Until God is in the temple, it is but a shell.
A few years ago I had the graveside service for my great Aunt Minnie in Chilliwack. (Some of you may remember her and Lori Lobb, “old smiley”). Although I have many relatives north of the border, I don’t know many… in the funeral home were a lot of children, her great grandkids I imagine… as I stood by the casket in the funeral home and said a few words, on a whim I knocked on the casket and explained it was only a box, a very fancy box, but it was what was contained in the box that was most important. We have been looking at Chronicles and the building of the Temple ~ the Temple is a box, an elaborate box, but only a box. A box built to be filled with the presence of God. Until God is in the temple, it is nothing. My life, my body is just a box, and until God is in it, it is a shell.
The mystery deepens ~ Chronicles is written about 500 years after Solomon, after the people return to Jerusalem in the 5th century before Christ. Ezra the Priest, probably the writer of Chronicles, leads the people in an effort to rebuild the destroyed temple. He is telling the story of Solomon to inspire the people of his day to do it again: let’s bring back the presence of God once again.
Here is the mystery: the Ark is gone in the days of Ezra and is never recovered. Some folks think it is lost and still out there. Indian Jones thought so. The people in Ezra’s day, even without the Ark, built the temple anyway. I give them credit for understanding God is way beyond the Temple and much bigger than the Ark. There is nothing wrong with our sacred reminders as long as we always remember God cannot literally be contained in a box. Our beautiful stained glass window is an inspirational work of art reminding me of Jesus the Good Shepherd. I find it awesome the people build the Temple without the Ark. For us, on this side of the cross, the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ is all that is important!
I am amazed at how much emptiness there is in today’s world ~ uneasiness in society. Fear. People searching for meaning. Purpose. Wanting to make sense. This is why there is such random violence. Meanness. The problem of emptiness is one of the reasons for widespread depression. There are many reasons for all the deep emotions. It is undeniable fear and inability to make sense of the world is rampant. It seems to me there is more searching/discontent than ever before in my lifetime. I use the word empty to describe it all.
I wanted to know more about emptiness so I went to the authority Mr. Google. I was amazed at how many quizzes I found to help understand the emptiness of life….I randomly chose one: I answered a series of questions like my favorite color, favorite season, how I respond when angry, how many friends I have. After carefully answering the questions here is the conclusion of the Emptiness Quiz determined about me:
“You feel like you are alone in the world. You have a shell around you that says "Leave me alone i dont need heart break" But deep inside all you really want is for someone to truly love, care, and trust you. You want to find someone that will complete you and be there for you no matter what, but you don’t want to open up to people for fear of losing them in the future. One day, there will be someone who just walks into your life and makes you feel so loved you will be overwhelmed. They will come if you continue to wait and be patient! Hold on!”
Wow. I wonder what conclusion Mr. Google would find if I’d chosen the favorite color blue instead of red! I like to think Sally has already overwhelmed me. Obviously I think the emptiness quiz is silly, but the sense of feeling empty is not. I actually have no quibbles with the way many experts describe the feeling of emptiness, it is the conclusion of how to find meaning that I think the world doesn’t get. Here is the wisdom of a counselor (Jonas Webb). First she describes what it’s like to feel empty:
“It’s like I have no emotions. I’m numb a lot of the time. Something is missing in me. I have no idea how I feel about anything. Sometimes my chest feels hollow. I feel empty inside….Of all the different emotions that a person can have, Empty is one of the most uncomfortable. To feel Empty is to feel incomplete. It’s a feeling of something absent or missing inside of you, of being different, set apart, alone, lacking, numb. This is a feeling that can drive people to do a myriad of unhealthy things, like overeat, overdrink, over-shop, or even use drugs. This is a feeling which gradually, quietly erodes a person’s joy, energy and confidence. It flies under the radar, and carries with it a tremendous power to degrade your quality of life."
This person goes on to describe what she thinks is the root cause: “Childhood Emotional Neglect.” Her solution has to do with overcoming the hardwiring thrust upon the person as a child. I have no doubts neglect happens and has tough consequences… I am convinced the greater answer is the presence of God. You need the presence of God.
Bill Bright said if you want to grow in your faith, then study the attributes of God. I.e., get to know God. I love the thought of the quotation in the bulletin: “When Moses says, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh?’ God answers not by telling Moses who he is, but by telling [Moses] who God is, saying, ‘I will be with you.’ (Ex. 3:12).” The answer to the emptiness of life is to be filled with the presence of God.
