As Christians, we always have something to rejoice about. The headlines have been gloomy lately. They are getting better, I think, but they’ve been gloomy. I’m inclined to think much of the news coverage is over-the-top, but it’s hard not to scroll through the news and feel a little bit down. There’s the coronavirus, of course. And then there’s the economy: Jobless claims are up. Even some hospital workers are getting laid off. Some are making comparisons to the Great Depression.
It can leave a person feeling down. But the news is getting a little better. Pitkin County opened up construction sites again – and bike repair shops. So there’s that.
And the Israelites finished the temple in Ezra 6 (our Scripture reading for today). And they had a celebration. They offered God 100 bulls, 200 rams, 400 lambs, and 12 male goats. Ezra tells us they celebrated the dedication of the temple “with joy.”
I’m sure someone noticed, however, that the news wasn’t altogether positive. There was some bad mixed in there. Maybe the person didn’t want to bear the bad news – to rain on the parade. But the fact of the matter was this: By comparison, it wasn’t much of a celebration. The Israelites didn’t have much to offer God.
If we go back and read what King Solomon offered to God when the first temple was dedicated, we begin to get the picture. Solomon offered 22,000 oxen and 120,000 sheep (1 Kings 8:63). There’s a big difference between 120,000 sheep and what the people were able to muster when they dedicated the second temple. If a person were to look around at that second dedication ceremony, and if that person were to remember the scriptures, he or she might get a little depressed. It might have seemed a downer. The people of God were not what they once were.
But the people didn’t seem to notice. They simply celebrated “with joy.”
There was a lot going on in that dedication scene and the Passover celebration that followed it. There certainly was more going on that met the eye, if one were simply looking out over the herds brought as offerings.
The people were back in the land. The temple had been rebuilt. Prophecies were being fulfilled. The local pagan governors even were forced to help finance the work on the temple (Ezra 6:8). And “the Lord had made (the people) joyful and had turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them, so that he aided them in the work of the house of God, the God of Israel.” The people had seen the hand of God at work around them.
The Passover marked the time God delivered the Israelites out of Egypt. He told them to spread the blood of a lamb on their doorposts. If they did so, they would be spared God’s judgment (see Exodus 12). The Israelites reenacted the Passover feast every year. And shortly after the new temple was dedicated, Ezra tells us, they again celebrated the Passover. They remembered their deliverance from destruction.
Here were a weak people recognizing the deliverance of God in the life of their nation. These particular people had been through a lot. Decades in exile. Mass slaughter among their people. Poverty. Servitude. And here they were, limited in number, but seeing that GOD STILL WAS WITH THEM. They knew God was with them because the foreign king – a pagan man who should have wanted nothing to do with Israel – was helping them. God had “turned the heart of the king of Assyria to them.”
I wonder if they thought they’d been “passed over” again – that somehow God had delivered them from the judgment, that he had spared them, that they had been preserved through that long night of exile and now found themselves in the bright light of dawn – a nation spared.
God’s promise to Israel remained true. And they knew it. And they celebrated “with joy.”
No bad news can shake us. Our temple – Christ – stands firm. The sacrificial blood is good for all time. As we go through this difficult time, we can rest on the truth of the Passover, and the truth of the second temple. God still is with us.