We are “God’s Tear Down” and the whole purpose of a tear down is to replace it with something better.
- Are you in or out?
- Bring the treasure back.
- Be humble and repentant.
- Lay the proper foundation and celebrate in worship!
- Let joy drown out weeping.
Some of us love to watch shows on HGTV. There are a lot of them: Property Brothers, House Hunters, Flip or Flop, and others. I know many of you are fans of Chip and Joanna Gaines and the show Fixer Upper. But there is another type of housing project that I want to talk about: the Tear Down. That is where a developer purchases a property with the purpose of tearing down the existing structure and building a new building. The whole purpose is building something better. This usually happens because the building is in terrible shape or the land itself has become much more valuable, or because the other properties in the neighborhood have gotten fancier and the old building no longer fits into the neighborhood. Either way, the old building is torn down to make way for something new and better.
In the past couple years, many of us have watched in concern as we have seen our church attendance dwindle and our offerings barely cover costs. We wonder what is happening and can we go on? I submit to you that what God is doing is like a real-estate Tear Down. He is removing the old and rebuilding on a more solid foundation to prepare us for the kingdom work he has planned for us. There is no need for alarm. This is actually something to celebrate and embrace rather than fear. We are beginning to see the fruit of His rebuilding such as the many salvations in Awana and new leadership and cohesiveness in Collision. As Pastor Nate has been telling us in our study in Colossians: Jesus holds everything together. He holds not only our personal circumstances together but also our church together. We are his people and He knows what He is doing in our church. Yes, he may tear down, but it is always with the purpose of rebuilding something better.
Our Spiritual life passage from Ezra talks about a time when the Old Testament Temple had been detroyed and was in the process of being rebuilt. Let’s use this as a model for looking at how we as a church have been torn down and are now in the rebuilding process.
But first a brief history lesson. The first temple was built during the reign of King Solomon in Jerusalem around 900 BC. It served as a permanent place for Israel to worship and was also a place where the Ark of the Covenant was to remain. Although there were a number of attacks on Jerusalem and the temple, the temple was not destroyed until about 586 BC when King Nebuchadnezzar attacked, taking not only the southern kingdom of Judah captive, but also taking the gold and silver things from the temple and taking them back to Babylon. It was a complete Tear Down job.
But as our passage describes, although it seemed like a total loss, God was at work in the events to bring not only His people back, but to rebuild the Temple.
In the first chapter of Ezra, we see that Cyrus, the current king of Persia, receives a word from God that he should let the captive Jews go back to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple. What? Doesn’t that seem odd to let the captives go? Well, Cyrus instituted the policy of placating the gods of his subject peoples instead of destroying or carrying off their idols and religious artifacts as the Assyrians and Babylonians had done earlier. His generosity to the Jews was similar to what he also offered to other people groups. So in other words, he paid every god off, rather than insult and potentially incur the wrath of the god of a subject people. But God used this turn of heart to benefit Israel.
Lesson #1 – Are you in or out?
Cyrus’ decree allows “everyone whose spirit God has stirred to go up and rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem.” So here we have the first lesson from this passage. Not everyone went back at first or even ever. The only people who went back were the people whom God had stirred. Are YOU in or out? God has been shaking our membership lately, but let me ask you again, are you in or out? When God stirred in some people’s hearts to return to rebuild the temple they had to make that choice, were they in or out? And there were costs associated with the choice they made. Similarly, we have a choice, am I in or out? We are a covenant people. We don’t talk about that so much anymore, but we are. A covenant is a serious, binding promise to share and stick together as a church body. We agree to a couple of things in our covenant when we join this church:
- to keep the commandments of God, sustained in the faith of Jesus Christ.
- to meet for worship on the Sabbath and to support the program of the Church.
- to give in service to God a fair proportion of our time, abilities, and material possessions in the belief that these are given to us as a trust from God.
- to watch over each other for good and to pray for each other to the intent that we may grow in wisdom and spiritual understanding.
So again I ask, are you in or out?
Lesson #2 Bring the treasure back.
