Summary: A journey through the Bible inspired by Randy Frazee and max Lucado.
The Return Home - 19
February 27, 2011
Sometimes life is all about pig slop and whale guts! How’s that for a start? The prodigal son can tell you about the pig slop. He requested his share of his father’s inheritance before his father died; and he took the money and ran off to the Las Vegas of his day, and wasted all of the money. He finally got a job feeding pigs, which is an irony for a Jew; and he grew so hungry that he was about to eat the pig slop. That’s what it took for him to come to his senses and return home.
The story of Jonah doesn’t include pit slop, it includes whale guts. Jonah’s a prophet in the Bible, who had a real problem with God’s assignment in his life. God called Jonah to preach to the Assyrians, to tell them to repent. Jonah didn’t like the Assyrians and he didn’t want them to receive God’s grace. Instead of going to Assyria, Jonah went the other way, and God responded by putting Jonah in the ultimate time out . . . 3 long days in the belly of a whale. The whale could only stomach Jonah for 3 days, so the whale spit Jonah onto a beach. And this helped Jonah to get back on track and follow God’s plan.
Well, today we have the Jews and the abandoned temple. I realize that doesn’t have the same marquee power as the others, but this story describes a people who experienced a prodigal rebellion, as they passed through a Jonah lapse. And most of all, this story answers the question, “what does God do when we make His big thing our small thing?”
How does God respond to our misplaced priorities and lapses. What does God do when we get off track?
Here’s the story . . . the children of Israel have passed the last 3 generations in exile in Babylon. Their beloved city of Jerusalem and the temple have been destroyed. Eventually there’s light at the end of the tunnel, as we read in Ezra 1:1-4 — 1 In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus, king of Persia, to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also to put it in writing:
2 “This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “‘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.
3 Any of His people among you—may their God be with them, and let them go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.
4 And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.’”
What a remarkable turn of events. God turned the heart of King Cyrus towards the Jews. And God prompted the king not only to give them permission to return home, but he also gave them the resources with which to rebuild the temple. While the children of Israel were in exile, the temple didn’t exist. So, God in His sovereign plan decided it was time to use the temple again.
Now after all these years, God decided it was time for the temple to be rebuilt. So, in 538 BC, 50,000 Jewish people prompted by God, funded by Cyrus, make the 900 mile journey back to Jerusalem. And they begin to get to work. Initially, God’s big thing was their big thing. They rolled up the sleeves of their robes and they got to work building the temple.
In Ezra 3:1-3, we read,
1 The people assembled with one accord in Jerusalem. 2 Then Joshua and his fellow priests and Zerubbabel and his associates began to build the altar of the God of Israel to sacrifice burnt offerings on it, in accordance with what is written in the Law of Moses, the man of God.
3 Despite their fear of the peoples around them, they built the altar on its foundation and sacrificed burnt offerings on it to the LORD, both the morning and evening sacrifices.
The dissenters came, the outsiders tried to infiltrate and stop them from rebuilding the temple. But they had the determination and resolve to continue building the temple. They were focused on the task. They made God’s big thing, their big thing. They made God’s priority their priority.
But do you know what happened. After a few years, they lost track. They lost their focus and little by little they began to put more of their energy into their own projects and wants, and less time and energy on the things of God. Who knows why? Maybe stacking stones was too tiresome; or the constant criticism got to them; or more likely, they just started thinking about their own wants and desires. So, one by one, little by little, person by person, they quit showing up to the work site. One day, no one showed up. Nobody! And God’s big thing had become their small thing.