Sermon title:  RETURNING TO THE BUILDING AFTER 70 YEARS

Ezra 1:1-8

Immanuel Baptist Church – Sunday, June 6, 2021

 

 

It’s so good to be enjoying our 2nd Sunday

back in the Immanuel Baptist Church building

after 14 months away.

 

It seemed like forever.

 

I can’t help but think of how the people of Israel

returned to their building after an absence of 70 years.

 

That happened some 2,500 years ago,

but there are certain similarities

as well as many differences

from our situation today.

 

Still, we should be able to benefit

from looking at the comparisons.

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The greatest similarity is the rejoicing that took place.

 

There were smiles everywhere last week

when we saw each other in person after so long.

 

Even the faces that wore masks

had smiling eyes you could see above the covering.

 

And the 3rd Chapter of the Old Testament Book of Ezra

tells us that, when the Jews returned to Jerusalem

and began rebuilding the Temple,

They sang, praising and giving thanks

to the Lord, saying, “For He is good,

for His lovingkindness

is upon Israel forever.”

And all the people shouted

with a great shout

when they praised the Lord.

 

We could hear similar expressions of joy and praise

last week, when we came together again

for the first time.

You’d think we’d been away for 70 years

like the Jews—

the way we greeted one another

with smiles and tears of joy.

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We were all glad to be in the building again,

but you could see that it was the people,

rather than the building,

that generated the greatest joy.

 

And that’s one of the differences between

our return to the church

and the Jews’ return to the Temple.

 

That Jerusalem Temple was ordained by God

as the center of true worship for Old Testament Israel.

 

But the arrangement God gave us in the New Testament

features a much different kind of Temple—

and this building is not it.

 

We can call this building “the house of the Lord”

because it is dedicated to God’s worship.

 

But it is not a Temple in the sense that

that stone building was in ancient Jerusalem.

 

God’s Temple in the New Testament arrangement

is the people, not the building.

 

The Apostle Paul took the Gospel of Christ

to one city after another,

usually starting out by preaching the message

in the local Jewish synagogue.

 

Then, when the synagogue leaders would throw him out,

he would take the new disciples he had gathered

and would move to another building,

where he would continue preaching the message.

 

Sometimes he moved to a nearby private home,

where the largest room in the house

would serve as the new church’s meeting place.

Other times, Paul found a secular auditorium

and had the new Christians meet there

in much the same way that some churches today

meet in school auditoriums.

 

After a few years passed by,

when Paul wrote letters to the various churches,

he often mentioned something like

‘So-And-So, and the church that meets in their house.’

 

It was usually a believer with a large home

who had a large open room,

like an attic or an open basement,

where as many as 120 people might meet.

 

At that point in history, churches had not yet begun

purchasing or building their own structures.

 

And it didn’t matter,

because the church is the people—not the building.

 

The Apostle Peter wrote in his 1st Letter,

You are coming to Christ,

who is the living cornerstone

of God’s temple.

He was rejected by people,

but he was chosen by God

for great honor.

And you are living stones

that God is building

into his spiritual temple.

 

Before going to the cross,

Christ referred to himself as the cornerstone,

and the Apostles repeat that theme in their letters,

elaborating that we believers are also

living stones

that God is building

into his spiritual temple.

 

We just saw that Peter said that,

and the Apostle Paul wrote similarly

in his inspired Letter to the Ephesians.

 

Paul wrote,

So then

you are no longer strangers and aliens,

but you are

fellow citizens with the 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 also

are being built together

into a dwelling place for God

by the Spirit.

 

So, we believers are God’s spiritual Temple.

 

We believers are the Church of God.

 

The building is merely the place where the church meets.

 

We rejoice to be back in our building here on Whitman St.,

but our greatest joy is to be back with each other

back with the other living stones

who make up God’s Temple today.

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But, why did we have to vacate the building

in the first place?

 

And why did the people of ancient Israel

lose their Temple for 70 years?

 

The Jews lost their Temple

and their capital city Jerusalem—

as a direct punishment from God

for their unfaithfulness.

 

The nation was carried off captive to Babylon,

leaving the land without inhabitants.

 

Moses had warned them a thousand years earlier

that this would be the price they would pay

if they turned their backs on God.

 

Moses told them in Deuteronomy Chapter 28,

You will be uprooted

from the land

you are entering to possess.

Then the Lord will scatter you

among all nations,

from one end of the earth

to the other.

 

They failed to heed Moses’ warning,

and turned away from God,

to misbehave like the peoples around them.

