The title of our current sermon series is "Rebuilding the Church". As I have studied and began putting these sermons together, I want to add a subtitle to this – "Rebuild, Renew, Revive". When Zerubbabel led the first expedition back to Jerusalem, they were charged to rebuild the temple. When Ezra led the second expedition back years later, his goal was to renew the worship. Then when Nehemiah led the third expedition, it was to revive the city by rebuilding the wall around it.
Scripture provides a 3-fold strategy for rebuilding the church. We must work on the building itself (Zerubbabel), what we do inside the building (Ezra), and how we impact those outside the building (Nehemiah). These represent three broad areas that need to be addressed as we rebuild. They aren’t to be viewed as isolated from one another. In other words, we don’t have to accomplish one before moving on to the next. Rather, we may work on all three objectives at the same time.
Last week Cyrus issued a proclamation allowing the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem. A group of committed volunteers gathered, made preparations, and journeyed back home. They were led by Zerubbabel, and had been tasked to rebuild the temple. We pick up the story this morning beginning in Ezra 3. We will frame this sermon with 4 major points - the home, the altar, the Levities, and the foundation.
I. THE HOME (Ezra 3:1)
The distance from Jerusalem to Babylon is over 500 miles in a straight line, yet the people would likely have traveled up the Euphrates before turning south to Jerusalem making the journey even longer. It likely took about 4 months to make the trip on foot.
When the exiles arrived at Judah, they scattered to their own cities and what was left of their own homes. They were allowed a few months to put things in order, to evaluate the damage, and make repairs. Then, at the appointed time, they all came back together at Jerusalem to start rebuilding the temple as they had been instructed.
As we seek to rebuild the church, it is important to remember our homes come first. This does not diminish our responsibility to the church, but does serve as a guideline. When faced with the choice to take care of the critical needs of your family or give to the church, Scripture says we should choose family. This does not mean that we choose family over God – God is always first. God and church are not the same thing. So the Biblical order of these three is as follows – God, Family, then Church.
II. THE ALTAR (Ezra 3:2-6)
Before they started building the temple itself, the people rebuilt the altar on what was left of its original foundation. One of the primary purposes of the Jewish Temple was animal sacrifice, in which God made atonement for the peoples’ sins. This was their ongoing expression of repentance.
The altar stood outside of the temple itself. The people built it first so that they could go ahead and begin making offerings and sacrifices to God, even as they worked to complete the temple. Although they feared the adversarial people living in the city, they rose above it and continued working faithfully. After completing the altar, they immediately began making daily offerings and reinstituted many celebrations and customs in accordance with the law of Moses.
The first element of the church that needs to be rebuilt is the altar. If we are not going to use the altar and practice ongoing repentance, then there really is no need for the remainder of the building. God will not bless a stubborn, cowardly, or unrepentant people. Oh how I long to see the altars of God within our churches full again!
III. THE LEVITES (Ezra 3:7-9)
Having completed the altar, the people now used the money they’d brought with them from Babylon to acquire materials that they’d use to begin temple construction. Zerubbabel and Jeshua appointed the Levites as supervisors over the construction. For a few months they did the groundwork, clearing and preparing the area to begin building soon.
The Levities were the descendants of Levi, many of whom served in the Levitical Priesthood. As such, in Old Testament times they represented the mediators between man and God. In other words, God himself was overseeing and directing the work through the Levites.
As we seek to rebuild our church, we must do so under the direction of God Almighty. He will guide our steps as we engage in the labor. Everything we do should be honoring to Him.
IV. THE FOUNDATION (Ezra 3:10-13)
The people celebrated after completing the laying of the foundation of the new temple. Although work on the building itself had not yet started, this was a major milestone and the people rejoiced. They praised God for their success, and were careful to do so in the manner prescribed by King David years before. Though creating something new, they still wanted to honor their past.
Yet many of the older men wept. Most scholars tell us that they wept because, compared to the grandeur of first temple, this new one would be much more modest. No expense had been spared when building Solomon's temple, but now it was gone. Zerubbabel's temple would be built on a budget and would appear far less impressive to the eye. Sadly, these senior saints did not sense the joy of what could be... only the sorrow of what was no more.
As we rebuild our church, we cannot be stuck in the past. We must make our church relevant, contemporary, and inviting to the new generation. Times have changed, circumstances have changed, and people have changed. They best way to honor those who went before us is to build a church to meet the needs of those who will come after us.
The first group of exiles had returned to Judah. After a few months in their homes, they reunited in Jerusalem. They rebuilt the alter of God, began making daily sacrifices, and commenced observing the Jewish festivals and traditions according to the Law. They gathered workers and purchased supplies to begin rebuilding the temple. Soon the foundation was laid.
As we apply their situation to ours, I see four important truths. Though we are called to rebuild the church, our work should not impair our home life. If we want our church to be effectual, we must rebuild our altar by becoming a people of repentance. We must be mindful that God is watching, and do everything by His direction and for His honor and glory. We must build with a vision for the days to come, not with a nostalgia to duplicate days gone by.
Fortunately, Calvary does not have to build a church from the ground up. We have a wonderful facility already. But there is no denying that it is aging and in need of much repair. It needs to be made contemporary and attractive, that it might appeal to this generation. The condition of our church building is very important - and it is an area we must address as we begin to rebuild, renew, and revive.