“Building Temples for God” – Jon Eerkes

“Building Temples for God” – Jon Eerkes

Sermon by Jon Eerkes.

Sermon Notes

One way you can tell that a home was decorated in the 1970’s or early 80’s was the use of wood paneling. Most of the homes we have lived in have had some of this stuff covering the walls, including the home we live in now. While the 1970’s stuff wasn’t real wood, it came into existence because real wood paneling was seen as luxurious. 

In Biblical times, wood paneling was the height of luxury. The preferred wood for this was cedar from Lebanon; it was naturally rot resistant, split nicely and had a nice color to it. While we can easily buy some cedar of just about any shape and size from the lumber store in town, just think of what it would take to change a tree to a panel; using only hand tools.

King Solomon built a temple for our Lord God. His father David had wanted to build the temple, but God did not allow him to do it. King David prepared the way for Solomon by designing the temple and storing materials for it. When Solomon built the temple, a lot of precious materials were used, including cedar. 

1 Kings 6:14–18

14 So Solomon built the house and finished it. 15He lined the walls of the house on the inside with boards of cedar. From the floor of the house to the walls of the ceiling, he covered them on the inside with wood, and he covered the floor of the house with boards of cypress. 16 He built twenty cubits of the rear of the house with boards of cedar from the floor to the walls, and he built this within as an inner sanctuary, as the Most Holy Place. 17 The house, that is, the nave in front of the inner sanctuary, was forty cubits long. 18 The cedar within the house was carved in the form of gourds and open flowers. All was cedar; no stone was seen. (ESV)

Both 1 kings and second Chronicles detail how the temple was built, and the luxury inside. I don’t have time to go into it all, but 2 Chronicles 6 records that 600 talents of gold was used to line the interior. A talent of gold was approximately 67 pounds, so that equals more than 20 TONS of gold. At today’s prices, that would cost more than 818 million dollars.

At the end of the description of the building of the temple there is an interesting pairing of verses. 1 kings 6 ends with this verse

1 Kings 6:38

38 And in the eleventh year, in the month of Bul, which is the eighth month, the house was finished in all its parts, and according to all its specifications. He was seven years in building it. (ESV)

The very next verse is in the next chapter, so people can miss the connection.

1 Kings 7:1

1 Solomon was building his own house thirteen years, and he finished his entire house. (ESV)

If these verses are read separately, it’s just background facts. Read together, and we can wonder if there is a subtle message there.

1 Kings 7 goes on to describe the building of Solomon’s palace complex, and we see a continuation of the pattern. Solomon’s palace took nearly twice as long to build, because it was much larger than the temple, and it was every bit as luxurious. 

1 Kings 7:9–12

9 All these were made of costly stones, cut according to measure, sawed with saws, back and front, even from the foundation to the coping, and from the outside to the great court. 10 The foundation was of costly stones, huge stones, stones of eight and ten cubits. 11 And above were costly stones, cut according to measurement, and cedar. 12 The great court had three courses of cut stone all around, and a course of cedar beams; so had the inner court of the house of the LORD and the vestibule of the house. (ESV)

Many biblical scholars see this as the first sign that not all was right with Solomon. As impressive as the temple was, there were signs that Solomon wanted his palace to be just as, or even more impressive. Instead of trusting God for his protection from enemies, Solomon trusted in a large force of chariots (forbidden in the law), as well as alliances with foreign powers sealed in marriages (600 wives). By the end of his reign the Bible records that Solomon’s wives had seduced him into worshipping and sacrificing to the foreign false gods.

The high point of the nation of Israel ended on a depressing note, and there was a long slow decline until Assyria conquered the north kingdom and Babylon conquered the nation of Judah. The Jews were captive in Babylon for 70 years, at which point a remnant returned to the ruined city of Jerusalem and started to pick through the rubble.

To their credit, one of the first things the returned Jews did was begin construction on the second temple, to replace the one the Babylonians destroyed. As is recorded in Ezra 3:10-13.

Ezra 3:10–13

10 And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel. 11 And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”

                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. 12But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy, 13 so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the sound was heard far away. (ESV)

The Jews worked on the rebuilding of the temple for 6 years, but the surrounding nations opposed it. Through intimidation and politics, there eventually came an order from the king of Persia to stop the reconstruction, and the work was halted for 10 years.

1 haggai records the state of affairs towards the end of the decade:

Haggai 1:2–6

2 “Thus says the LORD of hosts: These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the LORD.” 3 Then the word of the LORD came by the hand of Haggai the prophet, 4 “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins? 5 Now, therefore, thus says the LORD of hosts: Consider your ways. 6 You have sown much, and harvested little. You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. You clothe yourselves, but no one is warm. And he who earns wages does so to put them into a bag with holes. (ESV)

The reference to “paneled houses” is to cedar paneling in the residences of people living in Jerusalem. It paints a picture of the people beginning to live in luxury while the temple of God remains in ruins. It becomes obvious while the Jews started off on the right foot, they were now in a much different spiritual place, more concerned about their own worldly affairs than their spiritual lives. The result of this spiritual starvation was fruitless lives – working, eating, living but without satisfaction.

