Today we are celebrating our Anniversary Picnic as a Church, and I think it is a great time for us as a church, and individuals, to do a self-examination each year to see where we are in our walk with God and the world because we don't often grow cold in our walk all at once. It usually happens in slow degrees, often unrecognized, until it is too late.
God gave me one of the most intense self-examinations ever, this summer when He got me away from the world, and alone with Him, to show me things He may have been trying to show me for some time—but I was too busy. We are celebrating the thirteenth year as a church. That number usually represents rebellion in Scriptures. Now, I don't think we are in open rebellion against God at all, but God has shown me clearly, that not to trust Him completely, is a major form of rebellion, and that apathy and passiveness are just as destructive to His love and work as resistance. I am absolutely sure the message we are about to study together is for us today. Answer this question, “Does where we are right now, after 13 years as a church, and as individuals, express passion and commitment, or apathy for God and His work in our lives?” Listen to this awesome story, and let the Spirit speak to you, if He needs to speak.
We pick up our story around 538 BC, after the Southern Kingdom of Judah has been taken away into exile by the Babylonians for nearly 70 years for their rebellion and hard-hearted ways against God. These Babylonians were overthrown by the Medes and the Persians and the Israelites found themselves under a new ruler; but one that seemed to show them quite a bit more favor. The new Persian King Cyrus gave the Israelites permission to return to Jerusalem and begin rebuilding the city and the Temple of God: Ezra 1:2-3. Enemies of the Jews caused trouble for the building project, even from the King, and they ceased construction shortly after the altar was repaired and the foundation was laid. Even after the opposition died down, the Israelites became so busy rebuilding their own homes and lives, they left God's House in ruins. The Temple was left unfinished for 16 years, until about 520 BC. God raised up His prophets to wake the people up from their selfish slumber of neglect (Zechariah and Haggai). Haggai 1:2-9. This is what God said to them: "You say this isn't the time to focus on building God's House, but it's only because you are too wrapped up in building your own houses and lives. And because your priorities are so imbalanced, You can’t find real contentment or lasting success in anything you do.” Let God answer these questions in your own heart, not you. Have you let His work be a second priority to building your own life? Have you started a work for God, that somehow became stagnant or faded away completely because of other interests? If so, listen closely to what God revealed to His people during this troubled time. God sent a vision to Zechariah concerning why the Israelites had failed, and what they needed to do in order to rebuild His Temple: Zechariah 4:1-14. First, since God is talking about rebuilding the Temple, He uses symbolism from the Temple in the vision. Zechariah is shown a vision of a Menorah, the seven candled lamp stand (fueled by especially prepared, fresh olive oil every evening). The Menorah was made of solid gold and weighing almost 100 pounds. That was about 20 years' wages for a common laborer in the first century, according to some commentators. The Menorah sat to the left as the High Priest entered The Holy Place of the Temple, just before entering the Holy of Holies. It represented the Light of God, and the responsibility of Israel to be that light. As Christ is the Light today, and we have the responsibility of being His light to the world today. This version of the Menorah had a catch bowl on the top. To help us fully understand as we go, we will unveil the symbolism with each verse. There are two huge olive trees to each side of the Menorah; each has a golden pipe running from them to the catch bowl on the lamp. There were two people responsible for rebuilding the Temple: Zerubbabel (the Governor), and Joshua (The High Priest). The two olive trees stand for these two men and golden oil ran from each, into the lamp. This vision was for Zerubbabel, who would have authority to start the building once again. (v6: might, power). The oil running from each of the olive trees stood for the Spirit of the Lord. God was saying the Israelites could not accomplish their task through their own strength as individuals, or as a whole, and that His Spirit would be what they must trust to accomplish His work; that if they would allow the Spirit to work through them, even mountains could not stand in the way. V.8-10: God says two important things here: 1) "Who has despised the day of small things?" Please understand that in the days of small things, the most important work of all is usually done. Satan hates and fears most, what is done in the days of small things. Moses was shaped in the seemingly most useless 40 years of his life. Joseph was forged into a faithful ruler in his small years as a slave. The church of Christ had it's very core shaped by the smallest handful of uneducated, lowly disciples. The Salvation of the world came from one simple, unimpressive, Man who never wrote a book, or ran a ministry. Israel had seen almost 20 years of small things, as they awaited the Temple. But it was all foreseen by God, because when the Temple was completed, it would be 70 years from the time of the destruction of Solomon's Temple when the Babylonians took over—70 years, exactly as prophesied by Jeremiah. Instead of resenting where you are, or how little your ministry, or how little our church, understand this may be the most important time of your service to God. If you will stop despising your place, and let God grow you—let God use you right now, right here. What happens in the smallest of beginnings, is what shapes entire crops, people, churches, nations, Kingdoms to come: John 12:24. One kernel of wheat, alone, dies (small, insignificant), but without that small work, no crops would come. 2) God rejoices, "To see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel.” A plumb line was a weight suspended on a string, used as a vertical level during construction. God was saying he took great joy in seeing His people step out and work for Him. God was saying that He was the Strength, but He would only work through His people. By God's own design, He will only work through us.
