Sermon Text: Ezra 3:8-13
Sermon Theme: Remembering the goodness and faithfulness of the LORD is how we stay united when the LORD does a new work.
There was a remarkable mixture of affection upon laying the foundation of the temple. Those that only knew the misery of having no temple at all, praised the Lord with shouts of joy. To them, even this foundation seemed great. We ought to be thankful for the beginnings of mercy, though it be not yet perfect. But those who remembered the glory of the first temple, and considered how far inferior this was likely to be, wept with a loud voice. There was reason for it, and if they bewailed the sin that was the cause of this melancholy change, they did well. Yet it was wrong to cast a damp upon the common joys. They despised the day of small things, and were unthankful for the good they enjoyed. Let not the remembrance of former afflictions drown the sense of present mercies.
[From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary]
- Have you failed the Lord miserably? God graciously offers you a new beginning! But, where do you start? The Book of Ezra is a chronicle of hope and restoration. For those whose life is scarred by sin and rebellion against God, there is great hope that ours is a God of forgiveness, a God who will not turn His back on us when we seek Him in repentance and brokenness (1 John 1:9). If you have never begun with God, you must begin at the cross, where Jesus the Lamb of God shed His blood to atone for sinners. The Bible says that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness (Hebrews 9:22). Your good works can never earn God’s forgiveness. Either you put your trust in the perfect substitute God provided, the Lord Jesus Christ; or you must pay for your own sins with eternal separation from God in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). Faith in Christ’s blood is the only way to begin with God. However, if you are a believer, but have strayed from the Lord, the cross is still the place for a new beginning. No matter how long we have been away, He is ready to forgive us and receive us back into His family. John tells us in 1 John 1:9 that “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. So, live daily at the foot of the cross. For He is willing to show us how to rebuild our lives and resurrect our hearts, wherein is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
- How can a person alone keep a new beginning with God from fizzling out? What sustains it over the long haul? The remarkable thing is that we as God’s church are now His temple or house, where He dwells in us and walks among us (1 Corinthians 3:16; 2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:19-22). The building where we meet is not God’s house; it is only the place where God’s house gathers for worship. God’s house or temple can meet in private homes or in a park or any building. Though we need to remember that the place isn’t sacred; the people are sacred. But, if you need a new beginning with God, don’t try to go it alone. There is a sense, of course, in which any new beginning must be intensely private. You must go to the Lord in private and confess your sins and personally appropriate the shed blood of Christ. You must personally get into God’s Word and begin to obey it in your daily life, starting on the thought level. If you have not started there, you can go to church meetings every week, but you will simply be reinforcing hypocrisy in your life, putting on a good front to others while your private life is in shambles. But once you’ve begun anew in private, you very much need to be built together with others who have a commitment to know God. Without that commitment to other believers, the world, the flesh, and the devil will overwhelm you.
- You may wonder, how do we build God’s house? Any significant work for God is the work of many members working together in harmony, under godly leaders. When the enemy wants to stop such a work, often he disrupts the unity. When that happens, there are several dangers. Leaders can be tempted to compromise important truth for the sake of preserving unity, but this always leads to greater disaster down the line because it undermines God’s Word. Leaders also can react in the flesh by lashing out in anger or personal counter-attacks, thus tarnishing their qualifications as spiritual leaders. Workers can use the occasion to vent their frustration against the leaders because of personal issues that they feel have not been properly addressed. Workers also can form factions based on friendships and other emotional issues, rather than submitting to the God-ordained leaders. Gossip and false rumors can quickly spread through the body because people listen to those who are disgruntled and do not go directly to the source to ascertain the truth. All in all, Satan has a field-day and many of the Lord’s people end up wounded. So, we must be diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, while striving to attain to the unity of the faith that comes with spiritual maturity (Ephesians 4:3, Ephesians 4:13).
- What standard in life and worship are we using to evaluate everything? Does it line up with Scripture and properly glorify God as He is revealed in His Word? And, does it promote holiness in God’s people, in line with His Word? When it comes to how we should live as God’s people, we also must go to God’s Word and obey what He commands. God’s moral commandments do not adapt to the changing moral standards of our times. He hasn’t softened His views on premarital sex or homosexuality, in spite of what our modern society feels. God doesn’t say, “Well, if you feel really good about marrying a non-Christian, and you’ve prayed about it, then I guess it’s okay!” His Word plainly declares, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14). And, “Let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God” (2 Corinthians 7:1). If you want a new beginning with God, it’s available. Begin at the cross and then walk in obedience to His Word.