This ancient story of building the temple is all about the need for God’s presence. The people in the day of Ezra, when Chronicles was written, were discouraged. They returned home after 70 years of slavery in a foreign land. Their home is in ruins, the temple destroyed, the walls crumbled. Ezra, inspired by the Holy Spirit, led the people to invite God to dwell with them. Ezra was not interested in an empty temple. The desire is God. The glory of God. The joy of the Lord. Just as the temple without God in it is hollow, so your life without God is hollow.
I am not able to go through these chapters and find deep meaning in every detail, but there are principles that apply to us. The first thing Solomon does is a ceremony to bring the Ark to the temple. He assembles leaders and people in 2 Chron. 5:2-5. Do you desire God to fill your life with his presence? Be deliberate, let others know, invite him….
A few months ago I was contacted by a person that said it was time for the family to have more of Jesus in their life. “Great” I said. He said the family was coming to church. They did. Once. He told me all the reasons they needed God. “Great” I said. Apparently the commitment of coming to church and spending time with God is too big a price. I’m not giving up, the door is open, but other things are more important to them. Every attempt Chad and I have made to get together the family is too busy.
If you want God in your life then you need to arrange your life so that you give God time to be in your life. I fully understand God is everywhere at all times and can meet anybody anytime in any place. Yet God dwells in those whom open their hearts and invite Him in. Solomon said Come Lord. Ezra said Come Lord. The people said, “Come Lord.” What do you say?
2 Chron. 5:6 describes the sacrifices, so many are made as the Ark comes to the temple they cannot even be counted. This spotlights the need for forgiveness. Nobody can stand before a Holy God without being cleansed. Today we look to Jesus Christ and his death on the cross. We don’t need to sacrifice anymore. I love the detail in the verse that so many animals were sacrificed they could not be counted. Years earlier in 1 Chron. 29:21, when Solomon was crowned King of Israel, on that day 3000 animals were sacrificed. That that was a set up when the Ark is brought to the temple. You thought 3000 was a lot, now that the glory of God is dwelling in the temple, the number of sacrifices is beyond measure. This shows the great need for forgiveness before our Holy God. And now, we on this side of the cross, we look back and say, WOW, 3000 animals were sacrificed, AMAZING, so many animals were sacrificed when the Ark returned they could not even be counted, what could ever be topped. But God topped Himself again. God sent us Jesus Christ, his one and only son, to die on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. 3000 is nothing. More sacrifices than can be counted is nothing. God paid the ultimate price when he sent Jesus to die for us.
Emptiness is overcome by desiring God and forgiveness of sins. The ceremony continues with cleansing of all who are involved, purification, music. The words of 2 Chron. 5:13 confess the character of God: “He is good. His love endures forever.” To grow in your faith, embrace the character of God. When people are feeling empty inside, the solution of the world is almost always about getting in touch with yourself, overcoming your past, learning new patterns, thinking differently about yourself, being a positive thinker, convincing yourself you are a valuable person. The ultimate answer in the Bible to being filled with the presence of God is always about God. Moses says, “Who am I Lord…” and God says, “I am.” Let God’s presence overwhelm you, be filled with Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.
The end of 2 Chron. 5:13 is a key to the entirety of Chronicles. The people confess the goodness and faithful love of God, and then “at that moment a cloud filled the Temple of the Lord” (NLT). God’s presence filled the temple when the hearts of the forgiven people of God were turned to Him. The response is to worship and praise the Lord. In the days of Ezra, 500 years after Solomon and the ruined temple was rebuilt, they didn’t even have the Ark, but somehow that made no difference because they understood it was all about the heart and the presence of God. Today we have Jesus Christ, who had told us we don’t even need the temple, we only need Him, we only need to call on the name of Christ, asking forgiveness, asking him to fill the emptiness of our lives.
This glorious scene of worship of 2 Chron. 5:11-14 is a foreshadowing of a scene described by Paul in the N.T. which is also the beginning of a new era when people receive Christ into their heart. From Romans 5:1-11 (READ Rom. 5:1-2, 8-11.) In Jesus Christ is a new expression of God’s presence. Only Jesus Christ will fill the void of emptiness rampant in our world.
If you are here and have never received Christ make that commitment today. Invite Him in. Fill the emptiness. I will stay to talk to anyone that wants more clarity, has questions or is ready to pray. To my fellow believers, let us not lose sight of the purpose of why we are here. The world needs Christ. Many people are confused and looking for solutions. God has entrusted us with the answer. Be amazed by God in your life and be prepared to share.
God filled the temple with His presence when the people invited Him, sought forgiveness, and exalted him as the God of unconditional love. Jesus Christ will fill your life when you invite Him in, seek forgiveness and exhalt Him as the God of unconditional love. Amen.