Summary: Who is worship supposed to be about? God. And it is His worship that He was restoring in Jerusalem in this passage. This message looks at restoring our religion.
1. Worshipped as family (3:1 – they gathered together as one man)
2. Worshipped fittingly (3:2 – in accordance with the Word of God)
3. Worshipped freely (3:3 – in spite of the fear of the nations)
4. Worshipped fully (3:4-5 – they kept all the feasts and offered all the offerings)
It seems like forever since we were in Ezra, doesn’t it? Well, it hasn’t been forever, but it has been a few weeks. So let me remind you of where we are. King Cyrus of Persia gave a decree that the Jews were to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple. But God required certain things of the Jews before He would allow them to begin construction. He deemed four restorations necessary before His people were ready to rebuild the temple foundations. Before they ever left Babylon, He restored their resources. He restored the precious resources that were needed for temple worship. The Lord transferred the things He had set aside for His worship from the Babylonians to His people. After that restoration, you will remember that God restored His remnant. He provided all the different kinds of people He chose to perform His work. He provided leaders and followers. Well-known people and no-named people. He had a place for everyone to work. Then, God’s third restoration was when He restored their responsibility. Once they left Babylon and entered Jerusalem, He restored their responsibility of giving. Tonight we’re going to look at the fourth restoration God deemed necessary before His people could rebuild the temple foundations. Before they ever so much as turned a stone or dug a hole for the temple foundation, God restored their religion. After He restored their resources, their remnant and their responsibility, He restored their religion. Before God would bless them with the new temple, they had to get their worship right? How is our worship here at Brushfork Baptist Church tonight? I heard a story about a rescue squad paramedic who was being interviewed by the newspaper. The reporter asked him all the regular questions. “How long have you been on the rescue squad?” “What made you want to become a paramedic?” “What does your family think about the long hours?” All the standard questions. And then the reporter got to the good stuff. She asked him to tell her about the most challenging response he’d ever made. Here was his story: “A few Sunday mornings ago, we got a call to respond to the big Baptist church up the road in the middle of their Sunday morning worship service.” “When we got there, one of the ushers met us in the parking lot to let us know that an elderly member of the church died in the middle of the service.” “He checked the man’s pulse and breathing and was sure he was dead.” The reporter didn’t see the big deal, so she asked the paramedic, “What was so challenging about that?” The paramedic looked at her and said, “It wouldn’t have been, except for the fact that we carried out six guys before we found the one who was really dead.” That church had a worship problem, didn’t it? As a matter of fact, many churches today have worship problems. Some feel more like a hospital morgue than a worship service. On the other hand, some feel more like American Idol than a worship service. Both extremes are as problematic as the one that paramedic was talking about. That’s the thing about extremes. They’re easy to identify and it’s easy to see they’re wrong. But how do we know what is right and wrong in worship? Can we? Or do we have to judge worship the way I judge art? I don’t know anything about art, so the only way I can judge it is whether or not I like it. Whether or not it appeals to my senses. Is that how we are to judge worship? Whether or not it appeals to our senses? Whether or not we like it? I hope not—because worship isn’t about us. It’s not about what appeals to us. It’s not a self-centered thing—or at least it shouldn’t be. Who is worship supposed to be about? God. And it’s His worship that He was restoring in Jerusalem in our passage. Tonight we’re going to look at restoring our religion. In order to do that we have to look at worship. We’re going to look at four characteristics of restored religion. The first characteristic of restored religion is worshipping as a family. Look with me at verse 1.
Restored religion is worshipping as a family. Remember where the remnant was. They had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon. And when they first arrived in Jerusalem, they took their offerings to the spot where the temple had stood. It was only after they abundantly gave to the Lord’s work that they found places to live and settled in the villages surrounding Jerusalem. After they had a little time to settle in and get a few boxes unpacked, the seventh month had arrived. On the Jewish calendar, the seventh month was the month of Tishri. On our calendar, it would have been late September or early October. Tishri was the most significant month of the Jewish year. It’s appropriate that we’re looking at this passage on the first Sunday of our New Year, because it was in the seventh month that the Jews celebrated their New Year. The first day of that month was their big New Year’s bash called the Feast of Trumpets. If you have a calendar that includes Jewish holidays, that day will be called Rosh Hashanah. But not only was the seventh month their New Year, it was also the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. That was on the 10th day of the month and we all know how important that day was for the Jews. Finally, as if that didn’t make the seventh month important enough, from the 15th through the 20th day of the month, they celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles. That was the feast they were able to keep in our passage. So here they were, just getting settled into their new homes and it was time to pack up and head to Jerusalem. If you’ve ever moved, you know how hectic it can be for a few months. And here they were in the middle of moving and it was time for worship. So what did they do? They stayed at home and got their stuff done, right? I mean they had just come from Jerusalem. They had already paid their tithe. They had done their duty. And they had a lot to do—let’s just stay home, OK? Well, they didn’t—they stopped what they were doing and headed back to Jerusalem. Why? For the sole purpose of worshipping God. Picture the scene. Here they all came. After the offering, they scattered to all the surrounding villages to settle down. And here they all came from all different directions. It reminds me of the scenes that used to happen in America when the church bell would ring. The church bell would ring and people would come walking in from every direction for the sole purpose of worshipping God. And as the Jews in our passage came together, look how they gathered. They gathered together as one. That word “gathered” pictures a mass moving to one place. It’s used of gathering grain into silos from the fields. In other words, they came from all of their diverse places, their diverse interests, their diverse lifestyles. No matter where they came from, they gathered. And what were they like when they got there? They were as one man. Isn’t that how we’re supposed to worship together? We are a diverse group of people. Not as diverse as the Lord would like us to be. But we are diverse. We don’t all have the same tastes or backgrounds or personalities or abilities or gifts. But that doesn’t matter when we are gathered together as one man. As a matter of fact, if we let it, it makes our worship that much more God-centered instead of self-centered. We sing the song “family of God.” But is that how we really worship? Do we act like we’re so glad we’re a part of the family of God? Do we act like we’re all joint heirs with Jesus as we travel this sod? What about the last line of verse 2—“I’m not worthy to be here, but praise God I belong!” Is that how we feel? Is that how we act? If not, we need to restore our religion. Restored religion is worshipping as a family. It is also worshipping fittingly. Look at verse 2: