High Calling (Isaiah 6)

In the face of every child lies evidence that one of the earliest human faculties is a sense of wonder.  It’s a sense as basic to our design as hunger or thirst.   Ignore this design, this need for wonder—for beauty, for enthrallment—and your soul will wither like pile of dried leaves.

So often the world around us seems bled dry of both beauty and mystery.  In this world, Christianity must seem like a beautiful dream, but a dream nonetheless.  Surely we can’t possibly expect to see God’s face in a world like ours.

This was precisely what Isaiah felt.  The books of prophecy weren’t typically arranged in precise chronological order, so it seems likely that Isaiah really begins in the sixth chapter.  And it’s a chapter shadowed by death:

In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple.

2 Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. 3 And one called to another and said:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”  (Isaiah 6:1-3)

We know from the pages of history that King Uzziah had died in the year 740 B.C., his kingdom passing to Jotham.  He’d been a good king—he’d strengthened the military, and bolstered the economy (2 Chronicles 26:1-14).  Now that he was gone, could Israel stand against their surrounding adversaries?

So in the midst of darkness, Isaiah caught a glimpse of hope.  Usually human beings weren’t allowed to see God and live to tell about it—but it was equally true that in an act of sheer grace, God chose to reveal himself to key individuals.  Was this a vision?  A dream?  Maybe some kind of “out-of-body experience?”  Isaiah doesn’t tell us, but the setting is the Temple.  As you surely remember from previous posts, the Temple was where the ancient Israelites (all religions, really) believed God uniquely and specifically dwelled.  Normally, a curtain would separate man from the innermost dwelling place—the “holy of holies” as it was known.  But now, nothing stands between Isaiah and God.  In his lengthy commentary on Isaiah, John Oswalt calls this scene “the raw edge of terror,” because it takes place “where humanity dare not go.”

And here’s what’s so stunning.  Isaiah can barely describe the details.  The only detail he mentions of God is “the train of his robe.”  Imagine your friend meets a celebrity.  You ask, “What did he/she look like?”  If the only thing they remember is the cuffs of their pants, you’d either conclude that they (1) didn’t really pay attention or (2) they were so overwhelmed this was all they could remember.

For Isaiah, it seems to be the second case.  The throne is surrounded by a cloud of seraphim. These weren’t angels—at least, not exactly.  The Hebrew name literally means “burning ones.”  These spectacular, multi-winged creatures seemed to play a unique role in surrounding God’s throne and declaring his glory.  Qadosh!  Qadosh!  Qadosh! they sang out: “holy holy holy is the Lord.”  Holiness becomes Isaiah’s key theme.  To be Holy means to be set apart.  And no one is more set apart than God.

4 And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. 5 And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

6 Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 And he touched my mouth and said: “Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for.”

8 And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Then I said, “Here am I! Send me.” (Isaiah 6:4-8)

Have you ever met someone important, only to later learn you had a stain on your shirt, or your fly was down?  Something similar was going on here—only magnified a thousandfold.  To be in the presence of holiness would have indeed been terrifying.  Readers are meant to see this whole scene as filled with raw emotion—almost a sense of violence at the intensity of the moment.

Some take Isaiah’s concerns literally—that maybe he had a problem with strong language, or liked to tell “dirty jokes.”  Maybe.  Or maybe Isaiah was simply highlighting his own unworthiness to even speak in the presence of God.

The seraph purified Isaiah’s lips with a burning coal—a coal that could only have come from one of the altars in the temple.  The coal was associated with sacrifice.  Only through sacrifice can God make his people pure.

Isaiah was never exactly “called” by God.  He volunteered.  When he learned of God’s need—a need to address a nation’s desperate circumstances, he could only shout out “Here am I!  Send me!”

Most sermons stop there.  They shouldn’t.  Here is God’s mission briefing to Isaiah:

9 And he said, “Go, and say to this people:

“‘Keep on hearing,  but do not understand;
keep on seeing, but do not perceive.’
10 Make the heart of this people dull,
and their ears heavy,
and blind their eyes;
lest they see with their eyes,
and hear with their ears,
and understand with their hearts,
and turn and be healed.”
11 Then I said, “How long, O Lord?”
And he said:
“Until cities lie waste
without inhabitant,
and houses without people,
and the land is a desolate waste,
12 and the Lord removes people far away,
and the forsaken places are many in the midst of the land.
13 And though a tenth remain in it,
it will be burned again,
like a terebinth or an oak,
whose stump remains
when it is felled.”
The holy seed is its stump.

Somehow I wonder if Isaiah would have been as eager had he read the instructions.  He wasn’t called to success; he was called to faithfulness.  And so are we.

As you survey the entire scene, are you beginning to see how the pieces come together to form a snapshot of the gospel?   Isaiah—an unclean man in unclean times—stands before the throne of the God of the universe.  What greater picture of unworthiness could there be?  The only thing louder than the praise of the seraphim was the thudding beat of Isaiah’s wicked heart.  Yet through sacrifice, God purifies his child, and gives him a new identity and new mission.

The whole scene parallels Paul’s summary of the gospel:

…you were dead in the trespasses and sins  2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience–  3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.  4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us,  5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved–  6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,  7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.  8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,  9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10)

We live in a world where wonder is too often usurped by cynicism and fear.  There are no fairy tales, only ghost stories.  The gospel says that there is hope for those who place their trust in Jesus.  But the gospel also says that such hope comes with a high calling: a calling to faithfulness in a world full of faithlessness.  But through it all, we stand with a God who makes us pure, helps us stand, and shows us the Way.

