21 Apr 2013


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            Early in her career as a physician, Lenore Campbell went to check on a patient who was coming out of anesthesia.  As she entered the room far off church bells rang.  "I must be in heaven," the patient murmured.   Then he saw Lenore Campbell.  With a hint of disappointment the patient said, "No, I can't be in heaven.  There's Dr. Campbell."

            Then there was the disappointment experienced by missionaries on the Marshall Islands.  The missionaries received their mail once a year when the sailing boat made its rounds of the South Pacific.  They looked forward to that sailing boat, ready to hear news from their friends and family.  On one occasion the boat was one day ahead of schedule, and the missionaries were off on a neighboring island.  The captain left the mail with the Marshallese and went on his way.  The natives had seen the missionaries become so excited about the letters and wondered why they anticipated them so much.  They concluded that they must taste good, and so they proceeded to tear all the letters into tiny bits, put them in pot of water and cook them.  You can imagine the missionaries' disappointment when they came back to discover their letters from home had been turned to mush.

            And perhaps youve heard Abraham Lincolns reply when he was asked how it felt to lose the race for U.S. Senator to Stephen Douglas in 1858.  Lincoln said, I feel like the boy who stubbed his toe: I am too big to cry and too badly hurt to laugh.

            Sooner or later everyone experiences disappointment.  Friends break their word, marriages end in divorce, our children move away, the company lays us off, doctors cant cure us, our investments dwindle, our best-laid plans go astray, and very often, we disappoint ourselves.  We live in a world of disappointment, and if we do not come to grips with it, we are doomed to be unhappier tomorrow than we are today, and this brings us to the third chapter of Ezra.  Let's begin reading, and as we do I want to divide the chapter into three sections.  Section one is worship restored.  We've already talked about the restoration of resources and the restoration of a remnant.  Now let's look at the restoration of worship.


            When the seventh month came (that would be September with the exiles having returned in spring of the same year, but first they had to build houses and get settled, and as soon as that was done, they turned their attention to the Temple matters), and the Israelites were in the towns, the people gathered in Jerusalem.  Then Jeshua, son of Jozadak, (by the way, Jeshua was the grandson of the high priest who was put to death by Nebuchadnezzar.  His father Jozadak had been taken into captivity by the Babylonians, and Jeshua was born in Babylon) with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel with his kin set out to build the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as prescribed in the law of Moses the man of God.  They set up the altar on its foundation, because they were in dread of the neighboring peoples, and they offered burnt offerings upon it to The Lord, morning and evening.  And they kept the festival of booths, as prescribed, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the ordinance, as required for each day. 


            A couple of things to note here.  First, they set up the altar on the site it had previously been, which took a little effort because Jerusalem and especially the Temple Mount, looked like parts of Berlin after World War II.  Second, they celebrated the Festival of Booths which served to commemorate God's gracious deliverance of their forbearers from Egypt.  Since God had just delivered the exiles from Babylon, getting the altar set up in time for the Festival of Booths was probably a high priority for them.  As the exiles from Egypt celebrated the Festival of Booths in the time of Moses, so would the newly arrived exiles from Babylon.  Let's continue reading.  We'll jump to verse 6.


            From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to The Lord.  But the foundation of the Temple was not yet laid.  So they gave money to the masons and the the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant that they had from King Cyrus of Persia.


            One more thing before moving on to section two.  Jeshua and Zerubbabel were attempting to encourage the people by tying the new temple to the former temple.  When Solomon built the original Temple, he imported cedars from Lebanon, so they imported cedars from Lebanon.  Solomon employed laborers from Sidon and Tyre so they employed laborers from Tyre and Sidon.  But there was one major point of contrast between Solomon's Temple and this new Temple.  It had to do with funding.  The second Temple was funded by free will offerings.  The original Temple was funded through taxation. 

            OK, that's section one the restoration of worship.  Now section two: the laying of the Temple's foundation.  Verse 8.


            In the second year after their arrival at the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, (in other words, thirteen months after restoring worship) Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and Jeshua son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity.  They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to have the oversight of the work on the house of The Lord.


            Another continuity with the past.  Just as Moses, after the unfortunate golden calf incident, put the Levites in charge of maintaining proper worship practices for the wandering Israelites, Zerubbabel and Jeshua put the Levites in charge of overseeing the laying of the Temple foundation. 

            OK, now we are ready for the third and final section of the chapter which we will call:  mixed reviews.  Verse 10.


