Summary: The people of Israel return from exile and rebuild the temple.
Ezra 1:1-4, 3:1-4, 10-13 “Rebuilding”
The self-improvement industry is a billion dollar business in the United States. Zig Ziegler is still selling thousands of books even though he has been dead for several years. Tony Robbins and a list of big hitters in the industry recently held a seminar in Phoenix. Thousands attended the day’s events. We know that people will pay big bucks to participate in these self-improvement courses. A few years ago several people paid James Ray $10,000 to participate in a self-improvement weekend that ended in a sweat lodge tragedy.
Though I’ve never considered myself a self-improvement guru, I do think that today’s text does offer us some practical, realistic ideas that we can incorporate into our lives. These ideas can help us live more fully the abundant life that is ours through Christ Jesus.
THE VALUE OF TRADITIONS
The Israelites have returned from their exile. They settled in Jerusalem and soon began to rebuild the temple. The people also began to celebrate several of their religious festivals. They realized that if they were going to continue to follow the Lord faithfully it was necessary for them to incorporate their religious traditions back into their lives.
Worship was an important tradition for them. While in exile they longed to be able to enter the temple and to offer sacrifices. Now that the temple was being rebuilt, we read in chapter three, they didn’t hesitate to begin to worship again. Their actions certainly underscore the importance of worship in our lives. Not only is worship an important tradition that contains many activities that we cherish, it is also an opportunity for us to step away from our world and refocus on God and on our relationship with the creator of the universe.
Traditions strengthen our families and enrich our lives. These traditions can include a variety of activities: reading Luke 2 on Christmas Eve, going to Glendale Glitters or the Surprise Party, enjoying popcorn and a movie at home on Saturday evenings or enjoying hiking the mountain trails together. An organization called “Vibrant Faith” has determined that family traditions are one of the major ways we pass on the Christian faith from one generation to another.
Personal traditions are important for us also. Getting up early for fifteen minutes of prayer and devotional reading, sipping coffee on the deck in the early morning, watching a football game with friends on Sunday afternoon or participating in a small group Bible study on a week night. Traditions are more than habits. They are activities that make our lives fuller and add to the rich tapestry of life.
THE IMPORTANCE OF CELEBRATION
One of the activities that the Israelites began once they returned to the Promised Land was celebration. We read in 3:10-13 how “The priests in their vestments were stationed to praise the Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals … and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the Lord.
Certainly we know what it is to celebrate. We are in the process of celebrating Christmas. A few months later we will be celebrating Easter. We have our national celebrations like the Fourth of July, Memorial Day and Labor Day. We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, graduations and job promotions. Our celebrations add and excitement and a depth to our lives.
A challenge that we may have is to celebrate more often. We celebrate the big things in our lives. Perhaps we need to celebrate the little things also. We could celebrate things like friendships, pay checks, beautiful days, our job, homework—almost anything can be celebrated.
In the middle of a broken world celebration helps us hear the good news. Instead of just the evening news we hear the news about God’s love, God’s gracious gifts, God’s forgiveness and presence and God’s protection and provision.
THE IMPORTANCE OF LOOKING FORWARD
The writer of the book of Ezra makes and interesting observation in 3:12. He writes that there were many people who had been alive and had seen the old temple, the temple that Solomon had built. It was a glorious temple especially when it was compared with the meager attempts at building a temple when they returned from the exile. The people wept. Their weeping was almost as loud as the shouts of joy.
We always seem tempted to look back rather than forward. We grieve the changes that have taken place. We long for the good old days. Doing this does not add to the richness of our lives, though. In fact, we become disgruntled and depressed. We complain rather than praise
Many of the Israelites did not weep. They celebrated that they had a temple. In their exile they did not. The celebrated that they were in their own land. They looked forward to settling in and tilling their land. The people anticipate what the future held for them.