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In the extended section of Ezekiel detailing the new temple (chapters 40–48), we have thus far considered lessons from the initial measuring of the temple (chapters 40–42) and the glory of the Lord filling the central temple space (chapter 43). Chapter 44 continues Ezekiel’s description of the Lord filling the remainder of the temple precinct. But the central theme in this chapter appears to be that of access. Access is forbidden through the east-facing gate, through which God’s glory entered, but other forms of access are permitted.

The first fourteen verses detail access for the prince of the people. In former times, the kings treated access to the temple rather haphazardly (e.g. 2 Kings 16:10–18) but now royal access, while still permitted, would be more carefully guarded. The latter half of the chapter (vv. 15–31) stipulates various rules for the Levites who accessed and served in the temple.

Within these two broad sections, attention is drawn time and again to access to the temple. Previously, the people had unwisely admitted “foreigners, uncircumcised in heart and flesh, to be in my sanctuary, profaning my temple” (v. 7). This may well be a reference to the former practice of allowing foreigners to serve as guards in the temple (2 Kings 11:14–19), a privilege that ought to have been reserved for God’s people (vv. 10–11). The detestable practices of God’s people ought to have permanently barred their access to God but, by his grace, he would provide a means of access (vv. 12–14).

The Levites would be granted access to serve the Lord, though some—particularly the Zadokites—would be permitted closer access than others. This closer access would come with additional restrictions on their behaviour (vv. 17–27).

Simply put, this chapter is all about who ought and who ought not to be granted access to God in his temple. Access was granted only through the correct channels. God could not be approached glibly but only with careful preparation.

The contemporary application for this must not be missed, as unpopular as it is. We do not get to approach God as we wish. We approach God by the way that he has provided. And there is, of course, only one way to approach God: through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). God’s way is the way of the cross.

But there are lessons for us not only in terms of saving access to God in the gospel. Believers have the wonderful privilege of boldly approaching the throne of grace (Hebrews 4:16). But, as was true of the Zadokites, we must approach God carefully. We dare not approach God with a glib attitude toward holiness, for Scripture affirms that without holiness “no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). If we will experience the full blessing of access to God, we may find that there are some restrictions (at least in terms of worldly living) that we find applied to ourselves.

It is not popular, even in Christian circles, to think of Christian faithfulness in terms of restrictive living. We tend to argue for our liberties and trust in God’s grace to cover our unholiness. While we never want to underestimate the reality of grace, let us at the same time not imagine that walking faithfully before God will not at times restrict our behaviour. The closer we draw to God, the more we ought to be motivated to pursue holiness.

Peter, quoting the Old Testament, urges Christians to be holy because God is holy (1 Peter 1:16). Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrases the verse this way: “Let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness.” Holiness is not an option for the child of God; it is a divine expectation. To be holy means to think purely, to live righteously, and to talk edifyingly. It means to live a life that is different—because it is a life characterised by Christlikeness. The old adage rings true—or should ring true—Christians are different. We should be.

As you meditate on Ezekiel 44 this morning, ask God for the grace to pursue holiness, both so that you might glorify God and that you might be a beacon of his grace in a dark world.