However, God moved the people. Through the words of the prophets, and some deft political maneuvering, the second temple was rebuilt. Again, I don’t have time to go into all the details, but I encourage you to hit the books of Ezra and Haggai to learn what went on. It’s pretty interesting stuff, and the books aren’t long. Here are two passages:

Haggai 2:6–9

6 For thus says the LORD of hosts: Yet once more, in a little while, I will shake the heavens and the earth and the sea and the dry land. 7 And I will shake all nations, so that the treasures of all nations shall come in, and I will fill this house with glory, says the LORD of hosts. 8 The silver is mine, and the gold is mine, declares the LORD of hosts. 9 The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.’” (ESV)

Ezra 6:14–15

14 And the elders of the Jews built and prospered through the prophesying of Haggai the prophet and Zechariah the son of Iddo. They finished their building by decree of the God of Israel and by decree of Cyrus and Darius and Artaxerxes king of Persia; 15 and this house was finished on the third day of the month of Adar, in the sixth year of the reign of Darius the king. (ESV)By the end of Ezra, we see that proper worship in the temple had begun again. Any everyone lived happily ever after, right?

Well, the book of Nehemiah starts 71 years after the rebuilding of the temple, and during that time it seems that the Jews had fallen into some old habits, particularly the forbidden intermarriage between Jews and foreign nations, the same sin that led Solomon to disgrace. 

And that is the major theme of the Old Testament: Good religion and a good building doesn’t mean that you will actually follow God with all your heart mind and strength as God desires.

By the time the New Testament starts, the second temple was still there, though highly renovated by Kind Herod the great. The Jews were still worshipping there, probably following the laws of Moses better than at any time in their history. However, their religion had regressed into legalism; the Jews had forgotten the verse in Micah: I desire mercy, not sacrifice. Jesus had a lot to say against this form of religion, and began starting to talk about a different sort of temple. He mentions this in John 2:19-21

John 2:19–21

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.” 20 The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?” 21But he was speaking about the temple of his body.  (ESV)

And Jesus referred to Psalm 118 when he said in Luke 20:17 – 18

Luke 20:17–18

17 But he looked directly at them and said, “What then is this that is written: “‘the stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone’? 18Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” (ESV)

The second temple was destroyed in 70 ad, but we Christians are building a third temple, completely unlike the first two. This is described fully in Ephesians 2:19-22

Ephesians 2:19–22

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (ESV)

We are still building a temple, but we are the building blocks. Christians through the years have occasionally thought the buildings they have met in as something holy or special, but this is completely untrue. The first two temples were holy because God’s presence was physically there, in a room called the holy of holies, separated from the world be a curtain 1 foot thick. When Christ died on the cross for our sins, that temple curtain ripped, signifying that God was not going to be confined to a building anymore. At Pentecost, the Holy Spirit came to dwell in each and every Christian. Christians themselves are now the building blocks of the new temple, the body of Christ, which we now call the church. A church just happens to be a building where members of THE church meet to worship together. Christians have worshipped in churches, but also barns, schools, gas stations, auditoriums and even tombs. It is the people in the building that make it a church.

The question for us now is how are we building?

King Solomon built a grandiose temple, but he was just finishing his father’s project. There were early signs that his heart wasn’t fully in the building. Solomon did enough to fulfill expectations, but his heart was more on expanding his own reputation.

The Jews that built the second temple started strong, but melted away in the face of opposition. God moved them to eventually finish the project, but it didn’t take long for them to fall into the very same sins that Solomon fell into.

It’s the New Year, the traditional time to take stock of what is behind us and what is ahead. It is a good time to ask ourselves about how we are building this new temple. Both Solomon and the Jews were lured away from God by the pleasures and concerns of the world that surrounds them, and we are not immune to that either. It is very healthy for us to sit and examine our lives, and see if we are not being drawn away from the tasks that God has placed for us.

Perhaps you are feeling like the Jews in Haggai’s time: You eat, but you never have enough; you drink, but you never have your fill. Life is dissatisfying. Or perhaps you are like Solomon, where life is so full of life’s pleasures that you are completely distracted from living for Christ, a path that will inevitably lead to some hardship and sacrifice. 

Our Church’s mission statement is this:

We seek to worship God, Tell others about Jesus Christ, nurture new believers, and grow together in the knowledge and love of our Savior.

This is a pretty to do list for how to build the new temple. Just look at that and decide if you start doing any of that. Join a Bible study, be on a committee, teach Sunday school, do nursery, be a prayer partner, visit people, invite someone over for a good time… Everyone has a place here in Lancaster Covenant, and it’s your job to find out what that place is.

in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (ESV)