Thelma Reid loved gardening. In fact, whole groups of people would visit just to see her award-winning garden. I think she got this love of gardening from our Lord. Did you know that God is a gardener?As the Creator, God made a garden and gave the first human beings, Adam and Eve, responsibility for cultivating a garden. Genesis 2:8-9 records, “And the Lord God planted a garden in the Eden, in the east, and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground the Lord God made to spring up every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was in the midst of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” It was this second tree that has caused all the pain in life. You see, God told Adam and Eve that they could eat from any tree in the Garden, except one. God often gets a bad rap that He is all about the rules. But God is not. “When God says don’t, He means don’t hurt yourself.”God is actually about relationships. He is very generous and is actually the source of Thelma’s generosity.
The one rule God had was not to eat from the knowledge of good and evil. Why? Because we can’t handle such knowledge! Once Adam and Eve ate from this tree, they would be confused what is good and what is bad. It explains why we call things bad when they are good and call other things good when they are bad for us and others. I’ll give you an example that one of my Caribbean friends taught me. At graveside services, my Caribbean brothers and sisters know how to say goodbye. Funerals are very hard, aren’t they? Nowadays, people want to distance themselves from death. We struggle to show sympathy, especially when we post videos on social media of people doing embarrassing things or hurting themselves and we instead make fun of them.We are losing a sense of sympathy. Fewer and fewer people are having funerals and as my funeral director friends tell me this is increasing the grief counseling and protracting the grief process. But my Jamaican friends, take what is evil – death and bring good out of it. At the graveside service, there will be a big pile of dirt and there will be shovels. And each one in attendance at the service will grab a shovel and put some dirt on the casket until we fully bury sister Thelma’s remains so her body can be at rest awaiting the sure resurrection that Jesus has guaranteed with His own resurrection. We will sing hymns. In fact, you are going to have to help this poor pastor sing great praises to God. Now the first time, I went to one of these graveside services for a Caribbean sister, I thought it was great that each person participated and grabbed a shovel. It was so communal and so cathartic, but what I didn’t realize was where this tradition came from until Mark Adams told me. On the islands, the casket is fully buried to protect from grave robbers. In fact, it is my understanding that sometimes rocks will be thrown on the caskets to dent the caskets so they cannot be used again by grave robbers. Can you imagine my white-privileged perspective seeing that for the first time? I would think, without knowing the reason why rocks were being thrown on a casket, that the deceased was despised, when in reality they were loved and protected? My false assumptions show that I am prone to call what is good bad and to call what is bad good. How about you?
Let’s go back to the first Garden. As the story goes, the great villain Satan comes and tempts Eve and she eats from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. She gave some fruit to Adam and he also ate. God then shows up that night and Adam and Eve are hiding. They were trying to cover up their sin and shame. As BrenéBrown in her book Dare to Leadexplains, “Shame is universal and one of the most primitive human emotions that we experience … and almost always leads to unethical behavior. The only people who don’t experience shame are those who lack the capacity for empathy and human connection. Shame is a fear of disconnection and is the intensely painful feeling or experience that we are flawed and therefore, unworthy of love, belong, connection.”Did you catch that word “disconnection”? Shame results in disconnection and distance. We see this in our first parents and it has been handed down to all of us. God promised Adam and Eve that they would die if they broke His one rule and so God kept His promise because He is faithful and just. He banished Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden. But there is grace! As my friend Jon Thompson has said, “God removed Adam and Eve from the garden so they could not eat from the tree of life and be eternally lost along with the rest of the human race!”So instead of giving ultimate punishment, God showed grace and just gave consequences. Like any good parent who lets children suffer consequences, the consequences are meant to teach us our need to obey. The worst of those consequences are what we are facing today – physical death!
Now, some of you might immediately think that isn’t fair. The time doesn’t fit the crime. I was told that when some watched Thelma battle cancer when she had so much more to live for, they complained to her, “It isn’t fair!” Thelma’s reply was, “That will eat you up!” You see, just like in the Garden of Eden, you become what you eat. Think about this apple! (Take a bite of apple)When I have a bite, it becomes a part of me to the cellular level. Sin has come into our lives and bodies and has affected every part of us. We can become bitter and it will literally eat us up. Or we can become better, rather then bitter! But becoming better is not trying harder but trusting more. I loved what Thelma’s daughter said, “If we could have mom’s faith, we would be better off!” How true! And yet, there is Good News! You can have Thelma’s faith. You see, every story has a villain, but every story also has a hero. The hero in God’s Big Story is His own Son. Jesus Christ came to live better than Adam. He came to earth to empathize with us. To know that the struggle is real! You see, as BrenéBrown explains, “Empathy creates a hostile environment for shame.”Part of why we experience grief and why Jesus Himself experienced grief when His friend Lazarus died was to create a hostile environment for shame. We are here today to fight the shame of death and to find hope. But I have even better news. Jesus didn’t just empathize with us. He came to earth and followed God completely and never sinned to show us a better way. He was the only one who was ever perfect. Anybody here perfect? Me neither! So we needed Jesus to come and live, but we also needed Jesus to die. To take our place! To reverse the curse of death!
How did that happen? Well, the ultimate bad day became the ultimate good day. In fact, we call it Good Friday, which we will celebrate in about a month. It was on a cross that Jesus ultimately demonstrated that He is “the way, the truth and the life” and the only way back to being connected to God in John 14:6. Jesus explained it this way in John 15:1-5, “I am the true vine and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that does not bear fruit he takes away and every branch that does not bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.” Did you catch that last part? We can do nothing (at least that will last) unless we abide in Christ. Unless we have His life flowing through us daily, moment by moment!
What do I mean Christ’s life flowing through us? You may remind me that Jesus died. Oh, but there is more to the story. You see, Jesus didn’t just stay dead! He rose from the grave. God was the only righteous grave robber! He didn’t come to steal, kill and destroy, He came to give life and give it abundantly. What was the worst day became the best day. Humans thought it good to kill Jesus, when it was evil and bad. And yet, God redeemed it. He did so through Jesus rising from the grave. This is why you see Jesus’ declaration in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live and everyone who lives and believers in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” Thelma believed this. Her daughters told me, “She was not afraid to die.” This was not just bravado; it was belief! It was belief in Jesus, the true vine – the only one who can connect you back to God. To take away your guilt and shame and to make you fruitful again! To give you eternal life so physical death is just a window to pass through to life forever with God. Do you believe this? Then abide in Christ. Let His words remain in you and act on them. Thelma did. And now she is gardening with Jesus. You see, the Bible ends with a garden in the midst of the great city of New Jerusalem. As Revelation 22:1-2 record Jesus’ most loved disciple John’s vision, “Then the angel showed me, the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” We will then be able to eat from the tree of life and not be eternally lost, but eternally saved. So today, will you be the fruit of Thelma’s life and more importantly, Jesus’ life? If you do, you have 10,000 reasons to sing!
Source: https://www.crossway.org/articles/why-your-childs-misbehavior-shouldnt-be-your-next-social-media-post/?utm_source=Crossway+Marketing&utm_campaign=ac160d8c22-20190321+-+General+-+Parenting+with+Words&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_0275bcaa4b-ac160d8c22-296093617. Accessed March 22, 2019.
This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!
Have you ever had a letter writing campaign against you?How about a social media blitz criticizing you? What about a gang of gossips dog-piling you with their words behind your back at school or at work or in your neighbourhood? Or maybe you just feel wave after wave of attack. I recall a time when I was a teenager and there were letters sent out to every household in our church by the treasurer complaining against my father who was the senior pastor. To this day, whenever I see those security envelopes with the blue lining inside of them I recall that letter writing campaign.
There may be a conspiracy against you, but I want to assure you today that God can defend you! He is working behind the scenes, even when you don’t see it. Today we are going to learn about a letter writing campaign, exposure of past sins, bribes to government officials, a government partial shutdown, and governmental officials going back on their words or at least not continuing with former regime promises. You would think we were talking about Canadian and American politics, but we are going to be looking at Ezra 4:7-24. This has nothing to do with Donald Trump or Justin Trudeau, Republicans and Democrats, Liberals and Conservatives, investigations into Russian election meddling or SNC-Lavalin payoffs and lobbying. This all happened because God’s people returning from exile wanted to rebuild His temple. My friends, be prepared for opposition and backlash when you try to rebuild God’s temple.Let’s read about what happens next in Ezra 4:7-24. Read Ezra 4:7-24!
After reading this passage, I want to give a short background of what happened to the Jews. It started with Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 586 BC taking the Jews into captivity. Then the Medes & Persians took over from the Babylonians. There are numerous characters mentioned in the Bible who lived during this time period including, Esther, Daniel and his three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. Trying to keep track of all the kings can be confusing so at the beginning of this message, I thought this chart may be helpful. It does not include the Assyrians who reigned for 300 years from 912-612 BC. who carted off the 10 Northern Tribes of Israel in 722 B.C.
* We cannot be certain that the mother of Artaxerxes I was Queen Esther. A 13thcentury Rabbi claimed Darius II was the son of Ahaseurus (Dan. 9:1) and Queen Esther, but this is unlikely due to the chronology. This chart may just look like simple history, but it still has ramifications for us today. A few weeks ago on February 11, Iranians celebrated the 40thanniversary of the Shah’s downfall after the nearly 2700 year dynasty ended of the Persian reign. The Americans backed the Shah and the Itollah’s took over. Remember the Iranian Hostage crisis in the late 1970s where Canadians helped with the release of the Americans. We are still dealing with conflict between the Americans and Iranians today over the Americans ironically chosing to back the less democratic monarchy linked back to Biblical times.
