Ezra 3: Lessons from the Temple Rebuilding for Being a Co-Builder of Jesus’ Church

Introduction: After describing God’s faithfulness in freeing the Jews and the faithfulness of a remnant of Jews in returning to the Promised Land, Ezra immediately focuses on the central reason for their return - the rebuilding of God’s Temple. God could have rebuilt the Temple on His own. But He instead worked through His faithful believers. The Temple foreshadowed Jesus (Jo. 2:20-21). The rebuilding of the Temple also foreshowed the building of His Church. Today, He seeks believers to co-build His Church: “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor. 3:9). From this initial account of the Temple rebuilding, Jesus reveals seven lessons on being a co-builder of His Church. These include: (1) Spirit-led unity, (2) sacrifice, (3) dependence, (4) generosity, (5) service, (6) worship, and (7) faith.

First, the Jews gathered together “as one man” to rebuild God’s Temple. They were led by the Spirit. Building Jesus’ Church also requires Spirit-led unity. Second, before building the Temple, the Jews rebuilt the altar for blood sacrifices. Jesus came to fulfill the blood sacrifices with His own sacrifice. Building Jesus’ Church required His sacrifice, and it should include your willingness to make spiritual sacrifices out of gratitude for Him. Third, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Tabernacles to remember how they depended on God for everything during the first exodus in the wilderness. They also celebrated when God dwelt with them out of a desire for Him to dwell again with them. This festival foreshadowed when Jesus came to dwell with mankind. To be a co-builder of Jesus’ Church, He also requires that you depend on Him. Fourth, the Jews gave generously to rebuild the Temple. Building Jesus’ Church should also include your tithes and generosity. Fifth, all Jews aged 20 and older volunteered to help rebuild the Temple. Building Jesus’ Church should also include your willingness to serve. Sixth, the Jews worshiped in gratitude with the beginning of the Temple rebuilding. Building Jesus’ Church should also include your worship. Finally, many Jews cried in sadness because they did not believe that the glory of God’s Temple would be restored. They lacked the faith to believe that God would use their more modest Temple. Their lack of faith was the beginning of their long-delayed rebuilding process. Building Jesus’ Church also requires your faith to succeed.

1. Spirit- Led Unity: Building Jesus’ Church Requires Spirit-Led Unity. Ezra 3:1.

  • The Jews gathered together for one purpose at the appointed time. After completing the second exodus and settling in their cities, the returning exiles gathered on the seventh month with a single united purpose in restoring true worship: “1 Now when the seventh month came, and the sons of Israel were in the cities, the people gathered together as one man to Jerusalem.” (Ezra 3:1). The Jewish calendar was based upon the lunar calendar. On the modern calendar, this would have happened sometime between September and October. If the Jews completed the approximate nine hundred-mile journey from Babylon to Israel the same year of King Cyrus II’s decree, this happened in 536 B.C. On the first day of the seventh month, called Tishri, the Jews observed the Feast of Trumpets (Lev. 23:23-25; Nu. 29:1-6). On the tenth day of this month, they observed the Day of Atonement (Lev. 16). They then observed the Feast of Booths or Tabernacles. This was one of three times when the Jews were required to gather in Jerusalem to worship God (Ex. 23:14-17; Dt. 16:16). The Jews had not observed such a feast in the required manner for seventy years. Thus, they were determined to do things correctly. The end of this chapter, however, revealed where their unity quickly began to unravel.

  • The parallels between the building of the first and second Temples. The fact that the Jews gathered together during the seventh month for the building process was not by coincidence. The seventh month was the exact same month when Solomon gathered the elders, the priests, and others together to dedicate the first Temple (1 Kgs. 8:2).

  • Let the Spirit guide you as you serve the Body of Christ. Zerubbabel and Jeshua called together all the faithful exiles, and “the people gathered together as one man.” (Ezra 3:1). That meant that they shared a single Spirit-led purpose. They sought to restore what they lost due to sin. As a believer, you are also called upon to work together under Spirit-led unity: “so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another.” (Ro. 12:5). “Since there is one bread, we who are many are one body; for we all partake of the one bread.” (1 Cor. 10:17). “For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ.” (1 Cor. 12:12). “But now there are many members, but one body. And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; or again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’” (1 Cor. 12:20-21). “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling;” (Eph. 4:4). Are you working together with others for the greater good of the Body of Christ?