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All’s Well that Ends Well; and it Ends Well – Malachi 3 & 4

These final two chapters of Malachi are one combined third chapter in the Hebrew Scriptures. And I’m sure at least a few of you are like me and cannot read these verses EVER without Handel’s Messiah ringing through your ears – with the “But Who May Abide” aria followed by the thundering “He Shall Purify” chorus >> with soaring contrapunctal melodies working independently, yet arriving ultimately together in a thundering final four-part vertical harmony, “… that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness!” … Fabulous!

an offering in righteousness

OK … sorry … going back to the text, here is an anticipation of a day when the Lord returns and there is a purification of the priests – the sons of Levi…

3:1  “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,” says the Lord Almighty.

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the Lord, as in days gone by, as in former years.

“So I will come to put you on trial. I will be quick to testify against sorcerers, adulterers and perjurers, against those who defraud laborers of their wages, who oppress the widows and the fatherless, and deprive the foreigners among you of justice, but do not fear me,” says the Lord Almighty.

Breaking Covenant by Withholding Tithes

“I the Lord do not change. So you, the descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed. Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.

“But you ask, ‘How are we to return?’

“Will a mere mortal rob God? Yet you rob me.

“But you ask, ‘How are we robbing you?’

“In tithes and offerings. You are under a curse—your whole nation—because you are robbing me.10 Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this,” says the Lord Almighty, “and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it. 11 I will prevent pests from devouring your crops, and the vines in your fields will not drop their fruit before it is ripe,” says the Lord Almighty. 12 “Then all the nations will call you blessed, for yours will be a delightful land,” says the Lord Almighty.

The people of Israel were to bring a tithe (10%) for the sustenance of the priestly tribe of Levi. This would provide for the ongoing priority of worship in the nation through the temple service, but the people did not faithfully honor this, which demonstrated their lack of value for God’s decree. God’s mercy is still seen here as open to blessing them if they would honor Him – a theme I think we’ve mentioned a few times in this series, as well as throughout the “Revive” series from a year ago.

Israel Speaks Arrogantly Against God

13 “You have spoken arrogantly against me,” says the Lord.

“Yet you ask, ‘What have we said against you?’

14 “You have said, ‘It is futile to serve God. What do we gain by carrying out his requirements and going about like mourners before the Lord Almighty? 15 But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it.’”

The difficult question of why those who are evil sometimes seem to prosper beyond those who are righteous is also an issue that transcends generations and millennia. Of course, the answer is that their prosperity is of short duration; it is a fraction of the reality of eternity and judgment. But moaning to God about this demonstrates an attitude of not believing God’s promises.

As always, there is a faithful remnant of people who will be blessed in the end for their endurance …

The Faithful Remnant

16 Then those who feared the Lord talked with each other, and the Lord listened and heard. A scroll of remembrance was written in his presence concerning those who feared the Lord and honored his name.

17 “On the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty, “they will be my treasured possession. I will spare them, just as a father has compassion and spares his son who serves him. 18 And you will again see the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, between those who serve God and those who do not.

Judgment and Covenant Renewal

4:1  “Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them. But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays. And you will go out and frolic like well-fed calves. Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,” says the Lord Almighty.

“Remember the law of my servant Moses, the decrees and laws I gave him at Horeb for all Israel.

“See, I will send the prophet Elijah to you before that great and dreadful day of the Lord comes. He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.”

The prophet Elijah is identified in Matthew as being John the Baptist. Yet in Revelation 11 there is at the end of the Tribulation the two witnesses who turn many from Israel into repentant faith before the Christ’s second coming. And so again, this is one of those prophetic passages with near and far applications.

This is my (Randy) final time with you in this series, as Chris will finish off next week’s devotionals. I knew going into this series that it would be a challenge to not just say the same thing over and over and over – some version of “Though the times may be difficult and many are not walking in faith, trust the God who is the righteous judge at the end, and by trusting Him and living in covenant faithfulness, you will be blessed in spite of the prevailing darkness around you.”  I hope we’ve said more than that, but that overarching truth is timeless, especially for this generation in which we live. And may you live in this attitude …

Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.” Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.  (Phil. 2:14-16)

The Totally Lost Culture and Generation – Malachi 2

Sometimes we look around our country and culture, and those of us old enough to remember a number of generations are sometimes shocked with what we see. The drift away from traditional and biblical values is oft startling. There is a tendency to believe the world is the worst it has ever been. The trends are not positive, that is for sure. Yet people who are genuinely and deeply committed to God and truth are not rare, even if they are fewer in number and percentage of the population than in the past.

But at the time of Malachi, the degradation of the entire culture and nation was rather complete. And today’s passage speaks of statements of condemnation to both the priests who were the spiritual leaders, and also to the masses of the people.

Additional Warning to the Priests (continued from chapter 1)

2:1  “And now, you priests, this warning is for you. If you do not listen, and if you do not resolve to honor my name,” says the Lord Almighty, “I will send a curse on you, and I will curse your blessings. Yes, I have already cursed them, because you have not resolved to honor me.

“Because of you I will rebuke your descendants; I will smear on your faces the dung from your festival sacrifices, and you will be carried off with it. And you will know that I have sent you this warning so that my covenant with Levi may continue,” says the Lord Almighty. “My covenant was with him, a covenant of life and peace, and I gave them to him; this called for reverence and he revered me and stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth and nothing false was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and turned many from sin.

“For the lips of a priest ought to preserve knowledge, because he is the messenger of the Lord Almighty and people seek instruction from his mouth. But you have turned from the way and by your teaching have caused many to stumble; you have violated the covenant with Levi,” says the Lord Almighty. “So I have caused you to be despised and humiliated before all the people, because you have not followed my ways but have shown partiality in matters of the law.”

The priests were corrupt. Malachi’s message speaks of Levi – the son of Jacob who became the tribal family of priests in Israel. God was in a covenant relationship with the priests to bless and prosper their ministry as they would honor Him in their duties. But the Old Testament record is shockingly full of corruption in the priests of Israel, and so God says they would be rejected and carried away like the worthless parts of the sacrifices.

