There's an article on Time magazines website. It begins: "Religion can be a source of comfort that improves well-being. But some kinds of religiosity could be a sign of deeper mental health issues." The article quotes a clinical psychologist who states, "Religion is related to the child having a higher sense of self esteem, better academic adjustment and lower rates of substance abuse and delinquent or criminal behavior."
So much for the positives. The rest of the article tells us all the negative ways religion could affect our children. Those with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) might rigidly repeat holy verses or focus on other rituals. If so, such ritualistic behavior "in reality could be no more spiritual than fanatical hand washing or dreading to walk on cracks." Other children suffer from "scrupulosity," a form of OCD that involves shame and guilt. We're told that "fastidiousness to religious practices may not seem so harmful," but could lead to "extreme behavior such as delusions or hallucinations."
The article recommends that parents "be alert to a sudden and pervasive shift in religious practice" and "model a healthy balance between religion and life." They should show children "how religion can co-exist with enjoying life" (note the juxtaposition, as though the two are mutually exclusive). Their goal should be to help religion become "a comfort and a joy," since "that's the role that religion should have for people of faith."
Now I suppose if I was going to be obsessed with anything, Jesus would be a pretty good target. To me, the Time article is symptomatic of a cultural bias against true Christianity. Religion in moderation is fine, but surrendering every dimension of life to Jesus is too extreme. I ask how is this working for our culture?
Author and teacher Kay Arthur warns: "If you do not plan to live the Christian life totally committed to knowing your God and to walking in obedience to him, then don't begin, for this is what Christianity is all about. It is a change of citizenship, a change of governments, a change of allegiance. If you have no intention of letting Christ rule your life, then forget Christianity; it is not for you." Jesus would certainly agree. It is not a self-help system. Our story today demonstrates this.
The year is 609 BC and the evil and cruel Nebuchadnezzar begins the Babylonian empire by defeating the Assyrians as the prophet Jeremiah had predicted. Jeremiah had spoken to the people for 23 years and they had not listened, then finally in Jeremiah 25-29 he gives details about Nebuchadnezzar coming and that the people of Israel would be in exile in Babylon.
During that time we know about the life of Daniel who prophecies through his visions of some of what we are about to witness in the book of Ezra. Daniel reads the writing on the wall telling Nebuchadnezzar that the Medes and Persians are coming to conquer his kingdom through Cyrus. The Persians, led by Cyrus do indeed conquer Babylon in 539 BC thus ending the 70 years of Babylonian reign, and Daniel once again prospered under the kings of Persia.
Ezra begins - "In the first year of Cyrus's reign, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus the king so that the prophecy of Jeremiah might be fulfilled", the exiles begin returning home. In 538 he allows the first wave of exiles to return to Jerusalem to begin building a new temple. This new exodus is led by the "prince of Judah" Sheshbazzar, which is the Persian version of Zerubbabel. If you come to the Wednesday night study, you will see why this person is important.
They begin the rebuilding but there are adversaries as always, and the temple does not get completed until 516, and it's another 60 or so years until Ezra and the last wave of exiles return.
During this time of rebuilding we see that there are two prophets delivering the word of God, Haggai and Zechariah. We learn a lot from those books as we see that the first year the Israelites were back, they focussed on just throwing up a temporary altar and then went to work trying to be prosperous. Listen to what God says through Haggai and see if it speaks to us as wee as to them (Hag 1:9-14 NLT). That's when they got to the real work of building the temple. Notice also how God is using Gentiles to both punish, and also to give the commands and resources to rebuild the temple.
I find this very interesting for us. We know that the temple is really symbolic of God's house in the Old Testament and there is a very clear parallel here for us, and it is that we must focus first on the temple of the Lord which is now us, before we can expect to truly receive all God's blessings. It is said well by Jesus, "Seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."
You see even then, the people put themselves and their work first, and neglected the Lord. God sent a drought and a couple prophets so that they didn't have a choice but to change their focus, and put God first. And like in our article at the start, God is not satisfied with being "fit in" to your life, He is to be your life.
At the end of Haggai there is a very important passage that is crucial in understanding the prophecies of Daniel. God says that on that day (the day of the Lord) I will make you, Zerubbabel like a signet ring, for I have chosen you".
Two months later the prophet Zechariah begins a much more substantial ministry than Haggai. One of the reasons I believe our prophecy study on Wednesday night is so important is because some of these prophecies from the era we are studying here, are directly related to the books of Daniel and Revelation, and therefore represent our future as well as the people of Ezra's era. Ezra himself arrives on the scene many years after the temple is finished in chapter 7 so we will see more of him next week.
So I encourage you from here on out to see the parallels between the temple and the church (or the people who make up the church - the temples of the Holy Spirit), and between Babylon and idolatry or worldly passions. In this way you will see more clearly how this book of Ezra is relevant to us.
Now remember that the anointed prince Zerubbabel is leading the people. His name means "worshipper of fire" in Persian and "sown in Babylon" in Hebrew. Neither of those sound good do they? The anointed priest that is with him is Joshua or Jeshua which means "He is saved or he will save". And also notice that the two prophets Haggai and Zechariah are supporting these two anointed ones.
I think if you study Zechariah carefully, there is good evidence suggesting that these represent the two lamp stands and Olive Trees in Revelation 11, referring to the two witnesses. As well as the two anointed ones in Daniel 9.
Now in chapter 6 of Ezra, Darius receives a letter and looks up the decree of Cyrus, and then makes his own decree that the building of the temple should continue after Artaxerxes had ordered it stopped.
I'm going to pause here and ask you a question. Do you think this rebuilding of a physical temple is what God really wanted? Does he want a building to live in? A place where people come and burn animals as an act of worship and repentance? Did this building project make all well for Israel and Jerusalem again and forever?
