Sermon title: RETURNING TO THE BUILDING AFTER 70 YEARS
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
And then he went on to list the sort of diseases
the Lord would send to punish and discipline them.
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.
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.
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
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.
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,
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.”