  • Prayer is required to receive the wisdom to serve in the unity of the Spirit. For those looking for the wisdom to lead in the Spirit, Jesus urged believers to ask in prayer: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matt. 7:7). “Therefore I say to you, all things for which you pray and ask, believe that you have received them, and they will be granted you.” (Mk. 11:24). Ezra makes no comment as to whether the leaders led the people in prayer. We only know that their unity soon dissipated. When you start a project for Jesus, always begin in prayer.

2. Sacrifice: Building Jesus’ Church Required His Sacrifice and Yours. Ezra 3:2-3.

  • The Jews rebuilt the altar and offered sacrifices in the appointed manner. Before attempting to build the Temple, the High Priest Jeshua and the governor Zerubbabel led the Jews in building an altar to restore proper sacrifices for the atonement of sins: “Then Jeshua the son of Jozadak and his brothers the priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and his brothers 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. So they set up the altar on its foundation, for they were terrified because of the peoples of the lands; and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening.” (Ezra 3:2-3). Zerubbabel was the grandson of the Jewish King Jehoiachin (1 Chr. 3:17; Matt. 1:12), whom Nebuchadnezzar II took into captivity (2 Kgs. 24:10-12; 25:27-30). Jeshua was the grandson of Seraiah, the last High Priest of Judah before the exile (2 Kgs. 25:18; 1 Chr. 6:15). They understood that they needed to atone for sin before they could expect God to dwell again in a rebuilt Temple. Thus, they rebuilt the altar of sacrifice in its former location (Ezra 3:3). This means that they rebuilt the altar at the exact location where David purchased a threshing floor from Araunah to atone for the Jews’ sins (2 Sam. 24:16-19). To follow the Mosaic law, they would have further built the altar with unpolished stones (Ex. 20:25; Dt. 27:6). They knew that they had to offer burnt offerings to atone for sin (Lev. 1:3-17). Without this step, restored fellowship would not happen.

The Jews carefully rebuilt the Temple to restore fellowship with God1

  • The parallels between the building of the first and second Temples. The fact that the Jews gathered together to build an altar long before building the Temple was also not by coincidence. David built an altar of sacrifice in this exact same location long before Solomon was able to build the Temple (2 Sam. 24:25).

  • God’s messianic plan for the future Temple in Jerusalem. The Jews wanted to rebuild the Temple in its former location to fulfill a prophecy of the Messiah’s return: “For the LORD has chosen Zion; He has desired it for His habitation.” (Ps. 132:13). “But as for Me, I have installed My King Upon Zion, My holy mountain.” (Ps. 2:6). “Exalt the LORD our God and worship at His holy hill, For holy is the LORD our God.” (Ps. 99:9). “The LORD will possess Judah as His portion in the holy land, and will again choose Jerusalem.” (Zech. 2:12). Jesus will return to fulfill these promises with His Second Coming. During the Millennial Reign, His glory will dwell again in Zion.

  • The altar of atonement had to precede the rebuilding of the Temple. The Jews’ efforts at spiritual renewal began with their faith in God’s promises. Their efforts at spiritual renewal then required faith in the atonement of sin through blood sacrifices at the altar. “For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it to you on the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood by reason of the life that makes atonement.” (Lev. 17:11; Heb. 9:22). The many animal sacrifices were part of both an act of worship and for the atonement of sins. True fellowship with God is impossible without a burnt offering of sinless blood to atone for a person’s sins. During Old Testament times, this was done through animals (Lev. 1; Heb. 9:22; Lev. 17:11). Thus, the altar could exist without the Temple, but the Temple would be incomplete without an altar.