- What can the older believers learn from the young (and vice versa)? To what extent should one side cater to the other? There were two dangers, as there always are in these matters. The old guys could have discouraged the younger men from this new beginning. That would have been tragic. They had to start somewhere, and even though this new beginning didn’t match the former glory, it was a start, and it was where God was now working. The other danger was that the young guys could have ignored the wisdom and experience of the old guys, in which case they would have made more mistakes and repeated the failures of the past. The older folks needed the enthusiasm, energy, and joy of the younger folks, and the younger folks needed the wisdom, maturity, and experience of the older folks. Consider what we read in Ezra 3:4, “as it is written,” and “according to the ordinance.” They weren’t making this stuff up according to their own preferences. They didn’t take a poll to find out what the people wanted to do. Maybe the old way of worship wasn’t in tune with the modern times. Maybe the younger generation wanted a more contemporary way of meeting with God. Why not throw out the old and bring in some innovation to liven things up? But they didn’t do that! They went back to the Word of God and they obeyed it. There is nothing wrong with contemporary music and forms of worship, as long as they do not violate Scripture. Just because it’s old does not mean that it’s good or bad, and the same can be said of the new. Some of the old hymns contain great theology, and the younger generation should learn them and pass them on. Some of the old hymns are shallow and corny and should be forgotten. The same can be said of the newer music: Some songs are solid and edifying; some are theologically shallow and silly.
- Are we fearful of changes or progress that might occur in our worship service? How can we determine which aspects of worship are merely cultural and which are biblically essential? Henri J. M. Nouwen wrote, “The Spirit of God is a creative spirit, always expressing itself in new life. When that spirit is extinguished by fear, we cling to what we have and thus stop moving and growing.” Fear is one of the strongest dynamics in society today. Fear’s playground is not only international politics but fear works its way into businesses, neighborhoods, families; even the church. In every case the result is a constriction of life, a strangling of energy. Fear turns in on itself in morbid self-absorption, redefining reality. Fear makes us tentative. We hesitate, reconsider, wait, and withdraw. Ezra 3:3 states, “Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening sacrifices.” Fear fluttered in their chests, it weighted their footsteps, and it sighed in their thoughts to rationalize their timidity. Even so, they built and sacrificed both in the morning and evening—the day circumscribed by obedience. Courage is born of trust and confidence. Courage is expansive and charged with power. Courage makes us approach, offer, act, and embrace. From the assurances given to Joshua (Joshua 1:9), to the instructions offered by Paul (2 Timothy 1:7), people of faith are to live courageously because their confidence, energy, and destiny are secured in the loving grip of God. May we pray that the God of order and creativity, of law and mercy, help us escape the suffocating atmosphere of fear so that we may breathe the fresh air of freedom that comes to those who trust and obey you.
CRIES OF WEEPING MIXED WITH CRIES OF JOY (By Bede): Of those who had seen the first temple, some were uttering cries of weeping, others of joy when the foundation of this temple too was laid before their eyes—of joy, indeed, because the temple of the Lord that had been destroyed had now begun to be restored; of weeping because they were distressed when they realized what a difference there was between the poverty of the undertaking of that time and the former most magnificent power of Solomon, whereby the original temple was founded. They rejoiced greatly because they had been freed from captivity and had received the authority to restore the temple, but they wept loudly because they knew that the first temple, whose size and beauty they could in no way equal, had been destroyed on account of their wickedness. For the prophet’s words, “The glory of this new house will be greater than that of the first,” (Haggai 2:9) pertain not to the greatness or decoration of the house but to the act of building itself, because the fact that the few surviving captives were able to accomplish such a great undertaking even as their enemies were opposing them was a greater and more obvious miracle of divine power than that a very rich king who had no adversaries at all but rather the very powerful and wealthy king of Tyre as a collaborator, did this with most accomplished craftsmen, just as he desired. So too, the glory of that most recent house will be greater than the first because the worshipers in the first house preached to the peoples the writings of the Old Testament, namely, the Law and the Prophets, whereas in the second house Christ and the apostles spread the good news of the grace of the New Testament and coming of the kingdom of heaven. [From Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture]
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