Breaking the Covenant through Wrongful Marriages

10 Do we not all have one Father? Did not one God create us? Why do we profane the covenant of our ancestors by being unfaithful to one another?

11 Judah has been unfaithful. A detestable thing has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem: Judah has desecrated the sanctuary the Lord loves by marrying women who worship a foreign god. 12 As for the man who does this, whoever he may be, may the Lord remove him from the tents of Jacob—even though he brings an offering to the Lord Almighty.

A way that the people had disobeyed God was to intermarry with those outside the nation – hence bringing in a passion for foreign gods and divergent, often extraordinarily evil, systems of worship and belief. Syncretism of belief – such as we have in our culture and even in churches today that deny objective truth – is nothing new.

Breaking the Covenant through Divorce

13 Another thing you do: You flood the Lord’s altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer looks with favor on your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. 14 You ask, “Why?” It is because the Lord is the witness between you and the wife of your youth. You have been unfaithful to her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.

15 Has not the one God made you? You belong to him in body and spirit. And what does the one God seek? Godly offspring. So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful to the wife of your youth.

16 “The man who hates and divorces his wife,” says the Lord, the God of Israel, “does violence to the one he should protect,”says the Lord Almighty.

So be on your guard, and do not be unfaithful.

Divorce was common in this era, and not seen as any big deal apparently. The application of this is not simply on the matter of the breaking of a covenant relationship between two people, but of how the nation had likewise broken their covenant with God … divorcing themselves from honoring Him. The family committed to a covenant relationship with one another would produce offspring who would likewise carry on that value. Israel had married outside the nation, they were quick to divorce, and all of this testified to their larger problem of not honoring the covenant they had made with God.

Breaking the Covenant through Injustice

17 You have wearied the Lord with your words. “How have we wearied him?” you ask.

By saying, “All who do evil are good in the eyes of the Lord, and he is pleased with them” or “Where is the God of justice?”

I understand that the secular world today grows weary of Christians who repeat the timeless truth that God honors those who honor Him – that any nation that walks away from God is destined to eventual failure. It is not popular to believe in a one-way system of right and wrong – a fixed belief that sees man as subservient to a creator God. It seems so much more freeing to believe that man is totally independent to seek his own happiness in his own way.

This independence and denial of God and truth has never worked, nor will it in an advanced scientific age. And those few who still trusted in God in Malachi’s day were not wrong simply because they were a despised minority. And likewise those who honor the Lord – no matter how unpopular it becomes even in the USA – will not be wrong for standing for Him even in a dark era.

Trusting God – So Easy, But So Hard – Malachi 1

1:1  A prophecy: The word of the Lord to Israel through Malachi.

So here we are beginning the final book of the Old Testament in our “Uncharted” series. The name “Malachi” means “my messenger,” and he was indeed God’s messenger to Israel. He gave them the same basic message as all of the other Old Testament prophets: Covenant blessing requires covenant faithfulness … or in other words, if you want God to keep His end of His covenant promises, you’d better keep your side of the agreement. That’s easy, right? Actually, as sinners, that is difficult.

This writing is now somewhere about 65-85 years after the time of Haggai and Zechariah – or about 450-430 BC. The Temple (of Zerubbabel) had been rebuilt with a brief time of revival following it; but now after a period of decline, life was hard, harvests were poor, the Persians dominated, the hearts of the people were cold, the priests were corrupt, and skepticism was rampant.

Israel Doubts God’s Love

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.”

Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.”

But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!’

The love/hate comparison here should be understood as a chosen/not chosen contrast. Though Esau was the older brother, it was Jacob/Israel that God had chosen to be His blessed people. And even as Esau gave up his birthright willingly for the immediate satisfaction of a bowl of stew, so his descendents demonstrated a total lack of heart for God. Esau’s descendents were the Edomites – the people we began talking about in this series through the prophecy of Obediah – a nation judged by God with destruction at the hands of the Babylonians.

Israel also was conquered by the Babylonians. But unlike Edom, God preserved a remnant to bring them back to their land as an expression of His covenant love; and now here they are again in a position of not honoring God.

The tone of this prophecy is one of disputation, as in a courtroom scene. God proves His faithfulness, and proves also how Israel has not honored the terms of the covenant made together.

Breaking Covenant Through Blemished Sacrifices

“A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty.

“It is you priests who show contempt for my name.

“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’

“By offering defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the Lord’s table is contemptible. When you offer blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice lame or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the Lord Almighty.

“Now plead with God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?”—says the Lord Almighty.

10 “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands. 11 My name will be great among the nations, from where the sun rises to where it sets. In every place incense and pure offerings will be brought to me, because my name will be great among the nations,” says the Lord Almighty.

12 “But you profane it by saying, ‘The Lord’s table is defiled,’ and, ‘Its food is contemptible.’ 13 And you say, ‘What a burden!’ and you sniff at it contemptuously,” says the Lord Almighty.

“When you bring injured, lame or diseased animals and offer them as sacrifices, should I accept them from your hands?” says the Lord. 14 “Cursed is the cheat who has an acceptable male in his flock and vows to give it, but then sacrifices a blemished animal to the Lord. For I am a great king,” says the Lord Almighty, “and my name is to be feared among the nations.”

The message is directed to the priests, who were guilty for knowing proper sacrificial regulations, yet not enforcing them with the people. The spiritual hearts of them all were on display when they brought sick and otherwise blemished animals for sacrifice. They disregarded the law’s regulations to bring the best, but rather held onto the best males in the flocks and herds.

Why would they do this? Well, in agriculture, a full one-half of a herd of flock can be seen in that one, young, best, prized ram or bull – possessing genetics that will be passed down for generations. Why risk your visible future, your entire measurement of wealth, by sacrificing that one best animal? Why not take the cheap route and send to the altar a sick or crippled beast that is not going to live long anyhow?

