Part 6 - Nehemiah
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This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.
As I prepared for this message I kept thinking how I hoped this TB and message would challenge people to worship Christ more fully and engage the heart of the worshipper more deeply with the wonder and beauty of Christ. I hope that by reading and or discussing this TB, that both will happen.
On Sunday we concluded our Wherever you are, someone’s been there series. The final character we briefly looked at was Nehemiah, a cupbearer for King Artaxerxes of the Persian Empire. One of Nehemiah’s dilemmas was that rubble was his trouble. The walls of Jerusalem had been burned and destroyed, so the city and its inhabitants, commerce and culture were vulnerable to outside enemies. However, there was something else of huge importance that formed the centerpiece of Jewish life. It was the Jewell of Jerusalem and, no doubt, its survival (along with the people) was a major concern to Nehemiah. That jewel was the temple.
- Was a political, social, cultural and spiritual center
- People travelled from afar to offer sacrifice, engage in various festivals
But here is the problem: temples are like our bodies- they wear out. Like the walls of Jerusalem, they eventually crumble. You see, the temple in Nehemiah’s day had been rebuilt years earlier on the foundations of a previous temple.
Temple #1- Solomon
- Built 480 years after the Exodus- Many thousands of labourers and skilled artisans were employed in the work
- It was destroyed (2 Chron. 36:18-21)
- It lay in ruins for 70 years
- Rubble was its trouble
- Built by the 50,000 returning exiles (2 Chron. 36:23 and Ezra 2 - Note Cyrus is now King and the Persian empire has taken over the Babylonian empire)
- Built on the footprint of the old temple
- The name of the guy who was in charge – Zerubbabel, the governor of Judah
- But for Zerubbabel, rubble was his trouble too
- He restored a dilapidated temple that Nehemiah’s walls had tried to protect
- Apparently his logo was on every block
- Twice the size of Solomon’s
- The area could hold up to 250,000 people.
- Greatest building project of its time, built on 35 acres of land
- But Herod’s temple became rubble as well: Within forty years after our Lord’s crucifixion, Roman legions took the city of Jerusalem by storm, and in spite of Titus’ efforts to preserve the temple, his soldiers set fire to it in several places, and utterly destroyed it (A.D. 70 – just had Jesus had predicted). It was never rebuilt.
A visitor in Herod’s temple brings us to our hope, our celebration of Christmas. Read John 2:18-22 (you may want to read the whole context). What did Jesus claim?
Big Idea: The work of man last only a lifetime (if that) but the plans of God last forever.Jesus represents a hope that does not disappoint, a foundation that does not crumble, a structure that will not collapse, the centerpiece of our lives that will not be stolen, plundered and carried off.
Let’s take the remaining part of this TB to spell out why Jesus is a better temple.
A. The partnership between man and God is different in the “building” of this temple.
Earthly temple - For example, in the case of the building of Solomon’s temple, God partnered with Solomon. Remember Solomon’s words recalling what God told David - “Your son (Solomon) whom I will put on the throne in your place will build the temple for my Name.” (1 Kings 5:5)
Jesus - the temple - there is a partnership but a little different. Home Depot was not needed - no hard hats, nail bags, work boots. Check out Matt 1:18-20. Any observations about this partnership?
Do you know anyone who rejects Christ because they reject the teaching of the virgin birth? Virgin birth, meaning “conceived of God in Mary’s womb minus an earthly father”. This kind of partnership troubles some. We understand partnership when we read about God inspiring Solomon to build a temple and then Solomon using his resources to put it into play. But this kind of partnership is harder to understand. But a virgin birth reminds us that our salvation is from God and that Jesus was sinless (Luke 1:35 - “called holy”: He did not inherit a sinful nature) - thus it was a once and for all sacrifice. We will see this in just a minute.
B. The material/substance is different
Earthly temple - What do we know about temples? Rubble was their trouble – their destiny! They had a starting point and an ending point.
Jesus the temple - read John 1:1-18 and make your observations on the substance difference. There are at least 7 passages in the NT that point to Christ’s deity. Rubble was not Jesus’ trouble.