Back to Ezra 4:7-24, it is clear from the start of this passage that there were a ton of enemy plants within God’s people. The returning exiles lived in a hostile culture. Ezra 4:7-10 describes a consortium of conspirators. You have Bishlam and Mithredath in verse 7. Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe mentioned in verse 8, meaning that both the general and the prosecutor are against the returned Jews. Verse 9 records judges, governors, officials, Persians, the men of Erech, the Babylonians, the men of Susa or Elamites (meaning those in the capital). This meant you had both local and federal officials of the Persian Empire against the Jews. And if that wasn’t enough, verse 10 adds the rest of the nations that settled in Samaria. Like Canada today, the world had come to Palestine in those times. But they didn’t get along! There was a coalition of detestation; a humongous hate group; an alliance of anti-Semitism. It is not unlike today when many of the countries that surround the modern State of Israel have avowed to wipe the nation off the face of the earth. So what would you do if the military, lawyers, judges, local and federal government, lobbyists and representatives from the U.N. were all against you? You may have faced opposition this week, but probably not to that extent! How do you face opposition when you lack a good reputation, the resources to continue and past promises are revoked?
Let’s start thinking about your reputation! Maybe you have made some mistakes in the past and there are family and friends who knew you way back when in your wild rebellious days and they love to bring it up in your face? In fact, this may be one of the most pressing issues of our day. Everybody is being exposed to their past sins and failures even from things that happened decades ago or in their youth. And the results of these exposures is that leaders are losing their positions and jobs. Condemning pictures and quotes are resurfacing. Numbers 32:23 is being realized before our very eyes, “You have sinned against the LORD, and be sure your sin will find you out.” God’s people are not immune. This is true today and also in history. God’s people had such a reputation of being rebellious. In this letter writing campaign, the Jewish returning exiles state in verse 14-15, “Now because we are in service of the palace, and it is not fitting for us to see the king’s dishonour, therefore we have sent and informed the king, so that a search may be made in the record books of your fathers. And you will discover in the record books and learn that the city is a rebellious city and damaging to kings and provinces, and that they have incited revolt within it in past days; therefore that city was laid waste.”
Now was it true that Jerusalem and the Jews were known for being non-compliant? Yes, I think we could classify them today as having oppositional defiant disorder. In verse 19, we find that the king had ordered a special investigation and found out that the accusations were true of the Jews’ past insurrections, “And I made a decree, and a search has been made, and it has found that this city from of old has risen against kings, and that rebellion and sedition have been made in it.” The king may be referring to the vassal King Jehoiakim in 2 Kings 24:1, “In his days, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up and Jehoiakim became his servant three years. Then he turned and rebelled against him.” The truth is that Jerusalem has always been fought over and Jerusalem fights back. Years later, but before Jesus was born, the Maccabees (a Jewish family and guerrilla group) revolted against their oppressors. There were riots in Jerusalem against Rome in Jesus’ and Paul’s days. Jerusalem has always been a powder keg, which is one of the reasons why we need to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (Psalm 122:6). In a movie about the Crusades, there is an enlightening question from Balian of Ibelin, the defender of Jerusalem, to his Muslim counterpart Saladin, “What is Jerusalem worth?” Saladin responds, “Nothing … and everything!”Jerusalem may be one of the most rebellious and yet prized cities on earth.
And so what do you do when you lack a good reputation? Maybe you come here today with massive regrets. I am not going to answer this question yet so you don’t go to sleep. I’ll give you the answer at the end but God’s Word provides hope.
The problem of lacking a good reputation is that it often is accompanied by a lack of resources. Not always, as there are some rich criminals, but those who have a bad reputation more times than not are marginalized financially. In Ezra 4, the enemies of Jews were trying to rob the Jews of their reputation and their resources. This is why they accuse the Jews in verse 13, “Now be it known to the king that if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom or toll, and the royal revenue will be impaired.” The opponents of the Jews were preying on the king’s pride, on his greed and on his sense of control. Leaders often worry that if they don’t crush one act of sedition, then everyone will rebel and not pay taxes. As Bible Scholar Charles Fensham explains, “The first consequence was that if the city were strengthened, the Jews would not be willing to pay tax. Taxation was regarded as very important in the Persian empire.”And I think we could add that taxation has been regarded as very important by every government since the invention of taxes. We are heading into the dreaded income tax return time. Though not a fun time, it is a time to obey God and pay our taxes (Romans 13:6-7). And for some of us who give to charity, we are going to see the blessing of a refund that we can use to further God’s kingdom. Maybe you will consider giving part of your tax refund to the Big Reach Sunday in June? But I am also reminded that taxes will be one of the ways that opponents will try to hurt churches. As you may know, churches do not pay property tax and also recover most of the HST back from purchasing goods and services. The government recognizes much of the social assistance both tangibly and intangibly the church provides such as “the relief of poverty, the advancement of education, and the advancement of religion.” I first became aware of this campaign against churches in 2002, when I was given responsibility to administrate a “Keeping Traditional Marriage” rally for my church. There were signs in downtown Toronto that said, “Tax the churches.” Nowadays there is a group on social media who calls themselves “Tax the Church Movement.” Their tagline is “It doesn’t matter who you are, $71,000,000,000 is a huge number. Taxing the churches = money for better causes.”What these opponents do not understand is how much greater a tax burden will occur when the church is not there to help in both tangible ways and intangible ways including creating economic lift as people become more moral, back to society and are more law-abiding citizens. For example, mental illness and grief counselling increase when people do not acknowledge God. Many of the organizations that help feed the poor have been church-based and to cut them off will be short-sighted. I say all of this not to scare you or incite a political response but to prepare you for when our government no longer recognizes the benefits churches provide. Some countries like Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy and Sweden still pay a church tax at a little less than 2%!Some of you from one of those countries may not realize that churches here run by the free-will offerings. Other countries like Australia do not issue receipts for charitable giving to churches. We can learn from those churches in countries where giving is without earthly benefit.
Back to Ezra 4, the enemies of the Jews mongered fear into the Persian King’s heart and made him fear he was going to lose tax revenue. King Artaxerxes needed the money, “After the expensive wars of Darius and Xerxes, especially with the Greeks, the royal treasury was depleted.”The result was not that the king lost revenue, but the Jews lost the funding for the rebuilding of the temple as we read in verse 24. So it begs the question, what do you do when you lack resources? I can’t wait to tell you, but you are still going to have to wait because there is a third way that the enemies of the Jews opposed God’s people – they had past promises revoked. Have you ever had somebody make a promise and revoke it?
We probably have had companies not keep your lifetime warranties or added fees when we were promised no fees. We have had governments rescind on their promises. Maybe it has been more personal and you have had a spouse break their marriage vows or a parent did not keep their promise to you? Those broken promises cut deep. I bet the returning Jewish exiles were deeply hurt and confused. They had been in exile for 70 years, made the difficult journey back to Judah, and had their hopes massively raised because they were finally going to have their sins atoned for and be able to worship God again in a rebuilt temple, but then we read the king’s response in Ezra 4:21-24, “Therefore, make a decree that these men be made to cease, and that this city be not rebuilt, until a decree is made by me. And take care not to be slack in this matter. Why should damage grow to the hurt of the king? Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, they went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. Then the work on the house of God that is in Jerusalem stopped and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia.” The Jews’ rebellious reputation led to government shutdown of their work and worship of God. How devastating!
That is until we notice the most important word in this passage “until.” It is a pivotal word. As Derek Kidner explains, “This word ‘until’ made a policy review possible and with it, by the grace of God, the mission of Nehemiah.”You see, God was doing something far off that the Jews in Jerusalem didn’t know about. In Nehemiah 1, we read that God had his own plant. The cupbearer of King Artaxerxes was Nehemiah and when Nehemiah heard about “the remnant there in the province who had survived the exile was in great trouble and shame. The wall of Jerusalem was broken down and its gates were destroyed by fire,” he sat down and wept and fasted and prayed. We are going to study Nehemiah more in-depth later this year, Lord willing, but for now I want to read this prayer from Nehemiah 1:5-11, “5 I said, “I beseech You, O Lord God of heaven, the great and awesome God, who preserves the covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, 6 let Your ear now be attentive and Your eyes open to hear the prayer of Your servant which I am praying before You now, day and night, on behalf of the sons of Israel Your servants, confessing the sins of the sons of Israel which we have sinned against You; I and my father’s house have sinned. 7 We have acted very corruptly against You and have not kept the commandments, nor the statutes, nor the ordinances which You commanded Your servant Moses. 8 Remember the word which You commanded Your servant Moses, saying, ‘If you are unfaithful I will scatter you among the peoples; 9 but if you return to Me and keep My commandments and do them, though those of you who have been scattered were in the most remote part of the heavens, I will gather them from there and will bring them to the place where I have chosen to cause My name to dwell.’ 10 They are Your servants and Your people whom You redeemed by Your great power and by Your strong hand. 11 O Lord, I beseech You, may Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and the prayer of Your servants who delight to revere Your name, and make Your servant successful today and grant him compassion before this man.”Now I was the cupbearer to the king.
Notice what Nehemiah did! It answers our questionhow do you face opposition when you lack a good reputation, the resources to continue and past promises are revoked?You own your sin and seek God’s grace!
And here is the Good News, like Nehemiah, God has somebody far off who is concerned about your situation and is praying for you and me. In fact, like Nehemiah who eventually went to Jerusalem, God has sent another to go to Jerusalem to rescue and rebuild. This other that I am talking about is none other than God’s own Son Jesus Christ! Jesus Himself wept over and prayed for Jerusalem. But He went further and allowed Himself to be killed by His enemies. Why? He took upon Himself our bad reputation and our lack of resources to fix our problem in our own strength. Unlike our enemies, He kept God’s promises and so if today you will own your sin and seek God’s grace, you will find His grace and be able to extend it to others.
I have found this to be true. Do you remember the letter writing campaign against my dad? Well, I had the opportunity a few weeks later to end my opponent’s letter writing. I was driving our car and came to a four way stop and was alone except for an elderly man who walked across the front of my grill. It was the treasurer of the church and for a moment, I had the opportunity to end the treasurer’s letter writing for good. But then I realized that I had murder in my heart and how desperately I needed God’s grace myself. I had to own my sin and seek God’s grace! Only Jesus can help you with your enemies, your rebellious reputation, your lack of resources and broken promises.
In Ezra 4:14, the phrase “we eat the salt of the palace” means they were dependent upon the king. In fact, the English word “salary” comes from the word “salarium” or “salt-money.” The word “dishonor” in verse 14 means “nakedness.” The “mighty kings” in Ezra 4:20 probably refer to David and Solomon.
