Monday, November 10, 2014

"Has God moved YOUR heart to be engaged in building God's temple?"

Day #318:  Daily Bible Reading Plan - November 11th

Scripture Reading:  Ezra 1 - 5 ...

God's sovereign plan to bring the Messiah from the tribe of Judah, through the line of David, could not be stopped ... not even by the power of Assyria and then Babylon.  Almost all of the Jews had been carried into Babylon and Jerusalem and the temple had been destroyed.  Now seventy years had passed, as was prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah.   That familiar verse from Jeremiah, Chapter 29, verse 11, is preceded by God's promise to those about to be exiled:  "This is what the LORD says, 'When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place.  For I know the plans I have for you,' declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'" (Jeremiah 29:10-11).

God goes on to say through Jeremiah, "'Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.  I will be found by you,' declares the LORD, 'and will bring you back from captivity.  I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,' declares the LORD, ' and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile'" (29:12-14).  God's word comes true, as it always does, but the way it comes true is as important as the timing.  Those who doubt the possibility of prophecy being fulfilled try to make all kinds of claims that the prophets were written later, when these things had already happened.  They don't know God or believe in a sovereign God who reveals things ahead of time so that when they happen His people will know it is by His hand and give Him praise!

Now we read, at the end of II Chronicles and the beginning of Ezra, of a king from Persia named, Cyrus.  Daniel had predicted that the Medes and the Persians would overthrow Babylon, and Isaiah, more than 150 years earlier, had predicted the coming of a king named, Cyrus, and wrote, " ... who says of Cyrus, 'He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, 'Let it be rebuilt,' and of the temple, 'Let its foundations be laid'" (Isaiah 44:28).  Again, biblical critics try to deny that these words were written before Cyrus made his decree, but it is clear from the rest of Isaiah's prophecy that it was written before Jerusalem or the temple was even destroyed!

Even Cyrus's own words confirm that he knew of Isaiah's prophecy and that was what God used to move Cyrus to make his decree that whomever among the exiles wanted to return could do so, and that those who did not return should supply the funds and the supplies for the remnant who was returning.  He said, "The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and He has appointed me to build a temple for Him at Jerusalem in Judah" (1:2).  God holds even unbelieving rulers in His hands and they at times unwittingly fulfill God's plans.  Cyrus was an instrument in God's hands and God leaves nothing to chance.

After seventy years, the people had settled into their places in Babylon and now Persia and were known for their wisdom in financial matters.  God was still watching over them and blessing them and protecting them.  So who would go back?  Who would return to a land that had been devastated, to a city that had been burned, to a temple that had been destroyed ... all of which was now surrounded by other enemies who hated the Jews??  The answer is found in 1:5:  "Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites - everyone whose heart God had moved - prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem."  God moved the hearts of those whom He had chosen to return and they heard the decree of Cyrus and volunteered to return to Jerusalem and to the land of Judah ... some 42,360 people, plus servants and singers and animals.  And what was the first thing they did when they arrived?  "When they arrived at the house of the LORD in Jerusalem, some of the heads of the families gave freewill offerings toward the rebuilding of the house of God on its site" (2:68).

God had brought them back, just as He said He would, and the first thing they did was build the altar and offer sacrifices to the LORD, their God.  "Despite their fear of the peoples around them they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD" (3:3).  Before the foundation for the temple was even built, they began to worship the LORD their God.  This was, after all, why they had been sent into captivity in the first place - because of their idolatry.  Those who returned were not going to make the same mistake (at least not right away!).  They settled in their homes and at the beginning of the second year began to lay the foundation for the temple.  The Levites who were twenty years of age and older were instructed to supervise the building of the temple.  And when the foundation was completed, the people gathered to praise the LORD, singing, "He is good; His love to Israel endures forever!" (3:11).  Indeed, God's love never fails for those who trust in Him!