  • Jesus was the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrifices. Jesus later gave His sinless blood to offer salvation to everyone (Rev. 7:9). He was the one-time sacrifice that freed us from the obligation to sacrifice animals to have our sins forgiven (Heb. 10:14). Through Jesus’ death -- and not our own works -- we are made right or “justified” before God (2 Cor. 5:21; Ro. 3:25; Gal. 3:13; Mk. 14:24; 1 Pet. 1:18-19). Believing that He died for your sins also means that you do not take His sacrifice for granted. How are you giving thanks for His sacrifice?

  • The altar also symbolized the Jews’ commitment to follow God with their second chance. After rebuilding the altar, the Jews made “burnt offerings morning and evening.” (Ezra 3:3). This was to comply with God’s law: “Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two one year old lambs each day, continuously. 39 The one lamb you shall offer in the morning and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight;” (Ex. 29:38-39). Thus, the Jews performed sacrifices at least twice a day for sin, at the beginning of each month and during each festival. People also make voluntary sacrifices on top of that (Ezra 3:5). “In the Old Testament, building an altar was a significant act. In the life of the patriarchs it marked a new dedication to God or a new experience of God’s presence and leading (Gen 12:7; 13:4; 22:9; 26:25; 33:20; 35:1,7; Exod 17:5). ‘Burnt offerings’ also emphasized dedication, consecration, and commitment; in the burnt offerings the whole animal was burned as a symbol of total consecration to God.” (Mervin Breneman, The New American Commentary, Vol. 10, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther (B&H Publishing Group 1993) p. 91). The men of faith who led the Jews wanted to commit to living as a new creation.

  • An altar without the Temple made God the focus of worship. Worshiping God with an altar and without a Temple was also meant to prepare the Jews for worship following Jesus’ death when the Temple would again be destroyed. To some Jews who initially opposed the project, the worship of God was improper without the ark, the gold menorah, the altar of incense and other lost treasures from the first Temple. The Jews were forced to learn that it was their heart that God cared most about, not their rituals: “For almost four hundred years Israel had connected worship necessarily with the temple. In fact, they had come to rely more on the temple than on the Lord (Jer 7). Now that the temple had been destroyed and they discovered God’s presence even in exile, they could worship God even without a temple.” (Breneman, The New American Commentary, p. 93).

  • Jesus is also our altar of sacrifice and our Temple. The altar of sacrifice that the Jews built also foreshadowed Jesus: “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.” (Heb. 13:10). Jesus also connected the long delay in the rebuilding of the Temple to prepare them for a return to worship without a Temple. He revealed that He is the true Temple: “The Jews then said, ‘It took forty-six years to build this temple, and will You raise it up in three days?’ But He was speaking of the temple of His body” (Jo. 2:20-21). Today, your body is the new temple where the Holy Spirit dwells: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?” (1 Cor. 6:19).

  • Respond to Jesus’ sacrifice by making your life a living sacrifice to Him. Jesus perfected the need for any further physical sacrifices with His death on the cross (Heb. 10:14). But this should not eliminate your gratitude for your undeserved salvation. Without any sacrifice for Jesus, your faith is meaningless. Yet, instead of making physical sacrifices, you are called upon to make “spiritual sacrifices” to Him: “you also, as living stones, are being built up as a spiritual house for a holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Pet. 2:5). This includes praising God in all that you do: “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” (Heb. 13:15). This also includes presenting your body as a living sacrifice for God: “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.” (Ro. 12:1). Out of gratitude for His mercy and grace, are you offering Christ the best of your life as a sacrifice for Jesus?

  • Jesus also desires your voluntary obedience. The Jews sought to avoid the mistakes of their forefathers by obeying God’s Word “as it is written in the law of Moses, the man of God.” (Ezra 3:2). Some modern readers will dismiss this as the origins of legalism. But it was the failure to obey God’s Word that led to their rebellion and exile (Dt. 28:64-67). Their mistake was not in following God’s Word. It was in making obedience the ultimate goal instead of the outgrowth of a believer in love with God. Jesus warned: “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (Jo. 14:15). And in case you think this is only in reference to the New Testament, Jesus revealed Himself to be the great “I AM” who gave Moses the Ten Commandments at Mount Horeb (Jo. 8:58; Ex. 3:4)). Are you trying to follow all of Jesus’ Ten Commandments out of love and devotion to Him?