 

So, God kept warning them—sending other prophets

to tell them they would be uprooted from the land

if they kept it up.

 

Isaiah, Jeremiah and other prophets

repeatedly warned the Jews

that God would send them off into exile

if they did not repent and change their ways.

 

But they ignored all the warnings

and even persecuted many of the prophets.

 

Finally, shortly before God executed judgment,

the prophet Jeremiah told them,

This whole country

will become a desolate wasteland,

and these nations will serve

the king of Babylon seventy years.

 

Shortly after that,

the Babylonian armies destroyed Jerusalem,

tore down the Temple of God,

and carried the Jews off into exile.

 

That captivity lasted 70 years.

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So, what about today?

Could there be a parallel?

 

We know that the coronavirus pandemic

brought government-mandated shutdowns

of churches and other public buildings.

 

But did God send this epidemic disease

in the same way that he sent the armies of Babylon?

 

Everyone is familiar with the plagues God sent on Egypt

when he sent Moses to tell Pharaoh,

“Let my people go!”

 

The 5th and 6th plagues on Egypt involved diseases.

 

And, after they left Egypt as free people,

Moses warned the Israelites at Deut. 28:15

that, if they failed to obey God,

The Lord will plague you

with diseases.

 

And then he went on to list the sort of diseases

the Lord would send to punish and discipline them.

 

He said,

The Lord will strike you

with wasting disease,

with fever and inflammation

and he added

boils,” “tumors” and “festering sores.”

 

This wasn’t an idle threat.

 

The Lord did send disease epidemics on Israel.

 

The Book of Numbers mentions two such occurrences,

with a 14,700 death toll for the 1st,

and 24,000 dead from the 2nd epidemic

a few years later.

 

And 1st Chronicles tells us that,

centuries later during the reign of King David,

God punished Israel with an epidemic

that killed 70,000 men.

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Could something similar happen today?

 

Ruth Graham, the wife of Billy Graham, once said,

“If God doesn't punish America,

He'll have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah."

 

But our modern society rejects the idea

of God calling the nations to repentance

by sending diseases or disasters upon them.

 

But you’ll find it all through the Old Testament,

and in Jesus’ warnings about the End Times,

and throughout the New Testament’s

closing Book of Revelation.

 

Today’s governments won’t even let

parents spank their children,

so people are horrified at the thought

that our heavenly Father might use

even stronger discipline.

 

The other day I came across an old “Lola” cartoon

that someone clipped from the newspaper

and gave to me some time ago.

 

It showed Lola strolling along beside her Pastor John.

 

She asked him, “Why isn’t God doing something

about the terrible things happening in the world?”

 

And he replied, “You might not really want that.”

 

“Why?” she asked.

 

He replied, “Well, if you read the Bible,

you’ll see that God tends to over-react.”

 

And this world would consider it an over-reaction

for God to send a coronavirus epidemic

to call them to repent from abortion,

violence,    criminal behavior,

transgender and homosexual perversion.

 

But our Lord Jesus spoke of there being

famines, earthquakes and deadly diseases

in the days leading up to his Second Coming.

 

And the Revelation or Apocalypse

speaks of 7 angels bringing

the 7 last plagues on this world.

 

Revelation says the purpose of those disasters would be

to call people to repent—

to change their hearts and lives

and give glory to God.”

 

Revelation Chapter 9 says,

“The other people

who were not killed by

these terrible disasters

still did not change their hearts . . .

and turn away from

murder or evil magic,

from their sexual sins or stealing.”

 

So, Bible prophecies do warn of disease epidemics

in the End Times before Christ returns.

The Bible passage I’ve seen quoted more than any other

throughout the COVID-19 crisis,

is from 2 Chronicles, Chapter 7,

where God says,

“...when my people humble themselves

—the ones who are called by my name

—and pray, seek me, and turn away from

their evil practices,

I myself will listen from heaven,

I will pardon their sins,

and I will restore their land.”

 

It’s nice to see that call to repentance quoted so often.

 

But it’s only half of the message,

when people leave out the first part of the sentence.

 

And the first part of the sentence

really says something very important about God.

 

Well, people don’t quote the first half of the sentence

because they don’t like what God said there.

They don’t like that God said he sends epidemics.

 

The full quote—the full sentence God spoke—

is as follows:

 

“Whenever I close the skies

so there is no rain,

or whenever I command locusts

to lay waste to the land,

or whenever I send epidemics

among my people,

when my people humble themselves—

the ones who are called by my name—

and pray, seek me,

and turn away from their evil practices,

I myself will listen from heaven,

I will pardon their sins,

and I will restore their land.”

