Thanksgiving: Thankful for Today
Oswald Chambers in My Utmost For His Highest said, “Thank God He does give us difficult things to do! His salvation is a glad thing, but it is also a heroic, holy thing. It tests us for all we are worth.”
When we look at the book of Ezra and the task that God gave him and his contemporaries we can see the kind of thing Chambers was talking about.
In 538 BC Cyrus the King of the Persian Empire gave and edict that the conquered people who had been deported from their homeland by the Babylonian conquest could go back to their homelands. For Israel this mean that 70 years of exile would now end. Around 40 to 50 thousand people began the 4-month trek that would lead them home. The return of the nation takes place under the leadership of several key men, Zerubbabel a descendant of David the King and Joshua the high priest a descendant of Aaron who led the first return. God then calls Haggai and Zechariah as prophets to encourage the people and spur them on to return and rebuild the Temple and Jerusalem. Then about 80 years later Ezra the scribe continued the work and finished the Temple and finally after another 14 years Nehemiah returned to finish the wall. It took 94 years to complete the work of rebuilding Jerusalem and the Temple from the time that Israel was allowed to return home, a difficult work indeed.
And God still calls us to difficult works today. He calls us over the days, week and years. If we believe His Word and His promises then He is calling us over eternity itself. It is a difficult work and it will have many hinderances but as Oswald Chambers said, “Thank God He does give us difficult things to do!” It is an affirmation of His power and His trust in us that he does.
As we go to Ezra chapter 3 we can see how the work God gave Zerubbabel begins and we can see a pattern for us to begin great and difficult things for God.
Preparing to Proceed Ezra 3:1-7
And when the seventh month was come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem. Then stood up Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and his brethren, and builded the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings thereon, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. And they set the altar upon his bases; for fear was upon them because of the people of those countries: and they offered burnt offerings thereon unto the LORD, even burnt offerings morning and evening. They kept also the feast of tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number, according to the custom, as the duty of every day required; And afterward offered the continual burnt offering, both of the new moons, and of all the set feasts of the LORD that were consecrated, and of every one that willingly offered a freewill offering unto the LORD. From the first day of the seventh month began they to offer burnt offerings unto the LORD. But the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid. They gave money also unto the masons, and to the carpenters; and meat, and drink, and oil, unto them of Zidon, and to them of Tyre, to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea of Joppa, according to the grant that they had of Cyrus king of Persia.
The People Prepare for the Work
Under the leadership of Zerubabbel, Joshua and Ezra the people come together and begin to gather the resources both physical and spiritual to lay the foundation of the Temple of God.
They come together in unity. Vs 1-2
They build the altar and then sacrifice vs. 3
They keep the feasts and rituals. Vs 4- 6
They gave money to rebuild the temple Vs. 7
Before the first stone was laid the people of Israel prepared their hearts and their hopes. They come together as one, they worshipped as one, the celebrated the feasts as one and they gave to the Lord’s work as one people united in a great task for the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Prepped to Serve and Build
We as God’s people in this day and time, in Calvary Baptist Church, in Athens, Texas 2017 need to be making preparation for God’s work.
We are not building a Temple of dead stone but one of living stones as Peter calls the church. Paul says the church is a habitation of God. Is we are to build with the living stones of people and be a fit habitation for God then like the people of Ezra 3 we need to be united in purpose, united in worship, united in celebration and united in our giving.
We won’t see a new foundation laid for God’s glory unless we prepare our hearts both spiritually and physically. Many times, the reason why our best efforts and intentions fail in serving God is because we did not prepare ourselves before we tried to build.
Illustration: Jesus Illustration of Counting the Cost
This is what Jesus warned about in Luke 14
Luke 14: 28-30 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Lest haply, after he hath laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him, Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
The cost for us succeeding in this difficult work is the preparation of ourselves as a united, sacrificing, worshipping, giving church of Jesus Christ. If we are willing to make that preparation, count that cost then we can do a good work for the Lord and be thankful for today.
From preparing for the work we then move to praising God for a new beginning on an old foundation.
