A building is not a requirement for worshipping God, it is surrendered and obedient hearts. Pastor Jason shares from Ezra 3:1-6.
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**This is not a word for word transcript, but the sermon manuscript**
NO TEMPLE, NO PROBLEM
Text: Ezra 3:1-6
Going to church is important. You and I make a personal decision to follow Jesus, but that decision includes a commitment to His bride. I know there are a lot of people who are Christians that have been hurt by the Church, however following Jesus separated from the fellowship is like a lone zebra on the African plains.
As important as attending church is, what if next Sunday we all showed up and this building was gone? How would that change your worship of God? In the book of Ezra, that is what happened to God’s people returning from exile. They comeback to Jerusalem to find no temple. And to make matters worse, the current inhabitants were not happy to see them return.
READING OF THE TEXT
1 When the seventh month arrived, and the Israelites were in their towns, the people gathered as one in Jerusalem. 2 Jeshua son of Jozadak and his brothers the priests along with Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel and his brothers began to build the altar of Israel’s God in order to offer burnt on it, as it is written in the law of Moses, the man of God. 3 They set up the altar on its foundation and offered burnt offerings for the morning and evening on it to the LORD even though they feared the surroundings peoples. 4 They celebrated the Festival of Shelters as prescribed, and offered burnt offerings each day, based on the number specified by ordinance for each festival day. 5 After that, they offered the regular burnt offering and the offerings for the beginning of each month and for all the LORD’s appointed holy occasions, as well as the freewill offerings brought to the LORD. 6 On the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD, even though the foundation of the LORD’s temple had not yet been laid. (CSB)
(v1) From many to one
The exiles returned to Jerusalem; the temple was gone. The Israelites had been worshiping at the Temple for centuries. From the time of Solomon until Zedekiah, the Temple was the only place permitted for offering up sacrifices. But now the Temple was a pile of rocks. What were they supposed to do?
They gathered. Verse 1 says, “the people gathered as one.” It is implying individual families came together and joined a singular mind for a specific purpose. In Exodus 19, as they prepared to receive the Law from God, the same language is used to describe the twelve tribes assembling at Mount Sinai.
(v3) Fear drove to God
As they assembled, remember that the current inhabitants of Jerusalem did not want the exiles there. Nor did they want the Temple to be rebuilt. If you study in Nehemiah, as the Temple is being reconstructed they must work with one hand while holding a weapon in another. Verse 3 says, “they feared the surrounding peoples.”
I do not know about you, but if a place scares me, I am not going there. If I am in that one part of the city, it does not matter where the gas gauge is, I am not stopping. Many times, we take that attitude when it comes to gathering to worship God. The roads are unsafe, news reports on church shootings, and pastors bringing hot dogs topped with ravioli’s scare us, so we stay home. Or perhaps spiritually we have not been living the way we ought to be living, and the reaction of the people or even God’s reaction towards us frightens us away from Him.
The Israelites were exiled because of their sin. They know the consequences from firsthand experience. So even though they feared the neighbors it did not drive them away God. Turning away from God would only ensure demise. Fear made them aware of their need for God. Thus, they gathered as one to offer burnt offerings in worship.
(v2) Rebuild on old ways
When they gathered to worship, the Temple was a pile of rocks. There was no altar, it too had been destroyed. To offer offerings to God, an altar was important. So, both the spiritual and civic leaders came together to rebuild the altar. Even though the altar would be new, it was built on the site of the old altar. They were not establishing a new religion with a new altar, but building a new altar to worship the same God as before they were exiled.
“Jeshua” is mentioned as a priest along with his brothers. He was the grandson of the last high priest before the exile. 2 Kings 25:18-21 records that high priest being executed along with other leaders in Jerusalem. While the altar would be new and “Jeshua” was not the same high priest as before, the people were gathering as one to worship the same God as before the exile.
