The Foundation

” 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. 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,” (Ezra 3:11b–12, ESV)

There was great joy and praise when the people finished laying the foundation of the temple in Ezra chapter 3. There was also sadness. Why? Could it be that the elders that had seen the previous temple were comparing the size of the present foundation with the original size of Solomon’s temple? What would this suggest of their hearts? Was it possible that they looked upon this foundation and were reminded of the sin, idolatry, and disobedience of God’s Torah that had brought them to this place? But, God would not let them stay there, He sends His prophet Haggai to lift them up out of their despair.

“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, “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, ‘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? 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, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not. 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. 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. The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the Lord of hosts. 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, ESV)  

What an amazing promise to His people. A people who just 70 year prior had hearts that were chasing after idols, yet God was merciful and full of Grace and stirs the hearts of His people to return to the land and rebuild. But this rebuilding was not just a house for worship, it was a spiritual rebuilding.

The Alter had been built first so that the people could have sacrifice, repentance, rededication, and to once again be purified and accepted by God. Then after they have turned back to a proper relationship with a Holy God, it is time to build a foundation for God’s house, and the Lord was right beside them every step of the way.

They also returned to following the teachings of Moses that the Lord had given them to provide the framework for living a life that was pleasing, and set apart unto the Lord. This included the Feasts of the Lord which would bring people to a place of remembering what a great and mighty God they had and all the wonderful things He had done for them. He truly wanted them to know as He had spoken through Isaiah…I am the Lord, and besides me there is no savior.

Is not our God Amazing!! The pattern we see here is the same pattern we have been given through the Son.

God stirs our hearts to repent and seek after His desires for our life. Putting our faith completely in Jesus our Messiah, and in doing so Jesus, the chief cornerstone adds us to the building of a living temple. 1 Peter 2:4-10 is a beautiful illustration of this process:

“As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do. But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:4–10, ESV)

Just like the people that were in captivity in Babylon, He has shown us grace and mercy. He has called us out of darkness into his marvelous light and now we to can gather as one man and sing praise to our Lord.

Do I act like the elders did at times, looking back into the past and weeping, or even worse do I look back at the world and its offerings and begin to forget of the great things the Lord has done. Peter finished the passage well with these words…

“Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.” (1 Peter 2:11–12, ESV)  

Lord, help me to seek your desires and your will in my life. May I desire you words and your spirit so passionately that I may know you more and more every day of my life, and in knowing you more deeply the encouragement I get from the examples you have given us would stir us to continue to praise, worship, and perform deeds in keeping with repentance.

“For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken.” (Psalm 62:1–2, ESV)  

Turn Back

The simple message God wanted for his people to understand was to seek him with their whole heart. They needed to turn back to God and His ways. So when studying through Ezra and we get to chapter 3 we see that in the seventh month it says they came together as one man, they build an alter, and they offer burnt offerings – why? The explanation is in Numbers 29:1

“On the first day of the seventh month you shall have a holy convocation. You shall not do any ordinary work. It is a day for you to blow the trumpets, and you shall offer a burnt offering, for a pleasing aroma to the Lord: one bull from the herd, one ram, seven male lambs a year old without blemish; also their grain offering of fine flour mixed with oil, three tenths of an ephah for the bull, two tenths for the ram, and one tenth for each of the seven lambs; with one male goat for a sin offering, to make atonement for you; besides the burnt offering of the new moon, and its grain offering, and the regular burnt offering and its grain offering, and their drink offering, according to the rule for them, for a pleasing aroma, a food offering to the Lord.” (Numbers 29:1–6, ESV)

Before they could rebuild the Temple, before they could approach the Lord on His terms they had to have a sin offering, in other words they had to Repent and it had to be from the heart as ONE community.

Do we hear that message enough today? I have seen many books and articles now that speak of how the church is becoming more like the world around it and no longer looks separate and holy. So what shall we do? Well we could individually repent, but I think the key is in the first verse of chapter 3 of Ezra – “the people gathered as one man

Not only was there the opportunity for individual repentance, but there was opportunity for corporate repentance. We need to come together in our local communities and repent as a whole.We need to turn back to God’s ways and walk in obedience to the simple idea of “be holy, for the Lord your God is Holy”

Holiness is not some ethereal quality that is beyond our reach, but it is simply to be separated, set apart, and unique. Remember what Deut. 4:5-8 says?

“See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:5–8, ESV)  

This is a people that are holy, and reflect a Holy God, so that all the nations will look upon them, and see our Awesome, Amazing God and His Awesome and Amazing ways to LIVE!!

Is it no wonder that the first message we hear from both Jesus and John the Baptist is:

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”” (Matthew 3:2, ESV)

How about when the Holy Spirit came upon the people at Pentecost:

“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:36–38, ESV)  

Paul proclaiming to King Agrippa his mission:

 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me.” (Acts 26:19–21, ESV)

I like how in this verse something is very clear – why are they to repent? To perform deeds in keeping with their repentance. In other words once when we turn back to God, we are to perform deeds that are in alignment with that turning.

In turning back, in repenting and believing into Christ, is obedience not what is desired?

 “And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,” (Hebrews 5:9, ESV)

If I really desire to seek Him with all of my Heart, Mind, and Strength, does my repentance reflect that, and does my deeds reveal an obedient heart? So I have to ask the question of myself – How do I know God better – I must first repent personally, and with my community, so we are all in unity before Him as “one man”.