So, you see what God is really doing in asking for the best? He is asking for the worshipper to place his future prosperity and sustenance into God’s hands. That is difficult to do. But, is it not more true that obeying God will secure the future? That should be easy to do to obey God … right?

Let’s put it into modern terms. You have a mortgage and other bills, and you have an income that struggles to meet those bills in a one-to-one fashion, most times. And then you read that God would like you to be generous in giving toward Him. It even sounds like maybe something in the area of 10 or 20 percent of income would be appropriate. But how can you do that? How does the math work that 90% next month will cover what 100% this month barely accomplished? So, you throw a few bucks at God and hope He is not angry, right?

Hey, I can’t explain how 90% with God is more than 100% without Him … all I can say is that I’ve never seen anyone who is rich toward God find total failure, poverty, and foreclosure and debt counseling to be any part of their lives. It is really so simple … or is it so hard?

The Mark of Genuine Repentance – Zechariah 12

Without doubt, this “Uncharted” series has taken us through some very deep waters of Scripture – of passages inter-related with complications of needing to know a lot of Old Testament history, as well as variant views on the subject called “eschatology” = the doctrine of last times biblical interpretations. And Zechariah is particularly difficult to understand and describe briefly.

Not all conservative Bible scholars take the same literal approach as Chris and I have written about in these devotionals – wherein we talk about a literal future of a seven-year Tribulation followed by a literal 1,000-year Millennial Kingdom which is the fulfillment of promises God made to the nation of Israel. Some believe these sorts of prophecies are to rather be understood in more broad and general terms of God’s dealings with His people over the generations (be they Israel or the church, or whomever).

But I believe this passage we read today is one that looks forward to a future period of time at the end of the Tribulation, where Israel/Jerusalem is attacked by an array of forces, and in a campaign of battles called “Armageddon” Christ victoriously returns and conquers all.

Chapters 12-14 of Zechariah are one prophecy about Israel in the end times.

Jerusalem’s Enemies to Be Destroyed

12:1 — A prophecy: The word of the Lord concerning Israel.

The Lord, who stretches out the heavens, who lays the foundation of the earth, and who forms the human spirit within a person, declares: “I am going to make Jerusalem a cup that sends all the surrounding peoples reeling. Judah will be besieged as well as Jerusalem. On that day, when all the nations of the earth are gathered against her, I will make Jerusalem an immovable rock for all the nations. All who try to move it will injure themselves. On that day I will strike every horse with panic and its rider with madness,” declares the Lord. “I will keep a watchful eye over Judah, but I will blind all the horses of the nations. Then the clans of Judah will say in their hearts, ‘The people of Jerusalem are strong, because the Lord Almighty is their God.’

“On that day I will make the clans of Judah like a firepot in a woodpile, like a flaming torch among sheaves. They will consume all the surrounding peoples right and left, but Jerusalem will remain intact in her place.

“The Lord will save the dwellings of Judah first, so that the honor of the house of David and of Jerusalem’s inhabitants may not be greater than that of Judah. On that day the Lord will shield those who live in Jerusalem, so that the feeblest among them will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the Lord going before them. On that day I will set out to destroy all the nations that attack Jerusalem.

The remaining verses speak of a national day of repentance and salvation for the nation of Israel, as they come to a true understanding of the Messiah Christ.

Mourning for the One They Pierced

10 “And I will pour out on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem a spirit of grace and supplication. They will look on me, the one they have pierced, and they will mourn for him as one mourns for an only child, and grieve bitterly for him as one grieves for a firstborn son. 11 On that day the weeping in Jerusalem will be as great as the weeping of Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo.12 The land will mourn, each clan by itself, with their wives by themselves: the clan of the house of David and their wives, the clan of the house of Nathan and their wives, 13 the clan of the house of Levi and their wives, the clan of Shimei and their wives, 14 and all the rest of the clans and their wives.

The reference in the verses above about “Hadad Rimmon in the plain of Megiddo” relates to the historical event of the death of the good King Josiah. There was great mourning at that time, as well as at other times commemorating this event. It was a part of Israel’s history, where, if you wanted to pick out something about which there was a palpable national sadness, it was this event – described in this short passage from 2 Chronicles…

2 Chronicles 35:20 – After all this, when Josiah had set the temple in order, Necho king of Egypt went up to fight at Carchemish on the Euphrates, and Josiah marched out to meet him in battle. 21 But Necho sent messengers to him, saying, “What quarrel is there, king of Judah, between you and me? It is not you I am attacking at this time, but the house with which I am at war. God has told me to hurry; so stop opposing God, who is with me, or he will destroy you.”

22 Josiah, however, would not turn away from him, but disguised himself to engage him in battle. He would not listen to what Necho had said at God’s command but went to fight him on the plain of Megiddo.

23 Archers shot King Josiah, and he told his officers, “Take me away; I am badly wounded.” 24 So they took him out of his chariot, put him in his other chariot and brought him to Jerusalem, where he died. He was buried in the tombs of his ancestors, and all Judah and Jerusalem mourned for him.

25 Jeremiah composed laments for Josiah, and to this day all the male and female singers commemorate Josiah in the laments. These became a tradition in Israel and are written in the Laments.

This was no mere show of sadness – in Josiah’s day, or as it illustrates how Israel will be when Christ returns. It was not like paid mourners that were a part of Jewish funerals. It was a deep and genuine sadness of repentance.

How far does sadness go relative to repentance?  I had a college professor who was known and lampooned often for a collection of statements he would often make. One of them was this … “Nobody was ever saved by feeling sorry for their sins!”  Well, that is true. Judas was sorry, for example. The issue is not the emotion, but rather the trust of the sinner in a substitutionary sacrificial payment for sin. We are saved because we believe that Christ took our place, not because we are so deeply grieved about what awful sinners we have been. Yet at the same time, genuine sadness should accompany true repentance, and that is what is seen throughout the whole of the nation of Israel at this future time.

