I recently read a fantastic book called Return to Me, by Lynn Austin. It chronicles the end of the Israelites’ captivity in Babylon, from the perspective of the prophet Zechariah. The king of Persia decrees that the Israelites are free to return to Jerusalem, rebuild their temple, and worship their God, after 70 years of being held captive in a foreign city with a foreign culture and foreign gods. There was rejoicing and relief! Shouts of joy and praise! They had not been forgotten by the Almighty God! They could return to the land where the Holy God once dwelled in His temple! It’s a divine moment of victory for the Jewish people. And yet most of the Israelites decide it’s not really worth it to leave Babylon. What? How ridiculous! How faithless! How… 2021?
What do the rebuilding of the temple in Jerusalem in 583 BC and American Christians in 2021 have in common? Perhaps more than we think. The Jewish people were coming out of a time of exile in captivity. And though the similarities may not be many, let’s be real, 2020 was tough. We are now in this odd in-between phase, better than things were, but not at all as “normal” as we’d like them to be. The Jews each had an individual choice to make, but also a collective choice as the nation of Israel.
Should they leave the comforts of Babylon or just stick with what they know? Do they obey their God or the pagan gods they had become so familiar with in the previous 70 years? Should they set out on the long, arduous road back to Jerusalem or stay put in their comfortable homes? Do they rebuild the temple? Or not?
Some of us, myself included, would say there were certainly things to miss about 2020. Working from home, less traffic, more down time. Quality time with family. Stretchy pants. As we slowly emerge from our cocoons (Lord willing), we also have some decisions to make that we should not take lightly. Whatever we choose will affect not just us as individual believers, but perhaps the long-term trajectory of the Church. Not to be an alarmist, but culture is shifting, my friends. We will likely all need to make some difficult decisions in the coming years. So, do we rebuild the temple? What does that even mean in 2021?
Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person; for God’s temple is sacred, and you together are that temple. (1 Corinthians 3:16-17 NIV)
We are the temple. I recognize that analogies can only go so far, but I will definitely admit that my temple, in which the Holy Spirit dwells, could use some reconstruction. I am not referring to my physical body, though I know the above passage might include that, but to the intersection within me: where my meager spirit meets with His Holy Spirit.
Am I taking my time choosing whether or not to leave Babylon? Or am I running towards God? Am I feeling stranded and hopeless in the middle of the path back? Or do I trust that God has gone before me and is waiting to meet me on the path? Because I am also reminded Ephesians 2 says this:
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. (vv. 19-22 NIV)
This week, may we find peace in this above passage. Whether we are running from Babylon or feeling stuck inside it, our temples are not dependent on our own ability to reconstruct, but on the Cornerstone that has already been placed.