Though the Achaemenid dynasty began in 705 B.C., the Persian Empire did not begin until Cyrus II or Cyrus the Great as he was called conquered the Babylonians. Cyrus was half-Persian and half-Median.
Source: https://www.canada.ca/en/revenue-agency/services/charities-giving/charities/policies-guidance/policy-statement-024-guidelines-registering-a-charity-meeting-public-benefit-test.html#toc4. Accessed February 27, 2019.
Source: www.facebook.com/taxthechurchmovement. Accessed February 26, 2019.
Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Church_tax. Accessed February 26, 2019.
Our deepest sympathy and prayers on behalf of Temple Baptist Church go out to the family. Curtis and Jeanne met and were married here at Temple after Curtis first brought his grandmother, who lived down the street at St. Luke’s Nursing Home, to church. You see, going to church pays off. Curtis and Jeanne attended Temple for a number of years, especially with their deep connection through Jeanne’s parents Ed and Jean Kennedy. So it was a shock to hear of Curtis’ sudden death a week ago last Wednesday and not having many answers to the impetus for his death makes it even harder. I would encourage you to continue show the grace you have because many of us don’t know what to do or say. We may say unhelpful or insensitive things, so please be patient with us. Curtis and more importantly, God wants us to respond with kindness. Truthfully we will probably never have all the reasons for his death this side of heaven. I think it is much better to remember a person for their whole life and not just their final act. And this is why we need comfort from God’s eternal Word when this world is so unstable! Read Psalm 27!
Curtis was a deeply caring man. When I talked to the family and asked how they would describe him they said, “Curtis was kind, energetic, fun, quiet, had a soft heart, had a good sense of humor, liked to garden and liked to study his Bible. He was the Operations Manager at Sports World, loved trips to his parents’ cottage and loved his Lord.” However, Curtis also had his struggles. Those struggles overwhelmed him. Maybe this is one of the reasons why he felt overwhelmed because he felt he could not care for Jeanne to the level heexpected. We don’t know and we shouldn’t judge. Even one of the greatest Christians of all time and who wrote most of the New Testament, the Apostle Paul, wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:8, “For we do not want you to be ignorant, brothers of the affliction we experienced in Asia. For we were so utterly burdened beyond our strength that we despaired of life itself.” And Jesus Himself on the night He was betrayed told His disciples in Matthew 26:38, “My soul is very sorrowful even to death.” Curtis felt such despair and acted upon it. That is wrong, but not unforgivable. We do know Jeanne didn’t share Curtis’ despair and was happy just having Curtis in her life even through the trial of regular dialysis for Jeannie. Curtis was valuable to God, valuable to us but he struggled to find his own value towards the end of his life. Permit me to explain how we can find value. Even though I didn’t know Curtis really well, except that he was always the best-dressed man in the building, I know the message he would want you to know today. Why can I say this? Because he has met his Maker and he desperately wants you to know the truth.
Maybe some of us today are struggling with our own value? Many of us, especially on a day like today, are struggling with despair and our own mortality. You may think, “Does my life really matter because I am not sure I can go on?” The Psalmist in Psalm 144 asks the question to God, “O Lord, what is man that You care for him, the son of man that You think of him?” In fact, the writer of Hebrews says that God made “humans a little lower than the angels; and crowned him with glory and honour.” You see, you and I are valuable because we come from God. He made us. Genesis 1:27, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
Not only do we come from God, but because He created us, we belong to Him. Some of you maybe doubt this, but think about your DNA. DNA is often called the Book of Life. Take out the programs we passed out! Ray Comfort points out that no one would dare say that the programs in your hands right now dropped from the sky with all the letters perfectly formed into intelligible words and then arranged into readable phrases and sentences.There had to be a designer of your program. Your program did not evolve over time to form letters and words and pictures. Think about it, each of you have 3 billion base pairs of DNA in you as your “book of life.” Scientists actually refer to our DNA as the “book of life.” Our DNA is a highly complex code that tells our bodies how to form. Would you say that this happened by accident? No, the book of life points to a writer or a creator. In the same way, our bodies point to God who created us. And all creators have a right of ownership. If you were to paint a picture or even make something, you have the first claim of ownership. My children, when they have drawn something, run to me and say, “Look at mypicture, daddy.” God can say about us, “Look at mycreation.” In fact, He did in Genesis 1:31, “God saw all that He had made, and it was very good.” It follows that if God is my Creator, He is also my Master. I belong to Him. Even the statement that one can take his or her own life is incorrect. We belong to God and we belong to each other. Our gathering today proves we have a responsibility to each other and our actions affect everybody else around us.
The problem is that we don’t act like God is our Master. We still have a choice and our responsible for our actions, not God. And too often our choice is to rebel against God and this explains why our world is so messed up and broken. Could this be one of the causes of depression?We are not living up to our true value before God and do a terrible job of trying to rule ourselves. This overwhelms us to varying degrees.
Because we have rebelled against our Loving Creator and Ruler, God gives rebels what they ask for. We might say to God, “Go away. Leave me alone.” God grants that wish because He won’t let us rebel forever! God cuts us off from Himself and because He is the source of all good things, being cut off from Him means death and hell. God’s judgment against rebels is an everlasting, God-less death. Hell is a place for people who want nothing to do with God and God doesn’t force them to be with Him. He loves people too much to force them to be with Him. But we do not realize how awful it is to be without God, even if we don’t acknowledge Him and His ever-presence.
However, there is good news. God sent His Son Jesus to take care of our rebellion. Jesus came to earth and lived perfectly under the rules of God. He even let Himself be executed on a cross. Why? Because Jesus died as a substitute for rebels like us! Our rebellion could be like defaulting on a loan. Remember, God created us and we belong to Him. We don’t really even belong to ourselves. Our bodies and lives are on loan from God. However, we get ourselves in debt by missing the payments of love and obedience that God requires. The debt is so massive that we can never pay it off without the help of the Heavenly Father. We are never good enough. Even if we are good for a time, our mess-ups cancel out all the good that we do because God demands absolute perfection. Anybody here perfect? So we have a major problem. A problem only God can fix. This is why God sent His Son Jesus to pay our debt. 1 Peter 3:18 says, “Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” Our lives are that valuable to God that He would send His Son to die for you and me.
Now do you think that God would create you and cause you to belong to Him by sending His Son to die for you and then not keep you? Of course not! This is in part why Jesus didn’t just die. He came back to life three days later rising from the grave. His body wasn’t stolen! Christ rose from the grave to conquer death and give you life forever. In fact, Jesus declares this about Himself in John 11:25-26, which you can read in your programs once again, “Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?’” Resurrection is better than reincarnation! Who would want to go through this life once again with all its pain and days of intense sorrow like we have had these past few days? Instead, resurrection promises a new and perfect body and living with God and His people in the new heavens and new earth for all eternity. You are now destined for God. Your life could be one of purpose and value for eternity. You do not have to merely cope with the difficulties of life but have confidence in Jesus that He will keep and comfort you. Remember what we read from Psalm 27:1, “The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear?” Depression has been labeled a stubborn darkness. Though that darkness may not flee entirely while on this earth, the LORD will provide enough of His light as a lamp unto your feet, if you will seek Him. The Psalmist faced all sorts of threats but he sought the Lord as verse 4 declares, “One thing have I asked of the LORD, that will I seek after; that I am dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to inquire in His temple.” And what does God promise? Relief from anxiety and shelter from depression, “For He will hide me in His shelter in the day of trouble; He will conceal me under the cover of His tent; He will lift me high upon a rock.”
Many think God has abandoned us. They identify with the Psalmist who questioned God, “Cast me not off; forsake me not” (Psalm 27:9). But then declared “O God of my salvation.”
This is the key point! The Psalmist knew he was a rebel. And this begs the question, how do you change over from being a rebel to a righteous person, from a victim to seeing yourself with value? Simply believe that only Jesus can pay off the debt you owe God. Ask God to forgive you of your rebellion and now live in such a way that shows you belong to Him. Just like a child who is rescued from a destitute orphanage, and adopted by her parents endeavours to show her gratitude for her rescue by being a well behaved and helpful child, so we desire to live in ways that show that same gratitude and love, by our obedience to God, our Heavenly Father.
God gave us the gift of Curtis. Now He wants to give us the gift of Jesus, which will radically change our lives. As Psalm 27:13 says, “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living! Wait for the LORD; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the LORD!” If you wait, you will receive! Will you receive another gift, no the ultimate gift, from God? It is assured because Jesus lives!
Ray Comfort, “The Atheist Delusion” film, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ChWiZ3iXWwM. Accessed November 13, 2017.
This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!
Finish this statement: “Keep your friends close and your _________________ even closer.”Do you know who made this statement? Al Pacino’s character in the movie “The Godfather” said that this was wise business advice passed onto him by his father.Is this statement true?There is much business literature that promotes this statement. Bill Gates puts it this way by borrowing and refashioning a Biblical reference, “Sometimes the lambs have to lie down with the wolves.” There is even a term Adam Brandenburger has given to summarize the statement, “Co-optition.”Not purely cooperation, but cooperating with the opposition. It sounds amazing doesn’t it? When enemies can work together. This might even sound like the answer to many people’s prayers that there would be peace on earth. No more factions, fighting and feuds. So I ask again, is the statement, “Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer” true? I even read this week a helpful article “Confronting Defensive People”that I shared with the Church Staff and Elders. The author, Jim Van Yperen, recommends we “move toward, not away” from defensive people. Now we need to remember that defensive people are not necessarily your enemies, but they sure act like it. Defensive people usually are people who have been hurt and still nurse a wound. They have unresolved conflict and take a daily dose of poison bitterness pills, which is slowly killing their heart. We need to move towards such defensive people unless they become divisive. If they are divisive, then after a few warnings, the Bible says to have nothing more to do with them (Titus 3:10). Hopefully none of you can self-identify or better yet, Holy Spirit identify that you are defensive or divisive. Is God convicting you of being defensive or divisive?If so, repent by recalling the grace and forgiveness God has shown you through Jesus Christ who was neither defensive or divisive when He was hurt. He was silent when accused and died on a Cross to unify us to God. God’s grace can sop up that deep wound. He can heal you today.