A Donkey or a Horse? – Zechariah 9:1-9

In my earlier years in Maryland, we had a horse and a donkey at our home named “Dusty” and “Radar.”  I viewed them as combination lawn mowers and fertilizers all in one package, and so there was never much riding on them. They viewed their role to likewise be eating – none of this carrying people around stuff was part of their personal job descriptions.

But several thousand years ago, it presented a big difference for a king riding into a city in terms of how he came – in war, or in peace.

Judgment on Israel’s Enemies – The first eight verses in today’s chapter speak of God’s judgment on surrounding people groups – all of whom were hostile to Israel at one time or another. The sort of thing we see in the daily news about upsets in this area of the world has a very, very long history. These verses look forward nearly 100 years to the conquests of Alexander the Great in this area.

Tyre – a coastal city – was particularly a stronghold. This city held out for five years against the Assyrians and 13 years against the Babylonians. Verses 5-7 speak of the primary cities of the Philistines – roughly the modern Gaza Strip.

9:1  A prophecy: The word of the Lord is against the land of Hadrak and will come to rest on Damascus—for the eyes of all people and all the tribes of Israel are on the Lord—and on Hamath too, which borders on it, and on Tyre and Sidon, though they are very skillful.

Tyre has built herself a stronghold; she has heaped up silver like dust, and gold like the dirt of the streets. But the Lord will take away her possessions and destroy her power on the sea, and she will be consumed by fire.

Ashkelon will see it and fear; Gaza will writhe in agony, and Ekron too, for her hope will wither. Gaza will lose her king and Ashkelon will be deserted. A mongrel people will occupy Ashdod, and I will put an end to the pride of the Philistines. I will take the blood from their mouths, the forbidden food from between their teeth. Those who are left will belong to our God and become a clan in Judah, and Ekron will be like the Jebusites.

But I will encamp at my temple to guard it against marauding forces. Never again will an oppressor overrun my people, for now I am keeping watch.

Jerusalem was passed by in the conquests of Alexander – a divine protection. And though others would bring destruction – like the Romans under Titus – the final phrase of verse 8 looks forward to the Millennial Kingdom.

The Coming of Zion’s King

Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem!  See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.

This is one of those passages where, when compared to the New Testament, the specificity of it is so very impressive – how can one not be impressed with the inerrant Word of God?

In the ancient Near East, when a king rode into town on a horse, he was coming as a conquering warrior, but if on a donkey, it was in peace.

Here is the passage with the fulfillment of this prophecy in the person of Christ on the day we call Palm Sunday …

Matthew – 21:1  As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, “Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away.”

4 This took place to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet:

5 “Say to Daughter Zion,‘See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey, and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’”

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had instructed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and placed their cloaks on them for Jesus to sit on. 8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted,

“Hosanna to the Son of David!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”

“Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, “Who is this?”

11 The crowds answered, “This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee.”

The entrance of Christ into Jerusalem on this day, and in this manner, is one of the highlight moments of Scripture. You may recall in Daniel where it talked about the 69 weeks of years from the time of the decree from the Persians to rebuild the temple to the presentation of the king would be 483 total years. This day was the official presentation of Jesus to the nation of Israel as their king, and though lauded by the people as such, within days he would be officially rejected. And with the rejection of the King, the Kingdom was also rejected – though not denied, but rather postponed. It will yet occur – literally upon the earth for 1,000 years – in keeping with God’s promise to His people Israel.

And at the end of the preceding seven-year Tribulation period, Christ returns to earth in the final judgment of the Antichrist and the assembled armies of mankind. This final battle of Armageddon marks the end of this horrible time, and the establishment of his kingdom of peace. See here how Jesus returns, not on a donkey, but on a horse…

Revelation 19:11 –  I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God.

Just Do The Work At Hand – Zechariah 8

Today’s passage goes along with chapter seven of yesterday as a continuous revelation from God through Zechariah. As negative as yesterday’s passage was, this one takes on an opposite tone. Yesterday spoke of the results of rebellion, today speaks of the blessings to come through God’s grace and restoration.

God’s message is that He was going to return to Jerusalem with His blessing upon that city. The near fulfillment of this passage related to the ongoing work of building the temple – the place that would be the centralized location of God’s presence among His people. The farther, and greater, fulfillment will be the time when Christ will once again return to earth to rule and reign for the millennial kingdom. This will be centralized out of Jerusalem and will be marked by peace as never before. The people of Israel will be re-gathered there, and peoples from around the world will come to enjoy this place of peculiar blessing.

The people of Zechariah’s time would experience upon the time of the temple’s completion a sort of peace and local prosperity none of them could have imagined in their recent memory and history of the captivity. And likewise, just as we today cannot see Jerusalem (which means the city of peace) as fulfilling its moniker; imagine how unique it will be just after the horrors of the tribulation. It is not now a city of peace, nor will it be in any short term, but in the end, it is the location of greatest peace and blessing

By application, the people of that time were told that their fasts would be turned into feasts, and that God was going to do a great work. It was not yet happening, but it was coming. What they should do is serve one another and complete the task at hand of building the temple.

Though we do not live in horrific times compared to some other ages of human history, neither do we live in a time of blessing such as God has promised will yet come. What are we to do? The same thing – work in kindness and service to one another by building the church of Jesus Christ until he comes or calls us home.

The Lord Promises to Bless Jerusalem

8:1  The word of the Lord Almighty came to me.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I am very jealous for Zion; I am burning with jealousy for her.”

This is what the Lord says: “I will return to Zion and dwell in Jerusalem. Then Jerusalem will be called the Faithful City, and the mountain of the Lord Almighty will be called the Holy Mountain.”