Praise for a New Work Begun Ezra 3:8-11
Now in the second year of their coming unto the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, began Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, and Jeshua the son of Jozadak, and the remnant of their brethren the priests and the Levites, and all they that were come out of the captivity unto Jerusalem; and appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to set forward the work of the house of the LORD. Then stood Jeshua with his sons and his brethren, Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together, to set forward the workmen in the house of God: the sons of Henadad, with their sons and their brethren the Levites. And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, they set the priests in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites the sons of Asaph with cymbals, to praise the LORD, after the ordinance of David king of Israel. And they sang together by course in praising and giving thanks unto the LORD; because he is good, for his mercy endureth for ever toward Israel. And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.
The People Praise God
As they laid the first foundation stone, for after 70 years of exile, they had begun the work of rebuilding the destroyed Temple of God.
Imagine this pageantry of the day.
Joshua, Kadmiel and Henadad are set before the people as the men who would begin this great work.
As they lay the first stones of the new foundation, the priests in their full priestly apparel blow the trumpets and the Levites and the Sons of Asaph acting as a choir and orchestra begin to praise the Lord.
They sang together by course, this means they take took turns singing from one section of the choir to another. We even know the song they sang that day.
Psalm 136:1-8 O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of gods: for his mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks to the Lord of lords: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him who alone doeth great wonders: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him that by wisdom made the heavens: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him that stretched out the earth above the waters: for his mercy endureth for ever. To him that made great lights: for his mercy endureth for ever: The sun to rule by day: for his mercy endureth for ever: The moon and stars to rule by night: for his mercy endureth for ever.
All the people shouted with a great shout because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid again and the task of rebuilding the Temple of God had begun.
Praising and Working Today.
I would have loved to hear that shout, love to hear that praise in Ezra’s time. The people after 70 years of exile had returned and now were joyous at the prospect of God's people having a place to worship again.
Don’t you think we should have that same joy? That we should sing our praises with that same motivation because God's work is still going forward today in our church and through our people.
I thank God because he has not abandoned us. I praise Him this day because just as they did in the days of Ezra. God has brought together people today to serve and to build here and that is a truth worth celebrating.
Zerubbabel, Ezra, Joshua, and all the others could have stayed in Babylon, they could have used their talents and abilities to further their own work but instead they dedicated themselves to the work of God in Jerusalem.
God, whose mercy endures forever, has laid it upon the hearts of us, his people today to continue the work here at Calvary Baptist, Athens, Texas. Your abilities, talents and experience could have been used for yourselves someplace else but God has placed you here and for that you and I should be thankful.
God has seen to it that we have what He knows we need to build the work. I'm thankful today for what God has provided. He has given us people, he has given us a place and he has given us a purpose.
Praise God and Shout for Joy, God’s work is going forward and believe it or not He is going to use me and you to do it and that may surprise us both. Kind of like the story of ….
Illustration: Hit em again Lord.
A church was really needing to start a remodeling project, but had not been successful in the past. The auditorium was really in bad shape needing paint, pews, plaster and much more. The Pastor preached his message and then made his appeal, "Which of you will now make a pledge to start this great work?" For what seemed like a long time no one stood, finally one of the stingiest but richest man in the community stood and said, "I pledge $100 to the remodel." It wasn't much and it could have been more but it was a start and the pastor said to the assembly, "And the people said…." The people responded with a hearty, "Amen!" As they said it a piece of plaster fell from the ceiling and struck the man right on the head. He smiled and said, "Pastor I guess I better pledge $500." The people needed to prompt from the pastor they let out a much louder amen and a few glories as well. Now a slightly larger piece of plaster fell and again struck the man on the head. He appeared a little perplexed and now without smiling said, "Pastor, I better make that a thousand dollars." Just then one of the deacons jumped up and cried out, "Hit 'em again, Lord. Hit 'em again!"
The Lord may have to hit us a few times to get us on track and that’s okay. I’ll just keeping on going as long as the Lord keep reminding me.
There is one other aspect of this day of praise and thankfulness we see in Ezra 3, turn to verse 12
Pining for An Old Work Remembered Ezra 3:12-13
But many of the priests and Levites and chief of the fathers, who were ancient men, that had seen the first house, when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, wept with a loud voice; and many shouted aloud for joy: So that the people could not discern the noise of the shout of joy from the noise of the weeping of the people: for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the noise was heard afar off.
