Just one month into the global New Year and we are into yet another new year, this time culturally a Chinese one. Essentially for me and others who are Chinese, we are celebrating a fresh start both globally and culturally. Symbolically, the rooster is also an emblem of renewal. But beyond this and on a more general level, sociologically and politically, the most powerful nation on Earth today just had a new president for one month, and as Malaysians, our nation’s election is also looming. No matter where you look, the word renewal resounds.
Yet as Christians, we also have a spiritual identity founded in Christ, Himself a Restorer and a Renew-er. For us, there is a deeper level of significance to the whole concept, contained within the spiritual rebirth when we entered into a new relationship with Christ. What does renewal mean exactly for us as Christians?
When it comes to restoration, a notable piece that stands out in the whole timeline of the Bible is the rebuilding of the wall of Jerusalem under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra. Interconnected with this rebuilding is the concept of restoration. Specifically, the passage of Ezra 3:1-13 has much to instruct us, with four main points of impartation.
Understanding the context of this rebuilding of the wall, the first point is an encouraging one. The Israelites had just returned from exile, imposed on them earlier due to their sin of rebellion. The exile had meant that the nation of Israel had just recently been at an unprecedented spiritual low; under the bondage of the foreign kingdom of Babylon and its king. Nevertheless, the return of the Israelites from exile illustrates to us of God’s deep mercy.
Our God is a God of second chances, and we can see this clearly from the way He orchestrated the return of the Israelites to Jerusalem, via the deliverance by Cyrus (Isaiah 45). God kept to His covenant and the return of the Israelites had God’s direct hand within it. Our God is thus a God of new beginnings even when we have strayed far away from him. A new start with God is always possible if we repent and turn back to God.
The second point we can learn from the passage is that a new start with God always involves rebuilding our spiritual altars. The first thing that Joshua the son of Jozadak and Zerubabbel did on their return to Jerusalem was not to build up the walls immediately, but to build up the altar first. Why is this important? Because throughout history, the altar had been a sign of the covenant between God and His people. Leviticus 1:3 records of the burnt offering on the altar, so as to be acceptable before God.
Besides this connotation, altars are also places to call upon the name of the Lord, with an inference as to worship God. It is the place where God’s presence would come down. Rebuilding our altars indicate our recognition that true renewal can only come with God being central; a rededication of lives back unto Christ.
If we claim that Christ is central in our lives, we need to be obedient to His word. This is the third point. The people of Israel did according to what was written in the Law of Moses, obeying the commandments that God had handed down through Moses (Ezra 3:2,4). Today, as Christians, God has handed down His word to us through the Scriptures.
The Israelites obeyed and followed exactly what God had passed down to them as instructions for them to do. In the same way, we also must go back to God’s Word and obey what He commands. God is unchanging and so are His moral instructions; they do not change according to the moral standards of our times.
Essentially, by rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, the Israelites were also rebuilding the walls of their holy city. Renewal with God must focus on rebuilding His house (Ezra 3:7-13). The temple of the Lord was the place where He dwelled among His people and manifested His glory. The restored nation could not properly worship God until they rebuild His house. They needed God to protect them because their enemies surrounded them on all sides.
1 Corinthians 3:16 reveals to us that we as God’s people are now the Temple of God and that God now dwells among all His people. We cannot go at it alone in a new start with God. We need to build together with others who have a commitment to know God. Without that commitment, we are vulnerable to the spiritual attacks of the enemy such as the cares of the world and the lures of the flesh.
The rebuilding of God’s House requires three things. It requires us to trust God and give of our resources, not necessarily in terms of money, but in terms of the time we give to God and the life of love and service that He has called us unto. It requires us to work together in unity under Godly leadership. And it calls us to focus on the renewal of our personal and corporate worship. There is an exciting refrain running in 2017. For us as children of God, nothing is as exciting as a renewed identity and relationship with God. We need to return to God and rededicate ourselves back to Him if we have strayed far away.
NOTE: This is a personal reflection of the impartation the writer has received from a sermon shared by Pr Calvin Lee of the Kajang Assembly of God on the 1st of January 2017. It has not been vetted by Pr Calvin or the church.
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