When Joshua (Priest) and Zerubbabel (Governor) heard these prophesies from Zechariah and Haggai, they turned their hearts towards God and even without permission from the current King of Persia, they recommitted themselves to the building of God's Temple—they took the initiative to do God's will: Ezra 5:2. When the local Governor of Persia, Tattenai (mentioned by name and office in a Babylonian record dated to 502 BC), questioned them about their activities, they sent a letter of explanation to the King in response. The new King, Darius (whom some believe to be the son of Queen Ester) responded this way to their fearless recommitment to their God: Ezra 6:3. Permission was given to continue and the King would pay the cost of construction: Ezra 6:5. All of the articles stolen from the original Temple almost 70 years earlier were returned for use in the new Temple. Ezra 6:7: the local Persian officials and residents were ordered to leave them alone as they continued their work. Ezra 6:8: it would seem, since an earlier part of the decree already stated the King would fund the construction, that he is stating the wages of those involved was to be paid by the King as well, so they would not have to work other jobs to support their families while building (they are not hindered). Ezra 6:9-10: all animals, crops, and spices needed for sacrifice was to be provided at the expense of the King. Ezra 6:11: And lastly, a warning against anyone who would try to change the wording of his commands—death.
God told Israel their small works were not really small at all, but were the beginning of something awesome. So, they should take joy and glory in their work, and not worry about how big or small it was in their own eyes. This very Temple which they finally constructed, would be the very Temple the One True lamb of God would walk about in when He came to earth to save us all. God also told Israel, they had His Spirit to do all of the work so they needed to trust Him for all they seemingly didn't have in their small endeavors, and step out to do the work they were told to do in faith, that His Power would accomplish the work. And after they stepped out in the work, everything they needed was miraculously provided. Way more than could have been provided by their own hands, at no cost to them. Provided in a way that gave God all the Glory. You and I have no right to decide if the part we play in God's Plan is big or small—everything God does is big. As individuals and as a church, what we are doing now could be the foundation for awesome work in God's Plans. And these days, if they are small, are some of the most important, sweet, powerful days of all as we stretch our faith, and grow in knowledge and love; as we become the warriors needed for the tasks ahead, but we have to trust that it is not in our power to do the job. You don't have what it takes—that's ok—go anyway. The church doesn't have what it takes, and no outreach program, VBS, or new Sunday School class will help us, unless we learn to lean on the Spirit in real expectation that He can and will do more through us, than we could ever accomplish.
Years before this story, when God was just bringing the Israelites out of the desert to make them a great nation, He offered them the Promised Land, West of the Jordan River. But two and a half Tribes (Reuben, Gad, and the Half-Tribe of Manasseh) decided they liked the land East of the Jordan better, because it met their physical needs just fine—and God, in His offer for free will, allowed them to stay. These two and a half Tribes gave up the land of milk and honey, for something much less, and more importantly, they gave up the Glory of claiming what God provided for what they could provide for themselves. As time went on, they became easy targets for marauding bands as they sat alone on the East side and eventually fell prey to the Assyrians (740 BC), years before God used them to punish the rest of Israel (722 BC), as they sat alone on the East. Most Christians today, in their desire for what they can accomplish, and where they can go, stop at what looks appealing to them and stay in a place where God never called them. And out of His offer for free will, He allows them to stay there, but they miss so much more that God could have given them; leave so much undone that God could have used them to accomplish. These lessons were not just for the ancient people of Israel. We are living for the same God today Who expects the same love and devotion today. He hasn't changed, but somehow, we feel the times of sacrificial living, and complete devotion to God was for them, and not us today. Don't you understand—that is exactly what most of these people were thinking in their times as well. And that is exactly why God could not use them until they decided their small contribution really could be big with the power of the Spirit; until they decided to step out and let God work through their actions; until they decided they would not be contented with their own land East of the Jordan, but they would cross over and find what God had in store for them.
Which side of the Jordan will you stand on today? We are as called as anyone you have heard about today. The choice to be used, or to stay in our own safe land away from God's calling, lies in each of us. Where do you stand?!
Looking for something specific? Use our search bar below