And yet, it still begs the question what do we do with our enemies? They don’t go away even if we no longer hold any bitterness toward them. Do we embrace them or refrain from embracing? Well, let’s find out from Ezra 4:1-6 as we continue our Rebuild series. My hope is that I cannot only show us the Old Testament lesson but the New Testament ethic found in Jesus Christ. We are going to learn that we should not only expect opposition, but oppose opposition. Anybody face opposition this week? I thought so! If you didn’t experience opposition this week, what’s wrong with you? You heard me right! Are you not making enough waves? Are you not on Satan’s most wanted list because you have been taking it easy and not praying or reading your Bible or acting with justice or worshipping God or sharing the gospel? Let’s walk in the Spirit and be a problem for the kingdom of darkness. You and I should expect opposition. I love this statement by Derek Kidner, “Nothing that is attempted for God will go unchallenged.”Let’s read Ezra 4:1-6 and keep attempting things for God by the Spirit of God to the glory of God. Read Ezra 4:1-6!
From these short six verses, we find the major tactics of our opponents under the thumb of Satan. I want to remind us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places”according to Ephesians 6:12. This is evidenced in Ezra 4:1! We know that this opposition was first and foremost spiritual with physical consequences. Look at verse 1, “Now when the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the people of the exile were building a temple to the LORD God of Israel.” Notice the enemies weren’t upset, or at least upset enough to do anything, until God’s people started rebuilding God’s House. Satan and his human pawns don’t usually have a big problem if you are trying to live out the North American dream of settling into a comfortable lifestyle. Notice how the exiles came back to their hometowns first to make a life for themselves. Ezra 2:1 records, “They returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town.” Satan does not have a problem with you being a hometown hero, living your life getting married, having kids, getting promoted at work, purchasing a cottage and renovating your house. But look out when you start renovating God’s house! That’s a turf war! Satan doesn’t want to give up his squatter rights in temples and churches. Medieval churches understood this. They put gargoyles on their buildings to decoratively drain the water off the stone and mortar like we use gutters, but gargoyles were also to supposedly ward off evil spirits because gargoyles were usually just the head of a beheaded demon. I like that medieval Christians acknowledged the spiritual world, but the problem is that Satan is not out in the world; he is also here. As my dad reminds us, “Satan is the most regular church attender.” Worship is warfare! If you recall, Israel’s enemies had been effective in getting the idolatrous Israel to be carted off to Babylon for 70 years. They thought that they had stopped the worship of Yahweh when the first temple was destroyed. The Jewish exiles return was unwelcome but it was not met with hostility. The Israelites would most likely go back to idol worship. But they didn’t! Exile had taught them to worship God alone. If you are going through some sort of exile, a great trial, your suffering can be used by God to get you narrowly focused on Him.
And when that happens, you will not only draw close to God and He will draw close to you, but so will the devil. Have you ever noticed that drawing close to God is like a magnet for both God and the devil? I used to think that getting so close to God would keep Satan at bay like a force shield, but it doesn’t. James 4:7-8 demonstrates the proximity of both the Lord and Lucifer when we seek God, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.” It is not just submitting and drawing close to God that causes the devil to flee, but resisting the devil. You have to resist because the devil has gotten close to you. Satan can’t stand us getting close to God and worshipping Him and building a house for Him. After walking with God for 40 years, I am still surprised that when I have enjoyed close fellowship with God and see Him work in mighty ways, how I often feel attack right afterwards. I come home and all hell seems to be breaking loose. Am I the only one that has experienced this? I am shocked because I think the peace and serenity with Jesus will flow into every aspect of my life, but like in the peaceful Garden of Eden, Satan loves to pick on the weakest members of the family.
Furthermore, the devil loves to use the same old tactics that have been tried and true (or more accurately false) for millennia. They have been used on you and me and all of God’s people from the beginning of time and are highly effective. In the Garden of Eden, Satan took on the form of a serpent and infiltrated or got between the first couple Adam and Eve. Satan discouraged and placed doubts in Eve when he questioned her, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1) She got confused when Satan promised something to her she already had – “you will be like God” (Genesis 3:5) because she was already made in God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27). And Adam and Eve were afraid of God after eating the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3:10). So we see Satan’s playbook from the beginning! Satan’s playbook is: 1) Infiltrate; 2) Discourage; 3) Frighten; and 4) Confuse.Let’s unpack these tactics because as the theologian G.I. Joe says, “Knowing is half the battle,” and then we can know how to fight these tactics using godly weapons. I am guessing that some of you have already been infiltrated in your families, workplaces, schools and ministries by your enemies. Jesus makes it clear not to tear them out of your life or the community in a parable He taught about the wheat and tares in Matthew 13:24-30. Go love them and care for those who are against God. Overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21)
But if your enemies haven’t infiltrated your close relationships, don’t let them. Jealously guard your intimacy with God and each other. You see, I have learned something about playbooks as a coach. It is good to know your enemy and study game film on them, but you can’t just adjust your defence and forget about your offence. The Church is on the offence! Remember what Jesus proclaimed in Matthew 16:18, “I will build My church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” What happens to a team that is winning and just starts playing defensively? They often let their opponents back in a game and can lose. That is why they say the most dangerous score in hockey is to be up two goals. You rest on your laurels. Instead, you must keep fighting. Well, God is not going to lose and He isn’t just playing defense. God’s armour is not made for retreat but a hard charging, forward advancing church. This is why I don’t just want to you to know your enemy but to know your God and His playbook, which we call the Bible. Ezra 4:2 records the enemies’ play, “They(the enemies) approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ households and said to them, ‘Let us build with you, for we, like you, seek your God; and we have been sacrificing to Him since the days of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us up here.” If you pay attention and listen carefully, Satan will often give away clues or “tells” like a poker player. He lies because he has to twist the truth and Scriptures. In Ezra 4:2, there are three tells or warning signs to pay attention so you and I don’t make any unholy alliances. The first tell is a pronoun. Pay attention to pronouns! The Jewish enemies requested, ‘Let us build with you, for we, like you, seek yourGod.” Whenever people say “your God,” it is a big red flag. Why? Because they have not used a personal possessive of God! They don’t see that they belong to God and God belongs to them. Even avoiding the pronoun and just using God’s name alone is okay. But saying “your God” is a wedge of distance between a person and God. Instead, we should look fore first person singular with the use of “my” and first person plural “our.” The second tell is the phrase, “we have been sacrificing to Him.” That may sound great, but it meant that these people had been sacrificing animals all through the period of the exile. You may ask what the problem with that was? Well, these people were sacrificing without a fully sanctioned place and priest. The temple was destroyed and the Levites and priests were hauled off to Babylon. Israel had gotten itself into trouble for hundreds of years by sacrificing on the high places (1 Kings 3:2-3; 12:32, 13:1-5; 14:23; 2 Kings 17:29; 18:4; 23:13-14). Sometimes the Israelites would worship other gods on these high places and sometimes Jehovah (1 Kings 3:2). And what was the problem with worshipping Jehovah in other places than Jerusalem? Weren’t the people getting closer to God by worshipping on mountaintops? The problem with worshipping in other places other than Jerusalem was that it divided rather than multiplied worship. This is why the Israelites were so concerned about the tribes on the eastern side of the Jordan River setting up an altar in Joshua 22:10-34. It was why the Israelite nation divided over worship in the northern cities of Bethel and Dan in 1 Kings 12:26-30 rather than in Jerusalem. And though nowadays we can worship the Lord anywhere on this globe (John 4:23), it does not negate the importance of worshipping TOGETHER the Lord God. This is why when people say to me that they are worshipping God only at home or at the cottage or out in nature and neglect the assembling together, they are breaking faith. God loves when we worship Him individually, but the church gathered is a collective manifest of His presence. Like a dad who loves to have all his kids around the family table, so does God love all His children gathered together. That is why we can say God is here when we worship together!
Worshipping at our private high places is dangerous. The Israelites were to destroy the high places according to Numbers 33:52. Creating our own Towers of Babel and trying to build to God will bring about confusion. Instead God has come to us. We don’t have to climb to Him. Doesn’t this truth help make sense of the prediction in Isaiah 40:4 of a flattening to make way for the Messiah? “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low.” There was to be no sacrificing on the high places until Jesus Himself was lifted up. But the remaining Jews, known today as the Samaritans, worshipped God in a wrong way from the time of Esharhaddon. That is the third tell in this verse that revealed the true, dark colours of the Samaritans’ request. The Samaritans did not mention an Israelite or Jewish king but an Assyrian king who ruled about a hundred years before the Babylonian exile. Ersharhaddon ruled from “681-669 BC”and is probably the king referred to in 2 Kings 17:24. This was a pagan king that the Samaritans were aligning themselves too. Ersarhaddon planted his seeds of destruction in the ten northern tribes; in effect, his own tares in Israel. So all this to say that if youpay attention to people’s pronouns, praises and their partners, you can become wise to the devil’s schemes. Let me repeat that truth: if you pay attention to the pronouns, people’s praises and their partners and process them from a Biblical grid, you can become wise to the devil’s schemes. Remember, you have the belt of truth and the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God that will reveal the veracity of any request or claim.
So what was the response to the request to partner? Rejection! And that should be our first response to our opponents: Reject unholy partnerships! I have seen too many times that people have slowly formed a partnership because they need help or have a need and then when their emotions are all entangled, the people of God have had to compromise their convictions. When I was in Africa, one of the most shocking things I heard was how the Voodoo Witch Doctor would be the one presiding over the Catholic Bishop’s burial in the city of Ouidah, Benin. People think it is good to hedge your bets and be 50% Voodoo and 50% Catholic. Guess what, neither are 100% followers of Jesus. 2 Corinthians 6:14-16makes clear, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God.”It bears repeating what I have taught you in the past – straddling the fence always hurts. You will hurt yourself and many others if you make intimate partnerships in romance and business. Now if you are already aligned in marriage with somebody who does not believe in Jesus Christ, stick with them! (1 Corinthians 7:13) Love them! But what I am saying is the multi-faith proposition does not work! Avoid infiltration by rejecting unholy partnerships!This was Zerubbabel’s and Jeshua’s response in Ezra 4:3, “You have nothing in common with us in building a house to our God; but we ourselves will together build to the LORD God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia has commanded us.” “The Persian king granted the right to build only to the returnees, not to any other people.Get locked down on what was promised and commanded by God!
