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September 9, 2018

Sermon Ezekial 47:1-12 . . .“Bible places:  the Dead Sea”

“Bible places:  the Dead Sea”

Ezekiel 47:1-12

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

From the Arctic Ocean in the north, to the Antarctic Ocean in the south, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, the world is covered in water.  In fact, scientists tell us that seventy percent of the world’s surface is covered in water.  And even though each ocean, each sea, has much in common, they are, in ways, different from all the rest.

If you’ve ever watched the show, Deadliest Catch, you know something about the Bering Sea.  With its hurricane-force winds, frigid waves, and fields of ice, it’s one of the most treacherous seas in the world.

On the other hand, there’s the Caribbean Sea.  Though it can sometimes be dangerous, with its earthquakes and hurricanes, it’s one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world.

And if that’s not exotic enough for you, you can always travel to the South China Sea, or the Arabian Sea, or the Caspian Sea, or even the Sea of Japan.

The world is full of seas.

The Bible is full of seas too.  Think of the Red Sea.  It’s where Moses once raised his staff and parted the water, as the people of Israel passed through on dry land.

Think of the Mediterranean Sea.  It’s where the apostle Paul once sailed, preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ.

And think of the Sea of Galilee.  It’s where Jesus chose fishermen to follow Him, where He preached to the people, and fed the multitudes.  It’s even where He walked on water.

But there’s one Bible sea that’s different from any other sea in the world.  It’s called the Dead Sea.

It wasn’t always called that.  In fact, the first time the Bible ever mentions it is all the way back in Genesis chapter 14.  It calls it, “Siddim,” a word that means, “Salt Sea.”

And, in case you’re interested, “Dead Sea” and “Salt Sea” aren’t its only names.  Over time, it’s also been called, “The Sea of Sodom,” “The Sea of Zoar,” “The Sea of Lot,” “The Sea of Asphalt,” “The Eastern Sea,” and even “The Devil’s Sea.” 

Now at the risk of boring you to death, let me tell you a few things about the Dead Sea, because in a few moments, it’ll all make sense.

First, at fourteen hundred feet below sea Level, the Dead Sea is the lowest place on earth.  If you’ve ever been to Death Valley in our western United States, that’s only three hundred feet below sea level.  To visit the Dead Sea, you’ll have to go down another eleven hundred more!

And it’s salty, really salty, like almost ten times as salty as any ocean water.  Ever get a little salt water splashed in your mouth?  You don’t even want to imagine what it’s like to taste Dead Sea water.

And since it’s so salty, (thirty percent salt, as a matter of fact!), it’s pretty much impossible to sink.  You can bob, but you can’t sink.  They say that even a bowling ball floats!

But trust me, you don’t really want to swim there.  Those who have say the water feels like liquid rubber.

And why is it so salty?  That’s where it gets a little more interesting.

You see, the Sea of Galilee is also one of the lowest places on earth.  But it isn’t salty like the Dead Sea.  And the reason is, water flows through it.  The Jordan river feeds it from the north, then drains it to the south.  It receives, but it also gives.  

But the Dead Sea isn’t like that at all.  Supposedly some seven million tons of water feed it every day, but the water has no place to go, but up through evaporation, leaving quite a lot of minerals like magnesium, potassium, and sodium behind.  

Oddly enough, archaeologists have even found a mosaic on the floor of a church there, an early tourist map for pilgrims on their way to the Holy Land.

And the map shows fish swimming down the Jordan River, then turning around once they hit the Dead Sea!

So why is it so salty?  Because it receives, and never gives.

And there’s a first lesson to learn from this text.  I suppose you could say there are two kinds of Christians in the world--those who receive and give, and those who receive, but never give.  To put it another way, they have an inlet, but no outlet.

It’s true that we have been blessed in so many ways, more than many others.  As Luther once wrote in his Small Catechism, God has given us a body and soul, eyes, ears, and all our members, our reason and all our senses, and still preserves them.  He defends us against all danger, and guards and protects us from all evil.

And if that’s not enough, through His Son, Jesus Christ, He’s purchased and won us from all sins, from death and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death.

But now that we have received such blessings in this life, and in the life to come, are we more like the Sea of Galilee that gives, or the Dead Sea that never gives?

As our Savior Jesus once said:  “It is more blessed to give, than to receive.”