  • Don’t fear those who oppose Jesus’ work. While rebuilding the altar of sacrifice, the Jews “were terrified because of the peoples of the lands.” (Ezra 3:3). Although the Persians allowed the Jews to return and build the Temple, there were Jews, Samaritans, and people from the surrounding pagan nations who settled in Judah (2 Kgs. 25:22; Jer. 40:6). These people had adopted a belief system that mixed Judaism with other belief systems, called “syncretism”. Or, they simply rejected Yahweh for other pagan idols. These people opposed a return of the Mosaic law. The next chapter records the opposition they created to the Temple rebuilding. The Jews’ fear stemmed from a lack of faith that God would deliver them. This was the first sign that their plans would stall. What is missing from this account are the words of any leader urging the people not to fear their enemies. Moses encouraged the Jews not to fear their enemies (Ex. 14:13; 20:20). Joshua also encouraged the Jews not to fear their enemies (Josh. 1:9; 10:25). When others around you are filled with fear, are you encouraging them to have faith?

3. Dependence: Building Jesus’ Church Requires that You Depend on Him. Ezra 3:4-6.

  • The Jews celebrate the Feast of Booths / Tabernacles. After rebuilding the altar and before even laying the Temple foundation, the Jews celebrated the Feast of Booths / Tabernacles: “They celebrated the Feast of Booths, as it is written, and offered the fixed number of burnt offerings daily, according to the ordinance, as each day required; and afterward there was a continual burnt offering, also for the new moons and for all the fixed festivals of the Lord that were consecrated, and from everyone who offered a freewill offering to the Lord. From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the Lord, but the foundation of the temple of the Lord had not been laid.” (Ezra 3:4-6). The Jews were careful to observe the Feast of Tabernacles “according to the ordinance, as each day required.” (Ezra 3:4; Nu. 29:12-38). After the Feast of Tabernacles and long before the Temple was ever built, the Jews began to observe the required daily sacrifices for the nation, the monthly new moon festivals (Nu. 28:11-15) and voluntary freewill offerings (Ezra 3:5). These sacrifices began on the first day of the seventh month of the religious calendar (Ezra 3:6). This was in reference to the Rosh Hashanah, when the Jews celebrated the civil new year with the blowing of trumpets (Lev. 23:24). This would have also included on the tenth day of the month the observance of Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:27). All of these festivals began before they had even laid the foundations of the future Temple (Ezra 3:6).

  • The celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles celebrated the Jews’ dependence on God. When the Jews had their own kings and their own country, they frequently felt independent and proud. With the second exodus, the Jews could no longer feel independent or proud. They were subjects of the Persian empire. When the Jews lived through the first exodus, they also could not feel independent and proud. They had to depend upon God for their food, their water, and they had no permanent homes. The Feast of Tabernacles celebrated how God cared for the Jews’ every need during the first exodus. The festival lasted eight days and began on the 15th day of the seventh month of the religious calendar or the first month of the civil calendar (Lev. 23:39). This celebrates when the Jews made a “sukkot” or tabernacle for God to dwell with the Jews: “Let them construct a sanctuary for Me, that I may dwell (‘tabernacle’) among them.” (Ex. 25:8). To observe the time when God dwelt in a temporary structure and their dependence on God, the Jews built small booths or tents to dwell in for one week. Ezra stresses this aspect of the festival by referring to it by an alternative name - “the Feast of Booths”. (Ezra 3:4). “It is far more difficult to hear the message of fragility of life and the fact of dependence upon God for each succeeding breath amid the settled affluence and long life-expectancy that so many in the modern western world enjoy. Yet all our securities are ultimately illusory. Any attempt to peel them away, whether by temporary abstention from some of the good things of life, or whether by deliberate exposure to and sharing of the hard realities experienced by the poor and disadvantaged, can only be salutary.” (J.G. McConville, Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther. DSB. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1985, p. 20-21). All believers should feel dependent on God.