But Satan doesn’t give up. Notice round two of the fight in Ezra 4:4, “Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah.” The devil’s next tactic is discouragement. This may be the most deadly and has taken out the most amount of people. Pastors leave the ministry. Friends and family and comedians commit self-murder because they have lost hope. Satan doesn’t need voodoo here in Canada because he has depression and discouragement! My friends, I’ll remind you what I said last week. To overcome discouragement, worship God together. Remind yourselves how big God is and it will right-size your problems. I don’t say it is an easy fix, but I’m mad about how many people are sad. Fight discouragement by worshipping God together.
The first tactic of our enemies is infiltration. The second tactic of our enemies is discouragement. The third tactic of our enemies is fear. The last part of verse 4 reveals, “The people of the land … frightenedthem from building.”How do we overcome fear? Embrace God’s perfect love to cast out fear!The best thing the returning exiles could do is remember God’s covenantal promise of loving them and bringing them back to the land. They needed to go back to what they shouted in Ezra 3:11, “For He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
Satan’s playbook is 1) Infiltrate; 2) Discourage; 3) Frighten; and 4) Confuse. That last tactic is found in verse 5, “And hired counsellors against them to frustrate their counsel all the days of Cyrus, king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.” The Jews had legal problems! In other words, “The Persian officials were bribed to frustrate the plans of the returnees.”Money is often part of the equation. This is partly why Jesus talked so much about money. It is the biggest competing god in our culture against the true living God. It keeps us from getting close to God. People are very confused and frustrated about storing up treasure on earth. And what was the result? “Through the reign of Cambyses up to the time of Darius, the enemies of Judah succeed in stopping the building operations.”The work stopped. The enemies won! The devil defeated God’s grace, right?
No, what does verse 6 say? “Now in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.” That name Ahasuerus may spark something in you. Who was he? I’ll give you a hint! He was the husband of Queen Esther. God used a beautiful young Jewish girl who, after receiving a year of beauty treatments in a harem, had one night with the king and was made Queen. Listen to what Esther 8:1, 16-17declares, “On that day King Ahaseurus gave to Queen Esther the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews… The Jews had light and gladness and joy and honor. And in EVERY PROVINCE and in EVERY CITY, wherever the king’s command and his edict reached, there was gladness and joy among the Jews, a feast and holiday. And many from the peoples of the country declared themselves Jews, for fear of the Jews had fallen on them.” (CAPS added for emphasis)
Do you see what God did? He not only defeated His enemies in Jerusalem but in Persia and most of the known world. God may let Satan win a skirmish because He wants to win the war and save all His people. As Eric Liddell, the missionary and Olympian from Chariots of Fire fame reminds us, “Circumstances may appear to wreak our lives and God’s plans, but God is not helpless among the ruins!”My friends, isn’t this what Jesus did? His disciples were infiltrated by Satan’s pawn Judas! They were discouraged, frightened and confused because Jesus died. But then Jesus rose from the grave, not only giving victory to His disciples there in Jerusalem, but all of His disciples everywhere for all time! Jesus didn’t keep His friends close and His enemies closer. Jesus kept His friends close and made His enemies His friends. He can save you from the Devil’s schemes and make you His friend today. Repent and do not give into the tactics of the evil one. Jesus’ playbook is better. He has infiltrated us by giving us the Holy Spirit, encouraging us to worship God, embracing us with His perfect love and giving us a sound mind. You can repent and receive Christ today and even be baptized to show your allegiance to Jesus Christ!
Source: https://www.forbes.com/sites/aileron/2012/12/27/keeping-your-enemies-closer/#30dca2285727. Accessed February 21, 2019.
Source: https://www.christianitytoday.com/pastors/2004/june-online-only/cln40615.html?utm_source=leadership-html&utm_medium=Newsletter&utm_term=13556336&utm_content=636289387&utm_campaign=email. Accessed February 21, 2019.
This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!
Have you ever been to an event when there was great regret and rejoicing at the same time? The ones that come to mind the most are the ones on the sports field. You have on the one side a team celebrating and a team on the other side sobbing. Laughing and lament all rolled into one moment. The cameras love to juxtapose the extremes of human emotion. I have been on both sides. I have had to sit and watch my opponents full of gigantic grins and necks overwhelmed with heavy championship medals. I have also had the honour on occasion of being on the winning side of a big victory and it is a temporarily rapturous feeling. When we won our provincial championship this past year, my heart was beating out of my chest, tears of joy flowing and middle-aged men jumping up and down and 15 year old boys hugging that they would never do otherwise.
Did you know that the Bible captures a similar snapshot? No, it is not at a sporting event, but at a worship ceremony. Let’s read Ezra 3:12-13 to discover that as we rebuild we should expect both discouragement and delight. Discouragement and delight are part of the rebuilding process. This is true if you are rebuilding your muscles in rehab. You are going to have some discouraging days at physiotherapy but then other days when you see progress and the physiotherapist is impressed with your comeback. Discouragement and delight are part of the rebuilding process in a marriage. There will be setbacks but grace can be the glue that keeps you going forward. And discouragement and delight are part of the rebuilding of a church both spiritually and physically. Let’s read more about how discouragement and delight are part of the rebuilding process. Read Ezra 3:12-13!
Expect discouragement and delight whenever your rebuild God’s work!One of the big lessons we learn in the passage is that weeping and worship can happen at the same time. In a community, even a community that is unified and progressing, you are going to have people who are happy and people who are heartbroken. Today I want to talk about people’s initial response to the work of God, what they did about it and how we find hope no matter what emotional state we are in. In fact, I bet a similar situation has already occurred here today in our worship service. There were some of you who walked in here so full of joy from a great week that your greeting, singing, praying and giving have been overflow of God’s work. Others of you walked in here feeling so empty and wondering if you are going to make it. You were hoping that God would fill you up because your emotional and spiritual gas tank is running on fumes. My friends, I have good news for you: Both those that laugh and those that lament can and should still worship.This is why it is so good to read the Psalms and get the full breadth of human emotion before God. Reading and praying through the Psalms causes you worship at all times of the emotional spectrum: joy and jealousy, feeling fantastic and feeling frustration.
Let me talk about the various responses to God’s work. I want to address both the discouraged and the delighted. Verse 12 describes the discouraged, “But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ house, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy.” “It was the older people who were disappointed.”They had been there when they were forced to leave Solomon’s glorious temple and be carted off to Babylon. I’ll read a little bit of how the Bible records the beauty of Solomon’s Temple when it was first made from 1 Kings 6:14-36. Just listen and imagine yourself there at the grand opening of Solomon’s temple, “14 So Solomon built the house and finished it. 15 He lined the walls of the house on the inside with boards of cedar. From the floor of the house to the walls of the ceiling, he covered them on the inside with wood, and he covered the floor of the house with boards of cypress. 16 He built twenty cubits of the rear of the house with boards of cedar from the floor to the walls, and he built this within as an inner sanctuary, as the Most Holy Place. 17 The house, that is, the nave in front of the inner sanctuary, was forty cubits long. 18 The cedar within the house was carved in the form of gourds and open flowers. All was cedar; no stone was seen. 19 The inner sanctuary he prepared in the innermost part of the house, to set there the ark of the covenant of the Lord. 20 The inner sanctuary was twenty cubits long, twenty cubits wide, and twenty cubits high, and he overlaid it with pure gold. He also overlaid an altar of cedar.21 And Solomon overlaid the inside of the house with pure gold, and he drew chains of gold across, in front of the inner sanctuary, and overlaid it with gold. 22 And he overlaid the whole house with gold, until all the house was finished. Also the whole altar that belonged to the inner sanctuary he overlaid with gold.23 In the inner sanctuary he made two cherubim of olivewood, each ten cubits high. 24 Five cubits was the length of one wing of the cherub, and five cubits the length of the other wing of the cherub; it was ten cubits from the tip of one wing to the tip of the other. 25 The other cherub also measured ten cubits; both cherubim had the same measure and the same form.26 The height of one cherub was ten cubits, and so was that of the other cherub. 27 He put the cherubim in the innermost part of the house. And the wings of the cherubim were spread out so that a wing of one touched the one wall, and a wing of the other cherub touched the other wall; their other wings touched each other in the middle of the house. 28 And he overlaid the cherubim with gold.29 Around all the walls of the house he carved engraved figures of cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, in the inner and outer rooms. 30 The floor of the house he overlaid with gold in the inner and outer rooms.31 For the entrance to the inner sanctuary he made doors of olivewood; the lintel and the doorposts were five-sided. 32 He covered the two doors of olivewood with carvings of cherubim, palm trees, and open flowers. He overlaid them with gold and spread gold on the cherubim and on the palm trees.33 So also he made for the entrance to the nave doorposts of olivewood, in the form of a square, 34 and two doors of cypress wood. The two leaves of the one door were folding, and the two leaves of the other door were folding. 35 On them he carved cherubim and palm trees and open flowers, and he overlaid them with gold evenly applied on the carved work. 36 He built the inner court with three courses of cut stone and one course of cedar beams. Though not one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, this gleaming golden sanctuary would have been spectacular. And let’s not forget the most important part was that the Ark of the Covenant had been placed in there according to 1 Kings 8:1-11. That alone would make Indiana Jones quake with excitement.