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Once again men and women of ripe old age will sit in the streets of Jerusalem, each of them with cane in hand because of their age. The city streets will be filled with boys and girls playing there.”

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “It may seem marvelous to the remnant of this people at that time, but will it seem marvelous to me?” declares the Lord Almighty.

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “I will save my people from the countries of the east and the west. I will bring them back to live in Jerusalem; they will be my people, and I will be faithful and righteous to them as their God.”

This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Now hear these words, ‘Let your hands be strong so that the temple may be built.’ This is also what the prophets said who were present when the foundation was laid for the house of the Lord Almighty. 10 Before that time there were no wages for people or hire for animals. No one could go about their business safely because of their enemies, since I had turned everyone against their neighbor. 11 But now I will not deal with the remnant of this people as I did in the past,” declares the Lord Almighty.

12 “The seed will grow well, the vine will yield its fruit, the ground will produce its crops, and the heavens will drop their dew. I will give all these things as an inheritance to the remnant of this people. 13 Just as you, Judah and Israel, have been a curse among the nations, so I will save you, and you will be a blessing.Do not be afraid, but let your hands be strong.”

14 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Just as I had determined to bring disaster on you and showed no pity when your ancestors angered me,” says the Lord Almighty, 15 “so now I have determined to do good again to Jerusalem and Judah. Do not be afraid. 16 These are the things you are to do: Speak the truth to each other, and render true and sound judgment in your courts; 17 do not plot evil against each other, and do not love to swear falsely. I hate all this,” declares the Lord.

18 The word of the Lord Almighty came to me.

19 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “The fasts of the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months will become joyful and glad occasions and happy festivals for Judah. Therefore love truth and peace.”

20 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “Many peoples and the inhabitants of many cities will yet come, 21 and the inhabitants of one city will go to another and say, ‘Let us go at once to entreat the Lord and seek the Lord Almighty. I myself am going.’ 22 And many peoples and powerful nations will come to Jerusalem to seek the Lord Almighty and to entreat him.”

23 This is what the Lord Almighty says: “In those days ten people from all languages and nations will take firm hold of one Jew by the hem of his robe and say, ‘Let us go with you, because we have heard that God is with you.’”

Tell Me Again Why We Do This – Zechariah 7

I long ago saw a ministry cartoon that resonated with me. It was of a pastor coming into his home where his wife was watching him enter through the door. He was carrying his Bible and briefcase, but looked ragged and tired – with his tie undone and his shirttail hanging out a bit. And the caption said, “You know, it’s funny, but I used to like Easter.”

I have soured more than a little bit over the past 35 years of ministry about the big holidays of Christmas and Easter. For a while – especially when doing music with choirs and orchestras – it was really enjoyable and an energetic experience. But it sorta turned a corner one Christmas Eve when my three oldest boys were still very little. I had put a lot into the Christmas season at the New Jersey church where we lived at that time. I was so busy with it, that I remember getting home to the boys and seeing their excitement and beginning to finally enjoy the festive season with my family now that the work was done; but then the phone rang. It was an old lady from church who was calling to tell me that I had ruined her Christmas with the lousy Christmas Eve service – something was wrong with all the music – was probably too contemporary for her, and her night was ruined. And that is when I realized that the church celebrations of these holidays for too many people were not really about the meaning of it all, but about the way the celebration of the vague meaning was undertaken. It gave me the feeling of being something like a circus performer.

The topic of our passage today raises the question of genuine worship and spiritual experience and expression.

This chapter seven of Zechariah is dated now two years later than what we read yesterday. The temple is being reconstructed, because, here now the end of the 70-year-long captivity to the Babylonians has in recent times come to an end. The people have returned to Jerusalem and the Promised Land, and a new era is beginning. A sad time of remembering the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzer about 90 years earlier seemed to perhaps be something no longer necessary (especially since God never told them to do this). So, a delegation of people came to the priests to ask if they should continue with a fast of remembrance and morning about that sad occasion and time in their history.

7:1  In the fourth year of King Darius, the word of the Lord came to Zechariah on the fourth day of the ninth month, the month of Kislev. 2 The people of Bethel had sent Sharezer and Regem-Melek, together with their men, to entreat the Lord 3 by asking the priests of the house of the Lord Almighty and the prophets, “Should I mourn and fast in the fifth month, as I have done for so many years?”

In response, Zechariah receives a message from the Lord. And it addresses the genuine nature of their hearts in both fasting and feasting. Were they really doing it for the Lord? Or for themselves?

4 Then the word of the Lord Almighty came to me: 5 “Ask all the people of the land and the priests, ‘When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months for the past seventy years, was it really for me that you fasted? 6 And when you were eating and drinking, were you not just feasting for yourselves? 7 Are these not the words the Lord proclaimed through the earlier prophets when Jerusalem and its surrounding towns were at rest and prosperous, and the Negev and the western foothills were settled?’”

8 And the word of the Lord came again to Zechariah: 9 “This is what the Lord Almighty said: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. 10 Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against each other.’

11 “But they refused to pay attention; stubbornly they turned their backs and covered their ears. 12 They made their hearts as hard as flint and would not listen to the law or to the words that the Lord Almighty had sent by his Spirit through the earlier prophets. So the Lord Almighty was very angry.

13 “‘When I called, they did not listen; so when they called, I would not listen,’ says the Lord Almighty. 14 ‘I scattered them with a whirlwind among all the nations, where they were strangers. The land they left behind them was so desolate that no one traveled through it. This is how they made the pleasant land desolate.’”

The people prior to the judgment from Babylon had not really listened to the Lord. They had fasts and feasts, but had failed to be mindful of God’s instructions to show justice and mercy and compassion upon downtrodden and helpless people around them. They were oppressive, and even toward each other they devised plots, presumably for personal gain. Prophets came and warned them about their behavior and their lack of genuine hearts for both the Lord and the people around them. And so God in anger did not honor their prayers, and He scattered them away from their land which became desolate.