Verse 2 says, “Jeshua and his brothers the priests along with Zerubbabel and his brothers began to build the altar in order to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the law of Moses.” The Law was given to Moses and to the Israelites all the way back in Exodus 20. This nation had no land at that time, they worshipped gathering at a tent. Then the Temple was built centuries later by Solomon, and the nation worshipped at the Temple. But it was not a new religion, they worshipped the same God as they did in the Tent according to the same Law given to Moses. And now as they gathered as one at this new altar, this same nation returned from exile to worship the God they had always worshipped following the same Law as before.
Despite their fear of the surrounding people, the returning exiles gathered as one to worship God. Even though the Temple and old altar were piles of rocks, they built a new altar to worship God in the manner honoring to Him.
Verse 6 says, “even though the foundation of the LORD’s temple had not yet been laid.” These exiles were returning to rebuild the Temple. The surrounding peoples made them afraid and pointed them to their need for God’s help, but there was no temple. Not even a foundation for it. But there being no Temple did not hinder God’s people from worshipping their God.
Throughout this passage, you may have noticed that the offerings are labeled “burnt offerings.” Did you know there is a difference in the Bible between a sin offering and a burnt offering? A sin offering was offered up in place of the person’s life to pay the death penalty, sin’s debt, to God. This offering atoned for the person’s sin. (Jesus’s death was necessary for this purpose, only He paid the penalty once and for all) However, a burnt offering is not offered for atonement from sin. A burnt offering represented the heart of the worshipper’s self-dedication to God. It was done to demonstrate the sincerity of one’s love for God and willingness to obey His ways.
These people each had a heart that desired to love God and be obedient to His ways. When they gathered as one, they came together united in this singular purpose. Fear of other people only sharpened their desire. The Temple was a pile of rocks and they had to build a new altar, but that did not hinder their desire. There may have been on temple, but that was no problem.
How does this apply to you and me? It gives us a picture of the Church. Through faith in Jesus Christ, you and I belong to the family of God. But there is something about the Church, this family gathering, we must understand. Before that, I must share an important fact that really is not the point of this message.
A church is a place of gathering. It is the place where God’s people intentionally carve time from their individual lives to gather as one in a particular location. As the NT writer of Hebrews is pointing readers to holiness, in 10:25 the author writes, “do not neglect to gather together.” These gatherings are important. We should rejoice with those who go. Our building was built by saints who desired to praise and worship God as one at this location. Those of us who call this “our church” should pray over the gathering here and see that the facility is maintained so its intended purpose is carried. Church buildings are important and so is our gatherings in them. However, this is not the point of this message.
In John 4, Jesus is left alone at a well in Samaria. He meets a woman who has been married five times and is currently with a man who is not here husband. They have a conversation about worship, in which the woman says, “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain, but you Jews say that the place to worship is in Jerusalem.” She is lamenting because if that is true, as a Samaritan she cannot truly worship because Jews would not allow her at the Temple. But then Jesus responds with this, “Believe me, an hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. An hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth. The Father wants such people to worship him.” (John 4:21-23)
Jesus gives us the definition of the Church in this response. The Church is not a building. The Church is a collection of persons who have surrendered and obedient hearts. These are not individuals gathering as an act to atone for their sin, Jesus established the Church by doing this for everyone through His death. Our gatherings are not to appease God’s wrath, that is already done. Our gathering is so you and I can unite in praise and worship of the One who has paid our debt.
When we gather at this building, it is not to get something. As these exiles gathered in Ezra, if they arrived at the Temple and the altar to get something, all they would have found are handfuls of crushed rocks. By offering burnt offerings, we see they brought the praise and sacrifice. They were already true worshipers when they arrived because the Spirit in their hearts. You and I gather to bring praise and sacrifice to God out of love for Him. We praise because we have experienced God’s forgiveness and freedom from sin, and we offer ourselves as living sacrifices for His kingdom purposes.
Something incredible happens when we gather bringing in praise and sacrifice, God meets us here. But if we want to experience God collectively in this fellowship, then each need to understand that gather once or twice a week is not enough. You and I need to be separately living lives of worship.
These are dark days. As much as the world needs hope, they really do not need another church building. The world does not need another church program. What the world is most looking for is worshipers of Jesus Christ, those who worship in Spirit and in truth.