The Jews’ celebration of the Feast of Booths / Tabernacles pointed to Jesus Christ2

  • The Jews unknowingly rehearsed with the Feast of Tabernacles for the arrival of Jesus. God’s holy days revealed the “shadows” of Jesus (Col. 2:17). The “holy convocations” or “miqras” can also be translated as “rehearsals.” (Lev. 23:2). With the Feast of Tabernacles, the Jews unknowingly rehearsed for the Messiah’s arrival. Isaiah predicted that the Messiah would be called Immanuel, which means “God with Us” (Is. 7:14).  John tells us that the Word (of God) became flesh and “dwelt sukkat” (or tabernacled) among us (Jo. 1:14).  Col. 2:9 states, “For in Him the entire fullness of God’s nature dwells bodily.” The very purpose of Sukkat was to celebrate when God came to dwell with His people (Ex. 25:8; 29:44-45). Baby Jesus was also laid in a manger (Lk. 2:12). The Greek work for manger “phatn’e” is also translated in the Bible as a “stall.” (Lk. 13:15). The word Sukkot literally means “shelters, stables, booths, stalls, or huts.” Jacob is likewise said to have made a “booth” or “stall” for his animals while traveling to Succoth (Gen 33:17). Although His booth or stall was meant for animals, Jesus would have fulfilled the Law by being born in such a booth or stall. During the Feast of Tabernacles, the Jews also celebrated that God gave them the water of life. The High Priest took a golden pitcher of water from the pool of Siloam and poured it into a basin at the altar of the Temple. The water then flowed back through a pipe to the Brook of Kidron. (Talmud: Sukkah 4:9). This was done in conjunction with prayers for rain to allow there to again be crops in the land the following year. In connection with this ceremony, Isaiah stated, “Why is the name of it called the Drawing Out of Water? Because of the pouring out of the Holy Spirit, according to what is said: ‘With joy shall ye draw out of the wells of salvation’” (Is. 12:3). This all foreshadowed Jesus. On the last day of this festival, He stepped forward and cried out: “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.” (Jo. 7:37-39). Christians who dismiss this as a “Jewish” holiday miss out on an amazing chance to celebrate Jesus. Will you celebrate Jesus on this holy day as a voluntary act of love and devotion?

  • Building Jesus’ Church also requires that you depend on Him. The Jews who sought to rebuild God’s Temple had to depend on Him for everything. If you want to be a co-builder in Jesus’ Church, you must also fully depend upon Him. If you believe that you can do it on your own, you are acting to fulfill your own glory and not His glory.

4. Generosity: Building Jesus’ Church Should Include Your Tithes and Generosity. Ezra 3:7

  • The Jews gave for the rebuilding of the Temple. The Jews then gave freely from their resources to pay for the cedar lumber and specialists from modern day southern Lebanon to rebuild the Temple: “Then they gave money to the masons and carpenters, and food, drink and oil to the Sidonians and to the Tyrians, to bring cedar wood from Lebanon to the sea at Joppa, according to the permission they had from Cyrus king of Persia.” (Ezra 3:7). The cedar from Lebanon was the strongest building material available. It was cut from the Lebanese mountains and shipped through the ports of Sidon and Tyre to the Jewish port of Joppa (Ezra 3:7). Even with modest resources, the Jews put all that they had into rebuilding God’s Temple. It was a lost treasure that was worth their sacrifice.

  • The parallels between the building of the first and second Temples. When Solomon built the first Temple, he also obtained cedar from Lebanon and skilled carpenters from that area who knew how to cut and build with that wood (1 Kgs. 5:6, 11, 18; 1 Chr. 22; 2 Chr. 2:8-16). Yet, while Solomon traded with a Lebanese king, the Persians now controlled both territories. Under God’s influence, King Cyrus II of Persian issued an edict to give permission for the Jews engage in this rebuilding process (Ezra 1:2-4; 3:7). But this time the Jews had to give from their modest means to fund the project.

