This morning we will conclude the sermon series “Rebuilding the Church: Rebuild, Renew, Revive”. For the past 5 months we have explored the postexilic period of Jewish history, from approximately 539 BC until 420 BC. This century-long span began with the fall of the Babylonian empire and the subsequent release of the Jewish exiles from captivity and ended with the prophecy of Malachi and the reforms of Nehemiah following his second arrival in Jerusalem.
Although we began our study in Daniel, we’ve focused primarily on the historical books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Along the way we have examined the prophecies of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. In addition to these, we’ve included related passages from Isaiah, Jeremiah, 2nd Chronicles, and the Psalms. Though we did not review it, we did mention that the story of Esther also took place during this period of history. It is my sincere hope that this series has helped us all to better understand how these books are connected and fitted together in the narrative of the Old Testament.
That said, if all we’ve done over these past several weeks is increased our intellectual knowledge of the Bible then we have failed miserably. The paramount purpose of this series has always been to discover and then apply God’s plan for rebuilding the church. Following decades of Babylonian dominance, the Jewish religion was all but destroyed. Yet by God’s great power and in accordance with His divine providence, a remnant of His children were able to resuscitate a faith that which was almost dead. Their story presents us with a Biblical model for church rebirth.
In today’s closing message, we are going to look back over this entire series and identify seven specific principles for rebuilding the church. They will serve as our blueprint for growth and restoration moving forward. It is my hope that you will write them down, become familiar with each of them, and help hold us accountable to them as we strive to rebuild our church in the years to come. If we do it God’s way, I believe He will grant us great success!
I. Our Church Building Is Important (Ezra 1-6)
Beginning with the tabernacle in the days of Moses, God has always had a “house” among His people. Centuries later King Solomon built the first temple, which was then rebuilt and renovated on occasion throughout the Bible. By the time of Jesus’ birth, there were synagogues located in most of the cities. After His death and resurrection, Christianity began to spread and churches began to be formed. While many met in homes, over time church buildings were constructed to provide a place for believers to gather and worship. Centuries later, there are numerous church buildings found in communities all over the world.
Zerubbabel knew the significance of having a location to serve as God’s house. This is why he was so burdened that the Temple had been destroyed. He understood that while God is not contained in a particular place, His presence is often more perceptible in the church building. Take a moment to consider all of the work that God has done within the walls of your church - the souls that He has saved and the lives that He has changed. Can you imagine how your life might be different if there was no place for you to go to church?
II. We Must Not Neglect Caring for the Church Building (Haggai & Zechariah)
The church building is God’s special dwelling place among us, but often we become more concerned with our own house than with God’s house. It was this sentiment that inspired King David to lay the groundwork for building the first Temple. When the exiles postponed rebuilding the Temple, it was Haggai and Zechariah who reminded them not to neglect God’s house for the sake our their own.
The condition of our church building is a reflection upon what we believe about God. Would we gladly live in a house that is dirty and in disrepair? Would we not do our best to make it clean and beautiful both within and without? How much more then should we care for the house of God! He is worthy of all praise and worship, and our church facility should be indicative of the great love and reverence we have for Him.
III. Our Worship & Practice Must Be Authentic (Ezra 7-10)
While the building itself is important, what goes on inside it is much more so. What good is an immaculate structure if the atmosphere inside is cold and indifferent? This was the issue that Ezra dealt with upon his return to Jerusalem. He found that the nice, new Temple was being abused and defiled by a spiritually ignorant and often disobedient people.
When we come into the church, it should be with sincerity and brokenness of heart. The worship that goes on here should be deep and meaningful. We should not come to be entertained, but rather to have a transformational encounter with God. The activities that occur in this church are sacred. It is not enough to practice some sort of superficial religiosity - our worship and practice must be genuine.
IV. Our Attitude Makes All the Difference (Malachi)
It has been said that our “attitudes will determine our altitude”. Without a proper attitude, we will never rise to great heights. Though this saying is not found word for word in the Bible, it contains substantial spiritual merit, and Scripture has much to say about our attitudes as believers. In the final years of the Old Testament, the prophet Malachi contended with the people about their attitudes.
