Thanks to Solomon’s sins, Israel found itself exiled, scattered across Babylon. Jersualem, and Solomon’s glorious temple with it, was destroyed. But much later, as God said would happen, King Cyrus allowed any Jews who wanted to return to Jerusalem and rebuild. 50,000 of them went back, and right away started work on an altar and the temple. The new temple couldn’t be as grand as the old; there weren’t the resources. But soon the foundation was laid. Ezra 3:11-13 tells what happened next.
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. Yet many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ households, the old men who had seen the first temple, wept with a loud voice when the foundation of this house was laid before their eyes, while many shouted aloud for joy, so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the shout of joy from the sound of the weeping of the people, for the people shouted with a loud shout, and the sound was heard far away. (NASB)
Many of these Jews were born and raised in exile and had never known the original temple. Perhaps their parents and grandparents had told them stories about the old days. It’s probably safe to assume that they went to Jerusalem because they wanted to do God’s work of rebuilding the temple and restoring worship. So finishing the temple’s foundation brought them great joy.
But some old-timers had seen the original temple and knew its grandeur. It was clear by the new temple’s foundation that the former grandeur would not be restored. They mourned what they had lost, and they cried bitterly.
I taught this in Sunday school a couple Sundays ago. A woman in her 80s said, “I know how the old-timers felt. I remember how worship used to be here. It was grand. I felt like we were really giving our best to God. But things have changed so much.”
Everybody in the room understood. I wasn’t there then, but I’ve been told: In days gone by, there was an organ and a choir and all the old songs. The order of worship was set, inviolable. Reverence and awe filled the room during that hour every Sunday morning. But things have changed. As older members passed on or moved on and their children moved away, membership dropped sharply. In response, a new preacher took the church in a different direction. Gone are the organ and choir and most of the old songs; in is a small praise band and several new contemporary songs. Gone is the sacrosanct worship order; now we mix things up to keep it fresh. Gone is the reverence and awe; now many of us raise our hands and dance and sway as we focus on the joy of experiencing God’s love.
Even though I was never part of the worship she remembers, I think I know where she’s coming from, and I said so. I came from a non-instrumental Church of Christ, and that congregation could sing. When we lifted our voices as one, it was with such power I was sure we’d pop the roof right off. I felt that our singing really gave our best to the Lord. When I left there and came to this church, the singing seemed anemic to me. I still don’t get into the hand-raising, dancing, and swaying that people do instead. I just keep singing out, and I’m probably the loudest person in the room. I badly miss the strong congregational singing we enjoyed in the Church of Christ.
But God made good use of the Jews’ new temple despite its lack of grandeur. Not only was Jesus presented to the Lord in it (Luke 2:22-40), but when Jesus was 12 he sat among the teachers here, questioning them and hearing their answers (Luke 2:41-51). This plainer temple did not hinder Jesus’ growth.
Then in John 2, Jesus gives us the proper perspective. Standing in the temple, having just run off the moneychangers, somebody asked him his authority for having done it. Jesus said in verse 19, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” (NASB)
Jesus wasn’t talking about the temple building, he was talking about himself. Jesus is the temple that matters. How we organize and execute the hour of worship every week is less important than how we carry out every hour the mission Jesus gave us. When we are in Jesus, we are in His temple, and we need to be doing His business under whatever circumstances He provides!
That doesn’t mean it shouldn’t hurt when changes come to things we held dear that we did for God. But we must stretch ourselves to trust Jesus as he sets the circumstances in which we work.
At my church, we appear to be growing again, and we’re not robbing from other churches to do it. We’ve had several baptisms, all adults in young families, in recent months. Our hour of worship appears to connect with them. I’m not sure our old style of worship would have.
If these new Christians grow to maturity, they, too, will someday mourn practices they hold dear as Jesus makes changes that draw more souls to Him.