Solomon’s temple was glorious but what the elderly forgot was that Solomon’s Temple had been given away piece by piece through the years. This happened almost as soon as Solomon died because at the end of his life, his many wives turned his heart to idolatry. 1 Kings 14:25-26 records, “In the fifth year of King Rehoboam, Shishak king of Egypt came up against Jerusalem. He took away the treasuries of the house of the LORD and treasuries of the king’s house. He took away everything.” That meant the gold because in 1 Kings 15:16-18we read a later king by the name of Asa gave away more of Solomon’s original temple furnishings, “And there was war between Asa and Baasha king of Israel all their days. Baasha king of Israel went up against Judah and built Ramah that he might permit no one to go out or come in to Asa king of Judah. Then Asa took all the silver and the gold that were left in the treasuries of the Lord…and gave them into the hands of his servants. And King Asa sent them to Ben-hadad … king of Syria… to fight against Baasha and the rest of the Israelites.” Can you imagine giving away the church sound equipment to pay for Muslims to fight against Hespeler Baptist Church, our sister church down the road? That was akin to what Asa did and worse and yet he was considered one of Judah’s good kings. And then there was good King Hezekiah later on who we read in 2 Kings 18:14-15,“… And the king of Assyria required of Hezekiah king of Judah three hundred talents of gold. And Hezekiah gave him all the silver that was (left – added) found in the house of the LORD… and the gold from the doors of the temple of the Lord.” For years, Israel’s kings had given away part of Solomon’s Temple to appease attacking armies sent by God to discipline the Israelites for their idolatry and unfaithfulness to God. The elders in Ezra’s day would have forgotten that their forefathers who witnessed the brand new Temple of Solomon would have thought the pre-exile Temple tired and less glorious. Their forefathers may have wept themselves at the sight. Solomon’s Temple had become a shell of what is once was. My point is that we will always be disappointed at physical efforts. Decay will win. Legacies we try to leave on earth will not last. This is why Jesus taught in Matthew 6:19-20, “Do not lay up treasures on earth where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal.”So why are we rebuilding Temple? Why spend all this money on something that will not ultimately last? It is because the people who will come will last forever as they received Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour.
It is dangerous to build earthly legacies or romanticize the past. The good old times weren’t as good as we think! I look back at times when I was younger and have fond memories. This was true going through school and when I got married and when we started having children. There were some amazing joys on the sports fields and classroom but I tend to forget about getting bullied at school. Or how Lori and I had to learn who was going to lead when we first got married because we are both firstborns. Or the sleepless nights holding those sweet smelling and sometimes not sweet smelling babies of ours. It was the same in Ezra’s day. The exiles became exiles because of their idolatry. Which is why I don’t think this was only about the old people. You see, they were disappointed at something worse. Ezekiel 10-11 records the vision that God’s glory had left the temple. And this may have been the cause of concern for the Jewish veterans. Michael Morales explains, “The historical return from exile did not usher in the new heavens and new earth, nor was it an exodus to the make the previous one out of Egypt pale by comparison. As to the rebuilt house of God, many of the elderly priests, Levites and leaders of Jerusalem wept as they recalled the greater splendours of Solomon’s temple, and most devastating, the glory of YHWH never returned to the second temple. These considerations, along with the manifest lack of renewal in the hearts of the Jewish returnees, served to foster the understanding that Israel was indeed still in exile, still awaiting the glorious new exodus, an apocalyptic expectation that would lead the flock of God to the heavenly Jerusalem, the heavenly Mount Zion.”In other words, the older Jews’ expectations were higher because they believed the Messiah to come back after the temple was rebuilt and fully restore Israel. Roughly two hundred years earlier God promised in Isaiah 35:1-10, especially verse 10, “And the ransomed of the LORD shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” And Isaiah 40:9-11 promised the Lord Himself would come through the Messiah, “Get you up to a high mountain, O Zion, herald of good news: lift up your voice with strength, O Jerusalem, herald of good news; lift it up, fear not; say to the cities of Judah, ‘Behold, your God!’ Behold, the LORD God comes with might, and his arm rules for him; behold, his reward is with him; and his recompense before him. He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” So this was not an age problem but an anticipation problem. And this can be true for all of us. Aren’t you eager for Jesus to come to earth and recreate the New Heavens and New Earth? We have been waiting nearly 2000 years. And so there is a certain reality that all of us should weep until Jesus returns. Isn’t this what Jesus explained in Matthew 9:14-15, “Then the disciples of John came to Jesus saying, ‘Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?’ And Jesus said to them, ‘Can the wedding guests mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them? The days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast.” (c.f. Isaiah 22:12) Therefore, we should be weeping and fasting until Jesus comes back! No wonder, “The spontaneous cry of disappointment, breaking into the celebrations of Ezra 3, was a foretaste of much that was to follow.”
The problem is if we don’t also celebrate. Before Christmas we studied Haggai as part one of our Build series. Recall Haggai 2:3 which states, “Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory? How do you see it now? Is it not as nothing in your eyes?”Let’s not let our eagerness for God’s glory and Jesus’ return cause us not to celebrate the smaller wins today like people coming to faith in Christ. God is still working. These efforts on earth still count as long as we rely on the Lord and His power. Right after the famous verse, “This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel, ‘Not by might, not by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the Lord of Hosts,” we read this prophecy, Zechariah 4:8-10, “Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house; his hands shall also complete it. Then you willknow that the LORD of hosts has sent me to you. For whoever has despised the day of small things shall rejoice.”These small things were actual stones. The stones were small in comparison to what Solomon had constructed. “The contrast between the small stones used here in Ezra 3 and the huge blocks used in Solomon’s temple might have been too much for the older people. Even today the smaller Turkish stones of the Western Wall of the platform stand in glaring contrast to the huge stones used in Herod’s time.”We can see this in this picture of the Western Wall. These walls are still a place of prayer. And yet, the stones do not have power in themselves. They are only reminders of God’s faithfulness in the past. God’s stones now move with His spirit. 1 Peter 2:4-5 declares this truth about Christ and you His Church, “As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”
Let me read Michael Morales’ explanation, “Israel’s historical return from Babylon to form a nation once more was a resurrection of sorts – a feat for the nations to behold. While exile meant death for Israel theologically, it took the uneventful return from Babylon, laced with hardship and a stumbling back into the former sins, to drive the point home. Sheol (the place of death) was not merely a characteristic of life in Babylon, but of Israel’s national heart – Israel was dead spiritually, in darkness. The return to Judea served only to clarify both the diagnosis and the prophesied remedy. Upon the outpouring of the Spirit – and only then – would Israel become the new Israel, the Israel that had been resurrected from Sheol and ushered into the heavenly abode of God.”And only Christ would accomplish this! This is the hope that we all share.
And that hope, whether disappointed or delighted, can turn into action. Listen up as this is really important! In Ezra 3, both the disappointed and delighted still worked on and worshipped at the Temple together. This is why verse 8 uses the word “ALL who had come from the captivity” and in verse 11, “ALL the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD.” Disappointment ≠Doing Nothing! We must learn to engage when discouraged. When you are down, take a hymnal and sing through it. Listen to your favourite worship music. Recall Job’s words, “Though He slay me, yet I will trust in Him” (Job 13:15). Or go serve the Lord and people. Working for and worshiping God fights depression.Why? It gets the focus off ourselves, which can be very depressing. But don’t work and worship alone. Do it with God’s people. The best thing to do when you are down is to come to church. Worship and work together to rebuild God’s Temple of praise. We must learn, “The temple was, of course, more than a location, but included also the rituals of cleansing and atonement, the Festival gatherings and so on.”And our new building will be more than new walls and rooms; it will be a place of great community to have fellowship with God and each other. A recreated property should cause in us a rekindled passion for the lost. A desire to go! Remember, “The procession of the nations to the new Zion marks the profound reversal to the exile of the nations from the tower of Babylon.”The exiled Jews built not just for themselves, but the hope that more would come and future generations would worship God there.
The good news is that it didn’t need to just happen in Jerusalem. Why? Because Jesus is the new Temple (John 2:19) and through the Holy Spirit, we can worship in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). Jesus has been resurrected and as His Body we are part of His new Temple (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). The Temple of God is now on the move! We can be both discouraged and delighted and still have hope as we work and worship on rebuilding God’s House.Let’s sing with a great shout to the Lord. May the world not know whether we are discouraged or disappointed as verse 13 says and may the sound be heard far away – to the ends of the earth that Jesus has set us free!
This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!
Why do you worship?You do know that it is impossible not to worship. Last Sunday night after the Super bowl, there was a show hosted by James Corden with celebrity and international judges entitled “The World’s Best.” Did anybody watch it? I didn’t watch the show long because it was past my bedtime but I was amazed at the literal kick-off of the show. The Korean Flying Taekwondo group jumped and kicked through wood boards high up in the air. It was jaw dropping and when the group was finished their routine, all the judges and audience leapt to their feet in applause and praise. Unlike what happened at the Super bowl, where some praised and others pouted, everybody worshipped. You see, as human beings created in the image of God, we cannot help but worship. We were made to worship. Animals don’t worship, but we do. It is impossible for us not to worship. When we see something praise worthy or something that impresses us we clap, shout, and tell others about what we saw.
It is impossible not to worship. So this begs two questions: 1) Who are you worshipping? 2) Why are you worshipping? Today’s sermon focuses on why are you worshipping and this will help answer who you are worshipping. And all this is done in view of the Lord’s Supper. Often the Lord’s Supper is a reflective time, but today we want to make a rejoicing time. In other words, today is less contemplative and more celebrative. Why? Because we are to remember the Lord’s death until He comes and He is coming again! That is super exciting. It is super exciting if you know and believe in Jesus. Do you believe in Jesus and that He is coming again to earth?
Why are we celebrating the Lord’s Supper? It is the same reason why the returning Jewish exiles rejoiced in Ezra 3:8-11. The Lord had freed them and re-established their worship of God. I sometimes wonder whether we don’t rejoice enough because we are not freed enough. There are still too many things that we are attached to from our old life. The Jews were freed from Babylon after 70 years of exile and could go back home to worship God. I want you to be free from sin, from debt, from bondage to Satan. Jesus can do all this for you!