  • The Jews also gratefully gave to build the Tabernacle. When Moses asked the Jews to build the Tabernacle, the Jews knew that God gave them everything they had when He freed them from captivity (Ex. 12:35-36). Thus, they also gave with a willing heart: “21 Everyone whose heart stirred him and everyone whose spirit moved him came and brought the Lord’s contribution for the work of the tent of meeting and for all its service and for the holy garments. 22 Then all whose hearts moved them, both men and women, came and brought brooches and earrings and signet rings and bracelets, all articles of gold; so did every man who presented an offering of gold to the Lord. 23 Every man, who had in his possession blue and purple and scarlet material and fine linen and goats’ hair and rams’ skins dyed red and porpoise skins, brought them. 24 Everyone who could make a contribution of silver and bronze brought the Lord’s contribution; and every man who had in his possession acacia wood for any work of the service brought it. 25 All the skilled women spun with their hands, and brought what they had spun, in blue and purple and scarlet material and in fine linen. 26 All the women whose heart stirred with a skill spun the goats’ hair. 27 The rulers brought the onyx stones and the stones for setting for the ephod and for the breastpiece; 28 and the spice and the oil for the light and for the anointing oil and for the fragrant incense. 29 The Israelites, all the men and women, whose heart moved them to bring material for all the work, which the Lord had commanded through Moses to be done, brought a freewill offering to the Lord.” (Ex. 35:20-29). When you give to God, do you do so out of obligation or out of devotion?

  • Give back from what God has given you with gratitude. Every good and perfect thing in your life comes from above, even if someone in the world hands it to you (Ja. 1:17). God commands each believer to give back from the things that God has given. He in turn promises to bless you as a steward with more gifts (Mal. 3:8-10). Yet, He only wants you to give out of gratitude, not obligation (Ex. 36:2-7; 2 Cor. 9:6 8-14). Satan will also seek to cause you to sin by keeping God’s tithes. Satan had once induced Aaron to raise a counterfeit offering for a golden calf from things that should have gone for the Tabernacle (Ex. 32:2-6). Are you giving to God from what He has given you? Or, has your coveting robbed from resources that could be going to God?

5. Service: Building Jesus’ Church Requires Your Willingness to Serve. Ezra 3:8-9.

  • The workers begin the Temple restoration. On the second month of the second year after their return from Babylon, the Jews finally began the Temple rebuilding process: “Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak and the rest of their brothers the priests and the Levites, and all who came from the captivity to Jerusalem, began the work and appointed the Levites from twenty years and older to oversee the work of the house of the Lord. Then Jeshua with his sons and brothers stood united with Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah and the sons of Henadad with their sons and brothers the Levites, to oversee the workmen in the temple of God.” (Ezra 3:8-9). All men aged 20 or older could help work on the Temple (Ezra 3:8). While Moses originally limited the age of service from those who were over 30 (Nu. 8:24-25), David lowered the age of service to 20 years (1 Chr. 23:27; 2 Chr. 31:17). Zerubbabel acted as the civil governor while the High Priest Jeshua ensured that the rebuilding process followed the exact prescriptions that God gave to David, and through him, to Solomon.

  • The parallels between the building of the first and second Temples. By the reference to the second month of the second year (Ezra 3:8), the building process for the Temple foundations began sometime around Passover, in April or May of 536 B.C. Through God’s providence, the materials arrived for the rebuilding during the second month of the year, the exact same month that Solomon began to build the first Temple (1 Kgs. 6:1). But the Temple building would then stall until around 520 to 516 B.C.

  • God’s gifts were meant for His glory. Here, every male age 20 or older served under their appointed leaders to help rebuild the Temple (Ezra 3:8-9). In a similar account of the building of the Tabernacle, Moses directed each skilled worker to use his or her gifts for God: “10 Let every skillful man among you come, and make all that the Lord has commanded:’” (Ex. 35:10). God has given you gifts for you to use as a co-builder of His Church: “As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God.” (1 Pet. 4:10). “Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: . . .” (Ro. 12:6-8). “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ;” (Eph. 4:11-12). “Now concerning spiritual gifts, brethren, I do not want you to be unaware. . . . .4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit . . .” (1 Cor. 12:1-7). Every person’s gift is needed in the body because no one person has them all (1 Cor. 12:13-27). Moses could not have built the Tabernacle on his own. Solomon also could not build the Temple by himself. Jesus wants you to labor for the Church (Col. 3:23). Are you using your gifts for Him?

