This pastoral passage was originally written for LRBC for May 1st 2022, as the Covid-19 lockdowns and gathering restrictions appear to have come to an end.
It is recorded in the book of Ezra that when foundations for the second temple in Jerusalem were laid, some people celebrated while others wept bitter tears (3:12).
The people of Israel had spent seven decades far away in exile but had now returned to rebuild their ruined city and the famed temple that Solomon had built long ago. But the glory days under King Solomon had passed. The modest size of the foundation was a disappointment to the older Israelites who remembered the grander building from their youth. It was a humiliating let down. They would have to be content with less than they had once been used to.
Into this situation of crumpled disappointment, the Lord spoke by two of his messengers.
Through Haggai the prophet, he addressed the governor, the high priest, and the remnant of returnees. He acknowledged the diminished size of the rebuilt temple and their low opinion of it, but announced that he had grand plans that it played part in. Despite all that had happened his old promises still stood, and his Spirit with his people remained. Because of this there was no place for timidity or trepidation. “Be strong!”, he says to the governor, high priest, and people of the land. “Be strong, fear not, and work—because I am with you!” The Lord’s temple may have diminished but the Lord’s strength and plans had not. Courage and industry were the order for their day (Haggai 3:1-9).
Zechariah was the second prophet—a seer who saw visions of mysterious things. In one of his visions, involving a lampstand and two olive trees, he is reassured that God would sustain the temple rebuild and see it through to completion. Despondent doubters, who had despised their “day of small things”, would rejoice because they will see the stalled reconstruction recommenced. Human might and ability would not make this happen, but God’s Spirit would enable God’s plans as he supplied every need and made them strong for the task (Zechariah 4).
God’s words to his humbled people after the exile could give courage to his humbled people today.
Church life has been disrupted and constricted these past two years, and it seems now that the times of lockdowns and gathering restrictions have come to an end.
The number that has regathered as the LRBC church family is not what most of us have been used to, and it is no doubt occasion for disappointment and discouragement, as it was for the older Israelites in Ezra 3:12.
But there are other parallels between their history and ours that might be instructive. God’s plans and promises continue with his churches no matter how diminished we are, as does our work. His Spirit remains with us, and his power supplies us with what is needed for his work.
Furthermore, let us not forget that alongside those who wept at the finished foundations were also those who celebrated to see the Lord’s work in progress. Some among us are young or new or more faith-filled and optimistic, and so hold no such discouragement about the current state of affairs—they are pleased with anything that shows the goodness of God in action! It is better that we celebrate with them.
No matter our size or situation, the Lord’s purpose remains and his people have a part to play. So—be strong, fear not, and work, in this “day of small things”.
Courage and industry are the order of our day.