A second lesson that we can take from the account in Ezra, is that the people got to bring the temple treasure back with them to Jerusalem. Ezra 1:6-7 says: 6 And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered. 7 Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. So they not only got the blessing of riches from the people of the land, a nice going away present, but Cyrus also gave back the things that had been stolen from the temple. What is the equivalent of the temple treasure in our church today? It would be easy to think it only applies to money. But I think money is secondary. The real riches in our church body are the people. You! Your skills, abilities and Jesus living in you and working through you, and our future in our children. Without each of you operating in the love of Jesus, all the money in the world will not build this church. But together, and by and with God’s grace, He will rebuild us. You are such a gracious and giving people. But if you sense God pulling at your heart to share a treasure of skills or abilities that you have hidden away that you might share with your church family, do it.
Lesson #3 Be humble and repentant
The next thing that they did when they arrived in Jerusalem is recorded in Ezra 3:2-3: 2 Then arose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. 3 They set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening. I find this striking. As much as they might want to jump into the good, flashy parts of rebuilding, the first thing they build is an altar of sacrifice and repentance. They came with repentance and sacrifice. That’s not flashy! Was it their fault they had been taken into captivity? Not directly, but yet they felt the need to come clean before God and to resume their worship and sacrifices on behalf of all their sins. We often forget about coming to our ministries with humble and repentant hearts. We get so excited about the task before us, that we forget that unless our attitude is right that it is not going to be pleasing to the Lord or go well. And sometimes we are called to repent of things that we didn’t cause or do. While that may hardly seem fair, they are things that are rooted in history that still impact our church family today. They became a part of the fabric of the church and we must allow God to reveal these things and repent of them. Let us continue to be humble and repentant as God rebuilds our church.
Lesson #4 Lay the proper foundation and celebrate in worship!
Ezra 3:10 tells us: 10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord, according to the directions of David king of Israel. 1 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord,
“For he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”
And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid.
We talked about this last week didn’t we? What is the proper foundation of our church? We sang the hymns The Church’s one Foundation, and My Hope is built on nothing less than Jesus Christ the Solid Rock. 1 Cor 3:11 tells us that: For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. This church has always been built on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ. Yet, if there have been any deviations from this, then we must repent and return to that firm foundation. No other foundation will do. God forgive us if we as a church have built on anything or anyone else.
And then as we build on the proper foundation, we are to celebrate and worship. We celebrate and give thanks to God who holds us together even when we seem to be falling apart. We give praise to the one who always has us in mind. We give worship to the one who has a plan for each one of us and for us corporately as His church.
Lesson #5 Let joy drown out weeping
Ezra 3:12-13 goes on: 12 But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away.
Wow isn’t that something? In the midst of the joy and worship there were some who were weeping. Why? I can think of several reasons. Those of us who have seen a bit of history or remember how things “used to be,” can sometimes be a bit of a downer. We regret that the “new version” is not as grand, or just that it is different, and we may not like it quite as well. Sometimes we simply weep out of relief and joy that something is happening that we have prayed and waited a long time to see. Or sometimes, we come face-to-face with our anger and frustration about things that have happened in the past. But, sometimes, we just need to let go and join the throng of rejoicing and let their rejoicing drown out our tears.
You see, we need to rejoice at the rebuilding that God is causing. Instead of focusing on the past, or what we think might have been, or worrying about what is happening. It is time to embrace the rebuilding that God is doing. Remember, I said at the beginning that our church is God’s Tear Down, and the whole purpose of a tear down is to replace it with something better. He is in the business of tearing down anything in our church that does not please Him and rebuilding us in the way that pleases Him.
The tearing down process is very hard and painful to endure. But through this process, God gives us a growing perspective, understanding, and even thankfulness for what He is doing. We begin to better understand His sovereignty and to learn through the painful crosses He asks us to bear what it really means to follow Him. He is actually drawing us closer to Him as we bear the pain of our crosses so that we can know and follow Him better. He is purifying us so that our sins do not hurt our relationship with Him. Without this process, we are nothing and we have nothing. But what is on the other side of the tear down is worth everything. We need all of this and we need to rejoice in EVERYTHING that God is doing in us!
Are you in or are you out? Will you embrace what He is doing? Let’s let go of the past and move into the fullness of what God is rebuilding in this church.