This was God’s home as we see in our Old Testament passage for today (Ezekiel 43:5).
The message of our New Testament passage though is that the glory and presence of God is to be found supremely in Jesus. It is at the very moment that Jesus is rejected and crucified that God’s presence among people is finally and fully realised. From that point on there is no need for a physical temple. The only church building the New Testament speaks about is a building made of people (Ephesians 2:20–22), and founded and built upon Jesus, the chief cornerstone. The holy temple in the New Testament is one made of ‘living stones’ (1 Peter 2:5) – in other words, us. This is God’s new home.
The desire of David’s heart was to honour God and to put him above all material comfort: ‘I’m not going home, and I’m not going to bed, I’m not going to sleep, not even take time to rest, until I find a home for God’ (vv.3–5, MSG).
The people said, ‘Let us go to his dwelling-place; let us worship at his footstool – arise, O Lord, and come to your resting place… For the Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling’ (vv.7–8). God said ‘this will always be my home’ (v.14, MSG).
Lord, I long for your presence. It is so good to worship at your footstool. Thank you that on the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit of God was poured out, your presence came to live in and among your people.
Jesus changed everything.
He is the cornerstone of the new home, which is made up of people: ‘As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by human beings but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house’ (vv.4–5a).
Jesus is either the chief cornerstone or he is the stumbling block (vv.7–8). Many today still find Jesus a stumbling block. But if you make him the cornerstone of your life and put your trust in him, you ‘will never be put to shame’ (v.6)
Peter is saying to all who believe that we are called to be the living stones that make up the spiritual house that is built around Jesus. I have been struck recently by this image of the church as the household of God. When you encounter Jesus you come home.
These verses have a whole string of descriptions of this transition: ‘But you are the ones chosen by God, chosen for the high calling of priestly work, chosen to be a holy people, God’s instruments to do his work and speak out for him, to tell others of the night-and-day difference he made for you – from nothing to something, from rejected to accepted’ (v.9, MSG).’
In light of this, live differently to the world around you – ‘friends, this world is not your home, so don’t make yourselves cozy in it’ (v.11, MSG).
We are the people of God. You have received mercy (v.10). Now you have a battle on your hands. It is very real. You have to abstain from sinful desires that war against your soul (v.11).
Do not be surprised at the accusation of wrongdoing (v.12). Seek to live a life that glorifies God. This will include respect for authority (v.13, MSG), doing good (v.15), treating everyone you meet with dignity (v.17, MSG), love for your spiritual family (v.17, MSG), non-retaliation (v.23), suffering for doing good (v.20) and trusting ‘in him who judges justly’ (v.23).
How is this possible when we are sinful human beings? Peter’s answer is to point to Jesus: ‘He used his servant body to carry our sins to the Cross so we could be rid of sin, free to live the right way. His wounds became your healing’ (vv.24, MSG).
Jesus changes everything. Peter draws from Isaiah 53, which prophesies the ways in which the Messiah will die in place of his people. This is what it meant for the cornerstone to be rejected, this is the foundation stone of your faith, and this is how you are brought back into the presence of God. At the cross, the place of suffering has become the place of salvation.
Lord, thank you for the new spiritual house you are building where I can experience the presence of God.
The Spirit of God makes Jesus real to you: ‘Then the Spirit lifted me up and brought me into the inner court, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple’ (43:5).
Jesus Christ is the glory of God: ‘The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth’ (John 1:14).
In his vision, Ezekiel sees Jesus, ‘the glory of the God of Israel’ (Ezekiel 43:2). ‘His voice was like the roar of the rushing waters and the land was radiant with his glory’ (v.2). Where Jesus is, everything around becomes radiant. In Jesus’ presence, all we can do is fall down and worship (v.3): ‘I looked, and behold, the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord, and I fell upon my face’ (v.4, AMP).
Every time God’s people gather in worship, for example at a Sunday service, expect ‘the glory of the Lord’ to fill the house. This is why church should be so exciting, powerful and life changing.
As we read in the Old Testament of all the sacrifices they had to make for their sins, we remember that the book of Hebrews tells us that this is an illustration (Hebrews 9). These were ‘copies’ of the heavenly things (v.23). They were a ‘shadow’ of what was to come (10:1). They had to make a sin offering (Ezekiel 43:19) with blood (v.20) to purify and make atonement (v.20). The goat had to be without defect (v.22).
This all foreshadows Jesus’ perfect sacrifice for your sins (1 Peter 2:24).
The holy priesthood of Ezekiel 44 foreshadows the holy priesthood described in 1 Peter 2:5. This now is the task of every Christian. Your first duty as a ‘priest’ is to be holy yourself, to keep yourself pure so that you can be used by the Lord. Your second duty is to help others to do the same by your teaching and by your example (Ezekiel 44:23).
Where is God now? He lives in you by his Spirit. He is there when we gather in his name and fall before him in worship, adoration and praise.
Lord, thank you that I am a holy temple in which you live by your Spirit. I desperately need your help to live a holy life.
1 Peter 2:24b
‘By his wounds you have been healed.’
All the hurts we pick up in our lives can be brought to the cross and given to Jesus. We don’t need to hold on to the past. Jesus suffered and died that we might be healed.