The message for this current generation was to learn from this – to not be people who merely performed perfunctory religious duties, but to rather be people truly motivated by honoring God and serving one another. Those who are genuine in religious duty will be genuine as well to be cognizant of the needs of all others around them.

So why do you do church? Why do you come? Why do you seek to worship God? Are you truly amazed by His grace that saved you? Are you regularly aware of that and His blessing that … well … for one thing enables you to be aware of His grace that has reached to you, among all people? Are you mindful that such grace drives you to want to be gracious and serve others? Is the church service about you, or about God and His Word? Are you there, first, to express your love for Him or to see if you are going to get a happy blessing from it? And when you look around at the others there, are you thinking, “How can I help people here today? … How can I serve others?”  Do you go home after Sundays critically evaluating what you got out it, or more often evaluating how much you were able to be a blessing to someone else?

Tell me again why we do this … why we do church … why we worship … why we serve.

This One Weird Trick Makes You OK with God (Zechariah 1, Zechariah 3)

Zechariah 1:1-6; 3:1-10

Most of our writings look back to the previous Sunday and pick up the themes of that day and expand upon them in written form. And that is what was done the past two days with Chris’ writings on the two chapters of Haggai. But today we need to move on into the larger books of Zechariah and Malachi, which will take us through our devotionals for the end of this week and all of next week – along with being the basis of this coming Sunday’s sermon.

Zechariah the prophet was a younger contemporary with Haggai, as both of them where post-exilic prophets – speaking to the nation of Israel and to those who had returned to Jerusalem after the end of the Babylonian Captivity (around 520 BC).

As we highlight a few portions of the relatively unknown book of Zechariah (though not all of it), you find yourself saying, “OK… so this is where that New Testament quote came from.”  This very messianic book provides allusions or is quoted 41 times in the New Testament.

Over the years of my life, particularly as a pastor, I’ve come across more than a few folks who were banking that they were in good shape with God because of some connection they had with Him through someone else. Sometimes it was a spouse who was faithful. Often it was parents or a family with a heritage of faith. Others just seem to think that getting to church at least somewhat frequently will mean that God will prove to be a bit pacified and let them slide when their day of accounting comes along.

Israel was often like this. They simply believed that because God was THEIR God by His covenant with them that they were therefore OK. Who needs to live a holy and committed life of faithfulness when you are born with acceptance from Him as standard equipment through your heritage? But God reminds them that each generation and each person needs to renew the covenant and be faithful toward God.

In essence, God says to them, “Don’t be stupid like your foolish ancestors!” The exact date of this prophecy coincides with Haggai, where he called the people to get back to work on building the Temple after 16 years of putting off that task. So Zechariah joins in that exhortation of making the place where God would meet with His people as they came to that place to meet with Him.

A Call to Return to the Lord

1:1  In the eighth month of the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah son of Berekiah, the son of Iddo:

2 “The Lord was very angry with your ancestors. 3 Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Return to me,’ declares the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will return to you,’ says the Lord Almighty. 4 Do not be like your ancestors, to whom the earlier prophets proclaimed: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘Turn from your evil ways and your evil practices.’ But they would not listen or pay attention to me, declares the Lord. 5 Where are your ancestors now? And the prophets, do they live forever? 6 But did not my words and my decrees, which I commanded my servants the prophets, overtake your ancestors?

“Then they repented and said, ‘The Lord Almighty has done to us what our ways and practices deserve, just as he determined to do.’”

Beginning in 1:7 is the first of a series of eight visions that Zechariah received, along with an angelic interpretation. These visions have both near and far fulfillments – near fulfillment in that contemporary time of the building of Zerubbabel’s Temple, and far fulfillment in the coming of Christ and with the final days of time in the Messianic Kingdom.

We are going to look at just one of these eight visions – the fourth one – by going to chapter three today …

Clean Garments for the High Priest

3:1 Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. 2 The Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, Satan! The Lord, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?”

3 Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. 4 The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.”

Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.”

5 Then I said, “Put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him, while the angel of the Lord stood by.

6 The angel of the Lord gave this charge to Joshua: 7 “This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘If you will walk in obedience to me and keep my requirements, then you will govern my house and have charge of my courts, and I will give you a place among these standing here.

8 “‘Listen, High Priest Joshua, you and your associates seated before you, who are men symbolic of things to come: I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. 9 See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! There are seven eyes[b] on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,’ says the Lord Almighty, ‘and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day.

10 “‘In that day each of you will invite your neighbor to sit under your vine and fig tree,’ declares the Lord Almighty.”

The Joshua character in this vision was the high priest at that time of the return to Jerusalem. Remember that the priest represents the people before God, whereas the prophet speaks from God to the people.

So the scene here has Joshua the high priest before the Lord, with Satan standing there ready to accuse him (the nation). Rather than being the accuser, Satan is told to stand down – that Joshua has been plucked from the fire, and that his filthy clothes would be replaced by a fine garment.

Even in the vision, all of this is said to be symbolic of the future – of a “servant” … a “branch” … a “stone” that is to come, which of course looks forward to Christ. Israel will be forgiven and restored.

This whole scene is our story. We are guilty of sinfully walking away from the Lord. Satan is our accuser, and we are guilty. But our condition of being covered with the filth of sin is taken from us graciously by our sovereign God who clothes us in the fine garment of righteousness. And in that standing we have open access with God and a promise of eternal peace. And this fellowship grants us the position and privilege of worship … it is truly One Weird Trick! And it ain’t spam!

What Good is a Temple? (Haggai 2)

What good is a temple?

In yesterday’s post, we examined Haggai’s emphasis on the rebuilding of the Temple.  The Temple—the focal point of all Jewish religion—had been destroyed during the period of Israel’s exile.  Now that she was returning to her land, the Temple had to be rebuilt.