 

Notice God said,

whenever I send epidemics

among my people.

The idea that God would send an epidemic

is so foreign to the teaching of many churches today,

that they leave out that part of the sentence.

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But, if God did send the coronavirus epidemic,

just like he sent plagues on Egypt and on Israel,

why have Bible-believing Christians suffered

along with everyone else?

 

Why didn’t the epidemic affect just the corrupt society

that practices abortion, transgender and

homosexual perversion?

 

Why didn’t it skip over the homes of Christians,

the way the last plague on Egypt “passed over”

the homes of faithful Israelites?

 

Well, if you recall, out of the 10 plagues on Egypt,

only the final 7 were confined to the Egyptians alone.

 

The first 3 plagues afflicted not only the Egyptians,

but also the Israelites living among them.

 

When the 1st plague turned water into blood,

the Israelites, as well as the Egyptians,

had no clean water to drink.

 

When hordes of frogs invaded everyone’s homes,

the Israeli homes were full of frogs, too.

 

When God’s 3rd plague sent lice or gnats

all over everybody,the Jews were plagued by this,

as well as the Egyptians.

 

It was only beginning with the 4th plague

that God confined the suffering to the Egyptians.

 

So, there is reason to assume that the End Times plagues

foretold in the New Testament

begin with plagues

that trouble Christians, too—

plagues like the coronavirus epidemic, locusts,

and the wildfires, and earthquakes, deadly storms,

and other disasters.

 

At some point, though,  we know

that God will confine his anger

to the disobedient world,

and protect his people,

as he did with the Jews in Egypt.

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Now some will dismiss any talk

of God sending modern disasters, by saying

we know the actual causes of these things.

 

The coronavirus epidemic began

with people handling dead bats in a Wuhan wet market,

or with a leak from the Wuhan virus laboratory,

or with a conspiracy involving Bill Gates & Dr. Fauci—

however people want to spin it—

but not with some divine intervention—

so people will say.

 

But the same could be said of the Babylonian invasion

that led to Jerusalem’s destruction 2500 years ago,

and the Jews going into exile for 70 years.

 

To people at the time,

that looked like it stemmed from

political and military maneuvers,

not divine intervention.

 

In fact, the Bible chronicles in detail

the various conspiracies,

political intrigues

and military alliances involved.

 

Yes, to ordinary observers, those events, too,

seemed like God had nothing to do with them.

 

But the proof that these things happened at God’s command

—as punishment from God—

lies in the fact that the prophets foretold these events

before they happened.

 

Even hundreds of years before they happened.

And the same is true today.

 

Before going to the cross, our Lord Jesus said,

in Matthew Chapter 24,

6 And you will hear of wars

and rumors of wars.

See that you are not troubled;

for all these things must come to pass,

but the end is not yet.

7 For nation will rise against nation,

and kingdom against kingdom.

And there will be famines,

pestilences, and earthquakes

in various places.

8 All these are the beginning of sorrows.

9 “Then they will deliver you up

to tribulation and kill you,

and you will be hated by all nations

for My name’s sake.

10 And then many will be offended,

will betray one another,

and will hate one another.

11 Then many false prophets

will rise up and deceive many.

12 And because lawlessness will abound,

the love of many will grow cold.

13 But he who endures to the end

shall be saved.

14 And this gospel of the kingdom

will be preached in all the world

as a witness to all the nations,

and then the end will come.

 

He said in Luke Chapter 21,

25 There will be signs

in the sun, moon, and stars;

and on the earth anxiety

of nations,in perplexity

for the roaring of the sea

and the waves;

26 men fainting for fear,

and for expectation of the things

which are coming on the world:

for the powers of the heavens

will be shaken.

27 Then they will see the Son of Man

coming in a cloud

with power and great glory.

 

Why, then, were all the churches shut down

in March of last year?

 

All sorts of reasons can be cited, but...

 

The big picture is that our world is undergoing

the disasters foretold for the End Times,

before Christ returns.

 

We see unprecedented sin and wickedness around us,

and we see unprecedented disasters taking place.

 

Our Lord Jesus foretold that the Church would go through

the beginning of sorrows.”

 

We will suffer some of the effects

of a sinful world in its death-throws,

and the anger of God

beginning to be poured out.

 

Our Lord knew this would be frightening to go through.

 

But he encourages us with the reminder

that the troubles will soon be over, for us believers.

 

After describing the events that would

strike fear into people’s hearts,

Jesus concluded by saying,

28 But when these things

begin to happen,

look up, and lift up your heads,

because your redemption is near.”