Some of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept, while many others shouted for joy!  Surely, God was with them!!  But ... when the enemies of the Jews heard what was happening, that they were rebuilding the temple and the walls of the city, they remembered the God of Israel and did not want these people to gather strength again, lest they fight against them at some future time.  So they offered to help build, claiming to worship their God, but Zerubbabel and Jeshua replied, "You have no part with us in building a temple to our God.  We alone will build it for the LORD, the God of Israel" (4:3).  We might think it would have been wise to let them help, what could it have hurt?  God says otherwise!  Only those who truly believe in Him and who know Him as the One true God can be engaged in building His temple!

The same is true today!  The God of Israel is today building a spiritual temple, the Church, from people of every nation, as He promised Abraham (Genesis 12:3).  Those who do not know God have no part in praising Him or in building His temple.  Intermingling with other peoples caused all kinds of problems for Israel and Judah, and it does the same in the church.  God says, "Do not be yoked together with unbelievers" and "Come out from them and be separate" (II Corinthians 6:14,17).  We who believe are called to witness to others and to invite them to come to Him through faith, but until they do they are not part of God's people or of His spiritual temple.

Having been spurned, their enemies set out to discourage them and tried to convince the new king of Persia to stop the building.  They sent him a letter and told him that these people and this city had a long history of being rebellious.  So the king sent a letter back to them and ordered them to stop the work.  "Now issue an order to these men to stop work, so that this city will not be rebuilt until I so order" (4:21).  Messengers were sent to Jerusalem to compel the Jews to stop building the temple.  So much for God's plan ... but remember, God rules over the rulers of the nations.  He did so then, and He does so today.  As you see the nations in chaos and rebellion, you must constantly remember that our God reigns!!!

God sent the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to stir the people up and to encourage the leaders.  Their prophecies were firm and direct, messages from God about the present AND the future.  God was not and is not finished with this nation.  He would fulfill some of His promises in the first coming of Jesus, and He will fulfill the rest at His return.  Not one promise that God has ever made has failed, or ever will.  Every one will happen, just as God has said, even as the prophecies concerning Judah and Cyrus were fulfilled to the letter.  They would succeed in rebuilding the temple in spite of the opposition of their enemies, not because THEY were so strong, but because their GOD was so strong!!

They restarted the building and when asked, "Who authorized you to rebuild this temple and restore this structure?" (5:3), we are told that "the eye of their God was watching over the elders of the Jews, and they were not stopped until a report could go to Darius and his written reply be received" (5:5).  Darius was the new king in Persia.  You can read of him in Daniel.  The answer the Jews gave was sent to King Darius as they boldly declared, "We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and we are rebuilding the temple ..." (5:11).  They asked Darius to check the royal records in order to find that King Cyrus had issued a decree to rebuild Jerusalem and the temple.

All of this is like a "behind-the-scenes view" of God moving pieces of a puzzle in place.  History is truly HIS story!  All the parts point to His wisdom and power at work to accomplish His purposes.  He is the same God who sent His Son into the world to save all who would believe in Him ... all whose hearts God moved to believe ... and is still moving today by His Spirit and Word.  He is the God who continues to reveal His plan to those who are given eyes to see, minds to understand and hearts to obey.    He is the God who says through the Apostle Paul,

"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.  For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified" (Romans 8:28-30).  These are the "living stones" who "are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ" (I Peter 2:4).

The people of Judah would complete the temple, and several hundred years later the perfect Son of God would enter it and then go to the cross to offer the perfect sacrifice that is able to make holy in God's sight all who believe in Him.  All who are part of building the temple today have been born again by the Spirit of God and moved to believe in Jesus Christ and be saved.  To us is now given the task of completing the building until Jesus returns and we celebrate the Wedding Supper of the Lamb in the presence of the angels.  Let's be about our Father's work with zeal and resolve, for our God is with us, and "if God is for us, who can be against us?!" (Romans 8:31).

"Our gracious and holy God, You are the same God who moved the hearts of those who had been living in captivity to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild Your temple.  As they did so then, may we rely on Your strength and power at work in us today in order to accomplish all You have for us to do.  Thank You, Father, for moving MY heart and calling me to be part of Your spiritual house that will one day receive Jesus from heaven.  To You alone be glory and honor and praise, in Jesus' name, Amen"

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