Friday, June 28, 2013

Celebrating What Is Meaningful

Scriptural Reading: Ezra 3:1-7
Devotional Reading: Matthew 23:29-39

Recently I have attended a few homecoming celebrations of saints who I believed had surrendered their hearts to Christ and put Him first in their lives. We wanted our loved ones to be magically returned to our lives, but it was not to be so. They are now to be alive in the perfect presence of the Almighty Father. For this our celebration was meaningful. The families will definitely miss their family members. But God comforts them with a promise such as he gave to Joshua upon Moses’, his mentor’s, death. He promised at Joshua 1:5, “…as I was with Moses, so I will be with you. I will not leave you nor forsake you.” (NKJV) In comparison, there are many things we celebrate in life which has no meaning toward a life of eternity. Examples of worldly celebrations include baseball, football, basketball, and hockey championship victories. We celebrate family reunions, family and friends days, graduations, etc. However, if we do celebrate the world or tradition and do not put God first, our celebration is not meaningful.

As we continue this quarter of study entitled “God’s People Worship” we are mindful of: (1) how Christian worship compares today both in its devoted and revered practices and its disrespectful practices and (2) what we can learn from God’s relationship with the worshipping ancient Israelites that will help us honor and worship Him today. We are in Unit II – “Worshipping in Jerusalem Again (Ezra)” of the three units of the quarter. This is the first lesson of a five-lesson study of worship in Jerusalem after a remnant of Israel returned home from exile in Babylon during the time of Ezra, the priest.

God used King Cyrus of Persia to permit the Jews to return to Jerusalem after seventy years of Babylonian captivity and rebuild the walls and the temple. He returned the gold and silver that King Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple. Cyrus also commanded their neighbors to contribute. Approximately 50,000 Jews, a remnant, returned to Jerusalem. They were so happy for the blessing some of the heads of the fathers’ houses contributed gold and silver for the house of God and garments for the priests. The people then went to their various cities to settle.

When the holiday season arrived, the Jews gathered in one accord in Jerusalem as declared in Ezra 3:1, “And when the seventh month had come, and the children of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem.” (NKJV) Worship unto God was restored when the people of God gathered together as one man to Jerusalem. They left their various cities and gathered in Jerusalem with one focus in mind. Their first priority had become the worship of God versus the building of the temple. The seventh month on the Jewish calendar was equal to the latter part of September or beginning of October on our calendar. It was during this time they scheduled their gathering of families to worship God in accordance with the Mosaic Law around the holiday season. We do the same during Thanksgiving when we gather together to worship and give Him thanks.

The people were in one accord as could be seen when the heads of the church and state united in re-building the altar of God for His worship, without the necessity of a temple foundation, and in the midst of their fear of enemies roundabout as stated at Ezra 3:2-3, “Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brethren the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brethren, arose and built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings on it, as it is written in the Law of Moses the man of God. Though fear had come upon them because of the people of those countries, they set the altar on its bases; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, both the morning and evening burnt offerings.” (NKJV) Jeshua was the Aaronic high priest and Zerubbabel was the governor of Judah. They came together to rebuild the burnt offering altar on the base of the original temple altar. It was necessary for the people to acknowledge their sins and offer sacrifices both morning and evening for the atonement of their sins in accordance with Mosaic Law. See Exodus 29:36-41 The Israelites felt danger from the unfriendly disposition of their neighbors who were encamped about them. Yet the Jews did not seek allies to assist them. They had tried making agreements with allies in the past and found it did not work as planned. This time they remembered God to be their friend. They first worshipped the Lord who had delivered them from their enemies on so many occasions in times past and would do so now and in the future. Christians must praise and give thanks unto God in all circumstances (1 Thess 5:18), knowing he can deliver and keep us in perfect peace.