But again, why?  What value could there be in a building of brick and mortar and stone?  To understand this, we’ll have to look at the role of the Temple in the ancient world—and how this role is still alive today.

THE FIRST TEMPLE

Why go to churchNearly every culture has some sort of “temple.”  A temple is sort of a “cosmic crossroads”—where Heaven and earth are thought to intersect.  Do you want to connect to God?  Then you do so inside the temple.

In his detailed study of the Temple, G.K. Beale surveys all the literature from the ancient world—Jewish as well as pagan—and makes a fascinating discovery.  Every ancient culture had their own version of a temple, and while shape and size varied, every ancient temple followed a similar three-tiered format.  The outer courts were lavishly decorated with ornate artwork meant to evoke the flora and fauna of the created world.  Going further, a darker, inner court—illuminated by lampstands—was meant to evoke the stars and the night sky.  Finally, the innermost portion of the temple was where God was uniquely thought to dwell.

Though there was a bit more nuance, the Jewish Temple was no different.  Eden was Israel’s original Temple: it was there that man connected with God in a garden and beneath an open sky.  In Eden, man and God existed in perfect relationship.  But man chose to be the master of his own destiny.  And in doing so, he lost this perfect fellowship with God.  God placed cherumbim (a type of angel) to block the way into Eden.

Because Eden was Israel’s original, perfect temple, the actual decorations of the Temple – from the carved gourds, palm trees, and flowers – were designed to replicate the contours of Eden (cf. 1 Kings 6:18; 7:14-35).  But within the Temple was the place where God most specifically made His presence known.  It was there that God’s glory took the form of a cloud (just as He had done as a guide to the Israelites) called the shekina glory (1 Kings 8:10-111).  Only priests were allowed to enter this unique place within the Temple, and only to perform sacrifices.  What barrier was chosen to separate this special area from the rest of the Temple?  What final symbol could be chosen to symbolize the separation between man and God?  A cherub – or rather the image of one, emblazoned on the heavy curtain that barred the way into God’s presence.  Just as Eden had been sealed with the flaming sword of an angel, so too would this curtain remind Israel of their separation.

WHAT GOOD IS A TEMPLE?

Now I know what you’re thinking.  All this sounds terribly archaic.  Temple worship is the stuff of a primitive, pre-modern people.  What good is a Temple?  The rational worldview birthed from the enlightenment showed us that man’s problems could be solved not through divine intervention but through human empiricism.  The individual flourished.  In that kind of society, we don’t need a Temple.  We don’t need sacrifice.  What we need instead is a laboratory.  What we need is a social welfare program.

But in the last century we have not seen the triumph of modernism – we have only watched its demise.  Science, political theory and reason could not provide answers to the incredible suffering of the world around us – if anything there was an increase in human suffering in the last century.  Human enterprise could not deliver the utopia it promised.

In a postmodern world, there are no real fixed points of reference – all truth claims are potentially attempts at seizing power. But in such a world, people are more open than ever before to spirituality, regardless of what form it might take.  The collapse of modernism shattered “the hard surface of secularity” (to use Barth’s phrase), and gave us a glimpse – or at least a yearning – to seek out God.  “How far is Heaven?” we find ourselves asking – a question that means more in today’s world than ever before.

THE TRUE TEMPLE

In Haggai’s day, the rebuilt Temple was compared to the one built by Solomon 500 years before.

In the seventh month, on the twenty-first day of the month, the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet,  2 “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to all the remnant of the people, and say,  3 ‘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?  4 Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the LORD. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the LORD. Work, for I am with you, declares the LORD of hosts,  5 according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.  6 For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land.  7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts.  8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts.  9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.'”  (Haggai 2:1-9)

God speaks of giving greater glory through this Temple—a glory that would surpass anything the elders could remember from before.   This Temple would stand until the day of Jesus—a day when God would redraw the boundary between heaven and earth.

When Jesus died on the cross, the curtain of the Temple was torn in two.  If the curtain symbolized the division between God and man, then Jesus’ death changed everything: now man could approach God freely. Jesus’ body becomes the true and better Temple.  This is why Jesus tells His disciples: “In my Father’s house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you (John 14:2).”  In John 2, Jesus’ “Father’s house” was His body – what Jesus is saying is that His death means that there is a new Temple.  Jesus’ body continues on in the form of His followers, the Church (1 Corinthians 12; cf. Ephesians 2:21).  Just as God’s shekina glory once filled the Temple, so God’s Spirit indwell the individual human heart (1 Corinthians 6:19).  Jesus’ death does not eliminate the priesthood – it eliminates the laity.  We are now a “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9), meaning we can each freely enter into God’s presence knowing the Sacrifice has been made.

THE TEMPLE AND TODAY’S CHURCH

In a period of tension between Jew and Gentile, Paul reminds his readers of their new relationship to God and neighbor:

“… you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,  20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone,  21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.  22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)

The Church is the body of Christ, and the body of Christ is the true Temple.  Do you see how this changes everything?  We don’t go to church.  We are the church.  To believe in Jesus is to become part of a larger community of faith.

So…wait.  If church isn’t a building, then why show up Sunday after Sunday?  That’s a fair question.  Church is far more than an hour-long service.  Church is more than a collection of worship songs.  Church is more than a sermon.  But it’s not less.  We don’t “go to church,” but the church gathers to celebrate the relationship that God has offered through Jesus—symbolized through such things as water baptism and the breaking of bread around the Lord’s Table.   Do you understand how radical this is?  Every major religion says: Go to this building, and God might bless you.  The gospel says: God has already blessed you, so gather to say “thanks.”  When we leave the doors of our church buildings week after week, the question that should hang in our minds is not: “Why did I bother going?”  but “What would have happened to me if I hadn’t?”  The gospel changes everything.  The church gathers in gratitude for that change.