I am going to read Ezra 3:8-11 in a minute but I first want to give us the background. The Jews came back after the long and dangerous trip and the first thing they did after going back to their hometowns was re-establish worship in Jerusalem. We learned last week that they built an altar unto God at the site of the temple. Ezra 3:7 records, “They set an altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening.” Maybe you have glossed over that verse or similar verses like this in the past, or maybe you are so familiar with your Bible that you are apathetic to animal sacrifice. I was until I went to India and saw Hindus sacrificing goats to appease their gods. When you see a small baby goat getting slaughtered it changes you. I have held goats in Israel and have seen them up close and personal in Africa. Lori and I really like goats. If we lived on a farm, we would have goats. So why sacrifice goats and sheep?
Permit me to be a little crass so I can confess my uncertainties. Here is a question I have wondered for sometime: Why does God love barbeque? I mean I love barbeque. The smell makes my mouth start to water. Often celebrations are coupled with barbequing meat such as having a barbeque on Canada Day or Memorial Day weekend. That makes sense to me, but what I hadn’t figured out until just recently is why does God seem to love barbeque? Why would He create these cute little animals and have them humanely slaughtered and burnt on an altar. In fact, the Bible calls such aromas as “pleasing aromas unto the Lord.” This is first mentioned in Genesis 8:21 when Noah first came off the ark and sacrificed animals on an altar to the Lord. This pleasing aroma to the Lord is repeatedly mentioned in Scripture in such places as Leviticus 1:9 and Numbers 18:17 to name just a couple.
So how did a group of returning Jewish exiles come to a place of rejoicing after an animal sacrifice? Were they in a demonic trance from the shedding of blood as I saw in India? No, Michael Morales explains animal sacrifice, “The rite of a burnt sacrifice not only transforms the animal into an aroma pleasing to God, but also by that transformation – causes it to ascend to his heavenly abode.Stated differently, the transformational burning was for the sake of transferring the animal, and the worship vicariously through it, from the ordinary earthly plane to the divinely heavenly realm, to the ownership of God.”In other words, the animals burning created a sweet smell on earth that the priest and sometimes the sacrificer would eat, like at Passover but the aroma also rose to heaven. This meant it was a fellowship meal between God and His people, but it was so much more. By accepting this sacrifice of a perfect lamb, God was in a sense seating the one atoned for in heaven. This is how Ephesians 1:3 & 7 start to make sense, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places… in Him (Christ) we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace.” There are some who are appalled at animal sacrifice. There are still others who are appalled at substitutionary atonement and that Jesus would need to become the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29). However, as this video from the Bible Project shows, it is this sacrifice of Christ that does multiple things:1) Atones for our sins; 2) Seats us in heaven with Godin a relational and spiritual sense; and it 3) Gives us fellowship or Communion with God, which is why the Lord’s Supper is often called Communion. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=G_OlRWGLdnw)
Now that we have seen that video, the rejoicing after the sacrifice and building starts to make sense. Let’s read Ezra 3:8-11 and then respond with great singing and eating to the Lord. Read Ezra 3:8-11!
Here is the truth we find from this passage in a sentence: Sacrificing and building leads to worshipping God! Or to make it more personal: Sacrifice and build for God and it will shout His praises.The returning exiles took the time just long enough to rebuild their homes and take care of their families. But they didn’t wait too long before focusing on sacrificing to God as we learned last week. And in only the second year back from the exile, we read in Ezra 3:8-9 they began the work on the house of the Lord, “Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak and the rest of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all who came from the captivity to Jerusalem, began the work and appointed the Levites from twenty years and older to oversee the work of the house of the Lord. Then Jeshua with his sons and brothers stood united with Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah and the sons of Henadad with their sons and brothers the Levites, to oversee the workmen in the temple of God.” We notice a number of lessons from these two verses: 1) Work began soon after arrival; 2) Everybody worked including the governmental and religious leaders; 3) Young people worked on God’s House and 4) This was a family project. The work began in only year two of the return. This included Zerubbabel, the governor as well as Jeshua, the high priests. In fact, notice the phrase “ALL who came from the captivity to Jerusalem.” No one was left behind and everybody had a job to do. Derek Kidner reflects, “There was enthusiasm, reflected in the ‘all’ who came forward for the work, but there was strict attention to standards, as is shown by the double mention of the oversight: first of work (v. 8), secondly of the workmen (v. 9).These workmen began young and younger than what was expected. Everybody has a part to play, but they have to play their designated part.
Numbers 4:1-3 required that the minimum age for the Levites to work onthe Tent of Meeting was age 30, “The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron saying, ‘Take a census of the sons of Kohath from among the sons of Levi, by their clans and their fathers’ houses, from thirty years old up to fifty years old, all who can come on duty, to do the work in the tent of meeting.” Numbers 8:23-24 required the minimum age to work inthe Tent of Meeting was age 25, “And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, ‘This applies to the Levites: from twenty-five years old and upward they shall come to do duty in the service of the tent of meeting.” However, when you are short of Levites as we discovered in Ezra 2:40-42 where there were few Levites in comparison to the priests (Ezra 2:38-39), you lower the minimum age.
Let me apply these lessons to our situation at Temple. 1) If you are new to us, we want you to jump right in with service to the Lord.Sure, it takes awhile to get to know each other and we have a 6 month rule of regular attendance to work with our children as well as a key leadership position requires time-testedness, but the best thing you could do is start serving. Join today! Talk to one of our pastors! 2) We want everybody to serve who calls themselves followers of Christ. We need the skills of the Zerubbabels who have business and governmental experience and expertise and we need the skills of the Jeshuas who have religious experience and expertise. We want and need everybody to serve. 3) If you are young and have the character and competence to serve, we will platform you.This is why young children can become members at Temple. Sure, they might not become Elders at age 14, but they can serve. Did you know that we have teenagers joining Pastor Jason and George Kalil on our Benevolence Committee? Young people can do ministry that really matters here at Temple. 4) Serve together as a family!Parents, if you want your faith to be contagious, takes your kids wherever you go and serve. I take my kids on hospital visits. We have those in Frontline ministry who have their kids help them serve. We call them Jr. Frontliners! Those are the kids who are asking us pastors about getting baptized because they are serving with their parents. Are your kids engaged in ministry?
Look what happens in Ezra 3 when the people sacrificed and built – it spilled over into praise. And not just muted praise! Verse 10 declares, “Now when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests stood in the their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD according to the directions of King David of Israel.” Trumpets and cymbals make loud praises to the Lord. We are conscious not to blast you out of the Worship Centre or to damage your ears, but God wants loud worship. And yet notice, the worship was still orderly. They followed the directions of the sweet song leader of Israel, King David!
And then notice verse 11, “They sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, saying, ‘For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.’ And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.” The loudest instrument the people used was their own voices. I love what Pastor Jason has said, “The best instrument is the human voice because it is the one that God directly created.” At Temple, we try to be Spirit and congregational led in our worship. We want you to drown out the instruments with your voices. We want you to silence Satan with your loud praises to God. And we want you to sings songs of praise and thanks. This verse teaches, “Two types of songs were sung, namely, songs of praise and thanksgiving songs.” What are you praising God for? What are you thankful to God for? Shout it out!
So let’s go back to my original question: why do you worship? It isn’t just because of sacrificing and building. But because you have met not only the World’s Best but the Universe’s Best. You have witnessed God’s best – His Son Jesus Christ. And He is good! We praise the Lord because He is good! God is good, all the time! All the time, God is good! His lovingkindness endures forever. It is this lovingkindness, which is hesed or covenantal love. God has kept His covenant with us. And we see this most clearly in the sacrifice of Jesus and the new covenant He has established with us. Let’s rejoice and eat together with our great God and let’s build a house for us to worship God in greater ways!
Source: https://www.cbs.com/shows/the-worlds-best/. Accessed February 7, 2019.
Source: https://thebibleproject.com/blog/animal-sacrifice-really/. Accessed February 7, 2019.
This sermon can be watched or listened to at www.templebaptistchurch.ca!
What would happen if we acted as one man?Have you ever been in an environment when there was great agreement on a common cause and a group was bonded in a short period of time? Maybe it was a sport team who came together to win a championship? Maybe it was work team or department within your company that completed a massive project? Maybe you were part of a squad of soldiers? Maybe it was a mission’s trip? Maybe it was a core team that planted a church? Maybe it is a couple or a family that has reconciled? Often the group comes together to face a common danger or enemy. There is actually a term for this! Anthropologist Victor Turner calls this phenomenon “communitas.”It is a sense of community on steroids and often creates a greater bond than family, which is why those in the military or police or firefighters may have a greater sense of loyalty to their fraternity than their family. An example of communitas that Alan Hirsch describes is what happens in some tribal groups, “In some tribes younger boys are kept under the care of the women until initiation age – around thirteen. At the appropriate time the men sneak into the female compound of the village at night and ‘kidnap’ the lads. The boys are blindfolded, then roughed up, and herded out of the village and taken into the bush. They are then circumcised and left to fend for themselves in the wild African Bush for a period lasting up to six months. Once a month the elders of the tribe go to meet them to help debrief and mentor them. But on the whole they have to find both inner and outer resources to cope with the ordeal pretty much by themselves. This test involves intense feelings of social togetherness and belonging brought about by having to rely on each other in order to survive. If the boys emerge from these experiences, they are reintroduced into the tribe as men. They are thus accorded the full status of manhood – they are no longer considered boys.”And they become men together forging the next generation of a band of brothers who will lead the tribe someday.
There was a group of Jews who experienced such communitas. They had been living in captivity in Babylon for nearly 70 years and were finally released by King Cyrus to go back to their homeland in Israel. They were the first to go back. They had a dangerous and significant task to do – rebuild the temple of God. And as my friend Mike Thiessen says, “The first one through the wall has bloody teeth.” This group was going headfirst. They were diving in and would have the scars to prove it. And they did it together. They were on a God-ordained adventure. “Most adventure stories involve a group of desparate people who have to work together to overcome a looming danger. Communitas features in just about every adventure movie from The Wizard of Ozto the Lord of the Rings.”So let’s read about what happens next for the returning exiles and their God-ordained adventure in Ezra 3:1-7! Last week we learned that we need a sense of belonging, which will result in purity and generosity. The connector between Ezra 2 and 3 is that you first had to establish qualified leaders for communal and legitimate worship and this is why there was a listing of all the families. Now we see what those families did when they reached their destination in Ezra 3. Read Ezra 3:1-7!
