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In March 2019, MatadorNetwork.com published an article about six “gorgeous churches” that have been converted into breweries and bars. The article noted that “official estimates list the number of church closures at around 4,000 a year, and new tenants are keeping the walls up and the doors open.” Many of these churches boast buildings of magnificent architecture. The article therefore considers the conversion of these churches “a win-win for both the churches and the bars.” Churches win because their beautiful structures remain standing. Bars win because they operate in a beautiful building that attracts customers. A pub “in a beautiful location is all the better for the bar and the bargoers.”

This trend has run for years now, with ancient churches forced to close and convert their buildings to, not only pubs and bars, but also strip clubs, malls, nightclubs, and pizzerias. In fact, Pope Francis a few years ago urged Catholic countries not to allow deconsecrated churches to be used for profane purposes.

The trajectory is all too predictable. Iain Duguid diagnoses the problem with precision: “Invariably, the way to such a post-Christian society lies through a contentment with the externals of religion, a society in which it is enough to have the form of godliness, while denying its power.” These churches have grown cold in their religion, which has led to hardness of heart, which has resulted in the death of the church.

The solution to this is a renewed vision of God, such as the one we find in the text before us this morning (Ezekiel 1:4–28). This mind-bending vision portrays the glory of God for a people who desperately needed to see it. The vision contains a great deal of movement, which was necessary for a people who had been removed from their land and taken into exile in Babylon. They needed to be reminded that God had not been left behind in Jerusalem but was with them.

But the vision also contains unmistakable overtones of judgement. The people needed to realise that they were in Babylon as a result of God’s judgement and that, if they did not repent, they would face further judgement in their exile. They needed to reckon with God’s holiness. They needed to be stirred from their comfort in sin and moved to confession and repentance. We often need a vision of the same.

An article in a 1992 edition of Reformed Worship magazine told of the “seeker service” at Fair Haven Reformed Church in Grand Rapids, Michigan. The church advertised its “seeker service” as “a non-threatening atmosphere” in which “the ‘seekers’ share a delightful, thought-provoking hour in which they are introduced to the person of Jesus Christ.” I wonder if Ezekiel would have described his vision as “a non-threatening atmosphere” or “a delightful, thought-provoking hour”? I suspect not. Ezekiel’s audience did not need “a non-threatening atmosphere.” In their rebellion, they very much needed to understand that God is a threatening being. They needed to reckon with God and understand the danger in which they stood in their sin.

The pastoral prayers in our church often include a prayer to the effect that God should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable. That is exactly what happens when we reckon with God. When we come before God disturbed about our sin, we find comfort in the person and work of Jesus Christ. When we come before God comfortable in our sin, we are—or should be—disturbed by his holiness and the conviction that that brings to us. Being thus disturbed moves us to confession and repentance, which brings the comfort we so desire.

The Lord’s Day is a day of rest and we understandably come to church looking for comfort in the gospel. But we need to realise that, before we can find comfort, we will frequently need to be disturbed as we face the reality of our sin. Only when we are disturbed to the point where we fall on our face before God (v. 28) will we realise the comfort of the gospel. We must first reckon with God before we can be introduced to the comfort of Jesus Christ.

As you meditate on Ezekiel 1:4–28 this morning, ask God to help you reckon rightly with him so that you are disturbed in your sin and moved to repentance, for only then will you experience the comfort of forgiveness.