            When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of The Lord, the priests in their vestments were stationed to praise The Lord with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, according to the directions of King David of Israel; and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to The Lord, "For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel."  And all the people responded with a great shout when they praised The Lord, because the the foundation of the house of The Lord was laid.  But many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people's weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far way. 


            If we do the math, it all makes sense.  There were three deportations of Israelites to Babylon, the third coming fifteen years after the first.  So, if the 70 years of exile dates from the first deportation, and not the last, then subtract fifteen from seventy marking the last group of deportees, which makes fifty-five, and then add ten to that in terms of what people might remember, then those who could remember Solomons temple would probably be minimally  65 years old.  Meanwhile, two whole generations had been born in Babylon.  Those young people had no memory of the glories of Solomons temple.  Having grown up in pagan Babylon, they cheered the beginning of a new temple.  But to the old folks, people closer to my age, it was like comparing a $200,000 home to a $1,000,000 home.  How pitifully small it seemed to them when compared with what they once had known.  They certainly noticed the less costly stones being used in the foundations of this second temple compared to the first temple.  The nation no longer had the immense resources of David and Solomon.   They couldn't afford that sort of opulence and luxury in the new temple.  They also may have wept because the Art of the Covenant was no longer there.  The Babylonians had either destroyed it or carried it away.  Probably carried it away because, if they had destroyed it, we never would have had the Indiana Jones' movie Raiders of the Lost Ark.  The old folks disappointment was so great that they wept while others rejoiced.

            As we near the end of this message, and I can see it in your eyes, "Thank God! Thank God!" I want to close with three statements and I would like you to repeat these three statements out loud, so that we hard wire them into our brain.  Here's the first one:  It is better to begin small with God than not to begin at all.  Say that with me:  It is better to begin small with God than not to begin at all. 

            Disappointment can be tricky.  Disappointment tempts us to say, "Why try?  I don't want to get my hopes up only to see them dashed again," and then, little by little, things begin to slide.  Jobs are not done, phone calls are not returned, appointments are not kept, papers are not written, goals are not met, and down we slide into a pit of despair.  The antidote to all this is so simple that we often miss it.  It's better to do something, even something small, than not to begin at all. If we don't do something, disappointment wins and we, and those we love, lose.

            Note, what the returned exiles did.  They started small.  They built an altar, just an altar, and began worshipping on the Temple grounds once again.  No Holy of Holies.  No temple walls.  No grand entrance through impressive gates, just an altar placed in a small spot where they had cleared away some rubble. 

            Remember that old adage:  Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow?  That's true.  When God wanted to save the world, God started with a baby in a manger.  And I know the old folk cried when they pondered the size and splendor of the new Temple.  They were so disappointed.  But this new Temple would outshine Solomon's temple in one mighty way.  It would be in this temple that the incarnate Savior would walk.  It would not house the Ark of the Covenant, it would house something better, someone better, the Son of God.

            Its better to begin small with God than not to begin at all.  Now, we are ready for the second statement I want you so say out loud.  I'll say it once, and then we will say it together.  It is better to rejoice over what we have than to weep over what we do not have.  Let's try that together.  It is better to rejoice over what we have than to weep over what we do not have. 

            It's not wrong to remember the past and its certainly not wrong to grieve over what we have lost.  But eventually there comes a time when we must move on.  How long are we going to allow our future to be defined by our past?  How long will we choose to stay in our disappointment?  Let's not despise our present because its not what we wanted it to be or because its not what our past used to be.  Instead, let's lay our disappointments at the foot of the cross.  Let's give them to Jesus and leave them there.  Then, let's thank God for our present blessings, and then by Gods grace, let's move forward with our lives, determined to serve the Lord.

            Now the last one, and maybe the most important one.  God's goodness is not just proved in what God gives, but also in what God allows.  Say that one with me.  God's goodness is not just proved in what God gives, but also in what God allows.

            I'm not a sailor, but I can relate to a quote I recently read.  It goes, "One can learn about sailing in a classroom, but it takes rough seas to make a great sailor.  Well said.  We can read about sailing until we know all the nautical terms by heart, but we'll never learn how to sail, much less be a great sailor, until we take our turn at the helm while our sailboat fights through a squall off Cape Fear.  When the waves are pounding, the wind is howling, and the rain rolls across the deck in horizontal sheets, then we'll learn how to sail and how to survive.

            Then after the storm has passed, we can thank God for the knowledge and confidence that could not have come any other way.  There are no shortcuts to spiritual maturity.  Sometimes it comes from sailing through disappointments in life.  God's goodness is not just proved in what God gives, but also in what God allows.  Amen.