Can you imagine if communitas happened at Temple? I actually think it has. We have enjoyed such precious unity here these past six years. We have witnessed God overcome the closure of our Academy we had for 35 years. We saw God’s protection and provision through a lawsuit. We have seen time and time again, the life of this church has been threatened but we have stuck together, especially in an ever-increasing hostile culture to the things of God. Many of our Elders and Deacons have been war-time leaders and have also learned to be peace-time leaders. God has given us a common mission. We have been humbled and know that we are on mission with Jesus to turn broken people into whole people who will multiply Christ-followers. We have experienced what Ezra 3 describes! Here is the truth of the passage: Pursue sacrifice and generosity continuously and you will maintain unity.At first I thought we should pursue unity, but I don’t think that is the Biblical teaching or reality. Unity is a result of sacrifice and generosity, not the cause of it. What would happen if we pursued unity is that we would trade for it uniformity. We would demand that everybody think and be the same. That is what happens in a cult. You see, “Uniformity is about being identical, having a sameness that defines and characterizes you and others … whereas unity is about made one as various parts are combined or ordered to promote a common identity.”None of us are identical, but we have the same identity in Jesus Christdespite our backgrounds, ages, gender, culture and ethnicity. As authors Brad House and Gregg Allison remind us, “The church is summoned not to create but to maintain unity, which is itself a gift from the Holy Spirit through the bond of peace.”(Ephesians 4:1-4) Here at Temple we are pursuing Jesus first and then joining Him on His mission!This unites us!
This pursuit was actually the same mission for the returning exiles. They came back to build the Temple of Jerusalem that would re-establish their worship of God and community with each other. It resulted in unity. Let’s unpack each of these pursuits of sacrifice, longevity and generosity throughout this passage. We will establish unity first. Unity is very clear from the beginning of the passage. Look at verse 1, “Now when the seventh month came, the sons of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one manto Jerusalem.”The people settled in the towns first. It was most likely they went back to what was left of their hometowns after the Babylonians had destroyed them. However, verse 1 shows that they didn’t just have the attitude of a settler and stay in their cities. They didn’t just want to be hometown heroes, but worship restorers. The returning exiles had been united by their journey, their jubilance and their Jehovah! The journey was difficult, the task was jubilant and their worship was for Jehovah. It was a difficult journey as it was 900 miles or over 1400 kilometres through the desert. It was a jubilant task because they were the first to return to the Promised Land. And it was worship because it was aimed at only Jehovah God. That seems like a formula that creates communitas – A jubilant journey with Jehovah Jesus. It is a formula that results in unity.
What would happen if we gathered together as one man? What if instead of complaining about how difficult and long the journey was, there was an eager expectation to return to God’s promises. Let’s go back in history. Contrast the first time the children of Israel went to the Promised Land. They were in captivity in Egypt and God miraculously rescued them from the hand of Pharaoh. They even crossed the Red Sea on dry land. And yet the children of Israel did what many children do on a journey. They complained and asked, “Are we there yet?” “When are we going to eat and drink?” “Can’t we go back to home?” Yet, you find none of these statements from the returning exiles despite the fact that their journey from Babylon was 2 ½ times longer. It was only 600 kilometres from Egypt to Israel whereas it was nearly 1500 kilometres from Babylon to Israel. It would appear that the children of Israel had matured during the 70 years of exile, which is a good lesson for us. When you lose all of the physical blessings of God and see what life is like for people without God, your love for God can be purified.Even your priorities are purified. The returning Jewish exiles were purified and were locked down on God’s promise of returning to the land of Israel. They were focused. They made no time for complaining because there was work to be done. And even when the Jews got there, they did not try to live a life of comfort, at least not at first, but made it a priority to build an altar to God. Later on, as we studied in Haggai, the people lost sight of their original priorities and began to care about their own houses before God’s house. You can see this on the chart from Dr. Paul Benware, my Old Testament Professor at Moody Bible Institute (see chart).There was a work stoppage later on but they originally had a worship-first mentality.
This worship-first mentality led to joyful work and lazer-like worship of Jehovah God. Their continuous sacrifice and generosity led to unity. Let’s talk further about the sacrifice. Look at verse 2, “Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brothers the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brothers arose and built the altar of the God of Israel to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the law of Moses, the man of God.” No wonder why the people were joyful and jubilant. For 70 years, they did not have atonement for their sins. There were no lambs sacrificed and Jesus hadn’t come yet to make permanent atonement for their sins. So when they came back, they were ready to sacrifice. But not just sacrifice – obediently sacrifice. The key phrase that emphasizes their obedience is, “as it is written in the law of Moses.” They went back to the beginning. That is always a good place when you return to God and His promises. I shared this with the Staff a few weeks ago about something God taught me from Revelation 2:5where Jesus speaks to the church at Ephesus. Jesus says, “Remember therefore from where you have fallen: repent, and do the works you did at first.”Repentance always requires returning to obeying God’s Word! I will say that again for you to write down and more importantly get into your heart, Repentance always requires returning to obeying God’s Word. So the returning Jews were sacrificing again, but they now understood to obey was better than sacrifice and what’s even better was obediently sacrificing! So what command do you obey and what work did you do at first that you need to return to?God, through the Holy Spirit, will help you obey and do that initial work!
This is not to say that obedient sacrifice does not mean that it will be easy or without fear. In fact, the returning Jews’ fears caused them to obey God rather than man, but they still feared people. Look at verse 3, “So they set up the altar on its foundation, for they were terrified because of the peoples of the lands; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening.” Rather than run away from worship, the returning Jews ran to worship God. They drove a stake in the ground of enemy worship. It makes me think of the voodoo drums I heard one particular Friday morning at 3 am in Benin. Lori and Luke slept through it. I was awake as were some of the other team members. It was a scary sound, but we just prayed it down.
Interestingly, the phrase “peoples of the land” is possibly a term that refers to what we better know as the “Samaritans.” It is this backdrop that actually helps us understand Jesus’ interaction with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:20-21. After Jesus offered her living water and confronted her about her immorality, the woman tries to redirect the conversation to being about worship location. She suddenly becomes a theologian and says, “’Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you say that in Jerusalem is the place where people ought to worship.’ You see the Jews considered the Samaritans half-breeds because they inter-married with the surrounding nations when the rest of the Jews were taken off to Babylon. There was much fear and avoidance of each other over the issues of sex and worship. But listen to how Jesus replies to her in John 4:21, 23, “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father…worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship Him.”
God is still looking for such worshippers. In fact, God seeks 24/7 worshippers! This is what I meant when I said, “Pursue sacrifice and generosity continuouslyand you will have unity.” Notice in verses 4-5 how worship was not only obedient but continual, “They celebrated the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the fixed number of burnt offerings daily, according to the ordinance, as each day required; and afterward there was a continual burnt offering, also for the new moons and for all the fixed festivals of the Lord that were consecrated and from everyone who offered a freewill offering to the Lord.” By reinstating the Feast of Booths (Deuteronomy 16:13-17), which was a time to recall the desert wanderings and how God miraculously led His people through the desert when they lived in tents, they were obediently worshipping God. But notice these returning Jews were not holiday worshippers coming only for the festivals. They were continual. Their sacrifice produced worship longevity. May our sacrifice and generosity call the “Sunday-only Christians” to a constant state of worship of our Creator and Lord.
But it wasn’t just continuous sacrifice that resulted in unity, but also generosity. The last phrase in verse 5 records, “from everyone who offered a freewill offering.” Their worship and giving was voluntary. No one gave out of duty or obligation but out of gratitude. They had been freed. God had set them free so they freely gave. May that be true here.
And look at the result. Verses 6-7 declare, “From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord, but the foundation of the temple of the Lord had not been laid. Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters, and food, drink and oil to the Sidonians and to the Tyrians, to bring cedar wood from Lebanon to the sea at Joppa, according to the permission they had from Cyrus king of Persia.” Notice that the returning exiles’ sacrifice and generosity resulted in unity as well as witness. The surrounding nations would hear and actually participate in the reconstruction of the Temple. God had redeemed His name. The nations must have thought God was powerless if He would let His Temple be destroyed and His people carried off to Babylon, but God actually used the surrounding nations to rebuild His Temple. A Temple that Jesus said was built to be a place of prayer for the nations! (Mark 11:17)
My friends, sometimes God judges His people on earth. Churches decline! Christians are oppressed and imprisoned. All seems lost. However, it isn’t! God loves to revitalize. He loves turn-around projects that bring glory to His name. He does it when His people sacrifice and are generous, not just with their money and possessions, but with their attitudes. They put others first and forgive when sinned against. God loves us such turn-around projects.
Did you realize that we are a turn-around project?We were sinners and God used His Son to turn us around and bring us back from the exile of sin to be restored to unity with God and His people. And this unity has caused us to obediently sacrifice, worship with longevity and generously witness to the nations God has brought to our nation. May we have such communitas with God! May we have such unity with our great Saviour Jesus Christ and His Church! As the Apostle Paul declared in 2 Corinthians 7:3, “I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together.”
So what are you going to sacrifice for God? Who are you going to be generous to? This is Superbowl weekend and last night the NFL gave out their awards including their top award. The top award is not the MVP but the Walter Payton award given to the player who displays excellence on and off the field with giving back to the community. This year’s winner was Chris Long, the son of NFL great Howie Long. Chris gave his whole salary this past year to help children learn how to read. He is also involved in drilling wells in Tanzania and his foundation has drilled 55 wells so far. He takes his fellow players to climb Mount Kilimanjaro and see the water projects. He is trying to create his words “Warriors of Philanthropy.” But he also understands something crucial. When he got his award last night, he said, “I’m here because of the grace of God.” Chris Long is a born again Christian. His sacrifice and generosity come from the ultimate captain of his team in life Jesus Christ. Chris may be able to sacrifice and give more than we can, but how can we sacrifice and be generous to spread the love of Christ for this hurting world.
Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sHEvGJrHrEQ. Accessed February 3, 2019.