God of the Past, Present, and Future

When the builders had laid the foundation of the Lord’s temple, the priests, dressed in their robes and holding trumpets, and the Levites descended from Asaph, holding cymbals, took their positions to praise the Lord, as King David of Israel had instructed. They sang with praise and thanksgiving to the Lord: “For he is good; his faithful love to Israel endures forever.” Then all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord because the foundation of the Lord’s house had been laid.

But many of the older priests, Levites, and family heads, who had seen the first temple, wept loudly when they saw the foundation of this temple, but many others shouted joyfully. The people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shouting from that of the weeping, because the people were shouting so loudly. And the sound was heard far away.

Ezra 3:10-13

Now, we’ve all heard the phrase, “The good ol’ days.” Of course, I’m nearly 50 and when I think of the “good ol’ days,” I’m probably not thinking of the same decade as everyone else! You have your good ol’ days and I have mine.

There’s a bit of that in the above passage from Ezra. The people have returned to their land after decades of exile. So the people of Israel have gathered together. It’s a huge worship service. It’s a celebration of the new temple’s foundation. There are cymbals and trumpets. There’s praising and shouting. And they’re loud! Really loud! The sound was heard far away.

But then in verse 12 it says this: But many of the older priests, Levites, and family heads, who had seen the first temple, wept loudly when they saw the foundation of this temple.

So what’s going on here? Why would you weep loudly at a time like this? The key is when our text refers to the people who had seen the first temple. Because the first temple—King Solomon’s temple—was significantly grander and larger. It was more impressive. And that temple was the one destroyed by the Babylonian army in 586 BC. That was when they were exiled and taken into captivity in Babylon.

In other words, when seeing this new foundation for a new temple, the oldest generations present at this celebration were reminded of what had been before, and, in their minds, of how much greater and better it was.

And in some ways, they weren’t wrong. Solomon’s temple was much larger and more impressive. Perhaps, too, they were weeping about the history that brought them to this place. After all, God had allowed the first temple to be destroyed and had carried them into exile..

Yet think of those in our passage who weren’t even alive when the first temple was still a thing. Maybe they were born in Babylon during the exile. The first temple was a story told by their parents and grandparents. But they’re excited about this new temple. They’re living in the present and anticipating the future. They’re excited about what is going to be built on this new foundation.

So there are people present here that are mourning the loss of the past and those who are excited for the future. And the perspective of each impacts profoundly how they live in the present.

Because things aren’t as they once were, for us as the church and certainly for our neighbours and our community. So: Honor the past but don’t live there.

Celebrating and giving thanks is about what God has done—but it’s also about what God is doing. Our God is the living God and he is the God of the living.

We can be thankful for the past, but we shouldn’t forget this—that there are things still worth celebrating. God hasn’t stopped moving. God continues to be at work. Can we honor the past yet still move forward with a willingness to see what new thing God is doing? How can we move forward by building wisely and well on the foundation of what’s come before?

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