The Ancient Men Weep In their Memory
Not all praised God and shouted for joy that day.
There were some who were there who remembered the Great Temple of Solomon. Fifty years had passed but they could still see the glory of Solomon's great temple.
It was built with all of Solomon’s wealth and wisdom at the height of Israel’s political and military power. It was three times higher and four times larger than what was going to be built under Zerubbabel. It had more gold, more silver more bronze and it had the Ark of the Covenant that was not lost. Those who remembered the old temple did not sing this day, they wept over what was past and over what had been lost.
To encourage the people Haggai, the prophet of God who was a contemporary Zerubbabel wrote a sermon of comfort from God to the people. We find it in Haggai 2:2-5 Look what God says to them.
Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Josedech, the high priest, and to the residue of the people, saying, 3 Who is left among you that saw this house in her first glory? and how do ye see it now? is it not in your eyes in comparison of it as nothing? Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, saith the LORD; and be strong, O Joshua, son of Josedech, the high priest; and be strong, all ye people of the land, saith the LORD, and work: for I am with you, saith the LORD of hosts: According to the word that I covenanted with you when ye came out of Egypt, so my spirit remaineth among you: fear ye not.
Those weeping had missed the truth behind the Temple. It wasn't the king who had built it, it wasn't the grandeur and the beauty of the building that made it great. It was the God, who dwelt there, that made it great. It wasn't Zerubbabel or Solomon or Ezra but God who filled the temple with his glory. It was God who called for this work to go on. It was God who would see it though the difficulties and obstacles they would face.
You can't build for the future on memories of the past
I always remember a lyric in a song from a small blue grass church band, I remember it because it struck me as so irrefutable. It simple said, "You can't drive straight ahead, while looking in the rear-view mirror."
It’s true in driving, it’s true in our lives and it’s true in the church, we can't go forward if we're looking over our shoulder at what is behind us.
Scripture: Want to hear one of the toughest verses in the Bible? Look at Luke 9:62, “And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God”
Jesus says, "It's not right, not fitting for someone who has committed themselves to serve God to keep looking over their shoulder at what is behind you.
You can't build a temple or a church on the memories of the past. You build on the promises of God for the future. You build on the faithfulness of God's people. You build on the sacrifice and service of those who are looking forward to what God has yet to do.
Illustration: New Building
A certain congregation was about to erect a new church edifice. The building committee, in consecutive meetings, passed the following resolutions:
1. We shall build a new church.
2. The new building is to be located on the site of the old one.
3. The material in the old building is to be used in the new one.
4. We shall continue to use the old building until the new one is completed. - Bob Phillips, Good Clean Jokes, Harvest House, 1992, p. 55.
Conclusion: The Greater Glory Awaits the Second Temple
Zerubbabel and Ezra never built a temple as great as Solomon's, but that was okay because God called hadn’t called them to do that.He called them to carry on the work. He called them to go forward.It wasn't the same temple because it wasn't the same king, the same times or even the same people. God called for a temple he could use in the times of the people now.
Nor did God place us here to rebuild the past. We couldn't if we wanted to because it’s not the same pastor, not the same people, not the same times nor even the same community. All these things have changed, and God needs a church and a people He can use in the times that they live now!
I want this church to be the church God wants and can use today.
That sermon from the prophet Haggai, had a great conclusion. He told them that there was a much great glory awaiting the second temple.
Haggai 2:6-9 For thus saith the LORD of hosts; Yet once, it is a little while, and I will shake the heavens, and the earth, and the sea, and the dry land;7 And I will shake all nations, and the desire of all nations shall come: and I will fill this house with glory, saith the LORD of hosts.8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, saith the LORD of hosts.9 The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts.
When the work was renewed some of the old men wept. Yet in just about 500 years the glory of the second temple would far outshine that of the first in the most important event in all of history. You see Jesus didn’t come to Solomon’s Temple, the desire of all nations, come to the rebuilt Temple of Zerubbabel.
We don’t know what God might bring to our church in our time or in years to come but I want to be prepared, I want to be praising, worshipping, giving and expecting because if we are faithful in our service then God will bring the glory.
Let us be thankful for this day at Calvary Baptist Church November 19th, 2017 for God is still using us to do difficult things.