A number of celebrations and offerings were kept during the Jews’ seventh month as further explained at Ezra 3:4-5, “They also kept the Feast of Tabernacles, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings in the number required by ordinance for each day. Afterwards, they offered the regular burnt offering, and those for New Moons and for all the appointed feasts of the Lord that were consecrated, and those of everyone who willingly offered a freewill offering to the Lord.” (NKJV) In accordance with Ex 29:36-41; Lev 16; and 23:23-43 the children of Israel offered burnt offerings unto God and worshipped during all of the appointed consecrated feasts of the Lord. Some of the named feasts were the Feasts of Tabernacles and New Moons. The former festival was a reminder of their deliverance from Egypt. Now that they had received such great mercy, they were to live in tents (or booths) for seven days to teach each generation about the goodness of the Lord. The Feast of the New Moons was also celebrated. This feast was observed with the blowing of trumpets and a special sacrifice on the first day of every lunar month. (See Num 10:10; 28:11-15) Burnt offerings were to be made during the festivals. We may wonder why they celebrated the Feast of the New Moons when it coincided with the Feast of Trumpets commanded by the Lord during the seventh month as recorded at Lev 23:23-25. Regarding the Feast of Trumpets it is stated, “Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘In the seventh month, on the first day of the month, you shall have a Sabbath-rest, a memorial of blowing of trumpets, a holy convocation. You shall do no customary work on it; and you shall offer an offering made by fire to the Lord.” (NKJV) Much was required, but the people thankfully and willingly brought more as a freewill offering to the Lord. In comparison, Christians are to present their bodies as living sacrifices, holy, acceptable unto God, which is their reasonable service. (Rom 12:1)

The people were zealous in their service of God from the first day of the seventh month as stated in Ezra 3:6-7, “From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord, although the foundation of the temple of the Lord had not been laid. They also gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre to bring cedar logs from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the permission which they had from Cyrus king of Persia.” (NKJV) All of the returning Israelites worshipped in each of the feasts; i.e. New Moons, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles, and participated in burnt offerings, grain offerings, drink offerings as well as the daily offerings during this period. (Note: It does not specifically mention that they kept the Day of Atonement. However, that Day was commanded by God to be kept on the tenth day of the seventh month as recorded at Lev 16 and 23:26-32. The returning Jews were worshipping God by keeping all the feasts that were consecrated as recorded at Ezra 3:5.) It did not matter that the foundation of the temple had not been laid as yet. Their priority was to worship God first and build the temple next. With the freewill offerings received during the worship ceremonies and the decree of King Cyrus returning all articles to the temple that had been taken to Babylon and financially providing for the restoration of the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:7-11; 6:3-5), the Jews contracted with masons and carpenters as laborers when the start date of the construction on the temple was to begin. The Israelites also followed the example of King Solomon while he was building his temple (1 Kings 5:8-11) when they gave food, drink, and olive oil to the people of Sidon and Tyre. The Sidonians and Tyrians were experienced seafarers who in the past were able to cut down cedars in Lebanon, float them by sea in rafts, and then break them apart into logs. Lebanon was known for growing some of the finest cedar lumber in the known world. The Jews had become one under God again and were ready to rebuild.

Has there ever been a point in your life where you felt you were “in exile”? Did you forget that God would not leave you nor forsake you? Heb 13:5 And yet we must always rejoice in the Lord! (Philip 4:4) We are not to question all the events of our lives. Simply pray and remain united with the Lord for it is stated at Philip 4:6-7, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (NKJV) Do you praise God for His plan of salvation? Do you thank Him for sending His Son for giving us an opportunity to choose salvation and eternal life? Are you thankful that Christ Jesus was an obedient Son in suffering Calvary for you? Because of His obedience, there is no longer a need for burnt offerings, grain offerings, drink offerings, etc. to atone for our sins. I am thankful to confess Him as my Savior, knowing that he tore the veil so that I can have direct access and peace with the Almighty Father, and that this peace I have with God is beyond the world’s understanding because my heart and mind is guarded by Christ. How about you? Let us celebrate and worship what is meaningful in our lives.

Written by Deborah C Davis

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