  • Serving God fulfills your highest calling. God has called every believer by name before the foundation of the world to do good works for Him: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Eph. 2:10). “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2 Tim. 2:21). How are you fulfilling your calling for His “good works”?

6. Worship: Building Jesus’ Church Should Include Your Worship. Ezra 3:10-11.

  • Many Jews praise the rebuilding of the Temple. After laying the foundation of the Temple, many Jews celebrated this important first step in the rebuilding process with worship music and formal reverent attire: “10 Now when the builders had laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests stood in their apparel with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the Lord according to the directions of King David of Israel. 11 They sang, praising and giving thanks to the Lord, saying, ‘For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.’ 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.” (Ezra 3:10-11). These Jews sang with praise at the chance to restore fellowship with God. Since the destruction of the first Temple, they had not been able to either properly atone for their sins or properly worship God. The descendants of Asaph led the worship (1 Chr. 16:5; 25:1). Sadly, after the rebuilding of the foundations, the book of Haggai reveals that little was achieved in the Temple rebuilding process for many more years (Haggai 5:1-6). But the praise and worship was still important. In good and bad, believers should give praise in everything.

The Levites led the Jews in praise and worship for His faithfulness3

  • The parallels between the building of the first and second Temples. David also led the Jews in worship when he brought the ark into Jerusalem as an important first step in the first Temple building process (1 Chr. 16:5-6). The praise and worship also followed the same pattern as the building of the first Temple under Solomon. That building process also began with festive praise and worship music in the manner David previously ordained (1 Chr. 6:31; 16:4-6; 25:1; 2 Chr. 5:13; Ps. 136:1).

  • The praises fulfilled a prophecy. The priests led the Jews in singing the words: ‘“For He is good, for His lovingkindness is upon Israel forever.”’ (Ezra 3:11). This quoted from the Psalms when the Jews were urged to praise God’s lovingkindness whenever they entered the courtyard where the altar was located: “Enter His gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the LORD is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting and His faithfulness to all generations.” (Ps. 100:4-5). The singing of this song of praise on the foundations of the former courtyard fulfilled a prophecy that Jeremiah gave the Jews before they were sent into captivity: “the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, ‘Give thanks to the LORD of hosts, for the LORD is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting’; and of those who bring a thank offering into the house of the LORD. For I will restore the fortunes of the land as they were at first,’ says the LORD.” (Jer. 33:11). Are you celebrating God’s lovingkindness in your life?

  • Praise God even when you are waiting for the fulfillment of His promises. The Jews who praised God in the still ruined courtyard celebrated in faith that God would finish the building project: “True faith praises God even before the answer has materialized.” (Breneman, The New American Commentary, p. 95). Even when he had to wait on God, Abraham praised God in faith: “yet, with respect to the promise of God, he [Abraham] did not waver in unbelief but grew strong in faith, giving glory to God, 21 and being fully assured that what God had promised, He was able also to perform.” (Ro. 4:20-21). Will you praise God even if you need to wait for Him to fulfill His promises?

  • The importance of praise in avoiding sin. Being full of gratitude for Jesus’ sacrifice for you on the cross is an important way to keep yourself free from returning to your sin. If you don’t care about His sacrifice or if you don’t internalize the price He paid for you, you are more likely to backslide into sin. One way to remain grateful is to constantly thank Christ for His sacrifice: “Through Him then, let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” (Heb. 13:15). As our example, David regularly thanked God through songs of praise (e.g., Ps. 18:49; 26:7; 30:4, 12; 50:14; 69:30; 75:1; 79:13; 92:1; 95:2; 97:12; 100:4; 106:1; 107:1, 8; 116:17; 118:1, 119:62; 140:13; 147:7). Being grateful should not be limited to the times that are good. Are you giving thanks for all of God’s blessings in both the good and bad times?

7. Faith: Building Jesus’ Church Requires Faith to Succeed. Ezra 3:12-13.

  • The mixed reaction to the Temple rebuilding. Sadly, there was a mixed reaction to the rebuilding process. Many priests and elderly people who knew the glory of the first Temple with the ark and its gold cried because they knew that the new Temple would not match its former glory: “12 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, 13 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.” (Ezra 3:12-13). The people who cried lacked the faith to believe that God would return to the Temple without its many gold fixtures and things like the ark.

