Sunday, November 7, 2010

the true Temple of God

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“Yet now take courage. My Spirit abides among you; do not fear. For thus says the Lord: in a little while … the treasure of all nations shall come.”

The people of Judah were having a pretty crappy day on the 17th of October 520 BC – or if you prefer the lunar calendar, the 21st day of the 7th month in the 2nd year of King Darius. God’s people are depressed and hopeless and can’t help but wonder. Is this it? Has God left us? Does the future hold anything good?

These are the questions Haggai responds to, but first you need some background info. Around 950 BC King Solomon built a temple to God, and it was remarkable – it’s splendor unmatched by anything else in the world. There are two things you need to know about the temple. First, it’s where God lived. We talk about how God lives in our hearts. Not the Israelites – God lived in the temple. Second, the temple is where sacrifices of atonement were made for the people of God. The God of Israel was holy – the people were not holy – and so animal sacrifices were made so unholy people could approach the holy God of the universe. Once again, two things; the temple was God’s home; the temple was the place of sacrifice.

Now, fast-forward to 586 BC. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invades Jerusalem, takes the people into exile, and destroys the temple. I mean he utterly demolishes it. For the people of Israel this was the ultimate crisis. Death they could deal with. Exile they could handle. The destruction of the temple – well, this was too much to bear. You see the temple was the center of their life. With no temple there’s no God. I mean, can you imagine believing that God was dead? You’d be asking the same questions they were. Is this it? Has God left us? Does the future hold anything good?

Now, fast-forward another fifty years. Cyrus, King of Persia, conquers the Babylonians and shows mercy to the Israelites. He just decides to send them home. I mean talk about a miracle! The Israelites get to go back to Jerusalem, and what’s the first thing they do? They start rebuilding the temple, which is where tonight’s reading picks up. You see there’s a problem with the temple “take two.” It’s a joke. Compared to the first temple? The 2nd temple is a complete and utter joke. Imagine that an earthquake destroyed UT’s football stadium. Now imagine the stadium was rebuilt to look like the one from your high school. In the words of Haggai, “it would be in your sight as nothing.” It’d be a joke! Now remember, it’s only been 50 years. People still remember the old temple. In fact, according to the Book of Ezra people wept when they saw the 2nd temple being built, and it made them ask those questions – those questions I know we’ve asked ourselves at some point in our life. Is this it? Has God left us? Does the future hold anything good?

It is in response to these questions that the word of the Lord comes to Haggai, and I’ll be bold – the secret to life is found in understanding what God says – so this isn’t the time to doze off. “Yet now take courage,” God says. “Yet now” – in the midst of feeling depressed, in the midst of feeling hopeless – yet now take courage. “I am with you,” says the Lord. “My Spirit abides among you.” Not in the Temple. Among you. “For thus says the Lord, in a little while … the treasure of all nations shall come.” In other words, God tells them of course this isn’t it! No, I haven’t left you. The future belongs to the Lord.

So what did God mean by that? Well, I know what they thought God meant. They thought He meant, “Be patient, give it more time, the 2nd temple will eventually be better than the first one.” There’s only problem. The 2nd temple wasn’t better, and in 70 AD the Romans destroyed it – just like the Babylonians did the first one. So assuming the promise in tonight’s reading is about something else, what does the promise point to?

Well, Haggai does point to a new Temple – that much is clear from the reading – so let’s recall the temple’s two purposes. The Temple is where God lived. The Temple is where atonement was made for sin. So whatever this new Temple is, it has to surpass the old temples in both these areas.

Let me tell you what the most shocking verse of the Bible is – Matthew 12:6. The Pharisees are questioning Jesus. They’re not too sure who He is or what He’s about. He’s been warning them that the temple they trust in, compared to God’s true Temple, is nothing more than a heap of stones. Now, if that weren’t radical enough, in Matthew 12:6 Jesus looks the Pharisees straight in the eye and says, “Truly I tell you, something greater than the temple is here.” In other words, I AM the true temple of God, Jesus says, the new place where God dwells fully, the new place where atonement is made. “In me,” Jesus says, “is something greater than the temple.” Shocking – it’s either beautiful or it’s blasphemous.

Now, Christians believe a lot of things about Jesus Christ, but two of those beliefs are central to understanding Haggai’s promise. First, Jesus Christ was fully divine. He’s God. As Colossians puts it, in Jesus “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily,” or as Hebrews puts it, Jesus is “the exact imprint of God’s very being.” Jesus is not merely a prophet, a sage, a teacher. He’s the Word made flesh – the place where God dwells fully; something greater than the temple. Second, in Jesus Christ we have complete atonement for our sins. Compared to Jesus’ sacrifice, any sacrifice we make to God is a joke. To quote Hebrews once again, the priest in the old temple “offers again and again the same sacrifices that can never take away sins. But Christ offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins.” One sacrifice for all time – Jesus Christ is the sacrifice that ends all sacrifices; Again, we see that he is Something greater than the temple.

So what does Haggai point to? The new Temple. The true Temple. The place where God dwells fully and where atonement is made once for all time. Haggai points to Jesus Christ – the treasure of the nations. So our final question, what does this mean for your life?

First, no matter how pathetic or depressing your life seems at the moment, never underestimate God’s capacity to do something new. “My Spirit abides among you,” God says, so “don’t you dare be afraid.” Yet now take courage. Haggai was written to people who took one look at the new temple and felt despair. You see not in their wildest dreams could they ever have imagined what God had in store for our world – that Jesus Christ would come as a “living Temple” to reconcile us to God once and for all. The Bible says that, “eye hasn’t seen nor ear heard what God has in store for those who love Him.” I really hope you’re not in one of those pathetic and depressing funks at the moment. But if you are, don’t you dare underestimate God’s capacity to do something new.

Second, don’t dwell in the past. The main reason the Israelites were so depressed about the second temple is because they were so nostalgic about the first one, and because of that, they missed the miracle of what God was doing in the present moment. So a question we have to ask ourselves, what “temple” in our life has been destroyed? A relationship? Life in the small town? A job prospect that didn’t pan out? I’ve got good news and bad news. The bad news is it’s not coming back. The girl, the guy, the home, that feeling, the good ‘ole days – it’s not coming back. That’s the bad news. The good news is God’s Spirit is among you now. Don’t miss the miracle.

Third, if Jesus Christ is the new Temple, our life must revolve around Him. Not church. Not bible study. Not school. Not this person. Not that job. Our life must revolve around Jesus. You see practically speaking our life has to revolve around something. Jesus invites us to make that something Him. And here’s what’s so ironic. When we make Jesus our Temple He then makes us His. Our body becomes a place where God chooses to dwell, and as a result, a place where sacrifices are made for the benefit of the world. Jesus Christ is the new Temple. Our life must revolve around Him. Make Jesus your temple and He will make you His.

Finally, I have to point out the great irony of this sermon. God’s new Temple, Jesus that is, was also destroyed – not by the Babylonians, not by the Romans, but us. As Isaiah says, “He was crushed for our sins.” On the cross Jesus Christ was utterly demolished. But was this our end as the children of God? Remember, the destruction of the first temple meant exile. It was the end of their relationship with God. Was Jesus’ death our end as the children of God? No. The destruction of God’s new Temple, Jesus Christ, this is our salvation. Our hope. It doesn’t mean exile. Far from it. The death of Jesus Christ – it’s the way home.

So when we find ourselves asking:
Is this it? Has God left us? Does the future hold anything good?

Remember this: The Treasure of the nations has come into our world. The future belongs to Him. Eye has not seen nor ear heard what God has in store for those who love Him. Something greater than the temple is here.

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