More often than not it is our attitudes that dictate our actions. If we embrace bitter and hateful attitudes then we will never be able to display Christ to this lost world through our words and deeds as we should. Our attitudes should be characterized with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control.
V. Our Promises Should Be Kept (Nehemiah 8-10,13)
Following the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s fallen wall, the people made a covenant with God. They vowed to be obedient to His statutes and commands. For a while they kept their word, but it wouldn’t last. I believe that it was their broken promises that contributed to God’s silence for the 400 years between the Old and New Testaments.
When we make promises, God takes them seriously and expects us to do our best to keep them. He knows that we will fail at times, and offers forgiveness when we stumble, but that does not negate the significance of our vow. If we cannot be trusted to keep our word, how can we be trusted with the precious blessings of God?
VI. Our Church Serves to Protect Our City (Nehemiah 1-6)
Darkness cannot dominate in places where the light is shining. But when the light fades and flickers out, the darkness spreads. The church is to be a light to the world, to shelter it and protect it from the blackness that lingers all around. The church is to be a wall of defense around the city, and Christians are called to be the watchmen on the wall who dutifully warn their fellow citizens of any coming danger.
But when the church has lost its influence, the walls come down. It is then that the forces of darkness invade our cities and prevail over our people. Therefore, it is fair to say that the judgments of God upon this world are a direct result of the failure of the church to shield the people.
VII. Our Church Should Impact Our City (Nehemiah 7,11-12)
Nehemiah understood that the people of God had the responsibility of reviving their city. Not only did he lead the Jews to rebuild the walls, but he further led them to restore the entire community. Through their efforts, Jerusalem was reborn. The spiritual life that was evident within the people of God was poured out upon the entire city.
As God’s church, we are called to take the life-saving message and ministry of Jesus beyond the walls of our church building. We should be affecting our community and leading it ever closer to Christ. We should be metaphorically standing on the walls, singing and praying over our city every single day. We have been called to make a difference in this lost and dying world.
We can summarize these 7 principles using only three words - “rebuild, renew, and revive”. Zerubbabel was called to rebuild the temple, Ezra to renew the worship taking place inside of it, and Nehemiah to revive the city outside of it. I believe that this is God’s prescription for rebuilding the dying church…
In the months and years to come, we must commit the necessary time and resources to renovating and modernizing our aging church building. We must not quit, no matter how long it takes us. It took the Jewish remnant 20 years to finish rebuilding their Temple, and it may take us that long as well. Still, we will remain committed to the task.
Secondly, we must put away all pretense and semblance of worship and get back to the real thing. We must guard against a tendency to perform rather than to praise. We must resist the temptation to become entertainment focused, in hopes of drawing a crowd. God isn’t impressed by numbers, but by sincerity of heart. It is my challenge as pastor to maintain and foster this type of worship.
Lastly, we must constantly reach out and minister to the people of Seymour. Their well-being is our responsibility, and until we accept that we will never take this obligation seriously. As your pastor, it is up to me to encourage our congregation to be outwardly focused. A dying church is one that is fixated upon itself, but a living church is consistently looking out for others.
By applying these principles, we can rebuild our church. I hope that this series has been meaningful to you and that the LORD has spoken directly to your heart through these messages. He certainly has to mine. May His richest blessings be upon you.
By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion. Upon the willows in the midst of it we hung our harps. For there our captors demanded of us songs, and our tormentors mirth, saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion.” How can we sing the LORD’S song in a foreign land? If I forget you, O Jerusalem, may my right hand forget her skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not exalt Jerusalem above my chief joy. Remember, O LORD, against the sons of Edom the day of Jerusalem, who said, “Raze it, raze it to its very foundation.” O daughter of Babylon, you devastated one, how blessed will be the one who repays you with the recompense with which you have repaid us. How blessed will be the one who seizes and dashes your little ones against the rock. - Psalm 137