The claim of Christianity isn’t that Jesus was a good man but the God-Man, God in the flesh. We don’t worship a good man because that will always disappoint. We worship the God-Man!
C. The beauty is different
Earthly temple - Check out what the disciples said about Herod’s temple in Mark 13:1.
Jesus the temple - What kind of beauty does Jesus display? Read the article by Phillip Yancey at the end of this article for discussion.
What kind of beauty?
- His beauty was not in his physicality but in his nature, character and his work - God in flesh
The Beauty of Christ can be seen in,
- His Nature - Colossians 1:19 “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Him...”Does the beauty of Christ (nature, character and work) breathe life into your faith and shape your faith?
Thus -• No corruption was found on his lips- as was found on some of the priests who had served in temples past- His Character - "Character is supreme in life, hence Jesus stood supreme in the supreme thing - so supreme that, when we think of the ideal, we do not add virtue to virtue, but think of Jesus Christ, so that the standard of human life is no longer a code but a character." E. Stanley Jones
• No greed was found in his heart- as was found at the commercialized gates of Herod’s temple
• No grave holding his decomposed remains- as other temples- rubble was their destiny
- His Work - Luke 4:18,19
Beauty does make a difference - I remember when we lived in Jakarta the pollution was so heavy you couldn’t see the blue sky. It could get you down - day after day in the smog, traffic and noise. But then the rainy season would come and wash out the air and when the rain stopped, the sky would be a rich blue and you could actually see the mountain range around Jakarta. It was almost like you could just walk to them. It made living in Jakarta for those few clear sky days feel so different because of beauty. When we understand the real beauty of Christ, how will it affect our relationship with Him, and with His Church the Bride?
D. The work is better
Earthly temple- in all three temples, blood was spilled time and time again. Check out 2 Chron. 7- read to v.5.
Imagine the Passover in Jesus’ day when Jews would pilgrim from afar and sacrifice at the temple in Jerusalem. Remember this temple could hold thousands and thousands of people.
Jesus- the temple - Read Hebrews 9 and 10 - just sections - what do you note? Note how the earthly temple was always pointing to a better day and a better way. Jesus is the temple and priest and the sacrifice - once for all. Three in one!
I think many still live in the “OT temple” mindset. When they come to God they feel they need to have something in hand. Probably not a bull, goat, pigeon or lamb but how about works, works and more works? But the NT makes it pretty clear that when we come to this temple, the sacrifice has been paid-. Thus we can come in faith, worship and adoration. See Rev. 5:12-14 and Philippians 2:6-11, Matthew 28:16,17 (personally I love the Matthew text because it illustrates the tension we often can live with or work through).
This Christmas season we celebrate a temple that cannot be destroyed! Rubble is not Jesus’ trouble! He is to be the centerpiece of our lives, in which we put all else into perspective. May it be so!
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“We know nothing about Jesus' shape or stature or eye color, and thus, as a writer, I could not begin where I normally begin in reporting on a person—by describing what he looked like. The first semi realistic portraits of Jesus did not come until the fifth century, and these were pure speculation; until then, the Greeks had portrayed him as a young, beardless figure resembling the god Apollo.
I once showed to a class several dozen art slides portraying Jesus in a variety of forms—African, Korean, Chinese—and then asked the class to describe what they thought Jesus looked like. Virtually everyone suggested he was tall (unlikely for a first-century Jew), most said handsome, and no one said overweight. I showed a BBC film on the life of Christ that featured a fat actor in the title role, and some in the class found it offensive. We prefer a tall, handsome, and above all, slender Jesus.
One tradition dating back to the second century suggested Jesus was a hunchback, and in the Middle Ages, Christians widely believed that Jesus had suffered from leprosy. Most Christians today would find such notions repulsive and perhaps heretical.
Yet in all the Bible I can find only one physical description of sorts, a prophecy written hundreds of years before Christ's birth. Here is Isaiah's portrayal, in the midst of a passage that the New Testament applies to the life of Jesus:
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any man and his form marred beyond human likeness… . He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
Evidently our glamorized representations of Jesus say more about us than about him.”