The second Temple’s humble beginnings created a mixed reaction amongst the Jews4

  • The contrast between the first and second Temples. The first Temple contained tons of gold that David and Solomon had obtained through battles, tribute, and trade. The returning exiles could never hope to match what David and Solomon had amassed. In modern terms, the gold inside the First Temple would have cost billions of dollars. Some of the old men, who would have been taken into exile as boys, cried at what the Jews had lost because of sin. Their hearts were fixated on what they had lost instead of the grace that God offered them. In this important area, the building process was very different.

  • Don’t be deceived by appearances or long for your old life. The old men had a distorted view about what they had lost. As one commentator observes, “It was the older generation who was weeping loudly, while the younger generation was jubilant. Why? Because the older generation was living in the past; they were re-living “the good old days.” These folks could remember the temple in Jerusalem. How much more beautiful it was than what the reconstructed temple would look like. This living in the past and weeping was wrong. It is at the prompting of the prophets Haggai and Zechariah, that the temple will be completed. When the temple is completed and the people celebrate, there are no tears. Why? I believe it is because the prophets corrected the error of their thinking. Think about it for a moment. These older men could only have seen the temple in its last days, just before its destruction. These older men would have been quite young when they last saw the temple. No doubt they were overly impressed with its appearance, just as our Lord’s disciples were awe-struck by the beauty of Herod’s temple: Now as Jesus was going out of the temple courts, one of his disciples said to him, “Teacher, look at these tremendous stones and buildings!” (Mark 13:1) We know that in its last days, temple worship had been greatly corrupted. Images of other gods were there (see 2 Chronicles 33:1-9, 22; 36:14-21). What, then, was so “good” about the “good old days”? I think the only thing one can say was “good” was that it was a beautiful building. The fears of all (3:3) and the tears of some (3:12-13) were the first evidences of failure among those exiles who returned to their land.” (Robert Deffinbaugh, 22. The Return to the Promised Land (Ezra), Part I: The Book of Ezra).5

  • God’s Messianic promise of an even greater Temple. Because some older men and some priests were saddened at the more humble new temple, God raised up the prophet Haggai to encourage the people not to despise the Temple’s humble beginnings: “Speak now to Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and to Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and to the remnant of the people saying, ‘Who is left among you who saw this temple in its former glory? And how do you see it now? Does it not seem to you like nothing in comparison? But now take courage, Zerubbabel,’ declares the LORD, ‘take courage also, Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and all you people of the land take courage,’ declares the LORD, ‘and work; for I am with you,’ declares the LORD of hosts.’” (Haggai 2:2-5). From its humble beginnings, God promised that His Shekinah glory would one day return: ‘“I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations, and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts.” (Haggai 2:7). In a Messianic prophecy, Haggai revealed that the future Temple would exceed even the glory of Solomon’s day: ‘“The latter glory of this house will be greater than the former,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘and in this place I will give peace,’ declares the LORD of hosts.” (Haggai 2:9). Yet, believing this required faith.

  • Don’t despise God’s humble down-payments on His promises. God also raised the prophet Zechariah to rebuke those who could not see God’s grace and could only dwell on what they had lost for the moment due to sin: “Also the word of the Lord came to me, saying, ‘The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house, and his hands will finish it. Then you will know that the Lord of hosts has sent me to you. 10 For who has despised the day of small things? But these seven will be glad when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel—these are the eyes of the Lord which range to and fro throughout the earth.”’ (Zech. 4:8-10). These Jews were not content to wait. They looked at the humble origins of the future Temple with contempt.

  • Be faithful because God is faithful to you. Without faith, it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). Jesus will also be faithful to keep His promise to you. In response to His faithfulness, He wants you to be faithful and have faith in Him: “for we walk by faith, not by sight—” (2 Cor. 5:7). “A faithful man will abound with blessings, . . .” (Prov. 28:20(a)). “But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Tim. 1:5). “but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” (1 Tim. 3:9). Have you stayed faithful to Jesus?