And what’s buried deep beneath the waters of the Dead Sea?  Sodom and Gomorrah are, and so are two other cities--Admah and Zeboiim--four cities that refused to obey the Word and the will of God.  

But just like Sodom and Gomorrah and Admah and Zeboiim buried beneath its waters, are we really any different?  

That is, after all, what Jesus said in Matthew 15:  “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander.  These are what defile you.”

In the words of nineteenth-century preacher Charles Spurgeon:  “The world is a veritable Dead Sea on a gigantic scale.”

So where is the hope in the midst of this dead, salty, toxic mess?

You’ll find it in your Bible on page 931.  I’ll read the words of Ezekiel chapter 47, beginning at verse 1, where it says, “Water Flowing from the Temple.”

“Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east).  The water was flowing down from below the south end of the threshold of the temple, south of the altar.  Then he brought me out by the way of the north gate and led me around on the outside to the outer gate that faces toward the east; and behold, the water was trickling out on the south side.

“Going on eastward with a measuring line in his hand, the man measured a thousand cubits, and then led me through the water, and it was ankle-deep.  Again he measured a thousand, and led me through the water, and it was knee-deep.  Again he measured a thousand, and it was a river that I could not pass through, for the water had risen.  It was deep enough to swim in, a river that could not be passed through.  And he said to me, ‘Son of man, have you seen this?’

“Then he led me back to the bank of the river.  As I went back, I saw on the bank of the river very many trees on the one side and on the other.  And he said to me, ‘This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down in the Arabah, and enters the sea; when the water flows into the sea, the water will become fresh.  And wherever the river goes, every living creature that swarms will live, and there will be very many fish.  For this water goes there, that the waters of the sea may become fresh; so that everything will live where the river goes.  Fishermen will stand beside the sea.  From Engedi to Eneglaim it will be a place for the spreading of nets.  Its fish will be of very many kinds, like the fish of the Great Sea.”

What’s going on?  

You see, Ezekiel was a priest who should have ministered in the temple in Jerusalem.  But the people had persistently and relentlessly turned away from God.  So there was nothing left for them except death, captivity, and destruction.  Very much like the Dead Sea, it was truly the lowest point in the history of the nation.  So in a vision, the Lord sent Ezekiel on a mission of hope.

And what did he see in that vision?  Water.  Cool, clean, fresh water.  As it says in verse 1:  “Then he brought me back to the door of the temple, and behold, water was issuing from below the threshold of the temple toward the east.”

And as that trickle of water worked its way down the temple steps and through the streets of Jerusalem, the trickle began to deepen.  By the time he left the city, it swirled around his ankles.  By the time he crossed the Kidron Valley, it was around his knees.  As he walked through the hill country of Judea, it was up to his waist.

Down, down, down, the water flowed, till by the time it reached the banks of the Dead Sea, it was a rushing torrent, a powerful flood that Ezekiel couldn’t even hope to cross.

And as it says in verse 10, where there once was only salt, now fishermen cast their nets.  And where there was only death, now trees grew on both sides of the river, bearing fruit for life and leaves for healing.

But you know, this vision isn’t just a vision of ancient Israel.  The Dead Sea, the Salt Sea, the Devil’s Sea, is a picture of your life and mine--lifeless, toxic, and barren.

Yet down the water flows, the rich, fresh, life-giving water of Jesus Christ.  It started as a trickle in the hill country of Judea, in a little town called Bethlehem.  Then it flowed down the Jordan, where Jesus stooped to bear your sins and mine.  Down it ran through the desert, where He went toe-to-toe with the Tempter and won, past the Mount of Olives through a garden called Gethsemane, and to a hill called Calvary.  And as a soldier pierced His side with a spear, blood and water flowed--a relentless river, an overwhelming current, a powerful flood.

And when the water of God’s grace and mercy gushes into the Dead Sea of your life, amazing things begin to happen!  What you could not do by your own effort, the grace of God does in a torrent of tender love.

Gone the judgment.  Gone the pain.  Gone the separation and death.

Relationships begin to heal.  Tears are wiped from faces.  Sins are fully and freely washed away.

Do you believe it?  I hope you do, for our Savior Jesus once said:  “He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.”

 

Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee; let the water and the blood, from Thy riven side which flowed, be of sin the double cure:  cleanse me from its guilt and pow’r, for Your sake.  Amen

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