The truth is God never wanted a temple. It was always an accommodation to the people who only seemed to know how to worship like the rest of the pagan cultures in order to get good fortune from their god. They always built temples and altars to their gods and so God kind of gave in thinking, well I guess if I can't get them to worship me through obedience and relationship, I might as well at least give them the right target to worship in a temple.
"They don't seem to know me, so maybe if I give them a place to worship". He never has any qualms about destroying the temple but the people sure do. I sometimes wonder if this isn't similar to our saying "putting God in box". It's a convenient way to worship at a specific spot, or a specific thing without having to make the person of God real in all areas of your life.
God lived in a tent during the Exodus, or more accurately he was in a cloud that would descend upon the tent at times. He didn't live in the Ark of the Covenant, the Law did. From the time of the fall to the time of Jesus, the people of God primarily worshipped the Law, the Ark, and the Temple through burning sacrifices. All the while the prophets would be calling people to worship God through repentance and obedience and love.
Why do you think God did not want king David to build the temple, why did Jesus talk about destroying the temple? As much as David sinned, he had relationship with God, and I don't think God wanted him to be associated with the temple. Onething David never did was worship idols.
Now when God gave the order for Solomon to build the temple in 1 Chronicles, notice it came with commands to keep the commandments and seek the Lord. When he finished, fire came down from heaven to consume the offering. It was never about the temple though, in fact the temple is a symbol of idol worship. God tells Solomon I have chosen this place for you to do your sacrifices, but the key is to keep my commands and pray. If you don't I will pluck you from the land and cast this temple out of my sight.
Again, relate this to today, the church is not about the building or the sanctuary, or even what we offer on Sunday mornings. It is about obedience and doing the will of God as living sacrifices in relationship with Him, like Jesus. Our church worship is only different from back then in that we don't offer burnt sacrifices, we accept Jesus sacrifice. Revelation says that there is no need for a temple in the New Jerusalem, which represents the Church of Christ, because the Lord himself is the temple, the one to be worshipped through our lives sacrificed to him.
When Jesus comes to the Jerusalem temple he says in Matthew 12, "Something greater than the temple is here" referring to himself. He says if you destroy this temple (again referring to himself) I will raise it up in three days.
Paul says twice in 1 Corinthians that we are now temples of God and in Ephesians 2, "we are fellow citizens and saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In Him you are also being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit."
Notice what happens after King Solomon builds this temple and his own castle. He gets very rich and famous, and begins to turn drastically away from God, marrying foreign women and allowing them to turn him to other Gods. You will see at the end of the book of Ezra that apparently many followed his example.
Solomon himself sets up many abominations to other gods. And all of this begins the dividing and eventual destruction and desolation of the kingdom. The prophecies in Daniel are all about the desolation or the destruction of the temple which God himself is behind.
Jesus even mentioned the destruction of the temple in Matthew 24. And He said this generation will not pass away until these things happen. Speaking of the abomination of desolation and the great tribulation.
We have been so busy looking for the antichrist that we have missed what the abomination of desolation actually is. Jesus actually tells us in Luke 21 in a different account of the same speech. In verse 20 he says "that when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near". It is not some statue, it is the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple by the Roman army in AD 70. And the temple will be trampled by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled".
In Daniel 9 we hear about the people of the prince to come destroying the city and the sanctuary, and to the end there shall be war. This is the same thing Jesus is saying. Once the Gentiles take Jerusalem this time, there will be war until the time of the Gentiles is finished. The great tribulation Jesus speaks of in Matthew 24 is clearly the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70 for which most of his listeners would still be alive. That is the end of the age of temple worship.
Why am I talking about all this stuff, and probably not making much sense? Because the fact of the matter is that the church of Christ could not flourish until the temple was gone. The Law and temple worship had to end in order for the true church to emerge. It was in AD 70 that the church finally got fully dispersed into the world. It will come back to Jerusalem at the end but until then Jerusalem will be plagued by war, trampled underfoot by the Gentiles.
It was David himself who writes in Psalm 40,
"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, who does not turn to the proud, those who go astray after a lie!
In sacrifice and offering you have not delighted, but you have given me an open ear. Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required.
I delight to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart."
Those same words were found in Jeremiah 31:33 with regards to the new covenant that would come.
This is expanded in Hebrews 9… "It was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things (in the temple) to be purified with the blood of animal sacrifices, but the heavenly things themselves with a better sacrifice than these. For Christ has entered not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf… But as it is, he has appeared (catch this) once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself."
This is part of the corrective to anyone who thought that the sacrificial system in itself did anything without faith, love, repentance and obedience. The temple and its sacrifices are meaningless and not desired by God unless the heart is right. And that only before Jesus made His sacrifice. Even sacrifices we make for God are only acceptable when the motives are right.
Perhaps Paul said it best in Acts 17: "The God who made the earth and everything in it, being the Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he need anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.
And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him."
Then he says, "Being then God's offspring, we ought not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God has overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead."
God overlooked the ignorance of this type of idol worship until Christ came and now there is no excuse. God gave people the benefit of the doubt before he sent Jesus. They didn't know Jesus so they worshipped by the Law in the temple.
Notice that at the end of verse 18 in chapter 6 of Ezra it says all this building, and sacrificing was done as it is written in the Book of Moses. In other words, according to the Law. And then they celebrated Passover.
Next week we will see that it is then that God sends Ezra to teach the people. And it will be interesting what in fact he teaches them. Because the truth for you and me is that now we are the temple, and at the end of this new covenant age, these earthly temples will be destroyed and those who are in the Lamb's book of life will live forever with the new eternal temple - Almighty God and the Lamb. Jesus is the final temple and God's glory will shine through Him forever.